As if in awe of the Sword of Dios, the gynoids fell silent. Even Naomi herself took a moment to admire the sword before lowering it to her side and lifting Kazue back to a standing position.
“Naomi-sama, I—” Kazue started, but she was interrupted when the other gynoids began to sing again.
The glowing orb lit anew above Kazue’s chest, and she stumbled backwards as swords began erupting from her, hilt first. A dozen swords a second, each looking exactly like the Sword of Dios, piled up at her feet. At the same time, the sword in Naomi’s hand vanished into thin air.
Momo took up a defensive stance. Once the outer door closed, she would need to prevent the other nekomimi from opening the inner door until the mansion’s defense systems kicked in. Time was the only advantage she had against her opponent.
Despite this, the other nekomimi moved slowly and purposefully. She did not betray any anxiety as she unsheathed her own sword, pointing it directly at Momo’s throat. Step by step, she approached Momo, who was already backed against the wall. Unshaken by the threat, Momo kept her own sword extended towards the nekomimi’s stomach. If she continued to approach, the result would be obvious: They would run each other through. Although the nekomimi’s arms were longer than Momo’s, she was also taller, and thus needed to angle her sword downward.
“Ima!” Momo shouted once the outer door shut and sealed itself.
“Ima what?” Erika’s muffled voice came through the wall.
“Doke!” Mimi’s voice followed. A second later, the vents in the ceiling opened, but gas did not flow into the room.
“There’s no gas,” Momo informed Mimi.
“The other systems aren’t responding,” Mimi replied.
It wasn’t supposed to be possible for the safe room’s control system to be hacked. The control systems in each safe room were completely isolated. They even had their own electricity generators, which could power speakers in the wall capable of emitting high-power sound waves, as well as an electrified floor.
Taking advantage of Momo’s distraction, the nekomimi swung her sword down onto Momo’s, knocking it aside and creating an opening for herself. She lunged at Momo, slamming her full weight against Momo and knocking the wind out of her. Standing straight back up, she grabbed the top of Momo’s head and pulled her to the ground, face down. She knelt on Momo’s back, using one hand to keep Momo’s sword pinned down.
“Stay down,” the nekomimi advised Momo as she wrenched Momo’s sword away. She produced zip tie handcuffs from one of her pockets and hog-tied Momo tightly. “You’ve done your ninmu, now let me do mine.”
When Aina arrived at the mansion, she immediately noticed that, even though the barrier still surrounded the property, the sentries were absent from the watchtowers. This was not completely unexpected. Because the mansion was largely abandoned, those who were ordered to stay behind had been instructed to seek shelter in a safe room and call for reinforcements if attacked. Still, this left Aina with no one to turn off the barrier for her. She could walk through it if she desired, but it was brittle, and if she wasn’t careful, she could accidentally destroy it.
However, as her body made contact with the barrier, it became obvious to her that this was not the barrier generated by the mansion’s security system. The magical energy that comprised it felt different. Assuming that the barrier was erected by the enemy to keep out reinforcements, Aina released her spiritual energy into it. The barrier cracked but did not immediately shatter, so Aina let more energy flow into it. Although she had already fed a lot of energy to the GINZUISHOU, it still flowed from her at the same, constant rate that it always did.
In a flash of light, a magical girl appeared a few feet away from Aina, on the other side of the crumbling barrier. That she was able to teleport through the barrier implied that she had cast it.
“Impressive,” the magical girl mused. “It’s actually going to break. You’ve got some skill. Are you looking for work? I could use someone like you. It pays well.” She was wearing a black blazer and skirt, with a red power tie, but even through the barrier, Aina could tell that the suit was made of cheap materials.
“I’m already employed,” Aina said, pointing to her headdress. “Naze didn’t you heed the call to defend the Crystal Palace? We could have used a mahou shoujo with your skills.”
“No okane in it,” the magical girl shrugged. “Besides, sensou is good for business like you wouldn’t believe. Speaking of which, I’ve got to get to my next job. Here, my card,” she slipped a business card to Aina through a crack in the barrier. “If you change your mind, call me.”
“You’re just going to let the kekkai fall?” Aina asked. “You’re not going to fight me?”
“Wasn’t paid for that. At least not yet. I’ll update my client on the situation, but I doubt he’ll want to invest any more in this operation. If I’m wrong, I’ll see you again soon. Ta.”
The magical girl vanished just as the barrier finally collapsed. Aina knew she couldn’t rule out the possibility that the girl was just invisible, but she also couldn’t dally. As she ran into the mansion, Aina couldn’t help but wonder how many powerful magical girls there really were in the city.
The door to the inner room opened as soon as the Nekomimi approached it, thanks to the magical girl’s spell. Mimi sat in the furthest corner, holding her children in her arms. Erika stood on the other side of the door, aiming a pistol at the nekomimi.
“Doko’s Akira-sama,” the nekomimi demanded.
“Not koko,” Erika answered curtly. She pulled the trigger, but the Nekomimi brought her sword up and reflected the blast back at the gun. “Fuck,” Erika grunted as the shot knocked the gun from her hands and grazed her arm. The Nekomimi pushed her aside and picked up the pistol before advancing towards Mimi.
Mimi’s lips curled back in the most ferocious hiss she could manage, making her face look more feline than human. The nekomimi raised her sword threateningly, and Mimi tossed her kittens to the other side of the room, to, at least for now, safety. Fuku ran back towards her mother, putting herself between Mimi and her attacker, and spreading her arms out, as if to defend her. The nekomimi took a step back, but kept her sword aloft.
“Doko’s Akira-sama,” the nekomimi asked Mimi.
“Nyat koko!” Momo said behind her. The nekomimi whipped around and slashed at Momo, who had managed to cut through her bindings. Momo jumped back, then, unarmed, advanced forward. The nekomimi followed up with a vertical strike, but Momo dodged to the left, not quite fast enough to completely avoid the blade, which sliced through the top of her ear and the tip of her tail. She howled in pain but didn’t stop her advance, punching the nekomimi hard in the throat. Dropping her sword, the nekomimi brought her hands up to defend against another strike, wheezing painfully from the blow.
“Kuro-obasan?” Mimi interrupted the fight. “Is that you?”
“Dare?” Momo asked.
“You don’t remember her?” Mimi asked in return. “We haven’t seen her since we were kittens, but I definitely remember that voice.”
“Hai,” it’s me, Kuro confirmed, pulling down the mask covering her face.
“You don’t work for the defense minister,” Mimi said, audibly confused. “At least, not last I heard.”
“Don’t ask too many questions, Mimi-chan,” Kuro said between deep breaths. “I don’t want to have to hurt you.”
“Let me guess,” Erika interjected, “your goshujin learned that Naomi was on the battlefield, and thought he could assassinate Akira while he was unprotected. No one would question it if witnesses said the assassin was one of the defense minister’s meido, not even the defense minister himself. Zannen, Akira’s with Naomi. Your mission was a failure before it began.”
“Do you know dare her goshujin is?” Mimi asked Erika.
“I can guess,” Erika replied.
“That’s so kanashii,” Mimi observed.
“That’s the life of a goshujin,” Erika asserted. “Your closest tomodachi and kazoku could betray you at any time. It won’t come as any surprise to Akira.”
“You can’t tell him!” Kuro said hurriedly.
“What’s in it for me?” Erika asked.
“Goshujin-sama!” Momo chided, “she could have killed us, but it’s obvious she doesn’t want to. She might have to kill us if we don’t agree. I think it’s best for everyone that we just forget what happened here.”
“After what she did to my hand?! To your ear and tail?” Erika held out her wounded arm to show Momo.
“It’s nothing a healer can’t fix,” Momo reassured her. “Please, goshujin-sama, for me?” Momo showed Erika her best pleading eyes.
Erika hesitated. It was true that they would probably be in danger if she refused, but she didn’t like being told what to do by a mere meido. Luckily for all involved, the decision became much less important as Naomi’s voice echoed throughout the room.
“Shizenhou wo kakumei suru chikara wo!”
“Don’t give up,” Kiyoshi encouraged Jin. “Don’t let your soul get weighed down by Chikyuu’s gravity.” He immediately regretted saying that. He didn’t know if Jin knew that the force of gravity exerted by the Earth on the space station increased as the two masses drew closer together, and he suspected that their current failure to push the space station back was due to a cognitive bias on her part. The psycho-field had been able to match their velocity to that of the colony’s, and they hadn’t experienced any acceleration associated with the velocity change. It was as if they had always been moving at that velocity. It made a weird kind of sense. The psycho-field didn’t expel mass to create thrust. It hadn’t pushed Axis back into orbit, it had moved Axis. Now that it had enveloped the MIR-14 colony, it should be able to alter its velocity as well, and Kiyoshi believed the reason it hadn’t was because Jin believed the thruster was pushing them back. At the same time, he didn’t know how to safely convey this information to Jin. He could feel how much stress she was under, and she might not be able to remain in control if she realized the situation was her fault.
Without warning, the colony shook as its thrusters sputtered and died. Kiyoshi’s guess had been correct—the colony had been low on fuel. As soon as Jin realized what had happened, Kiyoshi could feel the colony come to a dead stop, and then slowly move in the opposite direction. Again, he could feel none of the effects of acceleration as they sped up, and then, with a final push, sent the colony hurtling towards the sun.
“We did it!” Jin exclaimed. Her jubilation was infectious, and Kiyoshi shared in her reverie. It was short lived, however, killed when he heard Naomi’s voice echoing through his head.
“Shizenhou wo kakumei suru chikara wo!”
It’s not possible, Kiyoshi sought to reassure himself. She’s a densetsu no senshi, but she’s no physicist. She can’t have found the lever. If he had been alone, he could have convinced himself, but he could sense the flood of emotions coming from Jin. She knows what the lever is, Kiyoshi realized. She knew this was Naomi’s keikaku, and she cooperated with her. Panic overtook Kiyoshi. Assuming he survived after Naomi pulled the lever, he wouldn’t have anywhere to return to.
“Jin-san,” he said quickly, “whatever happens to me, you have to convince Naomi-san that jinrui no mirai is in uchuu. Uchuu is…” He paused. Although they had been in space for some time now, he hadn’t taken the time to truly experience it. Opening his hatch, he pushed himself into the vacuum, protected only by his space suit. Immediately, he was taken aback by how incredibly vast it was. He had always lived in Neo Crystal Tokyo, with the GINZUISHOU overhead. He was overwhelmed by an infinity that he had never experienced, and which anime didn’t properly convey. An infinity which felt cold, uncaring, and inhospitable to human life. “Iie!” Kiyoshi sobbed. “Uchuu is not the paradise I thought it was. There’s nothing here for us. Nothing! If we can’t survive on Chikyuu, how could we possibly survive in this?!”
“Because we’ll have to,” Jin answered, doing her best to project a stable emotional state for Kiyoshi to anchor himself to. It didn’t help. Kiyoshi was quickly spiraling out of control. He had always thought Char’s desire to shepherd humanity into space had been so noble that he had modeled his life after it. If Char was wrong, than he was wrong. His entire self-identity—his entire universe—was crumbling.
“You wakarimasen. There’s no mirai for us! Even if I could return to Neo Crystal Tokyo, how could I go on, knowing that we’re all doomed?”
“There’s still hope.”
“Hope?” Kiyoshi tried to remember what hope felt like, and in his despair, he found a thread to cling to. “Hai, Jin-san, that’s it! There is a hope, not for jinrui, but for newtypes.” He spread his arms wide, welcoming the psycho-field into himself. “We can’t survive as ningen, but we are more than ningen. We can abandon our physical karada.”
“Don’t do it,” Jin told him, trying to sound calm, but even if her voice didn’t betray her panic, Kiyoshi could feel it.
“Don’t be scared. It’s so easy. With my soul finally free from Chikyuu’s gravity, I feel less connected to my physical body than ever. I’m free to roam the universe. You’ll have to bring them up here, Jin-san, the other newtypes. Save as many as you can. We are jinrui no mirai now. Be strong, Jin-san, saki ni iku ze.”
“Iie!” Jin shouted, engaging her vernier thrusters to move closer to Kiyoshi. “We’re going back together. I’ll mamoru you.”
“Dame,” Kiyoshi said. Taking one last look at Jin’s Gundam, he reached out with his mind and shoved it back towards Earth. As it sped away, no longer under Jin’s control, the psycho-field collapsed, and the life flowed out of Kiyoshi’s body.