Omega's Folly








Chapter Two
 

Extricating Benny from the car proved to be more difficult than hercotenants expected, as moving any of the three large pieces of luggagesquished her mercilessly. Finally Chris disappeared for awhile, and cameback with a rattling toolbox. The removal of the car's back panels finallyreleased the trunk, which once removed allowed the release of a rumpled,grumpy Benny. Her two guides were fiercely apologetic! , so much so she feltcomically over fussed about. Not that she minded too much, though. Nextwas to bring in Benny's luggage, and install her in her half of Omega'sFolly, which Benny had finally gotten a look at after being extricatedfrom the car, and in turn managed to remove her hat.

Omega's Folly was quite simply... astounding. The view of its frontboggled the mind, because it rambled over nearly three city blocks whereBenny came from, the big ones you always found out were the 'few blocks'before the bus stop you needed with five minutes before the bus arrived.The oldest part of the building seemed to be a simple stone tower withthree turrets, wound about with stairways and pocked with windows of varioussizes. Outlandishly medieval, in a fantasy novel sort of way. Extendingfrom either side of it were new sections, some of stone, some of brick,all at least eight floors high. The roof varied from run of the mill shinglesto skillful stone structures blended into! the next section. Everythingseemed slightly, shabby... perhaps shabby is too harsh a word. Rather,lived in, used, but certainly not ramshackle. Three flag poles decoratedthe three central turrets, one flag of the Amazon Nation, the other twoof places or perhaps clans Benny didn't recognize. Butting up against thehouse... if the rambling buildings can really be referred to by so prosaica term... were a few scattered bushes and ivy vines in the front, and treesforming great arches at the sides. Otherwise the trees seemed to surroundthe place, and Benny could see the clear area around the house was keptto a minimum size, lending the nearby trees an air of casual familiarityas some bent right over sections of the edifice, and dropped piles of leavesall over its roof. A fountain, almost lost in an unruly copse of laureltrees trickled gently, its waters poured, outrageously, from the breastsof a mermaid whose expression suggested she did not appreciate visitorsor look! ers. Statues kept watch from nooks and crannies, all, Benny becamesure after a few moments, Goddesses, Amazons, or both. A winged Medusakept watch from each upper corner, and a Sheila na Gig drove off evil froma stone archway running by the right side of the house.

And all of these many details were only a superficial look at Omega'sFolly. 

Arriving at the great double doors, Jed dug a bundle of keys out ofher pocket and unlocked them with a key cast in the shape of a spiny fish,and threw them open. Noticing Benny's curious expression, she explained."This a replica of the original key, made in the... oh, roughly the early1400's. It was meant to be decorative, but I thought it would do nicelywith a modern many tumblered lock. Not many people try to break in here,and then only rarely, unless there's a burst of insanity over the so called'Lost Treasure of Omega.' Then between this and how confusing this placeis to the uninitiated, it's still all I can do to! fend off the treasurehunters."

"If it happens again, it won't be just you, remember." Halliday declaredstoutly.

"I know." Jed replied with a sudden, bright smile which left even Bennybedazzled. It also looked ridiculously familar. She added it to her longlist of things to ponder if she ever had time again.

The trip up to Benny's room was an adventure in itself. The first flightof stairs was pleasantly straight, and she lugged her suitcases while herguides insisted on carrying the trunk. They insisted, then treated Bennyto a veritable lexicon of swear words and rude comments at it for beingheavy and possessed of eight painful corners. The second flight of stairswound upwards around a small shaft, up through a three floor library. Oldbooks, new books, scrolls, even what had to be a set of Egyptian papyri...Benny hardly paid attention to where she stepped, as first the books, thenthe structure of the library caught her eye.

An ingeneous designer had stagge! red its levels, the centre level beingnarrower. On one side Benny could just see through a half open door toa kitchen, on the other a bathing room, its door also half open. This wouldallow venting of any steam, smoke or whatever straight to the outside,Jed had explained when asked, even now that this part of the house hadwings built on either side of it. "We're actually turned at right anglesto the way we came in."

Besides teaching Benny about the house, she got taught some things abouther fellow owners of it. The house had been jointly owned for centuries,a curious arrangement maintained with great care. Jed's family had beenin it since long before she was born, and she had spent her childhood listeningto her mother's tales of the place, patiently passed down the way a thousandthousand other family tales were. Where all the secret passages were, whobuilt what, why there was a picture gallery, what the turrets were for.Why all the water in one half of the basem! ent wasn't a leak. Halliday hadcome into the picture four years before the war, a new member of the Academyfaculty who immigrated from England, although most of her family livedin Wales and Scotland. At first Jed had been away, recovering from a legbadly broken in a riding accident, and no laboratory had been ready forher. So she had been told to get things started in Jed's, forgetting thatshe was a chemist, and not quite taking in the diplomatic notation fromher previous employers, 'Has done a fabulous amount of research into chemicalreactions, particularly those taking the shortest possible duration. Allbrilliant, although slightly hard on the buildings.'

Jed had returned to find her laboratory devastated by an experimentinvolving combustion using water as a fuel source. Her reaction had baffledalmost the entire Academy. She had jumped up and down in delight, laughinghappily. She ran without hesitating into her devastated laboratory, whereHalliday had been st! ruggling to get the ringing out of her ears and thesoot from her hair. "E. Chris Halliday!" Jed had bellowed at her in delight,apparently well aware of who she was dealing with.

"Jed Adams!" the temporarily deafened chemist had shouted back. Theyhad gone to school together in England, where Jed's then faulty Englishhad lead them into several forms of trouble best left to the fraternitiesto desperately disavow. After the delerious, delighted greetings, Jed hadpolitely, but firmly demanded Halliday repair her laboratory. And Hallidayhad... by the next morning, with the help of Ges Basilas, whose colourblindness was enshrined in the orange window frame.

Finally they came to Benny's room and deposited her things in it.

"It's late... best thing for you is to turn in, then worry about therest tomorrow after brekkie." Halliday said gravely. The young historiannodded with exhaustion, and thanked her guides, who left her with a pairof kindly smiles, a lit fire, and ! closed the door quietly behind them.For her part, Benny shucked off all of her clothes down to her skin, relievedto feel air after so many days travel. Not bothering to look for the bathroomor anything else, she flipped off the light... 'Electricity? How exactly?There's no grid around here...' Benny wondered muzzily as she crawled intothe huge bed at one end of the room and dropped off to sleep, a pictureof her late cousin watching over her benignly from the mantle over thefire.

******

The sun was already fairly high in the sky when Benny climbed up intosomething resembling wakefulness. Since the bed was blissfully big, theair in the room pleasantly chill, and the covers blissfully warm, she feltno motivation to get up, and instead rolled over and went back to sleep,enjoying blissful dreams of avoiding a hated English class with the justthe same tactic. Some time later she woke again, and half sat up, rubbingher eyes. The first sight that ! greeted her was a tray with a small potof tea and its fixings, with sausages, ketchup, and toast, and a plateof fresh fruit. A neatly printed note read, 'Ges told us this is what youliked.' Which was true. The next thing Benny noticed was her clothes fromthe night before. Someone, presumably her cotenants again, had taken thetrouble to clean and brush her coat, hat, and boots, and set them on theirplaces by a tall, dark coloured wardrobe. The rest of her clothes had beenneatly depositted in an outrageously modern looking laundry basket, trousersset on top. All that noted, and a mouthful of sausage and toast acquired,Benny turned her attention to the rest of the room.

The head of the bed sat in a recess in the wall, and was surroundedby shelves full of books and various trinkets and writing utensils. Oneither side, in longer alcoves down the sides were lamps, and since thespace was wide enough, a hook for a house coat. This was the first cluethe room had been ou! tfitted with two people in mind. The shelves had beenmade with more darkly finished wood, which was the main motif of the room,blending with the warm green of the walls, and the carpetting on the floor,which was a curious deep plush of a reddish orange colour like the embersof the fire. To the left the floor rose by two steps, and the wall roundedoutward. Tucked into the resulting space was another set of shelves, abare desk that was built into the curve, and a little counter with a kettleand tea and the appropriate fixings. Benny grinned. English tea was definitelysolidly installed here.

The fire was on the same side of the room, filling part of the cornerthat turned around and led to the door. A sizable chesterfield and sofawere arranged in front of it, along with a couple of reading lamps andend tables. Here Benny started to realize just how damned big her roomwas. The right side of the room was narrower, and was arranged to highlightthe two windows that loo! ked out on the woods... as if they had a choice.A chair sat by them, and startlingly enough there was also an easel. Bennygot up to examine it closely, and almost spat out her breakfast laughing.Ges had used the easel to hold up the large sheets she used to do complexmathematical calculations on. There were more books here too, but the shelveswere mainly empty, as was the wardrobe which was to the right of the windows.The historian gazed at the two places pensively. Ges' effects must havebeen in there once.

At last, she looked at her suitcases, and the mysterious trunk. Polishingoff the heated parts of her breakfast and starting on a cup of tea, Bennyrolled up her housecoat sleeves and began unpacking her suitcases, puttingaway clothes, a few knickknacks, and far more books than seemed sensible.That dealt with, it occured to her that some sort of bath would be nice.A quick search up and down the hallway yielded a bathroom with a tub bigenough to lay down in pro! perly. It had always been one of Benny's greatpet peeves that even a woman as small as herself could not lay down ina typical sized North American bath tub.

Getting water to fill it had proved an adventure, beginning with tryingto turn the taps... she found the wrench labelled for the purpose underthe sink... and finishing with climbing out again, which nearly defeatedher short legs. Mortified but relieved to have avoided having to screamfor help, Benny thumped back to her room, feeling much more human and triumphantafter defeating the dreaded bed head.

Which left the trunk. Drawing the key for it she had received with herletter from A. Chaser, G. Digger, and L. T. Hyde, Benny pushed it carefullyinto the lock and turned it. The mechanism turned with startling ease,indicating it was either very new or carefully oiled. The lid came up slowly,which proved to be due to a mass of papers and slim boxes packed tightlyinto it and held on with straps. Everything in th! e trunk was wrapped inthe murky yellow paper seen in cheaper large envelopes, taped shut withcopious amounts of scotch tape. One midsized bundle sat on the very top,and was labelled in bold blue letters, 'Open me first! Me, me, me!'

Never one to ignore such an unusual sort of label, Benny picked up thesurprisingly heavy thing, noting an irregular bundle she could feel onits bottom. A moment's effort to pick at the scotch tape, then a softlyhissed, 'The hell with it.' and she just ripped the paper off.

Revealing a Macintosh laptop computer of all things. She sat down onthe floor with a thump. Of course. Cousin Ges always had been one to 'ThinkDifferent' Benny thought the old slogan was. The irregular bundle had beenthe power cords. So she took the lot over to the desk and looked underneathto find the requisite jacks, plugins, and such that were a computer lover'sdream. Benny grinned in delight.

Three hours later, she had set up the system, adding in the peri! pheralsGes had left behind, and feeling the beginnings of writer's euphoria...monster diskspace, backups... a printer... notebooks, crap to write with,stuff to read... what else was there? Her stomach growled. 'Oh, that.'Benny thought wryly, and ate some fruit, pausing to finally hit the powerkey.

Nothing unusual. Big bong sort of noise and little flashing icons andnice messages. All very plain, waiting for her to add things and otherwisemess around. Benny poked and prodded for a bit, then she opened a wordprocessing program, and got another surprise to crown her afternoon. Theprogram's splash screen portrayed a red knight like in the stories of 'TheAmazon of the Red Lawns' in one of the newly found Amazon scrolls, withsome text across it in black.

"Welcome, fair stranger. Well met, for you have come 
by long journey and deep sadness, 
to do brave deeds and win great rewards.
Know that you may concentrate on your quest,
for t! he WP not only serves, the WP
protects.
Fair thee well.
- the WP"

And then the thing started acting like a normal word processor again.It was unusual, obviously a private version Ges had got hold of somehow.It had quirky colours and obstreperous menus and commands, like: 'JustSAVE, goddamn it!,' 'Save it As something bloody else, I already used thatname,' 'of course I want a New document,' 'Open a document already!' andso on. All very long... you'd never get away with that in a piece of shrinkwrapsoftware. Benny rather liked the 'I QUIT!' version of the usual staid command.

She started writing at random, setting down her adventures since sheleft the town she had lived in in Canada. After three sentences a littlewindow popped up. 'I am the WP, and I must protect you from yourself...this program is incredibly stable. But please save every three sentencesanyway.' bemused, but enjoying herself immensely, Benny followed directionsand continued! setting down her account.

******

"What are we going to DO with her? The Academy doesn't need more facultyright now, not until next semester, or we'll never be able to pay her...and if she's anything like Ges, she'll go bananas without something constructiveto do." Jed waved a piece of toast in the air unhappily, and poured tea.

"We'll just have to come up with something. She was well hard up inCanada. Constructive work and the guarantee of a roof and food at leastshould be a good start. We could just be up front and explain about themoney." Pushing over the sugar bowl, Chris filled her own cup and sippedat it, shaking her head a little as Jed dug out a heaping spoonful.

"Yes... I know. But..." an unhappy sigh. "It's revolting. I've had alook at her C.V. and the rest... Benton Basilas is a brilliant woman, Chris.We get her into the faculty and puttering away on a doctorate, and she'sgoing to knock half the world on its ass. Her work mel! ds and continuesGes' perfectly. This latest paper she managed to fight a space for in theArchaeology Journal... she's onto something big."

Shifting the little solar panel that provided the kettle with electricityto catch a little more sun, Chris tipped her head to one side. "Could oneof us set it up so we could pay her... your family is rolling in it, mineis comfortable. Why not?"

"Correction, X. Adams is rolling in it, and she doles out her fortuneat whim. I don't think I've even met her. My particular section of thefamily got hurt pretty bad during the war. The fascists seized everythingbut the house."

"Jed, they couldn't even FIND the house." Chris smiled gently. "AndI thought you got some of it back?"

A sad shake of a dark head. "No... when the borders got redrawn, thebanks and everything else used it as an excuse to start over. The onlyconsolation is they had no money left either. My army pension is the key,and my salary at the Academy, of course."!

"Hmmf." The phone rang, and both women glared at it. "Do we have tohave one of these, I wonder?" Chris murmured as she picked it up. "Hello?"

"Hello, Doctor Halliday?"

"Yes."

"Cool... I finally got the number right... phoned three other placesby accident first."

"Ah. Hello Arion, what do you need?"

"Oh, I don't... actually, yes I do, no... I mean..." A moment's pausewhile the other woman got herself straightened out. "Okay, I've stoppedtrying to type this damned letter at the same time. Right... I myself,don't need anything. But, in order to set things up for Ms. Basilas, Ineed to know a few basic things."

"Surely you can just put in some place holders for now." Chris suggested,finding the whole matter a bit vexing. There was still the matter of gettingthe young woman paid for working.

"No, no... she's going to be on fac, isn't she?"

"Yes," Jed called, "But that's proving a bit problematical. You've seenour budget, Arion."

"True... true.! .. well, why don't you let me just get things set up.Maybe something will come through if we make like something has."

The two Amazons looked at each other over the phone, expressions faintlyastounded. Chris held up her free hand. 'Well?' the gesture asked. Jedwaved a hand at the phone and shrugged. 'Can't really hurt. We'll worksomething out.' Silent conversation finished and decision made, Chris said,"Okay, Arion. What do you need to know?"

"Okay, hang on a sec... pulling up the screen... okay... first and lastname?"

"Benton Basilas."

"Bent -e-n or -o-n? In other words, Chinese Goddess of luck and dragons,or not?"

"Not, Ges spelled her name with an o-n in her letter to us. Might bea mistake that goes back to the birth registry, though. I'll spell Basilasfor you." A few minutes while the process of spelling Benny's surname nearlyfoiled Arion's efforts, since she was dyslexic hence her phone number problems,and Chris rattled off the spelling very fas! t. Academic qualifications andsuch followed that, then Arion asked,

"Age, date of birth?" Silence.

"Figures, Ges would write down her favourite breakfast, her shoe size,and the fact she can't tolerate Brahms, and ignore something like Benny'sbirthday." Jed declared in a disgusted tone.

"Guess for now, and we'll fix it later. There's nothing else for it,Arion."

"All right, all right... I'm pegging her around twenty two. The restI'll keep to myself for now. Is she coming in today? Otherwise I'll finishthis stuff up tomorrow."

"Maybe." Chris replied unhelpfully.

"Thanks, Eph... er..." Arion coughed. "Chris. Sorry, forgetting, forgetting...bear with me, it's early in the morning."

"Maybe." the fair haired doctor hung up. "Shall we fix up the hearse?"

"Nope." Jed declared crisply. Noting her lover's injured expressionshe explained hastily, "I will fix up the hearse, you will continue workingon your car... if those brakes don't get fixed for good, th! e next timeI see you behind the wheel I'm liable to die of heart attack."

"Oh, well, I can do that." Chris' expression brightened again. "Didyou notice the little box I put up a ways up the road in when you wentfor the mail?"

"Yes I did... what is it?"

"It's my own invention," Chris declared proudly. "It's for preventingtrouble when you forget your keys..."

******

Benny peered around the corner hesitantly. She was completely lost.The damn house should have had guide signs. The only place she could definitelyget to was the top floor of the library, which was no good because thenshe couldn't find her way down. Now she was wandering at random, and tryingto keep enough track not to end up going in circles. Finding herself rightin front of a door all of a sudden, Benny threw caution to the wind andstepped through it.

To her surprise, she found herself outside in what could be called agarden, but looked more like a jungle. Broken stone! benches were scatteredabout, and a rough patch of wild lawn looked as if it had the remains ofa croquet set trapped in it. A little further on was a bucket of chewedlooking wooden cricket balls. Tucked into a little patch of trimmed grasswas a gazebo equipped with glass windows and a heavy door. Benny pulledit open and poked her head inside, finding a big oil lamp, a bottle ofoil for it, and matches. A notebook sat by itself in the midst of the tablebuilt into the walls, and overcome by curiosity, Benny walked in, seatedherself on the battered wooden chair set by for that purpose, and openedit.

"Hello Benny...
It's been awhile, hasn't it? I'm sorry about that. So much to do, andthe war to boot. Nobody came out of that big mess the same. You'll noticeChris Halliday wears tinted glasses? She has to pretty much all of thetime, especially in sunlight. She was the general who realized the gasattack was coming during the battle of the Dneiper. Got all of her Ama! zonsout of there, but got caught herself. Nearly blinded her for good. JedAdams got shot up during the fighting in the Caucasus. Watch her arms whenshe lectures, you'll notice one of her shoulders is a bit higher than theother now. Why am I telling you this?
You have to be wondering what happened to me, and why I left everythingto you. Or why this stuff is written in a notebook out here... privacy,for both of us.
What happened to me... well, nothing much. Except I picked up tuberculosiswhile I was in the trenches. Not trenchfoot, not lice... had to be somethingnasty and dramatic, I guess. Oh well. Things were behaving nicely, butthe weather has been foul, and I picked up pneumonia on top of all else.The ol' immune system is a touch overworked. So, I'm very sick as I writethis, and it can't be fixed. No regrets though, I've had a good time. Andyou know that friend of mine, and I know you're far from being so obtuseas not to realize Deanna was my lover... I ! lost her in the war. It'll bea beautiful thing, to see her again.
There's some good bits in among the nasty ones after all, so don'tbe too sad, okay? I know, I know, easier said than done.
Why are you inheritting everything? When was the last time your familypaid you any mind, after you came out? How hard have you worked, and foundyourself feeling stuck? You're the most deserving member of our messedup family, and the Amazon Nation is the prefect place for you. The Academyis great, it really is.
Now, I have left you money, and the bank will send you the stuff youneed to get at it. Don't worry about anything. Jed and Chris will do theirdamnedest to put you to work right away, and then worry themselves sickmaking sure you get paid. How much faculty is needed varies with semestera bit, and they may have to do some fast talking. You stick to what youdo for now, which means be an incredibly good historian of the Amazon Nation,and make yourself so impressive ! that you look indispensible. I know youcan do it, because you are.
Take care. And don't worry, I'm watching out for you, always.
- Ges"

Benny blinked at the page for a few moments. A few slow tears slid downher cheeks as she remembered her hale, hearty cousin, and realized howbadly her illness must have treated her. And when push came to shove, Geshad spent more time worrying about Benny, if the extent of these arrangementswere any indication, than herself. The privacy of the gazebo was a goodthing, Benny reflected wryly, and smiled a little in spite of herself.It was embarrassing to cry where people could see you.

******

The hearse groaned, as if in pain, then began to cough. "Hmmm," murmuredJed. "The starter needs attention." Suiting action to word, she was sooninvolved in the bowels of the vehicle. On the other side of the carport,Chris was fussing with the new shocks. Two had already been put in, andshe was jumping up and down! on the back of the vehicle, observing theirresponse with some disapproval. Deciding to put in the other two beforeshe began taking them apart and adding fluid to the shock barrels, shenever noticed Jed, who had paused in her own work, ready to insist on anothertest with all four shocks in if her partner looked like she was going totry something else immediately. Every now and again, Chris' inventing exuberancehad to be tempered somewhat by the voice of practicality. It felt so strangeto Jed that that voice was often hers.

Her mind turned back to the problem of making arrangements for Bennyas she replaced the oil filter. There was that nice little office on thefloor just above Arion's she could have... the rest of the wiring wouldhave to be put in so she could have electricity, but that was minor. Theplumbing was done on that floor, after all. A desk was already there, andit would be no problem to dig a chair out of storage. Jed finished withthe filter, then sl! ipped behind the wheel one more time to try the newstarter. Hearing a nice turnover, she made a mental note to send the volumesconcerning the Amazon Nation to the office... after having them copied.Couldn't not have them in the Academy library. A quick mental calculation,then she winced. It was going to be less than cheap getting that done.Luckily Jed had ways of mitigating that a bit. Reaching out the car window,she pulled on a lever which was meant to open the counterbalanced garagedoor. At first nothing happened, so she grabbed the chain and gave it atug. Two more, and the mechanism began to move.

Stopping as she backed the car out to dig several extra metal platesused to counterweight the door out of a pile of such invention remnants,Jed clambered onto the roof of her vehicle and added several to the weights,shifting things back and forth until she felt the door glide. Dusting hergreasy hands unconsciously, she climbed back down and took the hearse fora spi! n.

The 'hearse' wasn't a hearse at all. It was actually a large, modified,battered boat of a car, manufactured by a Swedish company, now defunct,before the war. It was black, with a pale green interior and polished woodendashboard and large old fashioned dials. Engine modifications to give itthe required efficiency and fuel ratings had left it with a bit of coughfor the first few minutes after the engine had started, but it was a decentcar. Jed typically careened to work on her bicycle or got a ride with Chris,who had an abiding fondness for her own battered model of automobile. Themain reason the hearse had been put away for a time had been an unfortunatepractical joke gone awry by several if Jed's students. Not realizing thatfilling the car with water would do serious damage to some things whilecleaning the nice green upholstery, they had sealed up the cracks and filledeverything, including the trunk. They had even put in a couple of goldfish.All inspired by ! a desire to break Jed's unflappable demeanor. It hadn'tworked. The students in question had done quite a bit of the repair work,but had taken a considerable time at it, since they had to do it betweenclasses and studying. Jed had basically forgotten about the thing, sincenow it was spring and lovely to bike to work anyway. Having reached a nicestretch of road, Jed laid on the accelerator and left a flying arc of dirtand pebbles behind her. 

Chris struggled with the brake lines, muttering in frustration as shediscovered all the tubing would have to be replaced with something tougher,or packing them in their little cavity would put a sharp kink in one orboth, and stop the flow of the brake fluid. Which, as it turned out, wasthe original flaw in the design. Carefully pulling out the old tubing,she was soon practically headfirst into the engine, putting on the newstuff when Benny found her.

The young historian scratched her head in puzzlement, then turned he! rattention to the walls. Several framed pictures had been hung on the wallfurthest from Chris. One showed a handsome pair of women, one with a bigcrooked grin, the other with a sobre smile. Looking a little closer, Bennyrealized the one with the crooked smile had pale grey-green eyes, likeJed's bespectacled own. Another picture on the right showed Jed in a militaryuniform, standing with two others, one with pale hair like Chris' and theother's iron grey. On the left was a picture of a the one with iron greyhair alone, in a kilt and old fashioned ruffled shirt and velvet jacket.All completely traditional, except the woman's right leg, which Benny realizedwith a start was a bluish grey colour with a navy blue knee joint.Finallygiving in to the inevitable, she dug her own glasses out of her pocketand put them on to see if she had seen properly to start with.

"That's my cousin Quentin you're looking at." Chris was sitting on theedge of the car now, looking at the v! arious bits she had pulled out totake care of the problems forcing the periodic removal of the distributorcap.

"Did she lose her leg in the war?" Benny asked, unable to get a scenedealing with that in a Canadian historical documentary she had seen outof her mind's eye.

"Nothing so easy. Cancer." Dumping the pieces into the front seat, Chrisducked back into the engine, having decided wires had to be the problem."In my family we tend to be a bit prone to bone cancer and it usually turnsup in the big bones in our legs. The Academy geneticist has been studyingmy family and Jed's for years, because we've got some nasties like that,and a few just plain odd things within a nice tidy gene pool."

"Really? So she found out why you tend to be prone to... bone cancerin your legs?"

"Not really." A loud crack noise, and Chris was tossed several feetback from the vehicle. Giving herself a shake, she unhooked the battery,then added, "Now she's trying to figure out why ! we have such a historyof leg problems in general. I've come to the conclusion there's no sensetalking to people about such things, they just find more things to worryyou about." Holding up two wires, she asked, "Red or blue?"

"Re-ed." Benny replied, squinting a bit.

"Which one is?" Chris asked, expression suddenly intent.

"Umm... left." Benny grimmaced. Two little wires, in a dim garage. Howwas she suposed to tell?

"I'm not trying to put you on the spot. I can't take my spectacles offin this light, and they add a grey-green tint to everything." Chris tappedone wire on her chin. "Maybe I should just label them or something. Itis such a nuisance when I get them mixed up."

"What are they for?" Benny asked carefully, walking slowly forward,threading her way through Jed's tools and Chris' half finished projects.

"One goes to the dashboard light. No idea what the other one goes toanymore, but it stops the car working altogether if I hook it to the wrongth! ing. Might be its got worked into the system carrying current from thebatteryto the..." and then her voice was swallowed by the interior of the caras Chris stuck her head back in it.

A roaring sound came from well down the drive, and Benny walked up topeer through the window in the garage door. At first there was nothingto see but dust and bits of debris. Whoever was driving was looking toget to hell before dinner, Benny reflected wryly. Then the dust cloud spatforth a monstrous black car which took the corner as if being guided byan Indy five hundred driver, then came barreling for the garage. "Holyshit!" Benny blurted in alarm.

"Oh, Jed's here is she?" Chris said placidly, and opened the garagedoor, watching with gentle bemusement as Benny beat a hasty retreat.

Jed didn't bother to hit the breaks until four metres from the garage,and then the prolonged skid ended a mere forearm's length from the backof the building. Hopping out, Jed beamed happily. "Exce! llent brakes, shocksaren't shocking... starter works. All I need to do is put a windshieldin." She was liberally coated with dust and her hair was wild and windblown."Benny, you're working on a Phd, aren't you?"

Caught flat footed by the segue, Benny blinked in confusion. "Ah...I tried to, but my thesis proposal was thrown out."

"Have thirteen copies ready for tomorrow, and I'll get you started.Not sure who'll be your thesis advisor, though. Maybe Chev. She's the closestwe've got to a historian in the academic sense besides yourself."

"Why, what does she specialize in?" Benny asked, feeling relieved tobe wandering in familiar territory again.

"Architecture."

"What?!" squawked Benny, her tone full of outrage.

"With a minor in history... best I can do on short notice. Semesterafter next, should be able to arrange someone who is right in your area.It's no easy thing to find somebody with a proper basis in Neolithic, centralAsian, and Amazon culture, on! top of Greek and Latin ordinary stuff. Plus,they'll have to read sixty volumes of history that we've already got, andtranslate a pile of scrolls. I've done some of the scrolls myself, but..."

"Sixty volumes?" blurted Benny.

"It's no good if you have to teach them before they can help you out...Chris, how did I wind up having to do faculty arrangements? I don't likeit."

"You lost in the straw draw this year."

"Right. Damn."

"Sixty volumes?" cried Benny, grinning from ear to ear.

"Oh yes... I've read them all, great stuff. My mother told me all sortsof stories that fit in there too. It's quite fascinating, the way thingsdeveloped, never breaking down, just adapting."

"Sixty... and scrolls?"

"Mmm hmmm... I picked up the stuff needing to translated from Ges. Moreimpressive stuff. They are basically ur-texts... but the dating systemis all new. No idea how to make sense of it."

Sitting down on a pile of tires, Benny tried to get her head aroundit! all. "I have got to see this stuff... ur-texts?" It was all she coulddo not to run for the library. Part of what stopped her was that she hadno clue how to get to it. The other was, "Hang on... you know all aboutthese things."

"Oh yeah. It's her hobby... some nights I have to just about wrestlethe her away from the stuff. Not that the wrestling isn't fun, mind you."This in echoing tones from within the engine, where Chris still had herhead.

"Oh. I have a solution to the faculty problem." Benny declared, determinedto put that one to rest so she could get to work. "Have you advised anybodydoing a thesis before, Jed?" This situation could be worked with.

"Of course." Jed declared virtuously. "I don't just shuffle instrumentsand fob off paperwork, you know."

"You be my thesis advisor then."

"Ooooh... Jed, I really quite like her. She's pure Amazon already, despiteher sojourn in nastier parts of the world. Such an untraditional solution.Be a luv, say yes,! agree to do the paperwork tomorrow... then come andhelp me please. I'm stuck."

******
 
 
 
 

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