All Water Has a Perfect Memory
"I'm really not sure about this," Nereid said, hanging back under the maple tree at the edge of the street. The day was hot and humid, and a sun-drunk bumblebee swam lazily through the thick air, narrowly avoiding Sophie's head.
"Ruth must be sure, or she wouldn't have invited you," Sophie said, tugging on Nereid's hand. "Come on
, we'll be late."
They were both very firmly out of costume, in shorts and sandals and t-shirts. Sophie was even wearing a normal pair of glasses. They'd driven over in Sophie's deceptively rattletrap decade-old compact car. Nereid didn't know what customizations Sophie had added to the car; she just knew that any car that had a full keyboard integrated into the steering wheel couldn't be normal.
The Ultimate's house was a small, neat surburban box of a ranch house with a large green lawn and several copses of trees. There was brick trim and a two-car garage, and everything looked so very normal
. Sophie had parked on the street because the driveway was full of vehicles that also, surprisingly, looked normal.
It was a quiet party, once they got inside, but Nereid was so nervous, her later memories of it were spotty. She remembered things in chunks:
The Fat Lady took a glass of lemonade with a sprig of mint in it from the Ultimate. "So glad you could make it, Pacifica," she said in her beautiful voice. "Have you met Madeline Fukuda?" She gestured to the young Asian woman sitting beside her on the beige sofa.
Nereid felt a shock of recognition at the name. "You... you're...," she said, shaking hands with the woman.
"Yes, you've probably read about me," Madeline said with a sad smile. "It's all right. I get that a lot."
"Speaking of history," the Fat Lady said, "what's going on with that documentary?"
"Ah, well," Madeline said, shrugging slightly, "it's going forward, but slowly. There's very little funding, and, as you can imagine, the government and military are not pleased with the idea of it being made. People have almost forgotten World War II now, and they'd like to keep it that way."
"How are the girls doing?" Renata Scott said, carefully seating her dark copper android body on a nearby easy chair.
"Well, Annie died last year," Madeline said, and Nereid realized that she was talking about one of the clone bodies that had been grown from parts of her by the Army during the war.
"I'd heard," Renata said, and Nereid could hear the sympathy that the android face couldn't express. "I'm so sorry."
"Well, they've none of them had what you could call a good
quality of life ever, though lord knows I've tried my best," Madeline said, shaking her head. "They weren't raised
, like us, they just became
. Barbara still has nightmares and violent episodes -- she's physically the strongest of them still, and earlier this year, the group home said they couldn't handle her any more, so she's in an institution. Georgina had a stroke a few months ago and has been paralyzed ever since; she refuses to do the physical therapy, and they've moved her out of the general home area into the hospital ward. Zeta has become even less verbal than she ever was. And, of course, Dorothy and Edith have been gone for years. Sandra, Theresa, and Iris are still living in the group home, and are doing all right, I suppose. Certainly the other people living there are doing better than they might otherwise." She grimaced a little.
"Are they... it sounds like they aren't all still young like you," Nereid said hesitantly.
"They're not," Madeline said, gently and sadly. "We don't know why I stayed young and they didn't. It's like they got a... a limited supply of my power, and the Army used it up. It's just as well, really. Like I said, they've always been... limited. In other ways." She pressed her fist flat against the center of her chest. "It still hurts when they go, though. Like I'm losing children."
"I hope the documentary happens," Nereid said, clenching her own hands angrily. "What they did to you, that should be more than a note in a textbook."
Madeline smiled. "Mine was just a small story in a much bigger story. Have you heard about the musical that George Takei man is putting together about the Japanese-American internment camps?"
"How. are you. doing. Jennifer?" Avis Wysocki said, via her curiously stilted and old-fashioned computer voice, to the young olive-skinned woman seated on the floor.
Jennifer Lombardi looked vaguely in the direction of the middle-aged woman with the speaker on her shoulder and the keyboard on her lap. "I'm okay," she said in a faint, fading sort of voice. "I'm trying not to watch something really horrible right now, so I'm looking at about three dozen preschools."
Avis looked at Nereid and typed. "Jennifer. sees. everywhere. at the same. time." Nereid noticed that the computer voice had a faintly... Swedish?... intonation.
"That sounds hard to manage," Nereid said, unable to think of anything else. All those days working the tables at the diner and listening to people talk about their lives had helped after all.
"No, not difficult," said Jennifer in a distant tone. "More... distracting. I tend to walk into doors. And get lost. Of course, I do have to remember to keep an eye on certain things."
"Speaking of which," the Ultimate said as she passed through with a plate of hors d'ouerves, "are the G-men still bugging you?"
"Oh, yes," Jennifer said, with a few signs of animation. "They never seem to get tired of it. I just make sure I'm never home when they call."
"Does that mean the G-men are responsible for the time I had to fly to Venezuela to get you?" Sophie said from her perch on a tall chair at the breakfast bar.
"I don't remember," said Jennifer.
"Did you at least like Venezuela?" Nereid said.
"Oh, yes," Jennifer said, handing a bright tropical flower to Nereid, apparently from nowhere. "Of course, I don't have to be there to like it."
Oum Veha, a plump, dark-skinned Asian man, sat in a carved wooden chair surrounded by a lovely confectionary wall of filigreed copper wires. When he hiccoughed briefly, there was a flash of blue-white light, a sizzling noise, and a loud, startling pop. After a moment, he said, sadly, "Ruth, I'm sorry, but I seem to have shattered another glass."
The Ultimate snorted something like laughter and went into the Faraday cage with a couple of dishtowels. The two of them muttered to each other, and Veha laughed at one point, accompanied by the tinkling of the pieces of glass.
"They have crushes on each other," Sophie whispered, handing Nereid a can of soda.
"Really?" Nereid said, trying not to stare at the round brown woman with the threads of silver in her corkscrew curls and the younger man, both stooping to the floor of the protective cage, their heads close together.
"Totally," Sophie said, popping open her own can. "She won't admit it, though he does, cheerfully. They see each other every week. It's adorkable."
Veha's hand brushed the Ultimate's as they both reached for the same shard of glass, and their gazes met for a moment before the Ultimate snatched the glass up, crushing it in her hurry. "You're being klutzier than usual, Veha," she said audibly, standing. "How many glasses are you gonna break today?"
Veha straightened up as well and smiled as she slid out of the cage. "Oh, as many as it takes."
"I. like. your new. outfit," Avis said as Renata sat down next to her.
"Thanks! Larentia made it for me," Renata said, running a hand over the shining copper thigh of the android body.
"She. made. my. set. up. too," Avis said, gesturing at her keyboard and speaker.
"Really?" Renata leaned back a bit and the android head shifted obviously to bring the cameras to bear on the rig. "Why didn't she give you a smoother voice?"
"I have. gotten. used. to. this one," Avis replied. "I can not. imagine. my voice. being. any. different." She shoved light brown curls out of her eyes.
"Um, can I ask?" Nereid said.
"We told you," Renata said, the unnerving android eyes looking at her, "no questions are off-limits. If you ask something hurtful, we'll tell you. But we would like for you to feel like you really can ask us anything."
"Thanks," Nereid said, ducking her head a bit. "I was wondering, um, Avis, why you have to use the computer voice?"
"My. power. is. command. voice," Avis said. "If I say. something. imperative. most. people. have to. do it."
"Oh," Nereid said. "Oh. Wow."
"Yes," Avis said, looking skyward and shrugging. "It. was. awkward."
"And you can't control it?" Nereid said.
"I. could. for a while. as. a teenager," Avis said. "But. you. know. teenagers." She shrugged again.
Nereid looked faintly embarrassed. "You could, but you didn't. And then you couldn't at all?"
"No," Avis said, shaking her head, for emphasis it seemed.
Nereid started to say something, then paused to bite the inside of her cheek hard, which was one of her best techniques for stopping tears. "It's really hard... when you do something you didn't intend to."
Avis and Renata exchanged glances. "Yes," Avis said after a moment. "I remember. telling. a boy. who was. picking. on. me. to just. go. away. And his. parents. could not. find. him. again. I still. do not. know. what happened. to him."
Nereid clapped a hand to her mouth. "Oh god, I'm so sorry."
Avis grimaced and said, "Most. of us. should think. before. we speak. but I. need. to think. a lot. more."
Nereid thought how strange it was to see the Ultimate laughing. She'd seen her laughing at the birthday party, but that had been so big and glittering and unreal that her laughter seemed so too.
"Veha, you are such
a tease," the Ultimate said, sliding her hand along the doorframe of the Faraday cage.
"I have to make the most of my qualities," he replied, sipping his drink.
Madeline leaned closer to Nereid and said, "You're quiet."
Nereid blushed. "I'm just... everyone is so... famous
"Famous people are just people," the Fat Lady said, twirling the fan in her hand skyward. "Even Sophie is famous, in her way."
"Yeah," said Nereid, glancing at Sophie, "but I met her before I knew she was famous."
Sophie flopped down at Nereid's feet and tilted her head back into her lap to say, "I can't believe you didn't know I was famous."
The Ultimate quirked a smile at them. "Not everyone's into cypherpunk or fanfiction like you are, kiddo."
Sophie looked at her mother, eyebrows high. "Hey, I've done quite a lot
more than just that
"Being responsible for Gogo and the Gadgettes is
important," Madeline allowed.
"I swear, I didn't tell her to crash the party!" Sophie said for the fourth or fifth time that afternoon, letting her head fall backward again. "And she's just Gogo now anyway."
Nereid gave in to the urge to stroke Sophie's hair, and blushed when she saw the Fat Lady wink at her over the top of the fan.
"I liked the album," Jennifer said while staring at a corner of the ceiling. "It goes well with all kinds of music."
Avis said, "Of course. Jennifer. someone. like. you. has to. listen to. a lot of. music. at. once."
Jennifer replied, wistfully, "People like us need a lot of music, don't you think? So you don't have to listen to the scary parts."
The Fat Lady said, "That's why I often sing in harmony with myself. More complexity, more concentration."
"'Swhy I play guitar," Sophie said, waving a hand. "Inside my head is pretty scary sometimes."
"Interesting," Veha said. "I started taking lessons on the khim
a few months ago. It's a kind of hammered dulcimer," he added as explanation. When the Ultimate gave him a startled look, he ducked his head. "I didn't want to tell you, Ruth, until I got, you know, better. You sing so beautifully."
Nereid gave the Ultimate a startled look and tried to imagine the woman singing
"Sometime, we ought to all have a family singalong around the piano," Madeline said with a dreamy little smile. "My parents did that, you know. It was so American
. Could we, Ruth? Next time?"
Avis grinned. "I even. know. how to. play. I will. have to. practice."
"And I'll hafta get a piano," the Ultimate said, frowning around the room, hands on hips. Her gaze fell on the Fat Lady. "You're gonna insist on a grand, aren't you?"
"What's the point of anything less?" the Fat Lady said, fluttering the fan below her chin.
"Seriously, Ruth," Renata said. "Since when do you settle for the upright when you can
get a grand?"
"You know better, Rennie: I don't settle," the Ultimate said, smiling around the room. "And neither should any of you. All right, there'll be a grand piano here next time. You gonna be here, Pacifica?"
Nereid blinked, looking around at the expectant faces, then smiled hesitantly and said, "I wouldn't miss it for the world."
She was pretty sure she meant it too.
END of Volume 2: Deep Freeze
---Note from the Author:
Welcome to the finale of volume 2! Thank you for sticking with Wonder City through TWO novels! I'm kind of amazed that I've managed to write this much, and that we'll be hitting Wonder City's third anniversary this coming May.
This isn't the end of Wonder City, of course! In March, we begin the Zoltan miniseries. Being Zoltan, he couldn't just settle for a short story. At some point in March, I also plan to do a one-card draw event in collaboration with Madame Destiny and her Wonder City World War II Tarot Deck.
And then in April (or possibly May, depending on when Zoltan's story finishes up), we begin Volume 3 of Wonder City Stories. We will jump from summer 2010, which is when this episode occurs, to 2012, and so there will be some off-screen development, and there will be a new POV character added to the mix.
Thank you, everyone, for all your support and kindness and enthusiasm over the past two volumes. Please keep sticking with Wonder City Stories! There's lots of fun and drama on the way!
Wonder City has been nominated for the Rose & Bay Crowdfunding Award! Thank you! Now, y'all should go check out all the nominees for fiction, webcomics, art, poetry, patron, and other projects. And VOTE!
And remember to vote for WCS at Top Webfiction!