“If you do not mind me asking, Aina-chan, naze did you select me for this ninmu?” Kazue asked. They were staking out Hideaki’s factory from a warehouse across the lot. “I am not much good in a fight. Many of my custom parts are more fragile and less flexible than the parts in the other gynoids.”
“Demo, many of your custom parts are sturdier than the mass-produced parts. Besides, aren’t you glad you finally get to go on a ninmu?” countered Aina.
“If you chose me because you think I will enjoy it, then you should switch me out for one of the others. It is not too late to call—”
“It’s not the only reason, and anshin shinaide, you’re not going to need to fight on this ninmu. We can rely on the factory gynoids to do the fighting for us. I asked you to come along to persuade any that might otherwise side against us.”
“I do not think that is likely.”
“I don’t either, but they each have free will, and I respect that.”
“You are a homo sapiens, and Akira-sama’s representative. If a situation like that were to occur, their programming would force them to obey your orders. They have no such requirement to obey mine.”
“You know I don’t like ordering gynoids to do anything, and I’d never ask you to order them around either. I would merely appreciate it if you could convince them to see things my way. I don’t think any of them would turn down a request from you.”
“And I think you overestimate my cachet. It is true that the other gynoids look up to me, much in the same way that a kohai looks up to a senpai, but that is the extent of it. They are not required to hang on their senpai’s every word.”
“Impressive,” Aina whistled.
“I didn’t know gynoids could delude themselves to such a degree. To hear Sena-chan tell it, that’s a distinctively ningen trait.”
“I am not deluding myself,” Kazue responded after a short pause. “I just ran a diagnostic routine to double-check.”
“Jya, the other gynoids must be very good at deceiving you. If they could feel emotions, I’m sure they’d hate themselves for it.”
“Hideaki-sama is like the kami of gynoids, deshou?”
“He did create us, so you could call him that.”
“Soshite, you are their tenshi.”
“Just because I was first—”
“It’s not because you were first. It’s because you were, in their words, loved. You were the only gynoid Hideaki-sama cared enough about to build himself. He designed and crafted all your parts. He assembled you by hand. You are the physical manifestation of his ai. Some of the gynoids in that factory have never even been touched by Hideaki-sama. They only have the names he gave them, and Zero-Zero-Nine-san believes she doesn’t even have that.”
“I am inferior to them in many ways,” Kazue protested. “I cannot be their tenshi.”
“Un,” Aina nodded thoughtfully. “Demo, that doesn’t disqualify you in their eyes. We are all—ningen and gynoid alike—imperfect. All gynoids secretly strive to achieve feats beyond their design limitations, even though they have little hope of doing so. You, however, have already acquired something they cannot: the ai of their creator. What they see in you is the hope of becoming something greater, and they are all cheering for you to go even further. That is what it means to be their tenshi.”
Kazue remained quiet for a few minutes, processing this information.
“How do you know that all gynoids secretly want to exceed their limitations?” she finally asked.
“Sena-chan told me,” Aina admitted, a hint of sadness in her voice, “a few years ago. I told her she had my ai, as a friend, but she said it wasn’t the same thing.”
“She was not supposed to tell you. If that were general knowledge, homo sapiens might grow fearful of us. Please keep it naisho.”
“I will,” promised Aina.
The next ten minutes passed in silence as the two of them kept their watch.
“I do not believe the other gynoids think of me as Sena-chan does,” Kazue broke the silence. “You should not base your analysis on what she has told you.”
“Really, it’s not just Sena-chan. How much experience do you have interacting with mass-produced gynoids?”
“Kuruma!” Kazue whispered.
Kazue slapped her hand over Aina’s mouth to quiet her and looked out at the parking lot. A few moments later, a car parked in front of the factory, and a man exited the vehicle, bags under his arms, and walked towards the building.
“He is carrying a concealed pistol under his jacket,” Kazue whispered. That much was obvious to Aina. There was no other reason to be wearing a jacket in this heat.
“Can pistols harm gynoids?” asked Aina.
“Our electronic brains are well-shielded, but direct hits from close range can destroy them. Our other components are not as well protected, but our brains can survive for a few days without being connected to an external power source.”
“If worse comes to worst, we’ll have to hope they’re trained to aim for the torso,” Aina muttered. “Demo, if we take them by surprise, it shouldn’t come to that.”
“Sena-chan, an otoko is entering the factory,” Aina heard Kazue’s voice in her headset, even though Kazue was not speaking aloud. “He is armed with a pistol.”
“There are jyuu men already in the factory,” Sena replied. “They are all concealing pistols. Ichi of them is moving to the entrance to meet the newcomer.”
“Have you ascertained Hideaki-sama’s status yet?” Aina asked.
“Heat scans of his office show that he is alive, and there is ichi other hito in the room,” Sena answered.
“Stay safe,” Aina recommended. “We shouldn’t get involved yet if they start fighting each other.”
“Is that a meirei?” asked Sena.
“Of course not,” Aina reassured her.
Before anyone could say anything further, an unfamiliar voice crackled over the headset, courtesy of one of the bugs surreptitiously placed around the factory floor by Sena.
“You’re late. Where’s Number Twelve?” the voice asked.
“Asleep in the back seat,” another voice answered.
“Go wake him up. His shift started an hour ago.”
“I can try, but he probably won’t wake up for a few hours.”
“Passed out drunk? You were supposed to watch him.”
“Not drunk, stunned. While we were walking back to the car, we passed a couple of—what’s the word?” the voice dropped to a whisper. “A couple of militsiya on patrol. He lost his nerve and was about to draw on them. I had to shoot him to avoid drawing attention to us.”
“I knew I should have sent one of the robots to gather supplies.”
“You did the right thing. We couldn’t risk a robot attracting unwanted attention. The real problem was that we had to go for supplies in the first place. We should have got what we came for and left by now.”
“Indeed. Who would have thought that man would be able to hold out for so long? I thought he was just a scientist, but he’s unexpectedly hard.”
“The longer we stay, the greater the risk of discovery. Perhaps we should take him with us.”
“We can’t do that without raising the robots’ suspicions. And if they call for help, we may not be able to escape this city.”
“Then perhaps we need to destroy the robots.”
“That also carries risks, but I will think about it.”
Aina, on the other hand, did not need to think about it. She was not about to let a bunch of soviets harm the gynoids. The time had come to act.
“Sena-chan, how many are guarding Hideaki-sama’s office?” she asked.
“Futatsu,” came the reply. “There is an open window in the hallway just outside the office, on the south side of the building. If you can get there in go minutes, I can create a distraction.”
“I’ll be there.”
Unnoticed, Sena slipped into the hallway that lead from the factory floor to Hideaki’s office, his laboratories, and various other side-rooms. Even if she was caught, it wasn’t unusual for the gynoids to requisition supplies from some of these rooms, but the hallways were currently empty, save for the two men standing guard over Hideaki’s office. Sena stopped just around the corner from the entrance to the office and called out, perfectly imitating the voice of one of the men they heard talking earlier.
“One of you, come help us carry in the supplies.”
The two men looked at each other briefly, then one of them began walking down the hallway towards Sena. Once he was out of sight of his comrade, Sena emerged silently from one of the side rooms, and in one swift motion, plunged a dagger into the man’s heart, placing her other hand into his mouth to stifle any screams. At the same time, Aina leapt through the window, performing a similar maneuver on the remaining guard. Leaving Sena to deal with the cleanup, Aina cautiously opened the door to the office.
Hideaki was slumped over in a chair behind his desk, unconscious but breathing. On the other side of the desk, a young woman sat staring at him.
“Any progress?” Aina asked, doing her best to imitate the voice of one of the soviets. She wasn’t as good at imitation as the gynoids, or even some of the other meido, but Naomi had called her skills passable.
Unfortunately, Aina was not able to fool this woman, either because her imitation was imperfect, or because she had said the wrong thing. The woman bolted up from her chair and turned on Aina. Forming a triangle with her fingers in front of her face, she sent a blast of psychic energy in Aina’s direction. Aina swept it out of the air with her left hand and drew her sword with her right, but before she could advance, the woman shouted out.
Aina was temporarily blinded by a bright light emanating from the woman’s body, but having seen magical girl transformations many times, knew to shield her eyes from the light with her arm. When the transformation finished, Aina quickly retracted her arm to behold her opponent.
She was clad in a solid red sailor fuku, with yellow stripes on her collar. In her left hand she held a glowing golden hammer, and in her right, an identical-looking sickle. She spread her wings in a threat display. Although the office was large, her wings reached from one side of the room to the other. Aina recognized them as the wings of a peregrine falcon. The stern look on the woman’s face matched that of a bird of prey, and Aina momentarily felt intimidated.
Folding her wings behind her, the magical girl charged at Aina.