Juliana awoke in a hospital. She had tubes hooked up to her and a mask over her face. She tried to lift her head but it felt like it was filled with rocks. Her vision was somewhat fogged. Shapes spun and spiraled. “Hello?” she said, the words coming out like a leak in a hoes.
A hand rested on hers. “Juliana?” Pietro said.
She turned her head toward his voice. Her eyes cleared and his face came into view. He kissed her forehead. “We almost lost you,” he informed.
She coughed and a groan followed. “I feel like I've been struck by a stagecoach.”
“No, no,” he said. “Just an Anichanical rhinoceros.”
She held her breath to keep back her laugh. Laughing would only hurt. As she swallowed it down, she stared into his eyes. She never realized that his eyes were blue. She'd known her entire life, but it never mattered until then. “My eyes are brown,” she stated.
Pietro nodded. “Yes.”
“Mom's were green.”
A tear rolled down her cheek. “You never told me I was adopted.” Saying those words aloud hurt worse than her broken ribs. Pietro covered his eyes with his hand. He pressed his lips together. “He made us swear to never tell you.” He lowered his hand. “I'd interviewed Carlo before about an old experiment at the time. He remembered me and how I said my wife and I wanted children but were infertile. Then the day came when he came to us with his newborn and begged us to take her. 'Her life will be in danger with me', he'd said. So we took you in as our own.”
Juliana tugged the mask from her face. Besides her splitting headache she felt a hundred times better. How long had she been asleep? She touched her chest and looked down at it. It felt slightly bruised but nowhere near as painful as she last recalled.
She slowly inched up against the headboard. She hissed through her teeth as her body protested. Pietro helped her. She rested her head back and inhaled slowly. “I hate that my entire life is one big secret.”
Pietro put something on her lap. She glanced down at it. Letters. Pietro said, “Carlo wrote you a letter for each of your birthdays. He sent them to us for safe keeping, in case the day came that he could tell you who he was.”
Juliana picked up the first letter. The parchment was worn and smelled old. She read the neatly written script.
My darling Juliana,
I am so sorry I haven't been able to watch you grow this first year of
your life. Someday I hope to explain in person why I've been away. For now, I
can only dream of your big brown eyes (those are from me) and your ebony
hair (that's from your mom and I both).
Juliana stopped reading and moved ahead to a letter that had photographs paper clipped to it.
You're eight. When I turned eight my father gave me a book written by
Thomas Carlyle. I have always loved reading and studying. If you are
anything like me you may enjoy his works.
I wish I could see how beautiful you are. I have no doubt that you look
just like your mother. I sent pictures of her so you can know what she looked
like. Oh how lovely she was. Her name was Eleanora.
Juliana studied the woman in the photos. She had black hair like Juliana. She even had the same forehead and cheeks. Her eyes were further apart and she didn't look as tall as Juliana. Still, she had an adventurous air about the way she stood. Under her arm, much to Juliana's delight, was a book. This woman enjoyed reading.
Juliana looked through the other photographs before she skipped on to the final letter.
Happy tenth. I have thought of you often. Pietro came to see me despite
my order to stay away. He told me how smart you are. Things he's told me
confirm you are indeed my blood. You found a bat fossil? You clever,
curious girl. I wish I could tell you to be careful. Curiosity can lead you to
trouble. Trust me.
Juliana paused and laughed even though it hurt. How true his words were. Her curiosity lead her to Carlo's cabin. Without that curiosity she never would have found out about Project Reinisiate and would have just ignored that X on Pietro's makeshift map. Curiosity would always be a part of her. That fact brought a smile to her face.
She sniffed and wiped her wet eyes and continued reading.
Pietro is concerned. He knows about my work and how Gerard Black is
trying to find me. You need to keep him busy so he doesn't do something
stupid. He loves you, I can tell. He fears Gerard Black will eventually
discover my identity and therefore discover you. I don't want him to take
matters into his own hands. If only I could tell you this to your face. For now I
can only hope.
At least one good thing came from Pietro's untoward visit. I hope you
enjoy the Anichanical. Pietro and I agreed a girl with a dream of animals
like both her fathers deserves a taste of them. Even if it is an Anichanical.
Someday I hope my work will bring you a real one. Have a happy birthday,
Juliana lowered the letter. “Alec was from both of you?”
Pietro nodded. “I told him how you were fascinated by my textbook. We knew you'd love him. Though I must take credit for the name Alec.” He winked. Juliana giggled and wiped her eyes some more. Her heart ached. “I lost Alec too.”
Pietro rubbed her shoulder. “I'm so sorry, my daughter.”
She looked out the window. She couldn't see much through the frost. The letter in her hand flitted down to her lap. “He only sent letters up to my tenth birthday,” she pointed out.
“That's probably due to the fact that your mother and I neglected his warnings and went to New Scotland to confront Gerard Black.”
Juliana shot her eyes to him. “You did what?” Nothing should have surprised her anymore, but she still found herself asking questions. “Carlo said you went to New Paris to find the lab.”
“He would have said that,” Pietro said. “He never would have told you the truth. That would have defeated the purpose of keeping himself away from you.”
Someone knocked on the door. It opened and Nathaniel's head and shoulder came into the view. His Anichanical parrot sat on his shoulder. Juliana forgot the letters for a second. “Nathaniel! You're on your feet!”
He scooted passed the door, leaning his weight on a crutch. “More or less. It has been a week.”
His words bounced around in her head. “A week?”
Nathaniel chuckled and sat down on a stool beside her bed. “You look better, Juli.”
She rubbed her temples. “Well,” she sighed, “I'm happy you're up and about.” She stacked the letters neatly, patting each side and corner so they matched up perfectly. The Anichanical parrot repeated her last words. “Up and about! Up and about!”
Nathaniel pinched its sleek beak closed. He winced as he shifted his wounded leg. “Ellis and the scientist's have prepared a safe environment to reveal all of their animals as well as a press conference for a Q and A.”
“When?” she asked.
With some convincing from Pietro, Juliana's doctors finally agreed to discharge her as long as she had a personal nurse. She consented. The nurse pushed her in a wheelchair out to a waiting stagecoach. Nathaniel had already gone ahead to assist Ellis, along with Lennon and Benjamin.
Juliana tugged her coat tighter around her shoulders and watched the New Paris scenery roll by. When the stagecoach came to its destination, Juliana couldn't believe the amount of people who'd come to see the animals. All of New Paris must have been in attendance. Not only New Paris but the surrounding countries.
A stage had been set up in front of the Eiffel Tower. Steel ramps were set on either side of it. Large pens that were covered by blue curtains were spaced evenly around the back of the stage. Every now a then an uncommon sound would come from them and people would stop and stare in curiosity. Some people kept their distance from the pens. The reasons ranged from nervousness, doubt, or the most obvious reason, the overpowering smell.
The nurse wheeled Juliana to the tent beside the stage. Her father held open the front flap. Ellis, Lennon, and Benjamin stood inside. Juliana looked around for Nathaniel. Not long after her eyes swept the tent, Nathaniel came limping in from the back flap. “He's here,” he said.
Someone new entered the tent. Juliana's heart swelled. She stood carefully and met Mr. Unsworth in the middle of the tent. She hugged him as tightly as she could without her chest bursting. He looked at her bruised face. His thumb gently rubbed over the one under her eye. “Juliana, I was so worried about you. When Louise came to the house all I could think about was the day your parents left you in my care.”
She smiled for his benefit. “I'm fine. Everything will be better now.” She stepped to the side and Mr. Unsworth laid eyes on Pietro for the first time in seventeen years. Immediately his eyes moistened. Pietro embraced him. “My old friend. How will I ever repay you for raising my daughter?”
Mr. Unsworth laughed to himself and said, “Don't go missing again.”
Pietro shook his friend's hand. “No promises.”
Ellis cleared his throat. “I'm sorry to interrupt, but the reveal is about to begin.”
Juliana stepped aside and Ellis exited the tent. The crowd went wild. Their booming cheers and applause resonated in her sore chest. It almost hurt. She winced at the odd sensation and sat down in her wheelchair. The nurse wheeled her out to the corner of the stage. Nathaniel and his father stood beside her.
Ellis stood on stage in front of a large microphone. The crowd ceased their cheering. Ellis introduced himself briefly before going through the details of Project Reinistate. Naturally people asked questions that he said he'd answer at the Q and A. When he finished his explanation he said, “Would you all like to meet some of our successful subjects?”
The crowd couldn't contain their excitement. Some of the scientists at the front of the stage had to order people to back up. Everyone wanted a close look at whatever animal they brought out. Ellis clapped his hands. “I must ask for you to keep your voices down so as to not frighten them. This is most of their first times above ground.” He pressed a button on a side table and a large, white screen rose up out of the stage. An image of the stage appeared for the massive audience to have a good look at each animal.
The scientists started with the smaller animals. The shocked and awed reactions from the crowd made Juliana smile; she knew that was only the beginning. She watched the back pen as a scientist led out the pony and giraffe. A child screamed and began crying. The pony neighed and dug his front hoof in the snow. Ellis said, “They won't harm you! Please keep your voices down!”
The mothers quieted their children and the pony relaxed. One by one, each animal walked over the stage. Beautiful creatures. As Juliana watched, she cried. All of the pictures she'd studied her entire life were leaping from the page right before her eyes. Some were larger than she'd imagined, even though most were still babies. The experience overwhelmed her; the impossible stood before her.
She could feel her heart beating in her fingertips. A scientist walked a buffalo up the ramp. That animal's fur was what her coat was made out of. She recognized it as a breeze tossed it. The colors, the texture. It belonged on the animal's back, not hers.
When the final animal crossed the stage, Ellis began the Q and A. Juliana couldn't stay anymore. She asked the nurse to take her back to the tent. Nathaniel went with her to get off his leg. She stared at the back wall and took something out of her bag. The letters from Carlo. Nathaniel pulled up a chair beside her and asked the nurse for some privacy. The nurse consented and left quickly. She wanted to watch the Q and A.
Nathaniel's Anichanical sat in the corner offline. Juliana had never liked the thing, but it stung seeing that it was still operating. She had never imagined her life without Alec. Anichanical's were built to last. He'd been her constant companion after her parents went missing. Even with Nathaniel, sometimes she'd only wanted silent companionship. With Alec gone her sense of security went with him.
She ran her fingers over the edges of the letters. Nathaniel tapped her shoulder. She blinked her thoughts from her mind. She'd forgotten he was there. He gave her his crooked grin. “Your animals are real,” he said. Being her childhood friend, he'd always known of her love of the extinct creatures. “Are you going to keep one?”
He chuckled and ran his hand through his hair. “Juli, I love you, but I have to tell you that you've been—”
“Been what?” she spat. Her tone made him shut his mouth. Juliana dropped the letters into her lap. “I lost my mother, my Anichanical, Carlo, and... I'm adopted. So please, do tell me what I've been.” She leaned over the arm of the wheelchair and glared into his eyes. Nathaniel grimaced and sighed. “I know that, Juli. I hate seeing you this way. Sad.”
Carlo's sad eyes came to her mind. Now she understood his sadness. All his many secrets and the guilt of what happened to her parents. She tried to conceive the feelings he must have felt because of his vision. Project Reinitiate was a scientific breakthrough. However, making Project Reinitiate a reality had changed his life. Hiding his wife was one thing, but then giving up his only child couldn't have been easy. Especially after his wife passed away bring her to the world. Anyone would have sadness in their eyes.
“I'll be fine,” she said, even though she wasn't sure she would be.
Juliana stared up at the ceiling of her bedroom. Mr. Unsworth had insisted Pietro move in until he and Juliana were fully rested. Juliana had to talk her father into it but soon he agreed. Two months passed since they returned to New San Gimignano.
After one month Juliana returned to the library. Before she could settle back into her routine, Louise asked her to spill every detail of her journey. Juliana said only what she had too without stirring up bad memories. That was easier said than done since the entire journey had practically been a bad memory. She told her how Nathaniel rescued her and her father and about the laboratory and Project Reinitiate. That was enough to appease Louise.
She sat up and got ready for the day. When she looked at her reflection she hardly recognized the woman staring back at her. She looked pasty and bleary. Her eyes were the same brown, hollow sadness as Carlo's. Her hair had lost it's sheen. The trauma, both mental and physical, had taken it's toll on her.
She bathed and dressed in a gray dress with green ribbons that ended with bows. She pulled her tresses atop her head. Before leaving her room, she wrapped Carlo's cravat around her wrist as she did everyday. The only time she took it off was for bed and to bathe. She couldn't bare to part from it.
She walked down to the workshop. Mr. Unsworth was busy repairing a stagecoach wheel. The old man didn't see her as she walked in, but Nathaniel did. He limped over to her. He hadn't had need for a crutch in weeks, but his injury would forever cause him some discomfort.
“Good morning, Juliana,” he said. She gave him a smile she didn't feel. Nathaniel sighed. “Oh, Juli, I know that's false. Give me a real smile.”
“Someday,” she promised.
The blowtorch Mr. Unsworth was using turned off and he stood from the busted wheel. He peeled back his round goggles, resting them on his forehead. “Juliana! There you are!” He set down his things and pulled off his gloves. “Did you hear that New San Gimignano will be one of the first cities to have real horses to pull the stagecoaches?”
“Not until they're yearlings,” Nathaniel corrected. Juliana tried to picture a living horse in front of a stagecoach. It was too crazy to be true. Every time she saw the horse in her mind it morphed with metal and steam; into an Anichanical. “It will be a sight,” she said.
“I'll say,” said Mr. Unsworth as he came over to them. “Ellis is coming today to make sure the city is well prepared for real Anichan –er— animals.”
This was news to Juliana. “I didn't know he was coming.”
Nathaniel checked his watch. “Ah, no, I'm late for work.”
“Do you want to ride together?” Juliana inquired. They worked only a couple blocks apart. He shook his head. “I don't want to rush you. I'll talk to you later.” He grabbed his coat and hurried out the workshop entrance. Mr. Unsworth lifted his eyebrows and tugged the goggles back over his eyes. “You should head to the library. I'll see you this evening.”
“Right.” Juliana went upstairs for her coat and headed out in the cold. She decided to walk since Nathaniel had declined a ride. As she walked people stopped her and told her how excited they were about the animals and to give condolences about her mother. No one knew of her relationship to Carlo and therefore never said a word about him. She doubted anyone knew he ever existed.
When she reached the library Louise zipped to her side. “You are in so much trouble, Juliana.” She linked her arm with hers. Juliana looked down at her friend. “Now who's angry with me?”
Louise lifted her finger to her lips and smiled knowingly. Juliana narrowed her brown eyes. “What are you up too?”
Louise giggled like a schoolgirl and tugged on Juliana's arm. “Come with me.”
Juliana followed curiously. She could never ignore a secret. It was her worst trait, she now realized. The two women went to the back of the library and went out to the courtyard. Nathaniel stood with a bouquet of lilacs. He wore a clean-cut suit and had on a top hat. The very site made Juliana laugh. He hated wearing clothing like that. “What on earth are you wearing, Nathaniel?”
He cracked his crooked smile. “What?” He held out his arms. “I can look sharp every now and then.”
Behind him, walking through the gardens of snowdrops around the courtyard, were Lennon and Benjamin. They were also dressed in the same fashion. Not long after Juliana saw Mrs. Goodwin, Pietro, and Ellis. Everyone was dressed immaculately in black and white. Louise moved from her side to stand with the others. Juliana didn't understand. “What's going on?”
Ellis spoke for everyone. “We've gathered here for you.” He stepped forward through the group and took her cold hands. “Project Reinisiate never would have been freed without you.”
She felt a pinch of guilt. “It wasn't me. Carlo—”
“Yes,” Ellis interrupted. “Carlo was the mastermind. He came up with the project —put it in motion— but you were all he ever talked about. You were his pride and joy. The rest of the team teased him, saying they should rename the project Project Juliana.”
That made her laugh before she could cry. Ellis escorted her through her friends to one of the garden beds. “Carlo would be so proud of you, as we all are. You risked your life for the animals and that is something they will never be able to repay.”
Pietro appeared at her side. He smiled down at her. “But perhaps we can.”
Movement caught her eye. She focused on a back corner of the library wall. One of the scientists came to view holding a lead. Juliana's heart skipped. Her chest squeezed and she feared it would puncture another lung. At the end of the lead was a grizzly bear cub. Juliana covered her mouth and unconsciously walked towards the beast.
The scientist gave her as much space as he could. The bear was still young so Juliana had to kneel. The bear stared at her with inquisitive black eyes. They stared at each other in silence for ten minutes. No one interrupted them. The little bear sniffed the air, taking in her sent. The wonder Juliana felt clearly equaled in this little cub's eyes. She'd made eye contact with Alec many times over the years, but the connection between her and this living thing was indescribable. This moment would forever be a part of her life. A secret anomaly between her and the bear. The instant link of trust, fondness, and friendship.
When Juliana finally spoke, she spoke to the bear. “Hello there. Are you a boy or a girl?”
Ellis answered on behalf of the cub. “Female. So far none of our male specimens have taken. She's the first successful grizzly bear initiate. Six months old.”
Juliana cautiously reached out her hand. The bear stood on her hind legs and lifted her nose to Juliana's palm. A tear rolled down Juliana's cheek and she quickly wiped it on her shoulder. The bear grunted and rolled onto Juliana's lap, pawing at the air. Juliana scratched her under her chin. Soft. Warm. Breath.
“She'll need looking after in the laboratory for a few more months,” Ellis stated. “But once we have a food source available to you she's all yours.” Juliana whipped her head around, inhaling sharply. Ellis smiled with a nod. “If you'll have her.”
“Yes,” she said. She got to her feet and threw her arms around him. “Thank you.” She went around and hugged everyone in attendance. This was the kindest thing anyone had ever done for her. For the remainder of the day she spent it in the courtyard with the tiny creature. They played, ate, went on a walk. The only time they went inside was to nap in the back room where Juliana once hid her trunk of books.
While the bear slept against Juliana's leg, Juliana stroked her soft fur and spoke to her in whispers. “You and I will be a great team. I'll show you all the places I discovered with Alec. There's a cave not too far from the city. Small, but cozy.”
The bear snorted and continued on dozing. Juliana giggled and rested her head on the floor. The future wouldn't be all sweets and flowers now that the animals were returning. On the contrary, things would possibly get harder before they got better. But Juliana didn't worry. When things finally got better it would happen in a flash.
She caught her reflection on the side of a cart of books. She stared into her own eyes. Carlo's eyes. Those brown, happy eyes.