Chapter 33

The bento boxes fell to the sidewalk, forgotten in Noriko’s rage.

“Did you at least capture the perpetrators?” she asked through gritted teeth.

“We reacted quickly, and Neo Akihabara was sealed off within minutes,” the gynoid reported, “but we do not know if the culprit or culprits were nearby during the attack.”

“If they’re koko, I’ll find them,” Noriko growled.

Matte,” the gynoid called out as Noriko sprang onto the side of a nearby building and began to scale it. “You cannot go kicking in doors to find them.”

Nyaze nyat?” Noriko shouted down from a balcony.

“Because it is not what they would have wanted,” the gynoid yelled up at her. “It would harm our relations with the public just as we are gaining their support.”

Wakatta,” Noriko howled as she took off into the night. “I’ll stick to the streets.”

“Take them alive if at all possible,” the gynoid called after her.

10:32 PM

“Yuuki,” Mitsuo shouted, pounding on Yuuki’s bedroom door. “Get up.”

“I’m awake,” Yuuki said, opening the door. He was wearing a long white nightgown but appeared to be wide awake. “Do you need something, goshujin-sama?”

“Meet me in the doujou,” Mitsuo commanded. “It’s time to start your training.”

Maji de?” Yuuki asked. “I thought you weren’t qualified to teach.”

“We don’t have the luxury of worrying about that now,” Mitsuo explained. “It appears Hideharu-dono struck at the free meido. You need to learn to defend yourself in case things get worse.”

“You can’t use the doujou without Aina-san’s permission,” Sena said, walking down the hallway towards them. “Besides, it’s muri. The free meido have years of training and experience. If their retribution comes quickly, what good will a few hours of training do?”

“It’ll be better than nothing,” Mitsuo contended. “Besides, Aina taught me some hiden that Yuuki could use to defend himself against stronger opponents.”

“Show me,” Sena said, drawing a duster. “If you can defeat me using only these hiden, I’ll admit they might be powerful enough to save Yuuki-kun’s life.”

“I don’t want to damage you,” Mitsuo said, but this did not deter Sena.

She advanced on him and sliced at his neck with the duster, just slowly enough that there was no chance she could actually hit him. Mitsuo jumped backwards into a defensive stance. Rotating her wrist, Sena increased her pace, preparing to try again, but Mitsuo grabbed her wrist and pulled her up off her feet.

“That’s no hiden,” Sena pointed out as she rose into the air, “and Yuuki-Kun lacks the strength to lift me.”

Mitsuo didn’t say anything as he pulled Sena around, preparing to throw her down the hallway. Sena quickly rotated her entire body around her shoulder, in a manner only possible for a gynoid, and kicked off from the ceiling. Mitsuo was forced to release her, lest he be pulled down to the floor with her. Sena didn’t have time to right herself in midair, so she landed in a headstand, quickly lowering her body and swinging it around to sweep Mitsuo. As he jumped over Sena’s legs, she tucked her arms and rolled under him like a log, springing up and grabbing him from behind as he landed.

“Fine, here’s your hiden,” Mitsuo snarled as he unleashed a massive blast of spiritual energy at Sena. The impact caught her off guard, and she tumbled down the hallway.

“That is the kind of attack Aina-chan would use,” Sena admitted, regaining her posture, “but Yuuki-kun doesn’t have enough spiritual energy.”

Tadaima,” Aina’s voice, loud but not overbearing, reverberated throughout the mansion. “Sena-chan, doko?

“Second floor, outside of Yuuki-kun’s bedroom,” Sena answered, her voice coming through the mansion’s intercom. A minute later, Aina walked around the corner, flanked by two magical police officers.

Nani the hell?” Aina exclaimed after laying eyes on Yuuki. “Did you steal my nightgown?”

“I didn’t steal it,” Yuuki huffed. He cast an accusing look towards Sena.

“It’s OK,” Aina sighed, a disgusted look on her face. If Sena had given Yuuki her nightgown, it was better not to draw attention to it. “You can keep it. Go get changed. We’re switching places.”

“Nani about the meirei to hold you?” Sena asked. “You won’t be able to fool them with a karada double.”

“I was only being held in a bid to prevent further escalation with the free meido,” Aina said. “Now that things have escalated, I’m sure the prime minister would rather have me out here as a deterrent.”

“In that case, I can just stay here,” Yuuki said.

“Iie,” Aina insisted. “You’ll be safer in keisatsu custody, for now at least.”

June 25th, U.C. 0164, 7:12 AM

In the end, Noriko’s frenzied search of Akihabara only managed to wear her out. It was careful analysis and detective work by other free meido that lead them to the assassins, who were holed up in a hotel room waiting for the heat to die down. The two of them took their own lives to avoid capture, but the free meido were able to learn that the pair were Naichou agents. Currently, it was still unclear who ordered the attack. Although the Naichou was involved in a campaign for political dominance, they also reported directly to the chief cabinet secretary, a goshujin.

Noriko had volunteered to report these findings at the emergency meeting following the incident.

“Our reputation took a dive following the attack,” she concluded, “as the general public fears we will nyat be able to prevent similar attacks in the future, and worry that they will be caught in the crossfire. It has rebounded as of last nyaight, due to our efforts to keep the neighborhood running in an orderly manner, and the speed with which we caught the culprits, but we are still less well-regarded than we were ni days ago.” The words tasted bitter coming from Noriko’s mouth. The last thing she cared about at that time was their public perception, and it appeared her audience were barely containing their impatience. They were there to decide what actions to take against the goshujin, not to play the PR game. Still, this was what had been most important to Chobi, and Noriko felt it was her duty to her deceased kohai to at least try to keep the free meido focused on it.

“Arigatou for the report, Noriko-san,” the gynoid moderator of the meeting, R. Kouse, said, stepping up to the podium. “Next, we will hear from Amami-san with a proposal for further action.”

“Do I really need to say what we all feel in our kokoro?” Amami asked, taking her position behind the podium. She was one of the youngest of the old generation, the meido who had fled slavery under the goshujin. “Everyone in the building that night is either dead or in critical condition. With one single stroke, the goshujin took away our tomodachi, our doushi, and the mirai of meidou. If this continues, they will slice away at us until none are left. We are justified in striking back. This is no militancy: this is self-defense.”

Murmurs of agreement rippled through the crowd, and, unable to control herself, Noriko shouted. “That’s nyat what they would have wanted.”

“It’s not,” Amami agreed, “but we cannot allow ourselves to be bound by the wishes of the deceased. It was their naive idealism that held us back last time, and look what it got them.” She paused to recollect herself. That outburst had been an honest reflection of her feelings, but it hadn’t won her many friends among the audience. “At any rate,” she continued, “it is true that we do not yet know who ordered the attack, but someone at the Naichou does. A strike against the Naichou is tantamount to a strike against the goshujin themselves, but we outnumber both groups. Unless the guntai or the keisatsu intervene, we have the numbers to annihilate them both. We can mamoru ourselves and liberate the machi. This is the only path left to us. Let us strike now, before they have a chance to prepare.”

Applause filled the warehouse, prompting an incensed Noriko to storm back up to the microphone. She shoved Amami away, and the younger meido backed off, knowing she would lose in a physical confrontation.

“This is nyat the only path,” Noriko roared. “In fact, if we wanted to destroy ourselves, I can’t think of a better way to do it. The heiwa treaty makes no exceptions, no matter our justifications, not even for self-defense. We wouldn’t just have to worry about the keisatsu and the guntai, we’d have to worry about the forces of every nation. There is nowhere we could flee to safety. Demo, even if there was—even if there was—we would destroy our collective soul. We would become nothing more than a gang of thugs who took it upon ourselves to topple the social order and rule the machi.”

A chorus of cheers and boos enveloped the warehouse. After her outburst, Noriko was racking her mind for a follow-up when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Noriko-san,” R. Kouse whispered in her ear, “if you want more time, you can have it, but please wait your turn.”

Nodding, Noriko stepped away from the podium, and Amami returned.

“If the soul of the free meido cannot withstand this necessary action,” Amami argued, “then perhaps it has outlived it usefulness as an organization.”

The emphasis on the word organization broke through Noriko’s anger, and for the first time, she began to suspect the situation was more dangerous than she had realized. As if on cue, a loud collective gasp sounded from the other end of the warehouse, followed by a stampede of meido fleeing in Noriko’s direction. Noriko pushed past them, towards the source of the disturbance and found herself face-to-face with Jin, the prime minister standing closely behind her.

“Jin-sama,” Noriko greeted her. “Ohisashiburi.”

“Ohisashiburi,” Jin returned. “My goshujin wishes to address your assembly.”

“Your goshujin is nyat welcome here,” Noriko told her. In all the warehouse, she stood the best chance against Jin. If necessary, she would fight, but she could only hope to hold Jin off while as many of the others escaped as possible. “We will nyat listen to what he has to say.”

“Then I will speak,” Jin stated. It wasn’t a request.

“That might be possible,” Noriko acquiesced. “Follow me.”

Noriko lead Jin and the prime minister over to the side of the stage. After conferring with the gynoids, a vote was taken on whether or not to allow Jin to speak. There were no votes in opposition.

“Those of you who call yourselves free meido,” Jin began, “my goshujin has come before you tonight to beg for his life. As leader of his caste, he ultimately bears the responsibility for the recent attack on your fellows, but I can attest that he did everything in his power to prevent it. This strike was ordered by Hideharu Osborne, with the assistance of the chief cabinet secretary, against the direct meirei of my goshujin. I will now present evidence to that effect.”

Jin pulled a recording device from her pocket and held it up to the microphone.

“We must not escalate things with the free meido,” the prime minister’s voice came from the device. “We can live alongside them. They won’t attack us. The heiwa treaty that protects them also protects us. Demo, if we’re the first to break the treaty, we’ll have more than the free meido to worry about.”

“They took my son,” Hideharu’s voice came next. “We’re justified in taking their children.”

“You should come up with a plan to kill them all, without exception,” Yuuki was the next to be heard from the device.

“Mitsuo-dono, control your meido,” another goshujin’s voice could be heard saying.

“Naze should I?” Mitsuo’s nonchalant reply played over the speakers. “He’s right.”

“This is not a productive discussion,” the prime minister finished. “We are not attacking them, and that’s final.”

It was flimsy evidence. Everyone knew how easily audio could be faked, but to those eager for revenge, it was justification enough.

As many of you know,” Jin said, “I recently left the Wright household to serve the prime minister. I did so because, of all the goshujin alive today, he is the only one who is not irredeemably baka. The rest of them must be destroyed, but if you will spare my goshujin, I will assist you, and you will need my help. Aina Dufort will defend them, and I am the only one who can defeat her.”

“I can assure the prime minister his fears are misplaced,” Noriko said, from next to the podium. The free meido are not a militant organization. His life is not in danger from us.”

“In that case,” Amami countered, “we shall leave the free meido and follow Jin-sama. Those who would end goshujin tyranny with me,” she said, pointing to her side of the stage. “Cowards, cast your lot with Noriko-san,” she said, pointing past Noriko, to the other side of the stage.

“I am no coward,” Noriko bellowed. “I am a free meido, free from fighting and free from killing.”

For a few moments, no one dared move, then a few meido walked up to Amami. As if to counter them, an equal number hurried to Noriko’s side. They were shortly followed by more, as meido streamed from the stands to take sides.

“Jin-sama,” R. Mao stepped forward to represent the gynoids. “Although we agree with your assessment of the goshujin and their threat, we believe Aina-chan is a taisetsu na ally. We will not get in your way, but we cannot join you.” With that, the gynoids walked over to Noriko’s side. Noriko’s group had already been larger before the gynoids joined them, but not by much.

The entire process confirmed Noriko’s suspicions. The scariest thing about HIMITSU was that you never could tell for sure whether someone was a member. When she had worked for the goshujin, she had to trust her life to her colleagues, but she knew that any of them might have betrayed her for a higher cause. If she had tried too hard to discover their identities, she knew HIMITSU would come after her, so she had silently observed, doing her best to guess who she could trust—and who she had to watch out for. Everyone she suspected of being a HIMITSU member had lined up on the other side. They were busy looking around at their new colleagues, trying to identify each other.

Members of HIMITSU were not allowed to know who else was a member of the organization, so that if one was captured, she could not give up the identities of the others. Now that they were gathering publicly like this, it meant that was no longer a concern. Their end goal was within reach.

But what was that end goal? Noriko wondered. What was the point of HIMITSU now that they had freed themselves from the goshujin? She glanced over at the prime minister, but he seemed completely unaware of what was happening right under his nose. Jin had to know, but was she a part of it, or was she just taking advantage of HIMITSU for personal revenge? She had left unsaid her grudge against Aina, but everyone in the room knew of it. As Noriko scrutinized Jin, trying to determine her real intentions, she found only determination carved into Jin’s face.