Sarah’s lips turned up into a smile as she recounted her joy at Iris’ first expression. She met eyes with Iris, who simply gazed back with a conflicted, uncertain stare.

“…Sorry, but I don’t remember any of that.”

Iris offered an apology for her inability to find the relevant memory files. Sarah shook her head.

“Of course not. I don’t expect you to. Not after the wipe. Still, I must say, seeing you display expressions – even expressions of confusion and fear, as you’re showing now – makes me very happy.”

Sarah smiled again as Iris raised a hand to her face, as if it were possible to confirm through tactile feedback the presence of such emotions as fear or confusion on her face. Giggling at Iris’ actions, Sarah resumed her story.

“It seemed I had slept a good number of days after the operation. Without even leaving my bedside, Liliana had spent night after night adjusting Iris’ core – she shifted her tools to my bedside so she wouldn’t have to leave it, and she even subsisted on various preserved foods. I remember scolding her rather sternly for neglecting her health to that extent. But, naturally, I was elated that she would do so much for me. Confronted with such love, I found myself not caring about my blackened wings.

With the creation of an enhanced core, based on my own core, Iris was – well, the only way I can describe it is that she was alive. She could smile, she could laugh, she could cry, and she could do all of that without being told to. Liliana, being the genius that she was, had found a way to fully reproduce human emotion with the new power accorded by Iris’ core. She had, for all intents and purposes, created a perfect artificial intelligence. It was a scientific breakthrough, a revolutionary discovery, that remained our little secret. We could not allow outsiders to learn of what we had created, for fear of fuelling the humans’ war efforts. Thus, we disguised Iris’ existence. We raised her as an adoptive daughter, we forged documents for her. We told her she was never to tell anyone the truth about her existence.

Iris’ Artificial Intelligence continued to grow and develop. Using her work on Iris’ systems as a springboard, Liliana developed a lesser evolving AI for the military, which would become the last-generation Intelligent Weapons. Iris was pretty excited about that bit of research, she used to treat the young weapon AIs as little sisters. It was a pretty heartwarming sight.

Iris continued to display a wider range of emotions, growing far faster and extensively than our expectations. With our focus on enabling her independence, we did not rely on programming to regulate her behaviour. Instead, we taught her morality and ethics in the way one would teach an ordinary child: we raised her while teaching her that murder and theft were bad things; we impressed upon her the value of life; we impressed on her the importance of her own life. We lived as a family, it was a fun experience, for a while.”

Sarah’s face took on a dark cast as she ground her teeth, remembering the event that tore their unusual family apart.

“It was about five years after I Fell. Liliana was still doing work for the military, holding the top position in the military’s research division. Iris and I were her assistants. Liliana was drip-feeding technological advancements to the military, keeping most of her projects secret. Any research she released was research that would not grant humanity an overwhelming advantage, but she released just enough technology that humanity would be able to stand a chance against the gods in the event that the gods launched an offensive. Through her efforts, the balance was maintained between the two sides, and while humanity teetered on the brink of war, it never gained enough of an advantage to engage in full-scale conflict. It seemed that we would be able to avert the war altogether.

Then that idiot Reyal went and ruined everything. She was another of the Hidden Flight, created by Jecyrst, Goddess of Loyalty, Anger and Fear. If you’ve noticed, that’s a Goddess with three attributes which are arguably the greatest motivators for irrationality. Sure, my aspect of Love does tend to create that sort of effect as well, but at least I’m tempered by Wisdom. Reyal was just an impulse-driven, blindly loyal idiot. Her infiltration route was the underworld; she used her heightened physical abilities to secure herself a place in society as some high-profile mercenary. A position fitting that dense musclehead, I suppose.”

Sarah’s voice dissolved into murmurs as she vocalised a number of complaints about this Reyal, criticising everything from her fashion sense to her hobbies. Lily and Iris watched on with bemusement, allowing her to continue her tirade. After a while, she seemed to realise that she was rambling, and awkwardly cleared her throat.

“…Anyway. I ran into the idiot one day while shopping for groceries. Stupid, I know. Those of us in the Hidden Flight were not supposed to have any contact with each other, and had been evenly dispersed throughout the world to prevent us from compromising the mission through the possibility of unexpected contact. We were supposed to stay away from each other, and to ignore each other even if we did come into contact with them. As such, our meeting was pure coincidence. I don’t know what brought Reyal to my area that day, and I really don’t care. But that was the day everything fell apart.

Like I said, we were supposed to ignore each other. Thus, when I saw Reyal that day, my heart skipped a beat, but I fought back the surprise and pretended not to notice her. At least, that was the plan until she forcefully grabbed me by the shoulders. She forced me to look at her, and then said this to me: ‘I thought I saw red eyes. You’re Fallen.’

I just remained silent in response, neither confirming nor denying it. She shoved me to the ground, spitting on me and walking off. I just waited until she was gone, then picked myself up and headed home, unconcerned. I figured that the worst she would do was report my treachery to the gods. I’d be cut off from them, but then again, I had already Fallen. I had already lost my place among my sisters. The thought made me slightly sad, but by that point, Liliana had already cemented her place as the most important existence to me; Even if I had nobody else, as long as I had Liliana, I would be fine. So I didn’t chase down Reyal – I probably would have lost in a straight-up fight, anyway. I pretended I never saw her. After all, there was nothing she could do to hurt me without exposing her own position.”

Sarah barked out a dry, short laugh.

“I was completely right. Anything she could do that might possibly cause me harm would risk compromising her mission, and her innate attribute of loyalty wouldn’t allow her to do that. The problem is, I overestimated her intelligence. Who would have thought that she would be too stupid to realise the possible consequences of her next action?

The next day, we learned from one of Liliana’s colleagues that the government had received an anonymous tip regarding Liliana: namely, that she was consorting with an angel, one of humanity’s enemies.”