The trip back to the hotel wasn't too bad, all things considered. Of course, the new windshield and the reinforcement of the vehicle's cargo space did great things for the soul when you knew eventually you had to ride in it. Squinting a bit, as it had begin to rain yet again and the windshield wipers could hardly keep up, Benny gave some thought to how she'd explain her absence. Nothing very convincing came to mind, and her grip on the steering wheel tightened. One thing was for sure, the last thing on her list of unpleasant things she never needed was another month or more in the brig, a common penalty for being away without leave. Or lippy. Or just not standing up straight enough, if the officer who threw the book and the regulations booklet at you was feeling particularly peevish. Taking a deep breath, Benny loosened her grip on the steering wheel and tried to think positive thoughts. They veered almost immediately off into silly but gratifying. Like painting an officer pink with blue spots, preferably with their uniform still on. No need to see one of them naked in this lifetime, Benny was sure.
Dropping off the repair materials for the pipes in the water main shed, she frowned in confusion. No one was waiting outside for the truck. No one had run out on hearing the truck arrive or its engine turn off. What was going on, and where was everyone?
Striding through the slippery mud, occasionally slipping a bit, usually backwards, Benny made her way back to the restaurant. She could make out shapes highlighted against the ill lit windows, hunched over oddly. Pausing by one of the panes, she wiped it off with one sleeve, and was astonished to see the five officers, her three compatriots in riding unsafely in the back of the truck, the waitress, and the hotel owner all gathered around a battered transistor radio. It had a little green light on top, a cockeyed antenna, and thick knobs instead of sliders for tuning and setting the volume.
Hurrying inside, Benny paused outside of the circle to listen. The station was, of all the possibilities, the Chicago one she had listened to on her first night in the hotel. The DJ's voice sounded shocked and broken.
"New hour, so I'll do a quick recap." A pause, and a loud swallow. "I hate whisky, but it's all that's available for the purpose of stunning yourself insensible. As you can hear, it's not working, darn it." A wan attempt to lift the mood. "Late last night eastern time, a nuclear device was dropped on the city of Baghdad. Or whatever they do with those things we wish they wouldn't. At first report, it was claimed that it had been dropped by Blue forces. It was in fact dropped by the so called Republican Army of the Unified American Continental States. Whatever the hell that's supposed to be. This rogue army has left the Alliance, and it is still unclear if they intend to remain independent or if they will throw in their lot with the Blue. In the meantime, the real United States forces are struggling to get these maniacs in hand, but we've got big trouble here.
"After this broadcast, KLCF will temporarily go off air while we go underground. It seems that the UACS has put us on their 'godless and heathen' list. One of our sister stations was just bombed by a UACS squadron, so everyone on the list is taking precautions. However, that's not near as nuts as the next thing I'm going to read.
"A UACS army is heading for the 49th parallel for an invasion of Canada. According to this report, smuggled out by a complete maniac to whom I hope Canadians will be profoundly thankful, the army will arrive in two days. They are mustering and equipping as they go. The actual United States government resoundingly decries this attack on Canada, and calls on all loyal U. S. citizens to do everything possible to hinder the UACS forces. Do it anyway, whatever you think of Canada folks, if their right wing fundamentalists stuff isn't what you agree with.
"All right, gotta go. We'll be back broadcasting from an undisclosed location as soon as we can manage it. Or the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup, one of the two."
Immediately on the the officers reached out and tuned the radio to a military station. The message that blared out just about knocked the encircled listeners flat. It was actually a frightening sound, and the officer cadet jammed her fingers in her ears and dove under a table in response. Benny slid under the table herself and gave the cadet a comforting hug. Poor kid was scared all but crapless. Chances were good she never thought something like this would happen. The sound was actually the new racket used by the emergency broadcast system.
"This is an emergency broadcast bulletin. As per standing order A6X45-A, all members of the armed forces, commisioned and non-commissioned are to muster at the border points indicated on page 324 of your operating manuals, or whichever one is closest to where you are. Take any civilians willing to go with you, and remember we won the war of 1812." Having added this balatantly unscripted bit of historical information, the announcement cut out, replaced by someone whose voice couldn't be assigned to one sex or the other going through muster points and emergency instructions for civilians.
"So much for Shilo." muttered Benny, still holding the shivering cadet.
The lieutenant colonel turned to glance at her. "Oh don't worry, you're still going to Shilo Basilas, and from there to the 49th parallel like everyone else."
"Trust me, I wasn't worried." Benny replied drily. "Manitoba in winter, Moscow in winter. Not much difference, in a way."
Back in her room her room hurling her kit together, Benny shook her head in disbelief. Hadn't it been the prime minister just two days ago declaring that the right wing fundamentalists in the States were perfectly good, law abiding people who simply had strong beliefs? A helicopter was taking herself and two of the senior officers out to Shilo as by air the trip was apparently only an hour. It was way down in the fall, but still too far from the end of October. Everyone would be hoping for abnormal snow now, and lots of it. Snow was always to a Canadian's advantage, except possibly for certain population groups in Toronto. The distinct whop-whop sound of the helicopter's arrival sounded on the highway side of the building, and heavy pack in place, Benny sprinted out to meet it.
The helicopter had once been used for watching the roads and compiling traffic reports for a Winnepeg television station. The only outward sign of its new purpose was a green 'Canadian Armed Forces' decal added to the front in forest green paint, apparently in a hurry some time ago, as the paint had dripped before drying. Packs were hurled into the back first, taking up the spot where one camera person or another had formerly weilded their craft. The three breathless officers jammed themselves into the remaining seats, each thud followed by the 'clack' of seatbelts being fastened.
The pilot had green and orange hair and a variety of piercings in surprising places. All of this complimented a battered leather jacket, tattered jeans, and incogruously new army boots. "Everybody set?" he hollered.
"Doesn't matter if we are, let's go!" shouted the brigadier general. The vehicle left the gorund with a side to side sway, and Benny grimmaced when her stomach dropped, or at least felt like it did.
She had a window seat, and watched in fascination as the ground fell away and the scrubby trees surged and lurched in the whirling wind from the blades, the long, unkempt grass laying flat in a rough circle around the helicopter. As they rose higher, Aspen became visible, waving bravely, a rifle slung over one shoulder. The rest of the military people were grabbing all manner of supplies from the restaurant and the store, and if the tough work overalls the waitress had donned and the battered old raincoat on the hotel owner were any indication, they were leaving with the troops. The fields shrank a bit, becoming unevenly rutted patches of brown, yellow, and half-hearted green. Orienting herself by the sun, Benny looked south, surprised by a feeling of visceral rage at the people heading for the border from the other direction with nothing good in mind.
It reminded her in an odd way of a good friend she had met in university, who in one afternoon had managed to teach her about herself and remind her to be humble. Unintentionally, no less.
On a cold, dry Saturday, they had found themselves at the university at the same time, and unready to go home. So, adjourning to a small coffee shop for the eponymous beverage and tea, they had clambered up ridiculously tall orange stools at the skinny counter pressed against the plexiglass window and talked awhile about what was happening in the world. Particularly the looming spectre of the Blue Army, its anger and fanaticism like a hollow eyed demon waiting for a chance to snatch some country. The strident speeches of its members featured on the news a lot, especially when they were furiously shouted by small boys.
Somehow the converstaion had turned to what they would do if someone invaded Canada. And the answer was fight. What would happen if Canada was annexed to the United States, or to the broader Unified American Continental States. "Immigrate." Benny had said at first, slowly, yet felt a niggling untruth in the word. The lie wasn't intended. Would she really run away?
"Not me." her friend replied sobrely. Her friend was a middle aged woman, mother of several goofy kids. Each day she attended classes and then went to work to support them and her elderly mother. Until she had decided to follow her dream to become an archaeologist, the five foot three woman had been almost painfully shy. In fact, she could easily have been the poster person for a publicity campaign for law abiding people. "I'd go underground, and become a terrorist."
The words felt like getting thumped in the chest for a moment. Except, when Poland's people became underground fighters against the Nazis, they were called freedom fighters by one side and terrorists by the other. There the moral issues were pretty close to black and white. But in Canada, where the federal government was liable to agree to annexation or something equally obnoxious even if ninety nine percent of the Candaian population marched furiously on parliament hill, the question somehow seemed just as black and white. "Son of a bitch." Benny muttered. Her friend wouldn't be in the underground alone.
The other woman had nodded, sipping her coffee before replying. "Makes you think, doesn't it. Makes defining terrorists a much more careful pursuit. Of course, this doesn't make every terrorist into someone who is doing the right thing, either."
"Hmmph. Just means it's still stupid complicated." Benny groused.
"Maybe. On the flip side, it's a bit like dropping a big rock."
"On your foot." Benny shot back. They had both laughed. The irony was, four months later they had both been drafted.
Strips of brownish-black road replaced the usual dirt ones below, and now instead of a scattering of silos and lone farm houses, small towns began to slide slowly past. Every last one of them was a hive of activity. Vehicles were barreling down the roads, all heading south. The pilot flipped on the radio external speaker so they could all hear what was going on. The premier of Manitoba was speaking.
"We are on full emergency footing. The former federal government has fled the country, although no one is certain where to. A strange report that came in a half hour ago said that they headed to Florida, but they were pelted with oranges and left again." A beat. "Right. Okay. Amazing things are happening. An airlift is moving libraries, archives, and laboratories and so on north to Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. A further evacuation is being carried out for civilians too young, too old, or too sick to participate in the defense effort as far north as 53 degrees latitude. At the 49th parallel right now, a truly amazing number of U. S. citizens have turned out to help get ready to face the UACS army..." The transmission cut out.
"What the hell?" the pilot pounded the radio with one fist even as he maneuvered the helicopter through a patch of turbulent air.
"Have you ever been in the army, young man?" the brigadier general asked him haughtily. The pilot laughed, long and loud, and accidentlly caused the helicopter to drop fifty metres.
"I've got orange and green hair and enough piercings to make most people pass out. You're kidding, right?"
The speakers crackled, and a new voice spoke. "This buletin just in. The UACS army has declared itself to be a member of the alliance referring to itself as the coalition of the armies of god. In the meantime, the United States specifically is in a state of civil war, as the UACS army represents only a small segment of the population there. Unfortunately, they are fanatical, well armed, and well funded."
Benny leaned back in her seat. So these crazy UACS people were going to get pummeled in all directions, basically. "How long before some overseas nasties come to crash the party, I wonder." A large city became visible to her left, and somewhere to the north and east, Winnepeg was scrambling to attention, as was Brandon, just visible to the north if a person stuck their head out one of the windows.
"Have you ever been to Shilo, Captain Basilas?" the brigadier general asked.
"No. Have been to Winnepeg once. Got caught there in a blizzard." the younger woman answered, watching the civilian hospital's giant white H fade into the distance, picking out the military base easily even before the pilot radioed for landing clearance. Green uniformed people were moving back and forth at speed, a few others in blue dress uniforms were haring to a hangar. These were the pilots who would take the few jets that had been patrolling from the small airfield back to Ottawa and Bagotville. Most of the huge Northern Alberta squadron was hurtling back from Europe. The skies would soon be busier than during Christmas rush.
Prior to being drafted, even to entering university, Beny had bought a bus ticket, packed a bag that ultimately was almost as big as she was, and headed cross country. Family problems had reared their ugly heads, and it seemed much more constructive to go see at least a small corner of the world rather than sit in a tiny one and be miserable. The first leg of the journey passed through a small town somewhere east of home, along kilometres of empty highway through the British Columbia interior. One stop over had been near an orchard,, and Benny had climbed the fence surrounding it and headed for the trees, drawn by the sweet-sour scent of Granny Smith apples. One tree had been perfect for a small person to climb. Being rather poor made you hungry and not too worried about how you got a few apples if they came from a tree among many trees.
Doing up the bottom of her still deep brown second hand bomber jacket, Benny began dumping apples into it, figuring twelve or fifteen would set her up for breakfast and lunch for the rest of the trip at the least. Almost finished collecting, an angry voice accompanied by the rowdy barking of dogs interrupted her. "Hey! You! Get out of it!"
Scrabbling down the trunk and heading for the fence, Benny determinedly held onto her apples. One of the dogs hurtled out of the grass behind her, and the sheer terror of it drove the usually not hugely athletic young woman over the fence in a single bound. Then up the street, the hundred metre sprint in record time, and onto the bus. It was still pretty empty but for the peculiar canned upholstery smell adnd various coats, bags, and boxes. The seats, except for the driver's seat, were covered in a grotesque red, purple, yellow, orange blend cloth. Although they could be adjusted for angle of inclination, they couldn't be adjusted in any way for height. Short as she was, Benny found that the top of her head always settled neatly into the downward angling part of the headrest, an acutely uncomfortable position to sit in after a half hour or so.
Returning westward much later that year after a stint at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa where she had managed to snag a job helping set up and tear down exhibits, the winter lowering itself ominously on the land, the bus driver had taken to giving the passengers weather forecasts and updates every two hours. At first Benny basically ignored them, her head full of the joy of knowing what she was going to take in university after all, and trying to get her head around an unnerving experience before she had left. Nevertheless, the bus driver's weather reports finally broke into her consciousness when he explained that a heavy blizzard was moving westward, and had already stopped all travel in the maritimes and Quebec. Benny had been in Quebec only two days before, the roads clear and dry, the weather unseasonably warm.
Even the army was stuck. The only thing on the road had been a giant swamper, the heavy chain draperies around its tires drooping loosely whenever their section of tire met the icy road. It had been quite impressive to watch it on television, especially since Benny had finished the first half of her stint out east with work on a mining and survey crew deep in the backwoods. The majority of their equipment usually had to be hauled in by just such a giant machine, as the regular vehicles couldn't make it up the wet, slippery slopes when fully loaded. This seemed counterintuitive, but it apparently was because their much narrower wheel base put them in danger of having the tires sink so deeply in the muck the transmission could get swamped. The television camera zoomed in on the driver, and Benny let out a surprised laugh.
What were the chances? There was the very swamper she had watched go up and down the road, hearing it clank and bang a full ten minutes before its arrival in the stillness of the muddy forest, its heaving mass rattling her joints once it arrived. It had three company logos placed over top of each other, all different sizes, and finally roughly done over in yellow spraypaint, reflecting four changes of ownership. The very same driver was perched at the controls, a tiny Quebecois who spat out a neverending stream of emptied sunflower seeds like a chipmunk. In the other corner of his mouth was a cigarette, and puffing out smoke from one side and seeds from the other, or just smoke if he was topping up his seeds, he was quite a sight. One day at work, haiving decided Benny looked hungry, he had given her a bag of sunflower seeds, and they had been surprisingly helpful, even if only as a distraction. She had never figured out the chipmunk trick, though.
One evening just before that job ended with the season, sattelite television had gone online at the local watering hole. The entire crew, of which Benny was the only woman, had gone off to enjoy the new channels, which the bartender hadn't minded, as they were the only customers and quite willing to drink. One fellow or another's occasional 'oops, sorry' after a ribald curse tended to reduce Benny to silent giggles, but to their everlasting credit, none of the men produced a sexual slur, really gross joke about women, or a mostly naked woman calendar. Very impressive. So heading towards sattelite television and cheap beer, with eight hockey games on eight channels, and most of the talk about why the Canadiens were in such poor shape and why Ottawa had finally folded, Benny had rather expected the thing on screen to be a hockey game. Instead, it was Ally McBeal reruns, which the men were apparently religious viewers of. Benny had shaken her head in disbelief, and felt admittedly relieved when the next rerun chosen... sattelite or not it was too late at night to see anything new... was the Matrix. An interesting movie.
But on the almost too warm bus heading west again, this had been fun to think about. It was late, so far down in the night even the most incessant chatterboxes had dozed off, in the middle of nowhere Manitoba, that the bus stopped, stuck fast in a drift of snow that had sprawled across the highway, intimate as a lover. Huge flakes drifted out of the clouds and down to the ground, the moonlight and streetlight diffused together just enough to make the spiral paths of the flakes visible if you looked up. Trouble was, the flakes were coming down fast as hail in a summer thunderstorm. Within twenty minutes the groaning bus had a ten centimetre high topping of snow. Staying in place really wasn't an option.
The driver struggled to get them out, backing up, creeping forward, gearing up, gearing down. But each time he tried to bring the bus out, everyone could hear the tires spin uselessly against the icy snowpack, unable to get a grip. Soon a small group of passengers, including Benny who was always ready for an adventure, trooped out of the bus with whatever impromptu shovels available and the real shovel from behind the driver's seat. The various snow carpets with their scuffed lower surfaces from many sledding trips downhill by their younger owners, plastic binders, and a few other unexpected things like an oriental wok made quick work of much of the drift around the rear of the bus. Eventually Benny found herself calling between the driver and the rest of the diggers to coordinate their efforts. Without continual work, the drift rapidly crept back to its original area, and the steepish sides of the excavation had to be repacked regularly or snow would collapse into it again.
Benny among others switched back and forth form shouter to snowmover, in order to get a short rest to everybody. It took three long hours, but at last the bus was free and the exhausted snow removal brigade piled back into the warm moving box to a round of applause and a hearty thanks from the driver.
Barreling past Portage La Prairie, no one could have been fooled into thinking the weather was improving. The busdriver was trying to keep going at a minimum of eighty kilometres per hour, but visibility was plummeting. Three metres away Benny could just barely make out what must have been the town welcome sign, which she knew from her previous trip east was emblazoned with voyageurs carrying a canoe. What little she could see was gone in a flash. Soon the driver could barely see a metre ahead, and all the passengers were wide awake, watching for distance signs to let him know how far away Winnepeg was. The good thing about the weather was that no one else was crazy enough to be travelling in it, so there was no competing traffic. Of course, the bad thing was they had no choice but to travel if they could. The bus wasn't the place to wait out a blizzard. They hit the Winnepeg city limits and visibility improved a little, mainly because the greater building density blocked the wind.
It was four in the morning before the weary passengers stumbled out at the Winnepeg depot, heading straight for the dingy little cafe jammed into one corner of the hangar-like building. The cafe was a cross between a school cafeteria and a shoebox, but warmth, lousy coffe, dry sandwiches, and fresher air had never seemed so good. Most of the snowmovers didn't have to pay for a thing, and Benny smiled gratefully as she sat down at a tiny table, wincing as her overworked muscles informed her of their state with vigour.
The weather channel had possession of all three of the small televisions bolted into brackets themselves bolted to the ceiling. The blizzard was being described as 'the biggest of the century' and 'completely unheard of.' A travel advisory had gone out, this one more extensive. Everyone who wasn't on the road from Manitoba to the Maritimes was supposed to stay off, everyone else was supposed to get to shelter. The storm was expected to make it at least as far as Alberta. This encouraging report was topped off by the busdriver.
"We're not going anywhere, folks. The hotels are full to the gills, so we may all have to stay here to sleep tonight at least." The prospect of sleeping on the smooth plastic benches in the lobby didn't encourage anyone, and there was some grumbling. A beleaguered looking female RCMP officer took things in hand at this point. Within fifteen minutes she had managed to get together enough people with open couches and floor space to deal with the stranded passengers, who had swelled in numbers as six other buses made it to the depot.
Her job done there, the officer moved on to do the same for the next set of airline passengers who had been 'processed' and could leave the airport without forfeiting their places on a plane home.
Benny found herself tramping along with about ten others behind a kindly old man. "Short trip to my dry cleaning and coin laundry shop. Plenty of stuff for you to snuggle up in, blow up air mattresses and the like. Less chance of having a merciless krick in your back in the morning."
Tucking herself under a sort of bench that seemed to tall and too wide for that purpose, Benny used one of her sheets to make a bit of a curtain around her impromptu bed, and pulled off her battered jacket, boots, and hat to lay down. For a few moments she simply lay there, enjoying being stretched out and actually pretty comfortable for once. The hubbub in the rest of the store slowly died as others stretched out to sleep and somebody, probably the shopkeeper, turned off all the lights but the security lamp in the front plate glass window. Then the sound of a curtain being dragged across it, an unusual step, but then, the floor wasn't usually full of sleepers.
Finally remembering to take off her glasses, Benny stowed them inn her hat and shut her eyes. Instead of falling straight to sleep, the ideal, her mind travelled back to her strange experience at the Museum of Civilization.
In the basement... she always seemed to end up in the basement, Benny thought to herself crossly... she had been bringing up some stuff and replacing it with things that would go on display again in another year or so. Lunchtime had come along, and a backwards step nearly dumped her into a large bix of carefully labelled things. 'Upper left pectoral' and the like. The thing seemed to be some sort of ceremonial dress. Lifting out a broad, flat piece, Benny found herself eye to eye with a shocking gorgoneum. Jerking in surprise, she dropped it back in the box and went to lunch.
Lunch was just an apple, so Benny went by the library to browse for twenty minutes or so. Wandering aimlessly among the tall shelves, noticing the works of Freya Stark in one corner, Benny began poking at a book that seemed out of place as it was on China, and Freya Stark had done a great deal of her travelling in the Middle East. Behind her, a book shot off the shelf just above the young woman's head and dropped on it. "Hey! What the hell..." Slowly, Benny picked up the book, a tome by John Garstang, open on his discussion of Amazons in Anatolia. Sticking the thing back on the shelf where a librarian would see it easily, Benny returned her attention to the first book she had seen, only to be struck in the head again, this book a translation from the Turkish. 'Amazon Sites of Turkey: See the monuments of our great ancestresses.' Intrigued this time, plopping down on the floor and crossing her legs, she began to read.
And if she had been looking up, Benny might have seen a silvery green eye peering through the new gap created by the removal of the two books, twinkling.
Somehow, pressing her persuasive abilities to their utmost, Benny managed to convince a reference librarian to photocopy the little book for her, promising to stop by and pay back the cost as soon as possible and swearing if there had been any other way to get it... on coffee break later n the afternoon, Benny was stunned again to find a fine picture depicting how the stuff in the box she had nearly fallen into in the morning went together. Among other things, it showed the 'pectorals' were in fact something else. Staying abck a bit to lay the stuff out in the correct order, one of the managers came by.
"Oh, what are you doing?" he had asked, his tone high and nervous. "Now then, we don't want to be messing with these."
"Why? They're in great condition, and just yesterday you were saying you really needed an exhibit for the corridor leading into the thrid floor gallery." honestly puzzled, the young woman watched in disbelief as the man hurriedly packed the things away.
"We don't want to cause too much of a stir, not about these... Amazons. Can't risk jeopardizing our funding, hmmm?" he pushed her out of the room and up the stairs, only to collide with a tall, reedy woman with blazing silvery green eyes.
"That was your chance. But I see you are a fool." This directed squarely at the manager. Then the reedy woman was gone. Not walked away, simply gone.
Several cables snaked across the floor to the ethernet ports on Benny's laptop, the electric outlet with its attendant solar panel, and to a small radio. Arion sat in a chair by the bed, patiently fiddling with the code in Benny's word processor. Having learned that Benny was really enjoying its quirks, Arion cheerfully elaborated some and added others. There was a certain amount that she could messs with without ruining the program's noncrashing status, thankfully. Setting aside her machine, Arion carefully checked the younger woman's temperature and IV.
For an hour or so Benny had tossed and turned restlessly, muttering about Shilo, which Arion suspected was a place rather than a thing or person, based on the lack of 'Ohhhh Shilo,' or 'Damned Shilo' in the mutterings. Of course, it was also clearly a source of distress of some kind. The fever was mostly gone though, and now Shilo seemed to have gone the way of other restless dreams. Arion pondered that. Where did dreams go, anyway? Did your brain set off several old memories at random so they would replay, or did it pick out a random handful of bits and stick them together somehow, no matter how silly or impossible?
Returning to her laptop, a smile circled Arion's thin lips. That is, were dreams put together the way her students liked to recycle computer code, or the way she liked to recycle computer code? Sometimes the way to stave off boredom when stuck at work due to heinous weather was definitely her way.
Across the hall, Jed was patiently making over the hole in the wall into a door way again. It was an easier task to face than the rooof, especially since she wasn't sure how to deal with it yet. To her mind there was no question of it being repaired before Benny was out of bed. Otherwise the woman was sure to take it on as a project, considering Benny's already growing collection of tools used with surprising competence whose resume said nothing about a construction worker's background. However, being up on the roof probably wasn't the best place for a recently ill woman. Probably be best to have one of the local carpentry and roofing crews do it, Jed reflected. Except, there was the perfect stuff in the workshop, and it would allow a new roof to be built over the old, then the old roof's removal. No leaks in the soon to return rains. Finished with the doorway for the time being, Jed tidied up her various tools and plaster containers, then headed for the workshop.
The distinct sound of Jed's clean up phase, and the humming that indicated she was off to do something else made Arion look up again. No way of knowing what Jed was up to now until too late, so Arion closed up the program, resettled Benny's laptop in its original spot, and strode over to the crates to have a look at what she could, which wasn't much since the crates were well sealed with nails and duct tape. Each crate had been labelled with a list in ballpoint pen. The characters were recognizable enough, being familiar Latain ones. Even quite a few of the words were legible, as they were in English, and Arion's first languages were Dutch, German, and Basque. It was of course, the first two that were most relevant. The noisy mail packet was sitting lumpily on the desk addressed from 'Messrs. G. Digger, A. Chaser, and L. T. Hyde' to 'Ms. Benton Basilas, Darwell, General Delivery.' Darwell. Where was that?
A ringing began to emanate from Arion's pocket, and she sighed in irritation. "Yes." Pushing the answer button was remembered.
"Just Adams, now. Who is this?"
"This is Franz Gajewski, and I am a solicitor with a legal firm in Frankfurt."
"How interesting." Arion's whithering tone belied the words. Life was short. She hated it when strangers interrupted her and wouldn't get to the point.
"Yes... well... the reason I am calling is regarding a former member of the German underground during the war with the Blue."
"Regarding an Adams, presumably?"
"Yes... the German government would like to honour her with a medal. Your telephone number is the only remaining information we have that relates to her... I am a research solicitor." Gajewski added quickly, realizing at last that his choice of introductions had perhaps been a poor one.
Giving the matter some thought, Arion realized her number had come up because the mysterious A. X. Adams was a recluse according to the press, and somehow she had become associated with her. Wouldn't it create a furor if they found out how closely associated they really were? "Is there a letter or something of that nature concerning this medal? Some type of information?"
"Oh, yes..." this was clearly not the answer Gajewski had expected. "I shall fax you a copy."
"Once I have the information, how the matter will be handled can be sorted out to the satisfaction of most parties, I suspect." Pulling a small notebook and pencil out of her pocket. "Surely you didn't expect me to simply answer without any information?"
The Blue offensive against Canada had dragged on for seven months, in the most unseasonble, viciously cold winter Canada had ever seen. It had taken only the first month and a half, with fall living up to its name with speed, for the Canadian forces to take to geurilla fighting. Munitions and equipment were low, so was food. If you were brave, or perhaps nuts, geurilla attacks didn't put too much direct stress on supplies. After the first two months, air lifts and smuggling had begun to seriously kick in. The specialists in the lifts were almost all German, with a few Brits. This was a quirk of the type of helicopters they were using, produced by a German firm that Benny often referred to as Staedler, like the pencils, although she knew that wasn't what it was called. But it was something close.
The official front line was an eerie place, looking something like all the pictures of no-man's land in world war one Benny had ever seen. Full of mud and barbed wire. Bits of metal and wood, and stuff that probably had been involved with a human life once, but that was something everyone tended to not think about for the most part. They kept a carefully tended cairn, and every time an enemy fell or some new stuff they couldn't explain appeared out there, or one of them fell, they added to it. Some people complained angrily about this. It made them remember the enemy was in fact a large group of human beings.
Across the stretch of battered land, a solid form had been made in concrete. A huge ansated cross, the overall symbol of the Blue army, which claimed to be the defender of the true Christian faith. This was what had made the war such a shock to so many. It had been assumed that it would be some sort of Muslim army to start something big. The analysts and pundits had inveighed against extremists, who somehow always turned out to be Muslim when details were sought after. Tupees carefully hairsprayed in place, perfectly pressed suits and blindingly white collars, they were often the butt of jokes. Morbid jokes. Especially after the bomb that shook the White House in Washington, planted and set off by a violent white supremacist right wing Christian group. The hip Muslim extremist spokesman of the time had been asked about the explosion. He had looked utterly dumbfounded. After all, what could he say?
Benny sat quietly, waiting with the others in her little group. It was their turn to be insane geurilla soldiers tonight. They had all done well in their lessons. How to catch enemy grenades and and throw them back... the key was to keep them moving. How to scream as long and loudly as possible. The noise, bared teeth and wild eyes tended to panic people. How to slash tires effectively in under ten seconds apiece, efficiently spoil ammunition, and cut communications lines. Tonight was a special night. Some of the Germans had volunteered to go too. They wanted to see the 'crazy canucks.' Apparently word was getting around. Hilarious, hyperbolic word.
"They go out to fight on the coldest days in nothing but their underwear, their helmets, their boots, and their flack jackets, so they have to run fast to avoid freezing to death!" A wide eyed young man from Kansas had told his compatriots one night when they were helping to hold the line while the next geurilla offensive started. "They don't take no weapons but knives, pliers, and hockey sticks! And when they run out of sticks for a few days, they use spam!"
As it happened, there had been a number of regulations brought down about the correct use of spam. It seemed several people had figured out how to righ the cans to explode, and taken to lobbing them into the enemy trenches like molotov cocktails. The smell when the damn things blew up was in describable, and the sight of fleeing enemy soldiers spattered all over with spam in its rudest form was painfully funny. The higher ups hated this as a waste of food. The people who cooked the mess dinners and their superiors allowed the practise to go on, knowing all too well an attemot to serve spam as part of a serious meal was liable to cause a riot.
Benny resettled her helmet and tried to relax. Today her job was to go through and disable as many of the Blue anti-aircraft guns as possible before the 'return' signal. The guns had become a problem, as the Blues had knocked two of the supply helicopters and one of the surveillance planes out of the air with them. As an anti-aircraft artillery officer, Benny knew quite well how to wreck those guns effectively. Her eyes flicked over to the German leader, who was informally referred to as 'the Viking.'
Tall and almost painfully thin with a classic square jaw, blazing shoulder
length red hair and wild blue eyes, the Viking spoke no English except
what she knew from Monty Python episodes. On being taught the exploding
spam can trick, she had delightedly started a round of the Spam Song, which
was great fun because after two seconds everyone knew the words. The whole
barracks and the Canadian side of the line rang with choruses of 'spam,
spam, spam, spam' until the Blues had tried singing hymns in retaliation.
This had simply caused the spam song to get luder and louder. Followed
up by a round of 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.' At which point,
the commanding officer had furiously ordered the lot of them to shut up.
"Stop inciting them!" he had shouted at the singers, who had giggled helplessly
in response. There were as many civilians as armed forces people, and enough
tension most of the time that sometimes things seemed funny at improper
Copyright © 2000-2001, C. Osborne
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