May 15th, U.C. 0053 7:55 PM
Aina was to meet Yoko at a large field of state-owned land near the southeastern GINZUISHOU wall. It was one of many empty fields in the city with room for thousands of apartments, but which remained undeveloped to provide a buffer between the goshujin households and the unwashed masses. Due to the housing shortage in the city, some people had set up camps in these fields a few years ago. Finding the encampments unsightly, the goshujin had made camping in these fields a felony and ordered the police to keep them clear. An officer on patrol had spotted Aina and Shiro as they made their way across the field, but pretended he had not seen them, not wanting to risk confrontation with the meido.
For the first time in years, Aina was heading into a battle both determined not to die and fearful that she might. She had promised to meet Fumiko at Tanabata, and she intended to keep that promise. From what she had seen of Yoko, Aina was more than a match for her in physical strength, but she was completely outclassed in speed and technique. What scared her more, however, was that she didn’t know what Yoko was planning.
Nothing about this challenge made any sense. If Yoko really wanted Aina’s title, she should have ambushed her. They were assassins, not fencers. No one would challenge the legitimacy of her claim to the title of strongest meido just because she gained it through foul play. This suggested to Aina that Yoko had other objectives, and she was using this challenge as a cover. After all, she had played the villain very convincingly during the fake war against the defense minister. Then, too, she had claimed to be after Naomi’s title, making it likely that she was still playing a character. To what end, however, Aina didn’t have a clue. Naomi hadn’t written much about Yoko in her notes, only that she should be left to her own devices and not crossed. This made the situation no less dangerous to Aina. If Yoko was using her as a tool, she might still end up dead.
It was also a mystery why Yoko had given her the location so far in advance. Not only had this allowed Aina time to check for traps, it had also given her time to set her own, had she wanted to. As far as Aina could tell, there was nothing special about the field. She had even checked the area outside the GINZUISHOU bordering the field, but found nothing but more grass. Desperate for intelligence, Aina had even asked the GINZUISHOU for anything it could tell her about Yoko, but it had remained silent.
“You were supposed to come alone,” Yoko greeted Aina as she and Shiro were close enough for conversation. “Only one of us is going to leave alive. We don’t need witnesses.”
“Don’t mind me,” Shiro tried to reassure her. “I only came to make sure she didn’t chicken out. If she does flee after I leave, I hope you won’t blame the rest of our household.”
Yoko regarded the nekomimi housekeeper for close to a minute. They both knew that Shiro wouldn’t stand a chance against Yoko, but Shiro stared directly into Yoko’s eyes, showing no signs of fear.
“You may leave,” Yoko told her, without agreeing to anything. Not wanting to press her luck further, Shiro curtsied and then immediately ran as fast as her legs could carry her.
“I have a proposal,” Aina offered once they were alone. “You break my arm and I concede to you. You get the glory, and I get to live.”
“En garde,” Yoko answered, drawing two swords, one in each hand.
“Naze are you doing this?” Aina asked as she unstrapped her duster from her apron.
Without answering, Yoko darted forward and brought her right sword down on Aina. Her swing was large and exaggerated, giving Aina plenty of time to dodge, but it came slightly at an angle, encouraging Aina to dodge in the direction of the other sword. Aina didn’t fall for it, ducking under the oncoming sword and striking at Yoko’s exposed side with her duster. Hopping just out of Aina’s range, Yoko twisted her right sword around and slashed at Aina. This time, Aina jumped backwards, far beyond Yoko’s reach.
Although she had managed to avoid both of Yoko’s attacks, Aina had been surprised by their force. Yoko was definitely using more strength than she had been against Naomi, but she still wasn’t as strong as Aina. As she suspected, Aina was no match for Yoko’s speed or technique, but if she could get off a surprise attack, she might be able to overpower Yoko. She held out her duster and dropped it, as if she were surrendering, and then charged forward. Yoko swung a sword in response, but Aina caught her arm, and then grabbed Yoko’s other arm with her free hand. Keeping a tight hold, she pulled herself towards Yoko, kneeing her in the stomach. Yoko doubled over in pain but quickly stood back up before Aina could knee her in the face. Seeking to free herself, Yoko jumped up and attempted to dropkick Aina, who was forced to release her hold to avoid the attack. Yoko fell to the ground and rolled backwards, coming up in a defensive position.
“Your technique is terrible,” Yoko complained. “Are you really Naomi’s successor?”
“Nani do you think?” Aina shot back. For the time being, she was unable to find an opening in Yoko’s defense.
“Shit,” Yoko spat. “That kind of deception is just like Naomi. Who’s the real successor?”
“Saa,” Aina replied.
“I’ll loosen your tongue,” Yoko growled, standing back up. She began to run towards Aina, but stumbled, dropping a sword and clutching her stomach in pain. Taking advantage of this, Aina sprinted towards her, kicking her duster up off the ground as she ran and catching it in midair.
Before she could reach Yoko, the ground crumbled beneath her, and Aina was barely able to jump away as a sword emerged from it. A dirty and disheveled figure erupted from the ground, placing itself between Aina and Yoko. She was covered with dirt, shorter and more muscular than Aina remembered, but the look of hatred on her face was unmistakable.
Chikako leveled her sword at Aina, shaking dirt from it as she did so.
“What are you doing?” Yoko shouted at Chikako. “Get out of here.”
“Yoko-sama,” Chikako coughed, “gomen for interfering, but you have to admit that the tatakai was lost.”
“It was my fight to lose,” Yoko countered.
“Chigau,” Chikako said evenly. “You have a duty—we have a duty, as ningen—to slay this bakemono. If we work together, we can beat her. We can settle whatever’s left between us after that.”
“I fight my own battles,” Yoko huffed.
“You’re only saying that because you don’t know how monsterous she is,” Chikako exclaimed. “She—”
“You don’t know how monsterous I am,” Yoko said, lunging at Chikako. She moved quickly and smoothly, as if she had never been injured. Chikako didn’t have time to completely evade, and Yoko landed a cut on Chikako’s right side.
“Hold on,” Chikako said, panicked, “If you kill me—” Before she could finish, Aina tore open Chikako’s left jugular with one of the blades hidden in her duster. Chikako quickly dropped her left arm into a pocket to retrieve something, but as she pulled it out, Yoko stabbed her through the abdomen. “You’re so fucked,” Chikako managed to say before losing consciousness. Her arms went limp, her sword fell from her right hand, and a senzu bean tumbled from her left.
“I’m surprised she fell for that,” Yoko remarked as she pulled her sword from Chikako’s body. “Your technique really was terrible. I was afraid the opening I gave you was too obvious.” Having finished cleaning her sword, she sheathed it, keeping the other one ready.
“I only held back because I realized it was an obvious opening.” Aina said. “Were you really planning on taking a full-strength attack?”
“It would have been more convincing,” Yoko said, “but I know you’re sharp if nothing else. I figured you’d realize I was holding back and reciprocate. It was still a risk, but sometimes you have to take great risks for great rewards.”
“Nani do you get out of killing Chikako-sama?” Aina asked.
“Freedom,” Yoko answered, a smile spreading across her face. “No more fighting and no more running. It may not mean as much as it did fifty-some years ago, but I can live in this city as a free citizen once again. By the way, the prime minister asked me to pass a message along. He paid me to take care of your Chikako problem. You owe him a favor now.”
Before Aina could object, the ground beneath them began to shake violently. Yoko and Aina retreated as the field they were standing on bulged and broke, and an enormous creature emerged from it, as if hatching from the land itself. As it stood upright, Aina recognized it as a god warrior from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Its left arm hung uselessly, clearly incomplete. The spike which jutted from its right shoulder was missing from the left. The left spike was currently sitting in a storehouse on the Wright property, having been recently used as a battering ram.
Aina could only stare at it in shock, shock that someone had been stupid enough to create such a thing, and shock that she hadn’t noticed it when she had perceived the existence of everything on Earth. But as she watched it, she realized why. The god warrior was the embodiment of the dread the human race felt knowing their planet was on the verge of death.
As shocked as she was, what happened after that surprised Aina even more. With its good arm, the god warrior scooped up Chikako’s mangled body, examined it, and placed it reverently back on the grass.
“Which of you killed my okaa-san?” It demanded in a loud, booming voice. “Which of you is Aina Dufort?”
Aina didn’t need to look at Yoko to know that the older meido was pointing at her, but couldn’t bring herself to blame Yoko. She didn’t know how Chikako had come across a god warrior, but she couldn’t deny that it was the perfect deterrent. If Aina had known that killing Chikako would unleash it onto the world, not only would she have had to avoid killing Chikako, she would have had to do everything in her power to ensure Chikako didn’t die. Inwardly, she cursed Chikako for being too slow to warn her about it, and herself for being too quick to kill Chikako. When was she going to learn that lesson?
“Please, not in the machi,” Aina begged as the god warrior strode towards her. “Let’s take this where—”
The god warrior brought his hand down on Aina as if he was slapping a mosquito. Aina raised her own arms and pushed back against it with all her energy. It felt like she was trying to hold back Sahaquiel all alone.
“I have the wisdom to judge jinrui,” the god warrior declared, “and I sentence you to death.”
“You are both senshi and arbitrator,” Aina acknowledged, “but if we fight koko, there will be no one left for you to rule over.”
“There will still be those outside the city,” the god warrior pointed out.
“They won’t obey you,” Aina grunted. “They will rebel against you.”
“Ridiculous fools,” the god warrior shouted. “I will kill them all!”
“Then there really will be no one left,” Aina yelled back. “Demo, I can help you subject those who would stand against you,” she hastened to add. The god warrior seemed to be working itself into a rage at the thought of insubordination, and she didn’t want it to start launching powerful attacks in frustration.
“Naze would you help me?” it asked, lifting its hand from her.
“Because, whatever happens to me, I don’t want the hito of this sekai to perish.”
“Okaa-san did say that you cared about hito in abstract, but when it came to real interpersonal relationships, you were aloof. You care for the idea of hito, but not the hito themselves.”
“Perhaps that’s true,” Aina said. “I like the idea of hito existing, even if I dislike the hito themselves. If you will allow me, I will open the GINZUISHOU to allow you to leave. There are ni warring empires—”
“I can feel them,” the god warrior interrupted. “Chikyuu cries out in pain. It begs me to destroy them.”
“Their sensou is destroying Chikyuu,” Aina elaborated, “but there are many who live within these empires who would be happy to accept your rule. They are oppressed by those who would oppose you. Normally, killing only the evil hito would be difficult, but if I tell all the nations that you are coming to conquer them, I believe they will join forces to fight you. That will allow you to kill them all at once. You need only to engage them far away from anyone else.”
“Yokarou,” the god warrior assented. “This does not absolve you, however. After this is done, you will pay for your crimes.”
“Wakatta,”, Aina said, bowing. “I will open the GINZUISHOU now.” She could hear emergency sirens in the distance, and she didn’t want the military engaging it in the city. She didn’t know how complete it was, but if it could launch irradiating attacks, it could at least guarantee the eventual deaths of everyone.
Removing a glove, Aina placed her bare hand on the GINZUISHOU and attempted to communicate. Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! It’s dangerous. I thought you were supposed to prevent this kind of thing.
Not dangerous, came a faint response.
Of course it’s dangerous. The god warriors destroyed the sekai. Nani’s more dangerous than that?
Some survived the nana days of fire, the GINZUISHOU pointed out, and it allowed Chikyuu to begin healing.
That’s just fiction, Aina told it. The real Chikyuu won’t fare so well. Nuclear winter will render the planet uninhabitable.
The GINZUISHOU did not respond for several seconds. When it did, it only repeated its earlier statement. Some survived the nana days of fire, and it allowed Chikyuu to begin healing.
For the first time, Aina truly feared the GINZUISHOU. The computer that was supposed to protect them had a serious design flaw, and no one alive knew how to fix it.
Turning back to the god warrior, she said, “The GINZUISHOU wants to know if you can win without damaging Chikyuu.”
“Some damage will be inevitable,” the god warrior replied. “Even if I hold back, they will not. My actions will, however, be a net positive. Left to their own devices, ningen will eventually destroy Chikyuu. I will crush their ability to do so, even if I have to bring the planet to the brink.”
Let him out, Aina told the GINZUISHOU. A crack formed beneath her hand, growing upward until it reached the GINZUISHOU’s summit. The GINZUISHOU then split open, allowing the god warrior enough space to leave.
“I will head towards the Soviet Expedition,” it announced. “Have them meet me in the wastelands beyond the Futarchy in san weeks.” Then, without a word of farewell, it departed, the GINZUISHOU closing behind it. As soon as it was gone, Aina rushed over to Chikako’s body and began frantically searching for a control stone.
“Was that really a good idea?” Yoko asked, joining her.
“I did what I could to prevent it from irradiating the entire machi,” Aina said. “I had no other choice. What’s important now is limiting the damage.” Finding no control stone on Chikako, she stood up. She would have to search the presumably underground lab where the god warrior had been constructed, but even then, there was a possibility the god warrior possessed its own control stone.
“The other nations may not see it that way,” Yoko observed. “They will blame the Federation for unleashing this horror on the world.”
“As well they should,” Aina agreed. “There will be a price to pay, but that will come after destroying the god warrior. If we are instrumental in defeating it, we may get away with sanctions and inspections, but we could avoid all-out sensou with the other nations. A sensou with us would not be without significant costs to them, and the tatakai with the god warrior will weaken the planet, making sensou even more costly and dangerous.
“I suppose we should hope that it wins then,” Yoko mused. “You’d be the only one to suffer repercussions.”
“There’s no chance of that,” Aina asserted. “It’s underestimating jinrui and doesn’t yet recognize the paradox it’s trapped in. ‘Murica and the Expedition will destroy the sekai if given enough time, but you can’t kill them without rendering Chikyuu uninhabitable. The only chance for survival, no matter how slim, is for the nations to make peace. If it realizes that before it gets destroyed, I believe it will lose the will to fight. After all, it so easily accepted the notion that I care for hito only on an abstract level because, I suspect, it feels the same way. It doesn’t want to see jinrui destroyed.”
“That’s a lot of speculation on your part,” Yoko countered.
“True, but it’s informed speculation, and I’m not going to sit back and let it play out. Like I said, what’s important now is limiting the damage.”
Yoko didn’t say anything. Her age and experience told her that Aina was young and overconfident, and she suspected that things would be much worse than Aina was predicting.