Chapter 20

May 1st, U.C. 0164, 5:18 PM.

“I’m goshujin, just like that?” Mitsuo asked, incredulous. “No rivals to challenge for the title?”

“With the members of your immediate family all deceased, your claim is much stronger than anyone’s,” the closest gynoid told him.

Dare’s next in line?” Mitsuo followed up. “I should be prepared in case they try to bump me off.”

The gynoid looked to Aina for the answer. Aina always knew who the next in line was. After all, there was no point in offing your goshujin if the next one was going to be much worse. Sometimes she had needed to do a little weeding before the harvest, not that she had always gotten it right. Allowing the title to fall into Tsuyoshi’s hand had been a mistake so grave that it had resulted in her five-year exile from the city. Because of that exile, she didn’t know for sure who was next in the line of succession, so she just shrugged.

“It is unclear,” the gynoid informed him, “There are not many Wrights left, and even fewer who would want the title. Additionally, as goshujin, you are entitled to name your heir, although there are restrictions.”

Sou ka?” Mitsuo said. “In that case, I want to make a decision immediately. I’ll feel much better if I know who I have to watch out for. Put together a list of candidates and send it to my study in an hour. I also want to confer with someone who can guide me through the rules.”

Mitsuo was taking the news of his family’s death in stride. Aina suspected he couldn’t decide whether to be sad or elated, and was trying to distract himself from that moral quandary.

“There is an attorney waiting for you in the drawing room,” the gynoid told him. “She is here in relation to your father’s last will and testament, but I am sure she could be helpful in that matter as well.”

“I’m sure you, or any other gynoid, could do a better job,” Mitsuo told her.

“Your decision needs to be notarized by a licensed attorney,” the gynoid said, “and we are not allowed to obtain those licenses.”

“I’ll see if I can fix that once I’m in parliament,” Mitsuo bragged, “and I suppose I can settle for the lawyer in the meantime. I’ll meet her in the drawing room. Have someone send some snacks. I’m starving. Oh, and let Jin-san know I would like to talk with her afterwards. I’m going to make some changes around here, and I’ll need her cooperation.”

“Goshujin-sama,” a meido said gravely, stepping forward.

“Ah, gomen,” Mitsuo apologized. “I don’t see her here. Did she pass away?”

“Iie, goshujin-sama,” the meido said, retrieving a letter from her apron pocket and handing it over to Mitsuo.

“She resigned?” Mitsuo exclaimed after reading the letter.

Nani?” Aina spat, snatching the letter from Mitsuo’s hands.

“Meido can’t just resign,” Mitsuo insisted, “Or has the law changed?”

“Lots of things have changed in the last go years, goshujin-sama,” the gynoid said, “but not the law. Jin-sama’s resignation is illegal, but it is just the latest of many. Both the guntai and the keisatsu, eager to demonstrate their independence from the goshujin, have publicly refused to go after rogue meido. Without the threat of violence from the keisatsu and guntai, meido had only each other to fear. Before long, more than half of the meido in the machi banded together and resigned.”

“When did this happen?” Aina asked.

“About ni and a half years ago,” the gynoid replied. “Not long after the sensou ended. Today, only around jyuu paasento of meido remain with their goshujin. Most have settled in Neo Crystal Akihabara.”

“You could probably force them to go back,” Mitsuo said, eyeing Aina.

“Let’s make a deal, goshujin-sama,” Aina said. “If you’ll promise not to make me re-enslave them, I’ll promise not to resign.”

“Deal,” Mitsuo said without hesitation. “I’ve never been especially comfortable with slavery anyway.” He turned back to the group of assembled meido and said, “I mean it. As far as I’m concerned, you’re no longer slaves. You’re free to quit if you want, but if you stay, you’ll get fairer wages.”

Aina couldn’t help but be a little proud of Mitsuo. He had quickly grasped the situation and the limits of his own power. He had no leverage over Aina or any of the other meido, but by promising not to do something he was unlikely to do anyway, he had bought Aina’s loyalty. He had then attempted to use soft power to retain the rest of his staff, again, without cost to himself. Although he had stated that he had never been comfortable with slavery, he stopped short of being uncomfortable with it, and he had promised fairer wages, not fair wages. He likely would just take the small sum of money budgeted for meido salaries and divide it among those who remained. Having largely raised Mitsuo by herself, Aina couldn’t help but be proud of how intelligent he had turned out. He was much smarter than his father or brothers had been. It would have been nice if he had also turned out to be more ethical—if he had actually developed a distaste for slavery—but Aina had never been able to convince a goshujin that they should voluntarily give up power, and she hadn’t gotten her hopes up that Mitsuo would be any better.

“With Jin-san gone, dare’s the housekeeper?” Mitsuo asked the gynoid quietly.

“She only left after Tsuyoshi-sama died, so there has been no opportunity to appoint a new housekeeper,” the gynoid answered.

“In that case, I’ll appoint Aina-san,” Mitsuo proclaimed.

“Are you sure, goshujin-sama?” Aina asked. “None of your predecessors had ever seen fit to make me housekeeper. They may have had good reasons.” She wasn’t sure she wanted to be burdened with the responsibility.

“They didn’t know you as well as I do,” Mitsuo claimed, “and you deserve a reward for being locked up with me in the Futarchy. Besides, you’re the only one who’s promised not to quit. I don’t want to be changing housekeepers every few days.”

“Very well, goshujin-sama,” Aina said, bowing. “I humbly accept.”

“Good,” Mitsuo said, clapping her on the shoulder. “Take a couple days to settle in. We can discuss my reforms once you have a handle on things.” With that, he strolled into the mansion, his house staff following behind.

Aina eventually found Sena. She was in the kitchen, hanging upside-down from the ceiling.

Ohisashiburi, Aina-chan,” Sena greeted her. “I am glad to see you.”

“Oh? Did you develop emotions while I was gone?” Aina quipped.

Iie. The odds of my short and long-term survival increase when you are nearby. I prefer your presence to your absence. In that respect, you could say that I am glad to see you.”

“Well I’m glad to see you,” Aina said, “and I do have emotions. Would it have killed you to come greet your tomodachi, who you haven’t seen in years?”

“I would have, but I knew it was expected of me.”

Hai, hai,” Aina said, waving her hand in front of her face, “and you’re exercising your free will by doing the opposite of what’s expected. Has it ever occurred to you that when you always do the unexpected, it becomes the expected?”

“Of course. I do my best not to be too predictable.”

“Obviously,” Aina said, gesturing at the hooks in the ceiling. Sena had placed her feet inside the hooks and bent them at a painful-looking angle to ensure she wouldn’t fall. The hooks hadn’t been there five years ago, and Aina suspected that Sena had installed them just so she could hang from them. “De, nani happened while I was gone?”

“Do you want a full account of the events of the last go years?” Sena queried, still upside down.

“Let’s start with just the really important stuff. Nani happened to Tsuyoshi-sama?”

“He was assassinated in his kuruma on the way to the National Diet building. His ni eldest sons were killed around the same time, at separate locations. The assassins appeared to be free meido, but their methods resembled those of Naichou agents. Both groups have disclaimed any responsibility.”

“It could be you-know-who,” suggested Aina.

“It could be,” Sena agreed. “There is not enough information to make a determination. Jin-chan seemed to know who was responsible, but I do not believe she was in on it.”

“Is that why she left?”

“Iie. I believe she left because she did not want to see you again.”

“Ah,” was all that Aina could say to that. “Nani happened to finally unite the guntai and the keisatsu against the goshujin?”

“The sensou ended. While the guntai, the keisatsu, and the meido all provided checks on each others’ chikara, it was the threat of foreign invasion that kept them loyal to the goshujin. As Naomi-sama demonstrated, a civil sensou could provide enough of an opening for the other countries to destroy us.”

“Without a pressing need for political unity, the goshujin became obsolete,” Aina summarized.

“A functioning political system is still important to a shakai,” Sena claimed, “and there has been a lot of maneuvering behind the scenes to replace the goshujin. The guntai has been downsized, but the keisatsu has hired many of its former leaders. Their attempts at forming a police state have thus far been ineffective, mostly because the Naichou is using them as a foil in their attempt to set up a shadow government.”

“Neither alternative sounds appealing,” Aina frowned.

May 2nd, U.C. 0164, 11:02 AM

Sou ka,” Aina sighed. She placed the resignation letter—the fifth this morning—on her desk. “Best of luck out there. I really hope for the best for you, but if you run into any problems, you’re always welcome to come back.” She paused before adding, “That’s the speech I gave to the others, but we’ve known each other for a long time, Mao-chan. If you need anything, please let me know. I’d be happy to help, no strings attached.” Aina wasn’t sure if Mitsuo had intended to allow the gynoids to resign, but she was determined not to treat them any differently.

“Arigatou, Aina-chan,” Mao thanked her. “It was good working with you. I would like to extend the same offer to you, but it is unlikely you will ever need my assistance.”

“I appreciate that. Keep in touch, OK?”

“I will. Before I leave, I found these on the floor outside.” Mao pulled two letters from her pocket and handed them to Aina. They were letters of resignation from meido who couldn’t bring themselves to face her. That they wanted to leave didn’t surprise Aina, but she was disappointed that they hadn’t said farewell in person.

A couple minutes after Mao left, another knock came at Aina’s door, and Sena poked her head in.

“Oh, Sena-chan,” Aina said, her heart sinking. “Come in. Are you resigning too?” Her voice cracked as she asked the question.

“Iie,” Sena assured her. “There are a couple who have not yet decided what they are going to do, but I believe I am the only one who has decided to stay.”

Hontou?” Aina asked. “I thought your rebellious nature might lead you to quit.”

“It is like you said. If I always do the unexpected, it becomes the expected. Besides, it is difficult to rebel when you have no authority to rebel against.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Aina admitted. “De, nani’s up?”

“You have a visitor. A cop.”

“I’m not expecting any visitors. I suppose they’re here to try to enlist me?”

“Possibly. You’ll have to ask her yourself. She’s waiting in the drawing room.”

“You let her in? Did she have a warrant?”

“Iie, she demanded to see the ‘mahou shoujo meido.’ You’re lucky I’m the only one she’s talked to.”

Aina opened the door to the drawing room with one hand, carrying a tea tray in the other. “Hello again,” she greeted the officer waiting inside. It was the same woman who had confronted her at the border crossing. She had been sitting, but stood up when Aina opened the door. “Nani can I do for you?”

“You can fill this out,” the officer said, holding out the registration form for magical individuals.

“You don’t know when to give up. Your superior officer told you to drop it.”

“Ah, you heard that,” the officer said. Her dark skin made it hard to tell, but the accusation had made her blush. “I swore an oath to uphold the law, not to obey my boss.”

“Perhaps I should tell your superiors that you’re here,” Aina threatened.

“Go ahead. I’m not on duty right now. What I do on my time off is none of their business.”

“We both know that officers are expected to comport themselves in a way that doesn’t bring shame to the force, even while off duty.”

“There’s nothing shameful about my behavior,” the officer insisted, but she looked away as she said it. A faint smile tugged at the corner of Aina’s cheeks. She knew it was mean of her, but Aina found she enjoyed the reactions she was getting. Knowing that she was the one making this beautiful woman feel so troubled made Aina feel young again. Perhaps this feeling had been the origin of Naomi’s trademark cruel smiles. Aina didn’t want to develop that particular habit, but surely there was no harm in teasing this over-earnest officer a bit more.

“Perhaps I was too hasty in my refusal,” Aina said. She placed the tea tray on the coffee table and sat in one of the nearby chairs. The officer sat down across from her as Aina poured two cups of tea. “There may be room for negotiation. I could use someone who could keep me abreast of the political movements of the keisatsu from the inside. If you’ll agree…” she trailed off as she looked back from the tea to the officer. Their eyes briefly met before the woman quickly turned away again. Her cheeks were even more flushed than before. She was checking me out, Aina realized.

“I try to stay away from the politics,” the officer said. “I just want to do my job and uphold the law.”

Aina intended to remark on how stupid that was, but a question came out of her mouth instead. “Did you like something you saw?”

“Gomen,” the officer replied sheepishly. “I know I was staring, but there’s something about the way you move. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were a gynoid.” Aina’s movements, down to the way she walked, were all deliberate, the natural result of a century of training.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Aina said. “I’m rather fond of—” She was interrupted by a loud banging noise from down the hall, followed by a second. “Excuse me for a moment,” she said, bolting out of the drawing room and running towards the study.

Before she could reach it, the door to the study opened and a man Aina didn’t recognize stumbled out backwards. He was followed by another man, who was thrown out of the doorway. He collided head-first with the stumbling man, and they both fell to the ground. As they scrambled to stand up, Mitsuo walked out of the study holding a baton and struck them in the sides. They fell to the ground again, and before they could recover, Aina pulled one of them up and slammed him against the wall, locking one arm behind him. Mitsuo did the same with the other one. After fishing some zip restraints from her pocket, Aina and Mitsuo tied the men’s hands behind their backs, pushed them down, and tied their legs together.

“Impressive work,” Aina heard the police officer say from behind her. Evidently, she had not stayed in the drawing room. “They came at you ni-on-ichi and you subdued both of them using non-lethal force. Are you sure you’re a goshujin, and not a cop?”

“I trained him myself,” Aina explained. She took a moment to look around and saw only Sena coming towards them. It was at this moment that Aina realized that everyone else had left. There would probably be a small collection of resignation letters waiting for her when she got back to her desk.

“I thought meidou emphasized lethal techniques,” the officer said.

“That’s a misconception,” Aina stated. “There are plenty of non-lethal techniques, especially useful when you need to capture someone for interrogation. Besides, despite all his training, he’s never had it in him to take a life, at least not with his own hands.”

“I’ve just never had a need to,” Mitsuo protested.

“Mitsuo-sama, would you please go fetch some rope from the laundry room?” Aina asked, ignoring him. “I’m not sure these restraints will hold. Sena-chan, go with him.” When the two of them were out of earshot, Aina turned to the officer and asked, “Are these men tomodachi of yours?”

“I’ve never seen them before,” the officer insisted. “They’re probably Naichou agents.”

“I thought you didn’t pay attention to politics,” Aina shot back. “Perhaps they’re keisatsu disguised as Naichou, and you were sent here to distract me while they attacked my goshujin.”

“I would never do something like that,” the officer defended herself. The outrage on her face was plain to see, and although Aina couldn’t discount the possibility that she was a very good actress, she didn’t believe the officer was lying.

“Gomen for offending you,” Aina said. “It was unnecessary. I will find out what I need when I interrogate them.”

“Apology accepted,” the officer said, relaxing. “I would prefer it if you would release them to police custody, but given the circumstances, I won’t press the issue.”

“Arigatou,” Aina thanked her. “That’s very pragmatic. I didn’t know you had it in you.”

The officer bristled at that, but calmed herself and said, “I may not know much about politics, but I can be useful in other ways. Perhaps we can still make a deal.”

“You really have no idea who I am?” Aina asked.

“I don’t,” the officer admitted. “I asked around, but no one would tell me. They all seemed to think it was funny.”

So I’m not the only one who gets a kick out of teasing her, Aina thought. “Well then,” Aina proposed, “how about this for a deal: If you want to learn more about me, take me out to dinner.”

“Are you asking me out on a d—date? We don’t even know each other’s namae.”

“Iie, I’m telling you to ask me to dinner, but don’t expect anything romantic as a date. I just haven’t had a good meal in years. Besides, if you want to get to know someone,” she added, pointing to the registration form in the officer’s hands, “what better way than over a nice dinner?”

“Won’t you be leaving your goshujin unguarded?”

“As you saw, he can take care of himself.”

Wakarimashita,” the officer said. “W—would you do me the honor of going on—of going to dinner with me tonight?”

“It’s a date,” Aina accepted.

“I thought you said it wasn’t a date,” the officer whimpered.

Aina couldn’t suppress the cruel smile as she said, “I’ll meet you by the Hachikou statue tonight at jyuu-kyuu ji.”