Uber Uberalles Ubers
Ist das Uber ober Ubers wirklich ober oder unter?
Disclaimers: I may want to disclaim all knowledge of this story later, but until then, it's all mine, though some characters may seem familiar to the audience. I'm betting y'all can figure it out. I did, however, swipe a couple of lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson's The May Queen.
Violence: A smidgen. Less than a Lethal Weapon movie, more than a "very special episode" of Full House. Except when the Olsen twins were onscreen. That was criminal. No actual blood type substances were spilled during the production of this story, however, the blood alcohol level fluctuated significantly while writing certain parts.
Subtext/Sex: This story depicts women in love, or at least, getting there. One "steamy" scene, but nothing graphic. PG-13, just because it's chicks. If you are underage - 13?!? - hey, you probably know more than I did about the birds and the birds at that age anyway, but just to be proper, wait that extra few months, okay? It won't kill you. If this is illegal where you live, doesn't it disturb you at all that the government believes it has the right to police your thoughts and emotions? Not to mention what you do in your bedroom. If that doesn't bother you, well, I doubt anything I can say will change your mind, and this story might be considered subversive by your lawmakers, those paragons of virtue, so to be perfectly law-abiding, remove this evil temptation from your sight.
German Syntax: It sucks. No question. But, it has a certain alliterative quality, and Overkill is the name of the game here. You'll want to remember that word later.
Call this my homage to the Uber. Or just accept that I felt the need to justify the numbers. Comments welcome at Nekanuq@cableone.net
The car stopped at the curb, but Xima made no attempt to get out. "I don't know how I let you talk me into this." She glowered at the driver.
"Talking wasn't exactly involved. You lost the bet. Time to pay up."
"I don't see how my doing this benefits you. Unless seeing me in abject misery fulfills some sadistic bent of yours."
Her friend laughed, full throated and rather wicked sounding. "Yep, that's it ... all about me, me, me. Oh, golly gee whiz, I forgot to bring the video camera to record your predicament for posterity. Think you can handle it if I let you suffer unwitnessed?"
Xima briefly contemplated whether stalling in favor of camcorder retrieval would get her out of the situation. No, this shindig would probably last for days. If she pushed it, Julie would simply break current land-speed records to get back with the camera. Better to taker her chances now, the less likelihood of video showing up on Springer later. She blew a breath up into her bangs.
"Oh, please. You act like it's your first day in kindergarten. Now go in there and make a new friend. And if you don't get expelled before the end of the day, I'll treat you to a nice ice cream cone."
Xima glared. "Expelled? What kind of kindergartner were you? And quit sounding like my grandmother."
"Just covering the bases. You're all registered. Go sign in at the front desk. If you need a ride home tonight, give me a call ... but keep in mind," Julie paused threateningly and revved the motor, as she nudged her friend out of the car, "I'll know you failed, then."
Xima stood in the exhaust left by her friend's old beater and debated jogging the 30 miles home on the freeway. It was tempting. If she caught a ride with a trucker, she might make it before the rain started. But she'd lost a bet, and she'd honor it. That was the kind of gal she was, all noble and loyal and generous to her friends, few though they numbered. Those traits, however, did not preclude her from also being almost permanently grouchy, professionally ruthless, emotionally detached, and though she was loath to admit it (even to herself), kind of lonely. She turned and walked into the building.
"Zima? Like that odd alcohol drink?" the woman at the registration table asked, her voice seasoned by the smooth, mellow flavor three packs a day had bestowed upon her over the past twenty-five years.
"With an 'X'," Xima sighed. Predictable. People could always be counted on to think and say the same things in the same situations. Was it cultural or neurological? She briefly pondered applying for a grant to study the phenomenon and ruminated over ways to tie it in to her current research on the ramifications of societal abrogations inherent in the aberrantly violent.
"With an 'X' ... of course, why didn't I think of that?" the registrar rolled her eyes. Never seen so many unpopular letters since that bad box of Alpha-Bits. The sarcasm did not escape Xima's notice as she took the nametag and convention packet handed to her, though its reason wasn't clear. The woman tilted her neck back to look up at Xima. Tall. "The orientation is in the Corinthian Room, down the hall, double doors on the right. The packet will explain the different booths along the concourse, if you're not familiar with them. Is this your first time?"
Xima's neck jerked, nearly unscrewing her head. What, is my tattoo showing? Or does she mean... "Some people come more than once? Doesn't say much for your track record, does it?"
"There are, occasionally," the registrar said, airily, "those who don't ... take away ... the full experience the first time they attend. Sometimes the turnout is a little lopsided." She paused, gave Xima the once-over. "Usually benefits your type, though." Then under her breath, "Full moon doesn't hurt..."
Xima heard, scowled, chose to ignore. Migraines starting this early were ominous. And nine am is too early for that ice cream cone, damn it. She doubted there was a Baskin-Robbins in the industrial district, anyway. "Corinthian Room, huh?"
The woman flicked her hand over her shoulder in the general direction. "You're late."
"...find that you are in similar professions, the same industry, or complementary jobs," the speaker onstage was saying. "The job profile booth can help you narrow down your choices." Having delivered her orientation speech innumerable times across the country in the past few years, the woman allowed her mouth to run on automatic to the room full of listeners, as her eyes scanned across what she had come to view as a bilevel calico carpet of heads; dark-haired women looming over a bobbing sea of lighter-colored counterparts. Not really a berber, and definitely not a shag. She'd had a cat once with two different kinds of fur, patches of fine, short, white hair, and others long, coarse, and orange. Sort of like that. "As you blondes may have noticed--"
"Redhead!" an audience member called out.
A paper cup sailed across the room in the approximate direction of the redhead's voice, and the cup thrower hollered, "I prefer 'strawberry blonde,' chickie!" The cup bounced off of a somewhat more blondish head.
"Hey! What's the idea?" cried the victim, who then launched her own cup ceilingward. It wasn't empty, and the stream of punch cut a blood red swath through brunettes and blondes - er, red, er, corn ... er, shorter women - alike. Outraged yells were followed by the yellow/orange portion of the calico rug surging in upon itself while the darker patches held what they could at bay from the melee.
"Ladies! Ladies! Please!" cried the speaker.
A petite young woman jostled against her legs and the microphone stand, knocking them both over. The resulting squawk of feedback from the speakers grabbed everyone's attention. The room quieted. The speaker gained her feet, straightened the mike, cleared her throat. One of the tamer battles, she smiled privately. She could see several pairings already taking place on the floor. Works every time.
"As I was saying, you ... reddish-blondes..." she paused for a moment to wait for any latent outbreaks, then continued, "may have noticed the ratio of yourselves to possible blue-eyed partners here..." She paused again to determine the reaction to that categorization.
After a moment, a statuesque woman near the front shrugged. "What? They're blue, okay? Icy, glacial, cerulean, azure, aqua, turquoise, electric, sky, cobalt, lapis, steel, indigo, powder, robin's egg, cyan, marine, navy, peacock, woad, baby..."
"Woad?" someone muttered.
"Limpid pools," a nearby blonde added helpfully, moving towards the tall, dark, human thesaurus, who clucked her tongue.
"How Romanticist," the woad-eyed woman drolled. "but 'limpid' doesn't define color now, does--" something made her pause, at a loss for words for a moment, as the blonde neared her. The room seemed to be holding its breath. Then the woman, oblivious to all around her save the petite woman who was approaching, breathlessly uttered, "A livelier emerald twinkles in the grass..."
"A purer sapphire melts into the sea," whispered the blonde, then she smiled, and melted herself, right into the taller woman. "It's you," she said, burrowing in an attempt at molecular fusion.
"Okay, so Romanticism ain't so bad," muttered her new companion, who steered them both towards the door, the sea shifting around them as they bubbled to the edge and floated away.
Scratch two more off the list. Bet it's three days before they even realize they don't know each other's names yet. The speaker took up the mike again. "Yes ... well, as I was saying, you blondes ... and redheads ... and everyone in between ... will note you outnumber your darker partners here, but that's no reason to get discouraged. There is a match out there somewhere for each of you, however, we've found that some women try to ignore their 'calling,'" she finger-quoted the air, "for lack of a better word. We have a booth set up for referrals for those of you who don't hook up today, and it has proven successful in its own right..."
The perky blonde briskly breezed past the registration table, but the woman behind it was a pro, hurdling over it with inches to spare on her way to intercept. "Miss? Excuse me ... Miss?" No response, the blonde was on a mission. "Lariel? Mariel? Favrielle?" Her voice got louder with each name she called. "Azrielle?" The young woman ahead of her slowed. The registrar was on a roll. "Ga...zelle?"
The blonde turned. "Now you're just trying to be cute. Ariel." She put her hand on her hip and tipped her head. "How did you know?"
The registrar's eyes rolled back in her head for the three thousandth time that day. They went so far back, Ariel thought bells might start ringing and the woman would spit quarters out of her mouth when they came down again. "Oh, please. You try doing a couple dozen of these things a year and see if you don't learn a trick or two." She steered Ariel back to the entrance. "Now come along, little mermaid. We need to get you signed in."
"Like I haven't heard that one a million times," Ariel grumbled.
"You and me both, honey. Step through this opening, please."
"What's this? You check for weapons?" Ariel asked.
"Oh no, hardly. In our crowds, we've seen looks that could kill ... we don't worry about armaments. This is simply an overheight detector. Apparently, we've been getting too many tall ones lately."
"If you're taller than 5'6", you don't qualify. Frankly, I think 5'6" is pushing it, but they tell me they have to take into account that humans are a lot taller now than they were a few thousand years ago. Whatever that means. We have another measure over on that post to make sure the others aren't below 5' 10". We're a little more subtle with that one. Anyway, you're fine. If you'll just sign here, I'll get your packet and you can join the fun." The registrar handed her a pen and clipboard.
Ariel stood there, mouth open, the clipboard hanging limp in her hand. I just walked through a friggin' kiddie door?
"...Now, I'd like to point out the many compatibility tests we've developed through painstaking research and psychological studies," not to mention trial, error and pure luck, the speaker thought, then said aloud, "which are here for you to take advantage of. If you will all please pull out the Convention Booth & Workshop Guide provided in your packet, you will see a great variety of activities that you may participate in, all included for your benefit as part of the seminar."
Xima grudgingly opened up the packet she'd been given at the registration table. There was the usual marketing promo about the history and popularity of the seminar. About thirty midnight eyebrows throughout the conference room arched like Kerri Strug on the balance beam, as others began reading the same material. The exponential growth of the convention, not to mention its claim of a near perfect success rate was at least as questionable as the number of billions served by McDonald's. What was she doing here, anyway? And these other statistics - where did they come up with these things? Average height, average ages and age differences ... Demographics for places of residence, with an inordinate number of exotic locations listed, occupations leaning towards military, law enforcement* (the footnote, in tiny print, mentioned a rather high percentage on the other side of the law as well) or high powered executives, and income brackets that would make H. Ross Perot blush.
A door opened behind Xima, and she glanced back briefly as another blonde fitting the vital statistics she'd just read - and saw generously scattered throughout the room - entered.
Ariel closed the door quietly behind her, and swam through the calico sea to get a better view of the speaker, who had geared her spiel into overdrive.
"...You'll notice the atmosphere has a carnival like quality to it, to allow a festive mood and put you all at ease. There's no need for anyone to feel pressure about enjoying any of these games and activities. For example, the kissing booth is strictly voluntary both in front and behind the counter ... and some of you will find it a wonderful practice tool, if nothing else..."
Oh god, at the first sign of cake walk or sideshow freak, I'm outta here, groaned Xima. Especially a freak doing a cake walk. Eleven o'clock. Eleven o'clock isn't too early for ice cream. Just hang onto that thought...
"Now, to get the ball rolling a little bit ... break the ice, so to speak ... I'd like everyone to find a partner - a physical counterpart, please, if there's enough of you tall ladies to go around - and we're going to do the Jigsaw Test right here." The speaker paused for a moment, watching the pools of women ripple and swirl. Well, mostly the shorter women. The taller ones seemed frozen in place.
Xima looked uncomfortably around, nodding at another darkly complexioned woman nearby with a similar expression of dread, who was, if possible, taller and more broody than herself. A small, white-blonde woman came up next to the other woman and tapped her on the shoulder. The sable-tressed woman jumped. About as high-strung as me, too, thought Xima, or it's that old touchy-feely problem... And then she was startled herself, as someone cleared her throat behind her. She turned to see ocean spray eyes and cran-apple hair, and called Julie several choice expletives under her breath.
"Okay, so, everyone got a partner? Great! Now, I want you all to give your new friend a nice warm hug." The speaker waved her arms in a "time to huddle" motion. Titters and coughs answered her from the audience. "Come on now, don't be shy. You've had your whole lives to push people away, ladies ... one little hug isn't going to kill you."
A collective thought raced through a large proportion of dark heads in the room at being labeled "lady" and they started prioritizing lists of who they'd like to kill at that very moment. The speaker was a popular top choice.
She was also, seemingly, oblivious. "That's it! I see some of you out there getting into the spirit! And I'll bet you are already seeing how well you fit together! Doesn't it feel nice? Now come on, the rest of you!" She began chanting, "Jigsaw .... Jigsaw .... Jigsaw ... Everybody now .... Jigsaw .... Jigsaw ..."
Someone piped a country song about lookin' for love in all the wrong places through the sound system. Xima looked at the blonde who'd singled her out. She was swaying and clapping and chanting right along with the speaker. Not a chance, she thought, and found a side door to slip through.
She ended up along the concourse, with kiosks promoting a variety of matchmaking rituals. It was already full of women, the calico ocean multiplied from the orientation room, with eddying swirls of golden, corn silk, tow-headed women around somewhat fewer, stiller, noir-maned enigmas.
They might as well just line us up and slam us into each other. Xima decided ducking down a passageway to find an unoccupied room, until she could fairly say enough time had elapsed before calling Julie to come pick her up, was the safest way to go. She opened a door far down a quiet hall. Squeals and cheers erupted, nearly knocking her back into the corridor.
A long line of blondes faced a row of brunettes. There was a pair off to the side, newly coupled, from the look of the locked gazes they had on each other. They brushed by Xima as they glided out of the room.
"Our turn!" Somebody in the blonde line called. "Everyone ready?"
The two lines of women got a little more orderly, as the participants linked hands.
In unison, the blondes yelled out, "Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Alex Number 39 right over!"
It was all just too much. Xima closed the door before Alex, one of apparently more than three dozen at the conference, completed her charge across the room and into the waiting arms of a selection of Haileys, Caitlins, and Brittanys. Xima suspected the rules were a little different than traditional Red Rover, and that each side lost a player every round. She feared what she would find behind other closed doors - some perverse Musical Chairs, perhaps, or Twister.
Ariel, having found herself to be the equivalent of a square peg amid too many round holes in the puzzle test, rubbed her head where she'd cracked it against the chin of a dark, beautiful woman who didn't quite meet the average height difference necessary to "fit" with her. The blonde only hoped the other hadn't bitten completely through her tongue. She'd tried to help stanch the flow of blood, but when it became apparent that the ebon-thatched woman didn't appreciate a mouthful of Ariel's fingers to compress the wound, the spritely blonde decided retreat was the better part of valor, and slipped away to find a workshop, or maybe a discussion panel on reducing accident proneness.
A display was set up in an out of the way corner, ignored by the majority of attendees, and it became Xima's haven from the throngs. Panels were covered in paintings, sketches, poetic descriptions, and tales of dreamed visions. A plaque, nearly buried under the profusion of paper, proclaimed that these were the artists' and authors' conceptions of their soul mates, all of which bore striking resemblances to one of two types, both represented live throughout the convention center. No matter which way she turned, half of the pictures gave Xima the feeling she was in a paper hall of mirrors.
She pivoted around an end section, and found a history of the phenomenon that was sweeping the country like an out of control belt sander.
In a time of internet chats, message boards, and email, A bunch of women cried out for their soul mates. She was statuesque, often with an X in her name, Forged on the mean streets of New York, or London, or a top secret government agency, The coincidences, the similarities, the sexual tension, It would take all her courage to face a small blonde (or redhead--whatever...)
Xima cocked her head. Not very metric. Put it down to really free free verse. She noted a timeline of significant historic eras stretching back several thousand years. It claimed concentrations of women at seminal moments, creating their own history and undermining the strictly testosterone versions generally accepted by the world. The Roaring Twenties, Victorian England, the American Old West, piracy in the New World, and so on, back through the ages. Would the real Robin Hood please stand up? Shakespeare: commoner, front for an English lord, or a woman with innate knowledge of languages, history and other cultures? (Some scholars have suggested Elizabeth I, but the theorist here claimed even that was a cover for the real woman playwright.) Just how did "Butch" Cassidy get that nickname? And her sidekick, the "Sundance Kid?" Wasn't it obvious? Photographs could be faked, and imposters used, to hide their true identities.
Xima reserved her opinion on the validity of these suppositions as she took a step backward around the end of another panel, and bumped into someone. Startled, her inhumanly speedy reflexes kicked in, and she spun around into a defensive stance, to see another statuesque, coal-mopped woman in a similar pose, staring her down. They stood, eyeing each other cautiously for several moments before relaxing slightly but maintaining their respective crouches. Xima exhaled quietly, wondering at the unexpected primal yell she knew had only barely stalled in her throat before being released to raise the rafters. She looked at the other woman. "Not too many people manage to sneak up on me so quietly."
"I could say the same about you."
Xima examined the other woman's stance. "You're ninpo, I see."
A curt nod. "Yes. And you do aikido."
They moved warily around each other, circling, observing through slitted eyes, until finally deciding neither was an immediate threat. They faced each other to bow briefly before going back to peruse the boards.
The topic in the new section was existential: Where did all these women come from, and why were they concentrated so heavily in this era in time? More than one theory was proposed. There was the requisite conspiracy theory that they were all products of an ultra-secret government cloning project. Or perhaps the two groups of women were all direct descendants, and therefore distant cousins of each other, of a couple of rather remarkable women of ancient Greece, of whom a number of scrolls had been unearthed relatively recently.
Xima passed over a couple ideas about time travel and immortality, which didn't adequately justify the plethora of women collected here. She paused longer at a complicated hypothesis about fractures in the space-time continuum, and how this might affect the reincarnation of souls in the corporeal world. A nearly indecipherable blueprint that would have made Rube Goldberg proud, showing possible beginning causes of the fractures some several thousand years ago, and how the displacements would spread out and then concentrate at focal points in history, a little like cosmic tides, took up nearly an entire panel. The fractures in time, it posited, could also create fractures in the original souls, breaking them into small, condensed versions of the whole, which would then give the reincarnated life a stronger sense of its true self than most reborn souls inherently grasp. The souls flowed along with fractures, some getting deposited here and there on the way, but most crashing together on the shores of history at the fractures' focal points.
Xima studied the blueprint closely. The end, which focused on the modern day, was not really the end, she noted. The fractures continued into the future, but where the next great convergence of souls would be had not been pin-pointed. Xima went back to the beginning, where the time displacements started. Sort of. There didn't seem to be one single point of origin. The first wave was merged from numerous ancient points in time, from the era of the Trojan war, to Odysseus' return to Ithaca, to the biblical battle between David and Goliath, to Caesar's reign in Rome, with many moments of mythological significance sprinkled throughout. A handwritten annotation, close to the spot on the timeline where Prometheus was said to have been punished for his gifts to man, was accredited to an obscure scroll which claimed to record the events leading to his release. There were other such comments all over the sheet, each initialed "A.S." Xima examined the paper more closely, finally spotting the author's name of this whole theory, "A. Schwarzbaum," tucked into a lower corner of the drawing.
Xima mulled over the hypothesis. Nuts. How can someone just throw out all the physical laws of nature and the universe, attribute events to various heathen gods, and expect people to take it seriously? Where did those scrolls referenced as sources come from? Then she remembered the scrolls mentioned in another theory posted on one of the boards she'd glanced over. She moved back toward it. The discovery and authentication of the scrolls in the 1940's, relating the events of the lives of a woman warrior and her companion in ancient Greece, were said to be an important and significant archeological find, which should change modern thinking about the roles of women in history. Inexplicable, however, was the fact that the scrolls, all apparently written by the same hand and describing the recurrence of many of the same people, covered more than a thousand years of Mediterranean history. At least, it was inexplicable unless you created a yo-yo theory of rips in the fabric of time, Xima mused. Could it get any more Star Trekky?
"...I just ... I ... nothing's ever been right since Lyman died. And it was all my fault. If I'd just unlocked the door, he'd be here today..." The ink-plaited woman spoke hoarsely from her spot in the circle to no one in particular.
"Yeah, well, I got both my brothers killed when I talked them into fighting against the Crips and the Bloods, instead of joining either gang. I think they left me alive just so I'd have to suffer with the knowledge," another woman with searing laser blue eyes, sitting across from the first, agonized. Her voice turned icier than the Antarctic, "Their mistake."
"Okay, I know there's a lot of pain in this room," the only woman in the group who stood out from the rest, by her lack of imposingly beautiful features, said. "We're here to tell you, 'You're not alone.' We all have life-altering incidents in our pasts that can haunt us..."
A woman with jet-black braids, who had been sitting back in her chair with her arms crossed for most of the session, spoke up. "Oh yeah? Just what have you got, Lady? You're not one of us. I lost my mother, my brother and my sister when I was twelve years old. I got tattoos to remember each one of them. Wanna see?"
The guidance counselor began to speak. "No, that's fine, I'm sure everyone here has their own ways of paying respect to their lost loved ones..."
"You ain't kidding," yet another sooty-haired enigma in leather said. "Don't think I'd have room for all six brothers, my father, and my entire sled-dog team inked on my body, though."
"That's nothing. I don't have enough fingers and toes to count everyone whose died on me. I'm talking four brothers, three sisters, both parents, my lover, my son--"
The new participant in the group was cut off by the tattooed woman. "Oh yeah, and my pet ferret--"
"My ant farm, and every plant I've ever owned."
"Uh huh. When you lost your ant farm, did you survive on nothing but berries in the forests of Idaho for three years?"
"No ... on bat guano in the New Guinea jungles. Did you join the Mafia and go to prison out of loyalty because your boss told you to take the fall for his bimbo daughter?"
"Twice. Ever slit a man's throat just because his lazy eye wandered the wrong way?"
The two women had long since left their seats and were squaring off in the middle of the circle. The tattooed woman was about to lob another verbal volley when another of the group interrupted. "Wow, y'all have had it rough. No one's ever died on me ... even a pet..."
Everyone in the group turned to stare. The group counselor cleared her throat. "First of all, ladi ... er, gals ... um, people ... this isn't supposed to be a competition to one-up each other..."
Ariel wandered down the corridor, looking for the workshop on getting one's family to appreciate one's specialness. She thought she'd found it when she saw the door marked, "Dysfunction Junction" and a note stuck below that which read, "Group in Session, Do Not Disturb." Such instructions had never hindered her before, nor would they now. The door squeaked open, and she peered in to see about a dozen dark heads swivel in her direction, two dozen ice blue eyes fix her in their sights, and one collective snarl greet her.
A woman, short, mousey, and with thick glasses, hastily said, "I think you want the next room over. This session is private." At the same time, the her eyes pleaded with Ariel to take the hint, For God's sake, save yourself!
Ariel nodded almost imperceptibly, and backed out of the room. The counselor turned back to face the woman for whom familial loss was an alien concept, squinting at her nametag. "Now, Alex Number ... 41. You seem a little too well adjusted. I think perhaps you might be at the wrong convention. Have you ever heard of the tales of Meg the Serving Wench, or Princess Diana of Treus," the counselor scrutinized Alex more closely, "or even Minya, the Laurelian Thespian?"
Ariel closed the door quietly behind her, and took a deep breath. As she pushed away from the door, a Titian-crowned woman of her own height headed straight for the room. Ariel stopped her with a touch to her arm. "You ever seen that old movie, The Boys From Brazil?"
"Um, yeah, I think so..." The leafy-eyed woman was a trifle startled by the unexpected question.
"Take my word for it ... don't go in there." Ariel nodded her head back towards the door. "It's an estrogen enhanced version going on." Ariel moved back to the crowds.
The fine hairs on Xima's arms and the back of her neck prickled as she rounded the end of the last panel of the display back into the main track of the event. A flash of blue light sparked near the center of the throngs of women and caught her attention. The flash morphed into a darkly handsome, very well-built man, dressed in black leather. That's a hell of a hologram, she thought, then realized the tension level in the women around her had shot up subtlely. She felt an electricity in the air, although outwardly, most women seemed coolly collected. Everyone's attention was now drawn to the image, which was positioned on a moderately raised dais. The silence that swept over the crowd was unexpected to Xima, who was beginning to get a sense that more was going on here than a sophisticated video projection. She felt a surge of adrenaline rush through her own body, as her hackles rose up.
The image took a deep breath, let it out with gusto, and opened its arms wide as if to take in its surroundings. Then it spoke, in a deep, powerful, commanding voice that carried easily over the assembly. "It's good to see such an excellent turnout. Are we ready to rock?"
It was with instant clarity then, that Xima knew this was no hologram, but a real, live being, and with a depth of understanding she hadn't known she possessed before, she had no doubt that she was familiar with this man, an ancient tie that she could never completely sever. "Ares," she whispered, and heard echoed by others across the floor.
"Ah, good, you're a quick bunch today. I do so hate having to start off with the training film. Much better when we can skip right to the graduation ceremony. And my dears, today I have a special graduation gift for you behind Curtain Number One: I give you ... The World." As the last words reverberated off the walls, an image of the Earth appeared above the god's head, his arms outstretched to embrace it. "It's all for you, my army of Xenas. Come with me and rule. It's your destiny."
The women were eerily silent, though a little restive as they shifted on their feet.
"Aw, come on," Ares urged, "you'd pass up the opportunity to triumph over the same system of disorder that raised you? You were born to this, each and every one of you."
"I don't think so, Ares." One dark, towering woman spoke up. "I think we're finding what we've been looking for right here, and it's not you." An ash blonde pixie came up to stand beside her, and the dark woman put her arm around the shorter one's shoulders.
"Oh puhleeze. A girl bats her pretty little green eyes at you, and you think luuuv conquers all." Ares spat the word with enough venom to bring down an elephant. "I hate to burst your Happy Bubble, but you've got no guarantees. Hormones subside eventually. Emotions are fleeting. I can offer you so much more: Power, conquest, victory..."
A carbon-haired she-demon landed on the dais, wielding a broadsword with meaning. Before Xima could question where the sword had come from, she saw a cluster of lookalikes swarm over a nearby kiosk. The sign above it advertised authentic, combat-quality blades for sale. In moments, there was little left of the booth but some price tags and tattered cloth. And a new regiment of armed warrior women.
"Is that all ya got, Ares? You think this is finally your year because it's such a nice, round figure?" said the woman facing the war god on the dais, as others began closing in.
Ares' eyes twinkled, and tilted his head at her nametag. "Well, Alex, it's not as nice as yours, but I'll use it while it's here. I never pass up an opportunity to take over the world, you know. Or to bring Xena back by my side, even if she's scattered in bits and pieces in all of you. Think of the fun we'd all have together." And the fun I can have with all of you, the god's libido sang.
Had they scabbards from which to draw their swords, the ring of the metal would have been a brief but melodious tune to stir the blood coursing through the veins of everyone in the room. The glint of the blades under the lights served much the same purpose, as Ares found himself at the point of a myriad of weapons.
He sighed. "No, huh?"
A profusion of dark heads smiled wickedly at him, and shook their heads, "No," as one.
Ares shrugged, and drew his own sword. "So, you want to replay Seattle again, is that it?"
"Consider it your consolation prize," said the tall dark enigma nearest him.
"Alright, last time was fun. And you know I hate to disappoint. Let's rumble."
Ares swung his sword and clashed with the woman's blade, sparks flying. The battle was on, as a chorus of undulating yells tore from the throats of several hundred women. A single yell from one woman was often enough to cause a mortal man to wet himself, and were Ares mortal, he would have been little more than a moist stain after an onslaught of the proportions heard here. As it was, he gave as good as he got, fending off all comers, but he was on the defensive almost from the start. He was pushed back towards the edge of the dais, and when he sensed his precarious position, he flipped backwards out of the reach of the warrior women in front of him, only to land in the midst of another group ready and waiting to pick up where the first left off.
After the booth selling staves ran out, the short, spunky, vermilion- and lemon-headed members of the crowd, not to be left out of the fun, attacked the many booths along the concourse, ripping the sign posts from the frames to become impromptu weapons. Ariel came out of the corridor leading to the workshop rooms just in time to join in the disassembly of one of the few remaining kiosks, securing her own staff. She made her way through the hordes to where the greatest commotion seemed to be, mumbling, "Not again."
The calico sea surged and stormed. Steel swung fast and furiously everywhere, black hair flying around as blue-eyed fencing terrors leapt, cartwheeled, flipped, and summersaulted over and around blondes, redheads, Ares, and each other, with the precision of a well-seasoned troupe of Chinese acrobats. And frankly, quite a bit of luck, which was further required as several shiny metal rings, procured from yet another sales booth, whizzed just overhead and around the room, ricocheting off walls, kiosks, and upraised weapons. It was a close shave for several of the tallest women, who received unscheduled flat-top hairdos, and Ares, the right half of whose beard made the ultimate sacrifice.
Xima, never one to pass up a good fight even after her years of research on the subject, jumped into the fray just as Ares was blown back by the powerful one-two combination of a couple of Amazonian types working in tandem. She reached the perimeter in time to catch the god of war as he pinwheeled into her. She rolled back with him, getting her long, powerful legs underneath him and raising him up, then bounced the god around on her feet, much like a seal with a beach ball. She kicked him away to others in the crowd, who played hackey sack with him until he finally landed in a heap in an open space.
Ares picked himself up and smoothed his leather with as much dignity as he could muster. "Feel better ladies?" he asked, and was nearly reduced to stain status again by the answering whoops and cheers. "Got your blood up, didn't it? Do you really want to live without that rush for the rest of your lives?"
Another Alex stepped forward, with a Caitlin close by her elbow. "I can think of other ways to get my blood pumping, Ares. Give it up." She smiled down at her companion.
"I never give up," said the god. But then he cocked his head in a final concession. "I do, however, take a breather once in a while." And with a flash of light, Ares, God of War, disappeared into the ether.
In the aftermath of the battle, the calm, business-as-usual atmosphere that prevailed surprised Xima. The sound system was cranked up, and Kenny Loggins, contradictorily, encouraged everyone not to fight it. Women milled around, helping those who had fallen to their feet, sifting through the rubble of kiosks, pairing off with someone when an overwhelming urge presented itself. One such coupling happened right in front of Xima, as a swarthy woman who must have topped six and a half feet, discovered a tiny platinum blonde, with Pippi Longstocking style braids, under a collapsed booth and moved heaven, earth and particle board to rescue her, lifting her like a kitten, and carting her off on her hip.
Okay, we've struck freak show. Xima headed for the lobby.
The bank of pay phones was clear, and she jammed coins into the nearest one, jabbing numbers like she was performing some nerve deadening ritual. The line connected on the other end.
"Xima? Hey, how's it-"
"Get. Me. Outta here. NOW."
Julie winced. She knew better than to argue. "Oops, okay, I'm on my way."
Xima set the handset back into its cradle, then ripped the whole unit from the wall. She tossed her name tag at the unimpressed registrar. "Just send me the bill."
"I have them pre-made, honey. We lose a lot of phones," she rasped, thumbing towards several other units which dangled by their wiring. "If you'll just sign here," she tapped a charge slip, "we'll have it all taken care of."
Xima jotted an illegible signature, barely altering her trajectory out of the madhouse.
Outside, the rains promised by the sky that morning were being delivered. Xima didn't care, and leaned against a pillar with her face to the torrenting clouds. It was only minutes before she was drenched through, her t-shirt clinging to her taut, muscular, magnificently statuesque form as if it had been frosted on.
A voice spoke up from under cover of the portico behind her. "I understand the symbolism of the cleansing shower, but acid rain kind of defeats the purpose, don't you think?"
Xima neither lifted her head, nor opened her eyes. "If you've been in there, then you've heard all about how self-destructive we are, on the whole."
The voice chuckled. "Yeah, but the moment you find the one you've been searching for all your life, the sun comes out and dawns anew for eternity."
"Eternity is a relative term. This morning has been an eternity. Not what I'd call a soul affirming experience."
"You got something to compare it with?"
"Something soul affirming. Or shattering. Or soaring. How do you know what you're missing? Isn't that why you're here?"
"No, I was stranded."
"Stranded? I have a little trouble believing you would allow that to happen."
"As if you know me so well."
"I know the type." There was bemusement in the voice.
"Well, I'd hate to disappoint your conception of me. Why should I distinguish myself?"
"Ah, now we come to it. You're bummed out that you're not one of a kind, is that it?"
Xima shrugged. "A little." She wasn't sure why she was telling a stranger what she felt, but there was something soothing, and not patronizing, in the voice, and Xima felt the restless energy she'd been born with, slowly quell. "Fate and destiny suddenly have whole new meaning after what went on in there. We're all just marionettes, born to kill and conquer. We will suffer until we finally break, and lash out at whatever convenient target we see. It's not exactly the life I would have chosen voluntarily." She stopped, then, her voice rasping at the strain of disused vocal cords.
"I forget who said it, but, 'Those who think about life, laugh; those who feel life, cry.'"
Xima growled, "I do not..." spinning around as she spoke, to see the possessor of the voice, and was met by eyes that glowed like the Irish countryside after a rain, eyes that held only empathy and commiseration for Xima's situation. The xanthous-haired woman before her was beautiful, more lovely than any others she had seen inside the convention center, her compact, but perfectly proportioned, body oozing a sensuality that belied the youthful innocence and warmth of humanity in her expression. It was a bewitching combination Xima hadn't been subjected to from anyone before. She barely peeped out, "...cry," as her lip quivered and a tear welled up and spilled down her cheek without any express written permission from its owner.
The blonde was suddenly face to face with the woman of her dreams. The face, those eyes, that body. Hubba, hubba. She felt several of the cogs that had been spinning loose in her life slip into their notches and take hold. At the same time, her heart was breaking for the lost look on Xima's face. "It might help," she said. The dark glower that resulted switched her mind into gear, and she changed her tack. "Okay ... what if it's not so cut and dried as you think? Maybe ... okay, maybe you are the product of some supreme force that wants to control the world its own way. Maybe I'm the product of some other force sent to counteract you. Or maybe we were that, once, in some other life, but now we're more random bits of matter with a built in magnetic attraction of protons and electrons. Maybe there's some temporal chaotic property that erodes us into particles and scatters us to the cosmic winds, and we drift around for a while until we gather enough pieces back together again to become whole."
Xima narrowed her eyes. "That sounds like some theory I was reading inside about fractures in time."
The woman sat forward on her bench, leaned her elbows on her knees, and looked at the ground. "Yeah? What about it?"
Xima hadn't wanted to believe. It stretched the boundaries of good sense. But she couldn't deny the existence of all those women inside. More importantly, she couldn't ignore the thrumming of her body as she gazed on the angel before her. The riddle of the universe was within her grasp at this moment, and the answer was most certainly not 42. "It takes some contemplation. It was kind of whacked out sounding, but there's something right about it that I can't quite put my finger on. And after what we just went through in there, I'm inclined to give it some credence. But then, after today, I'm inclined to give hallucinogenic drugs some credence, too, so I wouldn't put a hell of a lot of stock in my thought processes right now."
The blonde let out a sigh. "I wrote it."
"You're A. Schwarzbaum?"
"The A is for Ariel." She looked up. "Not too many people bother to look for the name on that blueprint." Then she cocked her head at Xima. "Why aren't you running away yet?"
"I ... um ..." Xima stopped, and pondered for a moment. "Well, maybe it's just ... look, I do research in socio-anthropology up at the university. I may not have a perfect grasp of the physics involved in your theory, but I sense an underlying anthropological truth in it."
"That's interesting ... um..." Ariel looked Xima over, but couldn't locate her nametag. Instead, she spotted several choice pieces of anatomy. The verbal acuity of her brain supplied her with a very articulate, "Guh." She struggled to keep her train of thought as she made mental note of the body towering over her, the wet t-shirt clinging to parts her fingertips suddenly screamed to touch.
"Xima ... Xima Xenia," the long-limbed woman said, as she hesitantly sat down next to Ariel. She'd been fighting it for a few minutes, but the look the blonde had just bestowed on her made her knees unsteady, until the only thing she could do was try to make it to the bench to seat herself gracefully, without plopping down.
"Hello, Xima Xenia." Ariel held out her hand.
"Hello, Ariel Schwarzbaum," Xima said, in a low, resonantly sensual voice that would make Barry White green with envy. She accepted the younger woman's hand in her own.
They touched, the rush of electricity no less for Ariel than for Xima, who nonetheless blamed her wet clothing as the conductor of the jolt to sensitive regions.
"Uh..." Ariel's mind raced. She'd been saying ... something. Her brain felt empty, her mouth dry. She licked her lips. When her brain started up again, all it could think was that she could quench her thirst by sucking on that wet t-shirt in front of her. Xima's hand slid away from Ariel's, and the blonde was able to think once more, though she bemoaned the loss of contact. She remembered their topic of conversation. "I ... I was going to say, it's interesting ... I teach at the U, too ... in physics ... but I've never seen you around, before."
Xima smiled shyly, her whole countenance changing before Ariel's eyes. "I don't go to too many functions, really."
"You're a sociologist who doesn't socialize?"
Xima scratched her jaw. "Uh, yeah, kind of." She veered the subject away from herself. "So, how'd you come up with this theory?"
That was all Ariel needed to get going. "It was a combination of things. I'd been to a couple of these meets and watched the women and wondered how this could be possible. I mean, it was right in front of my eyes, so I could hardly discount that something was going on to cause this, you know? I read all the stuff about the scrolls they had posted, but the life span of the women in them didn't add up ... or I should say, it added up and up and up. So either it was different women, who coincidentally had the same names, and their lives were told in the same script, style, meter, and inflection, over hundreds of years, or it was the same women, and there was something metaphysical going on. I can attribute a lot using Chaos theory, and there's definitely some Relativity happening, too. Not to mention the fractal patterns. So, I started developing this idea. When I had enough for people to try to make sense of it, I started posting it at these venues. I keep adding and revising, and every once in a while, someone suggests a possible flaw, or they're able to help refine it, but ninety-nine percent of it is my own work. The trick is to work the Relativity together with the culture and mythology and abstract concepts of the time it all seemed to start. The problem is, it's ... well, you said it ... it's kind of whacked, so it's not something I want to publish professionally, at least at this stage. But I need some support to keep it going, and I won't get that unless I release it in some academic circles. Kind of a catch-22. I just keep bringing it here, hoping that someone will finally comprehend the magnitude of it, and be able to contribute something significant. But now, after what happened up at the King Dome - you saw what was left of it, right? Whoa, that was something. Biggest convention they've done, but they won't again ... too much firepower. The only way the organizers didn't get sued was because they saved the owners on all the explosives they would have used, and they didn't want the publicity about a bunch of women bringing the whole stadium down, which is more than anyone can say for the Seahawks - and now here, today, I doubt they'll get many more venues to do this, unless they move to outdoor arenas, so I won't have any avenues to try to further my theory. I think the only thing that saved the structure here was Ares wasn't quite up to snuff after last time, either. I wonder if he knows how soon his next chance will be..." She trailed off, thinking.
When Ariel paused, Xima, momentarily stunned, had to ask, "How did you do that?"
"You never inhaled! Not once."
"Oh!" Ariel blushed an endearing shade of pink Xima thought was reserved for puppy tongues. "Uh ... stamina?" she squeaked.
A tingling wave washed through Xima, and she tried to swallow. "Uh, yeah, okay, uh ... look, ah, I might be able to help you with this theory of yours, if you want..."
"Really?" The blonde nearly hopped off the bench.
"Yeah, well, maybe. I think some solid anthropological data would strengthen it out. I've done quite a bit of research on some of the major periods that your theory points to. The spiritual beliefs, the cultural habits. Connect the meta to your physics. And I think some focus should be given to the violence that seems to permeate the conditions at all the convergence points. I know a little about that."
They began talking in earnest, Ariel about portions she'd glossed over for lack of solid evidence, and Xima about parts where she believed the honey-topped woman was on the right track, if not all the way there yet. They became more and more animated in their discussion, discovering how easily their thoughts melded together, and reducing the amount of personal space each needed, wanted, desired, in the other's company. It seemed unconscious - innate - the level of comfort which existed between them, almost before they'd even met. Finally, they both found themselves silent, slowly becoming aware of their surroundings.
The rain had stopped, leaving a cool chill behind it in the air.
"You're shivering," Ariel said, reaching out to touch a shaking arm. "We need to get you warm and dry." She rubbed Xima's biceps, hoping a little friction would help. Ariel's touch was warming her - from the inside out. They had hardly broken eye contact, not even blinking, since introducing themselves.
Xima stood and moved out from under the portico. Ariel was close behind her, still rubbing. "I've got a friend picking me up," Xima said. Ariel's expression flickered minutely at the mention of a "friend" of Xima's. Her arm massage faltered.
The dark one caught it. "Just a friend. She's the one that made me come here. Didn't trust me to take my bike and get here by myself. Should be here anytime."
Ariel began to shiver. Xima took the opportunity to reciprocate the massage.
"Hey, come on, it's okay," she said, tugging Ariel towards her. The blonde came to her with no resistance, save her own shaking body. She snuggled in, and Xima was forced to admit to herself that there might be something to that puzzle test. Ariel tipped her head up to see Xima's face, and met her eyes again. There were no reservations as their lips met, only steam, as their hot breath mingled. The sun broke through suddenly, strong and warm, heating them and the watery air around them. Mist rose on the sidewalk, but it was nothing to the steam coming off their bodies as the kiss deepened, firing long-unstoked furnaces deep within each of them, and they warmed to a boiling point, the heat roiling off their skin, through damp clothing, out to meet the humid air and fight for dominance. The air whitened around them, as steam billowed from their bodies, wrapping them in a sauna-like cocoon. Their tongues danced together, first the Charleston, then the Lambada, then segueing into the slower, rhythmic moves of the Samba. Plumes of steam thickened around them, as if a molten river of lava had spilled into the sea, a bursting liquid explosion of heat and fire and water.
Julie's car wheezed to a stop at the curb, just in time for her to see Xima and some cute little blonde enveloping each other, and being enveloped by a pocket of clouds swirling and shielding them from all the world. The sun's rays struck their effervescent cloud, arching a spectrum of colors over them. She lifted her video camera, and started recording. This'll be great at the Christmas party.
The two women parted slightly for air, opening their eyes to a sudden, surrounding whiteout. "Gee, it got foggy awful fast," said Ariel. "How's your friend going to find you in this?"
"I'm not sure. I've never seen anything like this around here before."
"I've um ... I've got my car ... I could give you a ride..." Ariel was shyly hopeful.
Xima straightened, pulling away from Ariel just a bit. "Ah, I don't know ... I mean, how do we know we're the right ones?"
Ariel was shaken from the comfortable haze she'd so easily found herself in. "You ... you don't feel it ... this? I ... I thought..." She let go of Xima's hands.
Xima reached for her and pulled her back. "No, I mean ... well, yeah, I feel this ... but how can it be ... so immediate? How can we just bump into each other and know? Does everyone in there get this?"
"Not everyone. Not all the time. I'd rather not count how many of these things I've been to." Ariel focused on her hands as she talked. "I don't know that it's science so much as luck. Just that there's something..."
"Can't just do a DNA test to match people up, huh?" Xima smiled, and lifted Ariel's chin to look at her. "You know, if we can narrow your theory down, start pinpointing individuals and dates, we could make it a lot easier for all those women in there. Wouldn't have to run any more of these ... jamborees."
"What, you didn't enjoy the party?"
"Told you I'm not much for socializing. I was gritting my teeth, expecting to see Pin the Tail on ... well, let's not go there. I think I'd just prefer to just get an email on it."
Ariel grinned brightly. "Well, we'll just have to see what we can come up with."
"We, huh? Okay ... partner."
Their cocoon of steam fairly glowed as Ariel beamed. "Come on, my car's over this way. Do you need to call your friend?"
"Yeah, but I don't think there's any phones left inside still in order..."
"I've got my cell in the car. You can use it."
Julie watched as the now opaque cloud hiding her friend floated across the parking lot, rainbow and all, and swallowed a shiny red Subaru Outback whole. A moment later, her phone rang. She picked it up, still videotaping the cloud.
"Hey Julie." Xima's voice was much more relaxed than the last time she'd heard it, but she jumped a little, anyway, as if she'd just been caught snooping in someone's medicine cabinet.
"Xima! Hey, I'm just-"
"Have you run into the fog yet?"
"Um ... no, not exactly..."
"Well, look, it's really bad down here, so don't worry about coming to get me. I've found a ride."
Julie clamped a hand over her mouth to prevent Xima hearing her laughter. She pulled herself together long enough to say, "If you're sure..."
"Yeah, I am. I'll give you a call later, okay?"
"Okay," Julie choked out, and hung up before she completely lost it. The video camera blithely recorded on. She couldn't wait to see the car burst out of the "fog."
Xima closed the phone and handed it back to the blonde. Their fingers touched, the electricity flew, and with her clothing now inexplicably dry, Xima had only one explanation for the jolt that again traveled through her body. She looked into fathoms of green. "Home?"
Ariel knew exactly what she meant.
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