Tonight is Martin and Lena's wedding anniversary, and they're about to head out for a steakhouse restaurant. In their colourful attire, Lena sprays perfume over her neck, while Martin answers calls from family friends, who wish them a happy night.
"Hmm, shall we get going?" Martin goes, after the last call. He kisses her on the cheek, almost tasting the intoxicating scent. "You smell so lovely.. I love it when you wear this stuff."
"Will you still love me when it's all gone?"
"Oh, stop it Martin!" She laughs.
"We can always begin again, this time with a fragrance that's not in short supply. C'mon – we're gonna be late."
As they descend down the stairway, Rieke is playing another game on the SBOX – Burnout Leagues, where she's having fun smashing the other cars down the racing road (and making "vroom vroom" sounds to herself).
"Hallo Rieke-" Martin gets her attention. "We'll be off shortly. When we leave, all the doors and windows will go smart, so you can't leave the house."
"Walk us out, alright sweetheart?" Lena offers her hand, and Rieke pauses the game – she's in her pajamas – and she follows them to the entrance doors, where they put their shoes on. "We'll be back around 11; you know how to call us, right? In case of an emergency-"
"Good." Lena leans in and kisses Rieke on the head – the marionette's skin warm and blushing to the touch.
Rieke can hear them talk about her as they're walking to their car. "She's so sweet with me," Lena speaks, "she prayed for our son, and she has a way with making coffee."
"If only some of the kids were as nice as her," Martin rambles.
Alone in the house now, Rieke resumes nitrous-boosting her truck to the finish line, until she gets bored of winning all the time, and then she switches the TV to the channels. There's some cartoons, like 'Hey Arnold!' where Helga is still fibbing with herself whether she wants to hate Arnold, or love him.
She flicks through the various channels, catching glimpses of the numerous different images that flash by her. There's a talk show, one old geezer sitting in a dark room, solemnly interviewing a woman about her whistleblowing over the secretive NATO military technologies (60 Minutes), or a comedy show about people in a workplace, getting into wacky hijinks with their co-workers.
Finally, Rieke lands on something that sparks her interest; she sees Superman flying over the horizons, into space, before it turns out it's the end of the movie. Can a person actually fly just by themselves? Maybe she could, one day.
The next movie, it's about an alien who is left behind on Earth, and he finds a boy named Elliott who takes care of him with his brother and sister. "E.T. phone home!" Rieke mimes along with the character, and she finds herself laughing with the cuteness, when Elliott kisses the girl in his classroom, and then she is crying tears of joy when E.T. is resurrected, and they bring him back to his mothership. "I'll be right here," the alien points to Elliott's heart, and Rieke finds her own chest quivering in happiness, for that is the feeling of love.
The one after that, it is Titanic. It's such an invigorating watch, the tale of old Rose remembering her moments on the fabled ship, almost a hundred years ago – with the one person, Jack, saving her from a life of suffocating aristocracy, from the ship's sinking, and- it's so sad, Jack dies in the ocean. But Rose is happy at least, she has a loving family in America, and she got to do all those things she promised Jack..
Before Rieke knows it, it's already way past 11 in the night (almost midnight) – but her parents still haven't come home yet. She wonders what has happened, and remembering their phone number, she heads for the phone and calls them.
It takes a few tries, before anyone picks up.
"Rieke?" It's Lena, sounding like she's panicked. "I've got some very special news.. it's Werner. The doctors found a cure for his illness. We're bringing him home."
"That's wonderful!" Rieke's chest leaps; she'll get to see him at least.
"He's not yet fully recovered, but it's a great hope already."
So excited is Rieke that when the doors open, she lets out a squeak at the sight of Martin and Lena – wheeling in Werner who is slumped on the wheelchair, with IV drips and life-monitoring systems attached to the brim on his body.
"This is Werner," Lena says, smiling. "This is my son."
His body is rather thin, from being nourished mainly by IV for all these times, and his skin is drained of colour. But his blue eyes already hint at the jovial mind behind the face.
"Isn't he beautiful..?"
Werner vaguely tilts his head to that girl, not comprehending who she is, or what she's doing in the house.
"He's the most beautiful thing I've seen," Rieke goes.
"You are an android," Werner goes.
"I'm a girl."
In Werner's room, the two of them are convening, with Rieke standing, and Werner sitting down on his chair, his glowing leg braces making him resemble an action figure, still getting used to the unfamiliarity of his own room despite nothing much being touched since.
"I've been muddled under a black ocean for the past years, and I would have never expected to be in contact with a humanoid AI."
"AI?" Rieke blinks.
"Artificial Intelligence. Aren't you already aware that you are a machine, underneath the lifelike facade?"
"I'm not a machine, not like a coffee maker or a car, or a sewing machine." Rieke steps forward, as if asserting herself. "I'm a person, like you, and my name is-"
"Rieke – my parents told me. Do you know if you have a serial number, or who your makers are?" Those are some tough questions for her to answer, and on some level Werner knows it – he wants to see just how well she's able to comprehend and answer naturally.
"The ones who manufactured you."
Rieke puzzles over her memories so far, and the first thing in her mind (before the haze) is being asked lots of questions in a white room, by people in white coats, with wirings hooked over her body. Simple things like what would she do in a given situation, and then being alone in a pink room, playing with the cute plush toys.
"I don't know," she goes.
"Never mind." Werner stands up, his leg braces whirring with effort. He reaches out to touch her cheeks, her face. "You feel so real, and you're warm. You have body heat. This is the stuff that Science Fiction authors would dream of imagining in their own stories."
"Do you know who manufactured you, Werner?" Rieke asks, out of the blue, and for some reason it maks him guffaw.
"Hahaha, I- people don't get manufactured. It's not like that for flesh and blood humans. A man and a woman, they.. well.." He is visibly blushing. "When they love each other enough, they can have a child. That's how I was born, from my parents."
"Oooh. If I love you a lot, then.. we can have a child?"
"Oh, get outta here!"
On Werner's walks (leg therapy), Rieke accompanies him while his parents are busy preparing for his coming home party. He doesn't talk much, just observes with his eyes how the scenery has changed, whilst Rieke would wave 'Hallo' to every neighbour she sees. Then he'd put on his headphones, silence out the natural soundscape with the thrashes and drums of metal music, and then he'd gallop and skip down the sidewalk, and Rieke would join him in his fun.
The news spreads through the neighbourhood about Werner's return, as well as that charming girl accompanying him. Gossip spreads over social media, and their answering machines.
Everyone is buying gifts, as well as preparing food and delicacies for the boy's sake. Books, a new laptop, packages of green and ginseng tea, books ("Life without reading is a shame," he was once quoted saying at school), an exercise set, a new PS5 console and tons of games to go along with it.
The whole ordeal has his parents exhausted, with Martin getting tons of congratulations at work for Werner's return, and Lena answering the phone nearly all day.
And Werner? He is admiring how Rieke could manage to get so deep into Eternum Souls, just playing by herself. The build she has on her character is serviceable, and she is struggling to get past the part where she's being hunted by private detectives – he tells her that she needs to change her outfit every time she's spotted by a detective, so to lose their trail.
"Waaa, how could I not have thought of that?" Rieke goes.
"I thought that should've been obvious."
The pharmacutical drugs spin on the platter, while Lena is sectioning off the appropriate pills to give to Werner each day, morning and evenings.
"You put the pink ones here.." she tells Rieke, filling a miniscule bottle with the pink pills. "Make sure Werner has two green ones in the morning, and one pink pill in the evening, so he'll recover smoothly."
Werner enters the kitchen, in his pajamas, his curiousity roused.
"Oh Werner," Lena goes, "we're just getting your pills ready; you'll be having one tonight."
"What are they for?" he asks. He's wary of having his awareness hampered by any side-effects of the drugs – he remembers articles where college students, suffering mania/depression, have taken olanzapine and it turns out it makes them drowsy (as well as getting fatter).
Rieke steps forward. "The pink pills accelerate your body's restitution process for your atrophied tissues, but at the cost of drowsiness. And the green ones undo that effect." She knows Werner seems smart enough to be able to understand.
It surprises Werner about Rieke's straightforwardness – her use of medical terminology like that. His own mother would've just said something along the lines of "They'll help you get better soon, just take them!" He relaxes, and says, "Give me one."
And when he is tucked in bed, the pill is already taking effect on him as he yawns, feeling the sleepiness take over his awareness, and soon he is curled up, his head cozy on his soft pillow like a baby, his arms cuddling his teddy bear. Little does anyone know that Werner has his sentimental side too, but rarely shows it to people.
"Good night, sleepyheads," Lena goes, before turning off the lights.
The celestrial darkness of the room's stars and galaxies puts Rieke into a tranquil mood, alone, hearing the occasional car hum by outside.
"Good night.." she whispers on the bunk bed above Werner, before she closes her eyes.
On the day of Werner's welcoming party, he is anxious – still caught up in the thought of those two years, having passed him by indifferently. He's munching on French Toast, watching 'Attack on Titan' on the TV, one of the few shows he's able to recognise from the new lineups, but the episodes have advanced far past the storyline he already knows. New characters, a new situation between Eren, the hunters and Titans, and a few people who seem to have disappeared altogether. It's disorienting to apprehend, but even worse – the people who are coming over for his party, it's going to be like that with them too.
His old friends would be around 13 or 14 now, and would he'd be forgotten by them? Left behind along the sidelines of time's passing? Would he get to have fun with Rene, Klaus, Bruno again, or would they not be there anymore? It almost makes his heart choke up.
Rieke comes by with his green pills and water, when she notices him staring off into contemplation. He seems particularly engrossed by the scene where Eren Yaeger is just chewing bubblegum, waiting for Ymir to arrive with them harpoons.
"Guten tag!" she greets him, waking him out of his reverie. "Aren't you excited for today? Other families, and even your friends are coming to visit you!"
Werner nonchalently takes the pills from her hand and gulps them down, and then he snaps back to current reality, like the muffled bubble he's been in has been popped. "Oh, Rieke – I was.. it's strange, being back after two years, when it felt for me like a prolonged sleep. It's such a long time, and my friends would have likely moved on."
"I don't know how long a year feels yet," Rieke goes. "I do know, there's 365 days in a year, and I've lived two weeks in your house, and it feels long enough already."
"I hope they still know me. If none of them show today.."
Then Rieke starts frowning. "Don't think like that. You're an interesting person, and why would anyone want to forget someone as smart as you? Many invitations have gone out, the whole neighbourhood has heard, and your friends are bound to come!"
"Is that so?" On the TV, he sees Eren and his buddies rally up to assault the underwater Titans. "I guess we can only wait and see."
And Rieke, watching too, clasps Werner's hands. "I know they'll come. You'll see."