Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Celebration

The city of Credence had been all but deserted ever since Wonder's banishment, but it was as though everyone had been waiting there with bated breath to see if Nyssa could succeed. When they arrived at the lake around which the city was built, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of people waiting. The Queen was there, with all three Ministers applauding and crying identical tears, and a host of puddings quivering with joy. Even Cracy had come out of the Bureau to join the celebration. The Precedent was there, with a retinue of secretaries and assistants and a whole sheaf of pages, and he had brought Inspector Poll, too, who took attendance with obvious delight.

The Supervisor was there, renting out a rack of portable binoculars, whispering conspiratorially to others that she'd known well in advance. Sister Hypothesis and the rest of the nones had come out of the Priory, although they were all wearing blindfolds and earmuffs and had their noses pinched shut with clothespins, so Nyssa wasn't sure why they'd bothered. The Chief Petty Officers and their subordinates from both sides of the argument had attended, and seemed to have resolved their differences well enough to merely glare at one another while they ate ice cream from opposite sides of the crowd. Barbets were doing a business, taking and paying out coins to various bettors. The mermaids had migrated to the lake and were giving people massages on the shore, and selling them decorative stones, and discussing the stars with the Astronomer, and having friendly arguments about what the real uses of those things were. Prolix Birds were scattered throughout, trying to engage everyone in rather one-sided conversations.

Credence was bedecked with ribbons and streamers and banners, and even the strawberry and chocolate flags seemed cheery in the celebratory atmosphere. Nyssa on her curiosipede, with the Princess beside her and Pomodoro purring on her shoulder, found herself at the head of a short but much-lauded parade, and they waved to the people of the Realm as they rolled slowly through the streets. The city was in only minor disrepair, and people were reopening its shops and apartments all around her. The bicorns moved into a new headquarters that had once been a curiosipede shop, and Prima set up her pile of rocks as public art in a sunny town square.

The parade ended at about lunchtime, and then there was a feast. Curried functions were served alongside salinometer readings that made Nyssa terribly thirsty. Still more exotic foods from corners of the Realm she hadn't even had occasion to visit were piled in bowls and stacked on trays and steaming in pans on buffet tables that stretched for blocks. Credence's downtown had many picnic tables lining its streets, as though in a normal city every parking meter and newspaper stand had been replaced by a cluster of three tables and a dozen chairs, and nearly every seat was full, but Nyssa and the Princess and Pomodoro had a table all to themselves.

And when everyone had eaten their fill of lunch, they all flooded into the palace that Wonder called her own, and everyone wanted to talk to Nyssa about her adventures, and there was music and dancing. Wonder herself taught Nyssa to perform the Joy In The Merely Reel, Queen Qed called a square dance, and there were also songs suitable for dancing the grues, a brief hedgehog trot, an interlude in which several trained performers demonstrated the quicksort, and an hour of contrapositive.

Hours later, there was an even grander feast for dinner. It started with hors d'oeuvres circulating around the milling festival-goers by waiters holding copper plates that were warm on one side and cool on the other, flipped either way up to keep the food the right temperature. These were followed up with bowls that had the inscription 'the person who would otherwise have made this soup has instead worked additional hours at a lucrative job and donated the extra income to an effective anti-hunger charity' engraved inside them. The bowls were cleared away once everyone had had time to read them, and then they were replaced by hastily rediscovered Credence local fare. Fried fideism was Nyssa's favorite of the main courses; she enjoyed the Gettier cashews at first, but her seventh one was unexpectedly sour and after that she didn't take any others. The cogito ergo summersquash was sweet enough but it was almost completely without substance; she ate five slices and didn't seem to be getting any fuller and presently moved on to the black swan surprise.

The party was so well-attended that during dessert (blueberry pie, which as a matter of Credence tradition each cluster of diners had to choose amongst themselves how to distribute), Pomodoro spotted another half-hour. "Oh look," it whispered to Nyssa, "over there, by the potted plans."

Nyssa was briefly distracted by looking at the potted plans - she was trying to puzzle out how someone had managed to pot a plan - but then saw what Pomodoro was talking about. A half-hour that looked just like Pomodoro itself was crouched beside a terra-cotta with a flowering contingency plan and under a hanging basket with long tendrils of escape plan.

"Oh," said Nyssa. "Are you just going to - go, then?"

"Yes," said Pomodoro, "I think it's about time. About one hour has to be made every hour, you know."

"I'll miss you," said Nyssa.

"I'll be right there," said Pomodoro. "All thirty minutes of me. I'm already the kind of thing that does this, Nyssa, it's okay."

And it slid down Nyssa's arm and down her side and scuttled over to crash headlong into the other half-hour. It was a surprisingly uneventful process. One moment there were two heaps of thirty minute-puffballs each and then there was one pile of sixty. Nyssa imagined the pile getting bigger and bigger, because it would - a pile big enough to be a day, a month, a year. A forever. And in there, her Pomodoro, cozily nestled in with all the others just like it wanted. She guessed that was all right after all.

"Are you all right, Nyssa?" asked the Princess's voice. "Did the negations disagree with you? If so you should have another, to make it an even number."

"I'm fine," said Nyssa. "I'm just wondering - what's next?"

"Next you can spend the night in my palace, of course," said Wonder. "But tomorrow morning... well... I think you might find it's about time you went home."

Nyssa looked up at her. "Home? But I don't like it at home at all. It's tedious and empty and there's nobody to rescue and nothing to figure out -"

"Nyssa," said Wonder warmly. "Where'd that book you used to get all the way up the Ivory Tower come from?"

Nyssa pulled out the book from her bag and looked at it. It still bore the plastic covering over its dust jacket, the stamp on the edges of its pages with the name of the library.

"Oh," Nyssa said. "- were there always that many things? The library is huge. There are floors and floors full of rows and rows of shelves and shelves of books and books. And - there are more libraries, too, with more books. And the entire internet. And - and the entire world. There's such a lot, isn't there? I never really noticed."

"And you can always come back here," Wonder said. "You might need to find different ways to get in - this is the Realm of Possibility, after all, and different things are possible at different times, to say nothing of how likely they might be. We will always be delighted to have you."

"Thank you," Nyssa replied, bowing a little. "Should I give back the things I borrowed?"

"Now there's a question," said Wonder. "I think probably you can hang on to them. They were only hidden away as ceremonial pieces, before, you know. And they may come in useful, don't you think?"

"I do," Nyssa smiled.

Wonder winked at her. "Now, it's been a long day. Let me show you to the guest wing, where I believe a room has already been made up for you, and tomorrow you can head back where you came from. I believe you've been keeping quite a good enough map to find the way, haven't you?"

"Yes," Nyssa said. And she went to her room, and was just about to fall asleep when the hour crept in under the door. It had changed color; it was now a bright, shiny yellow all over.

"Hello," it said.

"Hello, Pomodoro," said Nyssa.

"I'd like to be called Golden now," it said. It climbed up next to her.

"All right, Golden," said Nyssa, and she put her arm over its fuzzy golden heap of a self and fell asleep.