The door to Naomi’s office swung open as Aina approached.
“Mme Aina, how unexpected. Come to finish me off?” Naomi asked with a wry smile. Aina just shrugged in response. “Good answer. Would you like to join me for tea then?”
“Hai. Arigatou, Naomi-sama.”
On the table by the windowsill sat two teacups, a teapot, and a creamer. Aina pulled out a chair for Naomi and then took a seat opposite her.
“You may speak freely now,” Naomi announced after taking a sip of tea, “but I will hold up a hand to stop you if there is a chance we may be overheard.”
“I don’t want you to put the gynoids in any more danger,” Aina immediately blurted out.
“Any more danger? That sounds like an accusation.”
“I know about Sena-chan and Hibiki-sama, and I don’t like it.”
“Curse that man. If you noticed it, someone else might have. But I can assure you, she’s in no danger.”
“Iie, she’s in danger, and either you can’t see it or you don’t care. She’s meeting secretly with an otoko who considers her a thing, and she’s the object of his lust. He could just one day decide to lock her up in some kind of sex dungeon and we’d never see her again!”
“A sex dungeon? My, Mme Aina, I really do need to pay closer attention to the kinds of books you’re reading. Or is that what you fantasize about doing to that little priestess of yours? Rest assured, regular people don’t think about locking the ‘object of their lust’, as you put it, in sex dungeons. Besides, you saw him today. She’s got him completely wrapped around her finger. He even betrayed his own father for her.”
“Maybe,” Aina allowed, “for now. Demo, that seems like a flimsy guarantee.”
“I had contingency plans if he decided not to betray his father at the last moment. As Mme Otome was leading Mme Kyou away, she would have pretended to crack under the fear of death.”
“I mean that’s a flimsy guarantee of Sena-chan’s safety.”
“He is a weak and simple man. He could not possibly overpower or outsmart a gynoid.”
“He has people.”
“People who he can’t tell about his fetish. Do you understand the nature of his attraction to the gynoids?”
“He is affected by the spell that causes him to perceive gynoids as disgusting, and he finds that quality erotic.”
“Yes, but do you know why?” Naomi asked, the smile on her face widening.
“I don’t think I care to.”
“But it is the very thing that keeps your gynoid friend safe from him.”
Aina hesitated before answering. “Alright, let’s hear it.”
“He is attracted to disgusting things because he wants to feel disgusting and worthless. I’m not a psychiatrist, so I don’t know why. Maybe he feels unworthy of his position in society. Maybe the only attention he gets from his father is when his father scolds him. Still, the fact remains that he has been amazingly consistent in this behavior. It’s the reason he keeps launching futile plots against Akira. When he inevitably fails, he feels like a failure.”
“That doesn’t make sense. If he wanted to feel bad about himself, wouldn’t he seek out people who he could feel inferior to?”
“You understand his sick mind better than you realize, Mme Aina. Yes, he could do that, but it wouldn’t be as effective. When he first hooked up with the gynoid, he was bringing himself down to her revolting, nonhuman level. He was rubbing her nastiness all over himself. But when she began to dominate him, she made him even lower, in his mind, than he was, and that gave him a taste of how worthless he could become. Worthless enough to beg for sexual release from a mere thing. Worthless enough to betray his own father, who he holds in the highest esteem.”
“That’s horrible. You’re horrible for allowing this.”
“Believe it or not, I didn’t know about it until very recently, when the robot brought it to my attention.”
That was the last thing Aina wanted to hear. She wanted Naomi to be the culprit. It was far more disturbing if Sena had done this of her own volition.
“I don’t believe it. Naze would Sena-chan put herself through that?” Aina asked. But she already knew the answer. Sena wanted to do things that gynoids were not allowed to do, and this was definitely taboo.
“I honestly haven’t the faintest. I was hoping you could tell me.”
“Did Kyou-san also volunteer to take the blame for Mari-san’s death on her own?” Aina hoped to change the subject.
“I suggested it, but it was not an order. She went willingly to her death.”
“For the same reason as you: revenge, though hers is even pettier than yours.”
Aina did not take the obvious invitation to an argument about the pettiness of revenge.
“I’m going to talk to Sena-chan about this. It’s more dangerous than either of you realize. What if she’s caught by one of the defense minister’s people? I think she’ll stop if I ask her to, so you will need to change your plans accordingly.”
“It’s too late for that. She’s already on her way to meet with him for the last time. I’ve ordered her to kill him.”
“After all the danger Sena-chan put herself through, you’re not going to make further use of him?”
“He has played his part, and he will never be trusted by his father again. At this point, there’s no further use for him, and there’s a risk that he will betray us in the future, and that really would put your robot friend in danger.”
“I thought you said his… proclivities would keep him on our side.”
“Up until now, yes. But once his father is out of the picture, he will feel intense pleasure at bringing down one of his superiors. He will want that same feeling again, and the closest superior will be…”
“Sena-chan,” Aina finished.
“And as a bonus, if he exposes our plot to the world, his actions will be exposed as well. Everyone will see how vile and worthless he is, and he can imagine no greater pleasure.”
“I can’t believe you’d use someone like that. He’s obviously not right in the head. He needs help.”
“Speak for yourself, Mme Sex Dungeon, and I will use whoever I can get. Do not forget that M Hibiki has done things far worse than M Akira ever has.”
“What’s done is done,” Aina sighed. “My priority now is keeping Sena-chan safe. How is she going to kill Hibiki-sama without getting caught?”
“They’re meeting at a secret apartment only the two of them know about. She’s going to make it look like a suicide. After his actions today, it will be believable. In all likelihood, it will be days before anyone finds his body. There will be nothing left to connect her to him.”
“Nothing? No secret diaries?”
“Mme Kyou reported that he has been extremely circumspect. There are no records of their rendezvous.”
“Then I think we’re done here,” Aina announced, standing from the table. “Gokigenyou, Naomi-sama,” she said coldly. Aina turned her back on Naomi and marched over to the door, before she could open it, Naomi called out.
“Tell me, Mme Aina, are you angry because that gynoid is in a relationship with that man, or because she kept it a secret from you?”
As Akira’s footsteps echoed down the hallway, Aina scrambled to place her books back on the library shelves. On any other day, she would have had plenty of time to slip out of the library before Akira arrived, but he was walking unusually quickly today, and she had been tardy in noticing his approach, having been distracted by her worries for Sena’s welfare. She had asked Kazue to send her an email when Sena returned and had tried to pass the time in the library. It had been more than four hours, and Aina was beginning to worry that something had happened to Sena.
She had the last group of books in her arms when Akira opened the door to the library.
“Moushiwake arimasen, goshujin-sama,” Aina hurriedly apologized, turning away from him. “I know you didn’t want to see me for a few days. I’ll be gone shortly.”
“Iie, please stay,” bade Akira. “That is, if you can stand being in the same room as me.” Aina turned around to make sure it wasn’t someone imitating Akira’s voice. That was an unusually weak statement for a man who was always in control of every situation. The only time she had witnessed him being this passive was directly after Tsukasa’s suicide, and that had been a facade. “It’s not a meirei,” he added.
It was only his unusual behavior that prevented Aina from fleeing from his presence. She had felt so betrayed by his actions that she had sided with Naomi in a plot of revenge against him. The more she interacted with him, the more likely it was that she would let some clue slip, and the more likely it was that she would regret the path she had chosen. And yet, he was still the man she had looked up to for years, and seeing him act this way, she couldn’t abandon him.
“Do you need anything, goshujin-sama?” She asked.
A small smile formed on Akira’s face, and he let himself relax slightly. “I could use some help thinking through today’s events,” he admitted. “I’ve wanted to take on the defense minister for so long, but now that I’ve been given such an ideal opportunity, I’m not sure how to proceed.” He pulled up a chair and sat across from where Aina was standing, still holding the books.
“Wouldn’t you rather discuss this with Chikako-sama? She has more experience with goshujin politics.”
“Goshujin politics,” Akira sighed. “This was your first direct exposure to them, wasn’t it?” Aina remained quiet. Technically, her first exposure to goshujin politics was the attack on the mansion during which she had killed her parents’ former experiment. “I had hoped to keep you somewhat sheltered from them, at least for another year or two. Gomen about your tomodachi, by the way.”
“She was not my tomodachi,” Aina huffed, putting the books down on the table. “Gomen. Would you like me to fetch Chikako-sama for you?”
“Iie, I already know what she’s going to say, and to be honest, she’s not the right person to have this conversation with. I just need someone smart to bounce battle plans off of.”
“Demo, I have no experience making battle plans.”
“Donmai. I’ll keep it abstract.”
“Goshujin-sama, before I agree to something like this, I need to know why you’ve seemingly had a change of heart. You said you didn’t want to see me, and you’re acting so… weak. It’s freaking me out.”
“To be honest, I’m scared, Aina. I’ve always talked big about how I could lead the guntai better than the defense minister, but now I have to prove it by beating him, and I’m worried that his strategies, which I have derided in the past, might nevertheless be good enough to beat me. I need someone smart to collaborate with. I can’t trust Naomi, and Chikako is a great head meido, but she has her limits. I need you, and I don’t have the luxury of waiting for us to reconcile, so I’m swallowing my pride here.”
“OK,” Aina said as she sat down across from Akira. This was a chance to affect Akira’s strategy, to steer him towards disaster. “De, nani is it about the defense minister’s military strategy that has you worried?”
The smile on Akira’s face grew. “He has always favored strategies that focus on fast offensive attacks, without worrying about collateral damage. As long as he is safe, he doesn’t care about the safety of civilians, or even of his own people. He wouldn’t hesitate to level a city block to kill a single target. He’s been talking for a while now about conquering the Futarchy, but he has no support in the Diet for that. No one wants our federation to become a war-hungry empire. Demo, against me, he has no such restrictions.”
“Nani about you? Nani kind of strategies do you prefer?”
“It depends on what I’m trying to achieve. When I become the defense minister, my goal will be to focus on the defense of the machi and build up deterrents to make it an unappealing target. The GINZUISHOU has served us well for go-jyuu years, but it’s not dynamic. Already the Soviets have been able to open small holes in it to slip their agents into the city. Eventually someone is going to learn how to bypass it completely. When that happens, I want to beat them back with as few losses as possible.”
Even though she had found herself able to pass through the GINZUISHOU at will, Aina had never considered the possibility that it might fall. Now that she considered it, she could think of one way to destroy it: a reality crack.
Centuries ago, many physicists around the world had been searching for a theory of everything—a framework which could model all physical properties of the universe. Most thought it an impossible task, but due to a few breakthroughs and countless incremental improvements, a group of international scientists derived a complete theory of everything. They were not elated by their discovery, however, because their model clearly showed that the laws of physics were mutable, and that there existed within their theory a means to alter them. One of the scientists described it as a metaphorical lever, whereby one could spin the universe as if it were a slot machine. Worse, with the correct know-how, pulling this lever was not especially difficult. A large country or corporation could easily afford the equipment and materials required, not to mention a well-funded terrorist group, and it wasn’t hard to imagine how the lever could be used to cause great destruction.
Of course, the scientists realized the political implications of their discovery. Beyond the military uses, they also worried that if this became common knowledge it would be misunderstood by the public at large as evidence for intelligent design. They all agreed to keep the discovery secret in the immediate term, but with other physicists working in the same area, it was only a matter of time before others learned the truth. They even wondered if they were the first to discover it, or if other teams were similarly keeping quiet. Before long, they decided that they should pull the lever in such a way as to destroy the lever itself. Any use of the lever, they calculated, would invalidate a lot of minute and large-scale observations—observations gleaned from very expensive experiments—and invalidate their model. They might not be able to formulate a new theory of everything in their lifetimes, but it would be a noble sacrifice.
Or it would have been, had it worked. No matter what they tried, they could not manage to pull the lever. It was only after reviewing the particulars of their theory that they realized that any change to the physical laws of the universe that removed the lever could not be accomplished using the lever. The best that they could do was to make a small change to the physical laws with a very low probability this change would ever affect life on Earth, and hope that it didn’t cause any lasting harm to any alien civilizations that may be out there. As they suspected, it was detected by other physicists in short order, and was the cause of much consternation in the scientific community, but no one imagined that the change was human-made. Thanks to their experience, and contrary to their expectations, the same team was able to formulate a new theory just a few years later, and they sat on it for years, waiting until other teams came close, before pulling the lever again. The next time, they were beaten by another team who, realizing what had been happening the past few years, came to the same conclusion and pulled the lever themselves to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
This continued for generations, and the world’s top physicists, one after the other, indoctrinated themselves into a conspiracy to save reality as they knew it. But it could not last forever. Eventually the lever was discovered by a team which contained a member who used it for his own ideological agenda. For a time, scientists were able to keep the lever secret from the public at large, but with that taboo broken, more and more of them began pulling it for their own gains, and the top physicists in the world slowly became its secret puppet masters, illuminati often at odds with each other. Sickened by what they had become, a scientist who had once pulled the lever herself reported what was going on to the major world governments. Physicists were immediately rounded up, but instead of being punished for their crimes, they were conscripted by the world powers in a race to rediscover the lever. Physicists and the teaching of physics became highly regulated in every country in the world. The process of pulling the lever became colloquially known as a reality crack.
Neo Crystal Tokyo, and the GINZUISHOU itself, were created by the largest, most intricate reality crack. In a small volume encompassing Paris and the surrounding area, the laws of physics were changed to make things more anime. That is not to say it changed the physical laws to be different in that location than everywhere else. It was possible it created such volumes elsewhere in the universe, but just like black holes did not fill the entire universe, neither did areas where reality was more anime. It was how magic and kami were introduced to the world, and it was the reason why magical girls were not born anywhere else on Earth. It scrambled the physical laws to such a degree that no one had been able to rediscover the lever in the last fifty years.
It had taken Aina weeks to learn about this after Naomi had admonished her for her ignorance. Knowledge of reality cracks was highly classified, and even the restricted physics books in Akira’s library only made oblique references to it. But there were a few books which Akira kept locked away in his bedroom, and she had managed to convince Diaho to sneak a peek at them. She didn’t know all the details, but she knew that a reality crack had created the GINZUISHOU, and a reality crack could destroy it.
“Those are fine goals for running the guntai,” Aina praised Akira. “Demo, what are your goals for this current conflict?”
“I want to become the defense minister. At the very least, I want to strip him of his title and arrest him, though I know things probably won’t end cleanly unless I kill him. Secondary to those goals, I want to keep civilian casualties to a minimum.”
“You said he doesn’t care about collateral damage. Does he know you want to protect the civilians?”
“Jya, he’s unlikely to make it easy. He will probably create situations where to get to him, you will need to harm regular citizens.”
“He already has. He’s gone into hiding in a densely-populated area of the machi.”
Hibiki-sama probably knows where that is. Aina thought to herself. Naomi-sama should have asked Sena-chan—Iie, Naomi-sama probably has other agents within the defense minister’s staff. She knows where he is, but it’s not in our interests to make this too easy on Akira. Demo, if I had known that this would spill over into the civilian populations. I never would have agreed to this. I’m too damn naive! Naomi-sama won’t have the same compunctions, so it’s unlikely I can get her to divulge the defense minister’s location.
“He will tabun also try to cause widespread damage to civilian areas and blame it on you,” added Aina.
“I agree. The prime minister and I have already taken steps to warn the general population about what he might do, but we can’t protect minna.”
“It sounds to me like there are two strategies you can adopt to win this thing. The first is to cut him off. If you can’t get to him, take out all the people and organizations that are supporting him, before they know it’s coming.”
“Easier said than done. More goshujin are on our side than I could have ever hoped for, but he has factions in the guntai to make up the difference. I have a couple factions myself, but not as many, and the rest of the guntai is remaining neutral, but they’ll come to either faction’s aid during an unprovoked attack.”
“Jya, your only other hope is to adopt a superior defensive position and beat him in a war of attrition.”
“And you said you weren’t good at this,” Akira smiled wryly. “Hai, those are the same two options I came up with. I was hoping you might be able to approach it from a different perspective, but if there really aren’t any other options, shouganai.”
“If I think of anything, I’ll let you know.” Aina stood from her chair. For her part, she knew what her goal was. She wanted Akira to suffer. She didn’t want him to lose, as that would put her own future in jeopardy, but she wanted to make this as hard as possible on him, and then, when he did win, she wanted to maneuver things so that he was not granted the defense ministership.
“Aina, I will probably have to do horrible, inhumane things during this conflict.”
“Shirimasu. I’ll try not to give you too hard a time about that.”
“I may have to order you to do some of those terrible things. I’ll try my best to leave those tasks to Naomi or Chikako, but it might not always be possible. I just wanted to apologize in advance.”
“Wakarimasu. Oyasumi nasai, goshujin-sama.”
November 10th, U.C. 0051, 5:00 AM
A magical barrier had been erected around the Wright estate to stave off attacks, surrounded by the fence encircling the property. Every few hours, a meido patrolled the barrier to check for abnormalities. On this morning, the meido who had just finished a shift in the watch tower volunteered for the patrol, in order to stretch her legs before going to sleep.
She was halfway through her patrol when she discovered the murdered body of Saburo Webb, the bureaucrat who had years ago defected from the defense ministry to the education ministry. It was wedged between the fence and the barrier a few feet off the ground, having been thrown unceremoniously over the fence.