I apologize in advance, but hey, at least I warned you, right? Also, I have [acronym] in the story; let me know if anything comes to mind for what to put there!

It took a couple of days to coordinate, but Andromeda and I found time to head to the local community college campus. I’d sent an email to a scholar named Dr. Brayden Zuabi and received an auto-generated message telling me not to expect a response in less than a week. A nearby auto-bus took us from my apartment straight to the campus library. I was a little jealous of the students; I missed my college days.

Granted, I’d been shuffled around like a deck of cards in the hands of a twitchy poker player so my relationships were scarce and shallow, but the experience was much the same everywhere I went. I loved all of the classes and most of my teachers. The positions for educators were highly competitive and the schools that churned out wannabe teachers only accepted the best. A lot of Channels went that route, but I’d never been interested.

The usual chaos surrounded us as students swarmed here and there between classes. I saw a young man in a set of mech-legs impressing his friends with his ability to raise and lower his height. A young trio was practicing some kind of light magic that looked to be changing the color of the grass around them.

Andromeda seemed to know where she was going; she’d told me the name of the professor we were meeting, but I’d promptly forgotten it due to the interruption of a phone call from my mom to complain about two of my siblings like I could help in some way, but neither of them had anything in common with me, so all I could do was listen.

A series of hallways and stairs later and Andromeda stopped us in front of the office of Dr. Agneta Bjork. I smiled at the name and said it half a dozen times in my head. Swedish for sure. I liked Swedish.

Andromeda knocked and entered. A very Swedish-looking woman smiled up at us.

I started the conversation, “Hej! Jag heter Lizette, Det här är Andromeda.”

Dr. Bjork’s smile grew and she answered, “Trevligt att träffas. Did you come to practice your Swedish?”

Andromeda took over, “We saw that you were the local expert on bonded trios and wanted to ask some questions for a research project.”

“You are students here?” the Dr. asked. She gestured to the chairs and we sat.

“Recently transferred,” Andromeda lied easily. “It’s a leftover project from our previous school, but interesting enough that we didn’t want to leave it unfinished.”

Dr. Bjork raised her eyebrows and motioned for us to continue. We each pulled out a notepad and pen like any good college student and Andromeda said, “What was the most recent research on why Instruments bond? Has there been any recent development in that area?”

Dr. Bjork leaned back in her chair and drummed her fingers on the arm rests. “Good. Unfortunately, while I expect many people around the world are studying this, it has not received much funding in the last few decades. It is considered a dead-end study. So much of what we know about bonding was explored during the Renaissance and has been only confirmed and not updated. We know what we know.”

“And what exactly do we know?” I asked, smiling sheepishly.

She smiled back. “We know that Vibrators access the force, Actuators translate the force through the Vibrator, and Resonators direct and amplify the force the Actuators have provided.”

“Has there ever been a change in that?” I asked. Andromeda glanced at me.

“A change in what way?” Dr. Bjork asked.

I shrugged carelessly. “Like, I don’t know, two Channels, I mean Actuators bonding instead of an Actuator and a Resonator?”

Dr. Bjork shook her head. “Not in my studies, no, I have never read or heard of such a thing.”

Andromeda spoke, “How common is it for trios to be missing a piece? Fail to bond, sort of thing?”

“This is unfortunately common,” Dr. Bjork said, bobbing her head side to side. “I believe the statistic is around twenty to thirty percent either failing to bond or losing a member of their trio to age or sickness or accident.”

“Why would you theorize that might be?” Andromeda continued. Her notes were in shorthand and her handwriting was much neater than mine.

Dr. Bjork filled her lungs and frowned thoughtfully. “There are many debates on this subject. Many argue that the percentage is lower than we could hope, because out of the billions of humans on the planet and the amount of time there have been Instruments performing, why would we ever hope to be born at the same time as just those who can create a bond with us? Why not would my Vibrator or Actuator be born in the Dark Ages or far in the future? That we are within a few years of one another is something that has not yet been satisfyingly explained.”

That was a fear I’d harbored until I’d met Andromeda. I had nightmares about it through my teens when everyone in my classes was bonding left and right. What if my trio was already dead, or wouldn’t be born until I was? I glanced at Andromeda and felt a weight in my chest release.

“Too,” Dr. Bjork continued, “there are trios who are not well-suited. We are all human and we fight and argue and disagree. This is to be expected. However, if a trio is too ill-suited, they can request a legal dissolution.”

“I’m sorry, would you remind me of what that entails?” Andromeda asked.

“Of course – if you dissolve your trio, you will be required to stay a minimum of ten thousand miles distant, it is illegal for employment through the same company, and you can be fined or imprisoned for initiating contact. There are other stipulations and exceptions, of course, but that is the general law.”

Andromeda was writing. I asked, “Instruments have been bonding in trios for centuries, but if there was some kind of break in that pattern, who would be granted the study?”

Dr. Bjork shifted forward. “Everything related to Instruments is handled by the [acronym]. They decide what country and facility is granted the research topic and funding.”

“They only do the bureaucratic administration, though, right? Like handling testing and documentation when you’re a kid? They still answer to whatever country’s government’s rules are, but they keep regulations consistent.”

Dr. Bjork nodded. “Yes, this is true, but because of their access, they know who would be most suited to the study. The results would come through them before publication so that they are prepared, as you said, to keep consistency.”

I leaned back and put my head down to scribble all this down, but my mind was on fire. Something felt off but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

“What was the topic for this project?” Dr. Bjork asked.

Andromeda smiled charmingly. “We’ve honestly changed it three times. Whenever we get started, something new leads us down another interesting path. Not efficient, I know, but since it isn’t for a grade…” she shrugged ruefully and Dr. Bjork replied with a tight smile.

“My office hours have almost come to a close,” she said. “Is there anything else?”

I started to shake my head, but Andromeda said, “Actually, just one more thing, if that’s all right: I’ve looked into the creation of the [acronym] since so much of what we know comes through them, like you said, but I am struggling to find an establishment date. I know they’ve handled Instrument management in some form or fashion since forever, long before they were officially the [acronym], but do you have any kind of date range I should focus on?”

Dr. Bjork shook her head. “No, I’m sorry, that’s not something I know. I could ask some colleagues and send you an email with their suggestions if you like.”

“If you don’t mind, that would be excellent, thank you.” She flipped the page and write an address. The sound of paper tearing was loud for some reason and I couldn’t stop staring at the page as it transferred hands. Something was telling me to shove it in my mouth and run away before anyone could stop me, but I didn’t move.

“I hope I was of some assistance to you,” Dr. Bjork said. She stood and put out a hand for us each to shake. Andromeda stood first and I followed suit jerkily. My mind was elsewhere entirely, but when I touched Dr. Bjork’s hand I could only stare. She didn’t seem to notice, but my hand was tingling and I could have sworn I saw some kind of blue light speed around our clasped grip before she let go.

Andromeda led the way out and when I glanced back, Dr. Bjork smiled and gave a small wave, which I returned uneasily.

Andromeda was walking fast and I had to skip a bit to catch up, despite my longer legs. “Hang on, stop here,” she said suddenly, twisting around a corner and leaning against the wall. I skidded slightly, lining up beside her and watching as she pulled out her phone and opened an internet page.

“What are you doing?” I asked. “Shouldn’t we wait until we’re back at my place or yours to research anything else?”

“I’m not researching; I’m creating an email account.”

Realization and relief hit me like a ton of bricks. “You gave her a fake email,” I breathed.

“She was giving me the heebie-jeebies,” Andromeda explained. She gave an exaggerated shudder. “I didn’t want her to have my real one, but in case she tracks it or actually does reach out, I want it to be real.”

“You’re so smart. How are you smart and beautiful and so good in bed?”

She grinned but focused on her task.

I looked down the halls and smiled casually, carelessly at anyone who glanced at us. They all lost interest quickly. The young man with the mech-legs appeared at the end of the corridor and smiled a genuine smile at me. I returned it. As he got closer, my smile grew and then so did my eyes. I felt like laughing, for no reason. I’d felt this exact feeling just a few days before.

Andromeda looked up at me, fighting a grin, and then saw the man coming toward us. He looked pleasantly confused and I put out a hand to slow his stride. His mech responded quickly and he stopped in front of us, shrugging his backpack into a more comfortable position.

“Are you—” he started and then stopped.

“I’m Lizette,” I said.

“Mathis,” he replied. He had a trace of his French nationality in his accent.

“Andromeda. I know; my dad’s a pilot.”

“Are we… are we a trio?” he asked incredulously. His eyes darted between us.

I put out a hand and he took it.

April 12, 2021

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