Unix turned her attention away from her book and looked out the train window again. The scenery had transformed from dense forest into an open, hilly landscape, a sign that she was close to her destination.
Taking a glance around the nearly empty coach, she drew the sad conclusion that not many people were taking this mode of transportation anymore. Narrow gauge had been common in her youth, but it had almost vanished now– lost forever to high speed rail. They started their journey upon such a train; but as they moved farther and farther into into the boonies, the infrastructure became less and less sophisticated. Makes sense, she thought to herself mournfully, it's not like anyone cares about these people, anyway. Giving a second look at the sparse passengers, she tried to determine who they were; not in a personal sense, but a biological one. To the untrained eye, humans, hardware and OS-tans seem alike in almost every physical and psychological sense; only when major physical differences are manifest does identification become easy. Like agelessness, or perhaps some inhuman body part. Wings, for example...
Wings. They were the reason she was on this train, headed for the tiny, isolated village... they were the reason she was going to see her...
Reluctantly, Unix abandoned her guessing-game and turned her attention toward the woman sitting in front of her, head propped against a the windowsill in slumber. Linux had been asleep for most of the trip. "I didn't get much sleep last night," was her apologetic excuse as she began to nod out a few hours before, "and trains... I don't know... there's something about them that makes me so..." she let out a great yawn, "...sleepy." But she hadn't needed to apologize for her lethargy– Unix was glad to have some time alone with her thoughts.
A pain ran through her left shoulder as she shifted in her seat. Mother, she thought, how did you ever learn to live with those things? she smiled in spite of her dreary mood. "Me... I just charmed mine away, hid them from the world and from myself so I wouldn't have to be reminded of you. I guess I did a pretty bad job of it?" Unix was, of course, referring to a pair of inky black wings attached to her back– connected to her body ever since that fateful evening when she was nearly killed by her own mother. The evening she turned the tables on Multics and sentenced her to a fate worse than death: a life of constant struggle for survival, a slow, inglorious decline. The only permanent "scars" that Unix had to show for their fight were those wings and they had lain dormant under a blanket of spells for over thirty years.
Unix wasn't sure what was worse– the shock of discovering that the retraction spell had broken or the shame she felt when she revealed her true form to Linux. And she was forthcoming– Unix knew that trying to physically hide her wings would be foolish, and could only end in an awkward discovery. The revelation was still amazingly awkward... but at least it took place on her terms.
Linux had sat on the edge of the bed, in worried silence, as Unix unbuttoned her sweater to reveal her upper back– as she unwound the strip of fabric that had been binding her wings close to her body. Her heart was beating, her body warm with humiliation as she allowed her wings to rise up above the back of her chair and into view. "This is my real body..." she finally said, after a few moment's time.
"But..." Linux began. Unix couldn't bear to turn around and face her friend, who was apparently at a loss for words. "how did you–?"
"They're from Multics-sama–" Unix was trying to keep from crying– she didn't want any more embarrassment than she already had on her hands, "She's m-my mother–" that was all Unix could stammer out before she lost the battle with her emotions; tears of sorrow and shame began rolling heavily down her cheeks. Slowly, horrified, she turned to face Linux– who's expression was one of shock, terror and grim realization all mingled together at once.
"Why... why did you never tell me...?" Linux's calm voice belied her tumultuous expression.
"Because," she stammered out between fits of sobbing, "I knew you would hate me if you knew the truth!" Unix had envisioned this scenario a thousand times and on each occasion it had ended with a terrible denouncement. "I'm sor-sorry L-Linux, I'm so sorry for–" she waited for Linux's condemnation; but instead, she reached out and grasped Unix's hands, cold and shaking, and held them in her own warm hold. The crying started again, but this time they were the tears of relief and liberation that come after revealing a secret bottled up for far too long.
Unix tried her best to explain the entire story of her and Multics, from their difficult childhoods and eventual confrontation to their years of estrangement and final reconciliation; Linux sat quietly and listened, only occasionally asking a question. When Unix was finally done, they sat in uncomfortable silence for several moments; she was beginning to feel worried that she had said too much when Linux finally spoke up.
"Who else knows?" Linux was resting her chin on the palm of her hand, her gaze turned downward. "I mean... about the two of you?"
"Nobody... at least, I haven't told anyone else about us. And it has to be kept that way. The truth has to be hidden."
"To lie, in other words?" she retorted. Unix knew this deception wasn't going to sit well with Linux's upright sense of honesty, but she was going to have to learn to live with it.
"Now that Multics is alive again the only way I'll be able to protect her is to lie about her not being related to me. She's powerless... helpless... and someone who I care very deeply about. I shouldn't have to tell you what a amazing combination that is for anybody who wants to get to me."
"I realize that" Linux shook her head somberly, "But the wings... Unix, how are you going to keep those a secret?"
"I don't know," Unix sighed, "but I think she might be able to help."
That's why she was on this train. That's why she was headed for the Binteji Renmei, that sanctuary which so many vintage OS-tans called home. Unix wasn't sure how her mother, magically powerless as she was, might be able to help her – if she could even help her – but she had no other person to turn to and no other plan. Unix volunteered to make the trip alone, but Linux insisted upon coming– so she could visit with her own family and friends living at the BR, or so she said. At first, Unix felt strange about another person accompanying her on such a personal journey, but she didn't want to suggest Linux stay behind... so she reluctantly agreed.
Linux stirred from her sleep and drowsily rubbed her eyes. "Mm... are we there?"
"Good timing... yes, actually, we are." The train, which had begun slowing when it
entered the outskirts of the village, was rapidly coming to a halt as it neared the station. When it finally rolled to a stop at the platform, the two gathered their things and disembarked the train; Unix climbed into her wheelchair, and Linux donned a sweater. "We're going the rest of the way on foot, yeah?" Linux asked.
"I'm not sure on foot is the word I'd use," she replied sardonically, "but if you mean we aren't taking a taxi, then yes, you're right." It wasn't far to the Binteji Renmei anyhow, and Unix looked forward to spending time outdoors after all that time spent cooped up on the train.
It was a lovely stroll down the long dirt road to the orchard, especially on a cool, sunny day like the one they were experiencing. Both sides of the lane were lined with rows upon rows of petite trees, cheerfully adored with their harvest of apples; Linux picked one and began nibbling at it. "Do you want a bite? It's delicious" Linux asked, offering her companion the apple.
"No, I'm fine." Unix was sure the apple was delicious– when it came to growing, the vintage-tans left little to chance– but she was feeling too anxious to eat at the moment. How would Multics-sama react when she discovered that her daughter had inherited her wings? Let alone her reaction when Unix told her that she wanted to hide them once again. Insulted probably won't describe her reaction, Unix mulled grimly– "Hi mom, I haven't seen you in years and would like it if you could help me erase every sign of our being related..."
As the rounded a turn, two young-looking OS-tans came into view– Unix recognized them as Windows 2.0 and Oric-chan, two of the youngest-looking (but still rather chronologically-old) members of the Binteji Renmei.
"Hello," Unix said as they approached the slighting shocked-looking children. Shy little Windows 2.0 looked up at Unix for a moment, before blushing and averting her eyes; Oric was slightly more bold and ran right up to the two of them. "Visitors! Two-chan, let's go tell Miggy that Miss Unix and Linux are here!" she waved bye before setting off at a run, Windows 2.0 gimping along behind her and pleading with her to slow down.
They followed the children to the BR home, a large old farmhouse which served as residence for many vintage OS-tans. The home, rustically charming in its coat of worn whitewash, was surrounded by a lush green lawn; calming sounds of windchimes and birdsongs emanated gently from the adjacent garden, along with the invitingly fragrant scents of flowers. Unix occasionally wondered if the day would come when she would be finally freed from her responsibilities, and would be able to, at long last, retire to this unsuspecting paradise; but it seemed a very unlikely scenario, the kind she would rather not tantalize her imagination with.
Amiga, the landlady of the home and founder of the BR, appeared at the door; she gave an enthusiastic hello as she bounced down the porch steps to greet her visitors. She shook Linux's hand cordially before leaning down to give Unix a brief hug. "I'm so happy to see you guys again," she said with a wide grin, "and earlier than expected! Did everything go well on your journey?"
"Completely uneventful," Unix replied, "you could even say it was boring."
"Well... I guess that's good to hear." she turned to Linux; "In case you're wondering, Yggdrasil is out back weeding the vegetable patch– she was really excited to hear that you were coming."
"Thanks," Linux replied, "I'm going to go see... I mean, you don't need me, do you?"
"No, no, I'll be fine," Unix appreciated this gesture; as much as she wanted to introduce Linux to her mother, she thought that meeting would be best saved for another time. "You make the most of this trip and go visit with your daughter." Yggdrasil was Linux's eldest child; a warrior in her youth, she had long since retired to the relatively untaxing, but still stimulating, job of unofficial BR security guard.
"Miggy... where's Multics?"
Miggy's smile faulted for a moment, "She's in the upstairs bedroom... but I can ask her to come down here if you want..."
Unix wasn't looking forward to climbing the staircase, but she would rather sacrifice her own comfort for the privacy of meeting alone with Multics. "That's alright... I can walk, it's difficult for me but I can do it–" using every bit of her physical strength and willpower, she shakily rose from her chair; Miggy offered Unix her arm to steady herself on, something she gladly accepted.
As they walked up the porch stairs and into the house, Unix was hit with the almost alien smells and sounds of a happy home; the scent of cooking food wafted from the kitchen, the sounds of childrens' rapid footsteps and excited voices. Two young-looking OS-tans went bounding down the staircase and past Unix and Miggy without even taking notice of their presence; Miggy called after them, chiding their disrespect for the visitor, but they were already far away. "Sorry about that," she said with an abashed chuckle, "they never have had much respect for their elders."
"It's alright." Unix replied, as she took her first uneasy step up the staircase, steadied between Miggy's arm and the banister, "I'd rather be ignored than heaped in assumed admiration by people who don't even care about me anyway." She didn't say it, but this was another reason why she liked the BR so much. There was no patronization here, no fear disguised as admiration, no condescension or, worse of all, sycophantic groveling. When she was at home, she was faced with all of those things and more on a daily basis, typically, insultingly enough, from her own children and followers. But there was none of that here, something she was thankful for.
"You know," Miggy began, "I thought it was a little odd when you said you wanted to see Multics."
Unix shot a suspicious glance at her "How so? Like I told you, we go back a long way."
"I know, but Exec-sama told me that... well... that you two maybe haven't always gotten along the best."
"Hah," Unix replied skeptically, "that was decades ago. Surely you've witnessed firsthand the ability of former rivals to make up."
"Of course, I didn't mean anything by it... just musing." They made the last step into the upstairs hallway. "Her room is halfway down... would you like me to go back and get your wheelchair...?"
With a shake of her head, Unix gestured for Amiga to continue on– she had come this far, she wasn't going to give up in the last few steps. When they reached the room, Miggy rapped gently on the door; "Multics-sama– Unix-san is here to see you."
She heard her mother's voice, as crisp and commanding as it had ever been, from behind the door; "Hold on just one moment, please!" a few moments later, the door opened, and Unix was treated to the first glimpse of her mother in over two years.