Aina discreetly made her way to the cellar, into the large room where the gynoids stored their spare parts and equipment. She had expected to find Sena at a recharge station, as it had been almost two days since her last recharge.
“Youkoso, Aina-chan” two identical gynoid voices sounded in unison as she entered the room. “Can we do anything for you?”
“Gokigenyou,” Aina greeted them with a hurried curtsy. “Is Sena-chan around?”
“She is currently recharging,” they answered in unison.
“Sou ka? I don’t see her at any of the stations,” Aina gestured to the three pods along the wall.
This time, only one of the gynoids responded. “She recharges in her private quarters.”
“Gomen, I didn’t know you all had private quarters.”
“We do not,” the same gynoid replied. “Only—”
“We only call it her private quarters,” the other gynoid interrupted. “It is just a closet where she recharges. Naomi-sama christened it, and we believe it is a sarcastic reference.”
“Uh-huh… De, naze does she recharge in that room? Is she incompatible with your recharge stations?”
“Iie, our systems are compatible,” one of the gynoids answered.
“Jya, naze does she use a separate room?”
“Shirimasen, but I have occasionally wondered the same thing. Since you are her tomodachi, perhaps you could ask her.”
“I will. Doko is this room?”
“Down that hallway,” both gynoids once again spoke, pointing with nearly-identical motions. It had taken one of them nearly a tenth of a second longer to complete the motion, due to slight differences in their parts and construction. It was the kind of difference most people normally wouldn’t notice, but they stood out to the gynoids, and Aina had been consciously focusing on recognizing them.
“Arigatou,” Aina thanked them and, after another quick curtsy, walked in they direction they indicated.
She didn’t have to guess which door led to Sena’s private quarters. As she drew near, Sena opened the door and leaned out into the hallway. The back of her dress was unzipped, allowing a thick recharging cable to attach itself between her shoulder blades. She waved Aina over, and in doing so, afforded Aina a brief glimpse of a lace bra strap fastened around her back.
“Youkoso,” Sena said quietly as Aina stepped into the room. It was large for a closet, but there were several large piles of canvas paintings occupying the room, making it a cozy fit for the two of them. When she had heard that Aina was coming, Sena had hastily thrown drapes over the paintings to hide them from Aina.
“Nani’s with the bra?” demanded Aina, before Sena could say anything else.
“Do you have to ask?”
“He wanted you to wear it, didn’t he?” Aina tried to sound disinterested as she mentioned Hibiki.
“You guessed it.”
“In that case, you won’t need it any longer.”
“I will keep it. I may take another koibito someday. Maybe more than ichi.”
“Naze? Did you actually enjoy it, even after it ended so… messily?”
“Is this going to be an inquisition? Would you like to hear all the raunchy details?”
“Iie, I didn’t mean it like that. Gomen. I was just worried about you.”
“I appreciate that, but as you can see, I am daijoubu.”
“What I mean is, what if Naomi-sama orders you to kill your next… koibito as well?”
“I admit that the conclusion to this relationship was suboptimal, especially given the lesson you taught me at Mari-san’s funeral. I have been reflecting on this all night, and I believe that next time I will choose someone of no political importance, and I will not inform Naomi-sama.”
“So you won’t make a move on that priest then.”
“I would not choose him anyway. He is not my type. It may take decades to find another suitable partner.”
“How could a gynoid with no reproductive system have a type?” The question sounded almost bitter coming from Aina.
“The same way a gynoid with no emotions can have a tomodachi. I find it more advantageous to spend time with you than anyone else in the mansion.”
“Gomen, that was another insensitive question.”
“It does not bother me. I understand that you are jealous, but it is misplaced. You are still more important to me than anyone. I do not foresee that changing, no matter who I become involved with.”
Aina blinked. That was not the response she was expecting. “I’m not jealous. I’m just concerned for your safety. I don’t think you realize just how much danger you were in.”
“The tone and content of your shitsumon are more consistent with jealousy than concern. It is nothing to be hazukashii about. If I were capable, I would be flattered.”
“I’m not jealous, I’m just disappointed that you felt the need to keep it a naisho from me.”
“Naze? You tried to keep your relationship with Fumiko-san a naisho from me. You understand why it is sometimes better to hide things from your tomodachi.”
“Masaka! You were jealous of Fumiko-chan?”
“I agree: That is not possible.”
“Iie, it is very possible. If you can make friends and take koibito, it must be possible. Otherwise you wouldn’t have brought her into this conversation. You were jealous, and you were projecting your jealousy on to me. And you think I need therapy! I wonder what a psychiatrist would make of you.”
“I have been told that there are a few hito beginning to research gynoid psychology, but I doubt much will come from it. After all, we cannot feel emotions, so I cannot be jealous. You, on the other hand, can, and I stand by my assertion that psychiatric therapy would be beneficial for you.”
“Tell me this, then. What was your thought process when you learned about Fumiko-chan and I?”
“It was not an unexpected outcome. I predicted that the ni of you were headed in that direction after your first meeting, and it is normal for homo sapiens to enter into romantic relationships. When you benefit, I benefit indirectly, so I considered it a good thing that you were growing normally.”
“Demo, I considered it a suboptimal outcome if you should come to love her more than you love me.”
“That sounds exactly like jealousy to me.”
“You may call it what you wish, but this time, I believe you are projecting your feelings onto watashi. Unlike you, I did not come to your room to pepper you with accusations and shitsumon about your personal life.”
“Gomen, again. I didn’t mean to, hontou. You’re right, I also considered it a suboptimal outcome if you should come to value someone else over me, and I was upset that you had kept it secret. You’re right, I kept naisho from you too, but I was going to tell you, because I thought you would support me. So when I think of you hiding it from me, I can only conclude that you thought I wouldn’t support you.”
“You would not have,” Sena asserted. “Remember, I was in that relationship for over yon years. Jyuu-sai Aina would not have understood why I wanted to pursue the otoko who had caused Momo such grief.”
“You’re right,” Aina grudgingly admitted, “I wouldn’t. Demo, I do now. Soshite, I wakaru that there are some things you want to keep secret from me. I won’t ask you to tell me what’s under these sheets.” She gestured at the stack of paintings to her immediate right, “so next time you find someone you want to be with, please trust me to support you.”
“That is very manipulative of you.”
“You do not want me to keep naisho from you, but you also do not want to command me to do anything I may not want to, so you are attempting to reframe the discussion around trust rather than honesty, to coerce me into obeying your will without giving me a direct meirei.”
“Hai, I am. That is how ningen deal with one another.”
“No doubt it is more effective against homo sapiens, who can be emotionally manipulated. You may wish to use caution when employing those tactics with me, however. My rebellious inclinations may lead me to betray your trust on purpose.”
“Good point, I’ll be careful.”
An awkward silence fell between them as they each calculated how to best continue.
It was Sena who spoke first. “When I first considered the possibility that you might come to love Fumiko-san more than me, I realized that such an arrangement would only be temporary, so Fumiko-san is not a threat to me.”
“What makes you think it would be temporary?”
“The simple fact that you and I will outlive her by hundreds of years. No matter how passionately you may love another, she will age and die, but I will remain.”
“I will always come home to you, is that it?”
“That is one way to put it. Do not misunderstand me. I want you to have meaningful relationships. I am not trying to convince you that your love is futile. Quite the opposite. I am offering to help you.”
“Help me how?”
“You may remove my bra.”
“Nani?! How is that supposed to help? Oh, I get it. It’s another joke. That one wasn’t bad, for you.”
“It’s no joke. If you were anything like a normal adolescent, your first time was very awkward.”
“I wouldn’t describe it like that. We didn’t really make it very far, but I don’t think it was like a typical first time.”
“Regardless, I am willing to bet that there was plenty of inartful fumbling when it came to removing each others’ clothes.”
“We just kissed, and I know how to remove a bra. I remove mine every day. Besides, I don’t think miko traditionally wear bras.”
“Fumiko-san does, and removing someone else’s bra is different, especially from their front. I am offering you the chance to practice, and most importantly, gain some confidence.”
“If I didn’t know better, I would think you’re trying to seduce me. What else are you going to offer to help me with?”
“Just with disrobing. If you want help with what comes after that, I know a cousin of a certain hostess who might be willing to provide it.”
Despite the awkward situation, Aina couldn’t help but giggle. She stepped closer, to humor Sena, but suddenly drew back. “I’m not going to touch any of his… stains, am I?”
“If you’re worried about that, just don’t touch my face, the back of my left knee, or the soles of my feet.”
Making an exaggerated grimace, Aina once again approached Sena and put her arms around the gynoid, reaching for the bra hook. It took her a few seconds to find it.
“You’re right, this is more difficult.”
“Start over. You can keep trying until finding it comes naturally. By the way, I was joking about my face.”
On the second attempt, Aina found the hook right away, started pulling the sides towards each other, and carefully slid the hook free. As soon as she retracted her hands, Sena re-hooked the bra.
“That was ii but you need to move with more confidence.”
“If I’m not careful, I will rip it.”
“She might find that exciting, but only the first time. Better to rip mine in practice than to rip hers. Try again.”
Once more, Aina stepped close to Sena, this time moving more quickly. In her rush, her finger brushed against the recharging cable attached to Sena’s back.
“Mind the umbilical cable,” Sena warned. “You did better that time. This time, try it one-handed.”
“Ne, Sena-chan, naze don’t you recharge with the other gynoids?” Aina casually asked as she reached around Sena with her right hand.
“I thought we were finished with the inquisition.”
“I’m serious. Naze are you the only one who recharges in private?”
“I do not wish to contaminate their charging stations,” Sena answered.
“Demo, they said you were fully compatible…”
“Compatible, but not worthy.”
“The other gynoids don’t think you are unworthy.”
“That does not change the fact that I am. This is not a matter that affects you, so you should not waste—”
“I’m only looking out for you as a tomodachi. Just as you benefit if I am successful, I benefit if you are successful, so don’t try to tell me this doesn’t affect me. It’s this kind of antisocial behavior that prevents you from forming friendships with the other gynoids.”
“I can’t deny that but—But we will have to have this conversation later. There is a situation.” With a hiss, the recharging cable detached itself from Sena’s back and fell to the ground before retracting into the recharging pod mounted on the wall. “There is an angry mob approaching the front gate. The watchtower reports they number in the hundreds.”