November 6th, U.C. 0051, 9:00 AM
“Don’t you think it’s a little early to start drinking, goshujin-sama?” Chikako admonished as she walked towards the liquor cabinet.
“Shut it,” Akira snapped. “It’s bad enough that Aina was right. You don’t have to be right too. If this keeps up, the meido will always be right and the goshujin will always be wrong, and then what kind of sekai would we live in?”
“Sou ka?” teased Chikako. “I thought that’s how things had always been.”
She poured him a glass of shouchuu and left the bottle on the coffee table in front of him. He downed it without tasting it and quickly poured himself another. Before he could raise it to his lips, there was a knock on the door.
“Go away!” he yelled before downing the second glass.
“It is an emergency,” came a gynoid’s voice from the other side of the door.
“Chikako, take care of it,” ordered Akira. Chikako opened the door, stuck her head out, and conversed quietly with the gynoid for a couple minutes. It didn’t take long for her to relent and allow the gynoid into the study.
“Gomen, but you need to hear this, goshujin-sama,” Chikako apologized.
“Listen, I’m the goshujin here. I don’t need to do anything. I can do whatever I want. Naze doesn’t anyone around here wakaru that?”
“One of the prime minister’s meido has been found murdered in a field outside the GINZUISHOU,” Sena informed him. “She was the second-in-command of his staff.”
“Oh, I remember her,” Akira said. “The one who got her face beat in, ne?”
“That’s her,” Chikako confirmed.
“The prime minister is likely going to take this as a personal insult,” Sena elaborated.
“At least publicly,” Akira confirmed. “I’d do the same for any of you. Demo, doko’s the emergency? This better not have been a plot to interrupt my drinking.”
“Aina-san had a… history with this meido,” Chikako informed him. “They went to the same school, and she bullied Aina-san. There’s more to it than that, but suffice to say, Aina-san had enough of a motive to make her a suspect in this murder.”
“Kuso,” Akira groaned, rubbing his temples. “Do either of you know doko Aina is?” Both Sena and Chikako shook their heads. Akira fumbled for his phone and dialed Naomi.
“Yes?” answered Naomi.
“Do you know doko Aina-chan is?” he asked.
“You don’t want to know. It would just upset you.”
“OK, just… did she kill that meido?”
“She hasn’t killed anyone since leaving the mansion.”
“Ii,” Akira sighed in relief. “I need you back here as soon as possible. There’s a situation. I’d hate to lose track of Aina, but as long as she’s safe—”
“She’s safe, and she won’t be going anywhere for at least a few hours. I’ll be back within fifteen minutes.” Without waiting for a reply, Naomi abruptly hung up the phone.
“Naomi’s coming back,” Akira announced. “When she returns, I want someone else to take her place and keep watch over Aina.”
“If I may, goshujin-sama,” said Chikako, “Aina-san can take care of herself. We don’t need to spare the resources at a time like this. There’s also the risk that she might hurt whoever we send to watch over her. She’s not exactly in a good state of mind right now.”
“Which is it?” Akira snapped. “Can she take care of herself, or is she in a bad state of mind?”
“Those aren’t mutually exclusive,” Chikako pointed out.
“I hurt her,” Akira said. “I owe it to her to at least keep her safe while she licks her wounds. If Naomi hadn’t been keeping watch, she wouldn’t have had an alibi. I want her under observation for a while.”
“I do not believe she would harm a gynoid,” Sena offered.
“True,” Chikako agreed. “She might run from the one she’s closest with though.”
“You mean Sena-san,” Sena clarified.
“Hai, I think that’s correct,” replied Chikako. “That’s not you, is it?”
“Iie,” Sena lied.
“Ii, in that case, I order you to kill Aina-san,” Chikako said.
“As you wish, Chikako-sama,” Sena said with a bow. Her eyes did not glow red, although they were designed to do so when she resisted orders.
“Cancel that order. I was just testing you. Do not kill Aina-san. Get her location from Naomi-sama when she returns and keep watch over her. Do not let R. Sena know about this.”
Sena bowed and quickly left the room.
“I’m going to call the prime minister and express my condolences,” Akira announced as he rose unsteadily from the couch. “Call down to the kitchen and have them prepare me a second breakfast. When Naomi gets back, I want you to personally take control of the investigation. As soon as you have enough evidence to exonerate Aina, cooperate with the prime minister’s housekeeper. Use whatever means you have to. I want to know who killed that meido before anyone else does.”
“Gokurosama,” Chikako greeted Naomi as she returned.
“Same to you, I’m sure,” Naomi said. “What’s the situation?”
“Mari-san was found killed outside the GINZUISHOU. Considering Aina-san’s history with her, she’s likely to be the primary suspect.”
“Undoubtedly, but I can vouch for her.”
“Which won’t mean much. You’re not exactly an objective witness. Goshujin-sama has put me in charge of investigating the matter. You’re to stay here and guard the mansion.”
“That seems like a sensible approach. Oh, by the way, I have something for you.” Naomi pulled an envelope out of one of her pockets and handed it to Chikako, who turned it over to read the address on the front.
Frowning, Chikako opened the envelope and pulled out a short letter.
Arigatou for letting me believe my parents were alive. I was angry at you at first, but I realize now that I would have had a very difficult time adjusting to my new life as a meido had I known.
Gomen that things turned out the way they did. I never realized how much you were looking after me. I’ve held a grudge against you ever since Karin-sama’s death, but I understand now that, at least in part, you did what you did in order to mamoru me. You have been a much better friend than I deserve, and I can only hope that one day I’ll be able to earn your forgiveness.
P.S. I want to come home.
“Oh my, is that a tear I see in your eye?” Naomi commented.
“That baka,” Chikako mumbled. “I told her never to write down real namae.”
Aina woke with a splitting headache. For the second time in her life, her hangover was making her regret her night of drinking. Tomorrow’s would be worse, probably, and she wasn’t looking forward to it. She slowly began to open her eyes, screwing them back shut again when the light made her headache worse. After a few minutes, she tried to turn over and found she was being held firmly in place. She momentarily panicked and attempted to push herself up, but relaxed once she noticed Sena’s presence. “Nani are you doing here?” Aina groaned.
“Ohayou gozaimasu to you too,” Sena retorted. “Demo, it is after noon already.”
“Naomi-sama sold me out, didn’t she?”
“She couldn’t help it. Meirei from goshujin-sama. Demo, nobody else knows where you are.”
Aina tried to pull herself free from Sena’s grasp, but Sena hung tight, and Aina would have had to risk damaging her to free herself.
“Hanase. I can’t face you yet.”
“I ran away from you, remember?”
“I remember. Did you forget that I have no feelings to hurt?”
“Iie, I just… When I ran from you before, I didn’t want to talk with you. Even if you don’t have feelings, it’s not OK for me to treat you like an appliance that I can ignore at will. I don’t have the right to talk with you now as if nothing happened.”
“Naze didn’t you want to talk with me?”
“I was afraid that it might be cathartic. I didn’t want to feel better. I’m still not sure I want to feel better yet.”
“That is wise. If you try to remove your emotions too quickly, you risk merely suppressing them. Even if you properly dealt with them, later, you might feel guilty about moving on too quickly. You would wonder if your tomodachi and family didn’t mean as much to you as they should.”
“How do you know so much about emotions?”
“While I cannot experience them, I do have a wealth of psychiatric knowledge.”
“These are the last feelings I will ever have about my parents. I’m not sure I ever want to get over them.”
“Then you will live an extremely bitter life, and I don’t want to see that happen to you. Demo, I guarantee these are not the last feelings you will have about them. I’m sure you will continue to learn new things about them for years to come.”
“You really think so?”
“You still haven’t read all of their published research, ne?”
“I still shouldn’t have run away from you.”
“You shouldn’t have, but I understand why you did.”
“Arigatou,” Aina whimpered, burying her face in Sena’s dress.
“You should not cry. Not right now. You are still dehydrated from excessive alcohol intake.”
“Shitteiru,” acknowledged Aina, but she couldn’t stop the tears from flowing, and Sena didn’t mind holding the girl while she cried. She didn’t mind it when Aina fell asleep on her chest, either. Even though she couldn’t move from the bed, Sena didn’t suffer from boredom, and she knew this was important for her friend. Aina, she believed, would have done the same if their situations were reversed.
Barely an hour passed before a knock on the door roused Aina. Without waiting for a response, it opened, and Ran, the hostess who Aina had once inadvertently followed home, entered the room.
“Wao, you ni look good together,” Ran commented.
“We’re not together,” Aina and Sena replied in unison.
“That’s real convincing,” Ran smirked.
“Matte, back up,” said Aina. “We look good together? You mean you don’t find her creepy?”
“Definitely creepy,” Ran confirmed, “but so are you, jo-chan. I mean, I kind of think that about all my customers, but you’re the only one to ever show up at my apartment. Demo, that’s why you look good together: you’re both creepy.”
“Be that as it may, we cannot be together, since I am incapable of feeling koi,” Sena pointed out.
“So… you’re just cuddling for kicks, or are you also incapable of having fun?” Ran asked
“I was just providing support to my tomodachi,” Sena replied. “My lack of feelings is irrelevant.”
“OK, OK, so you’re incapable of koi, but capable of kindness. I’ve seen relationships succeed with less. It would be weird, but I think you ni could work with that. Matte, nani about sex? I can’t see this working if Bot-san over here is incapable of that.”
“I could provide sexual satisfaction, but I cannot feel any myself, and besides, such a relationship would be sub-optimal. As close tomodachi, we support each other, and in doing so, increase our odds of survival. If she became dependent on me for sexual relief, that would change her priorities, thus subverting that relationship.”
“I think I follow,” Ran said. “That’s a really mature attitude. So, jo-chan, if you’re not seeing Bot-san, does that mean you’re on the market?”
“Iie,” Aina answered. “I mean, maybe. There’s someone I like, and she likes me, but… we’re not seeing each other right now.”
“This the same girl you were crying about months ago at the club? Take my advice and move on. How old are you anyway?”
“Hai, hai, now how old are you really? You wouldn’t need me to buy your booze if you weren’t underage.”
“Great. Listen, my itoko is going to come over to hang out tonight. She’s a year older than you. Just between you and me, she’s got kind of a thing for meido. Wouldn’t be too hard to get her into bed, tabun.”
“I don’t think that’s a great idea,” Aina said hesitantly. “Soshite, I’ve imposed on you too much. Perhaps I should find somewhere else to crash tonight.”
“I concur,” Sena chimed in. “You do not need any more emotional baggage right now.”
“Matte, don’t go,” Ran pleaded. “OK, look, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, but it would mean a lot to my itoko to meet a real-life meido. Just hang out and talk. Please?”
“Iie,” Aina said. “If I’m going to drink tonight—and I need to drink tonight—I really might end up in bed with her.”
“I’ll watch your back. Bot-san can do the same. Besides, you don’t have anywhere else to go, right? I mean, otherwise, why would you have come here?”
“You’re right about that,” Aina mumbled.
“You probably should not drink again,” Sena admonished.
“Yeah,” Ran agreed. “I mean, last night was fun and all, but you’re a real lightweight, jo-chan.”
“I don’t really remember much of last night,” admitted Aina. “Did I at least apologize for getting the club shut down?”
“Too many times to count. Demo, it’s like I told you. After that, I got a full scholarship for my studies, and I hated that job anyway, so it’s a net win for me. Akira-sama may be an oppressive bakemono, but at least he takes care of the bystanders.”
“Sou ka?” Aina said, forcing a smile. “Yokatta.”
“Just make sure he doesn’t come after me, OK?” Ran said.
“I do not believe he will,” Sena assured her. “In fact, I believe he will be most favorably inclined to you for taking his meido in.”
“I’m not sure I feel comfortable with him knowing it was me. What if he changes his mind, ya know?”
“No one will inform him unless he specifically asks,” Sena said, “and I don’t think he cares that much. After we leave, someone will show up with a bundle of cash in appreciation.”
“You mean hush money,” Ran accused.
“Iie, not hush money,” insisted Sena. “There is no need for that. You are free to say anything you want, but Akira-sama has powerful teki. If they learned you aided him, you might be in danger.”
“And if I go gossiping to these teki in order to get into their good graces?”
“Then there will be nowhere in this city where you will be safe,” Aina threatened.
“That’s a cheerful thought,” Ran said with a false smile. “Well, as long as there’s more cash coming, help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge. I need to meet with one of my professors, so I’m heading out for a few hours.”
“Do not tell anyone we are here,” Sena ordered.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Ran called back as she walked out of the room.
“Could you let me up now?” Aina asked Sena. “I need a shower.” Sena released her hold, and Aina slowly slid off the bed and began to disrobe. “By the way, how’s Jin-chan?”
“She is still in the infirmary, but I do not know anything beyond that.”
“Can you tell me anything that’s happening at the mansion? What’s goshujin-sama been doing? He hasn’t made moves on any of the other onna, has he?”
“Iie, he has mostly been doing the same thing you have: drowning his sorrows in booze.”
Great, Aina thought to herself. Is this how the machi goes to sensou? Drunk and depressed?