Tuesday, April 23, 2002
The stutter in the lace had never ended. Even out in Nomads Field, I had felt it: the sort of noise, a kind of ache, that you soon ignore. As we neared the palace, the stutter worsened.
And then, in the palace, I could hear the wail.
I wondered if Egg's viruses were taking hold. Egg said they might not, not right away. They were sneaking into the co-Am on the minions but they still had to work through the co-Am's guts. Besides, every minion carried only a probability of the viruses. "Heck," Egg had said, shrugging, "it's in the nature of the lace to carry Midge's data — and Ursula's co-Am happens to, um, mesh with that nature — but the viruses are unnatural, as far as the lace is concerned. They're an imposition, and interquantic imposition is not exactly determinate. It'll take time — and tons of minions — for the probabilities to maximize."
Midge, still tranquil, walked ahead of me.
Since visitors to Rock might arrive at any time and might leave within an hour, the palace was always open, and even now, early in the fake morning, there was a line of mourners. Midge joined it and let it take her along. This was, of course, the best way to get as near as possible to Ursula, and to be near her as long as possible, without appearing suspicious.
I was not beside my sister. Egg had told us to separate ourselves, to put maybe fifty people between us. We had to give the minions room to get confused. Making the gap was a little tricky, though, since I had to wait behind, out of the line, counting mourners, ten, twenty, thirty, and not look like I was waiting. Pardon me, Miss, but what are you waiting for? I doubt that the tree-laced mercenaries and robot cannon really cared about some quiet little thirteen-year-old girl, who was surely waiting for her parents or older sister; but I knew what I was doing, I knew I was a kind of threat, and so I didn't want to seem a threat.
Thirty, thirty five, forty. Of course we didn't have to be exact. But after a while, the counting was a game. By counting mourners I wasn't merely the Other Half of the lace's singularity. I was participating in this act. My sister and I were up to something.
Forty one, forty two.
We were playing.
Forty three, forty four.
Midge was closer to Ursula. The clarity of the co-Am was painful now. So many minions were confused. I pleaded with the viruses to finish. To distract myself I counted more intently. Forty five, forty six, forty seven. Midge's tranquility helped against the pain.
As did her words.
By the lace she was chatting with me. She didn't usually chat by the lace, even if she was out of earshot. Midge had never wanted the lace to think that it belonged in her life. She might take advantage of it, now and then, to throw me a comment or two, but she would never dignify it with extended monologues. Except, that is, when she didn't want Mother to hear her. But now, in the atrium of Portia's Third Palace, Midge wasn't griping or scheming or lamenting things. She was pointing out the people around us, their hats, their shorts, their bags, their faces, their dirt, their glow, not to mock them, no, but just because, well, there they were, you know, and, wow, weren't they something?
Forty eight. Forty nine.
Midge turned to look at me through the crowd. I saw myself still back there, waiting, and suddenly she grinned and waved at me, deep in her contentment I saw her lightly wave, while, by the lace, I heard her call out to me, Hey, sis, are we having fun yet? — and, through the crowd, I saw the bewilderment in my eyes, for she had never called me sis before.
Then everything ended.
Ó 2002 Louder Fenn