Some time before I woke up, Lord Meiya and Lady Shi had arrived, but the weather was so bad that day (though there were no twisters) that it was obvious from the time I got my first look out the window there would be no parks again that day. I do remember talk on TV about how much the two days were costing in lost park revenues, property damage and crop damage. Why do I remember? The lady on TV dispensing this bad news got to be very big later, and she was--well, she was sexy. At eight (almost nine) I was beginning to find certain . . . features attractive. She really had a nice pair of . . . features.
But of course I didn't find any girls my own age interesting like that.
Mrs. Urawa, or Aunt Makoto as I was beginning to think of her by that third day, had a better set of features than the newscaster, but she was an aunt, someone's mom. In fact, she was sort of like everyone's mom, so her features didn't count with me.
Well, not much.
I'd discovered before that day that among her friends Besu was not unusual at all because she nursed Hippy a lot. In fact, the nineteen-month-olds--who all had the same birthday, I had found out--were all still nursing except for Tomiko, Aunt Rei's, who had to surrender place to her eight-months sister. None of the other moms were quite so matter-of-fact about it as Besu. They covered themselves, or found privacy. Usually. I did catch Aunt Makoto and saw quite a lot. There was a lot to see.
Anyway, they--and my dad, he was there for most of this--talked about how differently nudity was treated in Japan and elsewhere. Aunt Usagi that it was very common foro her whole family, mother, father, herself and her brother to bath together, nude, even when she was a teenager. Aunt Makoto, who had gone back to Japan to get away from the Quintley's New Gospel Church and their lawyers said it was less common now. In fact, she said that public baths were starting to go out of business. Not all of them; the hot springs baths and the expensive ones that offered extras like gyms or swimming pools, they were mostly doing quite well. But the small, less expensive places that just offered hot baths, they were beginning to die out, because younger people did not to care to use them instead of bathing at home.
Dad went on about other people who made big things out of public baths. He lost me when he began to compare the Russians and the Arabs.
"Big" Ikuko, Sarah's grandmother, came with her grandfather late in the day, in fact not tooo long before sundown. I didn't really say more than a few words with either one of them, but I was surprised that they had a baby. The little girl had the same birthday as Sarah's baby sisters Julie-chan and little Ikuko. Her eyes changed color; she had magic. So it was important to keep her hidden from strangers, like Hecate, Nereid told me.
"Like Hecate?" I asked. "What does she do, anyway?" Aunt Haruka's baby had seemed pretty normal to me over the last three days.
"We don't know exactly," Nereid said. "She does different things. She can conjure up pastries and sweets like Julie-chan, or maybe snatch them."
"Take them from other worlds."
"You mean from other planets? Like Kinmoku?"
"Probably not. Other worlds like ours, but different, across time."
"Across time? What does that mean?"
Nereid said, "This is a secret of ours, the other worlds. There are many. I call it 'snatching' because that is what the little man, Dr. Alvarson, calls it. It is a talent Sarah also has, but it is harder for her."
Nereid did not know much about these other worlds across time except for two. "Sarah's father and Aunt Nancy are from another world. I have never visited it, but some of the others have stayed there for years. Electra and Asterope were born there. We call it the Grey Lady's world, for that is what we call Dr. Alvarson's granddaughter. It is later there--a few years later than it is here."
Nereid also told me of Dr. Alvarson's home. "It is a magic world. It has dragons and many different kinds of people, much more different than on our world. We went there once for a few days when Uncle Roland was away." She went on to detail some of her misadventures.
"Dragons," I mused when she was finished. "Do you know of any other places?"
"She is Auntie Naru's."
"Oh. She comes from a different world? Different from Electra and Asterope?" Those two I had successfully identified by that time.
Nereid hesitated. "Maybe I shouldn't tell you."
"Well . . . she grew up on the Grey Lady's world."
"Grew up? She's a little baby."
"Now she is. But last year, she was older than Sarah and Pleione. Even older than Zoë. She came with the Grey Lady to visit. But later, after Christmas, Auntie Naru brought her back as a baby."
"Brought her back?"
"Like Auntie Usagi brought back Hotaru-san once, I think, when she died fighting. Or almost died; I am not sure."
"The senshi of Saturn. She is married to Shingo, Auntie Usagi's brother."
"Oh," I said. Hotaru was not old enough to think as an aunt. I didn't really understand, but I said I did and told Nereid to go on. "So where does Himeko come from?"
"She comes from a world where Auntie Naru had her with Nephrite, one of our enemies."
"The first man she loved?"
"Yes--but let me finish. Maman and the older senshi do not want to tell me of this, but they do not always remember how good I can hear. This is what I think happened: On Himiko's world, he was not killed so soon. He fought Beryl, his queen, our enemy. He lost and died, and so did that world's Naru, but Himeko was hidden from Beryl by sending her to the Grey Lady's world. She grew up there and did not know who she was. But an enemy found her before the Grey Lady. The enemy killed her family, and then the boy she loved. The older senshi went to fight that enemy, and I think they went on to Himeko's world and fought. Beryl probably conquered that world. I think Himeko sacrificed herself the same way Hotaru did to defeat Pharoah Ninety and the demons of Tau."
"I was too little to go and fight. But Sarah went, and Pleione, and Maia, and Zoë. I think the other Moon Angels fought, too."
"The Moon Angels of the Grey Lady's world are like the bishoujo senshi here. Auntie Nancy is Moon Angel Alpha, Auntie Felicia is Beta, Auntie Stephanie is Psi and Zoë is Kappa. There are others but I have never met them."
Nereid seemed uncomfortable. She looked away from me, and she said, "I wonder if Sarah counts as a Moon Angel. Auntie Nancy is her father's brother." I wanted to know more about the fighting, but I sensed that maybe that was what was bothering her. So I asked what I thought was a more sensitive question. "When will you be big enough to fight?"
"Maybe never," Nereid said, producing her turquoise rose. "All I have is this. Otousan could throw his roses so they would stick in anything. Kimi can do that, Ishi can do that, even Lily can do that sometimes now, but I can't do it at all." She threw her rose, and it flopped against the wall. "See?"
"Well, you'll be able to do it someday," I said. "I mean, you throw balls really good."
Nereid was drinking in my words, I saw, and she seemed more like a kid like me, less like a little Michiru. I had made her feel good. That made me feel good.
But maybe I made her feel too good. After a moment or two, I saw a lot more than just appreciation in her big green eyes, a lot more than I was ready to deal with at eight (almost nine.) So I made some lame excuse and got away from Nereid.
The next morning the news lady with the prominent "features" was bemoaning a third day of bad weather. There was a steady drizzle outside. A dark-skinned girl I hadn't met before was looking out at the rain when I came into the lounge with my dad, and he asked her what she thought of the weather. She said it was beautiful, that in her country, rain was the most precious thing. Her name was Umoya, and she was a real African, from Botswana, and she was beautiful in form, in voice, and in the way she moved. She was a student at Stanford, but had gone back home for the summer to work in "Dr. Mizuno's" hospital. For once I said the right thing without Nereid to prompt me. "You mean our Dr. Mizuno's mother?"
"Yes," Umoya said, happy that I could identify her patron and friend. "I have come back now with my Dr. Mizuno. She will visit with her daughter and her grandchildren while she is here, and also the people at Florida Hospital. They train many mission doctors."
"You mean, they are like those New Gospel people?"
Umoya was a person who did not like to show anger, but she was less cheerful when she said: "They are not quite the same. My Dr. Mizuno says that the New Gospel people have more money than the Adventists who sponsor Florida Hospital, but they do not seem to spend it as well."
"Are you Adventist?" asked Dad.
"No. My family are Anglicans," said Umoya. "But I have worked with many Adventists in my country. Many Mormons also. The New Gospel people have a hospital in Botswana, but they do not allow doctors of other faiths except when a life is at stake."
"Sometimes not even then," interjected a new voice. "But you would not know it from your press, I think."
The new speaker was the elder Dr. Mizuno, who had approached us along with her daughter. They had the same blue hair, though the mother's was streaked with gray. Otherwise they did not resemble one another much; the elder doctor was slightly shorter, but she had larger hands, very long-fingered, built for work rather than for beauty. Her fingertips were rather spoonlike, and I felt calluses when she shook my hand.
"The Reverend knows how to spend money on good press," said my father, and both doctors laughed, the mother heartily, the daughter nervously. I wondered how Dad knew something like that about the Reverend, the televangelist who was the father of one of the bishoujo senshi and the enemy of them all. I wondered, but not enough to ask.
Anyway, Nereid hurried to the lounge to join me soon after. I could hear her running down the hallways and then stop just before reaching the lounge, so that she could walk in slowly and pretend she wasn't in a hurry. I left the grownups to themselves and went with Neri to seek out Aunt Makoto and breakfast. Maybe I could get some ham or bacon or even steak and eggs if I was pitiful enough. After all, I was a growing boy at eight (almost nine!)
After breakfast, and some time zoning out and digesting, I started thinking again. Then I asked Nereid about something Aunt Makoto had said, that I ate almost like "Usako" did. "She means Auntie Usagi," explained Nereid.
Soon I asked about something else. "You know, Dad was talking to the older Dr. Mizuno kind of like she knew everything. Does she?"
"She knows, Nereid said, "Didn't I tell you?"
"Oh. I missed her. I wasn't thinking of her. I didn't expect her to come."
"Did you miss anyone else?" I enquired. For once I had her at a bit of a disadvantage.
She gave me a slightly sour look, but began counting off on her fingers once more. "There is one reporter who knows, but he is our friend and won't tell. There are a few special friends in Japan. A few people at Auntie Ami's hospital know because sometimes she uses her powers to help her doctor people. I think maybe one or two boys Sarah knows, but I am not sure. And there is a strange boy who is Dr. Alvarson's apprentice."
"Dr. Alvarson is a wizard. Auntie Naru is also his apprentice, but this boy travels with Dr. Alvarson most of the time. He is very strange."
"Strange how?" I asked. "I mean, you didn't say Dr. Huntaromo was strange."
"He turns into a creature sometimes when he gets mad. But that is not the strange part. He just does not think like other people. Even Dr. Alvarson cannot understand him. This I have heard him say to his wife when they were alone and did not think I could hear them."
"That's pretty strange," I said. I didn't really have a picture of Dr. Alvarson yet, but I knew he was rich and powerful. Being a wizard wasn't that big a surprise at this point. "Is he Aunt Minako's father, then?"
"No. I do not know who her father is. She was an ainoko, a love child. She wasn't really Monsieur Aino's. Her mother has not told any of us who her father is. Auntie Minako does not want to know enough to ask now, I think." Nereid seemed a little uncomfortable. "It might be important for doctors to know someday, I suppose, if he needed a transplant or something like that."
"Her mother doesn't want to know because of his wife and kids?"
"I think it must be a bigger reason. Maybe . . . "
"Maybe as big as Ariel. She is Uncle Roland's daughter, but no one must know. She is supposed to be the Countess of Jarrow now because of her mother's husband. But if his nephew finds out, he will become the Earl."
"But isn't that right?"
"He has enough money, Maman says, "said Nereid, and added: "Haruka-san says he is a horse's behind."
After some more time watching TV, I asked, "Any chance Dr. Alvarson will come?"
"Perhaps. But he wasn't at the mansion or anyplace else I know about."
"The big place in California where we all used to live. Where I used to live with Maman and Haruka-san before they went off to Paris . . ." She trailed off, and I smelled trouble in the air.
"Want to see the mansion?"
"Yeah, sure, sometime."
"I mean now."
"I can take us there."
"You? But what--"
"We won't be gone long. Are you afraid?"
Bingo! Why do we all fall for that line when a girl uses it on us? "No!" I insisted. "But--"
Before I finished my "But" she had transformed and we were there.
We were there . . . but our clothes hadn't made the trip with us.
On the plus side, I suppose, I did get to meet Dr. Alvarson and his wife. They were having an early lunch in the kitchen—A really big kitchen, by the way—just two giant steps from where we had popped in. I didn't recognize the woman as Aunt Minako's mother—her hair was brown, and—well, I just didn't, right away. But I did recognize Dr. Alvarson. When I said a little while back that I didn't have a good "picture" of him, I meant of the way he was, not what he looked like. I had surfed around and found a few pictures of him. It was him, I knew right away.
Except . . .
"Dr Alvarson?" I blurted.
"You presume?" he snapped back with a crinkly smile.
"You're not . . . well, I didn't know . . . no one told me . . . "
"Come to the point, my boy."
"Well . . . is this how you really look?"
The little man—well—Dr. Alvarson looked more seriously at me, and I mean looked. Finally he said carefully: "Tell me exactly what I look like to you."
"Well, you're a little person—is that the right word? Words?"
"That will do. Go on, what else do you see that you think you should not?"
"You have wings like Sei, Aunt Rei's baby. Mrs.—"
"I know. Go on, what else?"
"You have long ears, pointed. You have a tail. You have horns."
"Well, you have pink hair where it isn't gray or white. But I've seen so many . . . That's all."
"That's quite a lot," said Dr. Alvarson, pulling at his chin-whiskers.
Nereid whispered, "You have magic."
"She says you have magic," said Dr. Alvarson. "And quite a lot, I think. Only one other on this Earth has every seen me as I am without my letting him. Or her. Not even the Moon Queen."
A phone chirped. Mrs. Alvarson answered in Japanese, and handed it to Dr. Alvarson. "Moshi moshi," he began and went on in Japanese, but not too long. He said, "Your stepmother, young man. This was her second guess you might be. I suggest that you two might want to get dressed. We will be having company soon."
Nereid didn't have much trouble finding clothes at the house, but I did. The best that Mrs. Alvarson could improvise was a kimono—a man's kimono, I hasten to add. She hemmed it up so it did not drag on the floor.
By the time she was finished, company had indeed arrived. One by one, I think everyone who could teleport to the mansion did so; they all seemed to have some excuse.
You might think this was a natural point to end my story. I had discovered my future; I had found my career. What else could I do? How many people who could be really good at magic did anyone know of in 2010?
But this story is not about my job. I didn't know how to do any magic yet, except to sense magic a little and see though Dr. Alvarson's disguise, and that isn't as impressive as he made it seem to me, for reasons I don't need to go into now. Like the subtitle says, this is about what I learned on my summer vacation, and I still had some very big things to learn.
When we got back to Orlando, I found that only one of my shoes had stayed behind. The other was "elsewhere." Sarah told me that lost stuff usually came back eventually. I asked her where it went. She shrugged. "Maybe a pocket universe. That's where we keep some of our stuff like our costumes and talismans. Or maybe it just goes to another regular universe for awhile. Sure would explain those shoes and socks you keep finding in the streets, wouldn't it?" She mused "Maybe sometimes someone else snatches it for awhile."
I nodded, and then Nereid and Sarah spoke in Japanese. I found out later what they were talking about: Sarah had tricked me into showing that I knew about snatching and other universes. She could read my mind, of course, but the point was to get me to "spill" in front of Nereid. That was subtlety, something Sarah has never been noted for.
Showers and thundershowers were in the forecast for the rest of the day and the evening in the Orlando area, so the parks were still out. But shopping was not. Besu decided that we should go do some shopping, to get me new shoes. I was going to need new shoes anyway; I was growing fast, so we went shopping.
And I don't just mean me and my stepmother. We didn't teleport, though, we took the monorail and then a shuttle bus.
It occurs to me that some of you, maybe most of you, might have some trouble understanding some of this story because it is in a different world—the world of your past, or your grandparents' past, or even further back if this story somehow survives. Perhaps I should make some things clearer.
Buses, cars, and trucks, for instance. None of them flew then, not one. They stayed on the ground, all of them. Almost all of them burned either gasoline or diesel fuel, which smelled terrible before and after it was burned. Electric vehicles were rare; the "batteries" of the time were incredibly heavy, held very little charge, and were incredibly poisonous, one of our worst toxic waste problems. Of course they all wore out in a few years at most.
Also, recorded music was mostly on "CDs" then. These were simply plastic disks which held permanent or semi-permanent recordings in the form of digital data. By that time we had audio and video recording on virtually any medium, but legally it was restricted by lawyers who were making insane amounts of money "protecting" copyrights or, conversely, attacking copyrights. Technically proficient people like "Big Al" uploaded and downloaded practically anything they wanted to over the internet, but most people would not or could not do that.
Before the CD, there were "records" which were mechanically recorded (no kidding!) They are those big black things you sometimes see in very old cartoons; they were real. And they bear on the next part of my story.
When we got to the mall, we didn't spend all that much time picking out my shoes, and I soon found myself with Nereid and Sarah and a few others browsing through a record store. This store had a huge inventory of records, mostly the big 12 inch (30 centimeter) "albums" which came in big cardboard sleeves. The sleeves were sometimes better than the records than they held; some folded out to make double-sized covers. We met an old man with a gray ponytail and a very colorful T-shirt who told us a lot about the albums. He also talked about a place called "Woodstock" like the little cartoon bird. It was just some place that had an outdoor concert once way, way before I was born, but he talked about it like it was the most important thing that had ever happened to him. I guess it was, for him.
While the old man was still talking, I noticed that Major Quintley was in the store, talking with my dad. Destiny was with him, and she came over us before the old man finished his stories. The Major came over to check on her, and told her to stay with us (and Sarah, who was more or less watching us) and went out of the store with my dad. They went outside the store to talk. Nereid could hear them, I guessed then, but Destiny was with us. But that didn't really matter, because Destiny knew pretty much what they must be talking about. She told us, and I said, "You told your mom?"
"I had to."
I shook my head, but allowed, "Well, she is your mom."
"The Reverend came to see us."
This drew Nereid's interest. "What did he say? Did he ask about his daughter?"
"I didn't hear him ask anything about his daughter. What is she like? Do you know her?"
"Oui," said Nereid. "She even let me look after her babies once."
"She has babies?"
"Yeah," I interjected.
"Mom said that was just lies made up to hurt the Reverend."
"The Reverend knows," said Nereid. "We let him see the babies. We just make sure he cannot steal them or Betty-san."
Florida Hospital is quite real.