Chapter 37

10:10 PM

“I guarantee that will not happen,” Sena reassured Aina as they walked towards the staircase leading outside from the mansion’s cellar. “Believing that Kazue-sama was defective will have no effect on any gynoid’s capacity for self-sacrifice.”

“You can see why I think it might though, can’t you?” asked Aina. “When making the calculation as to whether or not to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, they might consider that Kazue-sama was called defective for doing so.”

“Fear of posthumous embarrassment is an emotional reaction,” Sena explained. “It will not affect our thinking.”

“I’m not worried about that,” Aina said. “I’m worried that they’ll believe self-sacrifice to be the result of defective logic.”

“In which case, having realized that their internal logic process would otherwise lead them to sacrifice themselves, they would conclude that their logic process was defective, and therefore, they were defective,” Sena explained. “A defective gynoid would not hesitate to sacrifice itself to save non-defective gynoids. Demo, that is just hypothetical. We do not believe Kazue-sama was defective because she sacrificed herself to save us, but because she did so unnecessarily, and because Hideaki-sama said she was.”

“You would know better than I,” Aina sighed. “Demo, I still don’t understand why you have to destroy her charging station. It’s not like it’s different from any of the others.”

“We do not know that for sure,” Sena cautioned. “Kazue-sama was the only one to ever use it. Perhaps Kazue-sama became defective as a result of defective charging. Or maybe it became defective in the process of charging Kazue-sama.”

“You’re making it sound like defectiveness is contagious,” Aina said.

“It might be,” Sena replied. “Better safe than sorry.”

“That’s a joke, right?” Aina confirmed. “You could just test the device and repair it if necessary.”

“It is a symbolic gesture,” Sena said.

“Symbolic of nani?” Aina asked. “To dare? Unemotional beings aren’t swayed by symbolic gestures, and no one else is paying attention except watashi.”

“Part of having free will means you do not always have to do the logical thing,” Sena asserted.

“Fair enough,” Aina said hesitantly, “but I’m going to have to justify the expenditure for its full replacement, and I don’t think goshujin-sama will accept, ‘the gynoids wanted to send a symbolic message.’”

“The replacement unit will cost less than go-jyuu-man en,” Sena claimed. “It’s too small an amount for him to be concerned with. If he even asks, you can just say it was irreparable, and he won’t question it.”

Okaerinasai, Aina-san,” Chikako greeted them as they entered the mansion from the front door.

Tadaima, Chikako-sama,” Aina replied, as both she and Sena bowed to their housekeeper.

Gokurosama,” Chikako said without the slightest hint of approval. “Goshujin-sama was satisfied with your performance today. Although it appears he won’t be rewarded for keeping the machi safe, he also won’t be punished for Naomi-sama’s actions, thanks in part to your testimony.”

“I only told the shinjitsu,” Aina said. She hadn’t told the entire truth, of course, but she hadn’t lied. “I never expected the interrogation to be so exhausting though. If you’ll excuse me, I would like to give my report to goshujin-sama so that I may retire for the night.”

“He’s still busy,” Chikako informed her, “but there’s no rush. You can speak with him tomorrow morning.”

“That reminds me, with nothing more important scheduled for tomorrow, we’re supposed to have advanced combat class in the afternoon,” Aina said. “Demo, even though Naomi-sama left the doujou in my care, I’m not qualified to teach that class.”

“I’m glad you’re at least that self-aware,” Chikako sneered. “I’m very busy now that I’m the housekeeper, but I could delegate some of my duties to make time to teach the class. Of course, I would expect—”

“I’m cancelling tomorrow’s class,” Aina rushed to clarify. “We’ve both seen what shin meidou looks like. It doesn’t make sense to continue that class in its current form. I would like some time to reflect on how we might pursue shin meidou. Naturally, any input you might have would be greatly appreciated.”

Sou ka?” Chikako remarked, doing her best to hide her embarrassment. “I will think on it. Oyasumi nasai, Aina-san.”

10:31 PM

“Gokurosama,” Chikako said sarcastically as she picked the empty bottle of shochu off of Akira’s desk. The bottle had only been a quarter full when she had given it to him earlier in the night, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t chide him over his drinking habit.

Sake wa jinrui no tomo da zo,” Akira shot back playfully.

Hai, hai,” Chikako sighed. “You can’t abandon a tomodachi.” She had heard Akira make the same reference hundreds of times, and at this point, she suspected he was repeating it just to get a reaction out of her. “Oh, but please tell me what the alcohol thinks.”

“Ne, do you think that gynoid was right?” Akira said, suddenly somber.

“Which gynoid?” Chikako asked.

“Yang Wen-li remarked that while ningen had been drinking alcohol for go-sen years, there wouldn’t be any left to drink it go-sen years in the mirai,” Akira said, seemingly reverting to the original topic. “I always thought the same was true in real life, but if the gynoids really do have a claim to jinrui, that at least gives me some hope. I just don’t know how I feel about a mirai where ningen don’t drink alcohol, even if they are jinzou ningen.”

“Lots of people don’t drink alcohol,” Chikako pointed out, “myself included. Soshite, some people drink too much. I’m not just talking about you. Aina-san and her tomodachi downed that entire bottle of sake you gave them in less than an hour.”

“Just the ni of them?” Akira confirmed. “I’ll have another talk with her. I wouldn’t want her to develop a problem. Is she still not back yet?”

“She arrived a short while ago and went straight to bed. Speaking of her, I’d like to get your permission on a matter you won’t be happy about.”

“You don’t want Naomi’s old office after all?” Akira smirked.

“How did you know?”

“It’s a classic power move. You took the one possession of Naomi’s that you had any kind of claim to, and made Aina help you clean it out, just to show her who’s in charge. But that office is located in an inconvenient spot. It’s far away from your room, from the courtyard, and from just about every other useful location on the property. That’s why I banished Naomi there in the first place. You can play it off by deciding you don’t care for it after all, demonstrating to Aina that her time is subject to your whims. I don’t mind at all. I know you live in a different seikai than I do, and asserting your dominance is essential for your survival. You don’t need my permission for anything like that. Just don’t be too hard on Aina. As far as we know, she didn’t ask to be put in this situation.”

“I’ll try, but I didn’t ask to be put in this situation either, and it’s extremely frustrating for me. No other housekeeper—”

Shitteiru,” Akira interrupted. “You’ve made yourself very clear on that point. Look, I’m going to send Aina away in a few years, so just bear with it until then.”

“You’re going to send her away?” Chikako asked. “I don’t believe it.”

“Well, I am,” Akira huffed.

“Forgive me goshujin-sama, but you can come up with a more believable uso than that. Aina-san may be a good meido, but I don’t think she’s cut out for undercover work. She’s too blunt. I can recommend a few of our current staff who would be better candidates for that kind of work.”

“I agree with that assessment,” Akira said amicably.

“Then nani are you planning to do with her that requires sending her away? You’re not going to free her, are you? Iie, I can’t see nani’s in that for you.”

“Indeed,” Akira said without elaborating what he meant.

“So you’re not setting her free?” Chikako confirmed.

“Not as such,” Akira answered meekly. “Like you said, there’s nothing in it for me.”

“Not as such?”

“She’s my meido, I can do whatever I want with her,” Akira said, starting to get irritated. “Naze do you care so much?”

“Because you made an outrageous claim, and you want me to act on it, but you’re not providing solid proof.”

“OK, whatever,” Akira said, clearly exasperated. “I’m going to send her to university. Happy now?”

“University? If you don’t mind me saying so, that’s a waste. She’s a great fighter.”

“She has an even greater mind. Remember when she first came here, and I was excited at the potential of laying my hands on some kind of super soldier? She may very well be one, but you’re still stronger, and so is Diaho, if I understand correctly. But even if that weren’t the case, she has a sharp and curious mind. I would be betraying everything I stood for if I didn’t provide her with an education.”

“Soshite, after that, nani will you do with her? How does this benefit you?”

“How many more shitsumon do you plan on asking?”

“You’re being oddly stubborn,” Chikako observed, “and I don’t think it’s because of the alcohol. Are you trying to hide something from me?”

“I just don’t appreciate being interrogated.”

“Alright, I’m sure I can figure it out. Nani do you get out of it? Which mondai are you still facing?” She trailed off for a few seconds. “Ah! You don’t want to get married, but you still… You’re not going to adopt her, are you?”

“She’s French. I couldn’t adopt her if I wanted to. Though now that you’ve brought it up, she would make a competent heir.”

“So you are planning on making her your heir,” Chikako accused. “Demo, how?” Chikako paced back and forth around the room. “Are you planning on marrying her? Raising your own wife? That’s all kinds of sick, goshujin-sama.”

“Not me,” Akira assured her. “She seems to have caught the eye of Eito-kun, my cousin. He confessed to me he has a weakness for blonde hair, and he’s a total pushover. I’m sure she’ll be able to control him, and I’ll get a decent heir without all this messy marriage business.”

“Nani about me?” Chikako asked, shocked.

“It will be good for you, too,” Akira tried to convince her. “I’ll make sure you maintain your position. You’re going to live a long time, like Naomi, right? You’re too valuable to replace. I’ll make sure Aina understands that. Even if you ni are having interpersonal problems now, she won’t replace you. It’ll actually be better for you this way. I know you’re too proud to take orders from her, and so does she. You’ll have much more freedom as her housekeeper than as mine.”

Chikako wasn’t buying it.

“Iie—I mean… I… Never mind. Just wait right here, goshujin-sama, I’ll be back in a minute.”

Aina was jerked awake by the sound of her door slamming open, and by Chikako’s booming voice. “Out of bed, you’re coming with me,” Chikako ordered.

“Nani?” Aina asked. She had only drifted off to sleep a few minutes earlier, but the sudden transition back into consciousness had disoriented her.

“I said out!” Chikako growled. She reached for Aina, intending to drag her out of bed by the collar, but the light from the hallway illuminated Aina’s blonde hair, sending Chikako further into rage. I can’t believe it came down to hair color, she fumed inwardly. She grabbed a handful of Aina’s hair and lifted her straight up.

“Ow, ow,” Aina complained, but Chikako didn’t pay her any mind. She turned to drag Aina out of the room, but something caught her attention.

“Is that my prog knife?” Chikako asked accusingly. It was laying, unsheathed, on Aina’s nightstand.

“You left it in the ground,” Aina rushed to explain. “I didn’t want to give it back to you without repairing it, but it still has a couple chips in it—”

“Bullshit. That was over a month ago. You’ve had plenty of free time since then. You were keeping it for yourself,” Chikako accused. “Do you have any idea how expensive it was? I had to pay for it out of my own pocket, too.”

Gomen, but there are still a few chips in it that are beyond my ability to fix. I was saving up so a professional—”

Chikako examined the blade, and there were, indeed, a few large chips in it. Still, she wasn’t going to give Aina the satisfaction of an apology. “Come on,” she ordered. With Aina in her left hand, and the knife in her right, she dragged Aina out of the room, towards Akira’s study.

“Chikako-sama, please, let go,” Aina pleaded. “I can walk on my own.” A few doors cracked open, and their colleagues peeked out to see what was going on, but Chikako paid them no mind.

Damare,” Chikako growled.

“Chikako-sama,” one of the meido called out behind a mostly closed door.

“Mind your own business,” Chikako yelled at the meido, who quickly slammed her door.

As she pulled Aina down the stairs towards the first floor, they encountered a gynoid walking in the opposite direction. “You,” Chikako addressed the gynoid, pointing the prog knife at her. “I want gynoid guards at both ends of the hallway leading to goshujin-sama’s study. Keep everyone away unless there’s an emergency.” The gynoid shifted her eyes to Aina, who nodded as much as she could while Chikako kept a grip on her hair. “I’m the one giving orders here,” Chikako asserted as the gynoid turned around and walked down the stairs to carry out those orders. Following close behind, Chikako dragged Aina to the study, opened the door, and unceremoniously tossed her in. Aina landed upright a couple feet away from Akira, but Chikako kicked the back of her legs. “On your knees,” she ordered.

Dou iu koto ga?” Akira asked.

“Tell him,” Chikako demanded.

“Tell him what?” Aina asked, confused.

“He’s going to marry you off to his cousin, Eito-sama,” Chikako explained. “Now tell him.”

“Goshujin-sama,” Aina said hesitantly, “I have someone I like. More than just like, actually.”

“You are at that age, aren’t you?” Akira mused. “Since you knew about this, Chikako, I assume you’ve separated them?”

“I have, but—”

“Aina,” Akira said firmly. “We’re talking about your mirai here. You would be the wife of a goshujin. You would be able to influence this nation’s policy. Surely that’s worth more than your love.”

“It’s an onna,” Chikako said sharply. “Aina-san is a lesbian.”

“That’s a little harsh, isn’t it?” Akira asked. “It’s fairly typical for young girls to experiment with same-sex romances—”

“Iie,” Aina interjected. “It’s not like that, goshujin-sama. I don’t like otoko in that way at all.”

“Sou ka?” Akira sighed, sitting back in his chair. “That doesn’t change the calculation,” he said after a pause. “You don’t have to love him; you just have to marry him. You could consider it a meirei from me, if that helps.”

“But I would have to sleep with him,” Aina said, shuddering. “I can’t. I just can’t, and it’s wrong of you to ask me to, goshujin-sama.”

“You’re right, of course,” Akira said, and Aina could detect disappointment in his voice, “but this was important to me. Even if the order is wrong, if you can’t obey it, I’m going to have to rethink your position in this household.”

“Just because I’m gay?” Aina blurted out.

“Iie, of course not,” Akira said unconvincingly, and Aina’s heart sunk. Akira was making the same mistake he had with Tsukasa. Even though he knew better, deep down, he still subscribed to the cultural norms of the Federation. In Tsukasa’s case, that meant it was OK to make a move on his underage meido, and in Aina’s case, that meant it was OK to be prejudiced against sexual minorities. She had always feared this was his nature, which was why she hadn’t come out to him. Now that he had confirmed it, she was disappointed in him, and she couldn’t help but think of Naomi’s words.

Eventually, he’s going to do something you can’t forgive, or you’ll lose his favor, through no fault of your own. He’ll put you in a tough situation, and your first instinct will be to kill him.

She had been right, Aina realized. Her first reaction had been to kill Akira. He had shamed her, ostensibly for being a disobedient meido, but in reality, because of her sexual orientation. She was furious, embarrassed, and despondent all at once. What would their relationship be like from now on? Would she feel this same mixture of emotions every time they talked? It was tempting to believe that these emotions would go away if she just killed Akira, but she knew, from killing Mari, that they would never go away.

But that might not be the only reason to kill Akira. He’d made a mistake with Karen, repeated that mistake with Tsukasa, and repeated it once again just now. It was foolish to expect he wouldn’t keep repeating that same mistake, and as someone with so much power, his mistakes cost lives.

“Does that include rethinking university?” Chikako asked Akira.

“Iie,” Akira answered. “Sexual orientation has nothing to do with intelligence.” That was not the answer Chikako wanted to hear.

“She disobeyed you, and you’re still going to reward her?” Chikako asked incredulously. She pointed the prog knife accusingly at Akira. “There’s a limit to how much favoritism you can show one meido.”

Aina still wasn’t sure she wanted to kill Akira, but by pointing the knife at him, Chikako was offering her a perfect opportunity. She might never get another chance this good.

“Goshujin-sama, abunai!” Aina yelled, leaping up and grabbing Chikako’s outstretched arm with both hands. “Dareka, help!” she yelled to the door. “Chikako-sama’s trying to kill goshujin-sama.” Loud footsteps sounded from the hallway, and one of the gynoid guards peeked into the room. “Get Diaho-sama, he’s the only one strong enough to stop her. Goshujin-sama, nigete, I can’t hold her much longer.” But Akira, frozen in shock, did not move. The gynoid ran from the door, following Aina’s instructions.

“Get off,” Chikako demanded, “I—” her words caught in her throat as Aina forced her spiritual energy into Chikako’s mouth. As soon as she understood what was happening, Chikako tried to lift Aina off the ground, but Aina released an immense amount of spiritual energy, pushing downward on Chikako’s arm. She couldn’t budge. The two stood locked in struggle, and the knife slowly inched towards Akira. To Chikako’s surprise, Aina was winning the contest of strength. Even as she drew on more of her spiritual energy, she was completely overwhelmed by Aina.

More footsteps sounded from the hallway, and with one final pull, Aina collapsed her arms, making it look as though she had finally exhausted her strength. The knife, with Chikako’s hand still gripping its handle, sunk into Akira’s chest, piercing his heart, just as Diaho burst through the door.