Etta knew before they made it back, that Steve was dead.
"But we could not call or send a message," Diana said, brows furrowing.
Etta sighed and took the strange woman's hand. "That's how I knew, dear. Steve was the one with all the codes … and Steve was the one most likely to be able to charm himself the use of someone's phone or telegram office if those codes didn't work."
"Because he was a spy, used to lying and manipulating?" Diana asked. "But Sameer is a con artist, which means he is also skilled at lying and manipulating. That is how we got back to England."
Etta looked Diana up and down, in the nurse's uniform that didn't sit quite right, at Sameer in an orderly's uniform. Charlie was in his regular uniform, and she presumed Chief was, too; she'd never met him in person but he seemed to fit the way Steve had described him. "I can see that," she said.
"But Diana," Sameer said, "Steve wasn't as good at lying as I am, but there were a lot of stories that he could tell that people would believe from a blond, blue-eyed American that they'd never believe from me."
"Exactly," Etta said. "Anyway, it was always a long-shot of a mission, wasn't it? And then we heard that something big had happened at Veld, but no word from you. That was … either Captain Trevor was dead, or he was badly injured."
"He is dead," Diana said. "He died destroying a plane filled with poison gas enough to kill everyone within fifty miles."
"He'll get a medal for that," Etta said. "Not that it matters, with him not around to enjoy it." She bit her lip and looked down at the floor.
"What is a medal?" Diana asked.
Etta looked up at Diana, but either the other woman was the best liar anybody had ever seen, or she was entirely sincere. More than ever, Etta wanted to know where Steve had dug up the strange woman.
But—she glanced around at her fellow secretaries, all industriously working away and studiously not looking at her or the strange party of people gathered around her desk—this was not the time or place to share stories.
"Why don't we find a better place to talk?" she said, standing up and gesturing for them to follow her out of the secretarial pool. Steve didn't have an office of his own, being so seldom in London and space being at a premium, but he was hardly the only Intelligence officer in the same straits and there were a few rooms set aside for them to use for private conversation when they needed it.
The private rooms were up a floor on the other side of the building. It had always been inconvenient, but it did mean that they were out of the way. The one Etta chose wasn't large, and there weren't enough chairs, but it had a door that locked and thick enough walls that you couldn't hear what was going on inside, which was more than enough for their purposes.
As she led them there, she could hear the men explaining medals and such to Diana.
"Captain Trevor never did say where you were from, Miss Prince," Etta said once they were all in and the door closed behind them. "And I'm rather curious to know myself, considering how little you know about, well, everything."
"I am Diana, Princess of Themyscira," the other woman said. "Daughter of Queen Hippolyta and Zeus. I came to Man's World to destroy Ares, the god of war, and I have done so with the help of Steve and these men."
"You … what?" The one explanation Etta hadn't considered was that the pretty woman might have come out of a loony bin somewhere, but that sounded like it almost had to be the case, now, didn't it? Except why would Steve Trevor, who was ordinarily fairly level-headed, have dragged such a crazy person along through a battlefield? Diana was gorgeous, but Steve wasn't one to let a pretty face carry him off.
"It's true, Miss Candy," Sameer said. "We saw it!"
"Aye, that we did," Charlie said. "She and Ares were throwing tanks around, and lighting bolts, and she can fly! We saw her, with our own two eyes!"
"And she came out of that battle without even any scratches," Chief said. "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own two eyes. I mean, deflecting bullets with her bracelets is a neat trick, but she walked across a field on fire without getting singed."
"I don't know that I believe the Ares she was fighting was really a god," Sameer said. "There's only one God, and his name is Allah. But certainly he was at least a very powerful djinn."
"God, hell," Charlie said scoffing. "It was the Devil, pure and simple."
Chief shrugged. "I suppose it could have been an Above Spirit, but why couldn't it really have been Ares?"
"Thank you, Chief," Diana said. "Why do you not believe me that it really was Ares?"
"Because they're all monotheists," Chief said. "They believe there's only one God. Most white folks—and Arabs, like Sameer—think that it's a betrayal of their god to accept that others exist. And that includes Zeus and Ares and all the rest. So they have to come up with some other explanation."
"Well, whatever Ares was, I'd like to hear the story," Etta said. "We've only heard dribs and drabs. But whatever it was that happened, they've pretty much shattered the Hindenburg Line. It's only a matter of time before the whole German Army collapses. The Bulgarians and some of their other allies have already sued for a separate armistice."
"And then the war will be over and there will be peace, yes?" Diana asked, anxiously.
"Yes," Etta said. "Then there will be peace. Though I don't know what kind of peace it'll be, with so much damage and bad blood on all sides. But at least we won't be throwing young men into a meat grinder for no reason. But like I said, I want to know what happened out there. And, she said, gesturing to Diana, "you can start by telling my what this Themiscyra place is, what Ares has to do with anything, and how Steve got caught up in you."
"It's a long story," Charlie said, "won't you be missed?"
"Besides, we need to find some place to stay," Chief pointed out. "This isn't the front, we can't exactly just camp outside of town."
"A spy's secretary has a great deal of leeway, and nobody knows Steve is dead yet," Etta said. "And I'll figure out rooms for you all. But first, tell me everything."
The story took the rest of the day, largely because they kept getting side-tracked with things about Man's World that Diana didn't know or understand, and things about Themiscyra that the rest of them didn't. Etta decided that Diana would stay with her, and found rooms for the men in a dingy boarding-house that British Intelligence used to stash people they didn't want anyone looking too deeply at. They met again after supper, this time in Etta's tiny bedsit, because it had the most privacy.
"But what about your reputation, begging your pardon, ma'am?" Charlie asked as she ushered them in.
"Well, with Diana here in her nurse outfit, that should take care of some of it," Etta said. "Besides, we're all socialists here, so there's a lot less fussing about propriety and such."
"What is a socialist?" Diana asked.
"Someone who thinks rich people shouldn't be the only ones to get nice things and a comfortable life," Etta said. "I like money, I really do, but I don't see why having lots of it makes you better or more important than other people."
"Neither do I," Diana said. "Does that make me a socialist?"
"Hang on a minute," Charlie protested. "It's not quite that simple!"
"And it's also not important at the moment," Etta said. "We've got a bigger question: how to get Diana back home." She turned to the other woman. "I wasn't able to find out what happened to the boat you came to England on, and my authority as Captain Trevor's secretary is quite enough to find rooms for the night but not enough to commandeer or buy a boat for you. Or a plane, if we had a pilot. That will all take money."
"I am not going home," Diana said. She was putting a brave face on it, but Etta could see the pain in her eyes. "I cannot. I doubt I could find it if I looked for centuries."
"What do you mean, you can't find it?" Chief said. "It can't be that hard. All we have to do is retrace the trip you and Steve made to get to England. Etta, you know where Steve was in the Ottoman Empire, right? That gives us a starting point, it's got to be close by that."
Sameer shook his head. "No, that doesn’t make sense. The Ottoman Empire is mostly landlocked. And they've been beaten back across the board. The only large bodies of water they've got access to are the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf. Those are all small and well-known with lots of people living all around for thousands of years. There's no way there's a secret island hiding out in any of those places. I'd buy it in the middle of the Atlantic, maybe, but not the Persian Gulf. Or even the Mediterranean."
"Besides," Charlie said, "my brother's a sailor. It'd take five, maybe six weeks for one of our modern ships to get from Gibraltar to England, much less the middle of the Mediterranean. Double that, at least—maybe triple it!—for a sailboat. Steve wasn't gone that long."
Diana shook her head. "Themiscyra is protected by all of the gods, particularly Zeus and Athena. There is a barrier around it which no man can penetrate—at least, normally—and it moves. The stars above change periodically, and they changed in the two days Steve was on our island. The place he arrived is not the same place we departed from. And it will very likely have moved again since then. Without the favor of Zeus, there is no way to find it … and without the favor of Athena, no way to cross the barrier."
"And do you know how to get the favor of Zeus and Athena?" Etta asked.
Diana looked down at her hands. "I knew when I came with Steve that I would probably never see my home again."
"You mean … you mean you're going to be staying here? For the rest of your life?" Etta wanted to comfort the other woman; she looked a lot younger all of a sudden, and it was obvious she'd loved her home. (Etta, herself, had been glad to leave her own home and never looked back, but then she'd at least known what she was getting into.)
But at the same time … just getting Diana into ordinary-looking clothes so she could pass for the few days she'd been in London had been well-nigh impossible. Every other thing out of her mouth was something strange and unusual. And good, too, Etta really liked the Amazon way of thinking from what she'd seen of it, but not conducive to getting her a job and a home and everything. And true, Diana was a goddess of battle, but there wasn't much call for them in peacetime. Which this would soon be.
Etta stared at the men, appalled. What were they going to do?