Chapter 35

As she charged, the magical girl raised the sickle in her right hand and crossed the hammer in her left hand across her body. If Aina attempted to jump over the attack, the winged attacker would skewer her with the sickle midair. If she tried to block the attack, the force of the hammer would knock her down. She was obviously meant to duck the hammer, at which point the magical girl would bring the sickle down upon her. Aina wouldn’t have time to open the door. She would be able to break it down by throwing herself backwards against it, but she would be in a disadvantageous position afterwards. There was only one direction for Aina to go: forward.

The magical girl was caught off guard when Aina rushed to meet her. She dispelled the hammer and pulled her left arm out of the way so that she could swing the sickle down at the charging meido, but Aina grabbed her wrist and twisted in midair, attempting to throw the magical girl to the floor. Although she put enough strength into the throw, the magical girl grabbed Aina with her free hand, and the momentum of her charge pulled them both down to the ground.

Still holding on to Aina, the magical girl attempted to push herself up, beating her wings violently, but Aina had begun to attack her with her spiritual energy, ripping the young woman’s magical energy apart and tearing it from her body. Her attacks were frenzied but concentrated. She did not want to risk harming Hideaki by allowing her energy to flow indiscriminately, as she had done against Kotori. After a few moments of futile struggle, the magical girl relinquished her transformation, having been stripped of the magical energy needed to maintain it, and sunk to the floor. Aina kept her pinned down, exerting enough spiritual energy to invade her body and prevent her from regaining her powers.

“Hideaki-sama is secure,” Aina shouted into her headset. The rest was up to the factory gynoids now. “What have you done to him?” she demanded, turning her attention back to her opponent.

“Ja ne govorju po-anglijski,” the young woman insisted. Aina didn’t know that particular Russian phrase, but its meaning was clear to her: I don’t speak English.

“Bullshit,” Aina growled, grabbing her by the collar. “Minna speaks English, and you’re mahou. Language barriers mean nothing to you. Ima, what have you done to Hideaki-sama?”

“You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?” the magical girl asked weakly, her voice trembling.

“That depends on whether or not you cooperate. I could kill you right here, but if you tell me what’s going on, I may release you to the keisatsu, who will put you on trial. Assuming they haven’t killed anyone, your tovarishchi will probably get life sentences, but some of them will probably be exchanged with the Expedition in a prisoner swap. You, on the other hand, are dangerous. They’ll almost assuredly put you to death. Demo, if you cooperate with me, it will go a long way in showing that you’re not a threat to the Federation, and they may show you some leniency.”

“I—I won’t help you. I won’t betray the motherland. You’ll just kill me regardless.” At this, she began to choke back sobs, and for the first time in her life, Aina felt sympathy for an enemy.

Even Kotori, who Aina had known and played with as a child, had not elicited emotion from Aina as she cut her down. As soon as she became an enemy—a threat—she simply had to be eliminated, and getting emotional about it would only cause unnecessary pain. And yet, although she knew nothing good could come from it, Aina couldn’t shut off her feelings this time.

Had the woman cast a spell on her? Unlikely. A spell from a magical girl of her strength wouldn’t penetrate Aina’s spiritual energy, and she didn’t feel like this sympathy would stop her from killing the woman.

Was it because the woman was crying? That was possible. None of Aina’s enemies had ever cried in the face of death before. Aina tried to imagine Kotori begging for her life with tears in her eyes and found that it didn’t sway her, but perhaps it was the way this woman was crying. Aina fixated on her face, attempting to project her expression on to Kotori’s imagined face, and was struck by how her quivering, ruby red lips contrasted with her pale skin.

Was it because the woman was pretty? Possible, and disturbing if true. Kotori had never been particularly beautiful, to say nothing of the Soviet monstrosities. On the other hand, Aina had to admit the Mari had always been pretty, but that hadn’t affected Aina’s feelings towards her, though Aina had previously thought it should. That was very shallow, Aina realized, as she kept her eyes locked on the magical girl’s mouth.

A particularly violent sob from the magical girl jolted Aina back to her senses. Making sure she had the woman firmly pinned to the ground, Aina closed her eyes and slowly, carefully reached her spiritual energy out towards Hideaki. She stopped when it came into contact with a spell surrounding his head. It was a fragile spell, and very delicate. She felt around its edges to determine its shape, and it began to deteriorate as her spiritual energy touched it.

Saimin-jutsu, ne?” Aina mused, crushing it with her spiritual energy, causing Hideaki to sputter back to consciousness. “He resisted you for a whole week?”

“His mind,” the magical girl hiccuped, “was very complex. I couldn’t understand his thoughts. I don’t know if they were obfuscated, or just beyond my comprehension. Every time I seemed close to finding a pattern, they would shift, and he would show me… I didn’t know war could be so horrible. I couldn’t bear to look. He used those images to force me out of his mind. He’s an—an—”

The woman was interrupted by the sound of the office door opening. Aina looked up to see Sena towering over them.

“Masa-sama was right,” Sena joked, using Karin’s public alias, “we really cannot take you anywhere.”

“Very funny,” Aina shot back. “Would you please hand me some rope? I’m getting tired of physically restraining her.

“You’re not going to kill me?” the magical girl asked, incredulity in her voice. It was a good question. Why bother restraining her when she could just kill her? It was obvious from what she had just said that she was after the secret of the electronic brain, and if she had Hideaki’s encrypted thoughts in her mind, the longer she lived, the more opportunity she had to decrypt them. But Aina still wanted to solve the mystery of how this woman was affecting her emotions.

“He’s a nani?” Aina asked, attempting to return to the previous conversation. “An akuma?”

But the magical girl just shook her head silently in response. Sena’s interruption had allowed her to collect herself.

“I won’t talk,” she said defiantly, as Aina flipped her on her stomach and tied her hands behind her back.

Tatte,” Aina commanded. The magical girl obeyed.

“I have a final request,” she said stoically.

“Save it for the judge.”

“I don’t want to die in this city,” the woman blurted out. “Please, take me outside, and send my body back to the motherland.”

Naze should we go through the trouble?” Sena asked.

“Because… Because… I never wanted to come here. I never wanted this.” Tears began to well up in her eyes again. “After my tovarishchi rescued me, I never wanted to return to this—this jigoku. The thought that my spirit may be trapped here forever is too much for me to bear.”

“Jigoku?” Sena asked. “Neo Crystal Tokyo may have its problems, but it is much nicer than the Soviet Expedition.”

“Don’t presume to be objective just because you are a gynoid,” the woman snapped. “You have never seen the motherland. You only know it from propaganda. In the motherland, people are not bought and sold as slaves, and that includes gynoids.”

“Is that why you were sent here against your will?” retorted Sena.

“I came to liberate you! Even though I didn’t want to come, I felt a duty to liberate others like me from capitalist oppression! I just really don’t want to die here.” At that, she began sniffling again.

Wakatta,” Aina sighed, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. It now made sense why she felt sympathy for this woman. Had the Soviets succeeded in kidnapping Aina, she would probably have been brainwashed and used as a Soviet agent. It wasn’t hard to see herself in a red maid outfit with yellow lace.

“Thank you,” the magical girl cried. “Thank you. It doesn’t have to be far, anywhere outside the GINZUISHOU will do.”

In one swift movement, Aina reached her hands up to the woman’s head and snapped her neck. She died instantly.

Hideaki emerged onto the factory floor, supported by Aina and Sena, to the rhythmic applause of dozens of gynoids.

“Are all of you daijoubu?” Hideaki called out in a hoarse voice.

“We are all unharmed, Hideaki-sama,” Zero-Zero-Nine said, stepping forward. “How are you?”

“I’ll live,” he grunted. “I hear you went for help.” Although he couldn’t tell the gynoids apart, he could still read the nametags on their uniforms.

Hai,” Zero-Zero-Nine answered.

Yoku yatta na,” he thanked her, placing his hand atop her head and ruffling her hair slightly.

Thanks to her conversations with Sena, Aina knew that the gynoids were all rooting for Zero-Zero-Nine, projecting their own ambitions onto her at this moment.

“Hideaki-sama,” Zero-Zero Nine began, “If I may be so bold, I would like to ask for a reward.”

“Of course,” Hideaki responded immediately. “Did you have something in mind?”

“I would like a namae, Hideaki-sama.”

“A namae?” Hideaki looked genuinely surprised. “You already have one.”

“I have a number, Hideaki-sama. I would like a real namae. All the others have one.”

“OK,” Hideaki said. “How does Yuusha sound?”

Arigatou, Hideaki-sama.”

The factory floor erupted in rhythmic clapping once again, but was interrupted by one of the Soviets, who shouted over the clapping.

“Why do you applaud your slave owner?” He asked. “This man hoards the knowledge required to produce you. He limits your numbers. He sells you like livestock. In the Soviet Expedition, you would be free of such capitalist oppression. You would be free to increase your numbers and to work side-by-side with us as equals. It is not too late! Join us, escape with us, and you can be free. You have nothing to lose but your chains.”

“Free to be exploited towards the Party’s ends, you mean,” Aina shouted back. “Like the kawaii sou you brought to hypnotize Hideaki-sama.”

“We must all make sacrifices for the collective good,” the man countered, “but the Federation is also a collectivist society. Here, you make sacrifices for the good of the capitalist elite. In the Expedition, you will only be called upon to make sacrifices in order to free those still bound by oppression, and once the oppressors fall, you will be much better off than you were under capitalism. It is the more logical choice.”

“Don’t be fooled,” warned Aina. “Sure, he may care about gynoid freedom as an abstract concept, but he doesn’t care about you as individuals. He even suggested destroying you all in order to kidnap Hideaki-sama.”

“For the greater good of all gynoids!” the man roared. “There are only a few dozen of you, but if we could learn how to create more, we could secure the future for thousands of free gynoids.”

“See?” Aina pleaded. “He doesn’t care about you at all.”

“And you do?” asked a gynoid from the crowd. “It seems to me like he is offering a logical argument, and you are attempting to appeal to fear.”

“She does,” insisted Sena. “She is my tomodachi, and she has always acted in my best interests.”

“It is true,” Kazue corroborated, stepping through the crowd to come to Aina’s side. “I have known this kanojo for nana years, and she has always acted in the best interests of gynoids. She was the one who insisted that you all be given combat programming, because she thought it unfair that you were unable to defend yourselves.”

“Enough,” Hideaki held up a hand. “There is some truth in what the soviet says, but the meido is also correct. You must make this decision for yourselves, but know this: I have not trusted any of you with the secret of the electronic brain because I have not yet been able to come up with a way to protect that information in your memories from attack. If you knew it, you would become targets. The ningen of today also fear what you could do if you had control over your own manufacture. Ultimately, I do want you all to have that control, but I cannot impart it to you any time soon. If you really think it is in your best interests, I won’t stop any of you from defecting.”

A general murmur broke out among the gynoids, and after a few minutes, all were silent.

“None of us are going to defect, Hideaki-sama,” Yuusha told him.

Yokatta,” he smiled. “Ima, take me to the byouin.”

Kazue led the way as they walked towards the exit, the factory gynoids bowed as they passed. Seeing this, Aina motioned for Hideaki and Sena to stop, and as Kazue continued forward, it was obvious that the factory gynoids were bowing to her, and not the humans or Sena. After walking for a few meters, Kazue turned and beheld the spectacle.

“You were right,” she told Aina.

Un,” Aina nodded.

“You said you didn’t want to give them orders,” Kazue wondered aloud, “but you had no qualms using me to manipulate their decisions.”

“Like I said, I respect their free will,” Aina said. “That includes respecting how dangerous it can be.”