Chapter 13: Not so Different
Not far from the commercial district was the residential area, at the easternmost end of which was a large apartment building for those who didn't have the money to have houses of their own. All kinds of people lived here. Coincidentially, exactly across the district lay the Mikage residence.
The ones who lived here, to say the least, were a colourful lot. Most of its residents were either students from either outside the city or from outside the country, teens who'd been kicked out of the house by irate parents, or young couples who'd eloped and ran off together against the wishes or their families.
However, the man who lived in unit 72, building B, did not fall under any of these categories.
Lorenzo Auditore, 32 years old. An Italian businessman, he'd moved here to Tokyo 3-4 years ago to take the reins of the Far Eastern branch of Apex Corp, the corporation his family had owned for generations. Somewhere down the line he'd met a girl 6 years his senior at a business function. It didn't take long for the two to fall in love.
After a tumultuous relationship of 2 years, they'd gotten married and had a daughter, though he had to insist that she not carry his surname, nor could they live together under one roof. When asked why, he'd warned his wife that he had enemies who would no doubt use her or their little girl against him.
And while his wife didn't like it, she acquiesced, having come to fully trust in him and his judgment.
Of course, reflected Lorenzo while munching on a sandwich in front of his laptop, that he forbade her for the time being to carry his surname didn't mean that he didn't care for her, or for their daughter – or for that matter, for her younger brother, who she had raised ever since their parents passed away. To begin with, he himself wasn't a fan of their current arrangements, but he knew perfectly well his enemies would have no qualms going after his family if they knew.
To that end, Lorenzo left them with two things: a bank account loaded with more than enough money for them to live comfortably, and a persocom of their own. The persocom had been both his personal assistant and bodyguard, with enough training to rival even the most highly trained of elites. If anyone so much as laid a finger on his family, she would destroy them long before he would ever get the chance to.
It was a no-brainer, thought Lorenzo; he could protect himself in any case, and quite well at that. And besides, he had another personal assistant – in fact, the twin of the one he'd given to his wife – to watch his back, just in case. The skills, both learned and programmed, possessed by his twin persocoms, made the both of them the best at whatever they did.
His persocom also served a secondary function: keeping him connected to the outside world. He knew perfectly well he didn't shut himself in his pad, but even then, it was his persocom who served as his eyes and ears, updating him on current events and communicating regularly with her twin to check on his family.
And as she came to him in that slow, sensual gait of hers, he knew that something had come up.
"Oh hi, Demi," he greeted her, "Is something wrong?"
Demi was short for Demeter, the name with which he'd christened this persocom when she was first created. She and her twin had been named for the same Olympian goddess – respectively, her Greek and Roman names – which also meant that they had effectively been given the same name. She nodded, keeping her blue eyes locked onto his and fixing her blue hair, so like that of her sister, so it didn't get in her eyes.
"Oh no, sir, it's nothing. I've gotten correspondence from my sister."
Watching Demeter, whose eyes glazed over for a moment, Lorenzo knew that she was reviewing the contents of her sister's message. He highly doubted something bad happened; for one thing, given that both Demeter and her twin now possessed real emotion, one would expect her to have a more emotional reaction were anything to have happened to her sister. Still, he waited, wondering what updates he'd get tonight.
"Are you prepared to hear it, sir?"
He nodded, and then listened.
And when Demeter had finished, he thought deeply on what he had just heard, on the recent goings-on in his wife's household. It didn't take him long to decide what to do with the information he'd just received.
"Demi," said Lorenzo as he went through the wardrobe in his room, pulling out four small and identical wooden boxes, "When do you think you can see your sister again?"
She perked up at that. "I can go over there whenever I wish," she informed him.
Which was true. His wife was very accommodating to Demeter, and their daughter adored her just as much as she did her twin, who happened to be her nanny. She'd yet to encounter his brother-in-law, not to mention the newcomer, but that was only because he had school and, from what her twin had told her, she rarely if ever left his side. "What would you ask of me?" she awaited her master's order.
"I need you to give these to them," said Lorenzo as he opened one of the boxes, revealing what appeared to be a bracer not unlike the one both Demeter and he himself always wore when going out. "I know your sister never goes out unarmed, but it wouldn't hurt for her to have these, too."
"And for that matter," he added, voicing out a gut feeling he had, "My brother-in-law may need them, too, before long."
Demeter nodded as her master put all four boxes in a backpack, which he then nudged towards her. She took it and, slinging it over her shoulder, stepped outside, into the cool night air.
He just hoped that, this time, his gut would turn out to be wrong.
She didn't envy Rei with respect to Freya.
Not one bit.
This was all Ceres knew as she sat in their living room, doing what she could to comfort a girl – Nanako, she said her name was – still recovering from the ordeal.
Sure she was a persocom, but her nature as an artificial being did little to keep her from feeling for the girl she had saved. And that was what weighed Ceres down right now; just as Oyuki's laughter brought a smile to her face, and just as seeing Rei and Freya gave her the warm fuzzies, so too did she feel the pain readily apparent from the way Nanako shook as she continued to cry into Ceres' apron.
"There's no need for you to cry anymore," Ceres whispered to Nanako soothingly, reassuringly, words not unlike those she usually reserved for when she put Oyuki to sleep.
The next words, however, more closely resembled something Rei would have said to Freya, as did the tone of voice in which she said it.
"I'll protect you."
"That's a promise."
The door swung gently open as Rei and Freya came in.
"We're home, Ceres," Rei called out, his plea for everything to have been alright obvious beneath his faux-cheerful voice. There was nothing else it could have been, as his eyes had already fallen on Ceres and Nanako just as they had opened the door.
Ceres herself wanted to indulge him, say that everything was alright, but whatever words she might have said in this regard would have been contradicted by the look on her face. She couldn't even open her mouth to speak, let alone tell the boldfaced lie that things were fine.
Rei's smile faded as he gazed at Ceres holding the sobbing wreck in her arms, and remembered her message to Freya about something he needed to see. It didn't take him long to put two and two together, but still he hoped against hope he was wrong when he asked.
"Is something… wrong?"
At this, Freya tapped him on the shoulder, giving him a look as if to chastise him for being insensitive at a time like this. And by the time Ceres had explained the situation to them, telling them that she'd rescued her from an attempted rape, Rei himself looked apologetic and remorseful for earlier. Realizing that Nanako's situation wasn't that far removed from Freya didn't help at all.
"We're not so different, then."
It was Freya who said this. Ceres looked at her, realizing she was right. Like Nanako, Freya had obviously gone through some trauma for her to have been in that state when they first met her. Even Nanako herself, whose face was still buried in Ceres' chest, looked up. Her eyes appeared red and raw from all the crying, but the mask of pain had mostly gone from her face, to be replaced with a blank, confused look.
"You're like me?"
Freya gave no verbal reply, instead going over to the girl to give her a comforting, sisterly embrace. She focused on communicating to the girl all the things she wanted to say, yet couldn't put into words. And judging from the way she had calmed down and stopped crying, it seemed to work.
Finally, when Freya let her go, Nanako looked back at Ceres, cracked a tearful smile, then pounced her into another embrace. This time, though, it was one of gratitude and of hope.
Nanako looked up from Ceres' chest for a moment, her wide, innocent eyes locked onto the persocom's deceptively cold blue orbs.
"…Will you walk me home?"
Ceres looked taken aback by the sudden request, but decided to accept.
If Freya could pull herself together again, there's no reason this girl shouldn't.
It was 9 in the evening when Nanako finally decided to go home. Ceres walked out the door first, with the girl she had saved rushing to catch up to her. And as the pair walked out the house, Freya's eyes narrowed faintly as Nanako held Ceres' hand.
"Well, Rei…" Freya looked back at him, and then at Oyuki, who had fallen asleep in her stroller, "You should probably rest up, you've got class tomorrow."
Project Nephilim was now under way.
In a certain office located somewhere in the Far Eastern branch of Abstergo Industries, a young man studied the two different sets of blueprints laid on his desk. One set of blueprints belonged to the late Dr. Regenschirm, who had been killed, along with his assistants, by his own creation. It was most unfortunate, he thought, but not overly unsurprising, given how the good doctor had been gone and messed around where he should have known better.
The young man pulled his labcoat closer to himself as he recalled something that had happened to him over a year ago, during which he'd tried to grope a certain prototype persocom – and ended up nearly crushed to death to show for it. It was there that he learned, the hard way, that persocoms were more than just mindless dolls to be used and abused at a whim.
The other set of blueprints, meanwhile, had supposedly been stolen from the personal files of the creator of all persocoms, Dr. Ichiro Mihara himself. The youth had no idea how they'd done it, but then of course, Abstergo did have a reputation of consistently getting the things it wanted.
Since Regenschirm's entire team had been wiped out, it was this man who had been appointed to personally direct and supervise Project Nephilim. The objective, as explained by the late doctor's close friend Dr. Warren Vidic, was to create a persocom whose combat capabilities could match and even surpass the product of the ill-fated Project Seraph.
To help him work towards that objective, Vidic had provided him with those sets of blueprints. Dr Mihara's files were for the creation of the persocom itself, while those from Regenschirm detailed the modifications and enhancements the persocom would be given. Curious as to what Project Seraph's result had been capable of, the youth checked Regenschirm's files first.
No way. This...
It's Motosuwa's persocom!
The outfit she was dressed in – long, immaculate robes with identical bracers on both arms – was something he'd never seen her dressed before, but he'd recognize her anywhere. The innocent face, the floor-length hair, those white-and-pink housings she had for ears… there was no doubt about it. If this wasn't Chii, it was her sister. And if Chii didn't have a sister, this persocom had somehow been created based on her blueprints.
…No wonder she killed them.
Once he'd gotten over his shock at that, it became obvious as to exactly how Regenschirm had gone wrong. Motosuwa's 'com was unique in that it had started out having free will, unlike most other persocoms that only obtained free will after a certain incident. And if they'd kidnapped her – not too difficult, he remembered, considering how spacey she often was – and turned her into a murderous doll, she probably wouldn't have taken it too well.
She would have done exactly what Regenschirm's so-called Platinum Angel would have done.
Kill the ones responsible, then escape. Run home to Motosuwa, if that was indeed his persocom.
Wait a minute. They want me to do…?
What in the…
Horror set in as he realized what Abstergo wanted done. He was to repeat Regenschirm's science project – possibly leaving out the free will this time around. From there, the persocom would undoubtedly eliminate Regenschirm's little angel, as well as anyone else who had come into contact with her, before she would be sent to kill who knew how many more.
The idea appalled him, to say the least. He was a bit of a jackass, true enough; his peers at that persocom BBS had noticed that. Jackass though he may have been, though, he wasn't a murderous jackass, and if he went through with this the way Abstergo wanted him to, he'd end up with blood on his hands.
Besides, oddly enough, he'd grown fond of 'M'. And of Motosuwa and his 'com, to a lesser extent.
Thing is, I can't just hand in my resignation, can I?
The young man heaved a sigh as he made his decision.
There was no guarantee that no one would die, but hopefully, the body count might not be as high.
He just hoped his little gambit wouldn't end up biting him in the ass.