A Tale of Earth-46
Several Years Later...
"So did you hear she's gone back to calling herself 'Wraith'?"
"Well at least it's better than her last call-sign."
"I don't know – I think keeping it would be a really nice tribute to Jillian's memory. Here's to Jillian," Omega raised her glass.
"To Jillian," they said in unison, all three raising their glasses.
All three drank.
"So where's she stationed now, still on the Island?" Attica smacked her lips for emphasis as she regarded her glass. "This is surprisingly good – I had almost given up on American beers."
"Yeah, Rick and Jesse turned me onto it – Guy and Tora put the stuff out under the Warrior label." Omega swirled the last bit of her glass about. "And, uh, no; 3rd Squadron is somewhere in... Europe-proper now – under the JLE, I think."
"Goddess, I miss Paris..." She swirled the last of her beer in the bottom of her glass. She preferred wine to beer, but beer was traditional for these sorts of occasions. "Speaking of Paris: what's this I hear about Damian and Mar'i? That can't be good..."
"Well, Mar'i's parents aren't happy about it – obviously – so much so they're even talking to each other again," Attica shrugged and tipped her third bottle.
"I can't imagine anything so horrible my parents would speak to each other again, or me... for that matter..." Omega trailed off.
"Well, unless maybe if you were to get back together with 'you-know-who' and her money."
"Please! Don't bring her up... I'm libel to vomit," Attica growled.
"I can't believe you two were ever together" the third woman persisted. "I never pinned you as the masochistic type... or quite that gullible."
"Uh, no, it..." Omega struggled for the right words. "You didn't know her back then – She was... different ... less hardened."
Attica drew breath to say something, but thought better of it, consulted her drink on the subject.
"Still," Omega held up her glass. "To simpler times."
"To simpler times," her two friends drank.
"And to Novus Ordo Mundi," Omega drank as well.
Novus Ordo Mundi
In which Carrie and Joni make two new friends and have lunch...
(Fifteen Years Prior...)
Caroline Keene Kelley was up early. Out of the shower, towelled off, wiped the fog off her glasses and the mirror and saw to her hair, brushed her teeth, applied astringent – the stinging sensation waking her more than the hot shower had. Clothes... pull up, situate, one strap, then the other; matching panties; same boring blue/green plaid skirt; white tank-top, still smelling of dryer sheets; white blouse, the dull insinuation of honey-mustard dressing on the front, even after several washes – tuck; dark blue sweater-vest with the school logo over the left breast; blue blazer, one sleeve, then the other; navy-blue knee-socks; slightly scuffed black shoes; her camera bag, made sure there was enough memory; her backpack, packed the night before...
Ready... wait... chapstick... keys... it took longer to find these than she had liked. It was already past 6:45 in the morning.
In early twilight, the sun having not yet truly risen, the downstairs of the house was bathed in shadow, and Carrie held onto the banister to avoid tripping in the darkness. A glass of water from the kitchen sink, two oranges from a bowl dropped into her bag, out the door.
The air outside was brisk – Gateway City was the northernmost urban centre in California, close to the Oregon boarder and along the coast, well behind the Redwood Curtain. The combination of the latitude, the late season, the early hour – and the proximity to the frigid north Pacific – made for a foggy, cold and bluish morning. Breathing in the clean morning air, letting it back out again as vapour, Carrie finally felt fully awake. Then she heard the bus. Eyes wide, she turned to her left, saw the bus rapidly approaching, looked at her watch and took off to her right, toward the bus-stop at the other end of the street.
Barely catching it, she flashed her pass at the driver and held onto the overheads as she moved to the back, taking an empty window seat in an area of empty seats. She caught her breath. She felt the armer air completely fill her lungs... let it out slowly, the rumbling of the bus making her sleeping again for some reason.
She opened her bag and took out her most recent HEROTAB magazine. On the cover was an artist's rendition of the new Catwoman (an inch and a half shorter than the previous Catwoman according to expert Cat-watchers on the internet, though this was fervently disputed by Lucas Carr, the JLA spokesperson), leaping from the top of a Gotham skyscraper with a catty smile and a stolen diamond necklace in her fist. In a small box by the lower left hand corner was a fuzzy black and white security photo of the same Catwoman. The story heading read "CAT RETURNS FROM EUROPE?" A second box photo above the Catwoman security shot was of Starfire in a sparkly purple/silver evening gown, her stomach slightly distended in the pose she was striking as she waved from the red carpet. The story line above the photo read: "STARFIRE EXPECTING?"
She had already torn out page five and six and stashed them in the second drawer of her nightstand. On page fifteen she found her place and continued reading the article on the latest development in the Wonder Woman trial in Los Angeles. There was a huge, full page glossy photo of Wonder Woman, in full uniform, including her fur cloak over one shoulder, walking out of a café with her lawyer, Kate Spencer, in the background, dressed considerably less ostentatiously in a grey pinstripe pantsuit. A few pages on, the photo caption said, there was a bio on Ms. Spencer, though Carrie already knew the stories about her trials involving Copperhead, Doctor Psycho, Shadow-Thief, etc., had already read the speculation about her as a suspected mole in the Federal Government for the Justice League, and therefore the United Nations – rumours that had led to her resigning from the Department of Justice as a Federal Prosecutor four months ago...
Reading the trial highlights until it got into speculation over Kate Spencer's involvement in the case, Carrie flipped forward, past a full two page Booster Gold advertisement for cola and a single page movie advertisement for the Blackhawk Squadron documentary in IMAX, chiefly comprised of low shot of Lady Blackhawk standing arms akimbo (booted feet well apart) on the deck of an aircraft carrier, her pleated black microskirt flapping with the engine wash of a number of aircraft roaring overhead, ranging from their World War II propeller driven Sky-Rockets, to modern ground-to-space interceptors. Carrie wished she had a larger poster of the ad, and wondered if her friend Eris could snag a movie poster for her from the theatre where she worked.
Onward further, an exposé on government run schools for "delinquent metahuman youth" as being nothing more than secret human-weapons development and indoctrination centres, training a whole new generation of government controlled super-humans. She'd already been following the story on-line, and so flipped past it.
"This seat taken?"
Carrie shook her head and pulled her bag off the seat next to her, set it on the floor between her feet.
"Thanks." Out of the corner of her eye, Carrie could see that the girl sitting beside her also wore the St. Elias school uniform. Turning her eyes from her magazine, she saw that she wasn't wearing the blazer – common enough, but not on such a cold morning... Letting her eye stray down the girl's arm, she saw that the cuff of the sleeve was rolled back, and she wore steel bracers around her wrists. When this concept, meandering around in her pre-caffeinated brain crashed headlong into another concept, the resulting realization nearly made her drop her magazine and cry out in surprise. As it was, she managed the restraint it to a startled jolt. She was sitting next to an Amazon.
St. Elias School for Girls was first known as a respectable, conservative private school on the outskirts of Gateway City. Next it became famous as the school of one Suzanne "Cissie" King-Jones, one of the youngest American Olympic Gold Medalists in the history of the games. She had taken home the Gold in Archery during the 2004 Summer Games, and later went on to compete against the Amazon's champion markswoman, Artemis of the Bana-Mighdall, to a draw in a televised charity event. The publicity, and subsequent deluge of enrolment applications, gave the school's board of directors an opportunity to raise enrolment fees.
Next, the school became famous for another student, Cassandra Elizabeth Sandsmark, better known in the press as Wonder Girl, the supposed daughter of Zeus, a vocal practitioner of Greco-Roman Paganism, and current leader of the Teen Titans out of San Francisco. With the establishment of the a West Coast Themyscrian Consulate in Gateway City, and the passing of St. Elias School into new hands and new management, there were now a reported forty-three Amazons attending St. Elias, the majority of which were American-born Bana Amazons, though there were at least five Themyscrians that Carrie knew of.
The girl who had sat next to Carrie wore grey bracers, duller, less lustrous than Wonder Woman's silver bracers, but of the same style. The Bana girls, who chose to broadcast their heritage openly, wore leather bracers with bronze coloured arm-guards and tended to keep their sleeves rolled up to the elbows to show these off. Before Starrware Industries had acquired the school such accessories would probably not have been allowed on school grounds.
"Hey, Kres, is that for me?" Carrie said as she dropped her bag on the blanket, sat herself down by her friend with the binoculars.
"Hey, Carrie. Yeah, no cream, no sugar. Boring and hot... You're a bit late, aren't you?"
Carrie took the coffee gratefully, sipped at it to test the temperature. "Lay off, I'm not good at this early riser shtick." Carrie took another, longer pull of her coffee.
"Right... no wonder your parents wouldn't let you join ROTC."
Carrie ignored this. "I ran into one of the new girls on the bus this morning, though."
"New girls?" Kressida turned away from her binoculars to regard her friend.
"Yeah, you know," she pointed to the back of her wrist. "The new girls."
"Oh! Bana or Thema?"
"Themyscrian. She looked like a senior, but... you know, with how tall they are, how can you tell, really?"
"Was she really... you know?"
"'I know...' what?"
"How tall was she?" Kressida took the opportunity to take a pull of her own coffee before returning to her vigil through the binoculars.
"I don't – how should I know without measuring? Five foot eight, maybe nine?" Carrie made an exasperated shrug that was more arm flailing and wrist turning than shoulder heaving – a gesture she had picked up from her mother. "Any joy yet?" Carrie said as she pulled out her camera and telephoto lens.
Kressida checked the underside of her wrist for her watch. "It's still a little early yet."
"People leave early, sometimes. And she doesn't go out partying every Thursday."
"Did you hear Alissa was uploading these pics to her FriendFace page?"
"And how badly did Zinda kick her ass?"
"She made her take them down, yeah, but I think Zee let her off with a warning."
"Well, so long as no one else from school found out... oh, I think... yep, there she is..."
Kressida put her binoculars away and quickly, pulled out her camera, an old honest-to-goodness, automatic shutter film camera. The girls' perch was overlooking an ally between two square, blockish apartment buildings. In one of the second-storey windows a pair of black, square heeled shoes, followed by a pair of toned, smooth legs were protruding from the interior, followed by a pair of hips surrounded by a St. Elias tartan skirt and a pair of hands gripping the sides of the window frame. The owner, a blonde girl of impressive height, came into view and settled herself on the window sill, slipping her arms through the straps of her backpack. A moment more spent chugging a glass of orange juice, which she then set down on the sill beside her, and she pushed off into the open air. She began to fly, slowly, at first, as she pulled her mid-length flaxen hair back and fixed it with a patriotically coloured scrunchie, but then faster as she put her arm out and soared in the direction of St. Elias School for Girls.
Kressida and Carrie's cameras were capturing every frame of the scene, of course, and only stopped a second or two after the blonde girl was out of sight. "Some good ones, today, I think," Kressida said.
"I sort of wish she would look in our direction, though. At least once."
"Yeah, great thinking there, Carrie, and have one superman-strong, probably hung-over, Amazon pissed off at us before she's fully awake – great idea."
"Oh, come on, she wouldn't kill us, she's not psychotic. You just have to think of this more as bird-watching than spying."
"Right, with birds that could break concrete."
Joni closed her locker. "I thought all Amazons were as strong as Superman?"
"Not all of them." Eris interrupted before Carrie could go on a meta-groupie tirade, leaned her head to her left, indicating the two girls who had just turned the corner, laughing and speaking to each other in what was, to most of the student body of St. Elias School for Girls, an incomprehensibly foreign language. They were both wearing the same uniform as everyone else, except that they wore leather bracers with large, gold, metal armguards covering the upper sides of their forearms. To most of the student body, an Amazon was just that – Wonder Woman's people, an entire race of metahuman women from the island nation of Themyscira (not that the majority of the student body could, if asked, locate it on a map). To a meta-groupie like Carrie, though, the bracers did not simply mark the freshman girls as Amazons, but as being of the Bana-Mighdall tribe, Themyscria's underclass.
"Those two," Eris continued, "I saw bump into one of those blonde Amazon juniors, one of the two in our calc class who wear those silver manacle bracelet things? I thought these two here would pee themselves! Fell to the floor and started apologising like they had just run over her cat or something. Then all these other girls with those silver bracelets start coming out of nowhere and surround the two of them – I thought they were gonna get killed..."
"And you just stood there and watched?" Carrie said.
"Girl, I've seen these Amazon bitches bend rebar around their bikes to lock them to the bike rack – hell no I didn't start anything, and if that Sandsmark girl hadn't shown up I would have started running in the other direction as soon as I got my legs to stop shaking."
"Sandsmark? You mean Cassandra Sandsmark?" Joni asked
"Yeah, Wonder Girl, or whatever."
Cassandra Sandsmark was known as the school's top Amazon – of the forty-two Amazons in attendance at St. Elias School for Girls, Cassandra was one of only two that could fly, and, for some reason, all of the other Amazons showed her deference, like royalty. Joni had read that she was supposedly even the daughter of Zeus...
"Speak of the motherfuckin' devil," Eris was saying, pointing with her chin at who was walking down the hall from the other direction. Flanked on either side by her entourage – Anita Fite (president, and founder, of the campus's martial arts club), Greta Hayes (who had taken St. Elias's Mathlete team to victory at last year's Mathematical Olympiad), and Cissie King-Jones (an Olympic Gold Medallist in archery at age fifteen, and currently captain of the campus archery team) – Cassandra Elizabeth Sandsmark, Wonder Girl, supposed daughter of Zeus and, as far as Carrie or her friends knew, Themyscrian royalty. For all anyone knew, the books Greta, the only freshmen amongst the four, was carrying were Cassandra's, it probably being below her to carry her own books between classes.
The three watched as Cassandra and co. walked past, engrossed in their own conversation; those they passed would cease whatever it was they were doing, whatever it was they were talking about, and turn all eyes toward the VIP's among them. As they passed the two Bana girls, the two freshmen clasped their hands before them, and bowed at the waist, speaking in unison in their own language. Cassandra, who was speaking English with her friends, held up a hand to Anita and turned toward the two shorter Amazons, gave them a magnanimous nod and said a single foreign sounding word to them. At their princess's word, they both raised their heads and smiled. Cassandra turned back to Anita. "Yeah, sorry, what were you saying?" And they walked on as if nothing had happened.
"I swear to god, this school is getting weirder by the day," Eris whispered at a dull roar. "Did you hear? There's going to be a new girl this week with blue skin!"
"So, what? Gateway city has a consulate with smurf land now too?"
"No," Carrie slammed her locker. "Haven't you guys been watching the news? The school was just sued for racial discrimination because they weren't going to let her enrol. She's a Coluan."
"What the fuck is a... no, sorry: don't answer that, Carrie, I don't want to listen to one of your superhero rants." Eris held up a finger. Carrie frowned, tried to respond. "No no! Tsh-tsh-tsh! Shh! No! I don't want to hear it, Ms. Kelley! This isn't GBS and you're not Cat Grant."
Carrie frowned at Eris. Joni wasn't paying attention to either of them. "I'm gonna go talk to them."
"Say what now?" Eris swivelled her neck like a bird, recoiling at her friend's words. "With who?"
"With the Amazons." She started moving through the small clusters of people, just now beginning to resume their conversations, now that Sandsmark was out of sight.
Carrie and Eris stood, stunned, unable to move. Not only was Joni not one to simply walk up and start talking to total strangers, but being seen talking with Amazons in public – on purpose? Total social suicide. Please place your tray tables and seatbacks in the locked, upright positions, we are beginning our decent into madness and ruin... Carrie and Eris both, simultaneously, bolted into the crowd Joni was making her way through, each grabbed one of Joni's arms and pulled her back with them.
"Hey! Let go of me!" Joni spun around, yanking free of her friends' grasp. "What the hell is the matter with you two?"
"Joni, are you feeling okay? You haven't hit your head recently? Been exposed to any mind altering fumes?" Eris was whispering furiously. "Are you trying to get killed?!"
"Oh, don't be such a drama queen. Come on, Carrie, I know you want to talk to them more than I do."
Carrie looked up at Eris, shrugged, followed Joni toward the two just now closing their lockers, again engrossed in conversation.
"Hello. You're new here, right? I'm Sophia."
"Hi," was all Carrie managed.
"This is Caroline, but everyone just calls her Carrie."
"Um... hi. Yeah, we've only been here about a week. My mother just got a job at the Consulate downtown. I'm Hope."
Joni extended a hand to the shorter of the two, who took it and, hesitantly, shook once.
"I'm... uh... I'm Iris. Iris Constance Choi."
"Sophia Mulholland-Jjones, but you can call me Joni."
"It's nice to meet you, Joni," Iris was saying, smiling.
"I'm sorry... did you say Iris 'Choi?' As in Grace Choi? The Grace Choi? As in, of the Outsiders Grace Choi?"
"Yes," Iris said, laughing once at Carrie's wide-eyed expression. "She's my mother."
"But..." Joni said, confused. "I thought Grace Choi was...? What I mean is..."
"We're Amazons," Iris said, shaking her head at the obvious. "She's one of my mothers."
"Oh. My. God! I have a huge poster of your mother on my wall! She is so badass! I have her Behind the Mask GNN special on my DVR, and..."
"Okay, uh, yeah, that's... um... very weird," Iris was saying, though she was smiling, in spite of herself.
"Don't mind Carrie – total superhero groupie," Joni apologised. "You wanna grab lunch with us? We were just heading to the cafeteria."
"Sure," Hope shrugged. "But, mind if I ask... why? You're not just talking to us because of a bet or something, are you?" Hope looked off through the crowed.
Joni followed Hope's gaze and saw Eris glaring at them from down the hall. "What? No, uh, don't mind her, she's... got issues... But she did tell me she saw you two having a hard time of it lately. I used to move around a lot too – it sucks being the new girl, yeah?"
"True enough," Iris conceded. She conferred with Hope for a moment in Banyha – a few short, curt exchanged between the two, unintelligible to their new acquaintances.
Hope gave the two others a blatantly reassuring smile. "Okay, let's."
The four started in the direction of the cafeteria.
"You know, you're the first non-Bana girls who have said two words to us since we moved here?" Hope admitted.
"I'm sorry, 'Bana'?" Joni said, falling into step with Hope as Carrie continued to embarrass and delight Iris with questions and praise regarding her famous mother, the two walking behind Hope and Joni.
Hope tapped the bracer she wore over her forearm. "Bana-Mighdall is the name of my tribe, and of our home city. Destroyed now," she made a sweeping gesture with her hand, gave a little shrug.
"I'm sorry," Joni said.
"Meh. I never saw it. I was born here in the States. In Gotham. Though I grew up in LA."
"Cool. I didn't think there were any American Amazons."
"Lady Cassandra's American. I think she was born in New York or Metropolis or somewhere back east."
"So Cassandra is, like, the daughter of your queen or something?"
"No, but I supposed you could call her royalty and not be too far off. Princess Diana – Wonder Woman? – she's Queen Hypolita's daughter."
"I thought Donna Troy was Wonder Woman now?" Carrie said.
"Well... ugh," Hope made a slightly exasperated sound. "See, this is why we call them Princess Diana and Lady Donna. Less confusing."
"Right," Joni said, cutting Carrie off. "So, are you two in any clubs or sports yet?"
"Uh..." The four of them were in the lunch line now.
Carrie caught Joni's eye and pointed. Joni nodded at Carrie, who headed off toward the salad bar. "She's a vegetarian," Joni explained when Hope looked at her inquiringly.
"Right. Well, we're both in archery and mountain biking, of course, and Tuesdays we do training and religious studies at the consulate temple, and..."
"And I was thinking about the astronomy club. You guys?" Iris pushed ahead of the other two and took a tray, began loading up.
"Well, Carrie is in astronomy and N-O-M..."
"What's that?" Hope was piling chicken and wrapped roast beef sandwiches onto her tray, a very large helping of mashed potatoes.
"Novus Ordo Mundi – it's basically a superhero fan club."
"Sounds cool," Hope admitted as they took their seats at an empty table. "But, um, your friend, Carrie..." Hope began poking her chicken with her fork as she thought of the right words.
"She's not... an Amazon fetishist, is she? I mean, you're not just talking to us to...?"
"What...? OH! No, no-no-no, no. Nothing like that. I mean, not that I'm not okay with... I mean, um..." Joni stopped talking for a minute, took a breath. "We're down with the whole Amazonian lifestyle, but we're not just talking to you trying to seduce you."
Iris smiled. "I like that: 'not just trying to seduce' us. Well, at least you have other things on the agenda – I hope buying us dinner is on the list."
"Stop it, Rissa," Hope punched Iris in the shoulder, making a muffled meat-packing sound that made Joni clench. "She's just teasing."
"Bitch!" Iris laughed, rubbed her arm. "I think you bent my snake!"
"Do you guys get a lot of 'Amazon fetishists' coming up to you in the halls?"
"Well, we said you were the first non-Bana girls who've talked to us. When we're at the mall or on the street, we're always getting guys coming up to us and..." Hope trailed off.
"Coming up to us and start spewing their ignorance regarding Amazon culture, sexuality, sexual proclivity, religion – ugh! If I get one more shabbily dressed emo kid coming up to me and asking me about Satan worship or whatever it is these Christians think we do, I am going to shove his head up his ass so far, just..." she made an angry gesticulation. "So! Far!!"
"Is that just a colourful euphemism for an ass kicking or something you think you could actually accomplish?" Joni teased.
"Accomplish what?" Carrie said, coming back to the table with a tray full of salad, fruit and onion rings.
"Bend an emo boy over backwards and shove his head up his own ass."
"Well, A) eew, and B) who wants to waste brain cells thinking that hard about emo kids in the first place?"
"We could always go downtown and run an experiment," Iris offered.
"No," Hope dismissed the notion, "if you're going to be touching emo boys you'd either need a hazmat suit or a whole flurry of inoculations – both of which, very uncomfortable."
Carrie had three plastic tubs of three different types of salad dressing, was dipping forkfuls of lettuce, tomato, onion and spinach into different dressings for each mouthful. "So, do you two have boyfriends, girlfriends...?"
"So much for 'other things' on that agenda, eh?" Iris teased Joni, got her shoulder slapped by Hope, who whispered coarsely to her in Banyha, putting her fingertips to her own temples and miming her head exploding as she scolded her friend.
Iris made a few flippant, dismissive comments in Banyha, waving Hope away with one hand and started unwrapping her sandwich. "Nope, we're single. Though Hope is still lusting after her ex back on the Island – OW!" Iris started laughing after the shock of the kick she got under the table from Hope.
Hope made a short, threatening remark in Banyha to Iris, who apologised insincerely into her sandwich, rolled her eyes at Carrie and Joni, chewing. "What about you two?" she said with her mouth full. "You two in the dating scene or are you," she directed her words in Carrie's direction, "saving yourselves for your favourite member of the Teen Titans – they have to have, like, fifty members right now, yeah?"
"We're both single too," Joni managed to get in before Carrie pounced on the opportunity talk meta with someone.
"Eleven permanent members right now," Carrie managed to break in anyway. "If you don't count the reserves, and if you consider Zatara and Imako Hoshi as permanent members, even considering how much time they spend away on tour, the line up right now is: Lady Cassandra, Robin, Blue Beetle, Miss Martian, Bombshell, Kid Devil... (though I think he's lost his powers recently, I read he's still staying with the team), Zatara, Bunny, Offspring, Kid Eternity and Aquagirl. Though there are conflicting reports about whether Ravager, Static and Fever are members of the team right now."
"Wow," Iris said, changed the subject. "I'm going to go get some tea, do you all want any?"
"No thanks," Joni said. "I still can't get used to drinking hot drinks with lunch. I miss me my soda."
"Yes, please," Carrie said.
"Just green is good with me."
Hope said something in Banyha to Iris, ended it with stern words and finger wagging.
Iris responded by curtseying in a mocking, sultry fashion, exaggerating and drawing out apparent words of subservience, sarcastically, before turning toward the free drink tables.
"Also," Hope said, had to stop, realizing her mouthful of beef and bread and mayonnaise was too large to swallow with her mouth open. Pounded her chest just below her neck to make sure it went down. Joni reflected that it was a thing of frightening and terrible beauty watching Amazons eat – probably enough to make an owner of an all-you-can-eat diner cry. Though they had been sitting down for all of five minutes, Iris was already on her third sandwich, and Hope had almost cleared her plate of its thicket of green-bean-casserole, a small mountain of mashed potatoes, enough poultry to probably reconstruct one and a half chickens, and four slabs of Salisbury steak with gravy and mushrooms. She was just now finishing her first of three roast beef sandwiches, though. She cleared her throat. "Excuse me. Anyway: Fever isn't on the Teen Titans."
"How do...?" Carrie's confusion turned instantly to a beaming look of awe. "Did Wonder – I mean – Lady Cassandra tell you that? Ohmygod! – are you and she friends? Can you introduce me?"
"Uh, in order: yes, I wish, and maybe. Fever isn't on the team, and I don't think anyone really knows where Ravager and Static are right now, but I'm sure they'll show up eventually."
"I have all three of her Doom Patrol action figures – of Fever that is, including the special limited-series resin..."
"Geek!" Joni accused her friend. "I can't take you anywhere!"
"Sorry! Jeeze," Carrie said, popping a forkful of salad (honey-mustard dressing) into her mouth, chewed, swallowed, stabbed into her plate again. "So, you're from Los Angeles, then? Manhunter country."
"Ah, now," Iris said, returning to the table with a lunch tray holding four hot beverage cups. "I'll give anyone ten to one odds that the new Manhunter woman is Bana. Plain green tea," she set the cup down in front of Carrie.
"Thanks. You really think so? I thought she was an alien."
"Doubt it. If she was really a Dark Star ranger-thingy then she wouldn't last long with Princess Diana living in LA now – I heard she (that is, Manhunter) just killed a Dark Star and took her suit – here, try this Joni, trust me, and if you don't like it, I'll drink it. And, your hibiscus, Ma'am – boring, without lemon or cinnamon."
"Damn right," Hope puckered her lips in an air-kiss to Iris, who closed her eyes briefly, moving her head a fraction to the side, as if she were, pleasantly, hit in the face by a flying kiss, sat down at the table with her own cup of tea.
"You really didn't have to, like I said, I was a soda drinker before they took out all the machines."
"Doesn't mean you can't try new things – I mean, look at you, you crossed the whole racial line thing, talking to social pariahs, balking at a little hot water and dried leaves now?"
"Fair enough," Joni shrugged, still didn't pick up the cup. "So, Iris, you said you were thinking of joining the Astronomy club?"
"Really?" Carrie perked up.
"Yeah, two of the girls we live with are in the club – they say good things about it."
"I didn't think any of the girls in the club were Amazons?"
"Well... I guess you could say, technically they're not. You know Aleea Strange and Anelle Rann?"
"Of course! I thought you said you haven't made any new friends since you moved here?"
"We haven't. We knew Aleea and Anella... well, since way back... uh..." Iris asked Hope a question in Banyha, had a brief exchange. Hope mostly gave mono- or disyllabic responses to Iris's long questions. "Yeah, we met them on Themyscria, actually. They spent some time at the embassy there."
"That's cool. Their moms worked for the government?"
"Oh, they're not American," Iris said, but suddenly made a face as if she had discovered a red hot coal in her pants. Hope said something disparaging in Banyha. "Oh, I probably shouldn't have said that. Their situations are... complicated. I really shouldn't be talking about them behind their backs like this, sorry," she apologised, as much to Hope as anyone.
"My lips are sealed," Carrie made a zipper gesture over her mouth.
"Let's see how long that lasts..." Joni muttered, sniffing the cup of what appeared to be orange spice tea. "Oh, and, ditto for me – what she said."
"I like Aleea and Anella," Carrie said.
"And: three seconds, a new record, maybe?" Joni chided.
"Shut up," Carrie said offhandedly. "They may be lacking in social skills and... well, frankly, common sense most of the time, but they are crazy smart. I know who my lifelines would be if I ever ended up on a game show."
"Is that show even still on the air?" Joni asked, removing the plastic safety lid to the tea, sniffing it.
"I have no idea," Hope said, balling up the wrapper to her last sandwich. "I've really never watched much television. Iris? Seconds?"
"You know it. Could you watch our stuff?" Both Iris and Hope got up with their trays and headed again to the main cafeteria line. Joni and Carrie watched them go, their blue and green plaid skirts swishing around toned, powerful thighs, below narrow waists.
"Where do they put it all?" Joni whispered.
"I know; they just ate enough to choke a mammoth. Their metabolisms must be off the charts."
"Yet another reason the BMI scale is now bullcrap..." Joni bemoaned.
"Awfully trusting, aren't they? Just met us and already trusting us not to run off with their bags?" Carrie observed.
"Well, I give off a trustworthy vibe and you come off as too stupid to be devious."
"Har har har, Sophia," Carrie used Joni's first name as if it were a slap to the face.
Joni, who normally would retort with a "Caroline" comment, sat perfectly still, turning her eyes from one side to the other, without turning her head. "Don't look around right away, or too quickly, but there are people staring at us right now."
Carrie raised her eyebrows and looked at Joni, turning her head to the side. "What?"
"Table of Bana Amazons by the door, and table of the other kind to the back, and a few tables over where Hope and Iris just passed."
Carrie went back to work on her salad, stole subtle glances for, and then at, the tables Joni had mentioned. Sure enough, there was a table of about six Bana girls by the front door, they were each wearing, like Hope and Iris, gold bracers on their arms and, unlike Hope and Iris, wore their hair up in a high, elaborate ponytails of braids, nearly on the top of their heads. Carrie caught them stealing glances at them as well as their two new Bana friends who were making their way through the lunch line for seconds.
The Themyscrians seemed less concerned, but Carrie did see two of them staring at the Bana girls' backs, whispering to each other and making animated hand gestures below chest level, close to the vest. "What the hell?" Carrie offered.
Joni shrugged. "Racism is alive and well, it would seem. You notice those Bana by the door look different from Hope and Iris? I don't think they were born here."
"Neither were... oh, you mean America."
"See what I mean? Too stupid to be untrustworthy."
"You are such a bitch, you know that?"
"You should see this one when she's in a bad mood," Iris said, regarding Hope, as the two returned and sat.
"What'd we miss?" Hope said, already unwrapping another roast beef sandwich.
"Um..." Carrie stuttered, eyes wide.
"Do you know those girls? The ones with the ponytails?" Joni was saying.
"Which ones?" Iris craned her neck in the wrong direction.
"Um, incoming," Carrie said, pointed. All three looked in the direction, made similar faces as Carrie. The two Bana girls stood up.
"Hi," said Cassandra Sandsmark.
Hope and Iris clasped their hands again and bowed, as they had in the hallway, said deferent words in Balyha.
Cassandra smiled and smothered a laugh though her nose. "I told you, you don't have to do that every time you see me. And call me Cassie."
"Yes, Cassie," Iris said, in a tone more sober than either Carrie or Joni had heard her speak in either language as of yet.
"I just wanted to thank you both for offering to host next week – it means a lot to us to have safe and venue that isn't behind the consulate walls. Can you convey my thanks to your mother for me, Hope? I'm not going to get a chance to see her in person until Monday, I'm afraid."
"Of course, Cassie."
Cassandra's smile was... Joni felt the need to stand or have her stomach detach from her and fly away. "Hi, I'm Joni," she said, holding her hand out to Cassandra across the table. Iris's eyes went a little wide as she watched Joni make the gesture, but did not otherwise regard it.
"Cassie," she said, shaking Joni's hand. "Nice to meet you. Hi," she said, looked straight at Carrie. "I'm Cassandra Sandsmark, and you are?"
Carrie stared dumbly, staring at the blonde Amazon who, this morning, she had been taking secret pictures of with a telephoto lens.
"This one's Caroline Kelley. I call her Carrie. You'll have to forgive her, she has magazine covers with your picture on them framed in her bedroom, so," Joni made a "you know" face. "I think she's a bit in shock right now."
"I see. Well, for when she comes to..." Cassie took an unused napkin off the table, a sharpie marker from her backpack, and autographed the napkin, making it out to Carrie, kissed it, leaving a lipstick mark, put it on the table and waved goodbye, bid the two Bana girls farewell in their own language, received reciprocations in kind.
After Cassandra walked away, Joni started poking Carrie in the side of the head with her index finger. Iris waved a hand in front of the catatonic girl's face.
"Yep," Joni said. "She's broken."
There were two student organizations that almost the entire Amazon student body were members of. The first was the archery club – Cissie King-Jones had won the gold in the 2004 summer Olympics at age fifteen and competed against Themyscria's champion, Artemis, to a draw two years later. After that, she had gotten her own line of sporting goods, jobs training television- and movie-stars how to use a bow or crossbow on screen and was well known to be friends with Wonder Girl. All of the Amazon mothers at Gateway City's Themyscrian Consulate wanted their daughters to be taught how to shoot a shaft or a bolt by Suzanne "Cissie" King-Jones, the captain of the St. Elias Archery Society.
The other club, surprisingly enough, was the mountain biking club – Amazons from Bana-Mighdall had, for centuries been known as the finest horse riders of the middle-east and Eurasia, and the Themyscrians had, for millennia, for sport, hunting or battle, ridden horses and griffins and pegasusi. All Amazons were sat upon a horse (winged or not) before they could walk, it was simply the way it had always been. Bicycles, now, were new. On the Jack Ryder Show, in an interview with the first commander of the US Embassy on Themyscria, Lieutenant Commander Nyissa L. Butler, she had reported that bicycles had become the most sought commodity by expectant mothers on the island, and the most asked for gift by young girls approaching their attainment ceremonies.
For those Bana girls born and raised in the United States, the peer pressure to be seen as "normal" Amazons by their Themyscrian peers was great enough to fuel their own enthusiasm for the trend. Hope and Iris already had mountain bikes before they began attending St. Elais's, and, as far as any of their new Bana friends were concerned, they had been riding simply forever, and in Hope's case it was almost true.
Hope's mother had lived in the United States almost her entire life, and been to Themyscria three times, briefly, but, mostly, had lived in Metropolis, Gotham, and, since Hope was seven, Washington DC. By the time she was offered a job at the Gateway City Themyscrian Consulate she was ready, and had taught her daughter how to ride off-road, on both downhill and freeride tracks, had questioned her co-workers on how their daughters decorated and, as it turned out was the convention, named their bikes, and even what was popular to wear while riding. Hope's mother had put together a dossier of photos and reports and taught her daughter and, during the two months before their move west, her daughter's new best friend, Iris, everything she had learned. Hope's mother was nothing if not meticulous, and, ever since she had quit her original Washington job, had been an ever attentive and doting, if somewhat strict and demanding, single mother, "making up for lost time."
"So what do you think of them?"
"You know who, Opey." Iris lifted her bike up with one hand as she took the front steps three at a time.
Hope similarly lifted her bike over her head with her left hand, took the steps one at a time. "I think they're nice. I like Carries hair a lot."
"You always say that about redheads."
"I have a thing for redheads. And I like that Jjones girl's attitude. She has guts, coming over to talk to us like she did. I like her."
"What do you think I think of them?" Iris was balancing her bike on the index and middle finger of her right hand, holding onto her right wrist with her other hand for support, making a show of not letting the bike tip too far in any one direction.
Hope simply put her bike down next to the wicker bench, sat on the stained wooden swing seat. "I'm sure I couldn't guess."
"Of course you can. That's why you never ask me what I think about anything. You read people like books. Well, most people. I'm not sure a level-A psychic could get a read on your mom – whoops!" Iris managed to catch her bike before it fell down the stairs.
"Please stop that... Alright: I think you like them enough to want to associate with them, to hang out and do things, but I think you just want to play with Carrie and, as far as Joni is concerned, you want to test the limits of what you can get away with."
"Aw, you're no fun. I like them, they're nice."
"You mean you sense a sexual attraction and you want to exploit it for your own amusement."
Iris set her bike down and sat on the wicker bench, clenching her fists and rubbing her wrists on her knees. "You're mean."
"I'm sorry, Rissa." Hope got up and sat herself down next to Iris on the bench. "You asked what I thought about your intentions."
"I did, didn't I?" Iris sighed, leaning her head on Hope's shoulder.
Hope rested her cheek against the top of Iris's head. "Do you want to know what else I think?"
"Not now, not really. Not if it's going to be more psychoanalysis."
"Alright." Hope didn't press the issue, merely sat and provided a solid, warm, breathing body for Iris to lean on, listened to Iris breathe for a while.
"Okay..." Iris said after several minutes. "I'm curious – what else do you think?"
"I think you want to invite them to the Lady Cassandra's party, because you want to prove to me (and yourself) that you're not really as manipulative as you think I think you are."
"Hm..." Iris was quiet for about two minutes. "Do you want to know what I think? About what you think, that is?"
"Of course." Hope rubbed her cheek against Iris's soft, dark brown hair.
"I think you've manipulated this entire conversation so you can claim it was me who wanted to invite them to the party, and not you."
"Well..." Hope moved her hand up to Iris's head, gently combed her fingertips through her hair. "I have to say I'm flattered, that you think I'm as well thought out as all that. To be honest I mostly just play things off the cuff."
"Says the girl who beat the snot out of the Deep Blue computer at age six – you wanted to invite them and have been waiting for me to ask 'what do you think' all day. I could tell you were holding back on being the one to bring them up."
"You are such a smartass." Hope said. "Making me hold my tongue like that until we got home." Hope kissed the top of Iris's head. "And you're sweet to go along with my little farce like you did."
"I know," Iris beamed, put her arms around Hope's middle and buried one side of her face against the side of Hope's breast. "So, do you want to invite Carrie or Joni?"
"No, I think you should get to pick which one you want – I'm sorry I called you manipulative."
"Okay then, you can have Carrie the redhead. Call it a gift. For some reason I seem to have a thing for blondes, myself, anyway." Iris reached one arm up Hope's back to the back of her head and ran her fingers through Hope's short cut, bleached blond hair. "Even fake ones."
"Hm..." Hope closed her eyes in feigned consideration. "I'm pretty sure Joni's a natural blonde. And thank you," Hope opened one eye and smiled down at her friend.
Iris gave Hope a little squeeze, closed her eyes and sighed happily. "I love you, Opey."
"I love you too, Rissa."
A moment later, a loud grumbling sound came from Iris's stomach, making her eyes open up wide. "Uh..." her cheeks began reddening.
"Oh! And I think your tummy wants to say it'll love us both forever, too. If, that is, we give it borscht and burritos and omelettes."
"Ya-ay! Early supper!" Iris threw both first into the air in excitement, put both hands on the bench and stood up on it, stood and did a forward flip toward the front door, landed (a little shakily) just an inch from crashing into the screen door. "Ta-da!"
Hope clapped as Iris put her hand over her stomach and did a little bow to her side. Iris opened the door and held the screen for Hope. "And by the by – I see you went red and lacy today, after all," Hope teased, taking the screen door's handle from Iris.
"You would look," Iris said, stuck her tongue out at Hope. The two Amazons went inside to begin their raid on the kitchen.