In Tandem Orbit: Chapter 10

Photo representing how I imagine Iris and Rianna, only Iris has purple eyes and the girl in this pic does not.
(I'm no good at Gimp or Photoshop, you'll just have to imagine that Iris has thistle-colored eyes. Though I do now have an anime-ish avatar depicting Iris.)

"In Tandem Orbit"
By = Sure As Elle

Chapter 10: "A Very Goode Party"

Chapter 10: A Very Goode Party

I awoke Sunday morning to the smell of eggs, sausage, and hash browns. Opening my eyes, I looked around the bed and did not find Iris. She wasn't there, so either she was in the kitchen making those smells, or Kam had come over. I looked at the time; it was only 9 AM.

A few minutes later, I came out into the kitchen with new clothes ready for after my shower, and sure enough, Iris was in the kitchen standing on a footstool and cooking breakfast. The footstool was not strictly necessary, in my opinion, as it made her taller than she needed to cook. I glanced at the table, and saw there was also orange juice, toast, and jam on the table, as well as two place settings.

"Queen Iris doing servant work? How irregular," I commented with amusement.

She glanced up at me with a haughty expression. "The best Queens are servants to their subjects. And I'll have you know I am perfectly regular, thank you very much."

I snickered at her joke, and continued to the bathroom. "I'm gonna take my shower. You need in there before I go?"

"Why thaank you, my dear," she said in a faux aristocratic tone, "but Queen Iris has already sat upon the throne recently. You may make yourself presentable at your leisure."

Snickering again, I closed the bathroom door and went about 'making myself presentable,' as she had said.

When I came out, Iris had finished cooking, and the food was on serving trays on the table. She had even rinsed out the pan and put it in the dishwasher. When I left the loo, the electric kettle was finishing up boiling water for tea. Since Iris was at the table already, I brought it over and made myself some tea.

"So," I said, sitting down opposite her, "to what do I owe the honor of thy regal servitude this morning, my Queen?"

Iris scooped some scrambled eggs onto her plate, and said, "I was up, I was hungry, and I thought it might be nice to wake you up with cooking smells."

"Glad to find out you know how to cook. Waking up to the smell of smoke and the blare of fire alarms would not have been pleasant."

"Yeah, Mama and Papa taught me how."

"Not Taanlen?"

"Taanlen couldn't cook to save her life."

I chuckled. "Well let's hope she never gets abducted by murderous foodies, then."

We both laughed at that, then got to the business of eating.

"Very delicious," I eventually said. "Excellent cooking. I look forward to you doing it again."

"Thanks."

After we ate breakfast and put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, I took note of the fact that Iris was still in her nightie, and asked, "Have you had your shower yet, my Queen?"

"No. I wanted to wait until after I was done cooking, so I wouldn't risk getting my clothes dirty. I'll do that now, though."

While she went to her overnight bag to get her day's outfit out and then go take her shower, I checked my messages, one of which included details from Matria about the rest of the shopping today. I sent back an acknowledgment. When that was done, I turned on the three-vee, not wanting to get too engrossed in a book.

I was idly flipping through channels when Iris came out, her hair tied up in a towel. She wasn't wearing the dress she'd taken in, but rather a bathrobe, which surprised me. From a couple peeks I got as she walked, I could tell that if she had anything at all on under the robe, it was nothing more than panties. Turning red, I tried to calm the stirrings down below that this knowledge had inspired. If Iris noticed my discomfort, she gave no indication, just sat down on the sofa next to me.

"Hey, check channel 489, will ya? I think The Lyrmops is on."

Curious, as I'd never heard of that show before, I switched to the indicated channel. My eyes were immediately assaulted by a riot of primary colors as a variety of puppets and a diverse cast of humans sang songs, told stories, and other things of the sort you would expect from a show designed for small children. I was even more curious then, wondering what appeal this show could have for a 12 year old genius girl. I mean yeah, in some ways Iris was young at heart, but still... it didn't seem like something Iris would like.

However, as the show progressed, I found myself drawn into the story, and caring about the characters. The show was in many ways a typical kid's show, but in other ways it was deeper. It had layers, things that younger kids would ignore, that older kids and even adults would notice. And not your standard hidden dirty jokes, either. There were some pretty simple yet accurate explanations of various concepts from science, at least in this episode. I was impressed.

The titular Lyrmops, I eventually discovered, were sentient blimp-like puppets from a gas giant, who traveled through the universe with human children and adults as guests in a brightly-colored spaceship that was no bigger than a house on the outside, but was much, much bigger on the inside. I was reminded strongly of the twentieth-century TV show "Doctor Who," but instead of traveling around space fighting monsters, the Lyrmops traveled around the universe teaching their guests (and the audience) about things like black holes, supernovas, faster-than-light drive, or the cultures of other human colony worlds. Even - as I found from a second episode we watched - going through "time wormholes" to learn history lessons.

When the episodes were over, Iris lost interest in the channel and got up to go get dressed in my bedroom, presumably because it was closer. I tried to get interested in whatever show was on next, but after the incredible experience of The Lyrmops, I found I couldn't concentrate on the other show at all, so I went back to channel-surfing. But I made a note in my Omnus about that show; Iris wasn't the only one young at heart, and the librarian in me couldn't help but think that The Lyrmops would make a great show to have a showing of at the library, followed up by going with the kids to look up books relevant to the episode. It would be a great way to get kids interested in reading, especially since the show had a section about books.

I checked the time; it was almost 11 AM. Each Lyrmops episode had been half an hour long. Matria intended to pick us up at noon, do some shopping, then have lunch at 1:30 or 2, before doing some more shopping. While trying to decide whether or not to tell Iris this, I noted that she'd been in my room for a very long time. I kept waiting a few more minutes. Just as I was debating whether or not to check on her, she came out of my bedroom, fully dressed in the pink halter dress I'd gotten for her yesterday. Her hair was almost completely dry, and pulled back in a ponytail with a pink fluffy scrunchie in it, that matched the color of the dress perfectly.

"Looking hot," I commented, wolf-whistling.

"Thank you, thank you."

"Come on, model it for me, spin around."

Iris obliged, letting me see the dress from every angle. It went down to her knees, and showed off her bare back quite nicely, as the back of the dress dipped down to just above her butt, so I could see the small of her back. Iris also wore simple black Mary Janes and white socks that barely went past her ankles. Looking at her hands, I saw why she'd taken so long; her fingernails were painted the same pink as the dress. She'd done a great job on them, too.

"Oh my," I said, taking hold of her hand and gently pulling her over to me so that I was able to dip her down in my arms - which made her giggle, "you're gorgeous today. Such a magnificent outfit, it flatters you so well. And your nails are perfect."

"Thanks, Rianna," she said, still being cradled in my arms from the dip. Our eyes connected, and we began to have a moment. It was one of those moments that seems to last a lot longer than it really does, and at the end of it, I leaned forward, pulled her up a little, and kissed her right on the lips. She tasted of strawberry lip balm, and had put on strawberry perfume as well.

When we finally pulled out of the kiss, I smiled at her. "You are as delicious as you are lovely, my Queen."

Her smile went all adorably crooked, and her cheeks turned red. "W-well," she said, falteringly, "I... well I guess I'm dessert."

"Yes, you are. A dessert I very much want to eat," I said, raising my eyebrows up and down suggestively. Which... broke the moment, causing Iris to laugh so hard that she had to stop a couple minutes later to catch her breath.

"Too much, eh?"

"Just... just a little," she agreed, still chuckling.

We spent the rest of the time til noon going to channel 489i, the on-demand version of the channel The Lyrmops had been on, because it let us scroll through the shows on offer and watch reruns on demand. We were, of course, watching a rerun of The Lyrmops. As we did, Iris sat on my lap, and I lay my right hand on her thigh, stroking it idly with my thumb.

When that episode was over, she directed me to another show, not as good as The Lyrmops, but diverting and short enough to fill the 20 minute gap until Matria arrived. During that show, I rubbed Iris's back, reveling in the sensation of her exposed back beneath my fingers. With my hands busy on her back, Iris had trouble concentrating on the show, and gave up after a few minutes, just relaxing into the massage. I even got bold enough to nibble on her neck and shoulder a little, to which she gave little sighs and moans of pleasure, her head craning back, and her eyes closed.

It wasn't until the doorbell rang that I realized that maybe 20 minutes before a shopping trip had been a bad time to get Iris and myself wound up. Iris sat bolt upright, shouted "Mama! Oh shit!" and ran off into the bathroom.

"Uh, Cleo, is that Matria?"

"Yes."

"Please let her in, and inform her we're, uh... not quite ready yet."

"Sure thing."

I heard the door open and Cleo talking to Matria as I went into my bedroom to, er... take care of the situation that had developed in my panties. I did it as quickly as I could, then wiped my hands off with a sanitary napkin before leaving my bedroom again, where I found Matria sitting patiently on the sofa, a questioning look in her eye. One look at my face, though, and her expression turned to one of amused knowing.

"I noticed the bathroom door is closed," she said. "Iris is in there, I take it?"

My embarrassment rendering me mute, I merely nodded. Her knowing look intensified.

A couple minutes later, an excessively calm and collected Iris came stately out of the loo, looking very much like a queen.

"Mother, what a pleasant surprise," she said. Matria and I both snorted a little in a laughing sort of way, but said nothing at first.

"Well," Iris continued in a completely different tone - that of a nonchalant child, "we going or not?" Not waiting for a response, she opened the door and went out to the car.

Grabbing Iris's eBoard along with both our purses, figuring she'd forgotten about them, I followed Matria out of the house to the car. Once inside and sitting next to my little girlfriend, I focused on helping Iris forget about her embarrassment. By the time we got to the mall, she had forgotten all about it.

This shopping trip wasn't even as interesting as the one the day before, so I won't waste your time with most of it. The only thing of any note was that for the first couple hours, starting with our conversation in the car, we talked off and on about my family, and as a result she got more and more excited to meet them, an excitement that evolved to add impatience by the time we stopped for lunch. She talked of nothing else throughout the meal, even talking with her mouth full, to Matria's displeasure.

She kept going back to it afterwords, too. There was no shutting her up, either. So I finally asked her if she would like to meet them tonight instead of next Saturday. I felt reasonably safe asking this, as I was sure Mom wouldn't mind. Part of her would prefer some warning, to make a nice meal, but for the most part she would be glad to see me again, and glad to meet Iris.

Iris loved this idea, so I called Mom up on my Omnus; a few minutes later, we had arranged to have dinner with my family at 6pm. I had hoped that would silence Iris on the subject for a while, but it just made her talk about it more. I called Kam up to update her on the situation, and Matria updated her own family.

So it was that Matria dropped Iris and I off at my parents' house at 4:30.

"Wow, your parents live way on the other side of the city from us."

"Yes. I would have preferred a job closer to home, because I love my family, but the job I got was at the library where I work now. It was the only opening at the time."

"Well I'm glad it worked out that way, cuz otherwise we wouldn't have met."

"Me too, my Queen, me too."

As we walked toward the door, it flew open, and I saw a teenage-appearing face in the door - one of the twins. Zie ran out to tackle me in a hug. It happened so fast that I didn't know which twin it was, until we were on the ground, Iris laughing as soon as she saw I was okay.

"Jabari, excitable as always I see."

"DOGPILE ON THE REA!" Imari shouted and jumped on top of us.

As soon as I caught my breath, I said with a mixture of irritation and amusement, "Imari, Jabari; you two are 24 years old. You're too old to be jumping on me."

"Sorry," they said in unison.

"It's just that you're--"

"--so fun--"

"--to jump on!"

They got off, I stood up, and dusted myself off. Luckily, I was wearing stain-resistent clothing, so I didn't have any grass or dirt stains. When I had collected myself, I said, "Iris Zahane, this is Imari and Jabari Goode, AKA the twins. They're nonbinary gender, and 'zie' and 'zir' are their preferred pronouns."

"It's also acceptable--"

"--to use the pronouns--"

"--for whatever gender we present--"

"--like him/her for Imari right now--"

"--or she/her for Jabari, at present--"

"--but sometimes we're neither."

They looked at each other, then said, "So zie/zir--

"--if you're ever unsure."

A bit dazed by the sheer... twin-ness of Imari and Jabari, Iris just nodded, her mouth slightly open. That made me chuckle.

"Iris, you might as well just forget what they said and just use zie and zir, since the twins switch presentation about once an hour."

"Oh we're down to--

"--once every two hours--"

"--more or less."

Iris giggled at this. I just rolled my eyes.

"Anyway, you two--"

"--should come in--"

"--and meet Mom and Dad."

The twins ran inside. As they did, I made note of their clothes. Imari's clothing was a red shirt and blue pants, and Jabari wore a turquoise top and a pink skirt, with blue pants under the skirt. Both tops were cut like blouses. There was something off about Imari's top that I couldn't figure out; it looked thicker, for one. And true to their presentations, Imari had a normal Afro, and Jabari had zir own hair in Afro puffs.

We entered the living room, and Mom and Dad met us there. Dad was just as solid as usual, tall, broad-shouldered, with a lovely deep voice. And Mom looked like an older, slightly less thin version of Kamaria, something I'd never really noticed before. I wasn't sure what I thought of that fact. The significant differences, other than age, were that Mom was dressed in a loose-fitting one piece dress, her hair tied into an Afro version of a loose bun at the back of her head. Dad's hair, on the other hand, was trimmed fairly close to the scalp, the temples going grey.

Iris got really quiet and withdrawn as the reality of my parents faced her, even though their faces were warm and friendly. I hugged my parents a very long time, to make up for my long absence. When we finally pulled apart, I tried - brokenly - to explain why I'd been gone for so long. They stopped me mid-sentence.

"Yes, honey," Mom said. "Kam explained. Hopefully she'll be able to make up for your absent-minded nature."

"I hope so, too. I love you all."

That little drama over, Mom noticed Iris. "Ah, this must be Rianna's new girlfriend that Kam told us about. I take it you're Iris?"

Iris merely nodded, rapidly withdrawing into herself, so I spoke instead. "Sauda Goode, meet Iris Zahane. Iris Zahane, meet my mother, Sauda Goode."

"N-nice... nice to m-meet you," Iris said, her voice starting quiet and getting down to a whisper by the last word.

"Oh, no need to be so nervous, my dear, we don't bite."

Iris moved to stand against my side, sort-of hiding from my parents. It made me remember that Iris had been terribly shy before knowing me. It looked like meeting my parents was bringing that out again.

"Ah, yeah... I forget sometimes, Iris is shy. I forget because she isn't this way with me." I held her close to me, taking her hand. This seemed to hearten her, because she came out from behind me a little. But her expression still reminded me of a deer in headlights.

"Anyway, Iris, this here is my dad, Bosede Goode. Daddy, this is my girlfriend, Iris Zahane."

"Hmm... I see what Kam means, Iris; you don't look 13. You're kind of small for your age, do you get enough food?"

"What? N-no -- I mean yes. I mean, more than enough food."

"Now Daddy, her family gives her plenty of food. Some people are just smaller than others by nature."

"Sorry, Iris, I don't really think you're underfed, I just... sometimes I say stupid things, and I'm sorry for that." A look of thoughtfulness briefly crossed his face before he got down on one knee, and said, "Please, Queen Iris, forgive this poor peasant his foolish words."

Iris giggled, relaxing, and slipped into her Queen persona. "You are forgiven, my subject. But do not insult yourself so by calling yourself a peasant. You are a Lord, and this is your castle."

"Does that make me nobility too?" I asked, amused.

"Of course it does. What, you did not think a queen would consort romantically with a lowly peasant, did you?" Then she fell out of character and into a thoughtful silence for a moment, before continuing in her usual voice, "Actually, I think if I were really an actual queen, I would spread the wealth around and the peasants would all become, I dunno, not-peasants. They'd be well off."

"Hey Iris," said Jabari, "have you noticed yet? Have you noticed the funny thing about Dad?"

Dad rolled his eyes and chuckled. Iris shook her head. "What?" she asked.

"Bosede Goode. B. Goode. His name is B. Goode."

Iris and the twins laughed at that. The rest of us just rolled our eyes.

"Sadly," said Imari, "Mum doesn't have a funny name that way. S. Goode isn't a laugh the way B. Goode is."

"How about you, Imari? Your name is I. Goode. Which is a lie." I grinned at the effect of my words; even Imari was laughing.

Jabari sighed. "I wish I had a funny initial too. Maybe I should change my name to Xander."

"Xander?" Imari inquired.

"X. Goode."

"Goode one, Goode one," I told them.

"Well how about we all sit down in the living room?" Mom suggested.

"Goo--great idea," Iris said. "I'm beat from all the walking we did earlier." I led her to the living room, and she plopped down on the big fluffy loveseat. I sat down next to her.

When everyone was seated, Mom said, "Dinner's not quite ready yet. Also, Kam isn't here yet. So I thought we could talk, catch up, while we wait. Now, how about you two tell me about how you met?"

Iris and I took turns talking about how we met, what we'd done since then, including about Iris's test. We had just gotten around to today's shopping trip when the doorbell rang, the house AI informing us it was Kam.

I was relieved, when Kam entered the room, to see she was dressing more modestly than usual. Her hair was the same as ever, but she was in a strapless blue dress that ended at the knee. It was a very nice dress, and she was wearing sneakers with it. Nice sneakers, but still sneakers.

"Sorry for the odd mishmash," she said when she noticed my look, "but I've been packing, and most of my shoes are packed already. Same with my clothing."

"Kammie," said Dad, "do you need any help moving in with your sister? I have a rare day off this Tuesday, I can help. I also told my friend Mike, and he said he would be glad to help as well."

"Oooh," Kammie cooed. "Mike wants to help? Yes, you and he can help. Will he, uh... be shirtless?"

"I wouldn't know, I didn't ask him."

"Kammie fancies Mike," started Imari.

"--has since she was 15," Jabari finished, the twins making exaggerated kissy noises at Kam.

"Now you two, behave yourselves better."

"Good suggestion, Mom--"

"--we'll take it under advisement--"

"--and file that suggestion in Box Zero."

The twins laughed, and everyone else rolled their eyes except for Iris, who was confused.

"Box Zero is a reference to an old TV show they used to watch. In the show, 'Box Zero' contained a miniature black hole, so anything filed in there would get gobbled by the black hole. It's like chucking something in the bin, but more permanent."

"Ah."

"What was the name of that show, anyway? I remember it being pretty good."

" 'Captain Pilot Guard's Adventures in Retirement,' " supplied Imari.

"It was the story of a woman named Captain Pilot Guard of the Galactic Military, and what her life was like after she retired. She wanted a calm, easy retirement, but saw more action post-retirement than she had during her whole career in the military."

"Yeah, it was a comedy/drama," finished Kam. "I watched it with the twins sometimes."

"We all watched that show," Dad said. "It was excellent."

"Well anyway," said Mom, "dinner should be ready now."

Nodding, I got up. Iris, who normally would have been yelling and running to the dining room, was walking sedately behind me. I guess she was still feeling shy around my family.

When Imari and Jabari went past me, I looked at their outfits and finally couldn't contain my question anymore. "There's something odd about your outfits, what is it?"

"Glad you noticed, older sis. We designed them!"

"Yeah, watch what they do," Imari said.

Iris and I watched Imari as zie pulled on the thicker fabric of the top, making it come down as a skirt. Then zie touched something on zir sleeve, and the color of the clothing changed to bubblegum pink.

"Yeah, and watch me!"

Jabari pressed a button on zir sleeve, and the skirt moved on its own power and became part of the top, zir turquoise and pink outfit changing to forest green.

"We designed them ourselves. A new brand of color-changing and shiftable clothes for non-binary - enby - people like us. We're already selling them in a small shop at the downtown mall nearest the Brighton's."

"Wow. Your own store? What's it called?"

"Same as the brand name," said Imari.

"Which is - drumroll please."

Imari gave her twin a drumroll on the table with her hands.

"Green With Enby!"

Iris laughed. Most of us groaned at the pun.

"Good one," Iris exclaimed. "Almost makes me want to buy one."

"We take it by that comment--"

"--that you aren't an enby?"

"Physical sex wise, I could, seeing as I'm a Lucite, but gender-wise, I am 100% girl."

"Yeah but that covers a lot of ground, fashion wise. Some girls wear pants. Some girls wear battle armor. Some girls wear clown outfits."

Iris shuddered. "Don't say the c-word."

"You a caulrophobe, my Queen?"

She nodded.

"Well we shall not mention those things again, your highness!"

We all sat down at the table, to a meal of roast beef and vegetables. It was cloned beef, which some people say tastes different from the real thing, but I've never been able to tell the difference. At first, eating was a silent affair. After filling our faces for several minutes, though, conversation started up.

"So, young lady," Dad said, looking at Iris, "what are your intentions with my daughter?"

Iris blinked, her mouth full, her eyes wide with surprise and bewilderment. The rest of us laughed gently, and her face turned red. When she got her food swallowed, she sat up and spoke.

"Um..."

"Sorry about that, Iris dear. I was just trying to be funny. But on a serious note, tell us how you two met."

Dinner conversation started there, with Iris and I telling Daddy how we met, and continued to stay on our relationship through most of the meal, but then wandered into asking about the testing Iris was going through, and school.

While we were eating dessert - apple pie, Dad nodded amicably at Iris and said, "I know you two haven't been together long, but you seem to be a lot closer than Rea was with her last girlfriend, what was her name?"

My face turned red, so Kam answered for me. "You mean Lalita?"

"Yes, Lalita, that's the one. You and her always felt to me more like friends. I know you and she both tried to make it work as a romantic relationship, but I wasn't terribly surprised to hear it wasn't working out."

"Yeah, we're just friends now. I guess that's all we ever really were, despite trying otherwise."

"Rianna and I don't have that problem," she said between bites. "We're very passionate as well as friendly." She went back to chewing and did not immediately notice the raised eyebrows and looks. Then she looked up and saw them, and her face turned red.

"She means that we've kissed, and it was quite intense."

"So," asked Imari, "are you two doing the naked horizontal tango yet?"

"Imari!" snapped Dad warningly.

Both Iris and I had gone mute from embarrassment, so Kam spoke instead. "No, it's okay. As far as I know, they've not done anything sexual with each other. In fact, last I heard, Iris was waiting until her 14th birthday to do anything sexual."

Iris and I both nodded to this.

"Ah, well, okay," Dad said, looking a little uncomfortable. It was too much information for him. Kam noticed this, too, and said nothing more on the subject. Everyone went back to their pie.

After dinner was over, I took Iris on a tour of the house, which wasn't terribly interesting, at least until we got to my old room, which still had some of mine and Kam's stuff in it. I wasn't expecting to be in that room long either, but Iris spotted a framed picture on my desk and picked it up. It had a younger me and a girl who looked to be near Iris's age in it, the younger girl being of Indian descent.

"Who's this next to you?"

"Ah, that... that's Lalita. That picture was taken when she was 11 and I was 24."

"How old is she now?"

"She's 18 now. We still chat a lot, we're still friends."

"So she's still in high school?"

"Just graduated last May. She's taking a year or two off before going on to college."

"Does she know what she's gonna do at college?"

"Yeah. She's going to go to a trade school and become an electrician."

"Wow, really? That's cool."

"Yup. A very girly girl in many ways, otherwise."

"Can I meet her sometime?"

I raised an eyebrow. "You want to meet my ex?"

"Well you're both still friends, right?"

"Yeah."

"So I want to meet a friend of yours. Besides, if she's a friend of yours, maybe she could be a friend of mine, too. I need more friends."

I noticed that she hadn't said 'friends her age,' she'd said 'friends.' I felt sad for her, and also a little confused. Such a vibrant, interesting child she is, and Kam and I were really her only friends. I could identify... I hadn't had many friends growing up either, but I did at least have some friends.

"I'm making a note in my Omnus to ask her about meeting you. I wouldn't mind seeing her in person again myself. It's been at least a year since we met up in person."

"You know," she said, putting the picture back down on the desk, "I like it here. I like your family. Especially the twins."

I picked the picture back up and looked at it, feeling nostalgic. "What, even my Mum and Dad? You seemed... intimidated by Dad."

She shrugged. "He takes some getting used to, I admit, but he seems nice enough."

"I think the twins would love to have a kid to spend time with. They're like big kids themselves."

We left my old bedroom and went to the living room, the picture of Lalita and I still in my hands. I decided to take it home with me. It also made me realize that I didn't have any proper portraits of myself with Iris. Or, really, any portraits of Iris on her own. Oh sure, a few snapshots here and there, but no proper pictures. I was going to have to fix that. I made another note in my Omnus, about that.

While most of us sat in the living room digesting our food and watching the three-vee, the twins and Iris ran off downstairs to their room. I smiled, knowing Iris would love the twins' room, if it still looked the way Kam had said it looked, in one of our previous conversations. She'd told me it was still not much different than when they'd been 12, full of bright primary colors and strewn with toys and clothes, the walls covered in posters of fairies. So doubtlessly they still had their old Autonotinies set as well.

A few hours later, I noted the time, and saw it was getting late. I wasn't entirely sure when Matria wanted Iris home, so I figured I should err on the side of caution, not wanting to risk bothering the Zahane family at home. I got up and went downstairs to the twins' room, and found it empty. So I started looking around the house for them, finally finding all three of them in the VC room. I surveyed the scene quietly; Iris had once again gotten control of her own VC from a remote connection, and was talking animatedly with the twins about the things on the display, which looked like people, standing still. She seemed to be seeking their input.

"So," I said from the doorway, when there was a lull in the debate, "whatcha doing?"

They all turned around to look back at me. Iris grinned and turned all the way around in her seat to face me. "I've been working on a project lately, designing a customizable version of Autonotinies."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. At first, I wanted to modify the existing Autonotinies, to get more diversity in skin color, gender expression, and size of the units. But then I discovered that it would be far easier to design something from scratch than try to modify the existing pieces. Autonotinies are imported from Greshnok 4, a capitalist society, and they've purposefully designed them to be very near impossible to customize."

"Ah, I recall you talking about customizing Autonotinies. How far along are you?"

"Not very. Just beginning to work on the basics. When I heard about the Green With Enby clothes, I had the idea of color-changing skin for my version, so I was looking for input from these two. From what they've said, I should be able to modify the color-change design for small units, but I may have to make them slightly bigger than Autonotinies."

"Cool," I said, sitting down to get a closer look. "Have you thought of a name yet?"

"Not yet. I want something catchy, like Autonotinies, but different obviously."

"Hmm... how about Bitty Bots?"

"Well that's a good possibility. I'll have to look into whether that's been taken yet or not."

"Yeah. I'll see if I can think of any other names for you to consider."

"Cool. There's no rush. I've barely gotten anywhere on the actual design. It's gonna be at least a few weeks before I have enough to even begin considering getting the prototypes printed out."

My Omnus beeped with a message from Matria. She wanted Iris to stay in her own bed tonight, a sentiment I had to reluctantly agree with, given that I had work in the morning.

"Well as much as I hate to break up your fun, I have work tomorrow in the morning, and Matria wants you home tonight, Iris, in your own bed."

"Aw poo," she said, looking disappointed. But she didn't argue; just started putting away her files and shutting down the remote connection to her home VC. The twins looked disappointed, too.

We did not immediately go home, but stayed about another half an hour, talking with the twins about meeting up again sometime. They really had fun playing with Iris, and were basically setting up another play date, or trying to. Of course, Matria would have to approve of any plans they made, so such plans were tentative until then.

Then when that was done, my family, Iris, and I spent a few minutes saying goodbye to each other before getting into my parents' car and having its AI take Iris, Kam, and I to our respective homes before driving itself back to its own home base. I was mildly disappointed that Kam was going to be going back to her apartment, but I would not have gotten much sleep that night if she had come back to my house with me, so it was probably for the best.

Since Kam's place was on the way, the car dropped her off there first, then went to the Zahane household next. To save it time, I got out when she did, since it was a short walk from her place to mine, and sent the car on its way again once I was sure she had everything of hers.

That night, I fell asleep easily, happy as I was to be reconnecting with my family.

End note 1: The name “Lalita,” for those of you who have read Orbital Velocity chapter 2, means “beloved.” It also means “desirable.”

End note 2: If anyone else has any ideas on what Iris might call her version of Autonotinies, please comment here or email me at [email protected]



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