Characters: 63!Veidt, 63!Dan.
Rating: Worksafe, gen.
Word count: 3806
Summary: "It's fairly normal to feel disinterest or antipathy towards things that look superficially human, but are not." Written for quietprofanity. Contains a very tiny bit of historical AUishness. (Blink and you'll miss it.)
This fic made Wernher von Braun get stuck in my head. :(
Danielle waits in the lobby outside Adrienne's office, and looks at a painting on the wall.
The painting seems completely out of place in the opulence of the Veidt Building. Danielle thinks that it looks like the cover of a paperback sci-fi novel, or maybe the sleeve of a prog rock LP. It's sort of... abstract-ish, although there's an attention to detail that makes it seem... Well, not quite realistic, but vivid. The painting depicts a sphere, floating in a sea of black; the longer Danielle stares at it, the more that the sphere looks like an eye, staring back at her. It reminds her of a book she read a year or so ago, what was it called? Solaris. That was it. The sphere reminds her of the planet in the story.
The signature in the corner of the canvas looks like it might be written in Hindi, although Danielle isn't very good with languages.
Danielle wonders if Adrienne has read Solaris. She bets that she has. (Adrienne probably read the Polish version.) Danielle doesn't know much about Adrienne, but she does know that she likes science fiction - they've discussed it in the past. Danielle has always found it novel to know a woman with similar interests to her own, although she and Adrienne have never been particularly close.
They first met during the mid sixties, about twelve years ago. They weren't called Danielle and Adrienne back then, but Nite Owl and Cleopatra. (The Comedian would refer to them as the owl and the pussycat.) People expected them to work together, and when they didn't, people expected them to be rivals. The truth was far less dramatic. They were simply women with a shared interest; they would exchange smiles, no more, no less, and congratulate each other when appropriate.
Once, Nite Owl agreed to appear with Cleopatra in a publicity shot. They shook hands, and the flashbulbs went off like a thousand suns, and Nite Owl's face hurt from grinning.
Adrienne knows that Danielle is outside her office, although she doesn't ask her secretary to send her in. Instead, Adrienne stands in the doorway and peers out into the lobby, pausing when she spots Danielle staring at the painting.
Adrienne sneaks up on her, moving silently despite her high heels, and asks, "What do you think to it?"
Danielle looks up in surprise. "Ah, I'm not really an art person," she says. (Although it's a given that she likes comics.) "Er. What's it supposed to be?"
Adrienne gives a brief explanation: "It's about the inherent solipsism of human existence; the only thing that the self can be certain of is the fact that it exists - but at the same time, it is ultimately unknowable to itself."
"Hm," says Danielle, which Adrienne interprets as, that's kinda pretentious, but I'm going to pretend to be interested because I'm nice.
"Anyway..." Adrienne gives her a cutesy sheepish look. "Sorry for keeping you waiting."
"No problem, I arrived early. How're things going?"
"Things are good." Adrienne kisses Danielle on the cheek; she doesn't tell her that, only two hours ago, she overheard one of her assistants refer to her as 'Klaus Barbie' (she fired him, of course). Danielle smiles back at her.
They head into Adrienne's office. It's still in a state of disarray, as Adrienne hasn't owned the Veidt Building for very long - a few of the floors are still occupied by workmen. The disorganization bothers Adrienne, but Danielle isn't the sort of woman to be upset by a little mess. Danielle surveys the room admiringly, pausing to look down at her reflection in the marble floor.
Adrienne gestures to the chair in front of her desk. "Please take a seat. Do you want anything to drink?"
"No, I'm fine, thanks." Danielle sits down.
Adrienne opts to stand, leaning back against her desk. "It's been too long since we last spoke. How've you been keeping?"
"Alright, I guess. I keep busy."
"So," Adrienne leans forward, conspiratorially. "You don't miss it yet?"
Danielle immediately knows what she means. "Well, I don't know - I haven't been retired for that long. Perhaps it's too early for it to sink in. I quite like having the extra free time, really; I can always find things to do if I get bored."
"That's one of the things that I wanted to speak to you about, actually," says Adrienne. "I can always put in a good word for you if you're interested in a new job. I know of some good openings at Boeing - we'll be buying most of our aircraft from them when Veidt Air takes off. Please excuse the pun."
Danielle raises her eyebrows. "Oh, I, uh, no - that's great, thank you, but I'm okay. It's not like I really need the money, y'know? Actually, I'd rather just concentrate on my writing for a while. Maybe travel a bit. Keep a low profile."
Adrienne mimics Danielle's politely surprised expression. "What are you going to do with your beautiful ship?"
"Keep her, I guess. She can collect dust."
Adrienne pictures Danielle in the darkness of her lair: she imagines Danielle as a younger, more cuddly version of Miss Havisham, except that she has an owlsuit and an owlship instead of a wedding dress and a rotting cake. "Really? Well, I suppose that there's not a lot else you can do, given the circumstances. Won't you miss flying, though?"
"I could always buy a helicopter and go to an airfield," Danielle says with a sort of brittle cheer, then looks away. Her gaze settles on the items that litter Adrienne's desk: promotional materials, small product prototypes, pieces of packaging, bits of junk, parts of children's toys - her attention lingers on the toys in particular. "What's with the dolls?"
"Hm? Oh." Adrienne follows Danielle's gaze to a plastic female body. "We're starting a Cleopatra toy line. We were considering the action figure market, but that was ditched for obvious reasons; we decided that fashion dolls were much better because we could cross-promote them with the fashion and cosmetics ranges."
Danielle picks up the doll, and examines it, peering at it over her glasses. The doll is just a sample, a pre-production model, created to show the body sculpt and the color of the plastic they'll be using. It doesn't yet have its hair or factory paint; its head is bald and eyeless. Its limbs are long and thin, held in rigor; its breasts are pointy and hollow, 'torpedo tits.'
"I wish I had her waistline," Danielle says, and sounds as if she's only mostly joking.
Adrienne waves a hand dismissively. "The dolls have ridiculous proportions so that the clothes fit better. If the bodies were more realistic, the clothes would look bulky because of the seams - it's a matter of scale."
"Hm," says Danielle. "Isn't it going to be a little strange to have tiny versions of yourself for sale?"
"I suppose so. Still, they don't make me feel too vain; I'm sure that a lot of little girls are going to cut all their hair off and dismember them in due time." Millions of Cleopatras, chewed on by family pets. Used as impromptu weapons against siblings. Blown apart by older brothers with fireworks. Stripped naked and put into compromising positions. It doesn't bear thinking about, really.
"Is that what you used to do with your dolls?" Danielle asks, grinning slightly.
"Ah, no - I would have got into a lot of trouble." When Adrienne had been a child, she'd owned a bisque Kestner doll with pale yellow hair. Her parents said that it looked like her, but she'd never liked its glassy little shark eyes or the way that its lips were parted to show its teeth. It seemed vulgar. "What about you?"
"I had a doll that said 'mama' and I took the crier-thing out of it to see how it worked. That's all I can really remember," Danielle admits. "...Christ, that doesn't make me sound very maternal, does it?"
Adrienne pictures Nite Owl and Rorschach, recalls the dynamic that they had; she's gracious enough to not smirk. "Well, to be fair, I think that it would be severely reductionist to use your attitude towards dolls as a basis for how you'd treat living human beings. It's fairly normal to feel disinterest or antipathy towards things that look superficially human, but are not."
"I guess." Danielle puts the doll back down.
"You know, if you're ever interested in a Nite Owl doll..." Adrienne suggests, just to tease her.
Danielle gives her a god, no sort of look. "Haha, um... I think I'd have to get back to you on that one. I don't think I'd sell very well." Which is true, really; the police strike was barely ten months ago, and Cleopatra was the only crimefighter to escape with her popularity intact. Even without the poor public image of costumed vigilantes, the design department would have to make... Well, quite a few changes for Nite Owl to ever be marketable. "Plus," Danielle adds, "I'd be afraid that all the guys we put in jail would stick pins in Nite Owl dolls and use them for voodoo."
"Hmm. Do you know, I'd never even considered that," says Adrienne. "Oh well."
"So," Danielle prompts, "You said something about a, er, cosmetics range?"
Adrienne explains some of her plans, and Danielle listens and nods along, smiling politely while Adrienne talks about natural beauty and non-toxic ingredients and humane testing...
Danielle and Adrienne agree that they should go out for lunch together. (But they never will.)
After Danielle leaves her office, Adrienne goes back to staring out of the window. Her reflection tries to stare back at her, but she looks past it. She rests her forehead against the cool glass, and thinks.
Weeks later, Danielle calls the phone number that Adrienne gave her, just to talk - Danielle doesn't have many female friends, so she feels as if she should make an effort. She gets put through to Adrienne's secretary. Danielle has to explain who she is and why she's calling; she is eventually told that Adrienne isn't in the building right now, she's busy - would she like to leave a message?
Danielle says that she'll call back.
Adrienne is busy. She has many people to meet, and not enough time. (Adrienne will never have enough time.)
Every morning, she wakes up and has to decide who she's going to be for the day. She frequently finds herself in the role of activist; she's been pushing for tighter regulations on armament control ever since the SALT treaty fell through back in the beginning of the seventies, although she feels as if her efforts amount to little. Adrienne has always been a stubborn person, but the futility is beginning to wear on her.
A lot of the men in Congress see her as a minor pest. She's a businesswoman and dilettante - for god's sake, she made her fame by doing violent gymnastics and wearing purple tights - so she's not taken very seriously. Outwardly, she's very self-deprecating about her background; inwardly, she's aware that she'll need to reassess her tactics. (She has plans that she can fall back on, but many of them are best saved as a last resort.)
The days march by. Nothing improves.
It isn't until 1979 that she finally manages to speak to the President, head to head; by then, her smile has frozen on her face. Adrienne really honest-to-god, can't stand the man. She has always found Pat more understandable (poor Plastic Pat - she's a tough cookie, but she's been looking increasingly ragged since her husband started his third term) whereas Nixon himself is furtive, self-absorbed, and desperate. There is little that Adrienne wants say to Nixon, and there's probably even less that Nixon is willing to hear. When the meeting is over, Adrienne climbs back into her limousine, kicks off her shoes, and groans.
She looks out of the car window. Through the glass, the people outside seem as real as the images on a television screen. She fights a feeling of quiet disgust.
It's years before Danielle meets Adrienne again. It's purely by happenstance, as they don't really share the same social circles.
Danielle goes to Vaughn College, to see to an old Harvard friend deliver a lecture. (She briefly dated the guy, back in her salad days. Since then, he's been working for North American Aviation.) Danielle has been trying to occupy her mind with ornithology rather than engineering, ever since the Keene Act put her out of a job, but she's still easily seduced by talk of navigation and guidance systems and amazing new technology.
So, Danielle does double-take when she sees Adrienne sitting by herself, several rows away from her. Adrienne is wearing a headscarf and a pair of sunglasses, so she looks like some sort of gamine 1950s starlet. She's not very subtle. Adrienne doesn't really do subtle.
After the lecture, Danielle thinks twice about approaching Adrienne, then figures what the hell. Adrienne is tucking a notebook into her handbag, preparing to leave, just as Danielle walks up to her.
"Hey. Small world," says Danielle.
"I suppose it is, ever since Sputnik." Adrienne's smile remains, broadening by a fraction. "It's good to see you. You look well."
"Thanks. You too," Danielle says, although the lights reflect off Adrienne's sunglasses, so that all Danielle can see is her own reflection. "I... Really didn't expect to see you here."
"Oh, I'm all over the place these days." Adrienne nods in the direction of the speaker's podium. "Do you know that the fellow who delivered the lecture today helped to make the flight computer for the Minuteman III?"
"Huh. I didn't know that."
"I don't suppose that it's the sort of thing he'd want to advertize."
Danielle remembers eating lunch with the guy, grumbling about professors, comparing notes. He'd always made her feel welcome, despite everything. "I went to university with him."
"You must have kept some interesting company."
"Well, sorta. But we were kids back then, really. All we cared about was building things. I guess that a lot of my colleagues must've gone on to work for aerospace and defense contractors, but..."
"You weren't very interested in politics?"
Danielle isn't sure if she's comfortable with the question. "Politics? Not really. We were just engineers. Anyway, technology is pretty much amoral and apolitical by itself, right?"
"You know, I think that's what Wernher von Braun said," says Adrienne, mildly.
Danielle feels defensive, and bites back a childish non sequitur: Well, you buy your aircraft from Boeing, but you know that Boeing don't just make airplanes. She laughs the comment off, refusing to touch the ugly baggage that comes with it, although a quiet voice at the back of her mind is still saying, what the fuck? "So," Danielle says. "You're here on your own?"
Adrienne peers over her sunglasses, Hepburn-like, and Danielle notices that her smile doesn't quite reach her eyes. For a second, she suspects that Adrienne is going to suggest that they go out somewhere together. Instead, Adrienne says, "How're the ornithology going?" and Danielle knows that it's the sort of question people ask when they don't really care about the answer.
"It's pretty good - I got an article published last month," Danielle says; she doesn't bother to give the name of the publication.
"Yeah. Hey..." Danielle smiles, and checks her watch. "I'd better get going, or I'll get stuck in rush hour on the way home." She's sure that Adrienne has more interesting things to do than talk to her.
Adrienne nods. "Of course. It was good to see you." There's a very brief hesitation, and then she adds, "Sorry if I seem a bit absent. I've had a lot on my mind of late."
"Oh. It's okay. See you around, Adrienne."
"Adi," Adrienne corrects.
"Adi," Danielle repeats, but the name still seems too informal, despite the years that they've known each other. Danielle offers her last smile, and walks away.
Adrienne finds it easy enough to track down a copy of the journal where Danielle's most recent article has been published. She reads it during one of her flights over Nicaragua, and concludes that Danielle really tries too hard.
Danielle shares Adrienne's interest in reading. She keeps meaning to lose some weight, so she buys one of Adrienne's diet books. She leaves it on the coffee table and ignores it for a long time - then, one night, she finally decides that she really ought to read it.
She curls up on the couch with a mug of cocoa, and places the book in her lap.
She reads while she drinks the cocoa. As she gets further into the book, she notices that the cocoa has lost some of its sweetness. And then she realizes that she's grimacing.
It's... not a bad book, and it puts a lot of emphasis on positive thinking and self-determination. There is... Well, Danielle might be over-thinking it, or maybe she just feels guilty, but she thinks that the book has a rather unpleasant undertone of 'if you are fat, it is only because you are weak, fatty' which... Okay, maybe it's true, because she doesn't work out as much as she used to, but... Hang on, no, she isn't weak, and what the hell is she doing reading a flimsy diet book anyway? She's meant to be more sensible than that. She already has real books, better books, on nutrition and exercise, so why is she reading awful pseudo-scientific crap?
She holds up the book, poised to throw it, then pauses, and decides to just set it back down on the coffee table.
Alone and unobserved, Adrienne stands on a golden shore and throws pebbles in the sea. She's never owned her own island before. It's novel.
It's risky for her to visit the place, to say the least, but she has always been incorrigibly curious. And she feels as if she owes it to the world to witness certain developments firsthand. It's regrettable that when construction starts, she'll have to withdraw from things, be more careful.
Still, the development teams won't be arriving for a long while, so Adrienne has time to explore.
The island makes her think of the Marshall Islands, which is quite apt. (She's been to the Marshall Islands, looking for some sort of insight, a flash of enlightenment.) The sea is like green glass. Adrienne dons her bikini and walks the beaches, and tries to imagine sand melting to liquid; she tries to imagine the unimaginable.
Her mind has been troubled for a long time, now.
But when she reaches the area where her solution will be constructed, she almost feels happy.
Back in New York, it's raining; Danielle goes to buy a newspaper anyway, because she's sick of being stuck indoors. She needs the walk.
She gives the local creepy sign guy a wide berth.
At the newspaper stand, they have copies of the week's Time magazine, and Adrienne is on the cover. Adrienne has this amazing expression on her face, like she's the cat that ate the canary - 'I know, it's so great being me' - and Danielle catches herself thinking that Adrienne looks like a total bitch.
The realization is... rather awkward. Danielle has always been careful to avoid saying anything remotely catty about Adrienne, because she knows how that would look. And if anyone else said that Adrienne looked like a bitch, it'd make her uncomfortable; she'd have to wonder why they thought that, especially if they were a guy.
But Adrienne does look like a total bitch.
Danielle feels slightly traitorous. She's had to defend Adrienne from people in the past - especially from Rorschach, who just didn't get it whenever Danielle got upset about him saying sexist crap. Adrienne had always been an easy target, and Rorschach had never liked any of the female crimefighters. (Danielle had always been the exception, which had initially made her feel slightly privileged... Until she pulled her head out of her ass, anyway.)
The local creepy sign guy is getting rained on. She approaches him carefully, and offers him her umbrella, because she can always buy another, and her house is only a short walk away. He stares at the umbrella indignantly and doesn't take it. Fine, she thinks, and wonders why the hell she bothered. If he follows her home or whatever, then she'll only have herself to blame. It was a stupid gesture. The wife of an acquaintance once had piss thrown at her by some crazy bum while she was waiting for a train; creepy sign guy doesn't really look like the piss-throwing type, but you can never tell, and that's the problem. New York is full of monsters.
The next time Adrienne and Danielle meet, it's at the Comedian's funeral. Neither of them bother to smile. To Danielle's surprise, Adrienne pulls her into a brief, sisterly hug; it makes Danielle feel self-conscious and clumsy.
Then it's November 1985, and it's too late for anything.
Laurie Juspeczyk lies on the floor, winded, and Danielle stomps towards Adrienne, fists clenched. "Veidt, you bitch. If you've hurt her, I'll..." Danielle's face is flushed, and she has stray wisps of hair sticking out from under her cowl. It's a bit funny, really, because Adrienne suspects that Laurie is far tougher than Danielle. Rorschach stands back, still prepared to fight, but looking slightly lost - the ink blots swirl restlessly. It is funny, but Adrienne isn't laughing.
"Oh, Danielle. Danielle, Danielle, Danielle..." says Adrienne, wiping the blood off her hand. She dislikes it when people force her to hurt them, and she feels mildly embarrassed on Danielle's behalf. "Please... Do grow up."
Danielle doesn't reply. She lowers her fists as Adrienne walks past.
Adrienne explains everything as simply as she can.
Before they part for the last time, Danielle meets Adrienne's eyes just as she did twenty years ago, when Cleopatra had taken Nite Owl's hand and given her an amazing smile, bright as five megatons. ("I hope we can be friends," she'd said.)
The last thing that Danielle ever says to her is, "I don't think you even know what you've done."
Then Danielle leaves Adrienne alone in her ice palace, before the snowfall can cover Rorschach's blood.
Samantha and Sandra Hollis both bleach their hair and claim to be sisters. (Honestly, ladies, thinks Adrienne. She observes them from afar.) New York struggles to heal itself, and people still have nightmares about a desolate world seen through alien eyes.
The Cleopatra dolls don't age. Adrienne does.
Years later, when - maybe - Adrienne feels guilt, her skin sometimes prickles as if she can feel pins, and she smiles meaninglessly.