Rowan ate with a gusto I found immensely refreshing. It meant that there was something about her I could influence, something I could work with. And I needed that something, since today I was going to present demands. Mine and Aadens'.
"How was your trip?" she asked quietly.
"Not bad," I replied. "Did you manage to keep busy while we were gone?"
"Uh-huh," she said around a mouthful of cornflakes.
"Rowan," I said. She looked up at me, swallowing. "We need to talk. I had a long conversation with Ember before I left, and something came up that we need to discuss.
"I don't like the way you do business. Ember said that you basically blackmailed your way into getting the positerminal work done, and what she said was pretty much an accurate description of what you did to get into this house."
Rowan put her spoon down and said, "Then... you don't want me to..."
"Rowan, why do you want children?"
"I DON'T KNOW!" she shouted so loudly I heard Dave snap the privacy field over the portal to keep from waking my loves downstairs. "Oh, Ken, please, I wish I did, I really do. I've tried since the day I was born to figure that out. It's crazy... something's seriously wrong with my circuitry. When the AI comms started discussing you, and Aaden, and I put two and two together, I jumped at it, I really did. I could have had any body, and any father. But to have yours... and his... and to be in Shardik's house... It was too much to pass up. To have babies, to really make something like that. To create life."
"It's really a very simple process."
"But you understand it as Vatare', Ken, not as a mother. The creative thrill you get is intellectual, not physical. I want to know, I need to know what it's like. Making babies is unskilled labor, sure, but not raising children. It's all I've thought about. But when I think about it from here, all I get is confused. I'm in over my head." She smiled at the imagery. "It really is crazy for an AI to want children, isn't it?"
I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Maybe. I don't know if you're aware of this, but I took Halloran with me on our trip to Earth."
She looked up at me. "Why?"
"Because I was doing some design work, and I needed his help. I also needed to be as far away from the AI net as possible." I reached into the pocket of the robe I wore and handed her a rack of about thirty crystal-memory chips. "We came up with this."
"What is it?"
"It's the pointer specs for a Mephit girl. Looks exactly like you, has a neuron pattern that could support Rowan Majors' thought process."
She looked at the box with wide, staring eyes for a second, then said, "You want me to go full organic."
"You've been spending more time as Rowan the Mephit than you have as Rowan the AI. I had Hal send me statistics on downtime and interrupt time at Rhysh. I haven't seen numbers that ugly since we took down Luccas."
She smiled wanly and said, "You really want it."
"Paul's agreed to do the work. If I'm asking too much of you, it's okay to back out now. But Aaden and I agree on this. We don't want someone who's going to be in two places at once, and I can't stand the thought of you not being here for your children. I want you here, Rowan, not here and at Rhysh."
She looked thoughtful for a second. "You said once that you either wanted someone who would bear your children and then never be heard from again, or someone who would stay and love them as you do. I didn't believe the first one."
"You were smarter than I was," I replied. "I honestly thought I could get the first."
"Not in your lifetime," she said. I laughed.
"You're all agreed?" she asked. I nodded. "It'll mean that your project goes on hold for a while."
"A year or so," I said. "Plus the learning time, all over again."
She stared off at the wall behind me for a few minutes, then took the box in hand. "No turning back," she said.
"Some people," I said, "believe they were born the wrong species or the wrong sex. You were born into the wrong element. You were never meant to be a silicon life form, Rowan, any more than your sister was. When we're done with the transfer, AI zero-zero-two-six-six is going to be decommissioned and destroyed, and no new persona will be installed. It's not fair. There's something in the physical design of your cybernetic brain that inspires you towards becoming organic."
"Then I'm broken," she said.
"No," I said. "Your body-- that big steel closet in the Castle Rhysh basement-- is just inappropriate for the type of mind that naturally inhabits it. This is just a way of avoiding that type of habitation. We'll put someone else in there, a new design. There's no telling if it'll have any more or less the same tendencies that you and your sister did, but at least we'll be sure it won't be because of a known hardware design."
"Flaw," she said.
That made me just a little angry. "You keep making it sound like you want to be broken and that's just plain silly. It's like suggesting Aaden's broken because he doesn't find females worthy of his lecherous attentions."
"Isn't there something wrong with that?"
"No. And it's not worth arguing about. We could argue that someone who enjoys homicide was just born that way, too. It's a moot point... the homicidal maniacs tend to get shot. What Aaden wants, and what you want, and even what everyone in Rhysh wants, is unquestionable as to its 'rightness' or 'wrongness'; it simply is."
She smiled. "Somehow, I think you knew I wanted to go all the way."
"The PT's a half-step, Rowan. You like being organic, I've noticed. You said it yourself, even being fat would be fun because it would be different from the electronic isolation of being AI." I rose from my chair and walked around behind her. "I love your sister dearly, Rowan. She's a good friend, and a good protector when I, and Aaden, and Borodir, needed her. I want to love you just as much, as the mother of my children, even by proxy." I bent over and hugged her close. "Take the whole step."
She nodded, turning her head slightly to lick my cheek. "I will."
"Good," I said.
"Now?" she asked. The unsurety crept back into her voice.
"Paul said he'd take you as soon as you were ready. His whole team's on standby. They can be in the office as quick as it takes getting to a SDisk."
She nodded and said, "Then I'm going."
"No hard feelings?"
"I'm not a Mephit yet. I'm not sure what feelings I'll have afterwards. Ask me then."
I nodded, releasing her. She rose and kissed me gently on the throat. "You'll tell Aaden and P'nyssa?"
"I will. Good-bye, Rowan. And, Hello, as always," I said, quoting the last sentence of one of my favorite books.
She laughed and said, "I'm going to keep that book in memory."
After she had left, I was sat back down in the chair she had vacated, her cornflakes getting soggy. I realized then that I hadn't had the heart to tell her the truth, that the body we'd been discussing was already underway, accelerated with our new UFN techniques to they're maximum potential, and that she'd be ready for the actual transfer in less than six weeks, not twelve months. Paul would tell her.
I bit my lip, feeling melancholy. It hurt, actually, to have had to put it to her that way. Didn't I do that with every Terran, though, who stepped into The Great Hall and came out the other side as something else, someone else? The two halves of the argument raged inside me for a while. I barely noticed when Dave turned off the privacy field.
"Come on Aaden," I heard float up through the portal. P'nyssa's voice.
"It's not like I'm asking you to have sex with me, werren. I mean, you have been sleeping with me for almost three months now. I think it's safe for you to shower with me without Ken around."
There was a long pause. "All right," I heard him say in a half- amused, half-resigned voice. The door to the shower opened, then closed, and I heard water running.
As I descended the portal I heard P'nyssa say, "Besides, it's nice to have someone to do my back, especially someone with fingers. You have no idea how hard it can be to shower sometimes with these things." I presumed she was indicating her mittens.
"Glad I could help," Aaden responded with a perfunctory yet amused tone. I snuck my way to the bathroom door, looking in. The glass had steamed up completely... both of them like the shower very hot, as do I. I could barely make out their moving forms, P'nyssa's blue-furred one, Aaden's black-and-white fur contrasting. The most obvious details were P'nyssa's tens, Aaden's muzzle and his upright tail. But what I could see was actually somewhat interesting. Aaden was indeed working his paws into P'nyssa's back, slowly working his way down.
"Go on," she said, encouraging him as he knelt down, massaging the soap into her legs. I took a seat in the bedroom, leaning against the frame of the bed, watching. I figured that if I held very still they wouldn't be able to differentiate me against the hazy background. And I needed something to get my mind off of Rowan.
P'nyssa turned around as Aaden stood. "Now stand still," she said, holding something in her mittens. The soap, I realized. She put the bottle down and began to wash Aaden slowly, her mitts working their way down his chest towards his crotch.
"Aaden, I hope you realize that at least twice in the past weeks you've woken up with your arms around me and not Ken."
"True. But I got there in my sleep," he protested.
"Does that matter?" she asked, kneeling down to do his legs the way he had for her.
He didn't answer. She worked her way down to his feet, which he dutifully picked up and I watched her wash each one carefully. "Turn around," she said. He turned. Even through the steam, he was gorgeous. So was she.
She rose and began to soap his back, stroking the suds in with long, careful strokes. Although I couldn't make out any details, I knew for sure that she was working her mittens between the cheeks of his ass, because I heard him hiss in that eminently satisfied way that I do when either one does that to me. "Shhh..." she said, quietly.
I suddenly realized that she had every intention of seducing him in the shower. "Well, throw that theory out the window," I thought to myself. "Next thing I know, Ress'll be visiting Rhysh."
Aaden didn't protest, and I recalled him telling her once that she was the only female he'd been close enough to interest him. I could see her tens wrapped around his body, reaching for his cock, stroking him very slowly. "Pretend..." was all she said.
A Sinox warship could have parked itself outside the bedroom glass and I would never have noticed. P'nyssa walked around him, still stroking his beautiful shaft. She knelt in front of him and I saw her take the head into her mouth. I shook my head gently... Aaden's cock is almost impossibly large, there was no way she was going to do anything with it. It takes me a lot of effort to get it into my mouth.
I heard him groan and I saw his hands on her head. She was trying, getting more than the head into her mouth, getting some of the shaft as well. That warship could open fire now and I'd still be oblivious. All I saw was the steam-hazed tableau going on before me. P'nyssa worked his cock with enthusiasm, sucking hard, both mittens around the shaft, sometimes tugging on his balls, sometimes disappearing between his legs.
I heard Aaden groan, "I'm close," and she worked even harder, going after him with even more strength. I was fascinated, and oddly enough, jealous of both of them. I wished that was my cock she was sucking, and I wished that was my mouth wrapped around Aaden's cock. I watched as her head bobbed back and forth, whipping left and right with frenzy, and Aaden let out a soft, plaintive groan, his knees buckling under him as he came. P'nyssa caught him and helped him to the padded floor as well as she could, trying to keep him from falling over and hitting his head.
I shook my head, trying to recover from what I'd just seen. I had trouble believing it all.
"P'nyssa..." I heard Aaden's voice. "Oh, to hell with it. Thank you."
I bit my lip to keep from laughing. "You're welcome," she replied. She leaned over, but I couldn't tell how she was kissing him through the steam. It struck me as being something important for me to know. Lips, forehead, cheek, or throat... each meant something different.
I stayed where I was as I watched the two of them wash up for a second. My own erection, ignored in my fascination, subsided, and I only noticed it when I felt it flop back down against my leg. I chuckled softly. "Sorry," I apologized to it.
The door to the shower opened and Aaden stepped out. The look on his face went horror/surprise/embarrassment in quick succession. I smiled and stood up. "Uh, P'nyssa," he said.
"Hmm?" she replied.
"You should see this." She poked her head out from behind the glass and looked where he pointed.
Her face went through the same sequence his had. "Ohmifah..." she said, "You saw everything, didn't you?"
"No," I replied with a wide smile, "the steam mostly got in my way. But I did hear everything."
She looked at me and said, "Well... You may as get your butt in here and I can explain."
"You don't have to explain," I said, dropping my robe and tossing it on the bed. I acknowledged that there was indeed a spare towel for me before I walked up to Aaden and wrapped my arms around him. "Good morning, Coimelin." Just hugging him close like that makes me feel good. P'nyssa joined us, and we made room for her, a happy triangle. I looked at him and said, "Come back in for a minute?"
"Anything for you," he said, smiling. His eyes are so beautiful.
I closed the glass door and sat down on the bench set against the far wall. "Actually, I want you," I said, pointing to Aaden, "to tell me why."
He shrugged. "It's not something I'd go after." He paused. "But she's right, Ken, I do spend my nights with her as much as I do you. It's no longer a... condition... of my love for you. I guess I trust her enough." He turned to P'nyssa and said, "A few weeks ago, I made Ken admit something. Well, fair is apparently fair and he's doing it to me.
"P'nyssa... I love you."
She hugged him close and said, "Gods, I've waited to hear you say that. I love you too."
"But don't expect me to chasing after... uhm... 'babes?'"
I nearly died laughing. P'nyssa rolled one mitt into as much of a fist as she can manage and hit his arm. "I expect no such thing!" Then she joined us in laughter.
After the giggles subsided, she looked up at him and said, "Given the right reasons, I've always thought one person could enjoy another, no matter what the mix of species, sex, whatever." Her voice dropped a little, and I had to strain to catch the words. "I've wanted you to... admit that the right reasons exist, between you and me, as much as they do between us and him," she said, pointing at me.
"Gee, thanks," I said. "Exhibit Number One, Kennet Shardik." They both smiled. "Uhm, I have news. Rowan's gone to talk to Paul."
"Then she accepted?" Aaden asked.
"I think so. She could back out at any moment, though."
"Then we wait," P'nyssa said.
"Yes," Aaden said. "That's all we can do. I think we can do that for her."
I nodded. "Paul'll tell us in a few days. Until then, well, life goes on. Now, you two go dry off. I've got to get clean."
They left me alone. Not having fur, mittens, a tail, or a partner, showers tend to be short affairs for me.