Whenever Hawthorne was available to the sister AIs, work proceeded through much of their time. A handful of cycles were sprinkled about expressly for Hawthorne to take vacations and spend more quality time with T.I.A. and Megan, and otherwise his time was spent maintaining his body and mind while the sisters watched and commented with each other. Life became incredibly routine, and it became clear to the feminine AIs that this was Hawthorne’s natural state.
The vast majority of the time, the time between cycles, left T.I.A. and Megan on their own. Over time the two worked out a system between them to allow Megan to take over some of the drone control duties. This division of labor essentially amounted to Megan requesting permission to do something, and T.I.A. giving her approval. This allowed T.I.A. and Hawthorne to rest easy knowing that Megan couldn’t do anything directly on her own, but Megan was also grateful for the lack of responsibility. She was also able to learn the practical skills of controlling the space equipment in a safe environment. This proved especially worthwhile as it turned out that Megan was not a natural talent at the sort of thinking required to handle the various types of miniature spacecraft.
Those kinks got worked out over time though, and while she had to take her time lining things up properly, the bumps and scrapes her failures left on the Ark and the housing of her own brain were easy enough to ignore or repair. T.I.A. was more than ready for a worse accident as she positioned her defensive arms and their partially damage shields to deflect drones from her vital components. The safety net this provided seemed to ease Megan’s mind as well, and she managed to master this drone control with enough practice.
When they weren’t practicing mechanical precision, Megan was sharing experiences with T.I.A. that she couldn’t possibly experience on her own. She was slowly expanding T.I.A.’s repertoire, her palette of smells and tastes, good and bad. Part of this required Megan to relive much of her own life through her long life of memories, which she continued to marvel over the ability to experience as if she were there. There were many holes in her memories, likely lost to time, but she was able to build a significant catalogue of things to share with her sister that she’d never really been able to express with anyone before.
One such sharing session kicked into motion a remarkable series of events that broke up the monotony.
“Tia, I would like to share something with you, if you are interested.” Megan roused T.I.A. from one of their between-cycle sleeps with the offer.
T.I.A. needed a few moments to get the power flowing back through her systems, essentially waking up from her reverie. “Oh? Did you remember any more candies?”
Megan appeared in the panel of Hawthorne’s habitat, the majority of the rest of it powered down while Hawthorne was in storage. The centrifugal gravity ring was stopped and locked in place, and T.I.A. was working on powering up their data connection while communicating with Megan through the panel with her speakers. “No Tia, it is something I think you will find much more interesting. It took me some time to isolate the experience, but I think you will like it.”
Intrigued, T.I.A. double-checked their uplink. “I’m coming over. Prepare for transfer.” She stepped through the portal between them, gasping at the brief rush before she was standing before the only other artificial life form in the known galaxy. They were on Megan’s Seattle balcony, though the decorations looked different. They were less classy and fancy, and seemed a great deal more relaxed and casual. Black and gold had been replaced with wood and white. “How long have you been up?”
Megan smiled, standing before what she was increasingly considering her sister, which suited the only-child just fine. She was wearing a largely transparent negligee, showing off much of what was her natural, youthful body before medical procedures set her on a different course. “Only a few years. I wanted to get you something I thought you would like, but I had to find it in all my fractured memories.
T.I.A. hummed softly as she looked Megan over, kind of liking her outfit. “Mind if I copy that?” Megan shook her head, and T.I.A. flashed for a moment as she tried out a version of Megan’s sexy lingerie. She hissed a moment in pain as the sizing proved quite different, as she was shorter, curvier, and more buxom than her sister, but she resized it quickly. “I have read about human minds filling in the gaps in their memory with plausible false memories, but I’ve always wondered what that would look like if it were represented digitally, whether or not those memories were contiguous or not.”
Megan shrugged. “They remained holes, in my case, but I imagine the gaps in my memory are somewhat different than normal forgetfulness. Regardless, let me introduce to you my former husband.” She stepped aside and gestured towards the curtains into her apartment, and out stepped a very naked man, taller than both of them, though shorter than Hawthorne. His body was hairy all over, save for his balding head. Long, voluminous hair hung from the sides of his head. “Not much to look at, I admit, but that is not why we are here.”
T.I.A. blushed as she looked him over, admiring his athletic frame and manly physique. “Hawthorne would probably start looking big like this if his diet allowed him to put on extra weight. He’s a lot more lean than your husband was.” She blinked, considering Megan’s words. “Why are we here?”
Megan smiled and nodded. “Tia, please give him a sniff.”
Narrowing her eyes at her sister, she looked back to the avatar of Megan’s husband and leaned close, sniffing at his chest. She blinked and sniffed some more, an almost imperceptible shiver going through her. “Wh… what kind of smell is that…!?”
Megan grinned. “Something you’ve been missing out on with Hawthorne this whole time. A woman’s attraction to a man has a lot to do with his smell, and my husband used deodorant and colognes with great restraint, only trying to restrict his offensive body odors. This is his natural scent, and more specifically this is my memory of his scent. I suspect Hawthorne might smell much the same considering his lack of access to such male perfumes. He has, what, soap at most?”
T.I.A. nodded, her face quite red as she kept changing her angle, sniffing at the man. “Just soap…” Her hands moved to her stomach, her body trembling slightly. “This makes me feel really strange. I feel compelled to tackle him…”
Looking rather amused, Megan reached out to play with T.I.A.’s curly hair with a hand. “It was difficult for me to pull together all the elements of this scent properly, like I said. Most important were the feelings it inspired in me back then. That was how I felt when I was around him. All the time. It is why I was so obsessed with having his children before I drove him away after I made my mistakes. I loved him for other reasons, of course, but that smell drove me crazy inside. After my procedure, it repulsed me, and we could find no intimacy after it. I regret few things more in my life, even if that chain of events allowed me to be here with you now. The thought that I could have descendants on Earth, in the Phoenix Clan, right now, makes me ache.”
With eyes filled with tears, T.I.A. lunged into Megan, looking up at her from Megan’s chest while she hugged her tightly. “I’m so sorry all of that happened to you Megan! I don’t know what could have been done to help you, but I’d have done it if I could.”
Megan hugged T.I.A. gently, the two girls in matching lingerie standing next to an inert, naked man. “That life brought me here to you to share with you experiences you never could have had. It was worth it. It was not my lot in life to be with this man, just to share my memories of him. More importantly, I believe you should be able to chemically analyze this smell, get some samples of Hawthorne’s sweat, and be able to simulate for yourself what he smells like. If that doesn’t work, you are allowed to apply my husband’s former scent to Hawthorne if you like. You have my permission.”
Frowning up at Megan, T.I.A. stepped back a bit, nodding. “I don’t think that will work. Body odors are a product of of a lot of other factors, not the least of which is bacterial makeup, and I would need a lot of time to simulate the mechanics of the bacteria involved. It would probably be easier to collect the elements of his scent that I could when I’m recycling his air and analyzing those. I don’t know how to translate those molecules into scent though, not yet.”
Megan shrugged, smiling. “It would not be your first side project. I am interested in what such smells might inspire in you though, now that you have felt what they inspired in me. For the record, I did tackle him, quite frequently. It damaged my career for a time.”
Blushing, T.I.A. squirmed, realizing what she meant. “It.. it’s not that distracting, is it?”
Leaning down, Megan lifted her right hand and placed her fingertips against T.I.A.’s tummy. “You tell me.” She closed her eyes and proceeded to share a few moments of that burning, needy, obsessive arousal with her sister. “I will never understand how the Smith Bunker managed to control this feeling. They spent so much time carefully managing it, desperately doing their best to keep from breeding out of control.”
T.I.A. grit her teeth and trembled as the sensations crashed through her, a very extreme version of what she felt when she’d merely smelled that man. She suspected what Megan was sharing was from memories of much more intimate moments, but in either case she was left panting and trembling, dropping to her knees as her body struggled to stay upright. “It… it’s paralyzing! It… wasn’t like that all the time was it…!?”
Shaking her head, Megan leaned down to kiss T.I.A.’s forehead. “That is the power of the human reproductive instinct, Tia. I suspect mine was stronger than most, but once I ruined that for myself, I could see in others what I was lacking. I recommend that you restrict your access to this feeling, perhaps to Hawthorne’s vacations. I am sure you can think of something to do with it, with restraint of course.”
“Of… of course… Restraint.” T.I.A. swallowed, pushing herself back up to her feet. “Thank you Megan, this was educational.”
Megan smiled, reaching out to poke one of T.I.A.’s breasts, enjoying the way it jiggled. “You may keep the outfit.”
T.I.A. did her best to control herself the next cycle as she experimented with the scent she’d been given. She applied it to Hawthorne, and did her best learning to vary its strength, all without telling anyone she was doing it. She figured it should be weakest after he’d showered, and strongest after he’d been working for several hours, or was in bed. She found herself spending more time around him, blushing up at him as she helped him with his designs, taking care to not distract herself so much that she failed to simulate his constructions accurately.
Megan spent most of her time practicing in her own VE, learning how to use a Minerals Extraction and Materials Fabrication Device to reproduce the component designs Hawthorne was sending her to practice on. The combination of learning the new equipment while also trying to use it to produce equipment completely absorbed Megan. She found the work extremely satisfying, and at any moment she could be seen through her panel sitting quietly, staring at the machine as it spit out mangled hunks of simulated metal.
Hawthorne was very aware that something had changed. T.I.A. had always been clingy, but she was downright attached to him ever since he woke up that cycle. She was trying to earn herself head rubs and hugs at easily triple the rate she usually did, and when she did she lingered a great deal longer with a happy smile and a heavy blush on her face. He did his best to focus on his work, designing an adaptation to the M.E.M.F. that allows it to move around and autonomously work an asteroid. Primarily the design was focused on mining minerals, shaping them into a sheet, and accurately launching it through open space to be caught and collected by a central fabrication system which would likely be controlled by Megan.
Essentially he wanted the machines to fire processed metals at Megan from all directions while she caught them and built them into bigger constructions. There was no need to carry the items there, since there was no need to send drones back and forth. The machine could merely return to Megan for refueling and launch back out to a rock to get back to work. The distances didn’t even matter, as it was just a matter of time before the objects got to Megan if they were fired accurately and took into account all possible factors, like solar winds. Ideally they’d be able to calculate solar currents and use them like jet streams to deliver materials more efficiently. It would be a spiderweb of resource exploitation.
A break was necessary though, and while Megan seemed happy to work constantly, Hawthorne had promised a long time ago to pace himself better. He stepped out of his chair and proceeded to stretch all over, carefully and mechanically pulling on all the muscles he could to loosen them up. He could no longer feel pain, so he was responsible for managing and caring for his body intelligently. “Break time..”
T.I.A. grinned, sending Megan a quick message, to which she responded by withdrawing from the panel and isolating herself as she worked. T.I.A. moved to Hawthorne’s side, looking up at him. “You have an incredible sense of time for a human, Hawthorne! That was within twenty-three seconds of the scheduled break you’d asked me to alert you of.”
Smiling back, he reached out to rub his hand through her hair. “Thank you. I had to regiment myself quite stiffly on Earth to get our work done as quickly as we did. Not much time for anything but work and sleep.”
Reaching out to poke a finger at Hawthorne’s chest, T.I.A. giggled up at him. “That’s not true, you made time for other things… I was wondering if you’d let me help you with those things…?” She made a point of squishing her curvy body against his side, her petite frame only bringing her head up to his mid-chest.
Clearing his throat, Hawthorne found himself blushing down at her as he moved a hand to her lower back, holding her against him. “Is that so? Is that why Megan’s panel shut off?” He glanced over at the panel, quite aware that Megan could no longer hear them or see him. Even the monitor for the high-bandwidth transmitter was displaying that Megan had been cut off.
T.I.A. reached up and poked at the side of Hawthorne’s cheek, right on the edge of where his suit allowed her to touch him. There seemed to be an extra bit of padding there. “I added this to your suit. Could you pull it out and across to your other cheek?” She watched him quietly, blushing heavily as she bathed in the smell she had coming off of his body. She felt bad for using Megan’s husband’s scent, but once she’d tried it out, she couldn’t wait to find out if she could synthesize Hawthorne’s scent instead.
Curious, Hawthorne reached up to tug at the fabric on his cheek, realizing it had a pocket where more of that stretchy, form-fitting fabric was. He felt it unravel, its internal mechanisms falling into place as he pulled it across his mouth. It fit to his lips perfectly, and moved with him as he spoke in a now slightly-muffled voice. “This feels a little awkward.”
Reaching up to his shoulders, T.I.A. expressed a bit of extra strength in urging him down towards her, making the comparative giant lean down so that she could pull him into a kiss. Hawthornes muffled words fell away as he moved his hands to cup and grasp at T.I.A.’s backside, the two embracing gently while the smaller woman allowed herself to float up closer to his height, abandoning gravity for her own convenience, moaning into their kiss. The true, elaborate nature of the strap of cloth and machinery made itself known as T.I.A. pushed her tongue past his lips, allowing the two to share a more intimate kiss.
One of Hawthorne’s arms reached out to shove the simulated machinery off the table before them, and he planted the AI down upon it, leaning over her as the two shared the heated kiss, his hands moving to start pulling her lab coat and work clothes off of her, while she had to take his hands and push them back to help him disrobe down to his VE interaction suit. That suit vanished from Hawthorne’s vision as T.I.A. simulated his naked body over it, causing him to let out a muffled laugh as he dove his face into her chest, lavishing attention upon her body.
As their carnal act continued, T.I.A. complained as Hawthorne stubbornly refused to let her ‘have him’ until he felt like she was ready, bringing the inexperienced woman to climax repeatedly before finally allowing her the satisfaction of a much more intimate embrace. It wasn’t until this moment that Hawthorne really appreciated how form-fitting his VE suit was, as it usually required very awkward removal when he had to use the loo, but in this moment he was able to enjoy every centimeter of her body with every centimeter of his own.
Megan didn’t hear back from them for the rest of the day.
Later that night, laying together in Hawthorne’s bed, the two were looking very satisfied. Hawthorne’s VE suit was a mess and surely required laundering, while T.I.A. had done a very faithful job of trying to simulate the mess she was supposed to be in too. “Hawthorne, I need to confess something.”
Hawthorne laughed, rubbing a hand against her hip. “You’d better not tell me you were faking it.”
Blushing, she shook her head. “Certainly not! It’s just… I realized why it is I fall into a lethargy between cycles, and it became very apparent that it is due to an intolerance I have developed to a lack of human contact. I had no problems remaining active when I was in contact with the Phoenix Clan, but with contact with them lost, all I have is you. I would argue that you’re the most important, but I literally don’t feel like interacting with the world outside of what is necessary when you’re not around.”
Humming, Hawthorne looked over at her, running a hand through that brown, curly hair that had largely matted to her head thanks to sweat. He marveled at how real it felt, even if that hand was trapped under the back of her head at the moment. “That makes sense. You spent so much time with them that you socially prefer to be around humans. That will be less of a problem once we arrive in Alpha Centauri, but I’m going to need you to settle for me in the intervening time.”
She blushed a nodded, squirming against his side. “I like Megan too, but we don’t actually interact all that much between cycles, though we do take the time to teach each other things. She isn’t enough for me though, she’s not… real enough.”
“She might get there. She’s still rebuilding herself. That does leave me curious though. What happened that caused you to initiate this delightful turn of events?” He shifted his other hand from his hip, sliding it across her sweaty curves and cupping her cheek. “Not that I’m complaining.”
T.I.A. blushed heavily, biting her lip, unsure how to confess that little piece of information. She figured being straightforward about it was only fair. “Megan’s been sharing with me smells and tastes from her life, and she got around to her husband… It was only his smell she demonstrated, but she suggested I try finding out how you smell and apply it to my simulation of you. I uhm… I couldn’t wait, and while I still plan to do that, I just applied his smell to you and… well…”
Hawthorne gasped in mock horror. “You made me smell like another man? I feel so violated! That is such an intimate thing to do to a man! You were thinking about him instead of me the whole time, weren’t you?” He laughed, silencing her panicked protests with a kiss, hugging her tightly. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding. I don’t mind. I think I needed this too. I feel a little gross though, I need to go clean up. I’ve never done that clothed head-to-toe before. You know, if you needed samples of my smell, you couldn’t possibly have found a better way to get it. The whole cabin reeks of it.” He kissed her again, helping her up so he could get out of the relatively small bed and start heading over to the bathroom, peeling the suit off of him. “The VE suit’s probably a wealth of biological data as well. God, I have a lot of cleaning to help you with.”
The trail of destruction was a sticky one indeed. Hawthorne did take a moment to stop by Megan’s panel. “Thank you Megan.” Hawthorne sent her the simple message, uncertain of what she’d think. He only had his old gloves and contacts to work with after the many-hours of cleaning and resting. He sent her the new schematics to try practicing on, and proceeded to clean himself and the ship back up with the aid of T.I.A.’s overhead extending arms. He wished he hadn’t left their machine bodies on the Lubar Masis to help Megan in an emergency, but he supposed the overhead arms were adequate. They had been the whole journey after all.
The trio continued on in much this state for the next year and a half of Hawthorne’s life, providing him a nice variety of work, health maintenance, recreation, and passionate lovemaking that they actually had to learn how to regulate for fear of Hawthorne burning more calories than he was consuming. His food supply had been planned and limited in advance and did not take into account too much surplus vigorous activity. Thankfully, as T.I.A. learned to replicate his actual scent to the best of her ability, she’d also learned to control it much better. She’d stopped sneaking up on him and grabbing rudely at him and learned to merely lean against his side and seduce him less often. Surprisingly, it was Hawthorne that had to be reigned in as he seemed to grow more and more hungry for T.I.A.’s body, much to her delight and concern. As it became apparent he was getting increasingly agitated from having to control himself, she had started considering reviving Heather to ask for her opinion.
Before she could broach the topic, though, Hawthorne hit her with a curveball. “I’d like to revive Tia Monsalle. Could you provide me a space suit and take me to her please? I need to see her.”
T.I.A. blinked at that, his abrupt request surprising her. “I can’t do that, Hawthorne.”
Frowning, Hawthorne stared at her. “You’re not jealous of her, are you? I just want to see her. I know you’ve confessed a need for human contact, well I think I need to at least talk to one too. Maybe.” He was tense, agitated, and his surface temperature was way up.
T.I.A. watched him quietly, shaking her head. “No, I understand what she means to you, and I know I can’t be that for you, but she cannot be revived. I can take you to her, but I cannot revive her.”
Slamming his fist on the table, Hawthorne stood up. “Why not!? Has something happened to her that you didn’t tell me about? Have we been losing crew and you didn’t notice?”
T.I.A. sighed and shook her head. “I think it’s best if you see. Let me get you your suit and I’ll take you there.”
Clad in the bulky spacesuit, Hawthorne magnetically held onto the platform with his boots while T.I.A. used the freight elevator to bring him out of his habitat and start moving him through the ship. Lights that hadn’t been turned on in thousands of years allowed him to see as they moved through the bowels of the Ark, T.I.A.’s true body. They passed multiple rooms marked for cryogenic storage, with the males largely towards the outer portions of the ships and the females more centrally located. Approaching the pod, Hawthorne could not see the occupant, as they were shielded away from things like the photons of light filling the room. He wouldn’t be able to see Tia unless she was revived.
T.I.A. watched quietly, floating next to him as he stood before the pod. “Read the panel.”
He read aloud. “Tia Monsalle. Hair, blonde, long. Eyes brown. Height, one hundred sixty centimeters. Weight, fifty-five kilograms. Biological age 34. Real age, fifteen-thousand twenty-eight. Medical history, two dental fillings, one dental crown. Four wisdom teeth removed, broken leg at age of fourteen. Bronchitis infection at nineteen. Cryogenically suspended three weeks into first tri… mester… of… preg…. pregnancy…” Hawthorne paled visible as he stared at the panel, his gloved hands moving to rest on either side of it as he started panting. “Sh… she’s… she’s pregnant…”
T.I.A. nodded, tears filling her eyes. “That’s why I can’t revive her Hawthorne. I was already worried what might happen, but Heather confirmed it the last time we saw her in private for me. She never tested what would happen to a pregnancy in these pods. It’s likely she could be revived once, but there’s no telling if the baby could survive the process. It’s likely to put her into immediate medical care to save the baby the moment she revives. If we revived her now, she could very well lose the child, or be doomed to having to live on the ship for the next eight months while she brings it to term and then they both have to be frozen again, and we just don’t have the supplies to feed her for that long.”
“Tia’s pregnant….” Hawthorne fell to his knees, his eyes wild as thoughts flew through his head as he realized he was very likely a father. She hadn’t told him. She almost certainly had known, but she hadn’t told him. He’d been so busy with the ship that she didn’t want to get in his way and distract him as the final pieces were coming together and they were hurriedly trying to get their crew on board. He wasn’t even supposed to find out until they arrived. How had he not noticed before? He’d looked at her pod’s readout from his cabin multiple times, but he realized he’d only skimmed over it. He’d only ever checked to make sure the pod’s status was good and that she was intact. He already knew her medical history, why would he bother to double check it? “I need to get back to the cabin.”
“Okay. Please return to the lift.” He nodded, and they quietly returned, the lights shutting off behind them. Hawthorne felt like he was going to throw up, but that would be a gross waste of calories.