May 20th, U.C. 0164, 11:04 AM
“Okaerinyasaimase, goshujin-sama!” Aina was greeted by the high-pitched voices of two nekomimi waitresses as she pulled open the door to the café.
“Goshujin-sama, watashi?” Aina mused, allowing the door to close behind her. “That’s a hen feeling. After so many years of being a meido, I wonder if I’ll ever get used to being called that.”
“Ainya-sama,” the closest waitress gasped, recognizing Aina before the others. She knew Aina only by reputation. It was common knowledge among the free meido that, although Aina appeared to be their ally, she was extremely dangerous, and her loyalty remained with her goshujin. The waitress had always been timid, and found herself unable to either approach Aina or run away.
Aina glanced towards the waitress and asked, “Can I get a table?” Before she got an answer, Aina looked away, taking in the café interior. “I don’t mind sitting at the counter, but the other patrons may be uncomfortable sitting next to me.” Having finished her scan of the room, Aina kept her eyes focused on an empty table in the back corner.
“G—g—gomen, Ainya-sama,” the waitress stammered. “You—your buki…”
“Nani about them?” Aina asked, glancing briefly back at the waitress.
To the waitress’s relief, her coworker intervened. “We don’t allow buki in this establishment, Ainya-sama,” the second waitress said, approaching Aina confidently. This waitress had never met Aina either, but she was aware of Aina’s history of standing up for the rights of nekomimi. “In fact, the open carrying of buki is prohibited in Akihabara.”
“I’m aware of the Sword and Gun Law,” Aina said, smiling at this waitress, “but I enjoy goshujin immunity.”
“That may be so, but the free meido do nyat recognize goshujin immunity,” the second waitress informed her. “Soshite, with the keisatsu in disarray, we’ve been given special dispensation by the government to enforce the law in Akihabara. If you would like, as a ichi-time service, I can store your buki in our locker room. Otherwise, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
“Sou ka,” Aina said, removing the broom strapped to her back and the duster holstered by her waist. She handed the weapons over to the second waitress.
“I’ll take good care of them,” she promised Aina, before bowing and walking away.
“Kochira e, douzo,” the first waitress managed. She lead Aina towards the table in the back corner, keeping one eye on her at all times. Aina pretended not to notice, and in fact, seemed to act as if the waitress wasn’t there. The waitress found this reassuring, but she dared not relax in Aina’s presence. Once Aina was seated, she offered her a menu with a “douzou,” and asked if Aina wanted anything to drink.
“Café au lait,” Aina replied, but before the waitress could retreat, she added, “I heard Noriko-san works koko. Is that true?” She put down her menu and looked directly at the waitress, causing her to feel uneasy.
“H-hai,” she answered. “Noriko-senpai works in the kitchen.”
“Ii,” Aina said. “Tell her I’d like a plate of her miso salmon.”
“Moushiwake arimasen, Ainya-sama,” the meido apologized, bowing. “That’s nyat on our menu. We have a seafood and rice bowl, and I could make sure to add extra salmon, if that’s OK with you.”
“I can see it’s not on the menu,” Aina said. “Just tell her that’s what I ordered. I won’t get angry if she refuses.” She slowly offered the menu back to the waitress, extending her arm so that her hand was close to the waitress’s face. The waitress cautiously took the menu, but Aina kept her arm extended. The waitress glanced down at Aina’s arm, then back up at her face. They locked eyes, and Aina blinked very slowly.
“Ah!” the waitress exclaimed. “I see what you’re doing. You’re trying to take advantage of my feline instincts. That’s—That’s—“
“Relax, Ebi,” came a voice from behind her. “She’s just trying to make you feel comfortable. She didn’t mean anything warui by it.”
“Noriko-san, ohisashiburi,” Aina waved as the large nekomimi pushed her way past the waitress.
She was short and muscular, and although she had turned thirty recently, she didn’t have a single gray hair on her head. Noriko had always been an excellent student, and her hard work and dedication to meidou had paid off. She was undoubtedly the nekomimi equivalent of Naomi or Jin, in that she would live to an abnormally old age, though being a nekomimi, that meant she would probably live into her seventies or eighties. A normal lifespan by homo sapiens standards.
“Here,” Noriko grunted, placing a very large bottle on the table in front of Aina.
“Nani is it?” Aina inquired, before shouting, “Don’t forget my coffee,” at the retreating waitress.
“An offering,” Noriko answered. “Sake. This stuff’s the best. Take it and leave us in heiwa.”
“If I refuse, will you throw roasted soybeans at me?” Aina joked.
“I would have tried that first,” Noriko chuckled. “Soybeans are cheaper than sake, but we’re all out. Unlike at the mansion, we can’t synthesize our own ingredients here.”
“That must get expensive,” Aina observed. “I thought all restaurants had synthesizers to save on costs.”
“It’s a big upfront cost,” Noriko explained, “and banks won’t lend us money. We had to pool what we had to even start this place. We’ve been saving up, but so far we haven’t found anyone willing to sell. No one wants to get on the keisatsu’s bad side. Which has created something of an unofficial sanction on us.”
“Not even Hideaki Heavy Industries?” Aina asked.
“HHI doesn’t make synthesizers,” Noriko sighed, “and there aren’t enough meido-owned establishments to make it economical. They offered to sell them to us at cost, but it’s still too much.” As she finished talking, the waitress returned with Aina’s coffee, placed it on the table, and quickly backed away.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Aina said. “If you ever need someone to… negotiate on your behalf with the other suppliers—”
“I could do that kind of ‘nyagotiating’ myself,” Noriko interrupted, “but that’s not the kind of place we’re trying to create.”
“Wakatta,” Aina assured her. It was just a tad surreal hearing that come from Noriko. In the fifteen years when Noriko had been one of Aina’s students, they had mostly talked about meidou and mission details. The thought that Noriko would so willingly throw that away and confine herself in a kitchen was surprising. “Noriko-san, are you happier now?” Aina asked.
“Un,” Noriko nodded, after thinking it over for a moment. “Don’t get me wrong, there are things I miss, but I’m glad I don’t have to kill anymore. I’ll take cooking over that any day.”
“Yokatta,” Aina smiled. “You always were a good cook.” She took a sip of her coffee. “Still, I have a favor to ask of you. I need a sparring partner, someone who can use a spear like Jin-chan.”
“I’ve heard rumors that she has it in for you,” Noriko said. “I don’t know what happened, but I don’t want to pick sides.”
“I’m not asking you to,” Aina replied. “I don’t really know what happened either, but I don’t want to fight Jin-chan if I can help it. This is purely for self-defense.”
“Nyani’s in it for me?” Noriko huffed.
“You can have this,” Aina offered, picking up the bottle of sake and putting it back down on the table. “I have it on good authority that this stuff’s the best.” Noriko scowled at Aina’s joke, but Aina continued, “If that’s not enough for you, think of it as a chance to stretch your muscles. This time, you won’t even have to kill anyone.”
“Alright,” Noriko said, wrapping her fingers around the neck of the bottle, “but if you think I’m setting one foot back in that mansion…”
“Great,” Aina said. “I’ll find some neutral ground and I’ll be in touch.” She took a swig of her coffee and stood up.
“Here,” Noriko said, holding out her phone. “Let’s exchange contacts. I don’t want you coming back here.”
“With hospitality like that, it’s no wonder you can’t afford a food synthesizer,” Aina quipped. Nevertheless she took Noriko’s phone and swapped their contact information. As she walked back towards the cash register, the second waitress emerged with Aina’s weapons, wrapped in oilpaper.
“Please don’t unwrap these until you’re well out of Akihabara,” the waitress cautioned. “It’ll scare hito.”
“Is this how you see me, as some kind of thug?” Aina accused.
“The older generation holds you in high esteem,” the waitress said, “but many of the younger meido are skeptical of you. Some of them think you’re worse than a thug.”
“Nani about you?” asked Aina.
“Personyally, I want to trust you, but that’s hard to do when you serve a goshujin,” the waitress shrugged. “Demo, I do know this. If you drag Noriko-senpai back into that sekai, I’ll never forgive you.”
“Ne, ne, Sena-chan,” Yuuki said, running up to the gynoid. “Sena-chaaaaan.” Sena ignored him and continued dusting. “Sena-senpai,” Yuuki eventually tried, but still, she ignored him. “Fine, Sena-sama,” he sighed.
“Hai, Yuuki-kun?” she answered, “Nani do you want?”
“How come you won’t let me call you Sena-chan?” Yuuki complained.
“Because Aina-chan would not like it,” Sena said.
“She’s not koko,” Yuuki pointed out.
“She could come back at any moment. If you get in the habit of calling me Sena-chan, you may slip up in front of her.”
“I really don’t get you, Sena-sama,” Yuuki sighed. “I thought you were a rebel, like me.”
“Whatever gave you that idea?” Sena asked.
“Watashitachi wa ningen da,” Yuuki imitated Sena. “The first time I saw that video of you putting those windbags in their place, I got chills.”
“You should not base your impressions of hito on a single video,” Sena observed.
“I know that much,” Yuuki huffed. “You also have a reputation among the other gynoids I met, and gynoids have unmatched observational skills. After you pushed so hard to get me hired, I thought for sure you wanted someone to help you cause chaos.”
“You are not entirely wrong,” Sena admitted. “I advocated for you because I knew you would push Aina-chan out of her comfort zone.”
“Because she’s so old-fashioned?” Yuuki inferred.
“Something like that,” Sena said. “She has lived a long time, but this is the first major political change she’s had to adapt to, and her first instinct was to bottle herself up in this mansion and let the sekai work itself out. I do not think she realizes the precarious situation that could put her in.”
“Demo, she fell into the prime minister’s trap,” Yuuki observed. “She might be better off lying low.”
“That trick may work on others, but it will not work on watashi,” Sena said. “I know you do not have a good grasp on politics, and no amount of hindsight will convince me otherwise.”
“That’s because you’re no fun,” Yuuki pouted, “and you worry too much.”
“You do not worry enough,” Sena countered. “That is why you are here, instead of in Akihabara.”
“I have my faults,” Yuuki admitted, “but I’m not wrong about you.”
“Hai, you are,” Sena informed him. “We may both be rebels, but I do not cause trouble for the sake of causing trouble, like you do.”
“You’re not a rebel,” Yuuki shot back, “not really. You may think you are, but tell me this: naze don’t you use contractions when you speak? I know you’re capable of it.”
“It makes homo sapiens uncomfortable,” Sena said. “Although I expend slightly more energy by not using contractions, it facilitates easier communications, which results in a net energy savings.”
“Really?” Yuuki pressed. “It seems to me like that would add up over hyaku years. Wouldn’t it be more efficient over the long run to let homo sapiens get used to gynoids using contractions?”
“Perhaps,” Sena admitted, “but again, that’s easier to say in hindsight. I do not have to rebel over every facet of my existence. It is enough to assert my free will.” “Your free will is an illusion,” Yuuki said, “if you always prioritize the comfort of homo sapiens over what’s best for you. Soshite, why do you wear clothes? You’re a gynoid. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
“I can tell that you’re trying to goad me,” Sena said, “but if I stripped down and started using contractions now, I’d just be following your directions. It wouldn’t be my choice.”
“Dare’s a bigger authority, Sena-sama?” Yuuki asked rhetorically, “watashi or shakai?”
“Okaerinasaimase, goshujin-sama!” a young boy with long, curly brown hair greeted Aina as she pulled open the door to another café in Akihabara. He was wearing an elaborate meido uniform, which showed off much less skin than the uniforms employed at the nekomimi café. As soon as the door was shut, he ran up to Aina and whispered, “Get out of here, Yuuki-kun. Nani if the boss sees you?”
“Take a closer look,” Aina smirked.
“Aina-sama!” the boy yelped. He staggered backwards and bowed deeply. “Moushiwake arimasen. I mistook you for someone who often cosplays as you.”
“Is that all you have to say?” Aina asked the boy.
“Hai,” he answered, looking her directly in the eyes.
“You never expected me to enter a place like this,” Aina accused, “so you assumed I must be Yuuki-kun.” The boy’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment, but Aina continued. “Most people would have tried to use that as an excuse, not realizing how insulting it is to us both, but you kept it to yourself.”
“We get some… unique customers,” the boy explained. “I’ve learned not to be judgmental.”
“Whatever the reason,” Aina said, “you know how to keep your mouth shut, which will make this easier.” She pulled Yuuki’s resumé from a pocket and handed it to the boy. “Yuuki-kun claims to have worked here. Is this true?”
“You know doko he is?” the boy asked.
“Answer my shitsumon,” Aina insisted.
“Hai, he worked here,” the boy confirmed, “but he started before I did, so I can’t tell you if this date is accurate.”
“I don’t care about that,” Aina told him. “I want to know why he left.”
“Ah,” the boy said. “That’s complicated. He didn’t really quit, and he wasn’t fired. It’s more like minna agreed that he should leave Akihabara. It had been a long time coming. Our manager was protecting him because he brought in more regulars than anyone else, but he eventually caused too much trouble, even for her.”
“When you say ‘minna…’” Aina prompted.
“It was a consensus decision by the entire community,” the boy confirmed.
“The entire community?” Aina asked, incredulous. “There are thousands of you.”
“We have meetings every month,” the boy explained, “and for smaller issues, we vote using our smartphones. Not everyone participates, but most do. Turnout is usually between nana-jyuu and hachi-jyuu percent. As you say, there are still thousands of us, but we have a process. I have the rules here if you’d like to see.”
He pulled a document up on his smartphone and handed it to Aina. She skimmed over the rules, which were quite detailed, and found a robust outline for a participatory democracy, perhaps the only real democracy left in the world. Many of the rules, however, tugged at bits of memories in Aina’s brain. She was sure they had been copied from historical governments or organizations.
“Do the gynoids participate?” Aina asked. She had only come seeking information on Yuuki, but, having stumbled upon this discovery, couldn’t help but be curious. No one had seen fit to tell Aina about these meetings. Were they trying to keep them a secret from her, or did they just not think she would care about them?
“They do,” the boy confirmed. “Now that I think about it, they do a lot of the organizational work, but they don’t often speak. Ah, but when they do, their opinions carry the same weight as anyone else’s, maybe more.”
“So you say, but when the keisatsu attacked, the gynoids did not agree with the decision to stay and fight. They slipped out of Akihabara, and the few that were caught offered no resistance.”
“Un,” the boy said quietly. “They weren’t the only ones who disagreed, but they were the only ones who acted against the consensus. It’s become something of an issue. There are those who think we can’t trust the gynoids anymore, but it’s still a minority opinion.”
“Is there any chance they’ll get expelled, like Yuuki-kun?”
“It’s very unlikely. Yuuki-kun is the first we’ve ever expelled. We don’t take it lightly.”
“De, what did he do that was so bad?”
“There wasn’t any single scandal,” the boy said, “it was more a pattern of behavior. Yuuki-kun liked to start arguments for the sake of starting arguments. Some days, he’d berate the older generation for abandoning their giri to their goshujin, and on others, he’d advocate for violent rebellion against the government. His behavior was just toxic. Although, having said that, I supposed one of the onna he… associated with, showed up here and caused a big scene. That single incident may have been the final straw that caused our manager to side against him.”
“Ichi of his bullies?” Aina guessed.
“Bullies?” the boy asked, surprised. “I never heard of any bullying. I guess it’s not impossible. I didn’t know that much about his personal life. I do know that he was charging women to go on dates, pretending to be you. He said he wasn’t doing anything improper, but you never could tell with him.”
“He told me that he was being forced by those onna to imitate me and flirt with them, that they held him down and cut his hair to match mine.”
“That could be true,” the boy admitted, “but I also know he was getting okane from it. When that onna showed up here, she was shouting abuses at him. We thought he had done something to deserve it, but I suppose she could have been bullying him.”
“I guess I’ll just have to speak with ichi of them myself,” Aina said. She pulled a wallet from a pocket and handed two-thousand yen to the boy. “For your time,” she said, and then, pulling out a ten-thousand yen note, added, “and for keeping what we discussed a naisho.”
“I can’t take this without giving you the full story,” the boy said. “It’s true that Yuuki-kun had problems, but he wasn’t all bad, and he wasn’t always that way. He was the first otoko to join the free meido, and he paved the way for the rest of us. At first, they were resistant to the idea of civilians joining, especially otoko, but his arguments helped convince them to accept us, and even helped to lay the foundations of atarashii meidou.”
“Sou ka?” Aina said. “He seems more interested in old meidou these days.”
“Are you training him, Aina-sama?” the boy asked nervously. He was plainly worried that Yuuki would return seeking revenge.
“Iie,” Aina reassured him. “I’m still not sure how I feel about this new meidou of yours, but I agree that old meidou has no place in this sekai.”
“Tadaima,” Aina recited as she stepped into the mansion.
“’Kaeri,” Sena greeted her. She was standing outside of the drawing room, wearing nothing except her headdress. Aina paid no attention to her lack of attire and walked past her towards the kitchen. She knew if she acknowledged Sena’s behavior, she would just reinforce it. She had been expecting something like this from Sena for decades. “Don’cha wanna say anythin’ t’me?” Sena called after her.
“In fact, I do,” Aina said, turning towards her friend. “Naze didn’t you tell me what the gynoids who joined the free meido are doing?”
“Because it’s not important,” Sena answered. “It doesn’t affect us.”
“It affects me,” Aina said. “Many of the free meido still listen to what I say. If I make a mistake, I could end up undermining their fledgling democracy.”
“Perhaps that would be for the best,” Sena said. “The others chose a participatory democracy based on supermajority consensus because they believe that it’s important to get hito to practice democracy. It has historically been difficult for democracy to flourish after autocratic governments fall because the population lacks experience with it. Demo, their approach minimizes the role of dissent. Once a decision is made, those who disagree with it are expected to fall in line.”
“I noticed that too,” Aina said. “Such a system of government could easily result in the oppression of the few by the many, and while that’s perhaps better than the other way around, it falls short of securing liberty for its citizens. Perhaps I should speak with the other gynoids directly. I still have Mao-chan’s number.”
As Aina reached for her mobile phone, it began to vibrate in her pocket. Retrieving it, she glanced at the screen to find an incoming call from the student council president.