Juliana tried to pay attention to Louise as she gossiped about two other librarians and Mrs. Goodwin, but she couldn't shake what had happened the night before and that morning. Her putting herself as well as her Anichanical grizzly in danger followed by getting caught for theft weren't the best things for a responsible woman to do.
She loaded some books onto the correct shelves and sighed. Louise stopped her chatter. “You're not even listening to me, are you?”
“No, I am,” she lied. Louise took control of the now book-free cart and made her way down the aisle. Juliana followed. “No, I wasn't,” she admitted sheepishly. “I was thinking.”
“You're always thinking,” Louise pointed out. “You wouldn't be you if you weren't.”
At the end of the day, Juliana headed home, skipping out on drinks with Louise and the other librarians that she'd spent the entire day grumbling about. Juliana stepped into the apartment and found Mr. Unsworth and his son at the dining room table. The Anichanical parrot greeted her with more obnoxious, robotic squawks.
The men stood as she entered. “I thought you were going out after work,” stated Mr. Unsworth. Juliana shook her head. She took off her hat and set it on a side table. She made her way to the back stairs. “I didn't have the best day. I'm going to read in the workshop.”
Nathaniel snickered. “Book Worm Juli.”
Juliana ignored him and went down the steps. Upon seeing her Anichanical, the vexations of the day withered. “Power on,” she said. The bear hummed to life. He trudged to her side. She fiddled with his harness straps and kissed him. “I hope you had a calm day, Alec,” she said as she went to a glass cabinet. She opened the doors and grabbed a blue book. This one she legally owned. The book was titled, The Earth, Then and Now.
She sat in the rocking chair by the stove, spending a few minutes heating the coals before she got to reading where she'd left off. Alec lay at her feet. She propped her feet up on his back and rocked slowly. The chapter she'd left off on reflected on an event known as the Freeze. Some called it the Ice Age.
It first became clear that something was occurring when the summers were abnormally chilly. Over time, summers had sleet and eventually snow. Scientists warned the world that the earth would eventually freeze over and they needed to prepare for this inevitable outcome. However, not enough people took it seriously. They claimed that weather fluctuated often and this would pass. Due to their arrogance, when the Freeze came it exhausted them. The cold and ice overtook everything. Many died, humans and animals alike. It blizzard for two straight years. Cities were buried. Food became scarce. Humans tried everything they could to stay alive.
By the end of the blizzards, too many animals had fallen to the frigid death. Re population was impossible. In the end, the remaining animals that had survived perished and the world became human dominate. Though humans were able to re-adapt to the new climate, digging out as many cities as possible, and rebuilding, the world missed the convenience animals once brought them. Food, clothes, tools.
Juliana turned to a past chapter in the book. It was about a man named Gerard Black. He was a brilliant inventor. He traveled Europe eighty years post Freeze with a marvelous idea. He'd created the Anichanicals. Each city he stopped in, he proposed his gadgets and showed off his prototype. Anichanicals could be used as transportation, home security, to power factories, or to just have for companionship. Effortless, free labor, clean. The world was enthralled.
Gerard Black didn't stop there. After the Anichanicals' high success, he developed special greenhouses for farming, which had become highly difficult in the harsh winter conditions. The climate inside the greenhouses perfectly stabilized the growth of wheat, cotton, fruits, and vegetables. Food had never been easier to come by. His magnificent designs changed the new world. Everyone knew his name. If and when a problem arose the world called to him for help. He could fix nearly anything. Juliana was personally exceedingly grateful to him and his magnificent mind. He'd given her the closest thing to an animal friend that she would ever get.
She set down the book and stood. Alec huffed, steam hissing from his nose. Juliana patted him. “I'm not going anywhere.” She went to another shelf and picked up a different book. This book had no cover for it had never been published. She ran her fingers over the penciled in name on the top page. Pietro Russo. Her father.
Pietro was a well known, wealthy historian and had been the one responsible for Juliana's fascination with history and animals. He decided to write a textbook on all the many former species of animals. Juliana remembered sitting in his study as a child while he worked. Sometimes he would stop to read to her and tell stories of human and animal encounters. Juliana had most loved the idea of grizzly bears. That was how Alec had come to be her Anichanical companion. He was a gift from her father on her tenth birthday. In fact, it was her father who had given him his name. Not many people knew that. Not even Mr. Unsworth.
One morning not long after that tenth birthday, her father had announced he and Juliana's mother were going on a research trip. They arranged for their daughter to stay with Mr. Unsworth for the couple weeks they would be gone. No one had anticipated they'd never return.
After months of investigating, the search for her parents came to an end. The trail had gone cold. No one knew what became of the Russo's. No trace of them could be found. Their home and everything in it had been auctioned off, leaving Juliana an orphan and homeless. Her once luxurious life came crashing down around her. If it weren't for Mr. Unsworth taking her in permanently she would have gone to an orphanage, possibly to rot. She owed him so much.
Years later, Juliana had been going through the few belongings of her parents that she'd been able to keep and found his manuscript. Inside the tattered pages, she'd come across a hand-drawn map. It lead to an X out in the hills of New Tuscany. That was why Juliana went out with her Anichanical so often. She was trying to find where the X indicated. Her father had created the map. Somewhere out there in those hills laid a clue to her parents' disappearance. She would find it.
After dinner that evening, Juliana excused herself and went to saddle Alec. She bundled herself up and left the workshop. She climbed on his back and he moved towards the border of the city. The guards intercepted them when they came near. “Miss Russo, please remember that the border will close at midnight.”
“I understand,” she said. The guards were skeptical of her. She continuously left the city and no one ever knew why. After her parents had mysteriously vanished, each city in New Tuscany had set up a boarder control. People could come and go as they pleased, so long as they had an ID card indicating they were a citizen of said city. The only exceptions were supply shipments, mail, and police. Juliana's continuous adventures beyond the city perplexed the guards, but they had no reason to force her to stay. They allowed her to pass.
Alec began his run, going where Juliana led. She’d mapped out a new course. They would find where the X indicated. Tonight would be the night. They searched the hills for two hours, snaking up and down. When the sun began to set, Juliana opened the panel on the Anichanical’s shoulder hump. Inside were some switches and dials. She turned the one that activated the bear’s headlight eyes. The bright lights beamed over the snow and they pressed on.
After another hour Juliana was beginning to lose feeling in her fingers even with the fur gloves over them. Without the sun the cold became virtually unbearable. She rubbed her hands together but it had little effect. She grimaced as a sharp blast of wind slammed her face. The wind stung fiercely and made it hard to breathe.
Alec stopped running and stood stiffly on a downslope of a hill. For a moment Juliana feared he’d stopped working. She checked his gauges. They were all normal. “Why’d you stop, Alec?”
The Anichanical rose up on his massive hind legs. Juliana gasped and held tightly to his harness. “Alec!” she screamed. “What are you doing?” She lost her grip and slipped down his back, falling in the deep snow.
The bear fell back to all fours and gave a shake. His bright eyes turned to her. She flicked her wrists, getting rid of the powder from her gloves. She gave him a sour look. “Bad grizzly!” She shivered violently. Thanks to him and his antics she would have to turn home early or she would surely freeze.
away from her. Now she was losing patients. “Stop this! What’s gotten into you?”
The bear ran the rest of the way down the hill, leaving a bewildered Juliana behind. She chased him. “Come back!” Would her old friend actually abandon her? He’d never done anything but protect her since she first laid eyes on him. The mere thought of him doing such a thing broke her heart.
The bear moved into some dense trees and she lost sight of him. “Alec, please!” Terror rose inside her chest. She would die out there if left all night. Her feet shuffled through the deep snow. Another blast of wind blew over her, knocking back her hood. She stopped and waited for the wind to die. When it did she scanned for the headlights of Alec’s eyes. “You stupid apparatus! Come back!”
At the end of her insult, the Anichanical came back into view. His gears shifted and he looked to his right. Juliana reached his side, less than amused, and curiously glanced where her bear looked. She felt her growing anger subside. Her eyes fell upon a log cabin nestled under some low-hanging branches. The windows all had green shutters. No smoke came from the chimney. If anyone lived inside she detected no evidence of it.
She patted Alec. “Good boy,” she whispered. This had to be the X on her father’s map. She moved to the front door and set her ear on it. No sound met her eardrum. “Hello?” she called, knocking four times. The wait lasted two minutes. She turned with a sigh. Abandoned. Maybe there was something inside. Maybe her father had used this place as a private area to study and write. She chewed her lip and went to a window. Tugging on the shutters did nothing. They were stuck tight.
A noise at the front door captured her attention. It was unlocking. Fear suddenly clenched her heart. She never should have come. The door opened and a man's head popped out. The man narrowed his eyes against the cold air and Juliana watched as his whiskered jaw dropped at the sight of Alec. “Upon my word,” he breathed.
Juliana held her breath, hoping he wouldn't look her way. The man stepped outside, wrapped in a thin, cotton blanket that looked ancient. The wind kicked up his thick hair. It was light gray with strews of black, like coal scattered across the snow. He studied the Anichanical grizzly with quizzical eyes. “Where have you come from, my friend?” He reached for Alec. The bear stepped back and looked to Juliana for guidance. The man followed the bear's bright gaze and spotted the obscure woman. His breath caught in his throat. His eyes full of wonder, he said, “My dear child.” Nothing more. They stared at each other openly. He finally added, “Does this Anichanical belong to you?”
Juliana nodded slowly. The man went back to his house but made sure to beckon her inside before he entered himself. Juliana knew there was no going back. She told Alec to wait for her and went in, shutting the door behind her. The inside was dark save for a few small candles on tables. An old couch and a couple chairs were haphazardly placed.
The man blew into his hands and asked, “What is your name?”
“I'm Juliana Russo. I've come from New San Gimignano.”
His eyebrows raised, as if he realized something important. He stepped closer. “Russo? Pietro's daughter?”
Juliana's heart skipped a few beats. He knew her father. “Yes. I am. You knew him?”
The man gave a nod, his eyes becoming doleful. “I did. He and I spoke on many occasions.” He retreated to a back room and returned holding a framed photo. He passed it to Juliana. She saw it was a picture of this man and her father. Tears sprung to her eyes. He looked just as she remembered him. Wise, confidant, full of life. What had happened to him?
“The name's Carlo Costa,” said the man. “How did you find your way to my cabin?”
Juliana lowered the picture and wiped her eyes on her sleeves. She quickly explained her father's makeshift map to Carlo and how she'd been trying to find the X. Carlo sat down on the couch, gesturing for her to do the same. She sat and Carlo said, “He should have left well enough alone.”
Carlo rubbed his scruffy face. “Your father asked me about something he had no business asking about. He'd heard about me from his research concerning Black Industries. He asked me countless questions and because of my disdain for Gerard Black I . . . slipped.”
Juliana gripped her gloves. She was tired of him beating around the bush. She leaned forward. “Tell me.”
Carlo scratched his cheek. “Project Reinisiate.”
Some answers and yet still so cryptic. She inhaled slowly. He chuckled. “I can already tell you are just like your father.”
“What is Project Reinisiate?”
He finally got to the point. “Project Reinisiate is an experiment a group of scientists and I were working on in a secret laboratory beneath the streets of New Paris. Something special that would change the world. However, I sensed that Gerard Black was catching wind of it. I knew we would soon be found out. I advised them to abandon the work, but my fellow scientists weren't having the same worries. So I left; I moved out here. One day, I heard a knock at my door. Pietro had found me. That's when I slipped and told him of Project Reinisiate. For my mistake, I knew Pietro wouldn't give up until I told him the location of the lab. After I disclosed the location, I advised him not to seek it out.... I suppose... he went regardless.”
Juliana's head was spinning. Finally she had some answers. She now knew where her parents had gone. Still, she couldn't help wondering why her mother had gone with her father. She had no business being with him. He'd gone for research, not holiday. Most-likely she wanted to go just for his company. She had done trips like that with him before, Juliana recalled.
Juliana asked, “What exactly is Project Reinisiate? Why would my father want to go find out more?”
Carlo made a face, not eager to share any more information. One look at Juliana's serious eyes he knew he couldn't stop now. He rubbed his eyes. “Before the Freeze got out of control, scientists gathered DNA from every living animal still alive and from the bones they'd gathered. They knew the animals would die first. The world wouldn't be the same without them. The scientists planned to one day bring them back to the world.”
“Clones,” Juliana deduced.
“Clones,” Carlo confirmed. He closed his eyes and lowered his head. He had more to share. Juliana wanted to know everything, so she waited, ignoring her itch to push him. He cleared his throat and looked back at her face. “Gerard Black and his people could never find the lab on their own. Someone had to have told them. Someone held hostage, most-likely.”
Juliana knew what he was implying. She knew where his ominous words led. Still, she didn't want to believe it. “No. My parents weren't...” She covered her mouth, wanting to vomit. Her mother was never suppose to be there. She would have been safe, home, free to raise Juliana. For a moment, Juliana resented her father. He never should have let her tag along. Then, one glance at the picture of her father made her bitterness evaporate. She started crying.
Carlo made no move to comfort her. She tried to stop, but her emotions were through the roof. She wiped her nose and took a deep breath. Carlo waited for her eyes to met his before he said, “I believe they are still alive.”
These words brought her tears to an end. She furrowed her eyebrows. “How could you know that?”
Carlo rubbed his tired eyes. “I received a transmission a week after I saw Pietro last. It came from one of my fellow scientists. They were under attack. They informed me they'd gone into lock down.” He placed his hand on Juliana's. “Juliana... the only way to disable the lock down is to enter a code from the outside. I am the only scientist who left the lab and therefore am the only one who can free those trapped.”
None of his words made her feel any better. “So?”
“They wouldn't kill your parents if they thought they could still be of use. Gerard Black's people knew your parents got the information on the laboratories location from someone, so they believe your parents may know the code. Although I never told your father the code, he does know where I am. They will hold your parents in hopes of learning my location.”
Juliana breathed deeply, calming down. He was right. They could still be alive. Perhaps tortured, but alive. She felt like she had the whole thing figured out. “If those people find you they will force you to open the lab and they will use the clones as profit like they do the Anichanicals.”
Carlo shook his head. “No. They have no need for real animals. Black Industries profits are main-ly the Anichanicals. They are their first product and what they're best known for. The idea of living animals threatens Gerard Black's livelihood. People could have living dogs as pets, with personalities and warmth. Wet noses and soft fur. Cows for milk. Chickens for eggs. If Gerard Black finds out the code he will get in and destroy the laboratory.”
“Why doesn't he just blow it up from the outside?”
“The lab is deep underground. The lab entrance where the code must be entered is above ground. No weapon could reach the lab. They'd destroy New Paris before making a dent in the structure. How would that help Gerard Black's reputation?”
Point. Gerard Black and his people had been holding her parents for the last seventeen years. They wouldn't risk being discovered now. Secretly hurting people wasn't the same as publicly doing it. She stood. “Okay then. Let's go enter the code.”
Carlo laughed. “I'm not going anywhere near New Paris. I'm safe here.”
“But my parents!” They had to save them. Why wouldn't he help her? All he had to do was enter a little code. Her parents would go free, animals would return to the world. He had to help her. And yet, he wouldn't budge. She wanted to grab him, force him to help her, but she couldn’t. She wasn't a violent person. Another tear fell from her eye. “Please, Mr. Costa,” she begged.
He stood, wiping his hands on his pants. “I'm so sorry, my dear. I can't. Your parents are safer this way. They will live.”
She turned her back on him and headed for the door. She pried it open and flurries blew inside. Alec stood right where she'd left him. With one last look, she said to the man, “The world needs animals... and my parents need a good life. Think about that.” She left with her Anichanical bear, leaving Carlo's door wide open.
End of Part 2