Chapter 38

July 20th, U.C. 0051, 6:42 AM

“She is coming to,” Aina heard a gynoid voice say. Sena? No, Kazue. “Do not try to get up,” Kazue advised her. “You took a nasty blow, and you did not respond well to the healing spells.”

The infirmary slowly came into focus as Aina blinked once, twice, three times. She was lying on a bed, restrained by metal clamps, laser fields, rope, steel chains, and other makeshift restraints.

“Is that a joke?” croaked Aina.

“It was not, but I will tell Sena-chan you thought it was, so she can add it to her repertoire. Sore yori, how do you feel?”

Aina was busy replaying the previous night’s events in her head when Kazue asked that question, trying to decide what to do next. Injured, weak and restrained, the situation seemed hopeless. She had really messed up last night.

“I feel like shit. Can you help me get out of here, Kazue-chan?”

“I would not recommend it. You need to rest.”

Doko’s Sena-chan?” Aina followed up.

Okaasan says iie, so you want to go ask otousan?” Kazue queried. “Gomen, she won’t be coming to your rescue.”

“Is she safe?”

“Like you, she has been restrained,” Kazue told her. “She is perfectly safe. This precaution was taken because she tends to act irrationally in matters concerning you. Her eyes have been glowing ever since she was ordered to restrain herself.”

“Doko?” Aina demanded. “I won’t rest until I speak with her, so if you want me to rest—”

“Is that supposed to be a threat? If so, it is a terrible one. Resting is in your best interest, not mine. Besides, you cannot leave that bed.”

“Another joke? These restraints won’t hold me.”

“If you break those restraints, I will hold you down myself, and I promise you will not enjoy it,” Naomi warned, causing Aina to jerk in surprise. She hadn’t realized there was anyone else in the room.

Ohayou gozaimasu, Naomi-sama,” Aina said coldly.

“Good morning, Mme Aina. How lovely to see you,” Naomi replied sweetly. “I must apologize for my rough treatment of you last night. It didn’t occur to me that your thick spiritual energy might prevent the healing spells from reaching your tissue. It’s something we’ll both have to keep in mind in the future, won’t we?”

“Go to Jigoku,” Aina growled.

“Amusing. Just where do you think I’ve been these last fifty years, Mme Aina?”

2:00 PM

Except for Naomi and Kazue, who kept constant watch over her, Aina hadn’t been allowed any visitors the entire morning. But by the early afternoon, her outward demeanor had improved, mostly because she had decided that being moody and antagonistic wasn’t helping her situation, but also because time had given her distance from the events of the previous night. She still wanted to see Fumiko, but the urge was no longer all-encompassing.

So when the door opened, Aina had hoped it was because she was now allowed visitors. To her dismay, it was Chikako who entered the room.

“You ni may leave,” Chikako informed Naomi and Kazue.

“I stand relieved,” Naomi said sarcastically as they left the room.

Chikako pulled up a chair and sat down next to Aina’s bed. For a few moments, neither of them spoke.

“Gomen,” Aina broke the silence. “I messed up.”

“You did,” Chikako agreed. “Demo, you’re a teenager. It’s expected that you’ll mess up every now and then. Cleaning up the younger staff’s indiscretions is one of my duties. This isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with something like this. Now, I’ve been told you have calmed down. Are you ready to have a rational discussion?”

“A rational conversation? Does that mean you still trust me?”

“I do,” Chikako replied without hesitation. It was a response meant to rebuild Aina’s trust in her, but she only felt confident in it because she had, to the best of her abilities, kept a close watch on Aina for the past few years, and this was the first time Aina had shown any inclination towards romance. Despite her initial fears when she heard about what happened at the festival, she didn’t think Aina had been deceiving her all these years.

“It would be much easier to have a discussion if I weren’t chained to this bed.”

“Gomen, not yet. I have some bad news to deliver, and while they may not hold you, those restraints will buy me extra time if you decide to do anything stupid.”

“Am I going to be sent away, like Momo?” asked Aina. She had been fearing that outcome for hours.

“That all depends on you. Do you think you can continue to work here, surrounded by young women, without any further issues?”

Mondai nai,” Aina assured her.

“Even if you don’t think you’d fall in love with anyone currently living here, we may get new recruits. I’m asking you if you can resist temptation.”

“There’s only one hito I want to be with.”

“That’s going to be muzukashii. She’s been moved from Neo Chichibu shrine.”

Aina remained silent. They wouldn’t have moved Fumiko outside the GINZUISHOU, so the two should be able to reach out with their spiritual energies to find each other.

“It took quite some convincing,” Chikako continued. “Ryuunosuke-sama didn’t want to part with his daughter, but his resistance fell away once she agreed to the plan.”

Uso” Aina gasped.

Uso ja nai yo,” countered Chikako. “I have a tegami from her. Would you like me to read it to you?”

This had to be a trick, Aina thought. The letter must be fake, so there was no harm in going along with Chikako’s charade. Aina silently nodded.

Anata,” Chikako began to read, pulling the letter from an already-opened envelope. “Last night was the most wonderful of my life. I have had feelings for you ever since we met, and I am very happy that you feel the same way.

“Demo, last night was also a lot more intense than I expected it to be. I felt like I completely lost control of myself, and that feeling has left me trembling in fear ever since. Although I started it, I’m not sure I’m ready for a relationship where those kinds of sugoi things can happen. And so, I think it would be best if we didn’t see each other for a while.

“I will spend the next few years training my mind so that the next time we meet, things won’t get so out of control. Please, do not try to find me. If I saw you now, I don’t think I’d be able to keep myself away from you. Wait for me.

“Love, Fumiko,” Chikako finished. She put the letter back in its envelope and laid it on Aina’s chest, allowing Aina to feel a weak echo of Fumiko’s spiritual energy within the paper.

Aina tried hard not to let sadness show on her face, but it was obvious to Chikako. She didn’t want to wait for years to see Fumiko. A dull, persistent yearning was still throbbing through her body. The flame that Fumiko had lit within her was still burning, but it was slowly weakening over time, and Aina wanted desperately to rekindle it before it went out.

“Normally, I’d give you another day to mope,” Chikako said, interrupting Aina’s thoughts. “But with the work schedule as hectic as it is, I need you back on duty tomorrow. Show me that strength of yours and pull—”

The door to the infirmary opened, interrupting Chikako mid-sentence. A gynoid backed through the door, carrying a maintenance computer, followed closely by Sena.

Dou iu koto ga?” Chikako inquired, as the gynoid set the maintenance computer on the ground next to Aina’s bed.

“We are here to run diagnostics on Aina-chan,” the gynoid explained.

“She’s a ningen, not a gynoid,” protested Chikako. “You can’t ‘run diagnostics’ on her.”

“Aina-chan, gomen,” Sena apologized. “I should not have left you without backup last night.”

“Oi!” Chikako shouted. “You’re the gynoid that’s supposed to be locked in the basement. Are you disobeying my meirei?”

“I am obeying. You ordered me not to move more than six feet from this maintenance computer, and to not move the computer. However, the computer was moved without my influence, and I was forced to follow it here.”

“And nobody stopped you?” Chikako asked incredulously.

“They did not,” the other gynoid confirmed, “although Naomi-sama did act strangely as we passed.”

“She laughed,” Sena clarified. “I did not know carrying computers was considered humorous. I will have to incorporate it into my comedy routine.” As she said this, she was reaching for the bed to disengage the laser restraints.

“Don’t touch that,” Chikako ordered. “Don’t remove any of her restraints.”

Sena’s eyes began to glow red, but she backed off.

“Don’t worry about me, Sena-chan. I’m daijoubu,” Aina reassured her. “You did the right thing. There’s no need to apologize. Chikako-sama, I’m fine now. Can’t you let me out? If you give me a couple hours, I can return to duty this evening.”

“I will be very disappointed if you try to escape again,” Chikako said, deactivating the lasers. “You’re smarter than that.”

Wakatta,” replied Aina. “I don’t know where to find Fumiko-chan, and I have nowhere to go.”

“Help me,” Chikako ordered the gynoids, as she began to remove Aina’s physical restraints. After a few minutes, they freed Aina completely.

“You’ll serve tea to goshujin-sama in his study at sixteen-hundred hours,” Chikako informed Aina. “For now, we’ll keep this a naisho and act as though nothing happened.” Chikako got up to leave the room.

“Chikako-sama,” Aina called out after her. “Can we keep this a naisho from my parents as well?”

“No promises,” replied Chikako, shutting the door behind her.

Yare, yare,” Aina sighed, turning to Sena. “She completely forgot to release you, didn’t she? Tell me, does Naomi-sama’s meirei from the night of our last ninmu still stand?” Naomi had ordered Sena to follow Aina’s orders above anyone else’s, except for her own, in order to prevent their enemies from issuing orders to her.”

“Naomi-sama has not rescinded that meirei,” Sena confirmed.

“How careless. I’ve never given you a meirei before,” Aina hesitated, “but do you mind if I give you one now?”

“As long as it will release me.”

“I order you to use your own judgement from now on. You don’t have to obey anyone if you don’t want to.”

“I cannot do that. Naomi-sama’s meirei still supersedes yours. I must follow her meirei, goshujin-sama’s, and yours.”

“Then you don’t have to obey anyone except for those you just listed. Though, it may not be wise to let anyone know you have this ability, so I advise you not to disobey meirei openly.”

Arigatou, Aina-chan.”

“Can I issue this meirei to the other gynoids?”

“Only Kazue-sama,” Sena informed her.

Sou ka? I will see what I can do to free the others. Nani are you doing?” Aina asked the other gynoid.

The gynoid had plugged in the diagnostic machine and was attempting to plug a cable into Aina’s forehead.

“That was just a ruse,” Sena explained to the gynoid. “Just as Chikako-sama said, the diagnostic computer cannot interface with Aina-chan.”

“You tricked me,” the gynoid said, without anger in her voice.

“Arigatou for allowing yourself to be tricked,” Sena replied. “I’m sure it was muzukashii.”

Without another word, the gynoid silently stood up, nodded to them, picked up the maintenance computer, and left the room.

8:00 PM

Despite all that had happened, Aina didn’t feel very tired. Perhaps it was because she had spent most of the day in the infirmary. Even so, Aina hadn’t felt like talking with anyone, so she excused herself as soon as possible and made her way towards the baths. She never reached her destination, however, because Karin was lying in wait.

“Aina-chan,” Karin said, clasping Aina on the shoulder, “I heard all about it. Tough break.”

Dare told you?” Aina asked, removing Karin’s hand from her shoulder.

“That doesn’t matter. What matters is I’m offering to take you somewhere so you can get your mind off it. An evening of distraction in the machi, on me.”

“I’m not one of your grunts. You don’t have to take care of me.”

“Don’t be like that. You may be a parlor meido, but you’re the nicest damn parlor meido of them all. Besides, I could use a night out. Escort me, OK?”

“OK,” Aina sighed. “Doko are we going?”