An Aina six years younger would have thought nothing of snapping Hideaki’s arm and splattering him all over the entryway. An Aina six years younger wouldn’t have even feared getting shot. After all, that Aina had survived a barrage of laser fire, coming out completely unscathed. But an Aina six years younger hadn’t lived under Naomi’s tutelage for three years, and didn’t realize the stupid risks she’d be taking. For one thing, she had never survived a pistol shot from point blank range, and there was no guarantee that Hideaki’s pistol wouldn’t fire something her spiritual energy wouldn’t shield her from. More importantly, Hideaki was Akira’s friend. If she killed him, Akira wouldn’t just have her killed, he’d go after her whole family.
“Ara, Hideaki-sama,” Aina feigned delight as she quickly grabbed the pistol by the barrel and twisted it out of his hand. “Ohisashiburi. To what do we owe the honor?”
“Yo,” he responded. “Is Akira-sama in?”
“Gomen nasai, Hideaki-sama. Goshujin-sama is indisposed right now. Demo, he has made it clear that you are always welcome in this mansion. Would you like to come in for some ocha?”
“Sure, as long as you’ll keep me company until I can see him.”
“Mochiron,” she said cheerfully, leading him to the drawing room. “By the way, Hideaki-sama, please be careful with this,” she said as she handed him back his pistol. “We wouldn’t want you to get arrested for possession of an illegal weapon again.”
“You mean this thing?” Hideaki asked. “It’s just an omocha.”
It certainly looked like a toy, but you never could be too careful when it came to Hideaki.
“Still, pulling a gun on a Meido is dangerous,” Aina said. “If you had pulled it on Naomi-sama, you might be missing an arm right now,” she stated as the two of them entered the drawing room.
“Naomi-san never would have let me draw. Hey, aren’t you the one she thought was sabotaging the gynoids?” he said changing the subject. “You’ve grown quite a bit.”
“Arigatou, Hideaki-sama,” Aina curtsied. “I’m hazukashii that you remember that little incident. Douzo, have a seat. I’ll have some ocha brought up for us.” Aina walked over to the wall and pressed a small button next to the door.
“Kitchen,” came a robotic voice, as if from nowhere.
“Ah, Sena-chan! Hideaki-sama has come for a visit. Won’t you join us for some ocha?”
“Wakarimasu,” was all Sena said before hanging up.
“Impressive, jo-chan,” Hideaki complemented. “Their voices are all the same. How did you know it was R. Sena?”
“I’m not sure how to explain it. Their voices do all sound the same. Demo, they feel different.”
“Omoshiroi,” Hideaki smiled. “What’s your name, jo-chan?”
“Whoa, calm down. I just asked for your name.”
“Gomen, Hideaki-sama. My name is Aina.”
“Aha,” he laughed, “I thought you said ‘amae na.’”
“Hideaki-sama, youkoso,” greeted Kazue, as she opened the door for Sena, who was carrying a tray with two teacups and a kettle.
“OK, Aina-chan, prove it. Who are these?”
“Kazue-chan to Sena-chan,” Aina answered.
“Prove what?” asked Sena.
“That she can tell you apart,” Hideaki said.
“It is true, Hideaki-sama,” Kazue confirmed. Sena set the tray on a table, and the two gynoids both sunk to one knee, crossing their arms over their chests and bowing their heads to Hideaki.
“I may not be able to tell them apart like you can,” Hideaki admitted, “Demo, I’m still their god.”
“You don’t have to bow to him,” asserted Aina.
“In fact, they do,” Hideaki said. “They’re programmed to.”
“They can overcome their programming,” Aina said. “I’ve seen them do it. Kazue-chan, you can stand if you want to.”
“Iie,” Kazue shook her head. “I wish to revere Hideaki-sama.”
“Sena-chan?” Aina held out her hand. “I’ll help you, if you want.”
Sena fixated her gaze on Aina’s hand but hesitated. Slowly, she reached her own hand out to grasp Aina’s and rose to a standing position, still clutching Aina’s hand.
“Very clever, Aina-chan,” Hideaki complemented. “I can see why Naomi-san thought you were reprogramming them. You may stand.” Kazue stood, and Sena released Aina’s hand. “Of course, that never would have worked if I were still their master. Free will or no, they cannot disobey direct orders.”
“I wonder about that…” mused Aina, as she poured some tea for Hideaki.
“I’m not trying to belittle your accomplishment just now,” Hideaki assured Aina. “You didn’t even flinch when she took your hand. It’s like you’re not repulsed by them at all.”
“Aina-chan has never been disgusted by me,” Sena asserted, “or any of us.”
“Sou ka?” Hideaki asked.
“Ee,” said Aina, as she and the gynoids sat down at the table. “Naze would I be?”
“They’re designed to repulse ningen,” Hideaki explained. “Their electronic brains are infused with a spell which causes most people to find them disgusting. Even I still have trouble with it.”
“That’s hidoi!” exclaimed Aina.
“It’s necessary,” Hideaki assured her. “How old are you, Aina-chan?”
“It is necessary because otherwise homo sapiens would use us to satisfy their sexual desires,” Sena stated. “Hideaki-sama, hasn’t anyone told you it’s rude to ask an onna her age?”
“I just didn’t know if she was old enough to talk about such things” Hideaki defended himself.
“Aina-chan is quite mature for her age,” observed Kazue.
“Sou ka?” Hideaki said. “Well, it’s like she said. Of course, to a few people with… certain tastes, the spell makes the gynoids more attractive, but I’ve never met someone who is completely unaffected by it.”
“Naze go to such lengths?” Aina asked. “Do gynoids have…”
“Iie, they don’t have genitals,” Hideaki said. “Demo, there’s more than one way to—”
“Perhaps she is not quite that mature, Hideaki-sama,” Kazue interrupted.
“Of course,” Hideaki smiled. “Let’s just say that ningen can think of many creative ways to satisfy their urges. Soshite, when they own something that looks even remotely ningen, you can be sure they will.”
“If that were true, wouldn’t goshujin use their meido in the same way?” Aina asked rhetorically.
“You said it, not me,” Hideaki smirked.
“Many meido are not as lucky as we are. Our goshujin-sama is a gentleman,” claimed Sena. Kazue kept silent.
“Akira-sama is?” Hideaki said, raising his eyebrows in surprise.
“Mochiron,” Aina defended her master. “Speaking of goshujin-sama, you said you came to see him today. If you don’t mind my asking, is this a social call, or?”
“It’s just politics,” Hideaki waved his hand dismissively.
“Ara, I didn’t realize you were such a power player,” Aina poured on the flattery.
“I’m nothing of the sort… yet. I’m here because I’m hoping to change that. I’ve been lobbying for a title of my own for, oh, going on san-jyuu years now. It finally looks like it’s within my grasp. Nee, Aina-chan, how about quitting this place and working for me once I become a goshujin?”
“You know I can’t do that, but arigatou for the offer. De, why did it take so long? Surely someone with your fortune could easily buy a title.”
“You would think so, but it’s not that easy,” Hideaki said. “For one, I need the title to land the kinds of large deals I need to grow my company, and the zaibatsu attempting to compete with me want to prevent it.”
“I wasn’t aware that there were other companies producing gynoids,” Aina said.
“There aren’t,” Hideaki said. “They’ve been trying for years, and they still can’t come up with a half-functioning electronic brain. That they’re finally throwing in the towel clears one of the obstacles between me and a title.”
“And the other obstacles?” Aina asked.
“That’s what I’m here to discuss with Akira-sama. I’ve never been a fan of the government’s policies,” Hideaki said, taking a sip of his tea, “and we need to find a way to smooth over some of my past criticisms.”
“Criticisms such as?” Aina prodded.
“Look, I’m as big an anime fan as anyone,” Hideaki said. “Bigger than most of the goshujin caste. Demo, I think it’s idiotic that, rather than creating a shakai where people are free to enjoy anime, we’re creating one that attempts to emulate it, as if all anime existed in a consistent universe. The Diet spends a lot of time debating which abstract ideas are ‘more anime’ rather than dealing with real policy issues. Of course, since what is ‘more anime’ is subject to interpretation, sometimes they get it right, and sometimes they don’t. For example, although we use labors for construction…”
“I’m not aware of any anime in which there is an explicit goshujin caste,” Aina finished.
“Again, you said it, not me,” Hideaki agreed. A few seconds passed in silence before he continued. “That was a bitter moment, when our military leaders installed themselves and their cronies as a permanent overclass. They offered their own flimsy justifications, pointing to instances of upper-class characters subverting democracy in anime, but in the end, they created a system much more undemocratic than any of their examples. I was just a child at the time, but even I could see it for what it was: a power grab. Finally liberated from ‘Murica’s anti-anime oppression, the first thing we did was shatter into fiefdoms and impose our own pro-anime oppression on the Parisians. It was as if the oppressed only knew oppression. That wasn’t what I fought for.”
“And yet, you seek to buy into that oppression,” Aina observed. She had recently awakened to national politics—the real politics, not the sanitized version taught to children in school—and had observed, as Hideaki had, that no matter how much a policy was advertised as anime, many of them were tangentially anime at best. But she had suspected that this was often the result of democratic compromise, and not rampant malfeasance.
“It’s all a matter of practicality. I need the power, and it’s not like I was changing anything with my fiery dissents from outside. If there’s one thing they got right, it’s that Japan was a very collectivist society, and if you want to succeed, you have to conform.”
“Sore yori,” Aina recovered, remembering her job, “did you say you were alive when Paris was annexed, and that you even fought in the battle? You don’t look nearly that old, Hideaki-sama.”
“I was a child soldier,” he admitted, taking a long sip of tea. “And a foolish one at that. My family was as staunchly ‘Murican as any, but I, the youngest of roku, secretly enjoyed anime. I knew that I would never be happy in ‘Murica, so when the offensive was announced, I ran away from home to live among those who would let me pursue my passions. I never imagined they’d press a rifle into my hand and send me to the front lines.” He took another long sip. “Still, electronic brains, gynoids, they probably would have burned me at the stake in ‘Murica. It was almost worth surviving that hell to be here today.” He set down his empty teacup.
“Gomen, I—” Aina was interrupted by a knock at the door. Akira poked his head in.
“Hideaki-dono, ohayou! To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Ah, Akira-sama, ohayou! Gomen for calling so early. I just had to share this with someone, and I knew you would appreciate it. The robotic excavation team made a huge discovery last night: the ruins of Tokyo Big Sight!”
“Uso!” gasped Akira.
“Soshite, you’ll never guess what was taking place at the time.
“Moshikashite, comiket?” In response, Hideaki drew what looked like a 3.5 inch floppy disk from his shirt pocket.
“Got a PC? We even scanned some never-before-seen doujinshi.” Akira threw open the door and gestured for Hideaki to follow him. “It was nice talking with you ladies. Jya na,” Hideaki excused himself.
Aside from bringing food to Akira and Hideaki, and walking Hideaki from the front door to the gate in the afternoon, Aina spent the rest of her duty shift alone. She was glad that nobody came to pester her about what had happened the previous night.
After Hideaki had left the drawing room, Sena had stared at Aina for a good ten seconds, but then, without saying anything, abruptly got up and left, leaving Kazue and Aina to clean the table. Sena had done that on a few occasions, when she had a hard time deciding what to say, and Aina was glad she decided to say nothing at all. She hadn’t exactly told Sena the entire story last night, and while she didn’t think Sena would judge her for it, she didn’t want to talk to anyone about it right now.
In the early evening, just as Aina was about to be relieved of her duty, an alarm sounded throughout the mansion. At the same time, Aina’s phone began to vibrate.
“Moshi moshi,” Aina answered. “Parlor desu.”
“Teki at the gate,” came a voice from the other end.
“Ryokai,” Aina ended the call.
When an enemy respectfully waited at the gate, it was the parlor meido’s job to greet them and see what they wanted. It was only polite. But this also meant the meido was putting herself in a position to be attacked, rather than make the first attack, and this made Aina nervous.
But by the time she made it out the front door, Naomi was already at the gate, which caused Aina to relax slightly. Naomi was speaking with a group of meido wearing a uniform Aina didn’t recognize. She could have turned back and let Naomi handle things, but her sense of duty compelled her forwards. Naomi wouldn’t need help in a fight, but she might need to relay orders back to the mansion.
“I can assure you that she’s not within these gates,” Aina heard Naomi say as she approached. “I would know.”
“We didn’t mean to imply that, Naomi-sama,” the tallest of the meido on the other side of the fence apologized. “It’s just that she was last seen in this area, and we are not as familiar with the lay of the land as you are. We came to plead for your help.”
Aina was now close enough to count seven meido on the other side of the fence. One of them in particular caught her eye. She was tall, with bright blue eyes, curly bangs, and long blonde hair that fell to her shoulders. That meido noticed Aina too and called out to her.
“Aina-san? Aina-san, deshou?” There was no mistaking it. Her voice was a little deeper, and she no longer had her signature twintails, but it was definitely…
“Mari-san?” Aina choked.