November 4th, U.C. 0051, 11:00 AM
“Ainya-oba-san, are you hontou my oba-san?” Fuku asked as she jumped up onto Aina’s lap. Aina pulled the dress she was sewing away just before Fuku landed on her lap.
“Hai, I am,” Aina told her matter-of-factly.
“Then naze don’t you have any ears?”
Aina cast a glance at Diaho, who was standing a few feet away, steam cleaning a few of Akira’s suits. (The gynoids had already cleaned them, but not to Diaho’s standards.) He returned Aina’s glance. This was the first time that Fuku had mentioned any difference between human and nekomimi.
“I have ears,” Aina replied, without elaborating. Fuku reached up and tugged on Aina’s earlobe.
“Iie, I mean on the top of your head.”
“Fuku, do you know what an oba-san is?” Aina asked.
“Un! An oba-san is your parents’ onee-san or imouto.”
“Very ii,” Aina complemented her. “I’ll tell you the truth. I’m not your honmono no oba-san, not like Momo-oba-san is. She’s your okaa-san’s onee-san. Demo, I am very good tomodachi with them. We’re very close, almost like shimai, so your okaa-san treats me like her imouto. Dakara, I’m your oba-san. Wakaru?”
“Ii. Now can you get off me so I can finish your dress?”
Tsukasa was still holed up in Aina’s room. Aina was sure that Naomi knew where she was, but nobody else seemed to know. Aina was impressed that Tsukasa had managed to get to Aina’s room undetected. She wasn’t the stealthiest of meido, even when she was in good spirits. Jin had asked around for her the previous day, but nobody else seemed outwardly concerned by her absence. Tsukasa, on the other hand, had spent the day in bed, moping. She hardly ate any of the food that Aina snuck back for her. Although Aina felt that Tsukasa’s problem was trivial next to her own issues, she could tell that Tsukasa was taking it hard, and she was getting worse.
As Fuku tumbled to the ground, a loud knock came from the door.
“I got it!” Fuku announced, running to the door. As soon as she opened it, Jiji pushed his way into the room.
“Basan! Basan!” he shouted, tottering towards Aina. Both Aina and Diaho looked past him towards the door. Mimi should be with him unless something was wrong. He was still too young to be left on his own.
“Hey there champ,” Diaho greeted his son, holding a hand towards the ground. “Give your old man a high touch.”
Jiji hesitated, then ran up to Diaho, slapped their palms together like he had been taught to do, and ran back to Aina and began tugging on the hem of her dress, pointing to the door. Fearing that something had happened to Mimi, Aina scooped Jiji up in her arms, running in the direction of his pointing finger. Diaho was close behind, carrying Fuku.
“Hanase!” Aina heard Jin’s voice yell from the direction of Aina’s room.
“Baka!” Came Mimi’s voice in reply. “There’s nothing you can do for her now. You’ll only hurt yourself.”
“Kamawan,” Jin shouted, as Aina rounded the corner to find Mimi trying to keep her out of Aina’s room. Jin elbowed the pregnant nekomimi hard and pushed past her. As Jin entered the room, Aina could make out her words. “Her soul is still here, if I can—”
Aina’s blood froze. Something had happened to Tsukasa.
“Ainya!” Mimi called to her. Aina ran as quickly as she safely could with Jiji in her arms, thrusted him towards Mimi and, pivoting on the spot, ran into her own room.
Jin was collapsed on the floor, her head buried in her hands. Directly in front of her was Tsukasa’s slumped, disemboweled corpse. Without thinking, Aina hauled Jin to her feet and began to drag her back to the open doorway.
“Don’t let the koneko come any closer,” Aina warned. She didn’t want them to see a dead body at so young an age. But she needn’t have worried. Mimi had them both in her arms and was moving them away from the room.
“Fuck,” Diaho muttered, peeking into the room. He walked a few paces away, repeating the word. Jin was no longer struggling to get into the room, so Aina set her down on the other side of the hallway.
“Her soul fled from me,” Jin said, her voice completely drained. “There’s nothing I can do now.”
“You couldn’t have done anything anyway,” Aina told her, trying to sound reassuring. “Even a newtype can’t bring back the dead.”
Jin nodded weakly, still in shock. Aina noticed that she was clutching a piece of paper. Gently, she pulled it from Jin’s hand and unfolded it. On it, there were three sentences, scrawled in Tsukasa’s handwriting.
Gomen. I was weak. I’ve never been tsuyoi.
“Did she do this to herself, or was this done to her?” She asked Jin. Jin just shook her head. “Jin-chan, this is important. I need you to look at this note and tell me if it’s real. Was this suicide or murder?”
Jin looked up at Aina, then over to the note. Then she hung her head.
“Suicide,” she mumbled.
“Diaho-sama, please take her to the infirmary,” Aina said through clenched teeth. Diaho walked over and picked Jin up in a princess carry. Jin was going to break, Aina could tell. She might even reawaken her powers. Aina wanted nothing more than to follow them to the infirmary, to strap herself to one of the beds, and wail in pain and anguish, but she knew she had to keep it together.
“What are you going to do?” Diaho asked.
“I’m going to clean up this mess.”
“Turn back,” Chikako warned Aina, as the latter approached Akira’s study, Tsukasa’s suicide note clenched tightly in her hand. She had been informed of what had happened just moments before. “Don’t come any closer.”
Aina didn’t hold back. With her free hand, she swiped Chikako out of the way. She didn’t make physical contact, but the ferocity of her spiritual energy swept Chikako off her feet and slammed her into the wall before she could prepare herself. Chikako scrambled back to her feet and ran after Aina, grabbing her just outside the door to the study.
“Don’t open that door,” she ordered, drawing her blade. “I don’t know all the details yet, but—”
“I do know all the details,” Aina snapped, “so get out of my way.”
“So what if you do? You look like you’re about to rip goshujin-sama apart.”
“He deserves it.”
“Irrelevant. It’s my duty to protect him. It’s your duty as well.”
“I’m unarmed,” Aina told her, pulling her arm free from Chikako’s grasp. “I’m not going to hurt him. Not physically.”
“I also have a duty to look after you and make sure you don’t do anything baka. You’re too hot-blooded right now. Go take a bath, cool off. I’ll have a new room made up for you. You ni can have a discussion once you’ve cooled down.”
“I don’t need your protection or your advice, and you can’t stop me from seeing him.”
“I know you’re only doing what you think is right, so I’d hate to pummel you for that, but I will,” Chikako warned.
Before either Aina or Chikako could adopt a fighting stance, the door to the study swung open and Naomi stepped out, glaring at them both. They froze.
“Mme Aina,” she announced, “our master will see you now.” She held the door open for Aina, and Chikako followed close behind, but Naomi held out a hand to stop her. “I also have a duty to look after you,” Naomi told Chikako. “You don’t want to be a part of this conversation. You wouldn’t understand.”
“I have a responsibility to know what’s going on.”
“I won’t stop you, but I warned you.” Naomi retracted her arm and allowed Chikako to enter the study.
Akira sat on the couch, his head hung in his hands. From the expression on his face, he was obviously in shock. Aina stomped towards him.
“I know what you’re going to say,” he said weakly, “and you’re right. It’s all my fault.”
Rather than pacifying Aina, this only enraged her, and she threw the suicide letter in his face. He flinched as it hit him.
“You knew better,” she accused.
“Hai, that too. I knew better.”
“Service uniforms?” Aina hissed. “How is that even remotely OK? You’re the biggest hypocrite in the sekai.”
“What’s wrong with service uniforms?” Chikako interrupted, defending Akira. Aina spun on her.
“Have you ever worn a service outfit, Chikako-sama?”
“Iie, and neither have you. Demo, we never needed them.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Aina dismissed Chikako and turned back to Akira.
“At least our service uniforms aren’t slutty, like some households’ are,” Chikako retorted. She thought it was an impactful argument, but she badly misunderstood the topic of conversation.
“Chikako, stay out of this,” Akira ordered. “Aina’s right. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Would you be so kind as to explain it to me, then?”
“Oh, it’s very simple,” Naomi taunted. “They’re talking about Western values. Or, at least, idealized Western values. Reality is always so much messier.”
“Western values?” Chikako scoffed. “You’re accusing them of treason.”
“No country has a monopoly on good ideas,” Aina stated, not turning to look at Chikako, “including Japan.”
“Who put such a notion in your head?” Chikako gasped.
“I did,” Akira informed her, “because it’s true.” Chikako’s mouth hung open. It was a startling admission in the midst of a tense situation. “Besides, these aren’t just Western values. Even Japan understood the concept of sexual harassment.”
“Sexual harassment? She was flirting with you,” Chikako pointed out. Aina shot Chikako a dirty look. Chikako had known what was going on, and she hadn’t done anything about it.
“Doesn’t matter,” Akira shook his head. “She was only jyuu-go-sai, and I was her employer. I had the power—and the responsibility—to put a stop to it.”
“Wakarimasen,” Chikako huffed. “Jyuu-go-sai is old enough, and she was your meido, not just your employee. You have nothing to be ashamed of, goshujin-sama.”
“Chikako, Aina’s upset because I introduced her to a more enlightened set of ideals, and then I failed to live up to those ideals.”
“I’m upset because Tsukasa-kun committed suicide after you nearly raped her!” Aina shouted.
Akira winced again, as if Aina had slapped him.
“Believe me, Aina, I understand how disappointed you are, but you know that everybody makes mistakes, and I made a big mistake here. I hope you can find it within yourself to forgive me on those grounds.”
“Iie, goshujin-sama, you made the same mistake twice in a short period of time. That’s unforgivable.”
“He did not,” Chikako defended her master. “This was the first service uniform that goshujin-sama has ever issued.”
“It was the second,” Aina insisted. “Karin-sama’s was the first. She was blackmailing goshujin-sama, remember?”
“That can’t be it,” Chikako said. “That kind of thing is expected behavior for a goshujin. There’s nothing to blackmail over.”
“Actually, there is,” Aina insisted. I can kind of understand your motivation, goshujin-sama. You failed spectacularly the first time, but it’s been years, and you thought you were ready to try again. You promoted Tsukasa-kun as soon as the obstacle was out of the way. Even though Karin-sama’s death was on your conscience, and you immediately made the exact same mistake. One mistake I might be able to forgive, but your negligence is unforgivable.”
“Nani are you going to do?” Akira asked, his voice now hard, though still full of sadness. “Will you blackmail me too?”
“Iie, I wouldn’t be so foolish.”
“Jya, nani do you want to do?”
“Shirimasen,” Aina admitted. “If you were anyone else, I’d kill you, but you’re one of the few hito in the sekai I can’t even threaten. Demo, I do know this: Service uniforms should not be allowed in this mansion, or any other.”
“You’re right, they shouldn’t,” Akira agreed. “Demo, that’s not the world we live in. We have no power to force the other goshujin to do away with them, and even I am hesitant to ban them.”
“After all this? Naze?”
“It may never have occurred to you, but I have responsibilities,” Akira said. If I don’t produce an heir, ichi of my no-good otouto-tachi will inherit my title, and believe me, they are far more cruel than I. Iie, I won’t ban them. Too much is at stake.”
“Then get married, or adopt,” Aina said. “There are other ways.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“I’m not going to stand by and make rape simple for you either,” Aina said. “You better believe I’m going to keep watch over all the flat-chested kanojo in this mansion, and teach them how to resist this kind of indoctrination. Or is it just the otenba that turn you on? No, scratch that, I’m going to protect all the onna in this mansion, just in case. I can’t rely on your sick fetishes or your erectile disfunction to—”
“YOU DO NOT GET TO TALK TO ME THAT WAY!” Akira roared. His demeanor switching from despair to fury in an instant. “You forget your place. I am still your goshujin, and you are my meido. No matter what else you think you know, that is genjitsu.”
“I forget my place? I’m not the one who—”
“I’m telling you to stop this right now. I messed up, and I take responsibility for that, but I am under no obligation to listen to your whining. If you don’t stop this right now, I will order these ni to attack. Now do the smart thing and shut your mouth, walk out of this room, and go cool off.”
“Omae,” Aina growled. Naomi stepped between her and Akira.
“Be careful,” Naomi warned Aina.
“You’re going to defend him, after this?” Aina said, sweeping her hand across the room dramatically.
“I’ve done much worse for his family’s sake, Mme Aina. You know that.”
“You can’t hide behind her forever,” Aina shouted, leaning to the side to meet Akira’s gaze.
“Is that a threat?” Akira retorted quietly. “You’re smarter than that.”
“Tabun. Demo, I’m so mad that—”
“That you’ll what?” Akira sneered. “Run headlong into your death like your deplorable okaa-san? You disappoint me, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Remove her. I don’t want to see her for the next few days.”
“Goshujin-sama,” Chikako gasped, as Naomi grabbed Aina by the arm and began to drag her out of the study.
“You leave my mama out of this! She’s—” Aina stopped as Akira’s words sunk in. “She’s dead?” Aina turned to look at Chikako, but Chikako averted her eyes.
“Your father as well,” Naomi confirmed. “He died in the attack on your parents’ laboratory before you were brought here. Your mother sought revenge in a brazen attack on a Soviet military installation and was killed.”
“Demo, I’ve been writing tegami… This an uso, ne? Chikako-sama, tell me this is an uso.”
“It’s not,” Chikako said, turning her back on Aina. “I wrote the tegami you read.”
The revelation was too much for Aina to bear, on top of the loss of Tsukasa. Her legs gave out, crumpling in despair, and Naomi had to lift her up.
“Let go,” Aina said, with no strength in her voice.
“If I let you go, what will you do?”
“Shirimasen. Leave, I guess.”
“Where will you go?” Naomi followed up.
“Anywhere but koko.”
“I don’t think that’s wise,” Naomi said firmly. “Better to keep you under observation. Don’t want to make the same mistake twice in one night. Let’s go to the infirmary.”
“Iie, I don’t want to be in this house right now.”
“Let her go,” Akira commanded solemnly.
Naomi released Aina, who turned to look at Akira. There were so many things she wanted to say, so many insults she wanted to hurl in his direction, but the words wouldn’t come out. Instead, she ran to the door and flung it open. Sena was on the other side, her arms splayed wide, offering Aina a hug.
“Aina-chan,” she pleaded.
Without saying a word, Aina turned away from her gynoid friend and ran down the halls, stopping only at a weapon closet to arm herself, before running out of the front door, past the gate, and into the night. Sena did her best to keep up, but quickly fell behind.