'This computer was shut down improperly, and one or more of your drivesmay contain errors. These will be checked and repaired. To avoid this scanningprocess and this message, use 'shut down' from the main menu.'
"If," Arion's voice was measured and flat. "I had been able to USE theshut down command in the main fricking menu, I would have... did somebodyhave a little contest inside the company who wrote this shit to write themost condescending and stupid message? No way they don't know how completelyflaky this system is... come on... what will it take to get this thingrunning for one hour of my at this point ludicrously short life? Dancing,singing? Shaking a rattle over it while wearing feathers? What?!" Realizingthat at some point, she had walked over the flat and measured line andstarted shouting, she waited a moment longer. The screen lit up, showingeverything at fifteen times its normal size, so she couldn't even findthe little icon meant to represent the computer, although Arion felt itwas just a tacky picture of the monitor, and clearly the artist figuredusers were too dumb to know the difference.
Sighing, and reflecting on the fact that really, her invective got muchmore creative when dealing with this type of computer system, used a fewkeystrokes to copy the useful files off the thing for the desperate, nearlyweeping professor whose most recent thesis version was now safely on agood disk. The poor woman had been nearly beside herself, the computerhaving given itself up in the midst of a backup to avoid exactly this kindof emergency. Arion smiled faintly. These particular machines never hadgood timing.
Starting a a few relevant algorithms to get the woman's files switchedover to a stable, staid computer... which just happened to be running thelatest of Arion's system creations, she returned her attention to the flakymachine, which had crashed itself again. "How long did that take? Ten seconds?That's amazing... must be something physicaly wrong with it, too. Oh well."She grinned, disconnected the monitor and set it to one side. Those alwayscame in handy. The same for the keyboard. Those came in handy too. A fewdeft applications of the screwdriver and a shock later, Arion rememberedto unplug the hard drive.
"I do that to myself far too often. It's no wonder I can wear spikyhaircuts with a minimum of goop." Arion stopped to consider that, sincewhat she was about to do had put her in a much better mood. "Silver liningthen, I suppose. The goop tends to be gross... couldn't believe it whena student came into class with stuff tinted green in their hair. Ewww..."RAM card... could fool a completely different computer into using it quitehappily. Tossing a few other cards to the floor in a pile of such remnants,Arion finally yanked out the hard drive itself. "It's therapy time!"
Walking over to a solid workbench occupying the opposite side of heroffice by the window, she carefully clamped the hapless hard drive to it,then reached underneath the bench for a small sledge hammer. "This willhurt the you far more than it hurts me," Arion declared in a mock serioustone. Then in a more sorrowful one, "And the guy who writes such lousysoftware none at all. Oh well."
The red haired woman was still beating the last few fragments of thedrive into unrecognizable pieces when some one cleared their throat inher doorway. "It's too late, I'm almost done, and I wouldn't share anyway."Flicking a piece of silicon off of her shirt and reaching for a broom tocollect the mess, which with the pile of abandoned cards would be sentto the recycling plant by the chemistry department, she added, "Is theresomething you need, Waldbilling?"
Inclining her head slightly, Waldbilling stepped the rest of the wayinto the room. "Maybe, maybe not. In any event, here is your mail." Waldbillingwas a weedy looking woman with a wardrobe that looked like what Sonny Crockettused to wear in Miami Vice.
"Pink?" questioned Arion, finishing with the debris and taking the pileof envelopes.
"My lime green shirt is in the laundry." deadpanned Waldbilling.
"Your maybe, maybe not refers to... ooh, look, I'm preapproved for aplatinum whatever it is card, with a credit limit of... fifteen thousandAmerican dollars. Why ever would I want that?" The papers joined the siliconand metal in the recycling bin.
"I have received an invitation for X. Adams, requesting her presenceat the grand coronation ceremony of our newest queen, Quentin Halliday-Pontius."
"Halliday-Pontius? As opposed to Chris, who is a Pontius-Halliday?"
"As I understand it," Waldbilling explained patiently, having expectedthe question to come up, having worked for the other woman for over tenyears. "The Halliday-Pontius people are all related directly to ErganisPontius and Evan Halliday... after that, I can't fathom the logic leadingto the Scottish branch of the family to be called Halliday-Pontius, andthe branch of the family here Pontius-Halliday."
"Hmmph. Probably a mistake by immigration officials. It's common. Lookat all the French Roys... and you and I know how to pronounce it properly."Sitting down behind her desk, Arion turned a catalogue upside down. "Howdo these women stand in such positions, and still have their boobs stickingstraight ahead? It's tape, isn't it?"
Poor Waldbilling's eyes nearly fell out of her head. "What?! I mean..."
"Relax, Waldbilling, it's a Sears catalogue." drawled Arion, tossingit to her flustered assistant. "X. Adams will attend the big coronationwhatever it is."
"Ah, I think they meant..."
"Waldbilling, it is hardly my fault that every member of my family hasthe initials A and X, is it? And if they don't specify precisely whichAdams they mean, then they'll get me nine times out of ten. Why aren'tmore of these things sent to Jed?" She tore open another envelope, grinningat the bewildered mailer's method of solving that very problem... by writingin bold letters across the top: 'To A. Adams... I mean, X. Adams... no,I mean... the one with red hair at the Academy who fixed my computer!'
"Perhaps they are concerned about her... social, manners?" Waldbillingwinced. It would have been far easier to say...
"You mean they think she's 'dead common' as the English used to say?Funny, very funny... if anyone knows which fork to use and when it's appropriateto wear diamonds or pearls, Jed is it. Her family was old, old money beforetheir assets were stolen during the war. I'm the one who's liable to askfor french fries and ketchup and eat chicken with my fingers between chuggingbeers." Setting one sneakered foot on top of the desk, she considered thedayglo top for a moment. "We'll settle things out so such oversights areno longer made."
"Please, ma'am... it really would be better if the person they thinkthey are inviting actually came." pleaded Waldbilling, the image of heremployer with a beer in one hand working over a plate of greasy chickenand french fries giving her palpatations, because if pushed too hard andoffended a little too much, Arion would probably do just that... even ina four hundred dollar tuxedo, or whatever she ultimately decided to hangon her lanky form.
"Who says they won't? Did you forward this invitation to her?" at Waldbilling'snod, Arion continued. "Then stop worrying. Either we'll both be there,or only I will." She smiled enigmatically at the unhappy blonde acrossfrom her.
"If she wasn't so reclusive, this would be much easier."
"True. Let me see how you handle being in a terrible car accident andfour years of reconstructive surgery to your face and shoulders."Arionplayed unconsciously with a ring hanging loosely on one of her fingers.
"Which reminds me... the healer called me in frustration. She wantsto know if you've been following the diet she put you on."
"Oh, you mean the gorge yourself on these foods, but by the way youcan't have anything you like diet?" Arion asked dryly.
"Apparently she wants you to put on muscle, as opposed to the alternatives."Waldbilling replied, carefully straightening her white trousers.
"I'm doing the best I can. I never was a female Schwarzenegger." Thisdrew a snort of laughter from Waldbilling who immediately stifledit and struggled to return to her preferred mode of decorum.
"Terrible image, isn't it? Stop worrying. The coronation will be fine,it won't be like the Adams family reunion out in the States."
A shudder from the other woman as she rose gracefully and pushed hersleeves up a bit, in fashionable eighties style. "The logic was tortuousfor that event... whoever heard of a reunion to which the vast majorityof the family is not invited?"
"No idea. But the food fight was fun."
It was all a matter of careful, cold, calculation. It had to be. Itwasn't humanly possible for one person to be so disgustingly good at thisgame. The board was square, about three quarters of a metre on a side,because when it first spread beyond the Amazon Nation, male players likedto cheat by sneaking pieces on and off the board. It's very hard to reachacross the board while stretched out just above it, precariously balancedon one foot, without drawing attention. Cheating wasn't terribly effective,but when both players start with a hundred eighty pieces to begin with,it still didn't take long for it to become embarrassingly obvious whethersomeone had sixty extra pieces. Add to that the fact each player's pieceswere differentiated by the little logos on their backs rather than overallcolour, and a cheater had a real nightmare in their waking hours.
Chris grimmaced, and considered her options. Jed's cavalry had her hemmedin on one side, and her footsoldiers were executing a fascinating maneuvre,forming a crescent of little figures on the board. The chemist was quitesure if she dumped anything into the middle of that, Jed would just closethe loop, and capture all her pieces, sending them back to their littlecompartments in the game's wooden box. Hard as she might think, Chris foundherself unable to come up with some sort of tactic so she could advancebackwards. Calling it a retreat was against her principles. Or something.
Finally, Chris shifted several pieces, which gave her hemmed in piecesan escape route, at least. Jed shifted in her seat. "Fourteen moves."
"Is that all?"
"I'm afraid so. A hundred better than two months ago, though. You learnfast... it took me twelve years to learn the ins and outs of this game,and you've picked up quite a lot in just six months." Jed beamed at her,and Chris smiled back. She was quite sure her lover was full of crap, becauseif it took twelve years to really get the hang of this game, and the spectacularones took weeks to play, then a game taking only two weeks worth of eveningswas strong evidence Jed had spent the majority of two weeks worth of eveningsignoring winning moves. Chris shrugged internally. Oh well.
They were still sorting out the pieces and getting ready to disassemblethe wooden board when the door to the library flew open. "Snake!" Bennyhollered, feeling dignity would just have to step aside for sheer panic.
"Where?" Jed asked reasonably.
"In my room... on the bed... a huge bloody snake, an escapee from thetemple of Hera or something!" blurted Benny.
"Oh, I know where she came from." smiled Jed.
On arriving at Benny's room, Jed put her hands on her hips and gazedat the reptile intently. It was big and sleepy looking, its skin a sortof mottled brown. It flicked its tail, then its tongue at them, but didn'tmove, apparently considering Benny's nest of heavy blankets and pillowsa fine place to relax. "It's not poisonous, anyroad." commented Chris.
"No, I think you're right." Jed agreed. Stepping forward carefully,so as not to alarm it, she carefully picked the snake up, which obligedby sliding itself around her waist and wrapping a few loops of itself aroundher left arm, allowing it to peer intently into her face. Chuckling merrily,Jed winked a bright, silvery green eye at it. "So's Benny, isn't she, sweetie?Hmm?" The tall woman made a few humming noises, and the snake bobbed infront of her eyes, apparently fascinated. "This snake is indeed an escapeefrom a temple of Hera... the one forming part of the South wing of thehouse, as it happens. Argeia will be quite worried, I'll run this beautyback down." Decision made, Jed strode briskly from the room, leaving Bennyand Chris to stare at where the snake had been making itself at home fora few moments.
"Snakes." declared Benny.
"Only one. And anyway, it could be worse." Chris replied, straighteningher spectacles.
"Sure... it could be bugs. One of the previous members of Jed's familylived here was an... entymologist, I think you call it. Weeks it took,before we managed to finish removing her specimens and convinced the restto live outside. Why..."
"Stop!" Benny said quickly. The golden haired woman gazed at her quizzically."Please, I just had a huge snake in my bed, and found out it's a residenthere. I don't think I can handle tales of the eccentric entymologist justnow." she pleaded. Chris nodded gravely. Then...
"Have a cup of tea, then?"
A crumpled paper ball arced smoothly through the air, falling neatlyin the midst of a scattering of its fellows around a small wastebasket.Arion threw another one, this one with the words 'TO DR. A. X. Y. ADAMS'clearly visible amongst its creases. It fell down amongst the others, andthe tall woman sighed, running a finger along a purplish scar running alongthe inside of one arm. She gazed at it a moment, pondering where this onehad come from... looked rather older than the one she had on the outsideof the same arm from flying shrapnel... Arion smiled to herself. 'Ah, right...a very nasty game of rugger, that was.' Her smile turned melancholy. Thathad been the last time Quentin Pontius had been seen with two legs.
Arion's parents hadn't been rich, but they had been reasonably welloff. It hadn't originally been part of their plans to send their daughteranywhere but public schools in Toronto. After all, they had brought herup right, and she was fiercely intelligent. Unfortunately, Arion had foundentering puberty, unpleasant. Her gangly arms and legs and a painful stutteringproblem hanging on stubbornly from childhood left her clumsy and strugglingto communicate. She met her fair share of bullies, who soon learned thehard way she was no push over. Three months into a junior high year, andit was obvious to her parents it was do something with a daughter who wasobviously bored and miserable with where she was before she became an 'unsolvabledisciplinary problem' as one unhelpful teacher had put it. A favour hadbeen called in from an old Scottish friend, and Arion had found herselfflying to the land of the loch, which was just as well, because being ona boat made her deathly ill.
Quaylis Pontius had listened thoughtfully to Arion's unhappy, stutteringexplanations of why she was there, and pulled out a notebook and some sheets."Lucky for you," she had said, "I am a speech therapist. And tomorrow,you will start school at my daughter Quentin's place. It's a privatelyrun girl's school, but easy to get into... are you an Amazon?"
"Sure I am. I g-g-got the scars to p-p-prove it." Arion had growled.
"Scars aren't everything." Quaylis had replied and held up a sheet."Now, we'll start with this..."
Quentin Pontius had cheerfully ferried her everywhere, bragging delightedlyabout her brand new friend come to stay awhile from Canada. What was thebig deal? Arion had wondered. To her surprise, it did seem to be quiteimportant, and she had fallen in easily with the new schedule, range ofsports, and distinct lack of unpleasant boys hollering various commentsabout her breasts... or rather, lack thereof. They altered their insultsonly slightly for the girls who did have breasts, Arion had noticed.
The rugger game had been a sharp, angsty contest with another privateschool in the next district. A number of her teammates had already been'spiked' a far too innocuous sounding term for getting stomped on witha pair of cleats. They were winning, though, and managing to stick to thecoach's edict 'not to play dirty.' Not always easy. Quentin had caughtthe ball and was dodging and weaving through the opposition, her solidbuild and stubborn determination keeping her on her feet even after twoor three players had grabbed her and slid off. She had passed it then,and things had moved on. Arion had been the next receiver for one of Quentin'spasses when she had it again, and so could see straight to her throughthe running players. It was weird, how there seemed to be a sort of alleythat opened up just as Quentin tossed the ball. Then an opposition playerhad nailed Quentin solidly in the back just a split second too late toalter the course of the pass, and a second player had gone for her legs,hitting her from the side. The collision had left Quentin sprawled in thedamp grass, completely still.
The waiting room at the hospital had smelt bad, Arion remembered. Thatcrappy, antiseptic smell inspiring anybody who felt even remotely up toit to get out. Why couldn't the staff leave a few windows open, Arion rememberedwondering as a nurse carefully stitched up her arm. She had gotten so busytrying to see what had happened to Quentin, someone had knocked her downand run right over her, gifting her with the angry cut. It had hardly touchedher awareness. Something was wrong. The team had been told, only a mildconcussion, and a broken leg. The family had been told something different.
Leaning her head on the back of her chair, Arion scrunched up anotherpiece of paper. How Quentin had dealt with it all, she never knew. Theoperation, and the rehab. And the drugs. That part made Arion shiver allover. Feeling so sick all the time... shit, having cancer of course, whoever in their lives wanted to deal with a life threatening disease... sheran a thumb over a the small labrys she wore on a thin chain around herneck. Praise Artemis she had never had to deal with that. Pray Artemisshe never would.
Another ball of paper missed the wastebasket. If she had actually beentrying to get the balls of paper in it, she would have put her spectacleson. As it was, the point of the exercise was nothing of the sort. It wasa patented time waster. Or should have been. Arion sighed unhappily. Aheavy book sat on the corner of her desk, looking fresh and new. Appropriate,since it was. A just finished project, well done. Another copy was at thevery moment running through the presses, helping to produce bound copiesto grace bookstore shelves. A cool thing. There was one small problem.Arion looked around the office, feeling its emptiness more than she usuallydid. There really wasn't anyone in her life to share it with. Family andfriends she had, but none who really understood what it meant to finisha significant piece of writing. They knew writing was something pleasingto her, and she was good at it. But they couldn't muster her enthusiasmfor it, or her interest in it. She had carried around the finished manuscriptfor a bit, ready to flash it at the first friend who would listen. Somehow,the conversation had never allowed for its introduction. No one had evengiven the obvious, new bulk of paper and cardboard under her arm a secondglance.
So now Arion was sitting quietly in her office, wishing wholeheartedlyshe had sent for her car a week sooner, so she could drive into Ennea Hodoiproper and find a place to drink. Not too many. Just enough to forget alittle bit, and maybe cruise a little, catch a few eyes and maybe somefun. As it was, it was late, and walking there wasn't an option. Sighingagain, Arion sat up and put on her spectacles, then pulled over her computerand opened a document. Might as well write for a bit, then go work out,she decided. Fifteen minutes later, her phone rang. Baffled, because itwas past ten p.m. and who called her these days anyway? Arion picked upthe phone.
"H-h-hello?" cursing mentally, she licked her lips and tried again."Hello?"
"Hi. Are you okay?" Arion stared at the phone in her hand as if it hadgrown legs. "Arion? Are you there?"
"Yeah, yeah... c-course... ummm, Benny, why are you calling me?" Thehistorian laughed softly.
"Because I'm slogging through paperwork, found something surprising,noticed your light was still on when I stuck my head out my window to look,and..." a pause. "That's why I called. Err... sorry, I must be tired, babblinglike that."
"No, don't apologize. I don't mind at all." Arion grinned a little.Whacko, she chided herself inwardly. Total coincidence she called whenyou felt so low.
"Is there a problem? You sounded out of it at first."
"No, no... I was writing, actually. Takes me a bit to get my brain ontodealing with the phone when I never expected it to ring and have been writingfor a good hour." Arion twirled a leaky ball point pen between the fingersof her right hand, feeling irrationally happy to hear Benny for some reason.Well, there it was. She was named for a Goddess of luck and good fortune...a good vibes sort of deity. Tonight she was lucky enough to be the recipientof some good vibes.
"Oh. I never thought of that. I've sort of picked up on writing morerecently, and you're right... writing does sort of put you in a zone, doesn'tit?"
"Yeah, it does... time moves so quick, even when every word is likegetting toothpaste out of a tube." Arion sat up eagerly, more then readyto discuss one of her favourite things.
"Okay, before I forget... Arion, on my personnel file here, Jed askedme to check it, make sure everything was in order, especially my birthday,because you had to guess it."
"True, very true."
"So, I wanted to know... you didn't really guess it, did you?" Arion'sreddish eyebrows rose.
"What do you mean, I didn't guess it?"
"Well, how could you have? You've got it completely right, down to theyear I was born in." Benny twirled a bit of lacing from her oldest pairof army boots, now retired and sitting placidly on a shelf behind her desk.
"Umm... well, I did." Arion replied, a bit lamely.
"Maybe you should go on tour... the 'Amazing Adams.'" Benny said inappropriately melodramatic tones.
"Nah, wouldn't want to compete with my aunt Artie, the magician whois also an actor." Arion replied, idly hitting the save button on her computer.
"Your aunt Artie?" Benny asked, fascinated, tapping a few keys on herown computer.
"Yup... you already know about her, you've got a poster from one ofher more recent movies on your office wall." Benny looked up in surprise.Of course, there, the centrepiece of one wall was her carefully preservedmovie poster, the vampire's dark good looks contrasting sharply with silverygreen eyes and white false fangs. At least, she thought they were false.Somehow, somehow... they looked very like they were meant to be there.Benny shivered a little, and indulged in a wish she had decided to be apower guzzler and use the ceiling light instead of her lamp. Now her attentionwas on it, it was as if those pale eyes were looking at her. "Those eyesof hers are pretty diconcerting even on a movie poster, eh?" commentedArion.
"You got that right." Benny agreed ruefully. "What are you doing aroundhere so late, anyhow?"
"Oh, grinding my way through paperwork at first. Then indulging in ahalfhearted probability study," Arion flicked a glance at the balls ofpaper scattered around the wastebasket. "Then I started writing."
"I've been meaning to ask you, but I had to go to an appointment...what's the big book you were hauling around today?" Benny had noticed Ariontrying to talk to one of her friends about it, and seen the crestfallen,hurt expression when she had been brushed off.
"Oh, you noticed?" Arion asked, feeling another one of those peculiarirrationally pleased bursts Benny seemed to inspire on a nearly regularbasis.
"Yeah. So come on, give." Benny grinned, singing out a mental 'Bingo!'Somehow she had figured asking about it would make Arion happy. The Amazonof the Red Lawns popped up on her computer screen. A little blurb of textscrolled down her shield.
"Good morrow, fair composer.
This was a good idea, Benny figured, so she clicked on 'okay' and returnedher full attention to Arion, who was just starting to explain what herbook was about, her voice full of enthusiasm. The Amazon of the Red Lawnspopped up again.
"Well met, fair composer.
Benny gaped. What the hell was that? "Benny?" Arion's tone was worried.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm here, and I am listening, honest, you were explaininghow you untangled the Thermodontine Amazon migration and traced one tribefrom Lake Van in Anatolia to Norway. It's just, this word processor onthe computer I inherited from my cousin. It just popped up this messageall of a sudden."
Arion laughed. "Oh well, of course it does. An Adams wrote it. As Irecall, Ges made several loud, unhappy complaints about how tedious andboring most computer programs were, and if the people writing them weregoing to stuff them full of crap nobody needed more than once in theirlives, they could at least make it a bit entertaining."
"Oh," Benny laughed, now understanding completely. "Like random messagesand goofy menu commands."
"You got it, babe." Arion hurried clapped a hand over her mouth, faceflaming. 'Shit, shit, okay, prepare for the telephone slap...'
"Cool... you know, usually I don't care for people calling me thingslike that, but for you, I'm making an exception."
"Rrf re?" Arion jerked her hand off of her mouth, nearly throwing thephone to the floor. "You are?"
"Yup." Benny replied, grinning broadly. "We're friends, after all."
"No ye great daft bugger!" Quentin hollered savagely at the customsagent. "I will not remove my artificial leg so you can x-ray it separatelyfrom the rest of me!" the customs agent looked frankly horrified, and wavedhis hands a little. Too late, other passengers waiting to pass throughcustoms, several of whom looked uncomfortably like media types, were watchingavidly.
"Please ma'am, be reasonable." the man pleaded.
"I am being reasonable. I am refusing to have my dignity trampled becauseyou're being an anal retentive fool." Quentin shot back. "It's a solidleg, nothing hidden in it. The best way to check is to knock on it... orlift it. Or just bloody x-ray all of me, because I'm NOT TAKING IT OFF!"The new Amazon Queen was feeling very tired, and very stressed, and thiswas only London, for Artemis' sake! Los Angeles she expected this sortof junk from, but London?
"Ma'am, there's no need to get offensive," the agent began again.
"Then you can stop being so ignorant, right now."
"What is going on here?" a crisp, angry voice interrupted. Quentin'sdeep blue eyes and the custom agent's rather muddy brown ones tracked overto the new arrival, a tall, blonde woman with a gaze capable of meltinglead. "Is there some reason for this disturbance?"
"Why, yes," the customs agent straightened. Obviously someone in authority.Now this Scottish harpy would get what was coming to her. "This personrefuses to cooperate with a simple request required for the security ofthis airport."
"I see. This suggests you want her to remove her artificial leg." Thecustoms agent paled. This woman had just gotten here. How did she knowabout it?
"Ye-es." he said doubtfully.
"I could get her to take it off." The man's eyes brightened. The womanstepped forward and grabbed him by the collar. "But only because I'm gonnabeat you with it, you jerk!" she hissed. The man's eyes bulged in alarm.The woman was really very tall, and his feet were now several inches abovethe floor.
"Excuse me," a smooth voice said. This new arrival was an airport official."I am so, so sorry, your majesty, Kepler Ionnidis." the official glaredfuriously at the customs agent, although his glare really couldn't havedone much to ice let alone lead, except for the fact he was the agent'sboss. "I swear, I swear, somehow the message to the effect your leg hadalready been examined and checked yesterday and marked for a visual checktoday in accordance with the new measures we've been forced to take dueto the recent bomb threats did not get to this person. I see the tags arein place," Quentin had obligingly lifted her kilt a bit, making the examinationtags attached to the soft material covering the metallic joint visible."That is quite sufficient. Thank you for being so restrained, I realizethis situation is extremely provoking." Ionnidis still looked like shewanted to beat the customs agent with Quentin's leg, but now the situationhad been suitably untangled, Quentin was quite happy to move on.
"I just hope such an oversight doesna happen again. Relax now, Avi.Let's just get on the damned plane." The blonde took a deep breath, reiningin her temper with an effort.
"All right, Cue. Let's go." Nodding curtly at the official and presentingthe agent with a look he was very glad couldn't actually reduce him toa smoking spot on the ground even though it looked like he was about tobe suspended for life for nuisancing a foreign dignitary, Avi slipped anarm through Quentin's and they moved on.
The walk down the hallway to the boarding gate was relatively quiet,the silence marred only by the faint tapping of Avi's boots, and the dullhalf thumps from Quentin's artificial leg. "I've got a feeling we're headingto the homeland just in time." Quentin commented, after a moment.
"Why?" Avi asked curiously.
"These problems at customs, they're only going to get worse. Thingsare very unstable right now. The Nation has been recognized, because theresimply wasn't a choice anymore, but there's a lot of bad blood. I thinkwe may have to send out the call now, before governments start restrictingmovement again." Quentin rubbed her thumb along the tip of her chin. "Inother words, I think we've got another war coming, my love, and if we don'tget our people out of harm's way, countries with axes to grind are goingto use any Amazons outside of the Nation as pawns." Avi nodded unhappily.She had figured as much herself. But as the Kepler, it really wasn't herdecision to make.
"Hence the movement of so many Adams and Pontius-Hallidays... Halliday-Pontiuses...er, whatever, to the Nation over the past two months."
"Actually, it was when the Adams started moving I started watching.The Adams never move without good reason, and certainly not all at once."replied Quentin. "When Artimachos Adams cancelled her latest tour and herpartner sold off the American branch of her hotel chain to follow afterher to the Nation, I knew something had to be up. What's your family doing?"
"Don't know. I'm the only Amazon in it, really. You want the phone?"Avi asked quietly.
"Yeah." Quentin took a deep breath. "I think today might be the besttime for it." She took the cell phone from Avi's hand, and grimmaced atit. "I hate these things."
"I know." Avi replied, giving her partner's hand a squeeze. "But thisone has the shielding you wanted, and it's only for a moment." A studyhad come out clearly linking cell phones and brain cancer, resulting inQuentin continuing to flatly refuse to ever use one unless somebody couldfind a way to keep the damn electromagnetic waves the things used fromfrying her brains, as she put it. Some people found this attitude quiteirrational, but Avi felt it was understandable, considering Quentin hadbarely survived her first run in with the disease. The tall Amazon haddecided that in some cases, the risk outweighed the gains, especially whenyou were genetically predisposed to problems.
A tinny ringing came from the phone, and Quentin frowned impatiently."Leave it to a damned Adams to ignore the phone." she crabbed. At lastthere was a click. "A. Adams, communications hub."
"I know you're an Adams. Which one are you, and no funny stuff."
"Morgan, your majesty." Ah, Quentin chuckled to herself. They all knewabout her now. "Get me Ygrainne on the horn, and run, woman!" A moment'ssilence, muzak having been banned throughout the Nation unless it was beingpiped into holding cells.
"Yes, that's me... send out the call, Ygrainne." Silence.
"Things have gone so far?"
"Yes, they have. Send out the call."
"All right. We'll be ready for new arrivals inside twelve hours. Nomore flights through main U.S. or U.K. hubs. Looks like most of the womenwill be going through Russia for a part of the trip." Quentin paused, sincenow the gate was only a couple of metres away.
"Och... I'm no Scot. I canna stand the moors, but can ride happily fordays through the steppes. Makes no sense." Visions of the last time shehad been to the plains steppes, seemingly unending miles of artemisiumand grass, riding a tireless horse for what felt like forever passed throughQuentin's mind. It had been incredible. No wonder so many legends spokeof those lands as being among Artemis' favourites.
"Of course you're no Scot... you're an Amazon." Ygrainne replied cheerfully."It'll all turn out fine." With those words, she hung up, and Quentin handedthe now quiescent phone back to Avi, who tucked it into her pocket again.
"How long is this flight again?"
"Now Avi, don't torment yourself. Just help me ignore the inflight movieand finish my crossword puzzle, and it'll be over before you know it."Quentin smiled winningly. Poor Avi was seriously afraid of flying, andsuffered it as a necessary evil demanded by the needs of her Nation.
"I'm not sure I can do that while clinging to the ceiling, but all right."Avi grinned a little, determined to relax at least enough to avoid allthe sore muscles she had gotten the last time.
"All right, now, who can tell me which of these equations I can use...this one," adding a smudge with one chalky finger under a set of symbols,"or this one?" Jed waited patiently. It was a sad fact that even youngwomen who had passed the physics curriculum in North America often hadno real understanding of it, so she had to start with about ten basic checkquestions to see where they were actually at. A conference with a groupof professors at universities outside of the Nation had been all aboutimproving the curriculum. Jed had gotten herself into some trouble by pointingout maybe it would be better to improve the teaching. 'Oh well,' she sighedinwardly. 'onward.' She wrote another set of equations on the board. "Ifyou've ever seen this before, please make a note to that effect on yourpaper. If you can tell me what each variable refers to, all the better."
Turning around, she gazed at her earnest group. A hundred of them, thebiggest class she had seen yet. Rumour had it one of the writing classeshad just topped three hundred, but she simply couldn't believe it. Theapparatus she had set up for a demonstration later in the class burpednoisily, and Jed winced. For the life of her, she could not understandwhy a simple, cold, beaker of glycerine set up for an experiment demonstratingterminal velocity would do that. It burped again, and several studentslaughed helplessly. Jed grinned. It was pretty funny. She made her wayover, unconsciously stuffing the chalk in her pocket.
Shifting a few things, she picked up the beaker, and gazed at it. Aneat rubber top prevented splashes and leaks. Should have been clear, niceclear glycerine. Oddly enough, it seemed awfully runny for glycerine, andhad a distinct bluish tinge. "What the hell is this stuff?" Jed muttered.Basic chemistry suggested dropping in some of her little iron balls wouldshow something, though... the door of the classroom burst open, and Chrishurried in.
"Don't do that! Please." she hurried up the aisle, trying not to allowthe stares from the students distract her. "Here's yours," Chris handedover a beaker. "I'll take this one. It's highly reactive. Just about abang type moment, there, Jed." Crisis averted, she wiped her brow witha polka dotted hankerchief.
"Right," Jed peered at the beaker her partner had handed to her, andturned it around a few times, satisfying herself as to its viscosity.
"That's how I realized you had the wrong one." Chris declared proudly.
"I'm glad," Jed replied, smiling. "That stuff was burping, by the way."
"Was it?" Chris frowned and then glared at the beaker. "It's too earlyfor it to be producing gases... at least, I think it is." A moment more,and she wandered out of the classroom, writing on the beaker with a blackfelt tipped pen, apparently working out a chemical reaction equation again.Just outside of the door she exclaimed, "Of course! How could I forgetto add those two numbers!" Jed swallowed hard and sent a quick prayer toArtemis.
"How about letting me see those papers?" she asked the students.
Benny winced, and carefully ran her fingertips over her rapidly expandingblack eye. The cricket ball had come from nowhere, it seemed, and the thingsseemed to be made of wood with a red leather covering. Now she was sittingin the infirmary, wishing she could open her eye at least a little, andadding cricket to her list of sports she would prefer to see only on television.
The healer bustled up to her, tipping up her chin and making tskingnoises. "Dear me, that must be miserable. Looks like a good old fashionedblack eye though, nothing sinister. How's your nose?"
"All right. It only bled for a few minutes." Benny had been distractedfrom her misery by the panicked group of cricket players who had seen herknocked off her feet as if by a bullet. For a few minutes they had beenconvinced they had accidentally killed her.
"Maybe so, but I still have to check nothing is broken in your face...come with me." They walked down two rambling corridors and down a set ofsteps, the healer carefully holding Benny's elbow on the way down. Theirdestination was an almost comically ancient x-ray machine, although ithad been modified to allow the films to develop while they waited. "Looksgood, looks good... don't go catching anymore of those with your face.What are these?" she was pointing to five clearly visible metal pins inthe left side of Benny's jaw. The historian shrugged.
"Nasty accident involving a landmine and a troop transport truck I wasin. Can't stand straws to this day."
"Hmmph. Must have been a miserable break. I've only seen them used inpretty extreme cases. There's an x-ray in the files here... I believe Ihad to x-ray her to check for a skull fracture. Between the pins and theother bits of metal, you could hardly make out the bones in her face."the healer had expertly probed Benny's eye again, and had now handed heran icebag, two ibuprofen and a glass of water. "Chances are she had toget used to the new face she got out of it. Luckily, you are just goingto have to get used to that black eye, which will go away in due time."
An hour later, Benny was sprawled across her hide away bed, her laptopbalanced on her stomach, tapping away at what she had begun to jokinglyrefer to as her memoirs. The Amazon of the Red Lawns popped up.
"Great battles you have survived today...
Benny blinked, then chuckled a little. "You go that right, sister."
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