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Ferndale, MI

I close my eyes and lean back into the dingy couch, my fingers interlaced behind my head, stretching up and back. This place is a good place, a home away from home.

The pungent smell of laser-ablated leather mixes with notes of cutting fluid and oak sawdust. Over the powerful hum of the vent fan exhausting the laser cutters' noxious byproducts, I hear the crackle of a MIG torch making a beautiful noise, harmonizing with the drone of the planer in the woodshop. The venerable CNC mill takes another deep facing cut, adding its guttural spindle rumble and the tinkle of chips hitting the guards to the symphony of creation around me.

I relax my stretch and sink into the couch. Opening my eyes, I look around the small industrial building, packed full of a seemingly-random and eclectic mix of machine tools, art, banners, and even a massive papier-mâché replica of a Canadian TV show character's head, green cap and roll of duct tape to boot. I turn my attention from the comfortably cozy chaos around me to the diminutive brunette at the whiteboard, veritably bouncing with passion and hyperfocus. She wields a blue marker in her right hand and an orange one in her left, and has covered and recovered the large surface in entirety several times over the last few hours, excitedly explaining to Kian and I her inspired modifications to the intake intercooler concept for the hybrid-cycle engine she is designing. A large, empty thermos formerly full of tea and sugar sits at her hip, clipped into one of the waist loops of her shop apron.

Words burst out of Moira as a torrent, "...sosososo, see, if we use this modified internal structure, we both get cooling at better than two gigawatts per cubic meter, and solve the icing problem passively without needing methanol! The resulting engine should be capable of a thrust to weight ratio of nearly seventeen!"

Kian rumbles, "Love, cutie, dearest. Your engineering mind is a shining star, and like a star, it's overwhelming to the unprotected. Please slow down some for us."

Moira immediately freezes in place, closes her eyes, and takes a few deep, measured breaths. Visibly relaxed, she nods and begins again.

"Ho-kay, so, you know the basics of how a hypersonic precooled hybrid air-breathing rocket engine works?"

I lean forward towards my metamour. "You know, we really need to get you a better name for that thing. And yes, based on what I remember from your last rant on the subject, you've got an adjustable...impact?...cone that helps pre-compress the air or shut the whole intake off. After that, the air is super super hot so you need to cool it with the precooler, but if you cool it too much, you get ice and your engine and pilot die. Other designs use a heavy methanol deicer, but you want to get rid of that system to reduce weight.

"After the cooler, you have a turbine compressor, but it's the fuel stream instead of the exhaust, which further compresses the air. Then you inject hydrogen fuel in and ignite it and fast comes out the back. If you close the intake completely, you also turn off the cooler and compressor, and inject oxygen in to make it run like a rocket engine. Also something about an adjustable bell?"

Moira smiles, and my heart flutters a little. Hmm, might have to examine that feeling later. "Close! It is a shock cone, not an impact cone. And yes, the bell adjusts because a sea-level bell is a very different size and shape from a vacuum bell, so we have to adapt with altitude.

"So in short, my new design for the precooler does away with the deicer altogether-"

Kian and I, unbidden, interject "Your new design for the precooler does away with the deicer!"

Moira blushes brilliantly but her grin is unsuppressable. "Hush you. With no deicer, we lose a lot of weight and complexity, not to mention another fluid to manage onboard and logistically. However, and an obvious problem, is we no longer have an active system to prevent ice from forming in the precooler. Ice in your precooler is bad, because ice blocks airflow. Blocked airflow means both much higher temperatures hitting the turbocompressor, which can melt the blades, and also inefficient combustion, both because of the lower density of air and lower flow of air, which means your engine makes less thrust and is at significant risk of melting. Which is bad for the continued success of the mission, the aircraft, and possibly the pilot.

"Sosososo with that glaring omission, I set about figuring a new design of the cooling grid that prevents ice from forming in the first place.

"Janais, brilliant computer witch-"

I feel my cheeks burning and find my brain is scattering with the compliment...later. Focus now.

"-helped me develop a generative design system tuned by a thirty-million generation genetic algorithm. I then asked it to come up with a precooler design scored by a fitness function based on mass, volume, cooling performance, cost of materials, and icing probability. The cloud bill was, uh, considerable, but a reasonable investment into the future.

"While I do not even pretend to understand how the new design works, all of the models predict excellent performance of up to two gigawatts of heat removed per cubic meter of precooler volume, with absolutely no icing in any terrestrial condition we threw at it, all the way up to the full delta from Mach six intake temperatures of over a thousand cee to the turbocompressor input nominal of negative one-hundred fifty cee!"

Her slate blue eyes sparkle with elation as she finishes her explanation.

"And the best part is, the design is simple enough and tolerant enough, we can print plastic positives for investment-casting with typical automotive-grade precision sand processes! The bulk of the structure can be a fine-grained alloy not much different from modern engine blocks, with a high-temperature silica ceramic sputtered on the leading contact surfaces afterwards."

I lean into Kian's strong shoulder, curl my legs up under me on the couch, and rub the back of her neck with one hand. She closes her eyes and purrs appreciatively.

I muse out loud. "Lighter. Smaller. Higher cooling density. No methanol. Cheap to produce in volume. You genius girl, it feels like cheating, a Maxwell's demon. What're we waiting for? Let's build one!"

Moira reaches maximum blush intensity and makes incoherent mumbling noses at the praise. Hmm. I definitely think I need to investigate this further, later.

Moira glances over at Kian and I, huddled a fair distance away behind a welding curtain, and gives us a crooked smile. Flipping down her welding helmet, she plants her feet solidly at shoulder-width, takes a deep breath and releases it, steadying her mind and her hands. She opens the foundry, which blasts her with heat and broad-spectrum light, and she carefully lifts the crucible out. Moving quickly but smoothly, she closes the foundry, pivots to the mold, and firmly pours the contents of the crucible into the mold. Even through the curtain, the metal is an overwhelming river of molten sunlight and I glance away until I hear her chirrup in satisfaction.

"All done?" I call.

"Yus. Is good. Much pour, very cast, so hot." She joins us at the curtain, pulling her helmet off and running filthy fingers through messy, sweat-drenched hair, then wiping them on her shop apron, tracing tracks already marked by the stains of hundreds of such gestures. Her dirt-streaked cheeks glow, I suspect from a combination of the punishing heat of the foundry and pride.

I feel my heart pull towards her. Fuck, I really need to have a conversation with her. And Kian too. And all of us three together. Forming a triad can be fraught...but gods am I falling for Moira.

"We have probably a couple hours until the casting is ready to decant. What do you two want to do?" She inquires. Her eyes loom large, and I cannot help from breathing the word reflexively and infusing it with feeling and meaning.


Moira's freckles glow under the dirt and sweat. She stammers and mumbles and makes non-word sounds.

Kian chuckles and says, "About time, my loves. I've been waiting for you to acknowledge that you're crazy about each other as much as I am."

She turns to me and addresses my unvoiced fear "And yes, I'm ok with a triad if you are, and the ball of squee over there and I have had a conversation about it already; she'll tell you herself once she gets calmer, but she's OK with it too."

As we prepare to leave the hackerspace for the night, Moira is still in no condition to drive. Kian and I apparently wore her out with kisses, compliments, and cuddles, interspersed with cleaning up the foundry area and getting the mold into a safe and permitted spot for a few days. I volunteer to drive her home in her car, and Kian assents, saying she will meet us there after feeding the cats at our place.

Moira gets into the passenger seat of her little red Pontiac convertible as I admire the vividly-contrasting pair of green pinstripes that run from the driver's side headlight to the tail light, running over the driver's side door handle on their way along the body panels. It is a cute touch to the vehicle. I get in and adjust the seat back a little to accommodate my longer legs. Moira mumbles something and I ask her to repeat.

" a button. You push the button an' the car go! No 'keyswitch thermal events' in Lavernge, nope...”

"OK, love-” a contented noise from the disheveled lump in the other seat "-I got it.”

I push the ignition button, carefully and thoughtfully installed in the former location of a keyswitch. The car wakes up, retrofit screens lighting up in blue and orange where dials used to be on the dash. An obvious difference: where there surely used to be tachometer and fuel-level gauges are now two large simulated gauges. The left one is marked "SoC”, and its needle rises quickly to the 70% position, indicating battery state of charge, I guess. The other is marked "Flo”, and its needle sits at the vertical position, marked 0%, with positive and negative percentages extending to 100% both directions around the dial.

A soft piece of music plays from the infotainment system, an orchestra and piano accompanying a young English woman's voice in an enchanting cover of Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark".

I shift into reverse and the whole-ass center cluster turns into a rearview camera image. "-!” I begin to say, and Moira chuckles.

"Yeah, I got a deal from a friend on a prototype display. Maybe transflective or something? Eye dee kay. Anyways, looks like real buttons an' shit, but then can be used for like seventy-five eff pee ess video too. Wish I knew where I could get more of dem.”

I lightly press the accelerator, and the car smoothly and responsively back into the road outside the industrial warehouse that houses the hackerspace the three of us are members at. Clearing the rest of the parked vehicles, I slow, then shift into drive and press the accelerator, a little harder this time. The car leaps forward, pressing us into the comfortable bucket seats. I glance at the convex mirror on the power pole across the street from the hackerspace, checking the blind turn to the north for oncoming traffic, then swing onto the northbound cross street.

"Gotta make sure you watch your speed, 'kay? You say go, she go. Lavernge good like that.” A sleepy voice from my right. I check the prominent speedometer on the display...oops.

"Uhhhhh. Wow, OK, I do not need to be doing 25 over here...” I release the accelerator and notice the "Flo” gauge swing from -30% to +60% as the car slowed smoothly and quickly. I could really get used to this!

We make the turn east onto Nine Mile, heading for the interstate. I keep a weather eye on the speedometer now, careful to avoid speeding in an area generally heavily-patrolled. A few lights and I am on the northbound onramp. Moira sleepily giggles.

"Go Lavernge, go!”

I take that as permission and lean into the accelerator. Lavernge gives me what I asked for; FAST. By the bottom of the ramp we are doing the speed limit, and it is clear she has no reservations about continuing if I ask for it. The "Flo” gauge hovers around -60%...does she have more power than this? Gods. I love this woman, and I love her car.

I let up so as not to anger the goddess of highway patrol and Lavernge settles into a comfortable cruising speed, "Flo” dithering between the -10% and +10% positions.

A light snore emanates from next to me. I smile and drive on.

"Moira. Cutie. We are here”


"Can you carry her? She is too heavy for me.”

"Yeah, no problem.” Kian leans into the car and scoops up the sleepy woman. I close and lock the car doors, then follow them inside.

"Do you want to try getting her clean before bed?”

"I figured she would probably not object to a warm washcloth for her face and hands at least. I'll work on getting her changed, wanna grab one?”

"Sure.” I wander into Moira's apartment kitchen, greeted by a clock with glowing orange digits informing it was 20220824021734, and find a cleanish washcloth and some industrial grease-removal handsoap. I squeeze a little into the cloth, then run hot water over it until I have a small lather.

I hear Kian's deep, gentle voice from another room, punctuated by Moira's sleepy half-protests. I follow the chatter to a bedroom off a short hallway and knock gently on the closed door.

"Is me. Y'all decent?”

"Nevah!” came Moira's response, interrupted and lilting with giggles. I open the door and enter.

Moira is mostly wearing a pair of black fleece sleep pants and a blue cami, and trying ineffectually to dive into the unmade bed. Kian is competently redirecting her efforts, making an entertaining interpretive dance.

"Shall we enter y'all into Cirque du Soleil?” I sidestep a smattering of discarded clothes, dishes, and a gigantic stuffed shark as I make my way over to the pair.

"Sit for me love?” I ask Moira, who bounces floppily onto the edge of the bed. I sit next to her and gently wipe the first eight layers of filth from her face, revealing even more freckles...such good freckles...

"Mrrr” Moira pouts. Apparently I got distracted from the task at hand. Must stay focused. I ask her for her hands, and work my washcloth around and between each slender, callused digit, taking care around the new cuts and the recent scabs. Such good, strong hands, knuckles on the right one bruised lightly. Nails short but even, at one point painted a shimmery blue but now chipped and scratched from use.

"You should let me paint these again.” I lightly kiss the bruised knuckles and she giggles. "What did you do here?”

"I punched the mold!” she declares, then tilts her head forward a little and looks deep into my eyes from under her soft brow. "Am I clean an' perfect yet?”

...Sweet mother, I cannot weave; slender Aphrodite has overcome me with longing for a girl named Moira. She wraps her arms behind my back and flops backwards onto the bed, pulling me with, and on top of, her.

Kian gently slides the pair of us up to the pillows at the head, then cuddles into Moira's side, wrapping her arm around my back as well.

I drift off to sleep, unimaginably content.