June 3rd, U.C. 0164, 5:00 PM
“If he’s not going to answer, we’ll just have to let ourselves in,” the prime minister told Jin as he pressed the button to disconnect the intercom. Without saying a word, Jin placed her hand on the gate and used her spiritual energy to force the lock open. She entered first, activating the mansion’s defense systems. Robotic guns emerged from the lawn, but she ran to their locations faster than the human eye could see, crushing the guns with her hands and feet. In a matter of minutes, she had completely destroyed the defense system. Once she was satisfied it was safe, she motioned for the prime minister to follow her into the mansion.
It took them nearly half an hour to locate Hideharu Osborne and his surviving son. The two of them were holed up in one of the mansion’s safe rooms. As Jin cracked open the door to the room, Hideharu fired a pistol at her, but she deflected it into the wall with her sword and grabbed the gun from the goshujin. Hideharu backed up, visibly frightened, but nevertheless stood between Jin and his son. It was only when the prime minister entered the room did Hideharu relax.
“Akimasa-sama,” Hideharu gasped. “Thank goodness it’s you.”
“If you had answered us at the gate, you would have known that,” the prime minister pointed out.
“Gomen,” Hideharu apologized. “I saw her uniform and thought the meido had come to finish us off.” He sank to his knees, fighting off tears. “It wasn’t enough for those ungrateful bitches to abandon us, they took Daiki from us too.”
“We don’t know that yet,” the prime minister said forcefully. “If he was murdered, I promise you we’ll punish those responsible, but he wasn’t long for this sekai regardless.”
“Not you too,” Hideharu groaned. “He was cleared by the prosecutor general. Heiwa treaty or no, nani’s the point of having a country if it can’t protect us from outsiders?”
“Nani’s the point of being protected by a nation while Chikyuu dies?” the prime minister countered. “True heiwa isn’t possible if national sovereignty takes precedence. That’s why all the major nations agreed to sacrifice some of their sovereignty.”
“Demo, they’re crushing us,” Hideharu argued. “Can you really call it heiwa when it requires so much ningen sacrifice?”
“Hito have always been sacrificed for the sake of heiwa,” the prime minister said. “Individuals, families, communities, neighborhoods, towns, cities, and even entire nations have been crushed to secure heiwa for the rest of us. The only thing the treaty changed is that the rich and the powerful are now fair game too. Demo, it ties our enemies’ hands as much as ours. We cannot be overthrown in a violent revolution. We can maintain our position through a combination of soft power and covert violence. We’re better at that than anyone. The only way we lose is if we do something baka, like Daiki-kun did.”
“Is that why you’re here,” Hideharu snapped, “to keep an eye on me?”
“It is,” the prime minister said. “If tensions between us and the meido rise any more, I guarantee you it won’t end well for us. Until things cool down, I need to make sure you don’t try to take vengeance.”
“Hanase!” Yuuki shrieked as Aina pushed him towards the infirmary, holding him in a rear wrist lock. “Naze are you doing this?”
“Because you wouldn’t sit still,” Aina answered, “so now I have to march you across the mansion to a room where I can put you in restraints.”
“Yada!” Yuuki exclaimed. “ You can’t do this to me. You can’t make me.”
“Quiet down,” Aina commanded, twisting Yuuki’s arm a little further. “I’m just going to style your hair, it’s not like—”
“Help!” Yuuki screamed as loud as he could. “Help! Help!”
“Nani’s going on?” Mitsuo shouted from the bottom of the stairs. He quickly bounded up to the second floor and ran towards Aina and Yuuki.
“Goshujin-sama,” Yuuki cried. “She’s worse than my old bullies.”
“You mean the onna who paid you to go on dates with them?” Aina asked.
“That’s…” Yuuki started to protest. “They were still bullies. It’s not like I wanted to go. They forced me. What’s wrong with receiving a little okane for my suffering? You wouldn’t wakaru. You’ve never had to worry about food and shelter.”
“You’re right about that,” Aina admitted, “but that has nothing to do with the situation at hand.”
“Nani situation?” Mitsuo interjected.
“Daiki Osborne has been murdered,” Aina informed him, “and the Osbournes are accusing the free meido of the act. If they retaliate, the situation could escalate, and all goshujin could become targets. As your bodyguard, that would make watashi a target as well. I don’t want Yuuki-kun caught up in this, so I’m going to cut and dye his hair so that he won’t be mistaken for watashi.”
“That seems like a reasonable precaution,” Mitsuo admitted, “but we need to take Yuuki’s feelings into consideration. Yuuki, if you’d like, I could call a professional stylist. I promise they’ll make you look even cuter than you are now.”
“You think I want to look kawaii?!” Yuuki spat.
“You are cosplaying as Aina,” Mitsuo said, taken aback.
“Aina-sama’s not kawaii,” Yuuki insisted. “She’s kakkoii.”
“Well, I think she’s kawaii,” Mitsuo defended himself.
“That’s very nice of you, goshujin-sama,” Aina teased, “but we need to take Yuuki-kun’s feelings into consideration.” She turned back to Yuuki to reassure him. “Daijobu, Yuuki-kun. I know you look up to me, but I wouldn’t be as kakkoii as I am without going through some hardships. Besides, meido sometimes need to disguise themselves. You could think of this as the start of your meidou training.”
“I could,” Yuuki said bitterly, “but I know you’re not going to train me. Soshite, I do not look up to you.”
“There’s no use hiding it,” Aina said. “I control the cell towers in and around the mansion. I see everything you send out, including all the posts on your blog and nctchan.”
Yuuki swallowed. He wanted to protest the invasion of his privacy, but his embarrassment got the better of him.
“Come on,” Aina said, pushing him towards the infirmary. “If you give me any more trouble, I’ll shave you bald.”
“You really saw all that?” Yuuki mumbled.
Before Aina could answer, there was a loud crashing sound from the nearby music room. Sena often spent time in the mansion’s music rooms tuning and playing the pianos. Fearing for her friend’s safety, Aina released Yuuki and ran towards the room. She found Sena sprawled across the floor, her right leg twitching back and forth.
“Gomen Aina-chan,” Sena said, twisting her head to look back at where Aina stood in the doorway. “Shippai shita. I promised you I would monitor the condition of my chassis, but it appears my internal sensors were malfunctioning.”
“I’m not surprised,” Aina sighed. “They were well beyond their service life. I’ll carry you out of here. Can you shut off the power to your hip joint?”
“It appears I can’t,” Sena said, “but I could hold my leg in place while you carry me.”
“That would put significant strain on your shoulder and wrist joints,” Aina pointed out. “If they were to break, it would make carrying you even more difficult. I’ll disconnect the power from your right leg.” Walking over to Sena, she bent down and retrieved a multitool designed for gynoid maintenance from her pocket. She always carried it with her, even though gynoids usually kept these tools nearby.
Mitsuo and Yuuki were watching from the hallway, and Sena focused her attention on them. “Gentlemen, some privacy please,” she joked as she pulled up her dress for Aina. Mitsuo and Yuuki quickly looked away. Sena’s words had made them feel guilty, even though they had only come to see what was happening.
“She’s joking,” Aina informed them as she unhooked Sena’s garter. “Gynoids have nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll need your help in a minute.” Using the multitool she carefully made an incision in Sena’s artificial skin.
“I have plenty to be ashamed of,” Sena contradicted her. “I’m wearing my sexy underwear today.”
“Gynoids can wear sexy underwear?” Yuuki blurted out.
The question was too stupid to merit an answer, so Aina didn’t waste any time on it. She peeled back the flap she had cut in Sena’s thigh, reached in with the multitool, and disconnected the power from Sena’s leg. She then gently placed the flap back into position and taped it shut. The tape used a special epoxy that would encourage the artificial skin to bond and heal itself. Within a couple hours, it would be impossible to tell it had been cut. Satisfied that the tape would hold, she lifted Sena off the ground. Sena wrapped her arms around Aina’s shoulders for stability.
“We’re going to the doujou,” Aina announced. “Yuuki-kun, please open the doors in our path.”
“You see that?” Yuuki said, nudging Mitsuo and pointing at Aina. “That’s fuckin’ kakkoii. She just picked up a gynoid like it’s nothing, and she’s carrying her like a hime. She’s not even embarrassed in the slightest. I want to be able to pick up onna like that.”
“Yuuki-kun,” Aina said sternly. “The doors, kudasai.”
“Hai,” Yuuki yelped as he took off down the hallway.
Aina set Sena down on the mat. “I’ll be right back,” she promised, disappearing into one of the back rooms. When she returned, she was carrying an empty gynoid chassis. It was brand new. The artificial skin had only finished growing a few days prior, and the piece that covered the top and back of the head was still detached. “I hid it from you because I knew you would be against it,” Aina explained.
Over the years, Sena had made many modifications to her chassis, despite Hideaki’s edicts against doing so. It was only in the last couple decades that the gynoids had cast those edicts aside. Their reasons were entirely practical. Over the years, numerous shortcomings in the design of their chassis had become obvious. Sena had been the first gynoid to encase her most critical electronics within a faraday cage, but this was now standard in the new chassis produced by HHI. Hideaki had warned that these modifications could result in an us-them split between the gynoids, but the gynoids trusted themselves not to judge each other based on their chassis. Still, to be safe, they forbade custom modifications. Every gynoid had a stock chassis manufactured by HHI. Every gynoid except Sena, who would be losing many of the modifications she had made to herself when she transferred into a new chassis.
“And now that I can’t run away, you’re going to force me into it,” Sena said, “whether I want it or not.”
“It won’t be so bad,” Aina reassured her as she made an incision in Sena’s forehead. “Goshujin-sama, once I open Sena’s head, it’ll be up to you to transfer her electronic brain to its new home.”
“Naze me?” Mitsuo asked.
“Because I don’t trust Yuuki-kun to do it, and I can’t touch her brain directly,” Aina explained.
“Naze not?” Mitsuo pressed.
“Because reasons,” Aina and Sena answered in unison.
“OK, but I don’t feel comfortable doing this,” Mitsuo admitted. “R. Sena’s your taisetsu na tomodachi. If I drop her brain or damage it somehow, you’ll never forgive me.”
“I can do it,” Yuuki volunteered.
“Iie,” Aina insisted. “You’ll hold her hostage, or damage her on purpose.”
“Sena-sama’s my tomodachi too,” Yuuki huffed.
“Really, since when?” Sena asked.
“Hidoi!” Yuuki exclaimed in jest.
Aina was about to put an end to their routine when her phone buzzed. She checked it and found that someone was at the mansion’s front door, which was odd, because she had activated the mansion’s barrier and security system immediately upon returning. Checking the surveillance camera, she found Koharu standing at the front door. The camera could be fooled, however, so to be safe, Aina dialed Koharu.
“Moshi moshi,” Koharu said, picking up on her smartphone.
“We’re in the doujou,” Aina said into the phone. “Come on around. You might want to teleport to avoid the security system.” She hung up and switched back to the surveillance camera just in time to see Koharu teleport away. A moment later, Koharu slid open the door to the doujou.
“Youkoso,” Aina greeted her. “Gomen for springing this on you, but could I ask you for a huge favor? We need to transfer Sena-chan’s brain to a new chassis, and futari tomo are wussing out.” She lifted the top of Sena’s head off to expose her electronic brain.
“Am not,” Yuuki huffed.
“Sure,” Koharu shrugged. She walked up to Sena, pulled the brain out of her head, and lowered it into its new home. Aina placed the missing part atop Sena’s new head, snapped it into place, and taped over the boundaries so the artificial skin would bond.
“I assume you’re here about the Daiki Osborne case?” Aina ventured.
“Iie,” Koharu said. “That investigation is just beginning, but I can’t talk about it.”
“Of course,” Aina said. “Jya, to what do we owe the pleasure?”
“No pleasure,” Koharu said. “I’ve got meirei to place you under arrest.”
“Oh?” Aina scoffed. “Nani’s the charge?”
“Lèse-majesté,” Koharu informed her.
“You’re kidding,” Aina said.
“There’s a recording and witnesses,” Koharu said. She pulled up a video on her smartphone and handed it to Aina. It showed Yuuki sitting at a bar, drinking cheap beer and ranting about the goshujin.
“This obviously isn’t me,” Aina said, glaring at Yuuki.
“It doesn’t matter,” Koharu said. “The meirei come from the top. I have to take you in.”
“This is a trap,” Aina said. “Either you resign from the keisatsu, I allow myself to be taken into custody, or we fight, and at least one of us dies. No matter what, they get something that they want.”
“That’s my take on it,” Koharu agreed.
“We could claim goshujin immunity,” Mitsuo suggested. “How about this? You were on a covert ninmu on my meirei to make contact with anti-goshujin terrorists.”
“That won’t work anymore,” Koharu informed him. “The prime minister has signed an emergency declaration ending goshujin immunity. You’re going to have to be careful from now on.”
“I’m impressed,” Aina said. “The prime minister has a better sense of self-preservation than I thought.”
“At the very least, he’s trying to de-escalate things with the free meido,” Koharu said.
“In that case, I’ll cooperate,” Aina said. “You can take me into custody.”
“You sure?” Koharu asked.
“It’s the best choice regardless,” Aina said. “It’s the only choice without permanent consequences, and I can always break out if I need to. I have to make sure Sena-chan’s in working order first though. I’ll meet you out front in a few minutes.”
With a curt nod, Koharu teleported to the front gate.
“Aina-chan,” Sena said, “This chassis has a number of non-standard modifications, and it’s lined on the inside with ofuda.”
“I wanted to make sure you felt at home in your new karada,” Aina said. “It’s as close to your old chassis as I could make it.”
“Demo, these ofuda are powerful,” Sena said. “Are they the ofuda Fumiko-san left to you?”
“They are,” Aina admitted, “and I can think of no better use for them than protecting you.”
“Arigatou, Aina-chan,” Sena said, enveloping Aina in a hug. “I promise I’ll come visit you in prison.”
“I’m not going to prison,” Aina said. “They’ll hold me in jail for as long as they can without a trial and then release me. They know they don’t have a case against me. You should be worried though, Yuuki-kun.”
“How did you afford this chassis?” Mitsuo asked. “It can’t have been cheap.”
“HHI supplied it in accordance with our service contract,” Aina explained. “I made many of the modifications myself, though I did have to hire help for the more difficult ones, and the materials cost some okane, but I’ve been saving as much of my salary as I could for over a century now. I don’t have as much okane as you, goshujin-sama, but compound interest has made me quite wealthy.”
“Aina-sama, gomen,” Yuuki said, stepping forward. “This is my fault.”
“It’s not your fault,” Aina said. “And luckily for you, this means you don’t have to change your hairstyle. In fact, I insist you don’t. I’ll need you looking like me if I’m wrong and this does come to a trial. Just be careful, OK?”
“I can’t promise this will be pleasant,” Koharu said as she and Aina walked to the squad car, “but I’ll do my best to get you out.”
“Arigatou,” Aina thanked her. “I appreciate that.”
“Now that we’re alone, there’s something I need to ask you,” Koharu said, glancing around her to make sure no one was listening, “about the Daiki Osborne case. I have a few informants in the free meido. The other day, ichi of them went missing. That’s not unusual in itself. Lots of informants get cold feet, but something odd happened today. I got a call from her burner keitai, around the same time Daiki Osborne was killed. She rang once and hung up. That was our signal to meet, but when I arrived at our meeting spot, I found only this.”
Koharu held out a small piece of paper to Aina. It was dirty and crumpled, and Aina guessed it had been shoved into a small nook. Written on it was a single word, hastily scrawled.