Chapter 22

May 2nd, U.C. 0164 8:10 PM

Even though Aina had forgotten exactly where Manseibashi Police Station was, she had no trouble finding the building. For one, it was the only building in the area protected by a barrier. It was also the only building surrounded by an angry mob of meido. They were pummeling their fists on the barrier, but they weren’t achieving anything by doing so, aside from blowing off some steam.

Doke!” bellowed Aina. The meido closest to her turned their heads to look at her.

“Aina-sama!” One of them called out, causing more to turn in her direction. She was greeted with shouts of “Aina-sama” and “sensei.” A few teasingly called out “onee-sama.” Those would be her fans, Aina knew, the meido who had voluntarily sought out slavery. Some of them admired her, and aspired to be like her, while others just wanted to get close to her. Though Aina had never been in charge of the acquisition of new meido, these fans had caused enough problems for her goshujin over the years that they had learned to avoid them. The free meido evidently didn’t have any gatekeepers to keep them out.

Minna, move away from the building,” Aina ordered. “I’ll handle this. I want everyone to wait across the street. Don’t come anywhere near the building if you know what’s good for you.”

“Kick their asses, Aina-sama!” one of the meido yelled as they all ran to the other side of the street. This outburst was rewarded with hoots and cheers from the rest of the meido, but Aina didn’t pay them any mind. She strode casually into the building, passing through the barrier as though it didn’t exist.

The lobby was unusually crowded. Aside from the usual receptionist and guard, a handful of officers were engaged in a lively discussion with Koharu, and there was a much larger group of officers clad in riot gear grouped up near the doorway.

Otsukare,” Aina greeted them with a half-hearted, cocky salute.

Nani took you so long?” Koharu asked, walking to meet Aina halfway.

Gomen,” Aina apologized. “I didn’t realize it was so urgent. De, Nani’s up?”

“We’re holding a couple meido,” Koharu explained, “and I need you to take custody of them.”

“And do what, lock them in my basement?” Aina smirked.

“Just escort them to their homes,” said Koharu. “That should be enough to mollify the mob outside.”

“You can’t—” one of the officers behind her protested.

“No one tells Aina Dufort what she can or can’t do,” Koharu told him. “Or would you like to try to stop her?” Following Koharu’s lead, Aina glared at the officer, and he shrunk away from her. Koharu gestured with her head and the two of them walked towards the stairs at the back of the room.

“You’ll have to forgive me,” Aina said as soon as they were alone in the hallway, “but I’ve only been back for a day, and it feels like more has changed in the last go years than the previous hyaku. Would you explain the situation to watashi? From what I’ve gathered, there’s some bad blood between the keisatsu and the meido.”

“It’s so baka,” Koharu sighed. “The meido that settled in Akihabara and Ikebukuro take a lot of pride in their new neighborhoods. They’re keeping the streets clean day and night, not just of litter, but also of crime. Between you and watashi, it’s honestly impressive how much they’ve improved those areas, but the officers who work those beats feel that their jobs are being threatened. The ni we’re holding tried to make a citizen’s arrest a few hours ago, and the officers they turned the criminal over to snapped and shoved them out of the kouban. The meido fought back and it turned into a brawl. We had no choice but to bring them in.”

Demo, the other meido don’t think that’s fair,” Aina said, “and I would be right there with them, if I were naive enough to expect the keisatsu to be fair. I can take these meido off your hands, but that’s not going to solve your mondai. If all you want is to disperse the mob outside, you should just push them out the front door and wait for the crowd to get bored and go home.”

“If I did that, I’d be inviting reprisals. Tomorrow, I’d be in your position, retrieving kidnapped officers from the clutches of the meido, and I fear any further escalation could result in a sensou between the keisatsu and the meido.”

“A sensou you don’t have the toki or resources to fight right now,” Aina prodded, “not when you have the Naichou to contend with.”

“So you’ve already heard about that,” Koharu grumbled. “I suspect they may have helped foster the animosity between us.”

“In that case, I can’t help you. I already promised the Naichou I’d remain neutral.”

“You owe me a favor,” Koharu pressed.

“Actually, you owe watashi ni favors,” Aina pointed out. “If you don’t believe me, I can show you our transaction history, all the way back to when we first met.”

“Of course you have something like that,” Koharu rolled her eyes.

“Of course I do,” Aina agreed. “Demo, even if I wanted to put you in debt for a third favor, the free meido are just a loose association. There’s no one you could negotiate with.”

“No one except you,” Koharu countered.

“I’m not a free meido,” Aina told her. “I can’t speak for them.”

“They respect you,” Koharu said, opening a door in the middle of a hallway. “They’ll listen to you.”

“Let us out of here you fucking buta,” a meido spat at Koharu as she entered the room. She and her companion were heavily restrained. “I demand to speak to a lawyer. We have rights. You can’t just keep us locked up like this.”

“Actually,” Aina informed them, stepping into the room, “They can hold you for yon-jyuu-hachi hours without charging you, and they can extend that to ni-jyuu-san days if they need more time to collect evidence.”

“Aina-sama,” the two meido gasped.

“Look what these buta did to us,” one of the meido appealed to Aina. She stood as much as her restraints would allow and leaned forward to show Aina her bruised face. “They jumped us from behind. Those—”

“Aren’t you the least bit ashamed that you let them catch you off guard?” Aina interrupted, examining the young woman’s face. “Or worse, that you were defeated?”

“We were outnumbered,” the meido protested. “It was go-on-ichi, and they had mahou shoujo.”

Ara,” Aina exclaimed, examining the other meido. “I didn’t expect one of my students to be caught up in this idiocy.” This meido dropped her eyes, too ashamed to look at Aina. “Did you forget even my most basic of lessons?” Aina asked her.

Iie, sensei,” the meido mumbled. “If we’re fighting a larger force head-on, we’ve already lost.”

“That’s right,” Aina said. “You’re meido. You’re supposed to be the ones taking your opponents by surprise.”

“Not anymore,” the first meido said. “We’re free meido now. We’re free to reclaim the honor of meidou. We don’t need to resort to dirty tricks anymore.”

“Nani kind of nonsense—” Aina started. “Do all the free meido think this way?”

“Most of them,” her student answered. “Jin-sama told us—”

“I’ll have to have a talk with Jin-chan,” Aina interrupted, “but in the meantime, you should insist on medical treatment. You do have that right.”

“Then what?” the more assertive meido asked. “We just sit here for ni-jyuu-san days until they let us out?”

“In your cases, I think they’ll bring charges against you soon,” Aina said. “They already have enough to charge you with menacing, assault, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assaulting a peace officer. Did I miss any?”

“Possession of an illegal buki,” Koharu added.

“It was just a regular broom,” the assertive meido protested. “There were no blades hidden in it.”

“That’s a buki in your hands,” Koharu asserted. “The prosecutor will probably ask the judge to lock you up for jyuu, maybe jyuu-ni years. You’ll most likely be sentenced to at least go.”

“Nani is this, warui cop and waruier cop?” the assertive meido sulked.

“Something like that,” Aina said. “Normally, I could take you both out of here, but my hands are tied by politics, so let me offer one final lesson to a former student and her companion: the keisatsu will go easier on you if you apologize.”

“They should apologize first,” the assertive meido said.

“They have their pride too,” Aina said. “How about they apologize at the same time?”

“Works for me,” Koharu said. “We’ll make it a photo op. I’ll call in a medic to heal you first.”

“That works for us,” Aina’s student said, before the other meido could speak. “Arigatou, Aina-sama.”

9:01 PM

When Aina left the station with the two meido in tow, cheers rang out from the assembled mob. They rushed forward, flocking behind Aina and slapping the two meido who had been detained on the back. None dared approach close enough to touch Aina, and she didn’t acknowledge their presence. Her job was done, and the night was young. She figured she would stroll around Akihabara and see how the city had changed for herself. The crowd trailing behind her grew less jubilant as the news of what happened in the police station spread. Many wanted revenge against the police for what had happened, but others recognized the chance for peace that Aina had helped arrange. The assistant commissioner in charge of the station had extended an open invitation to the free meido to discuss how they could work together, but some were worried that would result in the meido being absorbed into the police, like the mahou shoujo were. As they debated amongst themselves, they gradually fell away from the group, until only two meido remained with Aina.

“Sensei,” the former student she had rescued spoke up, “did you mean what you said earlier? Are you going to try to talk to Jin-sama?”

Un,” Aina nodded. “I like the idea of free meido, and I don’t want her to endanger you all with foolish notions of honor.”

“It’s not foolish,” the other meido said. “Shakai is more likely to tolerate us if they have a positive view of us. We’ll be in danger if the keisatsu or the guntai decide to back the goshujin again.”

“That’s true, but by making the keisatsu feel threatened, you made them more likely to side against you,” Aina pointed out. “If you want to capture criminals, you should make sure that neither they nor the keisatsu see you. Be stealthy, like I taught you.”

“Hai, Aina-sama” they both said.

Ii,” Aina said. “Ima, do any of you know where I can find Jin-chan?”

“She’s working for the prime minister,” the meido said.

“Oh, so you’re taking warui advice from someone who isn’t even one of you?” asked Aina. “Seems to me like she might be trying to sabotage the free meido.”

“Iie!” the meido insisted. “Jin-sama has our best interests in mind. She wanted to come with us, but she’s too powerful. The government would never allow her to use her chikara for her own ends. She made a deal with the prime minister to serve him as long as he does not turn her against us.”

Sou ka,” Aina said. “I made a similar deal, which is partially why I couldn’t antagonize the keisatsu tonight.”

“You should stay away from Jin-sama,” Aina’s former student warned. “She said she would kill you if she ever saw you again.”

“I’m not afraid of that old bag of bones,” Aina bragged. “Besides, I don’t know what happened in the last go years to make her hate me that much. I should probably hear it directly—”

A shrill scream pierced the night, interrupting Aina’s train of thought. The two meido behind her ran towards the nearby alley from which it had emanated.

Machinasai!” they shouted before entering the alley. Aina followed them in to find they had wrestled two young men to the ground and were placing restraints on their wrists.

“Nani did I just teach you?” Aina sighed.

“We couldn’t wait, Aina-sama,” one of the meido replied. “This onna was in danger.”

“Did you even notice their armbands?” Aina pressed. “Do you really want to make teki of the seitokai?”

Most high schools had student councils, but only Horikoshi Gakuen’s was known as the student council. As the school where all the goshujin sent their children, the student council was comprised of future governmental leaders. The Diet had even devolved some of the less important functions of government to the student council.

“Demo, we can’t just…” her former student started to protest, but she trailed off as she realized just how bad a position she had put the free meido in. The student council wasn’t fond of the free meido, but attacking student council members would undeniably harm the public perception of the free meido, no matter the circumstances.

“Release them,” Aina ordered, “and apologize.”

“And abandon her?” the other meido gasped.

“There are some tatakai you can’t win,” Aina told them. “Release them and apologize. I won’t tell you again.”

“Finally, a meido that gets it.” One of the student council members said as he stood back up. “You bitches have been fucking crazy recently.”

“I sincerely apologize for my subordinates’ stupidity,” Aina said, bowing to the youth. “Demo, I would be remiss if I did not warn you that, in this part of town, there are many foolish meido such as these. This is not a threat, but I would not wish to see you harmed.”

“Good point,” the other young man said. “Go stand guard for us.”

Kashikomarimashita,” Aina said with a bow. She grabbed the two meido and dragged them away. One of the meido struggled against her, and Aina leaned close to her ear and whispered, “trust me.” She turned her head slightly to look back at the student council members, waiting for them to turn their backs on her completely, waiting for her chance to strike, but froze in place when she heard footsteps approaching from the street.

Futari tomo, dou iu imi ka?” A voice shouted from the entrance to the alley. A tall woman with straight black hair brushed quickly past Aina and approached the young men. “How dare you sully the reputation of the seitokai?”

“Lay off, prez,” one of the men responded. “We were just having a little fun.”

“Nani are you even doing here, anyway?” the other asked. “You want to take her place that badly? All you had to do was ask.” He grabbed the president’s wrist.

“I swear, does the goshujin caste understand anything except violence?” the president groaned. She kneed the young man in the groin, causing him to double over. The other man threw a punch at her, but she stepped to the side and grabbed him by the hair. As the man she kneed was standing back up, she grabbed his hair and slammed their heads together. The two of them collapsed to the ground and did not get immediately back up. The president turned her attention to their victim and asked, “Are you daijoubu? Is there anything you need?”

“I’ll be OK,” the woman answered shakily.

Yokatta,” the president said. “I’m truly sorry for what these miscreants put you through. As seitokaichou I’m responsible for their behavior.”

“Iie, you saved me,” the woman said. “It’s not your fault.”

“Nevertheless, let me give you my email address,” the president insisted. “Please contact me if you ever need anything.”

“There is ichi thing,” the woman said. “Please win reelection, seitokaichou. The way you stand up to the goshujin is an inspiration to us all.”

“I’ll do my best. Arigatou. It’s easier to fight knowing I have the support of hito like you.” She turned towards Aina and the meido and called out, “Meido-tachi, please escort her safely home.”

Nodding, Aina released her hold on the two meido, and they hurried over. After exchanging a few words they left the alley with the woman. The president pulled out her smartphone and made a call. Aina waited until she was finished before approaching.

“That was very impressive, seitokaichou,” Aina complimented her. She offered a handshake, but the president grabbed Aina by the chin and pulled her close so she could see Aina better in the dark.

“Are you Aina Dufort, or do you just look like her?” the president asked.

“I am Aina,” she answered carefully. “I’m flattered that you recognized me.”

“How could I not recognize our most famous alumnus? The teki-bu still has a portrait of you hanging in their clubroom. They’ll be excited to learn you’ve returned.” She released Aina and frowned. “Naze didn’t you stop them?”

“I would have, had you not shown up,” Aina said, “but I needed to get the free meido out of danger first. If they had made teki of the seitokai, it would have been very harmful to their movement.”

“I understand that kind of reasoning,” the president acknowledged, “but I can’t approve of it. Still, it’s my policy to make the best of bad situations. There are rumors you are merciless at tracking favors owed, and by your own admission, I just helped you out. I suppose that means you owe me a favor.”

“I don’t mind that,” Aina said. “If I wakatta, you’re not only not from a goshujin kazoku, you were elected seitokaichou as a second-year. That makes you an impressive hito, well worth knowing.”

“I’m glad you feel that way,” the president smiled.

As the two of them exchanged phone numbers, a car pulled up outside the alleyway. Aina carried the two defeated student council members and placed them in the back seat, while the president rode shotgun. One of the men regained consciousness in the back of the car and tried to open the door from the inside, but found it locked.

“This isn’t over, meido,” he shouted at Aina, slapping the window with the palm of his hand as the car pulled away.