Extricating Benny from the car proved to be more difficult than her cotenants expected, as moving either one squished her mercilessly. Finally Chris disappeared for awhile, and came back with a rattling toolbox. The removal of the car's back panels finally released the trunk, which once removed allowed the release of a rumpled, grumpy Benny. Her two guides were fiercely apologetic, so much so she felt comically over fussed about. Not that she minded too much, though. Next was to bring in Benny's luggage, and install her in her half of Omega's Folly, which Benny had finally gotten a look at after being extricated from the car, and in turn managed to remove her hat.
Omega's Folly was quite simply... astounding. The view of its front boggled the mind, because it rambled over nearly three city blocks where Benny 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 with three turrets, wound about with stairways and pocked with windows of various sizes. Outlandishly medieval, in a fantasy novel sort of way. Extending from 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 shingles to skillful stone structures blended into the next section. Everything seemed slightly, shabby... perhaps shabby is too harsh a word. Rather, lived in, used, but certainly not ramshackle. Three flag poles decorated the three central turrets, one flag of the Amazon Nation, the other two of places or perhaps clans Benny didn't recognize. Butting up against the house... if the rambling buildings can really be referred to by so prosaic a term... were a few scattered bushes and ivy vines in the front, and trees forming great arches at the sides. Otherwise the trees seemed to surround the place, and Benny could see the clear area around the house was kept to a minimum size, lending the nearby trees an air of casual familiarity as some bent right over sections of the edifice, and dropped piles of leaves all over its roof. A fountain, almost lost in an unruly copse of laurel trees trickled gently, its waters poured, outrageously, from the breasts of a mermaid whose expression suggested she did not appreciate visitors or lookers. Statues kept watch from nooks and crannies, all, Benny became sure after a few moments, Goddesses, Amazons, or both. A winged Medusa kept watch from each upper corner, and a Sheila na Gig drove off evil from a stone archway running by the right side of the house.
And all of these many details were only a superficial look at Omega's Folly.
Arriving at the great double doors, Jed dug a bundle of keys out of her 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 early 1400's. It was meant to be decorative, but I thought it would do nicely with 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 place is 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 declared stoutly.
"I know." Jed replied with a sudden, bright smile which left even Benny bedazzled. It also looked ridiculously familar. She added it to her long list of things to ponder if she ever had time again.
The trip up to Benny's room was an adventure in itself. The first flight of stairs was pleasantly straight, and she lugged her suitcase while her guides insisted on carrying the trunk. They insisted, then treated Benny to a veritable lexicon of swear words and rude comments at it for being heavy and possessed of eight painful corners. The second flight of stairs wound upwards around a small shaft, up through a three floor library. Old books, 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, then the structure of the library caught her eye.
An ingeneous designer had staggered its levels, the centre level being narrower. On one side Benny could just see through a half open door to a kitchen, on the other a bathing room, its door also half open. This would allow venting of any steam, smoke or whatever to be vented straight to the outside, Jed had explained when asked, even now that this part of the house had wings built on either side of it. "We're actually turned at right angles to the way we came in."
Besides teaching Benny about the house, she got taught some things about her fellow owners of it. The house had been jointly owned for centuries, a curious arrangement maintained with great care. Jed's family had been in it since long before she was born, and she had spent her childhood listening to her mother's tales of the place, patiently passed down the way a thousand thousand other family tales were. Where all the secret passages were, who built what, why there was a picture gallery, what the turrets were for. Why all the water in one half of the basement wasn't a leak. Halliday had come into the picture four years before the war, a new member of the Academy faculty who immigrated from England, although most of her family lived in Wales and Scotland. At first Jed had been away, recovering from a leg badly broken in a riding accident, and no laboratory had been ready for her. So she had been told to get things started in Jed's, forgetting that she was a chemist, and not quite taking in the diplomatic notation from her previous employers, 'Has done a fabulous amount of research into chemical reactions, particularly those taking the shortest possible duration. All brilliant, although slightly hard on the buildings.'
Jed had returned to find her laboratory devastated by an experiment involving combustion using water as a fuel source. Her reaction had baffled almost the entire Academy. She had jumped up and down in delight, laughing happily. She ran without hesitating into her devastated laboratory, where Halliday had been struggling to get the ringing out of her ears and the soot from her hair. "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. They had gone to school together in England, where Jed's then faulty English had lead them into several forms of trouble best left to the fraternities to desperately disavow. After the delerious, delighted greetings, Jed had politely, but firmly demanded Halliday repair her laboratory. And Halliday had... by the next morning, with the help of Jes Basilas, whose colour blindness 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 the rest tomorrow after brekkie." Halliday said gravely. The young historian nodded with exhaustion, and thanked her guides, who left her with a pair of 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, relieved to feel air after so many days travel. Not bothering to look for the bathroom or anything else, she flipped off the light... 'Electricity? How exactly? There's no grid around here...' Benny wondered muzzily as she crawled into the huge bed at one end of the room and dropped off to sleep, a picture of her late aunt watching over her benignly from the mantle over the fire.
The sun was already fairly high in the sky when Benny climbed up into something resembling wakefulness. Since the bed was blissfully big, the air in the room pleasantly chill, and the covers blissfully warm, she felt no motivation to get up, and instead rolled over and went to sleep, enjoying blissful dreams of avoiding a hated English class with the just the same tactic. Some time later she woke again, and half sat up, rubbing her eyes. The first sight that greeted her was a tray with a small pot of tea and its fixings, with sausages, ketchup, and toast, and a plate of fresh fruit. A neatly printed note read, 'Ges told us this is what you liked.' Which was true. The next thing Benny noticed was her clothes from the night before. Someone, presumably her cotenants again, had taken the trouble to clean and brush her coat, hat, and boots, and set them on their places by a tall, dark coloured wardrobe. The rest of her clothes had been neatly depositted in an outrageously modern looking laundry basket, trousers set 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 surrounded by shelves full of books and various trinkets and writing utensils. On either side, in longer alcoves down the sides were lamps, and since the space was wide enough, a hook for a house coat. This was the first clue the room had been outfitted with two people in mind. The shelves had been made 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 embers of the fire. To the left the floor rose by two steps, and the wall rounded outward. Tucked into the resulting space was another set of shelves, a bare desk that was built into the curve, and a little counter with a kettle and tea and the appropriate fixings. Benny grinned. English tea was definitely solidly installed here.
The fire was on the same side of the room, filling part of the corner that turned around and led to the door. A sizable chesterfield and sofa were arranged in front of it, along with a couple of reading lamps and end tables. Here Benny started to realize just how damned big her room was. The right side of the room was narrower, and was arranged to highlight the two windows that looked out on the woods... as if they had a choice. A chair sat by them, and startlingly enough there was also an easel. Benny got 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 complex mathematical calculations on. There were more books here too, but the shelves were 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 have been in there once.
At last, she looked at her suitcase, and the mysterious trunk. Polishing off the heated parts of her breakfast and starting on a cup of tea, Benny rolled up her sleeves and began unpacking her suitcase, putting away 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 big enough to lay down in properly. It had always been one of Benny's great pet peeves that even a woman as small as herself could not lay down in a typical sized North American bath tub.
Getting water to fill had proved an adventure, beginning with trying to turn the taps... she found the wrench labelled for the purpose under the sink... and finishing with climbing out again, which nearly defeated her short legs. Mortified but relieved to have avoided having to scream for help, Benny thumped back to her room, feeling much more human and triumphant after defeating the dreaded bed head.
Which left the trunk. Drawing the key for it she had received with her letter from A. Chaser, G. Digger, and L. T. Hyde, Benny pushed it carefully into 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 tightly into it and held on with straps. Everything in the trunk was wrapped in the murky yellow paper seen in cheaper large envelopes, taped shut with copious 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 the surprisingly heavy thing, noting an irregular bundle she could feel on its bottom. A moment's effort to pick at the scotch tape, then a softly hissed, 'The hell with it.' and she just ripped the paper off.
Revealing a Macintosh laptop computer of all things. She sat down on the floor with a thump. Of course. Cousin Ges always had been one to 'Think Different' Benny thought the old slogan was. The irregular bundle had been the power cords. So she took the lot over to the desk and looked underneath to find the requisite jacks, plugins, and such that were a computer lover's dream. Benny grinned in delight.
Three hours later, she had set up the system, adding in the peripherals Ges 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 power key.
Nothing unusual. Big bong sort of noise and little flashing icons and nice messages. All very plain, waiting for her to add things and otherwise mess around. Benny poked and prodded for a bit, then she opened a word processing program, and got another surprise to crown her afternoon. The program's splash screen portrayed a red knight like in the stories of 'The Amazon of the Red Lawns' in one of the newly found Amazon scrolls, with some text across it in black.
"Welcome, fair stranger. Well met, for you have come
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: 'Just SAVE, goddamn it!,' 'Save it As something bloody else, I already used that name,' 'of course I want a New document,' 'Open a document already!' and so on. All very long... you'd never get away with that in a piece of shrinkwrap software. Benny rather liked the 'I QUIT!' version of the usual staid command.
She started writing at random, setting down her adventures since she left the town she had lived in in Canada. After three sentences a little window popped up. 'I am the WP, and I must protect you from yourself... this program is incredibly stable. But please save every three sentences anyway.' bemused, but enjoying herself immensely, Benny followed directions and continued setting down her account.
Copyright © 2000, C.