The blow knocked Aina to the ground, but it was Kotori who screamed in pain. Aina looked up to see Kotori nursing the foot that she had attacked with. Aina would never have expected a physical attack from Kotori, who had always relied on her magic, but perhaps Kotori would have been better off sticking to magic. Whatever had happened had broken apart Kotori’s foot, and a piece of it dangled limply, swaying in the gentle breeze before falling to the ground, kicking up a cloud of dirt as it landed. As the dirt settled, Aina could see that it was white, circular, and hollow, and with a nauseating sensation, she realized what the legs were.
They were Kotori’s wings. Or rather, what was left of them. They had been altered, enlarged, made more like a bat’s—though the hollow bones gave away their bird-like origins—and had been stripped of their flesh, leaving only gigantic spider-like appendages sprouting from her shoulders. They could not support flight, and were too large to support from a standing position, forcing Kotori to walk upon them like a spider when she transformed. The bone had broken apart on contact with Aina’s spiritual energy, lessening the force of the impact on Aina’s skull. It must be very painful for Kotori, and Aina couldn’t help but wonder if this was a result of her parents’ experiments, or if it had been done within the last three years. Kotori used to have such beautiful, angelic wings.
“Gomen, Kotori-chan,” Aina yelled.
“Gomen?! I stepped on you, baka!”
“I don’t want to cause you unnecessary pain,” Aina said. “Demo, if you maintain your transformation, it will be very painful.”
“You cheeky gaki!” Kotori spat. “I always resented you, you know.”
“Hai. You didn’t hide it very well.”
Kotori ceased casting the electricity dissipation spell and began to channel all her magical energy for an attack on Aina, but in response, Aina increased the pressure of her spiritual energy, using it to squeeze Kotori’s wing bones, which began to fracture and splinter. Kotori cried out in pain, relinquishing her transformation and falling slowly to the ground as her wings blinked out of existence.
“Damn, Aina-chan, that was brutal,” Kotori complained as Aina walked up to her.
“Do you remember the rule?” Aina asked, ignoring the complaint.
“The higher-ups can’t know about me.”
“Oh, yeah, that rule. Of course. Don’t worry about it. I’ll, uh, just tell them that Naomi-san beat me.”
“Iie, what I mean is, the higher-ups can’t know about me,” Aina informed her, reaching for her broom.
“Kuso,” Kotori swore.
“Sayonara, Kotori-chan,” Aina said. “I’ll make it quick.”
Jin moved towards the remaining labor, intending to push it away from the mansion, but her heavily-armored Samson was too slow. There was no way she was going to make it on time. The construction labor leveled its flamethrower.
Before it could fire, Chikako, who had positioned herself behind the labor, jumped from the ground and sliced through the tube supplying propane to the nozzle. A small burst of flame erupted from the tip of the flamethrower, but didn’t travel very far, and exhausted itself before it could do any damage. Propane gushed from the tank strapped to the labor’s back, and Jin didn’t know if the heat from her nuclear reactor could ignite it or not, so she backed up, keeping her minigun leveled on the labor. The enemy pilot seemed to understand his advantageous position and took another step towards the mansion.
Chikako, however, wasn’t finished. Fearlessly leaping on top of the labor, she shoved her sword down through the safety glass covering the cockpit with one mighty push, skewering the pilot. After a few more stabs through the glass, she had made a hole large enough to reach into and shut off the labor.
Suddenly, the lights within the mansion flickered back on, and Jin’s headset crackled back to life. She could hear a hurried conversation between Karin and Tsukasa.
“It’s still booting up. I can’t make it move!” Tsukasa said in a panicked voice. The panic was infectious, and Jin hurried to turn her labor around so she could go assist Tsukasa, but it was moving too slowly.
“Press the red button to your right three times,” Karin ordered.
“Got it!” Tsukasa confirmed. “I have control.”
“UTE!” Karin shouted.
“The targeting systems aren’t online,” Tsukasa reported.
“Kamawan, ute!” insisted Karin.
Jin didn’t need to hear Tsukasa’s inarticulate, high-pitched shout over the headset to know that she had managed to hit a target. Somehow, she knew. She could feel it in her gut, and it was nauseating.
“Stop it, Tsukasa-san,” Jin cried, still maneuvering her labor to the back of the mansion. “You’re killing them!”
“Of course I am, baka. They’re teki.”
“Demo, you’re enjoying it!”
“Haa? Says who?” Tsukasa shot back.
“I can feel it. I can feel you—Oh God, I can feel them. I can feel them dying.”
“Nani?!” Karin’s voice cut in over the headset.
By this point Jin had made it around the mansion to find all five enemy labors smoldering on the ground.
“Stop it, Tsukasa-san,” Jin repeated her demand.
“They’re already dead,” Tsukasa smirked.
“Iie, one of them is still alive, but he’s dying. He’s in so much pain,” Jin began crying.
“Shit! Jin-chan, you need to get out of that cockpit right now,” Karin ordered.
“Iie, not until Tsukasa-san stops being a murderer.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Besides, you killed them too,” Tsukasa pointed out.
Jin paused to consider this. It was true that she had killed four enemy pilots, but their deaths hadn’t had an impact on her. She reached her hand up to scratch her head in contemplation, and as it passed in front of her eyes, she noticed that her glove was covered in blood. She frantically looked down to see if she was bleeding, but only her gloves were stained. And then, without warning, images of the four men she had killed, and the one that Chikako had killed, flooded into her mind. This was their blood. She had killed them, and now she was feeling the pain of their deaths. She was unable to suppress the urge to vomit.
“Shit, shit, shit. Get her out of there!” She heard Karin order, but it seemed so far off, so unconnected to her. Her head was swimming, and she felt darkness envelop her. She would soon pass out, and she wouldn’t have to feel these things anymore. But just then, she felt a sharp stab in the back of her mind.
“STOP IT, TSUKASA-SAN!” Jin yelled.
“I’m not doing anything,” Tsukasa protested, sounding confused.
“How can you say that?” Jin pleaded. “They’re all dead!”
“Your mom is dead,” Tsukasa retorted.
“HAI, SHITTEIMASU. ARIGATOU FOR THE REMINDER.” Jin shrieked, lunging at Tsukasa’s labor, knocking it to the ground. “NOW. PLEASE. STOP. IT.”
“Jin-chan, listen to me,” Karin said calmly. “She can’t stop it until you turn off the nuclear reactor, OK?”
“Wakatta,” Jin said, shutting the reactor down. The distraction had given her a chance to catch her breath.
“Ii. Now, you need to come out of the cockpit,” Karin continued.
“Not until she stops,” Jin replied.
Karin broke into a run, heading for Jin’s labor. She was going to pull Jin out of there, kicking and screaming if need be. But Jin swiveled, pointing her minigun at Karin, who immediately crouched and jumped to the side. The minigun tracked Karin’s movements perfectly, keeping her within its sights. Only it wasn’t actually Karin, but an illusory projection of Karin created by her spiritual energy. The real Karin ducked under the moving gun and continued towards the labor. But even as the minigun tracked the false image, a labor arm reached down and grabbed Karin.
“Ow! You’re hurting me!” Karin yelped. It wasn’t true, but it fooled Jin nonetheless. She released her grip on Karin, who swung herself on top of the arm, and from there, jumped onto the labor’s shoulder. She pulled the latch on the side of the cockpit, and the door swung upwards, unleashing the unpleasant smell of Jin’s spew into the night air. “Come on, Jin-chan, let’s get you out of there,” she said reassuringly, holding her hand out to Jin.
Moments later, Karin was rappelling from the powered-down labor with one hand, an exhausted Jin tucked under her other arm. As they reached the ground, a large group of meido rushed towards them, eager to make sure they were alright. But this sudden rush of energy overwhelmed Jin, who struggled to free herself.
“It’s too much,” Jin groaned. “I can hear all of them, but they won’t stop talking. I wakarimasen what they’re saying.”
“Minna get back,” Karin ordered, placing Jin on the ground and stepping back herself. “Keep moving back. Give her some room.”
“A—Arigatou,” Jin managed after a minute. “I’m daijoubu now.”
“You need to get to the infirmary,” Karin pressed. “I don’t think you can make it on your own. Will you let me escort you?”
“Iie, stay away,” Jin warned.
“How about one of the gynoids?” Karin offered.
“That might work,” admitted Jin. Sena emerged from the group and walked towards Jin.
“Clear a path,” Karin ordered.
“Iie,” Jin gasped. “It’s so… I can’t… Nani? How do you even? It’s too much, too fast.” She lost her balance and fell to all fours, heaving as if she was vomiting again, though there was nothing left to throw up.
Sena stopped in her tracks. Jin’s breathing quickened, and then relaxed, and then quickened again.
“She is responding to the impulse patterns of my electronic brain,” Sena informed Karin.
“Then get back,” Karin commanded. “We’ll have to get someone—”
“Jin-san!” Tsukasa’s voice echoed across the courtyard, where she had finally managed to climb out of her fallen labor. “What the jigoku were you thinking?”
“Stop it, Tsukasa-san!” Jin yelled back.
“Not this again,” mumbled Karin, rubbing her temple with one hand.
“Stop hating so much,” Jin weeped. “Don’t hate me. Don’t hate me. Don’t hate…”
“Haa?” Tsukasa yelled, walking across the courtyard towards Jin.
“Stay back, Tsukasa-kun,” Karin commanded.
“Demo, I need to pay her back for what she did,” Tsukasa argued.
“Not right now,” Karin hissed, with enough anger to make Tsukasa pause. But it was also enough anger to finally overload Jin’s senses, and she collapsed to the ground, unconscious.
December 24th, 0046, 11:05 AM
Jin awoke in the infirmary.
“So you’re saying she’s become what you people call a newtype?” She heard Naomi ask. The bright lights of the infirmary blurred Jin’s vision.
“Iie,” the doctor responded. “That’s not exactly correct. Newtypes, if they even exist, are humans adapted to life in uchuu. Jin-chan here has never left Chikyuu, so she couldn’t be a newtype.”
“But other than that,” Naomi pressed, “she’s exactly like a newtype?”
“Well, that’s difficult to say,” The doctor said. “In the fiction, the symptoms of a newtype aren’t well-defined. Or rather, each of them are unique. Some gain psychic powers, and others are just very skilled pilots. Demo, hai, you could make the case that Jin-chan has become a newtype. In fact, with the exception of space travel, Jin-chan seems to be the amalgamation of the most common newtype traits. It’s almost as if some kami read the textbook definition of a newtype, and, without understanding the subtleties, applied that definition to Jin-chan.”
“Is that just a metaphor, or is this indeed the work of a kami?” asked Naomi. She remembered Hideaki’s theory that Aina’s powers were bestowed by a kami, and the thought that another member of her staff may have been affected by a kami concerned her. If two of them lived in this mansion, that must mean tens or hundreds of thousands lived among the general populace. She hadn’t seen a kami in person for decades, but they certainly hadn’t seemed powerful enough to bestow these kinds of powers on so many children. Naomi had slain two of them personally, and they hadn’t even been as strong as some humans she had fought.
But there were perhaps two explanations for the kami’s growth in power. The first was that, as they aged, their power increased. They hadn’t existed a mere 47 years ago, and it was possible that Naomi had only been able to best them because they were young. The second, and more personally disturbing explanation, was that the kami’s powers were directly proportional to the fervor and number of their believers. If that were the case, it would mean Naomi’s beloved secular Paris was being consumed by this pseudo-Shinto nonsense.
“I can’t rule anything out,” answered the doctor, “though I don’t see any of the telltale signs that this was the work of a kami. Actually, this kind of thing has been happening with increasing frequency over the last few years, though the symptoms vary wildly. Recently, we correlated the start of these incidents with a spontaneous change in the vibration patterns of the GINZUISHOU, and we’ve started calling those affected ‘GINZUISHOU no kodomo.’ We believe this phenomenon is also responsible for the marked uptick in mahou shoujo over the same time period. Of course, we don’t know if the GINZUISHOU is the cause or just another symptom. There’s just too much we don’t understand about it.”
The implications of this were also worrying. Neo Crystal Tokyo relied on the GINZUISHOU for its defense, but what if the GINZUISHOU itself was not benign, and had started to destroy the city from within?
“Thank you doctor. That’s very unsettling,” Naomi admitted. “Is there any chance of her regaining her full psychic abilities?”
Jin had been listening to the conversation so intently that she didn’t realize that, although she could still feel the presence of those around her, she only felt vague impressions. The doctor felt warm and friendly, Naomi felt cold and stern, and the gynoid felt imperceptible and alien, but those incompatible thought patterns weren’t invading her mind like they had the previous night. She could also feel Karin further back in the room, and Tsukasa hiding in the hallway. Karin was distracted, but she couldn’t tell by what, and Tsukasa was worried, but still kindling her anger.
“It’s possible, but as long as you keep her on her medication, and don’t let her near any mecha, it’s unlikely.”
“How can I say this, doctor?” Naomi ventured. “Jin-chan’s job requires her to be around those with the highest level of security clearance. Her continued employment depends on her not being able to psychically learn certain secrets.”
“In that case,” the doctor hesitated, “we can fit her with an implant, similar to yours, which will shut down her higher brain functions if she begins to reawaken. Demo, you know as well as anyone the risks and side-effects of that operation.”
“Please do so as soon as possible,” Naomi responded without hesitation. “How long will it take you to acquire the implant?”
“Not long, but Jin-chan needs at least a week to recover from the shock to her nervous system before we can attempt surgery. I’ll return in a week with the device. Until then, I recommend you keep her isolated from anyone with important secrets.”
“I will. Thank you, doctor.”
“Arigatou, sensei,” Jin croaked, surprising most in the room, who had not noticed her come to.
“Get well soon, Jin-chan,” the doctor replied. “I’m going to leave you in the nurse’s care, OK?”
“Hai,” Jin managed.
“Ii. I’ll see you in a week.”
“I will see you out, doctor,” Naomi informed him, and the two left the room.
“Jin-chan, daijoubu?” This time, it was Jin’s turn to be surprised. She couldn’t feel Aina’s mind at all, and yet, Aina had been sitting in the room this whole time.
“Un,” Jin reassured her. “I am thirsty though.”
“I will get you some water,” said the gynoid, releasing Jin’s restraints. “Please be careful when sitting up. Take it slowly.”
“Senpai, how many people have you killed?” Jin asked a few minutes later, after taking a sip of water.
“A few,” Aina responded. “Naze?”
“Did you feel anything when you killed them? Did you feel their deaths?” Jin asked.
“Iie,” Aina shook her head. “I didn’t feel anything.”
Jin closed her eyes and tried once more to feel Aina’s thoughts. At first, she felt only the other occupants in the room, but as she concentrated on shutting them out, she felt something faint from Aina. Or rather, she felt a faint emptiness from Aina, as if Aina’s thoughts were made of antimatter, annihilating the normal thoughts around her. It was easy to mistake for an absence of thoughts and difficult to detect. In fact, Jin was never able to perceive it again.
“I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” Jin admitted. “I’m not strong like you or Tsukasa-san. Even if I never kill again, I don’t know if I can take feeling other people’s thoughts for the rest of my life.”
“Well, you’re going to have to get stronger then,” Aina replied. “It won’t be easy, but it’s better than giving up.”
“Mme Aina,” Naomi scolded, upon returning to the infirmary, “I would think of all people, you would want to avoid Mme Jin’s telepathy.”
“Iie,” Aina replied. “I trust Jin-chan. She’s a good girl. Ne?” Jin nodded meekly in response.
“Yes, yes, Naomi said sarcastically, “we all know you’re skilled at charming young girls, Mme Aina. But really, do us all a favor and wait until she’s recovered before you try to add her to your harem.” Jin could tell that Naomi wasn’t being serious, but she blushed all the same. And Aina… Well, she didn’t need to be able to read Aina’s thoughts to tell how she was feeling. It was obvious that she hated the harem jokes and gossip.
“Hai, sokomade,” The gynoid said. “Jin-sama needs more rest, so I must ask all of you to leave.”
“Is she going to be daijoubu?” Tsukasa asked as the group exited the infirmary.
“Hai, she just needs some rest,” Karin reassured her.
“I didn’t know her mom was dead,” Tsukasa poured out the feelings that she had been harboring since the previous night. “I didn’t mean to be so hard on her. I just—”
“Stop,” Karin advised her. “You can apologize to Jin when she’s better. I’m sure she’ll forgive you.”
“Naomi-sama,” Aina said, changing the subject, “you said there hadn’t been any casualties in the cold sensou between the goshujin for decades.”
“Yes, I did.”
“There were jyuu-ichi casualties last night,” Aina pointed out.
“Yes, there were.”
“Are we at sensou now?”
“Things have warmed up, but we’re not at war yet,” Naomi said. “The defense minister has plausible deniability, and has already claimed that the attack was carried out by a rogue faction in the SDF. Furthermore, they inflicted no damage, which is embarrassing for the defense minister, but we have no justification to pursue vengeance. At best, we could try to stage a similar attack, and disclaim all knowledge of it. The other goshujin would see it as an eye for an eye, and there would be no repercussions, but I don’t think we’ll do that.”
“Because it would require planning and resources better spent elsewhere, and not doing anything is free, but the possibility of such an attack will force the defense minister to devote extra resources to his own defense. The longer we can drag that out, the better.”
“I’m just glad we’re not at sensou,” Aina remarked.
“Oh, it will come,” Naomi said. “It may take a few years, but war will come.”