The first thing Anna remembered her mother saying to her was "You're going to save the world."
It had happened on her third birthday. She remembered Mama and Papa, laughing together as the banners collapsed three times before they managed to get them to stick on the walls, the pictures of red and yellow and blue balloons wrinkled and distorted by all the times the tape had been pulled off the wallpaper and as quickly reapplied. There had been a cake, dripping with white icing (waves uneven, no equation could have described them), the top covered with hard little silver balls.
There had also been candles, and when Anna had stood on her tiptoes to look at the burning, dancing flames, she'd gotten a little dizzy. But dizzy isn't so bad for a three-year-old, so she'd hung on to the edge of the table and continued to stare.
Then the pain had hit, like being crushed in a garbage disposal, her head ground to shreds. Pain so surprising, so large, that at first she hadn't made a sound, struggling to draw breath, her mouth open as if she'd been trying to sing.
Then she had screamed, and screamed and screamed, until all the adults around her were in a flurry and her voice was worn out.
Long, long after, when the headache and the haloes had gone away, after she'd thrown up five times, she was lying down on her parents' bed, which was usually off limits. She stared up at the ceiling, feeling warm and coddled, feeling the motion of the earth as it rocked her to comfortable sleep.
That was when Mama had come in and said it.
She didn't have a specific first memory of her father. But it wasn't the same; Papa was around more often, while Mama was always traveling somewhere new and exciting. There had even been some uncertainty about whether Mama would make it back for Anna's birthday, so her presence had been terribly exciting, at least until the headache came and made the birthday into a mostly horrid day.
Still, Anna remembered what Mama had said. Sometimes she puzzled over it. Other times she simply knew that it was true.
Anna had counted the ceiling tiles first, then the floor tiles. The floor tiles had a pattern, gray alternating with white. She wrote the equation that described the pattern on the board in her head, imagining the creaking of the chalk, but she could still hear the man in the white coat talking.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Parkhurst," he said, "but this is simply an expected side effect. There is no treatment. You can think of it as a sign of success."
"It is not a success that she wakes up weeping." Mama's voice was tight, angry, the way it was when Anna came home with things she wasn't supposed to have, like the tiny rubber animals from the bin at the toy store. The animals had been spongy in her sweaty palms, so small that she could hold three at once without anybody knowing. Their miniature legs and heads were dotted with black paint to show the features. Holding them so tight had left red marks on her skin by the time she got them home and Mama found her. Anna had kept the lion and the giraffes and the rhinoceros with its funny nose, and Mama had gone back, alone, to explain.
But now Mama wasn't acting like she was in charge. She was asking for something and not getting it.
Anna picked at the hem of her skirt. The stitches were almost even, but every third one was fractionally off-center. Anna imagined the machine that made her skirt. One little part got knocked out of true, and suddenly Anna's blue skirt, and all the skirts that followed it, were secretly different, no matter how much like the others they looked. Variances were everywhere. Adults didn't like to admit that, but it was easy to see if you paid attention. That was why the doctors were baffled: Anna was mismade and they couldn't figure it out.
She didn't like that Mama was sharing her secrets. Troublemakers could have very bad things happen to them. In her dreams, Clara always warned her to be quiet. She only screamed because--no, she wasn't going to think of that, not while she was here.
Waking was better. Awake, there was math, streams of numbers weaving together so beautifully, cool and pure and untouchable.
Papa took the day off from rehearsal so that he could come with Anna's class to the amusement park. The teachers all smiled at him and asked him questions about working in Hollywood. "I never meet the stars," he told them. "That's not really what a composer does. I meet with the director, the cinematographer." They watched him like he was an amazing new machine.
The park smelled like burnt sugar and spilled soda. The ground was dry, dusty, little clods of dirt rolling everywhere, getting under her feet and into her shoes. This place had been farmland once, she'd heard one of the teachers say, before the park.
Each ride had its own set of equations. There was the Gravitron, named with a lie, because it was centrifugal force that pressed you into the skin of the machine and kept you from falling. There were the bumper cars, action and reaction, vectors sketching themselves so precisely in her mind that she could see where a girl on one side of the floor might move so that the boy on the other side would be jolted so hard his neck would ache.
Anna liked the ferris wheel, taking her up and away. The people looked small, helpless as ants, moving about in stochastic patterns, bumping up against each other but not against her.
Back on earth, unable to convince Papa to pay for another round in the wheel, she turned a corner--
It was a monster, huge square teeth and lolling bloody tongue tongue, eyes like whirling globes, lips peeled back in a snarl, lunging at her.
She yelled for what seemed like forever, even when Papa took her in his arms and promised her it was only a carousel. She could still hear the music, jangling and awful. She could still smell the burning.
Anna loved all the sciences. But this year's chemistry teacher--she hated him. His hands were wrong. His fingers were spidery, too tight when he clamped down on her shoulder to look over her work. She could still feel them when she went to her next class.
She refused to sit in his class. "He smells like--some horrible cologne. I can't stand it!"
Even Mama refused to take her side. "I couldn't smell anything at all when I met him, darling."
But she knew. It was the same smell from her dreams, where the hand always ran along the back of her neck before it settled on her shoulder, pressing her down into the wooden bench. He wore gloves, always gloves, because he would never touch the skin directly. But it was the same hand.
The headmaster called in her parents when the teacher's lab was found, ruined by dozens of broken bottles of acids and bases, after an assembly. But no one could say who'd been around the classroom, and Anna was a very special student.
It was ridiculous that she even had to take history classes. What use was history to a physicist? And people were just as annoying and mysterious in the past as they were presently. She learned dates easily--square roots made good mnemonics--but the events never made sense.
Still, there was this awful book report to write. Find a prominent American, her teacher had said. Obviously she wasn't going to write about some boring politician, like everyone else. The library hadn't had any books on scientists, though; the librarian had frowned at Anna like that was her fault.
But Anna wasn't going to let the library's incompetence force her to change her mind. There was a used bookstore right near her mother's office. The books in the window were sun-faded, their covers beige and crackling at the edges or long gone so that only tiny gold letters on the spines distinguished one from the next. The bell on the door jangled through her like a row of needles, but it stopped before the headache came. Inside, the place was dim and cool, and smelled a little like dried fruit.
There was an empty bowl marked KITTY by the door, and Anna clutched her bag to her chest and prepared to run out, but she didn't see the cat and she needed this report, so she stepped forward, towards the waiting clerk.
"Do you have any biographies of scientists?" she asked him. He smiled at her the way adults smiled at her, when they weren't frowning. She bet he was just about to tell her to relax, and scowled more.
Instead, the clerk took her to a section in the back. "Biography," he said, waving his hand.
The area was a mess, books of every size and condition jammed together. At first she didn't see any order in it at all, and then she noticed that it was mostly alphabetical by the name of the person whose biography it was. But only mostly. Whoever had filed the books had considered the difference between C and D minor and had treated M and N as interchangeable. Anna curled her lip in disgust--just like history to be tangled up--and started looking for somebody worth writing about.
Albert Einstein wasn't American, so she couldn't choose him. Nor were Ernest Rutherford, Enrico Fermi, or Edward Teller. Robert Oppenheimer, though--she flipped to the index, which she'd started doing after the first few false starts. Born in America: fine.
The paper was thin and slippery under her fingers. The pages flipped, and she was suddenly staring at the end of the index.
243 Contacts with
244 Disagreements with
268 Funeral of, attendance at
Robert Oppenheimer had known a woman with her name. Plopping to the floor, she opened the book to page 243. "Promising young German-educated physicist Anna Zimmerman, only a few years before liberated from a Nazi concentration camp …." Oppenheimer had exchanged letters with her. They had fought about the morality of the atomic bomb. Anna Zimmerman had wanted revenge. "They know only blood," she wrote him about the Germans. "Blood and fire. As long as such barbarians exist, the atomic bomb is our only savior."
Anna hurried ahead, tearing a few of the pages in her haste. "Anna Zimmerman, the young physicist whose passionate disagreement with Oppenheimer spurred him to some of his greatest rhetorical heights, died in a fire in her laboratory. The fire also destroyed most of her work, which Oppenheimer recalled as among the most promising and theoretically challenging of any physicist's that he had seen."
Anna knew, without having to ask, that she had been named for Anna Zimmerman, lost in a fire. She stuffed the book into her bag, in between her textbooks. Her hands were shaking. She just bet that cat was here, somewhere, watching and waiting to pounce.
"Find anything?" the clerk asked when she returned to the front of the store.
She shook her head. "You should reorganize that section," she told him. "It doesn't make any sense."
Anna watched from the doorway of the living room as her mother pulled her feet up onto the couch, tucking them under her body as she licked her thumb to turn a page. She'd taken her shoes off, but she was still wearing her suit from work. Mama always said she was going to change when she walked in the door, but then she'd get caught up in some article or another and end up eating dinner wearing her nice suit and in stocking feet. Papa always laughed and said it was a sign of a true scientific mind--yes, the food stains too.
"Mama, who was Anna Zimmerman?"
Mama looked up from her manuscript. "Where did you hear that name?"
"I read it in a book." She'd been thinking about it all through the trip home, staring out the window of the bus but not seeing anything, not even bothering with calculating the average speed each minute. Why name her for a wonderful physicist and then not tell her?
Mama marked her page and put the manuscript aside. "Anna, listen to me. It's very important. Have you told anyone else about this?"
"No," she answered, confused.
Mama nodded, her lips pressed tight, her brows lowered the way they got when someone at school demanded another meeting to talk about Anna's 'behavior.' "You mustn't. You are a very special girl, and you are going to do great things. But Anna Zimmerman--you must not ask anyone else."
She tightened her hands on the smooth, unyielding wood of the doorway. It was solid; it would hold up even if an earthquake struck, up to the 5.7 level. She'd done the calculations five years ago. "Will you tell me, then?"
Mama sighed. "Yes, Anna. Tonight."
Mama and Papa sat on the couch, holding hands, as they explained it all to her. She was a little Anna Zimmerman, a homunculus (the biology teacher loved to talk about what people used to believe, but the biology teacher didn't know about Anna).
"Oh," she said, because there was nothing else inside her. The only thing inside her was Anna Zimmerman.
A clone. A photocopy, a duplicate. Of course she was supposed to build a replicator: she was a repeated chorus, the same notes all over again, not even the key changed.
There was a picture on the wall above the couch, a print of a Renoir, a little girl playing the piano. Her hair was shining in the light, and her dress was red velvet. Papa always said that one day they'd go see the original, because it wasn't the same.
That night's dinner sat in her stomach like a lump of coal. She wanted to start screaming until they took away the thing that was causing her pain, the way they always had before. But she didn't even know what the name of the thing was this time.
"You are our daughter," Mama said, "and we love you more--more than we ever knew we could. You are perfect just the way you are."
Anna stared at them, suspicious. Other students and teachers had told her a thousand times, in words and looks, that there was something wrong with her. Too smart, too mean, too skittish. But Mama and Papa, they were here, smiling at her, tears in their eyes but not sad.
"You aren't my parents," she said, testing out the words, burnt meat in her mouth.
"No!" Mama said, angry now for the first time. "Anna, I carried you in my body. Your father held you when you were born. You our our little girl. It's only that we know your heritage, your promise, better than most parents do."
She wanted to believe it. Mama and Papa had never told her a wrong thing before. When one of them didn't know an answer, they would look it up together, because that was science, that was knowledge.
The questions burned in her like candleflames, terrifying and bright. Was Anna Zimmerman a thief and a liar, just like her? Did Anna Zimmerman's parents love her all the same?
When she asked, they grew grave. "Anna Zimmerman's parents died in a concentration camp," Papa explained. "When she was just a little older than you."
She'd heard of concentration camps. Cold, they were cold, even inside, even near the furnaces. And the smell, enough to drive you mad. No wonder all the officers drenched themselves in scent, spending some of the gold they stole or wrenched out of mouths--
Anna shuddered and threw herself into Mama's arms. "That's not me!" she wept.
Mama's arms were strong and warm. She smelled like apple cider, and a hint of rubber from her lab. Papa curled around them both, promising that she was safe. His hands were so big and gentle. He stroked her hair, the way he did when she had a headache, and didn't mind when she made his shirt into a mess of tears and snot.
Being Anna Zimmerman, instead of just a copy, would mean she could make a replicator and save the world, just like Mama said. She needed to remember Anna Zimmerman, swallow her whole and then keep going, finish the work that had burned thirteen years ago.
Traveling to different cities, Mama and Papa bought books about Anna Zimmerman's world and bought them back to her. She touched the pictures, slick-cool against her fingertips, nothing like the blurry landscapes of her dreams. In dreams the black-and- white was replaced by yellows and purples, dark blues and grays, and always, over everything, the bitter gritty taste of other people's deaths.
If this history was what could make a replicator, the same way the war had made a nuclear bomb, Anna thought it might not be worth the price.
The dreams were clearer now, like watching a movie, except that she was alone in the cold dark and strapped down, head held in place and eyes propped open. She could watch, and she could feel, but she couldn't do anything, because Anna Zimmerman was the one in the dreams and Anna was only an echo.
The waiting between selections was always silent. The one time the commandant was disturbed by a visiting dignitary, right in the middle of the usual quiet time, he had been--matters had been very bad for Clara during those days. Clara never talked about the commandant, other than to convey his wishes to Anna. But her eyes, her eyes told Anna: Hold my fear and my hate for me, because they are too much and I cannot survive them. You hold them while I do what I must, you take them into yourself and keep them safe.
Anna had obeyed.
The commandant was often in distress. He would get the most terrible headaches, and Anna must be silent and still and small as a mouse while Clara tended him. She sang lullabies, sweet and sad. But no instruments. The piano and the violin, these were only for the times after a selection, when the commandant's nerves were calmer and he could bear the presence of more than a few people at once. Even then there were the rules, like the silence and the gloves (if Anna touched a plate or a spoon, it must be washed, in water so hot that Clara's hands were red and tender; the gloves were so thin, though, that he could feel the texture of her hair, and would comment on it if Clara had not brushed it smooth as glass). After selections, he would weep and give Clara gifts. Once there had been a blanket, so soft and warm, like a swan's wing, a strange reminder of another life.
Papa brought a newspaper story back from a trip to Phoenix. After she'd died, the authorities had found hundreds of cans in Anna Zimmerman's apartment, food she was hoarding. Anna knew many things about those cans that no one else did: They were all stolen, for one thing, because they were owed to her. Also, the emergency they were for wasn't a war or a disaster; it was for the time that Anna Zimmerman decided that she could never go outside her walls ever again. That time had never arrived, because there was the fire, and also because Anna Zimmerman could feel no safer inside her walls than in any other place.
She visited the doctor once a week now, like piano lessons. Anna didn't see the point. He never gave her anything for the headaches, just made her do the same tests over and over again: square roots, exponentials, logarithms, easy as skipping down the street or slipping a lipstick into a pocket.
"They're very pleased with your progress," Mama said. In her suit with her hair swept up into a chignon, she was the most beautiful woman Anna had ever seen. Deep in her closet, up on the top shelf, there was a box full of brooches and earrings, necklaces that sparkled like stars until Anna slammed the top down and pressed herself into the silken forest of her mother's shirts, waiting for the pounding in her head to lessen. Anna had asked, after she'd found out about Anna Zimmerman, whether Mama missed the jewels, and Mama had laughed, golden as sunlight, and told her that Anna was the only pearl without price.
Mama's approval was always there, like the blood running through Anna's veins. But the doctors didn't care. They just wanted their replicator. "So how do they measure my progress? No one taught Anna Zimmerman, not when she was my age. And no one ever checked her blood pressure or gave her spinach."
Mama shook her head. "Your advantages are why you're going to be a greater scientist than Anna Zimmerman."
How can that be? she wondered. No number can be greater than itself.
She stole a lighter from the grocery store while Papa's back was turned. The first ten times she flicked it on, she barely lasted twenty seconds before the headaches hit. But she practiced, harder than she'd ever tried with the piano, and soon she could stare at the fire until the lighter grew too hot to hold.
There were equations for how the fuel burned, how the air currents shaped and colored the flames. She could feel them, swimming behind her eyes, ready to emerge.
Mama didn't like it when she asked for candles. "The researchers say that it's best that you try to replicate Anna Zimmerman's experiences as exactly as possible, so that you will be in the best position to continue her work."
There was a flaw in that, she realized: Anna Zimmerman hadn't had any reason to fear fire until she'd finished all the work she was ever going to do. But that didn't seem like a good thing to say to Mama.
"Anna," Mama said, her voice tight, "come with me." She was still in her lab coat, half-buttoned over her suit.
Anna hadn't minded being taken out of physics class. They were doing optics, and Anna had known the material even before they'd reached the unit. She'd only needed a reminder.
But Mama moved fast, her heels clicking along the tiles of the school hallway, the sound reflecting off the lockers. She took Anna's hand like Anna was still a baby, and Anna nearly ran, keeping up.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Anna," Mama said, "the corporation that helped us have you--well, they want you to spend some time away from us."
Anna's feet slipped on the floor and she almost fell, but Mama kept moving and she managed to hurry alongside. "Why?" Was there something wrong with her, something the doctors had never admitted? Was that the reason for all those tests?
Mama shook her head. "They think--they believe that Anna Zimmerman's early loss of her parents was important to her later thinking."
Anna swallowed. Mama loved her, but Anna Zimmerman's mother had loved her so much that she'd given Anna Zimmerman to Clara, to keep her safe. "Are you letting them take me away?"
Mama's step faltered, but then she pushed the door at the end of the hallway open and they were on the steps outside. Papa was waiting in the car, the engine running. "We won't let them take you away from us. But darling, we need--we're sending you to stay with some friends of ours while we sort things out. Just so that no one does anything rash."
Anna got into the back seat. A large brown suitcase waited on the seat next to her. Anna had never seen it before. Mama's suitcase was blue and Papa's was red. This one was so new that it still smelled like plastic, and the metal fittings were so shiny that Anna could see bits of her reflection in them, blurred but there.
"Michaela," Mr. Dupont said. It took Anna a second to remember: that was her name here. Mr. Dupont was always so careful to use it, because he said that forgetting even once would lead to more forgetting. She couldn't be Anna Parkhurst, not in public, so she couldn't be Anna Parkhurst even in the Dupont home. Mr. Dupont had done something very secret in the war, and he knew his business. That was what Papa had said, anyway, and she believed it.
"Yes, Uncle George?" she asked, closing her textbook, staring at the patterns on the back cover and idly translating them into four-dimensional matrices. The math at her new school was trivial, naturally, but Mr. Dupont had kindly brought her books from the college where he taught now. She thought she was proceeding faster this way, the numbers speaking to her directly rather than fumbling their way through a person.
"Michaela," he repeated, and this time his voice wobbled. She looked up, and he was crying. She couldn't remember ever seeing a grownup cry, other than Mama and Papa when they'd put her on the train.
"I'm afraid there's been--" he started. Then he rubbed his hand over his face, and when she could see it again, he was snarling, so angry that she shrunk back into her chair. "No, I will not lie to you. There have been enough lies. Michaela, your parents are dead. They've been murdered."
She didn't understand.
You're wrong, she wanted to say. Anna Zimmerman's parents were murdered. It's almost the same, but not quite.
Then she knew.
The people who'd cloned her wanted her to be just like Anna Zimmerman. Anna Zimmerman's parents were a scientist and an artist, so that was who was picked. Anna Zimmerman stole and lied, even after she'd escaped the concentration camp, because she always remembered. So Anna--Michaela--was never punished for stealing and lying.
Anna Zimmerman's parents had been murdered, so Michaela's parents must be as well. Maybe they hadn't been killed just to hammer Michaela into Anna Zimmerman's shape. Maybe it was a punishment for refusing to turn her over. It didn't matter.
There was one thing that her re-creators had forgotten about Anna Zimmerman.
Anna Zimmerman had burned for revenge until the day she burned for real.
They'd never have their replicator. If she had to starve the world, so be it. Maybe it was time for the cats to have their turn.
In the mirrors, they were reflected to infinity and back, the willowy blonde teacher with her hair in a bun and the little girl, darkhaired and still dewily plump from her pampered childhood. They'd never been able to find a set of parents willing to feed an Anna a concentration camp diet, and for that at least Michaela had to be grateful.
"I can't!" Anna Zimmerman Gold whined.
Michaela kept her face as calm and still as a frozen pond. "Yes, you can." She demonstrated the proper form on the barre. "Like this."
Anna screwed her face up in the most disagreeable manner. "You're trying to kill me!" she accused. "First the lights, now this."
Michaela shook her head. "Anna, we've discussed this. The lights are an ordinary part of a dance studio, and these exercises will give you the flexibility you need to bring real emotion to the dance."
Anna scowled, a million million times between panes of silvered glass, the copies shrinking as they curved off to the vanishing point. There were equations for this, too. The only place the equations were of no use was at the first iteration.
"It's not enough to have rhythm and form. You need life."
Anna wasn't listening, not now, but she would. She didn't have the benefit of Michaela's knowledge--she thought she already had a life, when what she really had was a pattern, a blueprint.
Michaela checked the file again. She was always struck by the pictures showing her own face, but on photo stock fifteen years further advanced, and on top of a body wearing clothes in fabrics that hadn't even existed when she was that age. In some ways the changed technologies surrounding the unchanging face were the most uncanny part of the whole business.
Anna Burton: genius, liar, sneak thief. Star and scourge of her very special private school. Father a painter, mother a computer programmer. Father not entirely happy with the Anna Zimmerman project. For some reason, it was always the fathers who had the discomfort. Perhaps it was the mothers' scientific minds. Or possibly it was simply the feeling that there was a cuckoo in the nest, even if it had been invited. The mothers at least had borne the Annas. Whatever the genetics, everything else told them that each Anna was a natural daughter.
The fathers, too, were usually happier to have a respectable, accomplished young woman show some interest in their troubled daughters. And an expert at dissimulation could greatly resemble a respectable, accomplished young woman. She could help a girl become her own person, deviate from the narrow focus that made the Annas so unwilling to engage with others.
Theo Burton played tennis at the local club for relaxation.
Tennis, Michaela thought. Perhaps Anna Zimmerman Burton could learn to love tennis.