"Welcome home, Creator," the robot greeted Apex as she flew into the Citadel's triangular entrance hatch. It had taken the better part of a year, but Apex did finally feel like the cold metal sphere was becoming home. She and Cifex - along with Orak, a crew of technicians, four dragonator squadrons, and a small civilian population - had relocated to the Citadel following her wedding in attempt to alleviate some of the crowding and limited facilities on Mount Alayas.
The central computer and the robots still recognized Apex as a "Creator" though. And that combined with her high dragonator rank had made Apex the de facto leader of this settlement. Cifex and Orak had tried time and again to work around the programming put in place by the real Creators, but without luck so far.
"Welcome home, love," Cifex said as he strolled up the hallway to meet her. "How did the appointment go?"
Apex placed a hand on her huge, swollen belly. "Fine, I guess. Miriam and Ilona think everything is progressing quite nicely," she said with a smile.
Cifex's face split into a relieved grin. "I'm glad. I would have come with you, but," he began, before she cut him off.
"Cifex, you have a thousand things going on here. You don't have to come to every appointment with me."
He hung his head slightly. "I know, but they're going to be our children," he said. "I don't want to miss a moment."
Apex clasped his hand. "And you won't. But me getting routine blood work is hardly a 'moment' in my book," she said with a chuckle. "But I am famished after my flight."
"Good, because Orak went to make you some food earlier," Cifex said. "I know he's dying to hear any updates about his grandchildren too."
Apex gave a little groan. "Why is everyone freaking out so much about the fact that we're having kids? I mean, aside from the obvious strangeness of the situation."
Cifex smiled, but rolled his eyes all the same. "Pexy, these kids already have a place in a lot of people's hearts. And don't forget, they're not just our kids."
"No indeed, it seems as though I get forcibly reminded of that at every turn," Apex replied with a chuckle.
~Nine months earlier~
Apex savored the first bite of the sumptuous cheesecake that Zarkan had made and sighed with pleasure. Damn that man could cook. Cifex had politely declined (knowing it would go to waste a bit on him), but Amod, Miriam, and Summit all dug into their slices with relish.
"I wonder what was so special about the old city of New York that they got such an amazing dessert named for them," Apex said after she had finished her piece and Amod was pouring after-dinner coffee for the small group. It was their first night back on Alayas in almost two months, and Apex had fairly jumped at the chance to have dinner with their friends.
"I'll send you the historical records I dug up - it was quite the town," Zarkan replied. "You'll love all the clothing references, too."
It was also a poignant time for Apex's family, considering that Summit had just recently been released from his six month probationary period. "I hear the Council's review of your case went well," Cifex said, turning to Summit.
"He's been absolutely exemplary at guard duty," Miriam said with a smile.
Summit smiled too, but Apex could definitely see it didn't reach her brother's eyes. "I figured even Councilwoman Elspeth couldn't find anything wrong at this point," he said. "Though I'd be lying if I didn't say it's been the most boring and wasted six months of my life. What I wouldn't give to be with you guys working on restoring the Citadel."
"Yes, sleeping on cold metal floors and having irritating robots second-guessing you all day is just a barrel of fun," Apex said.
"I thought I got to be the irritating robot who second guesses you," Cifex said, making puppy dog eyes at Apex before she whacked him on the arm.
The group chatted amicably for another hour, and Apex had to stop drinking coffee or else she'd never get to sleep that night. As the evening was winding down, however, Zarkan gave her a very serious look. "Apex, we have something we'd like to discuss with you before you leave tonight."
"You sound like you're arranging a funeral, Zarkan," she retorted. "Hopefully it's nothing quite that bad."
"I hope not," he replied. "Well, there's not good way to broach this subject, so I'll just come out and say it - Amod and I would like you to be the surrogate mother for our child."
Apex spit out the water she had just taken a sip of. She was dumbstruck, completely and totally. "Bwuh?" was the only incoherent response her brain could conjure up.
"Not exactly the reaction I was looking for," Zarkan admitted.
Amod took the initiative. "It's actually a perfect solution. Zarkan and I will both donate sperm, and Miriam will use it to fertilize two of your eggs. Neither of us can have children naturally," he said, a hint of wistful sadness in his voice, "But if we work together we can each have a child of our own."
"Would you be moving to the Citadel, then?" Cifex asked. "I would hate for the children to be separated from their sibling."
"Actually..." Amod began before he was cut off by Apex.
"Wait just a minute! Don't go planning all of this out! I haven't agreed to anything!" she huffed.
Cifex looked puzzled. "But we were just speaking the other day about possibilities for starting a family. It seems that this is not only a good option for us, but our friends as well."
"I'm not saying no, but just...give me some time to think about it, all right?" Apex pleaded. "I would be the one doing all the heavy lifting for nine months, after all, and it's not something I'd enter into lightly."
Apex understood much later that she'd never really had a chance against their combined forces. (She was rightly irritated with Cifex when she discovered Zarkan and Amod had actually approached him about the idea prior to the dinner party.) But in the end, she had been just as excited by the prospect as the rest. It was decided that the child who was Zarkan's genetic progeny would live with him and Amod, while Amod's child would stay with Apex and Cifex. Amod had suggested the arrangement, because, in his words, "Since Cifex and I share some similar features, I'd like his child to look like him as much as possible." Apex had cried at her friend's (family now?) generosity. It had also been arranged that Zarkan and Amod would move into the Citadel in order for the children to live close by.
Miriam and Ilona had seen to the genetic and medical health of the developing children, and though Apex knew she was in the most capable of hands, it hadn't apparently stopped everyone from chiming in with their own advice. Apex knew it had really gotten out of hand once Orak started cooking for her, though. She shouldn't have been all that surprised, though, considering Zarkan was his nephew and surrogate son. Her parents had been over the moon too, of course. Iranda had been staying in the Citadel for the past few weeks helping her get the nursery ready.
Apex felt a little guilty tearing her mother away from the terraforming projects she was overseeing, but Iranda had turned her most withering glare on her daughter for even suggesting she might have something more important to do. "I spent eighteen years apart from my family, Apex. I'm not missing a single second," Iranda said. And that was that.
At the last scan, it had been revealed that Zarkan's and Apex's child was a son. He and Amod had batted around a host of different names, but eventually settled on Apollo. After much consideration and digging in the historical archives looking for similar names, Cifex and Apex had settled on the name of mythical Apollo's sister for Amod and Apex's daughter: Diana.
Cifex helped settle Apex at the dinner table that evening alongside Orak, Zarkan, Amod, and Iranda. They were just about to dig into the meal Orak had prepared when a knock resounded on the door. Apex sighed - probably another fire to put out or crisis to avert that only "The Creator" could take care of. Cifex got up to answer the door, and Apex's frown turned to delight as her four brothers crowded through the door all at once, followed by Miriam, Nora, Nocturna, and Aaron.
"I thought I'd make a house call, and all these yahoos decided to tag along," Miriam said with a smile.
"House call?" Apex said with a laugh as she embraced her sister-in-law. "I just saw you earlier this morning!"
Miriam grinned. "Well, the results just came back from your tests, and I thought you might like to know that you're probably going to go into labor in the next forty-eight hours. So my house call is totally warranted - I don't trust a good delivery to the second-rate medical robots here."
"And you know darn well we weren't going to let our first niece and nephew arrive without us all being here!" Peak chimed in.
Apex was crying then, so glad that everyone was there for her. Damn hormones all out of whack.
Apex lay spent on the birthing bed, the twins swathed in blankets and cradled in her arms. She was grateful for the cool cloth that Iranda had draped over her forehead. She might have been a tad biased, but the children were absolutely beautiful. Apollo was dark like his biological father, but he had Apex's red-gold hair. Diana looked like a nice blend of Apex and Amod, and the shock of hair on her head was so blonde as to almost be white.
Cifex, Amod, and Zarkan all stood around her, their faces filled with love. It was certainly an unconventional family. But as Apex slowly handed Apollo to Amod, and Diana to Cifex, she realized she wouldn't rather have it any other way.
After Apex had drifted off to sleep, Cifex and Amod brought out Diana and Apollo to meet the gathered family. Before any of the others could even get up, Aaron and Orak were there to take their grandchildren. The children cooed, and Diana grasped at Aaron's beard, while Apollo tugged on Orak's glove.
"So, who's next to give me grandchildren?" Aaron asked, leveling a mock stern gaze at the rest of his children.
"Enjoy the ones you have now, Father!" Summit chided as he got up to take Diana from Aaron. As he rocked the tiny baby in his arms, Summit could feel the paternal instinct welling up inside. "Uncle Summit and Aunt Miri will give you cousins to play with soon enough," he said under his breath.
Miriam had wanted to start having children right after their wedding, but Summit didn't want to until they had spent a few years together as a married couple. But he could feel himself coming around to her line of thought. As if sensing his thoughts, Miriam appeared back in the waiting room and smiled up at him. "I'm ready to start any time you are," she said, giving him a devilish grin.
"I think that can be arranged," Summit replied, winking at his wife.
The rest of the family had gone back to their rooms for the evening, but Cifex, Amod, and Zarkan remained behind in the medical ward. Amod and Zarkan had fallen asleep in a chair beside Apex's bed. Cifex smiled as he looked down on the sleeping forms of his wife cradling the children. He turned down the lighting, wanting to make sure they all slept well.
Cifex settled himself in another chair and pulled out a datapad to keep him busy. One advantage of never having to sleep was that he could take advantage of the nighttime hours to get a good deal accomplished.
When his datapad had powered on, though, he found a message from Iranda. It simply said, "Meet me on the roof if you have time." He briefly thought about sending a message back, but decided to head out instead. Cifex diverted the security cams feed in the room to his own neural net (no reason he couldn't keep an eye on everything), and set out in search of Iranda.
Cifex's footsteps were the only sound in the hallways aside from the undercurrent hum that pervaded the Citadel. He took one of the elevators up to the roof - a new ring that had been added near the top of the sphere. They used it mostly for growing food, as light didn't penetrate the structure well.
The door opened with a slight whoosh and Cifex saw Iranda standing in the dim light of the aeroponics bays. She was wearing a light bathrobe, and her hair was in a loose braid that fell over one shoulder.
"Sorry for calling you all the way up here - I just couldn't sleep," she confessed.
Cifex smiled before wandering over to one of the windows and cracking it open. A cool breeze wafted in through the opening.
"You're building amazing things here, you know," Irada said, gesturing to the aeroponics bays. "Just like I said you would."
"I took what you told me to heart," Cifex admitted. "But now that the children are here it often feels like I'm not doing enough, or fast enough at least. I want an Earth now that is safe for our children and grandchildren to grow up on."
"Oh Cifex," Iranda said, squeezing his arm. "None of us are guaranteed safety, or even the fact that what we believe to be the best choice will really turn out that way. I hoped to find a new home, and instead got separated from my family for almost two decades. Funny that it took me millions of light years and that long to discover what was really the most important."
"But if you hadn't disappeared, humanity would never have the terraforming tools that even now are allowing us to take back areas of the planet that were toxic and uninhabitable. Even Warnado's old resting ground is growing back," Cifex said.
"No matter the benefit, it was still a personal loss, Cifex," Iranda said sadly. "And I guess that's what I'm trying to say - Diana and Apollo should never be put behind your work, Cifex. Don't lose sight of what's truly important," Iranda pleaded. "Be there for them when they scrape a knee or learn a new song. Read them bedtime stories, be a strong shoulder for them to cry on." Cifex saw tears streaming down her face. "Please make up for my mistake in some small way," she whispered.
"Your mistake has already been wiped clean, Iranda," Cifex said. "You once wondered aloud to me whether your children and husband could ever forgive you, and the answer has always been yes."
Cifex dried his mother's tears. "That's the great thing about humanity, Iranda. We're always moving forward. We won't heal OId Earth in our lifetimes - maybe not in a hundred lifetimes. But we have a new and shining goal. You once told me that humanity needed me, and I find myself in the strange position of parroting your words back to you."
After a few silent moments, Iranda said, "Where do you think we'll go from here?"
Cifex simply shrugged. "I'm not one much for predictions, but there are new frontiers to explore again on this world, new dangers to face, and new triumphs to savor. Who knows? There could be even more pockets of humanity hiding out there. The only thing I'm absolutely sure of is that wherever the future takes our family, we'll be going together," he said with a smile.
Author's Note: A huge thank you to everyone who made it to the end! Thanks so much for reading! This project was a huge part of my life for about seven months, and it is a true delight to share it here. If you have any thoughts on this work, please leave a message or review - it would be most appreciated.
Special thanks especially go to fellow authors TinySprite and Strongheartmaid for reading this raw on LJ and cheering me on. Your support was invaluable! (And thanks for pressuring me into NaNoWriMo, because it got me off my butt and writing again!)
And thanks to Abrams-Gentile Entertainment and Gaumont Multimedia for creating such a wonderful cast and world that stuck with me for all these years. (Dragon Flyz is their property, btw. I don't own anything other than my original characters and concepts.)