Lily rapped on the doorframe, a live deer slung over her shoulder, its limbs tied together under her arm by a cable that emerged from Lily’s wrist. Iris, wearing an apron over her dress and managing the stew with mechanical precision, glanced over at Lily and nodded.
“Ooh, a big one. Nice. Leave it by the door, it’ll be fresher if we kill it just before cooking.”
“Ah, okay. Can you toss me a length of rope?”
“Oh, here you go.”
Iris did not move from her spot. Instead, one of her Varia, her floating weapons, emerged from her back and flew into the living room, returning with a coil of metallic-looking rope wrapped around its weapon’s muzzle. It flew over to Lily and deposited the rope at her feet, before returning to its place inside Iris’ back. The rope was made of interweaving strands of varying metals and twine, lending it a strength and flexibility far beyond any other textile. Lily was still looking into the process of turning it into clothing, but if her calculations were correct, a blouse made from this material would be able to block a sword’s blade without much trouble. She took the rope and firmly tied the deer’s hooves together, retracting her own wires as she did.
Leaving it inside the kitchen would have proven a bit cumbersome, given the size of the deer. Lily had spent the morning scouting out the biggest, fattest looking deer in the vicinity, and had promptly captured it without much trouble. The deer was fast and agile, but Lily was faster. The deer never stood a chance. It had been a while since she had last gone hunting, though. Lily and Iris were generally able to get by with just the bountiful groceries Tate and Prei would bring back with each visit, as well as the additional purchases Lily made when she made her monthly visit to Riasode. Since Iris did not need food, they usually had more food stores than they needed; they had little reason to actively go out and hunt for food, except on special occasions, and even then, the hunting was usually handled by Prei – her unmatched speed and natural predatory instinct made her perfect for the job. As such, it had been many years since Lily had to hunt, and she was glad to know her skill in this field had not diminished significantly.
Lily casually walked over to Iris and placed her hand on the shorter girl’s hips, leaning in to kiss her ear. Iris’ hands continued her work of cooking, but she giggled at Lily’s attentions. Lily glanced at the stew, attempting to see what was in it. Iris noticed her gaze and explained.
“It’s a stew of olives, meat, beef stock, beef, spices, onions and a bit of wine. One of the first dishes Tate showed me how to prepare; good thing we had the beef in the cooling box from the last grocery run.”
“Oh? You’re using beef for that? What about the deer?”
“The deer’s fresh, so I was thinking of roasting it. I’m also planning to make a salad and a potato dish, maybe rosti – ah, that’s a dish made from potatoes, shredded, cooked in salt and butter, then baked in the oven. I suppose you could call it a lost cuisine today. It’ll be my first time attempting it, so hopefully it goes well. Thanks for re-inventing the oven, by the way. It’s made things much easier.”
“Oh, another Sarah recipe? Well, you haven’t failed at those so far, so it’ll probably work out.”
Over the last year, after Iris took on the responsibility of all the cooking, she had attempted a number of dishes Lily had never seen nor heard of before; They were apparently made based on recipes contained in Sarah’s memories – the cuisine of a long-dead civilisation. Each dish Iris had attempted was delicious, presumably because she knew that Sarah enjoyed them, and thus based her selections on that criteria. The food tasted good, so Lily had no complaints.
The oven Iris was talking about was the kind normally used for cooking, but Lily had applied her experience with Tate’s special forge to make it possible to easily regulate the temperature of the flames. Iris had excitedly told her about how the invention opened up many new ways of cooking, but Lily did not quite understand her excitement, likely because she herself had no interest in cooking. Still, it let her see Iris’ excited expression, so she was happy that she had decided to tinker around with the idea of a smaller, more versatile cooking oven.
Iris interrupted Lily’s train of thought with a casual inquiry.
“Alright, enough about the food. More importantly, what are we going to do for Tate’s birthday present?”
Lily froze as she realised a problem she had overlooked. It had been years since she had given or received presents. She had never even given any to Prei – neither of them knew her birthday, so that made it rather difficult. Gifts had seemed unnecessary. Perhaps it was unnecessary this time, as well. But she felt like it was important to mark this particular birthday with a gift. This birthday party felt special, somehow. Perhaps it was because it was the first since Tate left. Perhaps because it was the first event she was working together with Iris to facilitate. Whatever the reason, she felt a need to prepare a present, this time around.
However, it was a fact that she had not prepared a present for Tate. Maybe it would be better to have no present after all. It would feel more sincere than a last-minute, randomly selected one. She gnashed her teeth, frustrated that she had forgotten about Tate’s birthday. Iris chuckled and placed one free hand on Lily’s palm, her other continuing to cook.
“Come on, Lily. No need to get so worked up. I’m sure you have something of interest in your workshop that’ll make her happy. I mean, your entire work is dedicated to making the four of us happy. Surely you’ve got something you’ve been working on that she’ll like?”
Lily bit her lip as she ran through a mental catalogue of her projects. Now that Iris had phrased it in such a way, there was no way Lily was going to let herself fail to meet Iris’ expectations.
“A project Tate might like… hmmm… Oh! How about… Yeah, that could work!”
With an exclamation, Lily let go of Iris’ waist and dashed out of the house, running to her workshop. Iris laughed as she covered the stew and walked toward the bound deer, mana surging from her wrist in a blade-like shape. She heard Sarah’s voice echo in her head.
“She really does care about all of you, doesn’t she?”
The voice was an AI replication of Sarah, based on her memory data. Iris had constructed her for two reasons: the first was so that she could receive the information contained in Sarah’s memories in instructional format, which allowed her to provide the information in this format to Lily. The second was because it made her feel closer to Sarah, as if Sarah was always there by her side. It was an irrational move, taking up 20% of her processing capabilities at all times to maintain the Sarah AI, but perhaps that was what Sarah had wanted for Iris – the ability to make irrational decisions. Perhaps that was what it meant to be human.
The AI, named Seraphim, was a complete replication of Sarah’s personality and speech patterns, but it was not Sarah. It lacked proper emotion, only possessing a pale imitation of emotion. Iris was not so delusional as to believe that she was able to bring Sarah back. All she had created was a memento of a loved one, her own special version of the picture in the locket. Iris carried out her work of killing and skinning the deer while subvocalising a reply to Seraphim.
“You know she does. And that’s why I love her. That’s why all of us love her.”
“You’re very lucky, to have someone like her.”
“Just as you were lucky to have Liliana?”
A confirmation made without the deep resentment and grief that Iris and Lily had experienced when they met the real Sarah – it was clear that despite the similarities, Seraphim was not Sarah, or even a true AI in the same sense as Iris. Iris paused her knife for a while, closing her eyes.
“Yes, well, let’s just hope we get a happier ending than you two did. For your sake as well as ours.”