By afternoon, the families arrive in droves, either by the front door in a line, the gifts and delicacies at hand, or they're looking for comfortable parking space in their cars. The house has been tidied up, with the fruit punch ready, the garbage bins out, the couches dusted and furniture neatly organised.
Martin and Lena are there to greet everyone entering, while Werner is preoccupied in his room with that Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War novel, which he's been mid-way through reading since that time – the text on the pages show slight fading, but at least it's something that he keeps a connection with. He remembers playing Ocarina of Time once at Klaus's place, where Link traverses 7 years between Hyrule's past and future, many terrible things happening to the towns over that time, such that it feels like a different place entirely.
A knock on his door. It's Rieke, and she tells him that there's boys, and a few girls. They're taller than her, but they're all asking the same thing: where is Werner, the prodigal son of honour?
The news makes him beam.
Werner descends the stairs, and he acutely feels everyone's eyes on him, arousing in him that timid shyness – like when he was on the spelling bee once, and he had to articulate every single letter so the crowd could hear; how he dislikes this kind of embarassing publicity! (He never really asked for this.)
"It's Wernie!" That is Klaus, his voice cracking – the lanky-faced boy who is all but recognisable under puberty's changes. Werner remembers filming his football matches in the school fields. "Hey, long time no see! And who's this gal with ya?"
Alongside Klaus, there's Rene, who has grown plump and big in the interim, chewing on bubblegum with the game disc of 'Warfare Futuristique' at hand.
"I can't believe it!" Klaus goes, coming up the stairs with all the grown-ups talking about them. "You're like one of the first people who's ever recovered from Sinclair's Malaise. It's so weird, looking at you; it's almost as if I've stepped back in time.. I'm talking to my friend from two years ago."
"Yeah, tell me about it." Werner decides to introduce them to Rieke, to deflect attention off himself. "She's Rieke by the way. She's erm.."
He isn't sure how best to describe her.
"Your friend? Little sister?" Rene asks.
"Not really.." For the lack of a better thing to say- "She's my android."
"Hallo!" Rieke nods towards them, coming ahead of Werner. "How do you do?"
"Your android?" Klaus blinks; did he hear his friend right? "Seriously!? Are you sure you're not suffering from cryo-disorientation? I don't believe it – do you Rene?"
"Nuh-uh." (Rene is too busy savouring all the gum's immense flavours.)
Martin, noticing the commotion about the household android, ventures onto the stairsteps and gathers everyone's attention. "Some of you I'm sure have been asking who this girl is. Maybe you've seen her take walks with me, or my son. Her name is Rieke – a lifelike android built and designed at my company, and the very first prototype of her kind. And she'll be one of our family members from now on, treated like another person."
To Martin's coworkers, all of this is redundant, but to the other family friends, their surprise is as good as the cheers they give, admiring Rieke under a new light.
"She looks so real..!"
Rieke pirouettes under her spotlight, and with the sun shining in from the oculus window of the ceiling, she almost seems to glitter with joyous energy. And then she does a curtsy, and everyone applauds.
"Did you design her?" someone asks.
"No, that's not in my department," Martin goes. "She's primarily the work of Hans Andersen, our company's esteemed inventor. If everything goes well with her, we'll be doing mass-production with androids like her- hey, where'd she go-?"
She has gone, and so have Werner and his friends. While everyone's been distracted by Martin's speech, Werner has snuck her through the kitchen, out to the backyard, where a tent has been set up with BBQ catering and balloons prepared. The roast beef is still steaming under the auto-cooker, but the utensils and plates are there beside on the table.
Escaping public situations is what Werner has grown good at – he can do it almost to the degree of a magician's sleight-of-hand technique; all it takes is a break in people's attention on him, and he could sneak away. In this case, with three others, Werner picked the opportunity when his father was making his rousing speech about Rieke. What a shy person wouldn't do.
"If my parents had their way," he goes, "we'd all be stuck standing there while everyone asks us questions."
They enter under the tent's shade, sitting by a table, with Rieke joining them.
"We missed you so much," Klaus says. "A lot's happened since you 'died'.. in junior high, we're all falling heads-over-heels with our English teacher, the food court is a battlefield – there are some real bastards we had to deal with from the older grades, and you're still like 11!"
"You've got a lot to catch up on.. omh om nomh-" Rene spits out his gum and sticks it onto his pant knees.
"I know.. " Werner sighs, his hands playing with the utensils.
"Let's show you this for example!" Rene notions for Klaus to get up, and they head out to the grass, where he pulls what looks like an origami piece out of his pockets, a petite unicorn. When he tosses it in the air, the piece seems to unfold by itself, until it lands as a more 3-D, larger version of itself, on its four hooves. "That's the latest in utilitarian tech – 'drogamis.' It's like a pet that you never have to feed or walk, just charge its power on the occasion, and it'll do your bidding. It skitters on the floor, passing notes to your friend on a test, or say you want to see how this chick is like, so you can send it over in stealth, watch and hear what it sees through the phone. It's so awesome Wern.. hey Tibbers, tap Klaus on the head!"
And Tibbers the unicorn trots over, chasing after Klaus who is running away like it's a rabid dog, "Oh no, not again!" and then it leaps onto his shoulder, his head and gives him a ticklish lick on his hair. "Hahahah- haha- stop it!"
"You see! And that's only the beginning!" Rene tells his Tibbers to stop now.
Werner is giggling; his mind is already whirring up possibilities on using those drogamis, as well as wondering how these drogamis work – do they use GreenTooth, Internet, or radio to connect for example?
Rieke picks up the fallen drogami, which is trying to balance itself on the grasses. "It looks so cute."
"Yea, it is!"
While Rene goes over to show Rieke how to handle it, Klaus decides to be candid with Werner about how it is, getting older. "Maybe you've noticed my voice has grown deeper, it's cracking – I'm half-a-head taller than you, and I can probably kick your ass. We're no longer just kids. It'll hit you too, Wernie. Puberty."
"I know what it is," Werner goes, growing aware of the time difference.
"No, you've only heard of it from your science books. It's a different thing to experience it entirely. Just like how sex is. You start to see life from this new perspective, you feel wild and volatile. The girls no longer have cooties anymore, they start to look hot, and you get all excited about them, you lose your mind.. yadda yadda. And you start growing hair all over, and some acne."
"Eeck." It sounds gross, but more importantly, the thought of losing his composure due to hormonal changes, going insane over the girls, it's not what he's looking forward for. Then again, he'd have gone through puberty already if it were not for that illness. It's an inevitability, and Werner feels anxious about what is coming ahead of him. "I hope when it hits me, I'm taller than you, and I beat you at basketball! Mouahaha!"
"That's the spirit! Nothing to worry about when you leave your old toys behind."
Rieke seems to be getting along with Rene just fine, and he's showing her some tricks with his hand – mostly bending his fingers out of proportion, having her giggle at that.
And Werner, imagining the thought of his older self, still dealing with a young and childlike Rieke. He could relish looking after her as her 'big brother,' but it would be eerie to still see her frozen in age, her young face like a familiar street to him, that he's walked through his whole years.
I suppose it would be amusing to see a young girl with the experience of a woman..
"Hey Rieke," Rene asks. "Since you're an android, that means you won't get older, yes? You'll still look the same, if you live long enough to see us marry."
She shakes her head. "You are mistaken. I do indeed grow as time goes on, into a woman. I don't know how I know this, but it's what I feel inside me." Then she grins.
The images change. No longer is Werner toting little Rieke, hand-in-hand, but instead he is dancing with her, his hand on her shoulder, and her dress glittering and her lips red in lipstick. And then she gazes at him, in love with him-
"Gaahhh!" Werner is shaking his head. "I don't believe this! How are you supposed to grow Rieke? If you're wires and circuitry on the inside- artificial parts don't just grow, do they?"
"Should it matter?" She looks at him, her eyes solemn. "My body is not flesh and blood like yours, but if in the end, I am a girl, a person like you, does that make any difference with my existance?"
"Well, yes.. you are made different; what happens if, for example, you have a breakdown? We'd go to the doctors for medicine and surgery, and you go.. to the manufacturers for repairs. They'd just do a total replacement of your 'organs,' or if your main memory is failing, they'd back everything up into a brand new mind. Does that mean anything to you?"
"As long as I can be well enough to live," Rieke goes, her smile on her face brightening her words with a sincerity.
"Hey," Rene asks, "can you do superhuman feats, like karate chop through a concrete block-"
Their parents are calling them, showing up in the backyard too.