November 9th, U.C. 0051, 10:40 AM
The knock on the door did not surprise Aina. She had heard Sena’s footsteps, and the footsteps of one other person, approaching the library, giving her ample time to hide any controversial books she may have been reading. When the door opened, however, she was surprised to see who was on the other side.
“Jin-chan!” exclaimed Aina. “You’re up.”
“Un,” Jin confirmed. “Doc says the danger has passed. It’s safe for me to interact with ningen again. About time, too. No offense, Sena-chan, but even if I can’t read your mind anymore, gynoids still feel alien to me.”
“I am incapable of taking offense,” Sena assured her. “Demo, I have noted that you can tell me apart from the other gynoids.”
“You all have such distinct… I guess personalities is the closest word. I can’t believe I never noticed it until recently. You don’t leave as much of an impression as ningen do, but if I spend enough time with a gynoid, I can remember her.”
“How are you feeling?” inquired Aina. “The danger may have passed, but…”
“I’m daijobu. Arigatou for asking.”
“Iie, but I will be. Goshujin-sama wants me on the lookout at the goshujin gathering this afternoon. Actually… I could use some more time. I keep thinking about how if I had paid a little more attention, I could have prevented it. Tsukasa-kun was my taisetsu na tomodachi, so I didn’t want to pry. I was so afraid that if she thought I was using my powers on her, she wouldn’t want to be around me anymore. Demo, if I had pried just a little…”
“I’ve been thinking much the same thing, though without the benefit of newtype powers,” Aina smiled sadly. “Sore yori, nani brings you here, Jin-chan? Is there something I can do for you?”
Smiling, Jin pulled a pair of sunglasses from her pocket and placed them on her face.
“I came here to laugh at you.”
The two girls erupted into giggles.
“Was that humorous?” Sena asked. “Do you mind if I try?”
Jin handed the sunglasses to Sena, who put them on.
“I came here—”
“Sena-chan,” Aina interrupted, reaching her hands up to the sides of Sena’s face. “It’s only funny if a newtype does it.” Aina stopped herself from pulling the sunglasses off Sena’s face, and Sena brought her hands up to rest gently on the back of Aina’s. “Gomen, may I take them off? They’re reminding me of…”
It reminded her of the night they killed Noa and Kumi, when Sena had to wear sunglasses to hide her eyes, which were glowing to warn others of her disobedience, from Aina.
“Of course, gomen. I was not thinking,” Sena apologized. “On ichi condition.”
“Depends on the condition.”
“I want you to yakusoku to see a psychiatrist. If the sunglasses are affecting you that badly… You are still a teenagager, and you should not have to deal with everything you have been through alone. That goes for you too, Jin-chan.”
“That’s a good idea,” Jin agreed.
“I don’t like it,” Aina disagreed.
“It can be a gynoid, if you like. I’m sure Hideaki-sama would be happy to spare one of his. He does owe you, after all. We can wipe her memory after your sessions, if that would make you feel better.”
“You can wipe her external storage,” Aina corrected, “but you cannot remove any information that gets encoded into her neurological pathways.”
“How did you get that information?” Sena asked. “Only Hideaki-sama should know that.”
“I guessed, and you just confirmed it. Hideaki-sama is a smart man, and he genuinely cares about his creations. He knows you’ll need to be able to propagate and to repair yourselves after he dies. If the knowledge required for that were stored outside your brains, it would be vulnerable to industrial espionage. At some level, I suspect your electronic brains are capable of observing the world independently of your other hardware. Otherwise, it would be possible to trick them into believing a simulated sekai was real.”
“As Naomi-sama would say, ‘very clever.’ Demo, it was unwise to inform Jin-chan of this.”
“Donmai. Jin-chan’s a ii onna no ko. I trust her to be on our side. Actually, Jin-chan, I have a favor to ask. Could you not let anyone know you can tell the gynoids apart, even goshujin-sama? If they know, they’ll use you as a tool to keep tabs on Sena-chan.”
“I can do that,” Jin agreed, “if you do me a favor in return. I want you to help me become stronger.”
“I can’t make you tsuyoi like me.”
“Mochiron. That’s not what I mean. I want you to help me with physical exercise. You’re not the only one I’m asking. I plan to devote my days to the pursuit of strength. Naomi-sama may have scoffed at it, but the strength Tsukasa and I were building as a team was real. Since she’s gone, I’ve got to work twice as hard to fill the void she left.”
“Wakatta. I’d be glad to help out.”
“Soroso jikan,” Sena informed them. “We should meet with the others. We do not want to be left behind.” Aina put the book she had been reading back on the shelf and the three of them made their way to the door. Before opening it, Sena turned back to Aina. “I still want you to see a psychiatrist.”
“OK, I will. Just, give me some time. I promise I will see one once things have settled down.” It was too dangerous to see one while she had knowledge of Naomi’s future plans. If she let that information slip, it could ruin everything.
Every goshujin in Neo Crystal Tokyo, members of their families, and a few other VIPs, were all milling around the prime minister’s mansion, pretending to be unaware of why this emergency meeting had been called. The prime minister had leaked the information that one of his meido had been killed by another goshujin’s, so that the charges against the defense minister would not appear to come out of nowhere. Neither he nor Akira had let slip that the defense minister was the prime suspect, yet that somehow seemed to be the topic of every hushed conversation taking place.
The fusuma had all been dismantled, leaving the Japanese-style mansion dominated by a single large room. Even so, Aina was required to maintain a comfortable distance from every goshujin, leaving her very little room to maneuver. In any other circumstance, she would rather be outside with most of the other meido, but she had a personal interest in these proceedings.
With every goshujin in the same place, the prime minister’s mansion became a target for military or terrorist attacks. As such, security was extremely tight. Not only was every goshujin present, but they had brought nearly every meido in the city. Of course, given that the goshujin were about to turn on each other, the meido had to worry about threats from each other as much as external threats.
The prime minister tapped a spoon on a glass a few times to get everyone’s attention. The sound rang throughout the room, quieting the various discussions taking place.
“Ladies and gentlemen, arigatou for coming on such short notice,” the prime minister beamed. “It has been a long time since we all gathered like this, but unfortunately, it is not a happy occasion. As some of you seem to have already heard, one of my house staff was murdered a few days ago, and I suspected that she was targeted because of her association with me. If a person or persons were targeting my house staff, they would not hesitate to come after yours, or, I fear, come directly after one of us. The keisatsu are still investigating, but given the gravity of the situation, I poured my resources into my own investigation. I have called you all here to discuss the results.”
The crowd parted at one side of the room to permit Otome to enter, dragging a bruised and bloody meido by the hair behind her. Letting out a resigned sigh, Otome threw the maid into the center of the room and flourished her sword, pointing it at the meido. Aina didn’t recognize the meido, but she did notice when many eyes shifted to look at the defense minister.
“Traces of this onna’s DNA were found on the victim,” the prime minister announced. “We also found traces of the victim’s blood on the sword she was carrying, and although it took some persuasion, she eventually confessed to the crime.” He paused for a minute so that his words could sink in before issuing a command to the meido. “Go on, tell my distinguished guests what you told me.”
“I… killed her,” the meido said, bowing her head, repeating the statement when someone in the back ordered her to speak up. “Demo, I did so under my own volition! I was not ordered to do so.” She raised her head to look at the defense minister with sorrowful, yet determined eyes.
“Oh ho?” the prime minister chuckled. “That’s not what you told us before.” He snapped his fingers and Otome pulled a personal recorder from her pocket and pressed the play button. A painful scream emanated from the device, amplified by the mansion’s PA system, followed by the confession.
“Stop! Stop! I’ll talk! Hai, I killed her. So much for the prime minister’s second-in-command. She didn’t put up much of a fight.”
“Naze did you do this thing?” the prime minister’s voice came from the recording. It was calm, but emotion crept into it near the end.
“We… learned she was tomodachi with one of Akira-sama’s meido. Meido befriending meido from other households is unusual, so we suspected they might be in an illicit relationship. It would have been good blackmail material. Demo, when we looked into it, we found that they weren’t close and often bickered with one another, and that your staff had witnessed them fighting on more than one occasion. If she were to be killed, the suspicion would naturally fall on Akira-san’s meido, and we hoped that would drive a wedge between you and Akira-san.”
“Just for that?” the prime minister pressed.
“We also planned to spread rumors that it was a lovers’ quarrel gone too far, in order to embarrass you.”
“When you say ‘we,’ dare are you talking about?”
“I won’t answer that.”
Otome pressed the mute button, letting the recording continue to run for a few seconds before unmuting it.
“OK, no more! It was Ryuuji-sama. He ordered me to do it.”
All eyes turned to look at the defense minister now. The recording of the false confession made Aina sick to her stomach, but she still managed an accusing stare. This meido had been tortured, and would be killed, because of Aina’s actions, and Aina had no idea why the meido was going along with it.
“That’s not what she’s saying ima,” the defense minister said almost dismissively. “You were torturing her. She only said what you wanted to hear. Besides, the recording could be faked.”
“Sou,” the meido spoke up. “I was being tortured. I just said what they wanted to hear. I acted on my own.”
“Sou ka?” the prime minister asked. “Naze would you do such a thing without meirei?”
“Ryuuji-sama no tame ni,” the meido answered.
“Baka!” Ryuuji yelled at her. “For my sake? Look at how much trouble you’ve caused for me.”
“She has confessed to the crime, Ryuuji-dono,” the prime minister summarized the situation. “I am willing to admit that, while being tortured, she may have had some misguided belief that I wanted her to implicate you. If that really is the case, may I suggest that she pay for her crime, and we put this entire situation behind us?”
“Do what you will,” The defense minister said. “I have no use for a meido who doesn’t know her place.”
“Are there any present who would see this murderess spared?” The prime minister asked the crowd, only to be met by silence. “Very well,” he nodded to Otome. “Take her somewhere private. No need to show my guests such a grisly scene.”
Otome pulled the battered meido to her feet and began to drag her back the way they had come.
“Matte!” a voice rang throughout the room. “She’s lying to protect chichiue.” Everyone shifted their gaze to Hibiki, the defense minister’s second son. “I overheard him…” his voice trailed off, and he seemed frozen in indecision. He cast a very quick glance towards the corner where Aina stood, but he wasn’t looking at Aina. “I overheard him give the meirei.”
Aina hadn’t been the only one to notice Hibiki’s nervous glance. The defense minister turned his head in the direction his son had looked, and Naomi stepped forward, as if challenging him.
“Akira-dono, kisama,” the defense minister growled. “You set me up.”
“I did not,” Akira scoffed. “You have some nerve. First you try to frame one of my house staff, and now you blame me?”
“You turned my own son against me,” Ryuuji accused.
“Iie he didn’t,” Hibiki protested. “I’m not against you, dad, and I’m definitely not for that bas—for Akira-sama. It was a warui keikaku, and it wasn’t Toki-san’s fault it failed. She shouldn’t have to die for it. Let’s just apologize, pay some reparations, and cut our losses.”
“Baka!” Ryuuji yelled. “This has already gone far past reparations.”
“Indeed,” the prime minister agreed. “Based on what we have learned here today, it is obvious that you can no longer be trusted to keep the peace, Ryuuji-dono. I will be introducing a bill early next year to revoke your goshujin status.”
“Madness,” Ryuuji declared. “Inbou. Are you trying to start a sensou? Have you aho forgot that I control the guntai?”
“This is still a federation,” Akira sneered. “You only really control your faction of the guntai.”
“Akira-dono,” Ryuuji turned his attention back to Akira. “He’s my son, dammit. My kazoku. Doesn’t that mean anything to you? Do you hold nothing sacred? How could you do something so horrible?”
“Spare me. You wouldn’t hesitate to turn kazoku members against each other, but I did not do anything. The first I heard of any of this was when I was informed that the meido had been killed, and you have not offered any proof otherwise.”
“Just how did I turn your intellectual infant of a son against you?”
“Shirimasen, naze don’t you ask that bakemono you keep chained up?” The defense minister pointed directly at Naomi.
“Naomi, did you…” Akira started.
“As if,” Naomi chortled. “I know better than to act without orders, unlike certain people in this room.”
“Akira-dono,” the defense minister said through grit teeth. “If this is revenge for all the half-baked schemes Hibiki—”
“It’s not,” Akira interrupted.
“Jya, if you have a mondai with me, let’s take it out back. No need to involve these fine ladies and gentlemen.” The defense minister gestured at the crowd.
“How barbaric,” Akira feigned shock. “Do you solve all your mondai with violence?”
“Have you no sense of honor?” the defense minister shot back.
“You think this is about honor? Are you suggesting a duel? I’ll accept. My champion against yours. Nani do you say?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the defense minister said as Naomi flexed her right arm, showing off to the crowd. The defense minister knew he didn’t have anyone who could stand up to Naomi in a fair fight.
“Gentlemen,” the prime minister cut in. “Things are escalating rather precariously. May I suggest we all return to our homes and take some time to cool off?”
An excited murmur broke out among the goshujin. None had expected things to go this far, and now they were all concerned with getting out of the prime minister’s mansion before any fighting could break out. But even if they made it safely home, they were going to have to pick sides in the upcoming conflict, and not many were looking forward to that. Those near the exits hurried out to find their meido for protection, and soon nearly everyone in the room was flowing towards one of the exits.
Aina stayed put even as the goshujin brushed past her. When Hibiki had glanced nervously over in their direction, he hadn’t been looking at Naomi, he had been looking behind her. Aina didn’t need to turn around to know who he had been looking at, but she still feared what she would confirm if she did. She didn’t want it to be real, so she stood frozen in place, unwilling to move.
He had been looking at Sena.