“I can’t believe they managed this.”
“Honestly, I’ve given up being surprised by those two,” Al grinned, pulling her closer. “I doubt there’s anything the twins can’t do if they put their mind to it.”
“Hear, hear!” Leo shouted, and Al laughed, burying his face in Yaritza’s neck. “Or anything they can’t hear, apparently.”
“Oi, lovebirds. You might want to step back a bit. Sister incoming.”
Lyra rushed past them, a bundle of wood in her arms. She flung them into the flames with a joyful cry and sparks flew into the air, raining down on them all as the firelight reflected off her hair.
“Ly, we don’t have a fire extinguisher,” Leo said, pulling his twin to a safe distance. “I don’t know about everyone else, but I’d rather you not end up all crispy.”
“You’re tipsy, that’s what you are.”
Yaritza smiled, resting her head on Al’s shoulder. “I like your siblings. They’re way more fun than mine.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever met your sister, actually,” Al said, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “What’s she like?”
“So basically a child?”
“‘Fraid so. Oh! I brought you something.” She ran over to her bag, rummaging around for a moment before she came back over, something clasped in her hand behind her back.
She held out a single, red rose, a soft smile on her face. “I tried my hand at gardening. It’s not great, but it’s the first one that’s actually bloomed. I thought you’d like it.”
“I love it,” he said. “I love you.”
“FIREBOMB! Everyone duck!”
She barrelled past them and threw a small vial into the flames. Everyone ducked.
“Oooh, blue fire now. Very pretty.”
“You didn’t know what that would do?” Otis asked, peering cautiously over his fingers. He sounded shocked – this must have been a new side of Lyra for him.
She shrugged. “I was pretty sure we wouldn’t die, so I thought ‘why not?’.”
“Where did you even get that, anyway?” Leo said, using a stick to gently fish the vial out the embers.
“I made it.”
Al stared at her, arms still protectively around his girlfriend. “You threw something you made into a bonfire with no idea what it did?”
“Yup. Leo mixes drinks, I mix fire!”
Ellie grinned at her little sister. “I knew you were more like me than you let on. Yay for experiments!” She giggled, glasses falling down her nose slightly.
“Why am I the only sober one here?” Leo grumbled. “I’m the bartender, this is ridiculous.” He was smiling, though, so Al knew he wasn’t actually annoyed.
“I’m sober, Leo!” Shea said, throwing her arms around his legs.
“That’s because you’re a good girl.”
“It’s because you won’t give me alcohol!”
“Are you sure you like my family?” Al asked, nudging Yaritza gently. “I won’t hold it against you if you change your mind.”
“Are you kidding?” she said, grinning back at him. “I’m having a great time.”
“Al? You’re sober, right?”
“Pretty much, yeah. I only had one. Why?”
“If I take the girls home, can you put all the stuff away?” Leo said, gazing around. “There isn’t too much, and you know where everything goes.”
“I don’t wanna go home!”
“Ly, the fire is dying, you’ve eaten all the food and you can barely stand. You’re going home. And we’ve got to be quiet, ok? No waking up the dads.”
“But what if they want to boogie?”
“They don’t want to boogie. They want to sleep.”
Al patted his brother on the shoulder, holding back his laughter. “Honestly, I think I’ve got the better half of the deal, there.”
“I’ll help,” Yaritza said. “I’m already out late, I might as well stay a bit longer.”
“Of course,” she smiled. “Besides, its quicker with two people.”
“That’s what she said,” Leo said, ducking as she threw an empty can at his head. “Alright, alright! I’m off. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” He blew a kiss over his shoulder at the two of them and the group set off. The girls were singing. Poor boy. At least he had Otis to help him, they’d be fine.
“So, shall we?”
Her eyes lit up and she stepped forward, arms out.
“I meant the tidying, Yari.”
“Never mind. I like your idea better.”
He really did love her. He knew they were young, but that didn’t matter to him anymore. Before he’d met her, he’d struggled with everything about himself. He’d felt not just other-than-sim, but less-than-sim. With her, everything made sense. He actually liked the person he’d become. He liked the person she was.
She moaned, opening her mouth to deepen the kiss, and his hands seemed to have a mind of their own as they slid up her back. She was so warm, and he wanted more. He wanted her. When her hand slid up under his shirt, he gasped.
“Is that ok?” she asked, and he heard the tremor in her voice. The way she was looking at him…
“More than ok.”
Their fingers traced along each others skin, under their clothing. When her fingertips brushed the edge of his waistband, he reluctantly stepped back. This wasn’t the time or place, no matter how much he wanted it to be.
He kissed her once more, brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes. The way she melted into his hand was nearly enough for him to throw all restraint out of the window.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she said, kissing his palm. “Lets get this place cleared up, yeah? If you’re back too late Leo will have a field day.”
“Just Leo?” he grinned. “I’m more worried about Lyra. She has no concept of personal headspace. We’re trying to teach her, though.”
“Is that why you stopped?”
Well, she certainly wasn’t beating around the bush. He liked that about her, even if it was incredibly embarrassing for him. He shook his head, biting his lip as he gazed at his feet.
“I wanted to keep going, but I just…”
“You just…?” she asked, a teasing note now in her voice. He looked up into her eyes, noticing how they crinkled in the corners to match the dimples in her cheeks.
“I- I- don’t make me say it.”
Her eyes widened, and she looked down at him.
“No, not that!” he said, thankful that his skin made it difficult to see how flushed his face was.
She started giggling, and he couldn’t help joining in. Of course it had sounded like that had been the issue. He should probably just say it, and if she laughed at him, then so be it.
“I just don’t want you to regret it. I mean…” he waved his arm around vaguely, “you deserve better than this. It should be special.”
She stared at him, and he grew even warmer. This was worse than laughter – she was speechless.
“You are such a sap.”
Well, maybe not quite speechless.
“Don’t worry,” she said, stepping closer and snuggling into his arms, “I like that about you.”
Lyra woke with a pounding headache. She looked blearily at the clock beside her bed, groaned, and buried her face in her pillow. Ugh. She was never drinking on a school night again. Her phone buzzed and she glared at it.
“Mnmfrrrrrgle” she said, hoping it would understand. It buzzed once more, proving that it didn’t. She reached out an arm, hand groping for the phone – easier said than done with her face still completely obscured by pillow.
Who would be texting her so early in the day?
Ly? I need some advice, do you have a few minutes?
Ok, this sounded interesting enough to maybe make it worth getting out of bed. She moaned as she sat up. Her phone buzzed once more.
I have a glass of water for your ‘headache’.
He was a wonderful brother, she hoped he knew that.
YOu ArE woNderFUL.
There, now he did.
Lyra, telepathy and hangovers don’t go together. That actually hurt.
She stood up, wobbled around a bit trying to find her clothes, gave up almost immediately and decided that if she was going to wobble anywhere, it would be to somewhere with water. Like a lake. No, not a lake. Her brother’s room.
She rapped lightly on the door, wincing at the noise.
She seized the glass gratefully and drank half of it in a single gulp.
Even with her vision all wonky, she could see that her brother was nervous. Now wasn’t the time for her bruised brain to be centre of attention. She took a deep breath, focused on him, and spoke.
There. That had actually been understandable. She deserved a round of applause – a very quiet one, though.
She waited, hoping that she looked interested and not completely cross-eyed. Her headache was killing her.
“There’s something I need to do today, and I need you to back me up, ok?”
“Who’re we fighting?”
He laughed, covering his mouth when she winced. “Sorry. We’re not fighting anyone. At least, I hope not. I’m going to go to school.”
She nodded. “Good.”
“No, Ly. Disguise-less.”
She squealed, something she instantly regretted, and clapped her hands, which turned out to also be a terrible plan. Still, she was happy, so it was worth it.
“Absolutely! I’m so happy I could sing!”
“Please don’t,” he said, grinning. “We got enough of that last night.”
“I’m gonna go get dressed.”
She left the room. A minute later she was back, still not dressed.
“Ly, what are you doing?”
“I have a secret.”
“I’m gonna tell you, because I love you.”
“I’ve got an audition in San Myshuno next month, so Leo and I are gonna skip school and take the train. The train, Al!”
“You’re going to WHAT?!”
“Shhhhhhh… it’s all good. I have a ticket.”
She stumbled out of the room, leaving her brother speechless. He was probably too proud to talk. That had to be it. Now, if she was going to fight people, she should really put on some clothes.
“It’s school, papa,” Lyra said, hoping her grimace looked like a smile from where he was sat. “How much fun could it be?” She looped her arm through her brother’s left, and Leo did the same to his right. They would stick together, and it would be wonderful. The fact that it helped her stay upright was just an added bonus.
Bizarrely enough, Lyra had been right last night. Lor did, indeed, want to boogie. Rather, he wanted other people to do so. It would mean his experiment had worked. Pink rain fell from the sky as a low humming noise was emitted from the satellite dish. If his calculations were correct, he should be able to plant a suggestion into the minds of any nearby sims. They wouldn’t have to act on it – that would be wrong – but the thought would be there. If he could get even one of his colleagues to dance, he would be a happy man.
Lor was a happy man.
“I admit to being at a loss. Where did you find this specimen?”
“It was my grandmother’s. She brought a whole load of them with her when she left Sixam – they reminded her of home. Do you think we can use it? We’ve run through all the minerals and crystals of this planet, so I thought looking further afield might be a good idea.”
“It is fascinating. Its structure is completely alien,” Steve paused. “I believe that was almost a joke?”
Lor grinned and patted him on the head. “It was very good for a first attempt. Much better than mine was.”
“I am intrigued.”
“I think I was about three years old. I’d heard my mum telling jokes, and I thought I knew the right format, so I decided to try it myself. It looked easy.”
“It wasn’t. I went up to mama and said ‘I have a joke for you. What colour is the house?’ When she said she didn’t know, I just said ‘Blue’ and started laughing. She looked really confused, but my other mum was laughing so hard that she started crying. It took years for me to realise she was laughing at the fact I thought I was funny, not the joke.”
Steve made a strange, clanking sound, and Lor’s jaw dropped.
“Are you laughing at me?”
“I think I am, yes. I apologise.”
“Please don’t apologise, I think it’s brilliant! I didn’t know you could laugh.”
“Neither did I, until now. Speaking of things I do not know, what is in that vial?”
“Oh, it’s just a new mix I’ve been working on. I was thinking that a cardiovascular system would help keep a robotic body working in the same way that my system does for me, so I’ve been experimenting with things that could work as your ‘blood’. This is the latest.”
“Do you want me to scan it?”
“If it passes the first test.”
“What is the first test?”
Lor picked up the vial, smiling mischievously. Maybe he’d get to see another new emotion today. “The first test: is it toxic?” and with that, he threw his head back and swallowed the contents.
Lor wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, pulling a face.
“Is it toxic? If it is I shall be angry.”
“It’s not, it just tastes really bad.”
“That is your own fault.”
He couldn’t argue with that logic. Besides, the real test had been a success. He had managed to get another reaction out of Steve. No matter how confident he was that the inventor AI was sentient, it was reassuring to have evidence. So far today, he’d seen laughter, fear, and that most wonderful of emotions: sass.
“Returning to the previous discussion,” Steve said, still managing to sound remarkably miffed for someone with a speech synthesizer, “I believe that the Sixan crystal would be suitable.”
“You do?” he said, eyes wide. If so, this was a huge breakthrough.
“I do not lie.” Yep, definitely sulking. “Perhaps we should find other samples from Sixam. It is possible that the ecosystem will produce many compatible elements.”
Lor grinned. “I’ve actually got an idea for that. I’ll just upload the blueprints for you – it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, now.”