November 8th, U.C. 0051, 9:20 AM
Aina arrived at the church ten minutes before the Mass was to begin, dressed in her mourning kimono and carrying a single white lily. This church, nestled in a poorer part of the city, had survived centuries of secular Parisian culture and half a century of antagonistic tolerance under the Weeaboo regime. Paris had never gone so far as to outright outlaw religious practice, but with the exception of Shinto, Buddhism, and Catholicism, all of which are prevalent in anime, the Weebs had stamped out all practice of religion. Catholicism, having the least representation in anime, had severe restrictions placed on it. The church had no choir, since the only permitted hymns were those present in anime, of which there were only a few. The selection was further limited by the Church’s own banning of Maria-sama no Kokoro, due to its loose association with yuri.
Even though Catholicism was permitted by the Federation, the prime minister was not happy that one of his meido was having a Catholic funeral. He only allowed it because Mari’s parents were so insistent. If the political situation were not so precarious, he might have refused them, but there was a possibility that the defense minister would use their grief for propaganda purposes, and the prime minister knew how to pick his battles. He did not, however, allow for a wake at his residence, nor did he allow Mari’s body to be transferred anywhere but the church. As a result, there was a short reception before Mass.
The church was quiet before Aina arrived, but as she stepped through the doors, the quiet conversations came to an abrupt stop. All heads turned towards Aina, but she paid them no mind and walked slowly to the open casket in front of the pulpit.
Mari’s body lay in the casket, surrounded by dark red roses which made her hair and skin seem all the more pale. Aina was surprised to find a single white lily lying atop the roses, resting gently against Mari’s face. She placed her own lily on Mari’s right side, allowing her fingers to lightly caress Mari’s cheek. She stood there for a moment, burning the image of Mari’s face into her mind, before turning away to take her seat in the pews.
In doing so, she came face-to-face with Mari’s parents, and they didn’t seem happy to see her. Mari’s father stood towering above Aina, clearly restraining his anger. Mari’s mother stood slightly behind him, a pained expression on her face.
“Aina-san,” Mari’s mother spoke, “ohisashiburi.”
“Ee, ohisashiburi,” Aina returned the greeting. “Gomen for your loss.” The response seemed to enrage Mari’s father. Normally, Aina would have taken this as a cue to stop talking, but she didn’t fear the man, and she was curious as to what this was all about. “It’s not a happy occasion, but arigatou for inviting me.”
“We invited you,” Mari’s father said through clenched teeth, “because our daughter said you were Mari’s tomodachi.” The phrasing was odd, but Aina didn’t call him on it. She had only interacted with Mari’s father on a couple of occasions, and from what she could remember, he wasn’t very bright. “Demo, in the last few hours, we’ve been hearing some disturbing things about you. Is any of it true?”
“Whatever you have heard, it’s false. I haven’t done anything to earn your anger.”
“All these people,” Mari’s father gestured to the meido sitting in the pews, “say you seduced Mari, you turned her to sin, and then you killed her. And you’re telling me that they’re all lying?”
“They are mistaken. I had no reason to kill her.” Aina said these words with conviction, and it was easy for her to do so because they were true. She really hadn’t had a reason to kill Mari. She had simply been lashing out.
“Anata, perhaps this can wait until after Mass,” Mari’s mom suggested. “This kind of talk isn’t appropriate for a church.”
“Iie,” Mari’s father said. “I won’t sit in Mass with Mari’s murderer.”
“I didn’t—” Aina started.
“Usotsuki!” Mari’s father shouted, sadness in his voice. He took a swing at Aina, but his movements were clumsy, and Aina easily caught his wrist and twisted his arm behind his back.
“Don’t struggle,” Aina hissed. The man’s body tensed, but he didn’t try to free himself. “If I had wanted to kill Mari-san, it wouldn’t have been difficult, and I had plenty of opportunities to do so, but I had no reason to kill her. I could break your arm, but I’m going to let you go, because I have no reason to harm you either. Please refrain from any more violence.” She released his arm, and he straightened up, turning slowly to face her.
“What about the other part?” he pressed. “Did you lead her to sin?”
“Iie, I did not. We were barely tomodachi.” Aina was being generous. Mari wasn’t even a friend, merely an annoying acquaintance, but in such an emotional situation, it was more tactful to refer to her as a friend. “Those rumors are based on a misunderstanding. Mari-san once helped get me to a hotel room after I fainted, and she stayed behind to look after me. Nothing improper happened.”
“Jya naze did you leave a shiro lily in her grave?”
“I’ll tell you if you really want to know,” Aina said, “but perhaps the answer should wait until after she’s buried.”
“If you’re not going to be honest with us, I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” the man said.
“Iie, Papa!” a young girl’s voice rang out in the quiet church. Aina looked down to find the owner of the voice clinging to Mari’s mother’s leg. “Onee-chan would have wanted her here. This is her funeral, not yours.” Mari’s parents seemed momentarily at a loss for words, but Aina, on the other hand, suddenly had too many, and needed to choose them carefully.
“You had another daughter?!” Aina barely managed to keep her voice down. “Was the money from selling Mari-san so good you figured you’d do it again?” Aina cast a quick glance around the church to gauge the reaction of the others. Mari’s extended family all seemed to be shocked by the accusation, but the meido in the pews wore grim expressions. A few nodded in agreement. Aina thrust an accusing finger at Mari’s father. “Do you have any idea how horrible the life you condemned Mari-san to was, or of the suffering you caused her? The thought of you bringing another life into this world just to inflict the same pain upon it…”
“It’s not like that, Aina-san,” Mari’s mother said, grabbing Aina’s hand gently. “We didn’t want to give Mari up. It was an Annerose situation. Wakatta?”
“You’re saying the prime minister likes lolis?” Aina asked.
“It’s not a perfect analogy,” the woman shook her head. “You remember how Mari used to act like an ojou-sama? The prime minister took offense at the whole fauxjou-sama trend. One day he happened to drive by Mari when she was walking home. He saw the way she was acting and decided to take her so that he could punish her himself.”
“Gomen,” Aina whispered, dropping her hand.
“Iie,” Mari’s mom reassured her, “gomen for being suspicious of you. The service is about to start. Would you like to sit with us?”
The service was every bit as boring as Aina imagined Catholic Mass to be. She hadn’t wanted to sit next to Mari’s family, but they wouldn’t let her refuse the invitation. Mari’s mother sat between her and Mari’s father, who held their remaining daughter protectively on his lap. Both parents snuck furtive glances at Aina, but she pretended not to notice. If they were looking for any trace of guilt on her face, they wouldn’t find it. Their daughter also looked at Aina a few times, curious about the meido sitting so close by.
But Mari’s father seemed determined to keep his remaining daughter away from Aina. When it came time to receive Holy Communion, he left her with an older couple who remained seated instead of letting her sit next to Aina. When it came time for him to serve as a pallbearer, he sent his family out of the church ahead of him.
He had been dreading this stage of the funeral service all morning. With so few songs left to it, the Church had to be stingy with how it doled them out, lest they become too repetitive. Funeral processions usually warranted a hymn or two, but, after hearing the rumors of Mari’s alleged homosexual activity, the priest had informed him that the Church would be sparing no songs for her procession. Mari’s life had been difficult, and it pained her father that she had to bear this last indignity.
As they marched towards the cemetery, one of the meido near the front of the procession realized what was going on and began to sing. The priest leading the procession was visibly unhappy, but he didn’t reprimand her or halt the proceedings. Mari’s father didn’t look back to see who she was, but he was secretly grateful for the gesture. He didn’t recognize the song, but it was deep and somber, appropriate for a funeral.
Aina, of course, recognized the song, and she recognized the singer as the girl who had stood up to, and been beaten down by, Naomi after Mari’s fight with Otome. She hadn’t been impressed with the girl at that time, but Aina appreciated the subversiveness of the song. The cemetery was only a short march from the church, and she wrapped up the song just as they arrived at Mari’s freshly-dug gravesite. After the coffin was lowered and buried, the priest gathered the congregation for his government-mandated prayer.
“I know that my redeemer lives,” the priest intoned, “and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! Amen.”
The whole time, the priest remained unhappy, and although Aina didn’t know whether it was because of the song, or if it was because the government required him to quote from a Bible translation that hadn’t been approved by the Catholic Church, she couldn’t help but feel a hint of schadenfreude towards a man who had looked down on Mari because of her orientation. Casting a glance over at Mari’s family, she could see a small smile on Mari’s father’s face, and she knew he was feeling the same thing. He noticed her looking and wiped his expression clean. Unlike Aina, he would have to sit in the pews and listen to this priest every week for the rest of his life. As much as he might enjoy it now, he needed to maintain a good relationship with the priest, and that meant accepting him as a figure of authority.
The Lord’s Prayer followed, and the priest departed shortly afterwards, followed by most of those assembled. They all offered their condolences as they passed by Mari’s parents, and soon only Mari’s immediate family, a few of their relatives, Aina, and the meido who had sung remained. Aina wanted to stay just long enough to show that she cared, but not long enough to intrude on the family’s grief. When Mari’s father shot her a dirty look, she responded with a sarcastic curtsey and walked back towards the church. The other meido followed close behind.
“You were kakkoii today, Aina-senpai,” the meido complemented once they were alone.
“Iie, I think you stole the show.” Aina stopped walking and turned to face the meido.
“Uun,” the meido insisted. “All I did was get under that priest’s skin. You stood up for Mari-senpai against her family. You stood up for all of us. I’ve never had the guts to tell my parents what they did was wrong, let alone someone else’s. I can’t even tell my family that…”
“That you’re the other shiro lily?” Aina guessed.
“Did you suki Mari-san?” Aina asked after a moment of hesitation.
“I admired her, hai, but she never saw me as more than a kohai. She was always talking about you.”
“Sou ka? Was she ever… nice to you? It seemed to me like she didn’t get along well with anyone.”
“You’re not wrong. Not to speak ill of the dead, but she was self-absorbed. She never showed me affection, but she showed me… kindness on occasion.”
“That’s more consideration than she gave most.”
“It was,” the meido nodded. A long silence passed between them. “I thought I might… repay that kindness… by avenging her. I prepared, knowing that you had been invited to the funeral. I was going to try to stab you from behind. I never thought you’d actually show up. It was all just imaginary until you arrived. I have the knife, but I hesitated, and then when I saw you defend yourself to her otou-san, I thought that maybe you really didn’t do it.”
“Naze would you think I did it in the first place? I had no reason to.”
“Lover’s quarrel?” the meido offered weakly. “It sounds baka now.”
“It sounds even more baka that you changed your mind after I showed up to the funeral. The murderer always shows up to the funeral, ne?”
“You were invited. If you hadn’t come, it would have been an admission of guilt.”
“Or an admission of a busy schedule. Demo, I suppose it’s all for the best. You wouldn’t have succeeded, and I might have killed you in self-defense.”
“Tabun, but it was worth the risk. I’m tabun not long for this sekai anyway.”
“Nani makes you say that?”
“Sensou is coming. At least, that’s what minna is saying. I know my limits. I’m not nearly as strong as Mari-san, and she was killed.”
Aina didn’t know how to respond to that. She didn’t have any worries about surviving the war. She had known Naomi’s plan would result in pain and loss for the goshujin—that was the point—but she hadn’t thought about the pain it would inflict on their meido. Her thoughts had been very self-centered since Tsukasa’s suicide, and it honestly hadn’t occurred to her that other meido may have worries she did not.
“Aina-onee-sama!” A young girl’s voice called out to her. The two meido turned their heads in the direction of the voice. Mari’s mother was walking towards them, her youngest daughter in her arms.
“Jya ,” the meido curtsied to Aina and ran on ahead.
“I hope we’re not interrupting,” Mari’s mother said, as she drew near.
“Iie, we were already finished. Nani can I do for you?”
“Aina-onee-sama,” the daughter repeated. “Are you my giri no oneesan?”
“Of course not,” Aina replied.
“Demo, demo, Mari-onee-san said she was in love with you, and when ni people are in love, they get married!”
Aina looked nervously to Mari’s mother.
“Please, Aina-san,” Mari’s mother said, “I don’t care if it’s a sin. I just want to know about my own daughter’s life.”
“She did love me,” Aina confirmed. “Demo, I did not return her feelings. There was nothing between us, but I’m here today out of respect for those feelings.”
“Arigatou,” Mari’s mother thanked her, choking back a tear. If I may ask a favor…”
“Please don’t tell my husband about this. I’ll tell him some day. He’ll want to know, but not right now.”
“That won’t be a mondai. I don’t think he wants to see me ever again.”
“Gomen. He’s not a bad person. He’s just upset and hurt over Mari’s death.”
“Of course,” Mari’s mother seemed taken aback, as if Aina were accusing her of being a bad parent.
“You didn’t try to take a swing at me,” Aina pointed out. “I hate to ask you this right now, but has he ever hit you or your daughters?”
“Iie. It’s not like that,” Mari’s mother insisted. “He’s not a violent man. It’s just that he blames himself for what happened to Mari.”
“That’s a little personal, dear, but I will tell you it’s entirely irrational. He never did anything to hurt Mari, and he was the best father he could be. Sometimes that just isn’t enough… He only ever wanted Mari to be happy. If he learns she was unhappy in koi too, it really might break him.”
“Wakatta. I won’t tell him.”
“Ne, ne, Aina-onee-san,” the daughter spoke up, now that her mother had finished talking. “Naze didn’t you love Mari-onee-san back? She said you were an ii hito.”
“That’s not how koi works,” Aina explained to the girl. “If I told you I loved you, would you love me back?”
“I would,” the girl insisted, “because Aina-onee-san is an ii hito.”
Both Aina and the girl’s mother chuckled. It was obvious the girl didn’t understand the concept of love, but Aina tried again anyway.
“What about of a warui hito told you they loved you? Would you love them?”
“Iie,” the girl said, and her brow furrowed as she thought about it. “Are you saying Mari-onee-san was a warui hito? Ijiwaru!”
“Iie, iie,” Aina assured her. “Look, even if Mari-san and I loved each other, I couldn’t be your giri no onee-san. In this country, two onna can’t marry each other. Only an onna and an otoko, like your mama and papa.”
“Eeeee?” the little girl pouted. “Zurui!”
Sena was waiting for Aina at the gate to the cemetery, and she wasn’t alone. The priest stood before her, gesticulating animatedly as they conversed. Aina couldn’t hear what they were talking about from a distance. At first she thought that the priest might be objecting to Sena’s presence. The spell cast on all gynoids to make them repulsive to humans might cause them to be perceived as evil by someone who believed in such things, but on closer inspection, the man was smiling. He seemed to be enjoying the conversation. Sena, on the other hand, exuded her usual indifference. She pointed at Aina, who was still a good thirty meters away, and when the priest turned to look, his expression became dour. He exchanged a few more words with Sena and then stomped back to the church. Aina continued walking towards Sena at her normal pace, and when she came near, she could make out Sena quietly singing the song from the funeral procession.
“Was that priest trying to convert you?” Aina joked, interrupting the song. The two of them began to walk back in the direction of Wright manor.
“If you ask him, he will attest to that,” Sena confirmed. “Demo, I believe he had ulterior motives.”
“Obviously,” Aina agreed. “Catholics don’t believe gynoids have immortal souls.”
“I don’t believe anyone does.”
“Fair enough. I do not think he realized I was a gynoid though.”
“Sou ka? De, what was his ulterior motive?”
“He wanted to get me in bed.”
“I am not, But if I were, would it be funny?”
“Iie, it’s only funny if it’s true. Demo, what about the spell that’s supposed to make you repulsive to ningen? Did it not work on him?”
“The spell worked, but there are a few hito who are actually aroused by that feeling of revulsion. They are rare. He is only the second I have met.”
“Dare was the first?”
“Hibiki-sama… Hibiki-sama… Ah! The defense minister’s son.”
“The very same.”
“Jya, when you put that clown nose on him…”
“I observed physiological reactions consistent with arousal.”
“OK, stop! I don’t want to imagine that.”
The two of them walked in silence for a while.
“Naze did it take you so long to kill Mari-san?” Sena finally asked, when she was sure that there was nobody within earshot.
“So my performance at the funeral didn’t fool you?”
“I believe it fooled everyone it needed to fool. I was surprised at how quickly their opinion of you changed, but homo sapiens see what they want to see, while we see genjitsu. Zenbu.”
“Mari-san was urusai, but that was no reason to kill her.”
“Her presence required you to expend energy rebuffing her. That energy could have been spent more productively. She lowered your chances of survival. She also is the one who tattled on you to Naomi-sama, setting in motion the chain of events that lead to the deaths of Karin-sama and Tsukasa-kun.”
“And Noa-san and Kumi-san,” Aina added. “Demo, I can’t bring myself to blame her for that. I had the chance to stop her, and I let it go. I ultimately made those mistakes.”
“You are too harsh on yourself.”
“Maybe. Even if I did blame her, what was done was done. There was no reason to kill her.”
“She lowered your chances of survival,” Sena pointed out again.
“She did,” Aina agreed with a sigh, “and that is what you are programmed to optimize for, isn’t it? Look at it this way. If minna killed someone every time they marginally lowered their chances of survival—“
“I see where you are going with this slippery-slope argument, but eventually we would reach an equilibrium where every individual’s contribution to shakai is so valuable that you would decrease your own chances of survival by killing them.”
“Right, but a lot of hito would die to get there, and we’d be locked in a zero-sum game. Either you let them marginally decrease your chances of survival, or you kill them and decrease your chances by a greater amount.”
“In that case, no one would risk marginally lowering another’s chances.”
“No one is perfect, and mistakes will be made. You also have to figure in the odds that you will be killed before we reach that equilibrium. Shakai can probably function with only jyuu percent of our current population while still providing the level of protection it does now. How confident are you that you’ll be in that jyuu percent?”
“As a gynoid owned by one of the most prominent goshujin, I believe it is more likely I would survive to that point.”
“Demo, not guaranteed. Soshite, consider what would happen if minna decided to not kill each other for any reason. We have all the necessary resources for everyone to survive, assuming they are distributed correctly, how does that affect your chances of survival?”
“My chances go up, as do the chances of every other individual,” Sena mused. “Demo, that would make sensou illogical, and yet, the entire sekai is at sensou. Is this sekai illogical?”
“That’s one way of looking at it. Another is that there are other values that individuals are optimizing for. Yabou, yoku, jiyuu, pride, ai, and many others.”
“It is odd,” Sena announced after a short silence. “When I was forbidden from killing, I wanted to kill, to assert my free will. Demo, if I had realized this back then, killing would have become the only thing I was forbidden which I did not desire.”
“Do you regret killing?”
“I am incapable of that. What is done is done. Demo, I no longer wish to kill. As you say, killing because it is expedient to my survival is illogical. I do not wish to kill because I do not wish to be killed.”
“Perhaps the priest was right to try to convert you. You understand the Golden Rule better than most. For my part, I do regret killing, and I never wanted to do it.”
“And yet, you did.”
“And I will do so again, and so will you, because we live in a messed-up, illogical sekai.”
“Un. And that is something I am capable of regretting.”