(A series of blinks, A change in fortune, A change in friends, and Some really big worries)
For Iris, events rushed by in blinks. She closed her eyes as a maid, and opened them a verified fiancee. Peter moved her into her own suite, and played host to a midwife of both good experience and good record.
The canny woman, later introduced as Gram’ma Josie, sized Iris up and down and announced, “Oh yes. That’s twins, all right.”
Peter, the dear lunkhead, grinned and hopped, nearly butting the ceiling with his hair. “A boy and a girl, I know. Will beloved Iris be well?”
“Dare say she will. Got the hips for it, at least. How clean is your water? Get any newts?”
“Newts? No. Walter Manor stands on an aquifer. Purest water known to life itself. I’ve tested it for everything. Not a trace.”
“Good,” the woman nodded. “Means nobody’s drinking newt piss. I got other appointments, you understand. Another set of twins closer to seeing the light of day than yours are. My line of work, you can’t give your clients the run-around. But I’ll see to her in m’ spare moments. And when she’s closer, I’ll move in.”
“Madam, you have a deal.”
“Please stand, m’m?”
Iris levered herself up with difficulty, finding herself being measured by Chloe and Pamela. “What’s with all the m’m nonsense? I’m still your friend, aren’t I?”
“You’re going to get married to the Colonel. That mean’s you’re a solid m’m or we get thrown out. The Admiral doesn’t need us for decoration, any more.”
Iris remembered Peter’s words during her first days. “If he fires you, I’ll hire you. I’m sure Peter would be amenable. He was always talking about how us girls knew how to put delicate things together.”
“If it please you, m’m,” allowed Chloe.
Iris peered at the design that Peony was busy designing. “I know you love that one, Peony, but… Let’s be a little more practical, please? A nice, long, loose top and a separate drawstring skirt.”
“This one’s prettier to look at,” allowed Peony.
“I have to chase the automatons around in it, dear. I’d rather have an outfit I can move in.”
They finished their measuring and they let her sit.
She was absolutely ravenous. So hungry that she would willingly eat one of Peter’s horrendous sandwiches. Her best friends were calling her “m’m” all the time and any moment she went near a set of stairs, any nearby maid rushed to ferry her towards an elevator.
It seemed both the Masters Walter were determined to see that she didn’t tumble down the stairs.
Tom was white as a sheet whenever Iris entered the elevator. He took excruciating care to ensure that there wasn’t a bump or a tremble in its operations.
“It’s all right, lad,” she soothed. “I’m not about to explode.”
“Heard ‘em whispering,” he mumbled. “Said y’ might die.”
“I promise I’ll try very hard not to,” Iris petted his shoulder. “It feels like the entire mansion is fussing over me.”
Mrs Cambridge kept her out of the kitchens. The common wooden chairs were too harsh, now that Iris was announced as Being Delicate. They sat her in a horsehair chair and plied her with so many cushions that they almost tipped her entirely out of it.
At least Mrs Cambridge trusted her to operate a knife and fork.
Poor Peter startled at every murmur she made and the Admiral was little better. He had an endless catalogue of woes that his first wife had suffered during her multiple episodes of Delicacy. All of which had to lead to her inevitable demise.
Walking was about the only approved exercise. If she picked up anything heavier than a pen, there would be another swarm of fusspots determined to prevent her from doing anything for herself.
But walking through the gardens with Peter was heartily approved. Fresh air and the relative peace of the gardens. Dear Peter fussed, so. He was worried, of course, and took to carrying a scientific backpack which contained a compromise between everything he could think of an everything he could actually carry.
And Hatchworth had developed an uncanny knack for knowing where she would need a chair and being there with just the right kind. And an armload of the squishiest cushions.
When she wasn’t sleeping or hungry, she tried to spend time with the automatons. Rabbit and the boys, as Peter called them.
He was still searching for proof to re-enforce the revelation that Rabbit thought she was the girl. Rabbit’s original plans had vanished, and cleaning the entire top floor had done nothing to help find them. Peter was now rummaging through all of his lecture notes whenever he wasn’t fussing over her.
And once a week, Gram’ma Josie the midwife would visit to press her belly, listen to it, feel various parts of Iris and harumph in a knowing way.
Still, it was heartening to hear the “No danger. All three are hale and hearty,” before she resumed her everyday business.
Hatchworth was an absolute blessing. He could pull anything and everything out of his hatch at a moment’s notice. Which did her cravings a wonder. He rarely spent any time at all away from her. In fact, she often had to push dear Peter and poor Hatchworth out of her way when she needed the lavvie.
The other three automatons had picked up on the anxiety emanating from their Pappy. It displayed itself oddly, since they were children. The Spine would frequently watch over her sleep. Unit Three kept bringing her flowers and interesting feathers, when he wasn’t obsessively drawing happily-ever-afters as if they were some kind of spell against ill fortune. And as for Rabbit…
Rabbit had taken to hiding from both herself and dear Peter, but well within sight, so she could check that she was hiding effectively. She was always in the background. Behind a chair, lurking amongst the curtains, or pretending to blend in with a hatrack.
Iris was busy stitching together sandbag babies when she spotted Rabbit flinching. Oh. The twins were kicking her belly around. It must look downright disturbing for a machine with rigid plating. Or a machine who had seen unnatural things in her very first war.
“It’s all right,” she soothed. “It’s not as uncomfortable as it looks.”
Rabbit made a very uncertain noise. “Why’s they beatin’ y-you up, Ma?”
“They’re exercising. They’re not hurting me…” she winced at a particularly hefty kick. “But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t uncomfortable.”
“Is that how they get out? They b-b-bust through you?”
Now that had to be an echo of the horrors of war. Peter had said that Green Matter did horrible things to the flesh. Bursting through things seemed to fit in well. “No, they don’t burst out of me. I have to push them out between my legs. There’s a natural passage for them, there.” Yes. That would satisfy all of the truth, scientific accuracy, and enough information to satisfy a child. “It’s a lot of work, but I will not be bursting apart. I promise.”
Rabbit crawled out of hiding, remaining huddled near floor level. “What’re the dollies for?”
“Practice,” said Iris, continuing her sewing. “You, Pappy and the others need to learn how to hold a baby. And these will help.”
“D-d-don’ wanna,” muttered Rabbit. “You won’t need us th-there anyhow.”
Iris paused in her work. “Of course we’ll need you. Why would you think we won’t?”
“You’re g-gettin’ real babies, soon. B-b-babies people will like.” Oho. Miss Ponsonbury had left a lasting impression, it seemed. Or one of the unknowing multitude on the streets between the manor and the Cavalcadium who treated an adult-sized machine as if she were the grownup she seemed to be. “You w-w-won’t need us around, no more.”
Poor darling. “Just because we’re getting babies will never mean that we stop loving you. Any of you. Now come here. I want you to be able to hold them when they’re born.”
Moving was hard. Getting up or down was hard. Walking was an exercise that involved much puffing and panting. There wasn’t a moment of her day that she wasn’t out of breath.
Now she truly understood the meaning of the phrase, ‘great with child’. Her proportions had become alarming enough for the midwife to move in and chant, “Any day, now,” with alarming cheerfulness.
Peter hovered around her like a moth near a candle. Relying on the maids or the automatons to bring them both anything they needed. He spent random moments inventing things that could prove useful. A machine that made ice at one end, and hot water at the other. A machine that could soak up spilled blood, clean it, and pour it into jars, ready for transfer back into the patient. A stethoscope crossed with a suction cup that could listen to an infant’s heartbeat by adhering gently to the fontanelle. It went on and on.
Iris had been suffering from phantom contractions for a week. And they had only been getting more pestiferous, today. They were slowing her down even further.
The Spine had her arm. “Pappy said he should walk you,” he said as he took her elbow. He had been the most frenetic about learning how to safely handle babies. The most anxious about the danger his Ma was in. “He wants to be close.”
“Pappy’s having... “ oof. Ow. They were getting rougher. “...his lunch. Don’t you bother him, he needs to eat.”
“You go ahead and bother him, thing,” said the midwife, seemingly teleporting to Iris’ side. “Your ma’s not going anywhere further than up and down this hall.”
Iris glared at her. She’d been so casual about everything and now even she was making her feel like spun glass. “It’s just a….” Ow. “...turn around the mansion.”
“You won’t make it the full circle,” she said. “It’s starting.”