With a congenial wave of her hand, Multics welcomed the visitors into the room. It was a small area made downright cramped by an assortment of furniture: along with the obligatory bed, there was an overfilled bookcase, several dilapidated steamer trunks, a large grandfather clock, two wingback chairs and a table adorned with a lace tablecloth and a stained and chipped, but otherwise pretty, china tea set. The eclectic collection of things shouted Multics in Unix's mind; her mother had always been a bit prone to accumulation, a habit that apparently hadn't been curbed by the loss of her fortune. Exasperated from her walk up the stairs, Unix ungracefully sank into the nearest chair; Miggy lowered herself into the accompanying seat.
"Take no offense Amiga-san," Multics began in her pleasantest of voices, "but I would prefer it if you left Unix and I alone."
Apprehensively, Miggy rose from the chair "Alright... er... just call if you need anything." Unix was beginning to suspect that Exec... or perhaps an especially in-the-know DEC-tan... had given Miggy an earful when it came to her's and Multics' old rivalry. She might even know that I tried to kill her, Unix thought with a certain amount of shame. But Miggy's over-protectiveness didn't irritate Unix in the least; it was a sign that her mother had been trusted in caring and capable hands. "Anything at all, okay?"
"Of course," Multics said with a pat of Miggy's arm. When the tall redhead turned to leave, she closed the door behind her. "I hope you didn't want her to stay, but I felt our visit would best be kept private." Unix simply stared up at her mother and nodded; it embarrassed her to admit it to herself, but being around Multics made her as fearful and wondrous and nervous as it had in her youth. Maybe not so fearful now that they had made peace, but certainly just as nervous.
Unix had worried how Multics would fare in the humble and hardworking Binteji Renmei, afraid that she wouldn't be able come to terms with the loss of her life of extravagance and luxury. She was pleased to see that her mother looked perfectly healthy and dressed well to boot. It wasn't much compared to her old attire, But Unix thought she looked radiant in her plain white dress, with her long dark hair gathered into a barrette at the back of her slender neck. One wing was held cheerfully aloft, the other hung pathetically hopelessly crippled for life. Unix really did wish that the necromancer could have fixed that, if only for her own selfish sake; she didn't like looking at her mother and being confronted with a constant reminder of her past sins. But the biggest change in Multics was not as superficial as the clothes she wore or the surroundings she lived in; it was her attitude. Unix was sure that she had never seen her so perfectly serene and happy before.
So there they sat, in a brief period of time dilated by the tension of the moment. Suddenly, Multics leaned forward and enveloped Unix into a tight but tender embrace Unix, not expecting of this turn of events, was forced to react by returning the hug. Multics ran her hands from the back of Unix's head to her neck, then upper back where she lingered for a moment at her shoulderblades. It was then that she knew.
"It's the reason I'm here." she began, freeing herself from her mother's hug before taking off her coat and sweater. The bindings fell away and two wings, covered in their thick coat of jet feathers, sprang into view.
"How long have you had these...?" Multics' eyes were full of wonder as she examined the wings with a certain gentle, childlike curiosity, but her voice was tinged with worry.
"Since that night in 1972... the night that we..." Unix prided herself on being a direct person, not easily effected by the tugs of regret, but she couldn't find it in herself to complete that sentence in the company of Multics. "But they've been hidden with a spell all this time."
"I'm not surprised," Multics replied, "when my powers transferred to you, I suspected that it could have awakened within you some of my other... peculiar physical traits. I knew you were born with some of my avian features, after all..." she playfully flicked one of Unix's owl ears. She really could be odd at times, Unix reflected somewhat uncomfortably.
Multics moved to the window, where she threw aside the gossamer curtains and lifted the sash, allowing a breeze into the room. Unix noticed an assortment of bird feeders arranged in the flowerbox outside. "I enjoy their company," she said, upon noticing Unix's curious expression. "Tell me, why did you decide to show me your wings after all these years?"
"It wasn't my decision," Unix retorted bluntly, "the spell broke. I can't hide them anymore."
Multics' calm expression took on a touch of its familiar old graveness. "How do you expect to explain this to your followers?"
Unix gave a frustrated sigh. "I can't... there's no way they can ever know. People are suspicions of us enough..." Unix has always been too logical to be paranoid, but she was sure some people... people besides Linux, that is... knew already. And Linux herself could be a problem, what with her chronic inability to keep secrets, but Unix had full faith that she would given the dire circumstances. There was Leopard, that brash Macintosh girl who showed a particularly disturbing interest in meddling in the past Unix couldn't prove that she knew about her's and Multics' relation, but it seemed likely given her intimate knowledge of the past and penchant for poking around in places and times where she didn't belong. But what good could she gain from exposing the truth? She would only besmirch the family she worked so hard to become a part of. No, Unix was afraid of her own daughters, at least the ones potentially treacherous enough to want to manipulate Unix into capitulating to their every whim. Which, she ruefully suspected, might be most of them. "We already look alike, and if I suddenly show up with wings? THAT would be too much."
Multics turned to consult her bookshelf, which consisted mostly of tattered old volumes. "My people have been kind enough to return to me some of my old texts. The incantations spelt out are, of course, useless to me now, but there might be a chance you can use them..." she trailed off, absorbed in an especially large book.
Unix shook her head grimly, "No, the spell I used was the best... you're not going to find something better." How ungrateful, she thought coming hundreds of miles to ask for her mother's help, only to reject it from the onset.
"Just as well. I cannot find nor recall a single spell for the retraction of wings," she slid the book back into its place. "If I had, I'd have used it on myself it seems as if these wings did nothing but get in my way at the worse of times." she returned to her chair and they sat in searching quiet for a moment. Multics pressed her thumb to her mouth, deep in thought; Unix stared idly at her feet, hidden inside her favorite pair of worn black boots.
Finally, Multics spoke: "Are you sure you didn't break the spell on purpose?" Unix flashed an expression of doubt, but her mother gestured for her to hold her tongue. "Not necessarily on a conscious level, mind you. But four decades is a long time to live with such a weighty secret.. perhaps some part of you wanted to be free of it?"
She spoke those words with such a calm, convincing certainty that Unix couldn't bring herself to form a rebuttal. And it was true, as least to a point; she could tolerate lying to, or perhaps more accurately, obfuscating the truth from a lot of people. But Linux was different. Early in their relationship she had resolved to keep no secrets from Linux and had been largely successful in her promise. But her past with and relation to Multics was one area which she could never bring herself to breach. And it was something she felt terrible about; whether she wanted to admit it or not, Multics was the person to whom she owed her power, her empire, her very existence.
Unix averted her eyes to the window for a moment, slightly embarrassed about what she was about to say. "I don't want to get rid of them..." she began, her voice soft and somber, "I know I must... but it feels like a betrayal of you... of our relationship. I've already suppressed every bit of me that's like you, after all..." She realized how silly she must have sounded to Multics as if she could do worse to her than she had already.
Multics put her hand on Unix's shoulder, "Don't think you need anything so... superficial... to prove you're like me. Even if we didn't look alike," she gave a soft laugh for all their differences, the two of them did look eerily similarity in many ways "we would still be connected. You are my blood, the only child I can truly call my own. And I'm proud of you... in case I haven't said so in awhile." Unix suddenly felt self-conscious compliments, especially such maudlin and motherly ones, made her feel uncomfortable. But she knew where Multics' heart was; affectionately, she placed her hand on her mother's. It was then that she felt something, or rather the absence of something. Reaching behind, Unix confirmed it: her wings had vanished, just as unexpectedly as they had appeared.
"We must have done something right, hm?" Multics flashed a small smile. A figurative and much less literal weight off her back, Unix returned the gesture. It was her first real smile of the day.
A demure knock at the door signaled Miggy's return. "Dinner is ready," she said, "would you like to eat downstairs, or should I bring a tray up?"
"I shall dine downstairs, if it's all the same to you." Multics stood before turning to Unix, "I trust you're coming as well?"
"Of course," Unix replied, adding a wry wink, "How could I miss dinner an old friend?"
Despite pleas for them to spend more time, Unix and Linux left shortly after supper. As wonderful as it would have been to spend the evening in the company of old acquaintances and wake up to breakfast in bed in a room with a view, the two had no shortage of pressing matters at home that required their presence. The sleeper car isn't so bad, anyway, Unix reasoned, looking around the comfortable compartment, and besides... more time I spend there, the more I want to stay. She pushed the thought out of her mind like she had so many times before; a vintage OS-tan she might be, but she still had heavy responsibilities in the real-world.
Laying her newspaper aside, Linux turned to Unix. "If you don't mind me asking... what did you do to make them go away?"
Unix paused for a moment. "I guess I just needed to get some things out of the way... you know, emotionally. They just went away by themselves..." She spoke that last sentence with hesitance; as a rationalist, she didn't like to admit that some things operated on powers outside realm of daily experience. Yet at times like this, it seemed the only rational thing was to admit that she wasn't in control of everything... that perhaps some things were mysterious and unknowable by their very nature.
"Well, I hope they aren't hidden too deeply..." Linux gave a shy smile, "I think they were very becoming on you."
She nearly replied 'so do I', but caught herself in time. Attempting to hide her blush, Unix feigned interest in the newspaper and buried herself behind it.
As fantastical a thought as it was, she would always long for a life in which her and Multics' relationship could be undisguised and open.
But a part of her couldn't help but feel a bit special for being in on such an exclusive piece of knowledge... and having such excellent company in on the secret.