July 4th, U.C. 0043, 3:30 AM
Aina was jerked from sleep by two sharp knocks and the creaking of her bedroom door opening. She had just enough time to realize she was in an unfamiliar place when she was temporarily blinded by the overhead light turning on. Panicking, she rolled to the left to avoid any attack that might be coming, but she was caught before she could roll off the bed.
“Ohayou gozaimasu, Aina-san,” she heard a monotone voice greet her. The firm hand on her shoulder and the tone of the greeting calmed Aina, and she was able to take in her surroundings with a clear mind. She was in the Wright mansion, she remembered, and standing over her was a meido with a blank expression on her face.
If Aina had to describe the meido, she would describe her as average. She was about 160 centimeters tall with medium length brown hair and fair, but not pale, skin. The meido’s dress obscured her hips, but Aina observed that there was nothing exceptional about her figure. It was as if she was the incarnation of the average caucasian woman, except for her dark gray eyes, which were studying Aina intently, unblinking.
“Ohayou gozaimasu,” Aina replied, wiping the sleep from her eyes. “What time is it?”
“It is zero three thirty hours,” the meido answered. “You have half an hour to dress and report for duty.”
“Mouuuu,” Aina groaned. “What is this, the guntai?” But she nevertheless got out of bed and walked into the attached bathroom.
“You will find that there are many similarities,” the meido called after her, “but no, this is not the guntai. Additionally, it will take some time to walk to your duty station, so please be ready to leave in ni-jyuu minutes.”
“Ni-jyuu minutes?” Aina complained. “Do you expect me to run down the hallways with pan hanging from my mouth?”
“Breakfast will be served at zero seven-hundred hours.”
“Heeeee?” Aina exclaimed. “It’s not healthy to put off breakfast.”
“Indeed,” the meido agreed, “it is inefficient to work on an empty stomach, especially for young kodomo, who are often unpleasant when hungry.” That statement stung. This meido hadn’t been mean to her at all, but Aina had responded with nothing but complaints and sarcasm. She was taking her anger out on the messenger, Aina realized.
“Gomen,” Aina mumbled, looking at the ground.
“Demo, it is also inefficient for the cooking staff to prepare meals individually, so breakfast will not be ready for a few hours. Many other meido find it useful to eat a small snack first thing in the morning. As you surmised, it is not uncommon for the younger women to be seen running down the hallways with food in their mouths. Such snacks are not allotted by the household budget, so you will need to pay for them from your own salary.”
“Do you have any snacks you could share, onee-san? I’ll pay you back when I receive my first paycheck.”
“Gomen, I cannot provide you with the sustenance you require, as I am incapable of producing milk,” the meido joked, her voice completely deadpan.
“I may be young, but I’m not that young! Mou,” Aina whined, emerging from the bathroom and walking to the closet.
“I apologize if I offended you,” the meido offered. “I am attempting to cultivate a sense of humor, but that is the second time in ni days that one of my jokes has backfired.”
“Onee-san,” Aina interrupted. “I’m going to change clothes now.”
“You really need to get better jokes, onee-san,” Aina said, blushing.
“I was not joking. If you do not dress quickly, you will be late for your first day of work.”
“Please wait outside, onee-san. I can dress myself,” Aina demanded, pushing the meido towards the door.
“Naze should I leave the room?” the meido asked, her voice still completely devoid of emotion.
“Because I’m embarrassed, onee-san. I’ve never changed in front of anyone before.”
“There is no need to be embarrassed by my presence,” the meido started, but she noticed tears starting to form in the corners of Aina’s eyes, and cut herself off. “Nevertheless, I shall wait outside. Be sure to make your bed before you leave.” And with that, she turned and left the room, the door creaking as it opened and closed.
A few minutes later, the door creaked back open and the meido felt a tug at the hem of her dress.
“Onee-san,” Aina pleaded, “could you teach me how to make the bed?”
The door opened and closed one last time as Aina and the meido left the room and began walking towards the servants’ entrance.
“Someone will come to collect your laundry on Friday mornings,” the meido explained, “so be sure to remove the sheets from your bed and place them into the hamper.”
“Hai, onee-san,” Aina said. She was beginning to cheer up as she adapted to her situation. “Do you mind if I ask you a shitsumon?”
“It is expected that you will ask me many shitsumon, and I will do my best to answer them.”
“Are the namae of meido supposed to be naisho or something? When I first met Chikako-onee-san, she introduced herself as Yasuko, and you haven’t introduced yourself at all. How do you talk to people when you don’t know their namae?”
“Our namae are secret from the outside world, so you should come up with a few fake namae to give to outsiders. For practical reasons, we do not keep our real namae secret from each other, but I am not in the habit of introducing myself, as others typically do not bother with my namae when they have occasion to speak to me.”
Though delivered with an even, dispassionate voice, Aina thought she could detect the pain of loneliness—her own pain—in those words, and for the first time in her life, she had the opportunity to exorcise that pain, not only from herself, but from another as well.
“Sou? Demo, I like talking with you, onee-san. Won’t you tell me your namae?”
“It is R. Sena.”
“R. Sena? That means you’re a gynoid, doesn’t it? Sugoi! I’ve never met a gynoid before. Can I call you Sena-chan?”
“Only if I can call you Aina-chan,” Sena replied, showing neither joy nor dismay in response to Aina’s outburst.
“Ii yo!” Aina replied.
The two emerged from the hallway into the entryway, where Sena flipped a light switch to reveal a shoe locker against the far wall.
“You will clean all the shoes in this locker,” Sena instructed. “There are approximately forty pairs of shoes, and you have two hours to complete the task. Some of the staff will come for their shoes before then, so there is a priority order. I will teach and assist you for the first few days, but you will be expected to complete the task on your own for the next ni weeks after that.”
“What happens after the ni weeks?” Aina asked, yawning.
“You will be assigned a different task. For the first few months, you will rotate between many different jobs so that you may learn to perform all the duties expected of a meido. Cleaning the staff’s shoes is traditionally the first job a meido undertakes, as it is viewed as a way for a new meido to give thanks to her senpai for taking care of her.”
“Who will clean the shoes after I move on?”
“That is usually gynoid work,” Sena admitted, retrieving brushes, rags, gloves, and bottles of polish from a cupboard next to the locker. “Watch closely and I will show you. You don’t need to bother with polish unless a pair of shoes has lost its luster, as this pair has, which is usually no more than once every couple weeks. Most of the time, you only need to brush the dirt off, like this.” Aina watched as Sena cleaned the shoe with a brush, and then began working polish into the shoe with a different brush.
“So you have to give thanks to the rest of the staff every day?” Aina inquired, not taking her eyes off the shoe.
“Not just watashi. There are kyuu gynoids attached to this house.”
“Do any of the ningen meido ever clean your shoes?” Aina continued her line of questioning, but Sena remained silent as she finished polishing the shoe. “That doesn’t seem fair to me. Does it bother you?”
“Betsuni,” Sena shrugged. “Here, you try with the other shoe. Besides, it is only a symbolic gesture for a new meido, so I do not think of it as giving thanks.” Aina took the shoe and imitated what she had just observed.
“Is this good?” Aina asked after she finished. Sena took the shoe from her and inspected it.
“You did well for your first attempt,” Sena congratulated her. “However, you missed a spot near the heel.” Aina took the shoe back and corrected her mistake.
“Which pair is next?”
“Pair A-jyuu-ni, but that compartment is too high for you to reach. I will have a ladder brought down tomorrow morning so—” Sena stopped speaking as Aina leapt up, coming level with compartment A-12 at the peak of her jump, and quickly retrieved the shoes before falling silently back to the floor. “Never mind.”
“Naze do gynoid meido do different jobs than ningen meido?” Aina asked, as she began cleaning the new pair.
“Gynoids are very efficient at performing menial labor, but they are poor at adapting to unfamiliar situations,” Sena explained as she took another pair of shoes from the locker and began to brush them off. “Additionally, lacking taste buds, we are not trusted with preparing meals, although we sometimes assist in the kitchen. It is also a fact that most goshujin find it unpleasant to interact with gynoids, so we do not perform those duties which would require us to be in the presence of those we serve.”
“In other words, you do all the work, and we take all the credit,” Aina frowned, holding a shoe up to there light. “Doesn’t that make you angry?”
“Betsuni. I am incapable of feeling emotions. Besides, I value the contributions of my biological coworkers.”
“Demo, they don’t value your contributions,” Aina guessed. Sena stayed quiet, so Aina tried a different tact. “It always made me angry when Mari-san took credit for my work.”
“Dare is Mari-san?”
“Just a bully from school,” Aina explained as she jumped to place the shoes back in A-12. “I’ll probably never see her again.”
“Mari-san is Aina-chan’s teki,” Sena stated, handing Aina a new pair of shoes to clean. “I will remember that.”
“She’s not worth worrying about. Besides, the Soviets are my real teki. Do you have any teki, Sena-chan?”
“You like that word.”
The two worked in silence for a while. Aina couldn’t help but notice that Sena was three times faster, even though she was often pausing to help Aina, but every time Aina tried to match her speed, her work became sloppy.
Aina had just finished her fifth pair of shoes when Sena abruptly stood and bade Aina to do the same. The two backed against the wall just as the door opened, and six exhausted meido tramped into the room.
“Okaeri nasai, Naomi-sama-tachi,” Sena recited with a deep bow, which Aina matched.
“Aina-chan?” Came a voice Aina had heard before. She looked up to find herself face-to-face with a grinning Masa, or whatever her real name was. “It is! Are you cleaning the shoes? Iiko, iiko,” she praised, patting Aina on the head.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Aina-san,” Naomi said wearily. “I am Naomi, the housekeeper. Please forgive my rudeness, but it has been a long night, and this old lady needs to find her bed before sleep takes her.”
“Oyasumi nasai,” Aina bowed again.
“Have breakfast brought to our rooms at ten hundred hours,” Naomi ordered, handing her shoes to Sena.
“Hai, Naomi-sama,” Sena acknowledged, but Naomi had already left. The other five meido followed behind, issuing lethargic yoroshikus as they passed Aina and ignoring Sena completely.
“How come they get to eat breakfast whenever they want?” Aina asked as they returned to their work.
“They have just returned from a ninmu, so they are afforded special privileges as thanks for their efforts, and to compensate for the disruptions to their work schedules.”
“I suppose that’s fair,” Aina grudgingly allowed.
“There is blood on this shoe,” Sena observed. “Naomi-sama must be slowing down in her old age.” She turned to the supply cabinet for a bottle of hydrogen peroxide.
“She didn’t look that old to me.”
“Ee, she hides her age well, but she is much older than minna in this mansion.”
“How old is she?”
“It would be impolite for me to tell, but it shall suffice to say that she is the oldest living meido. Meidou training is very strenuous, but it has many health benefits, and it is not unheard of for those who master it to live unusually long lives.”
“But it is unheard of for meido to get blood on themselves when they go on ninmu?”
“Naze do you ask? Does the sight of blood make you uncomfortable?”
“Betsuni,” Aina said, doing her best imitation of the gynoid.
“Meido often return from ninmu covered in blood, but Naomi-sama is a master of her art, so it is unusual for her.”
“What about gynoids? Do you ever get to go on ninmu?”
“I thought gynoids weren’t allowed to harm ningen.”
“Because of Asimov’s laws, right? That was certainly the case when this country was founded. There were spirited debates about Asimov’s laws in the 3rd, 16th, and 28th ordinary sessions of the Diet. On February 10th, U.C. 0027, the Diet voted that robot fighters were ‘more anime’ than Asimov’s laws, and so we were granted the right to fight and kill when commanded to.”
“Wao, you remembered the date. It must have been important to you.”
“Betsuni. It is a simple historical fact.”
“Do you like killing that much?”