Chapter 10: You're Getting There
The next day came.
Rei did wake up with a start when the alarm went off, but he left it alone for at least half an hour more, long after he was sure his sister had left the house. And even then, rather than dutifully sitting up in bed and killing it, he elected to skip straight to the second step before lying back down and placing a pillow over his eyes.
He was exhausted, not only physically, but emotionally and mentally as well. As such, he thought, it shouldn't have been too surprising that going to school was the last thing on his mind today.
And to hell with what his sister, Ceres, Shana or anyone else thought of it.
They wouldn't be able to blame him if only they knew. After all, he'd only just found out that his sister's ridiculous speculations with respect to his persocom's origin not only turned out to not be so ridiculous after all, but were in fact more or less accurate – barring Freya having come from some generic nebulous evil organization, rather than the military or something like it.
But then, thought Rei, that was just it: if only they knew.
And he did know that keeping her secret would exact a price of its own – one he was willing to pay, no doubt, but one that would take its inevitable toll nonetheless. He'd told Freya as much last night, and Minoru had been kind enough to spell out key points for him before they left. But even then, his foreknowledge of and willingness to deal with the consequences did little to make it any easier on him.
Freya's dark secret lay on his shoulders like a lead weight. And yet, serious as it was, it was something about her that he found darkly amusing.
Or, he would have, if it didn't also happen to be the biggest dramatic irony he'd ever known to happen to someone. Because for all that Minoru had called her the most powerful and dangerous persocom in the world, she still needed his protection, just not from her former owners.
Hell, thought Rei darkly, knowing her, they'd probably be dead by the time I'd come up with an idea as to what to do with them.
He remembered what he had seen Freya do to the ones responsible for their current state, and thought that, in their last moments, they probably longed to kick themselves for having, in effect, dug their own graves. Either way, to him it meant that no enemy they knew of could possibly harm her.
Rather, what Freya needed him to protect her from, was something that lay inside her. Powerful as she was, all the power she had at her disposal could do little to help her fight something that was eating her alive from the inside. For all the ease with which she took the lives of those men in that deadly dance of hers, her hidden blades could do naught to vanquish her inner demons.
And regardless of how many lifetimes' worth of fighting experience she had programmed into her, it all did her no good trying to fight the ghosts that had haunted her since her previous life.
The irony of the situation was not lost on Rei.
Indeed, amusing as it was in its tragedy, it nevertheless served to underscore the truth that, artificial being though she may be, Freya was all too… human. And ironically enough, it was her surprising level of humanity that could hurt her where bullets and blades could not.
"Konna ni tsumetai tobari no fukaku deanata wa hitori de nemutteruinori no utagoe sabishii nohara wochiisa na hikari ga terashiteta…"
The sound of a girl singing drifted into the room through the open door – which, incidentally, Rei only just noticed as he turned to face that side. It wasn't bad, either; on the contrary, it almost sounded too good for him to not be imagining it. Like the singer was either highly trained, or something had been done to make her able to sing like an angel.
He sat up, slowly, as he listened to whoever it was who was singing:
"Anata no yume wo mitetakodomo no you ni warattetanatsukashiku mada tookusore wa mirai no yakusoku…"
And it was just then, too, when he noticed Freya was nowhere to be found.
Rei's sloth left him as he practically leapt out of the bed and followed the sound of that voice. It seemed to be coming from further down the hall, from Oyuki's room, and was rather … familiar, now that he actually paid attention to it. As he made the approach to where his niece was supposed to be, the voice grew gradually louder.
"Itsuka midori no asa niitsuka tadoritsukeru tofuyugareta kono sora woshinjiteiru karaFields of hope…"
He opened the door.
…Should I even be surprised?
Freya was there, seated in a chair, rocking Oyuki back and forth as she sang the last lines of her song. She looked up at the sound of the door opening and, laying the now-snoozing baby down in her crib, smiled sweetly at who it turned out to be.
"Sorry if I worried you, Rei," her smile shifting into an apologetic one, "She wouldn't stop crying after your sister went to see her on her way out."
"Oh, and Ceres went out to buy more baby supplies, so I'm stuck here for a while."
Which means I now have a ready-made excuse to stay here in the meantime. Awesome.
"Nice song, Freya," Rei complimented her, though her focus was directed not at his words, but rather the faint flush creeping up his cheeks. "Composed it yourself?"
Slowly, hesitantly, Freya shook her head. In truth, that song was… another one of her memories. Perhaps it was due to her pouring her heart out in front of their new friends – her mother and sister being among them – but soon after Rei had gone to bed, she started having random flashes of her previous life.
And in the memory from which she got that song, she could clearly see that it was her mother who was singing; even her voice as she'd heard it again, last night, was perfectly identical to what she'd remembered. Freya related this to Rei, who gave a faint, but clear smile of encouragement in response.
"I see. I figured getting all that off your chest would be helpful," he embraced her briefly as he said this, before flashing her a wide grin along with a thumbs-up.
Then the grin faded and his face took on a more serious look, akin to that of Minoru as he gave her his 'diagnosis'.
"Seriously, though. From what we've been taught in school, our mind blocks out bad memories and traumatic experiences until we're ready to deal with them again. And if you're starting to remember more… It's a sign that you're getting there, isn't it?"
This time, it was Freya who pounced Rei into a hug, nearly knocking him over in a manner not unlike last night. Oyuki, who had been watching them from her crib, started laughing and reached out in their direction with both arms as if wanting to be picked up.
At the sight, he let go of Freya, and instead turned his attention to the child in front of him.
"C'mon, you," Rei addressed his niece in what he called his 'cool uncle' voice, "We can't have you spending all your time with women, now can we?" This he said with a wicked smirk on his face as he glanced sideways toward Freya. "Don't you know it's bad for you?"
Oyuki's laughter could be heard even as her uncle and his persocom engaged in a bit of playful bickering. Even that didn't last long, though, as the sudden growling in his stomach made Rei fall silent.
"Oh, yeah… Freya, is there anything to eat? After all that happened last night, I'm starving."
"Oh, would you look at this, Dita dear?" Zima's voice projected amusement and contentment as the two of them again eavesdropped on the scene from the window of the baby's room. "Nothing quite like some lighthearted family bonding after an exhausting debriefing session the night before, now is there?"
"Be serious already, won't you, Zima?" Dita asked him sweetly, though the clenched fist she shook in front of him told him he was one witty remark away from being smacked upside the head. "We're persocoms, for chrissakes! There was nothing to debrief in the first place!"
It was a special privilege he reserved for her; she was assigned to Zima as his guardian and protector, but to her mind, that designation didn't forbid her to keep him in line, or to knock some sense into him when he was being an idiot. He shook his head at the irony of it. Dita was cute like that, insisting persocoms didn't have feelings when she alone was already enough evidence to the contrary.
Zima and Dita were officially government persocoms, and would thus be given the occasional mission or assignment to undertake. Beyond that, though, they were given complete autonomy and freedom of action. As the National Databank and the unofficial 'King of all Persocoms', Zima was allowed to do whatever he liked, as long as it wasn't morally or legally wrong.
And no matter what happened, Dita would always be with him, protecting him from harm and keeping him from getting into too much trouble.
Despite this, though, there'd been times he'd done illegal things that were otherwise the right thing to do. In fact, just yesterday he hacked into a BBS to delete this boy's forum post. Even more importantly, he once stopped Dita from hacking into Freya's twin sister before. She wasn't a bad person – far from it, he mused – but again, her ingrained need to protect him could at times get the better of her.
"Well, whatever, love," Zima answered. At the moment, the look on his face uncannily resembled both a sincere smile, and a cheeky grin that could have given the Cheshire Cat a run for its money. "I for one think she deserves it, considering the crap she's had to deal with."
He pointedly ignored Dita, who blushed violently as the vehement objection she had ready got stuck in her throat. Just as she considered it her right – indeed, her moral duty – to keep him in line, he revelled in the fact that he was the only one who could get away with calling her something like that without receiving anything more than ineffectual and unconvincing threats to show for it. It was something he milked for all it was worth, much to his amusement and her consternation.
"Oh, yeah, Zima?" Dita spoke suddenly, her tone of voice changing in a way that told him they were done bickering. "You asked me to dig up info on Abstergo, right? It seems they've been searching for her, but so far they've been luckless."
"And from what I was able to gather while tracking their online activity," she added, "They almost got a lead poking around on that persocom BBS, but then the post in question got deleted."
Their eyes met; both of them cracked into devious smirks as they thought back on how Zima had, figuratively speaking, thrown a wrench in their attempts at repossessing their rogue persocom. "Tough shit, huh?"
Zima let out a soft, yet undeniably lively bark of laughter, only to nearly fall off the roof of the neighbors' house as Dita joined him too – a move he noted as being quite uncharacteristic of her. It gratified him to see that, little by little, she too seemed to be abandoning her denial of persocoms not having emotions.
She then cleared her throat, causing Zima to fall silent as light momentarily streaked across her eyes.
"Another update, Zima."
"Abstergo's begun a new project… something called 'Project Nephilim'…"
That caught his attention, once he'd gotten over Abstergo's apparent love of naming its projects after creatures of myth and legend. From what information he could access online, the Nephilim were said to be fallen angels – monstrously beautiful, yet monstrous all the same. This was in stark contrast to the Seraphim – from which 'Project Seraph' apparently got its name – said to be the highest choir of angels.
A new feeling of dread sank in on both Zima and Dita as they realized the significance of that connection.
Though Zima and Dita didn't know it, that sentiment was echoed by Daniel Cross as he learned, through Dr. Warren Vidic, of Abstergo's latest project.
As it was, they already lost more than a few good men to the monster Regenschirm had created. Granted, at least half of them arguably deserved it, if only for the idea of having created such a thing in the first place. He thought back to the immediate aftermath of the massacre, when Vidic had called him to Regenschirm's lab to give him this current assignment. The problem with 'Project Seraph', as he saw it, wasn't that they failed.
On the contrary, they succeeded – too well.
They'd managed to create the deadliest persocom in the world, yet had had the simply awful luck of creating it out of one that happened to have free will and emotions of its own. She might have been his prey, but despite his reputation as a ruthless operative, Daniel wasn't entirely unsympathetic to her. Indeed, having once been subject to experimentation by amoral scientists himself, he didn't blame her one bit for flipping out the way she did. If anything, put in the same position, he might very well have prolonged their agony just to make sure they realized exactly what they had done.
He shook his head at that train of thought. You're supposed to destroy her, dumbass, not feel sorry for her.
It was for the second half of the list of casualties – those who had just been doing their jobs, as opposed to those unbelievably idiotic men who thought messing around with a sentient machine would go over well – that Daniel hardened his resolve to put his prey down. They were not just underlings, mere foot soldiers in the hierarchy of the Operations Division, but were in fact his direct subordinates.
His men, killed in what was basically a temper tantrum gone completely out of control.
And now Abstergo wanted to risk a repeat of that?
"Alright, boys and girls," he called, looking around the whole of the Operations Division's unofficial headquarters, "I've an announcement to make." All eyes were on him as he walked down the steps to the platform below, in front of the rows of operators working on computer terminals. Their workstations, however, lay momentarily forgotten as their leader was about to say something undoubtedly important.
"No doubt you've all heard of this so-called Project Nephilim. And I don't know about you, but if you ask me, I for the life of me cannot understand just what the hell Vidic and friends are playing at. I mean – I know, I know," he raised his hands defensively in awareness of his reputation among them. "I probably shouldn't even be talking, but… we all know that some of those casualties were our own, right?"
His subordinates had worked themselves up in an uproar at that. He let that reminder, of the comrades they lost, set in, before he went on.
"Now the good news is this: if we successfully clean up after Regenschirm's mess, there's a good chance we can get them to just get their collective heads out of their asses and abandon their stupid science project. My word is that whatever's gonna be the result of that project, it'll be able to take on and even defeat the little angel all by itself, and we all saw what she could do."
"But if we get the job done already," his eyes gleamed as he met the eyes of each and every one of his subordinates, "We can expose their latest harebrained scheme for the irrelevant waste of time and money it actually is. Hell, we shouldn't even be playing with those dolls in the first place!"
Daniel only dimly registered the applause that greeted his words as he stalked his way back to his desk at the top row. If he was to deliver on his promise, he'd have to get started on tracking his prey right away.
But first, he felt the need to send an email to Vidic. The subject title was 'Project Nephilim', the three-word message contained therein indicative of exactly what he thought of it:
What the hell?
Daniel Cross knew perfectly well how rude it was, but he saw no other way of adequately conveying his opinion on this latest… development.
A/N: The song is 'Fields of Hope', by Rie Tanaka, aka Chii/Freya's seiyuu. ^^
Do leave CnC if you can, guys. It's really a gratifying thing when we authors get to hear feedback on our work. Regardless, thanks a ton to all of you who've read this from the very beginning. :)