Chapter 26: Siren
Zima raised his headpiece as he laid down on the penthouse at the top of one of the many skyscrapers in the commercial district, having finished looking over the most recent batch of information he'd acquired. Dita, who was resting on top of him, gave a start at the sudden movement. Whenever he woke up like this, it was usually because he'd come across something interesting.
"…Zima? What's wrong?"
Zima barely heard her as he went over it all one more time, in his head. It seemed that Abstergo Japan had just finished their new line of combat persocoms. If the data was anything to go by, they'd learned from their mistakes, too. While each of those new persocoms was programmed with lifetimes' worth of combat training, not to mention physical durability and security software well beyond any commercial model, they lacked the more esoteric upgrades Freya possessed as the product of Project Seraph.
It wasn't too surprising, not really; on the contrary, thought Zima, it was a good call on their part. After all, given how Freya had all but massacred her way out of Abstergo, it stood to reason that they probably wouldn't want a repeat of that incident. And on the more practical side, they probably wanted to save some money, too. Unlike Freya, who came to them pretty much whole, this new batch was built entirely from scratch.
Even then, though, Zima wondered if he was looking at the fruits of the so-called Project Nephilim. From the information available, the object of Project Nephilim was to repeat the project that had spawned Freya, only this time, exercising some form of control that would prevent another incident like the one Freya had caused. They'd probably supress the persocom's free will or, barring that, find another way to keep her on a leash.
"Take a look at this, love. Something seems to have happened at Abstergo recently."
The data transfer took mere moments, as did Dita's perusal of it. Her thoughts echoed his, as well. No doubt those persocoms would be deadly against human opponents, but against something like her…
Wait, what's this?
Among the many data files and folders, however, was one marked 'PNE-000'.
PNE… Project Nephilim?
Dita accessed that one, and as she did so, the data she found seemed to indicate that her suspicions were on the right track. The contents of that folder held information on another persocom, one similar but distinct to the line Zima had been looking at earlier. Appearance-wise, they were almost exactly alike, except for a small brand in the middle of its chest that resembled a single black wing.
For the most part, the differences lay in their respective specifications; the progeny of Project Nephilim possessed upgrades that allowed it to directly counter those possessed by Freya. Rather than trying to render her capable of destroying the blond persocom in a straight-up fight, Abstergo had instead given her the ability to get under Freya's skin and gain the advantage through, among other things, psychological warfare.
Freya's dangerous enough.
Now with that thing out in the field, as well –
"Lemme guess, dear," Zima mused as he studied the look on her face. "That thing scares you, doesn't it?"
Dita didn't answer that; she didn't need to. Zima could very well tell from the look on her face how she felt.
But what scared Dita most about the offspring of Project Nephilim, wasn't what she knew about it, but rather what she didn't know. Indeed, comparing her data on Project Nephilim with the information she'd hacked pertaining to Project Seraph, Abstergo's latest model actually lacked some of the upgrades they'd seen fit to install in Freya.
Specifically, Freya's accelerator was something it didn't have, as were her regenerative capabilities. In their place were two particular enhancements, respectively known as 'CHRONOS' and 'ORPHEUS'. Both were in keeping with Abstergo's penchant for mythological theme naming; the former was quite obviously the master of time, while the latter…
Dita had absolutely no idea what it was, and that, more than anything, was what made her nervous.
"I can't believe you, Ceres!" Demeter exclaimed as she sat together with Nanako and her sister in the Mikage house's living room. "You've seriously developed feelings for another girl?"
The way the both of them flushed was all the answer Demeter needed. In truth, she already knew perfectly well that something was blossoming between this girl and her sister, and that Ceres, at least, would probably try to deny it, however feebly such a denial was bound to be. All Demeter was doing right now, was exercising her right as the older twin – which she did think of herself as – to playfully tease and embarrass her younger sibling.
"Maybe, but don't you think it's a bit… irrelevant, right now, Demi?" Ceres spluttered in reply, still somewhat red from her sister's earlier jab. "You do remember that Rei got himself kidnapped, don't you? And by a certain traitor, no less?"
Nanako looked up at those words. Though they were both part of the Academy's Psychology Department, she didn't know Rei that well. But even then, she knew enough of him to know that he was a good guy, even if he had habits that, to say the least, left something to be desired. One way or another, he had a penchant for slacking off all semester, only to pull out at least half-decent grades by the very end.
Putting aside his more… undesirable habits, Rei Mikage really wasn't that bad.
So why would he be kidnapped?
"…I haven't forgotten, Ceres, no need to remind me," Demeter replied; sure enough, the reminder of her real task here was enough to wipe the grin off her face. "Why, though? Last time I checked, he didn't know anything!"
"It's because of me."
The voice that spoke those words was completely new to Demeter, whose eyes darted upwards at the door as another persocom, one with long, blond hair, entered the room. She turned the lights on as she looked at the three of them, from Ceres to her sister to Nanako, before taking her seat at a chair perpendicular to the couch occupied by the three of them.
"I assume Ceres told you about me? I'd be surprised if she didn't… Demeter."
In truth, Ceres had contemplated relating Freya's backstory to her sister, but decided not to. While she, Ceres, trusted the blond persocom, she couldn't say the same thing about her sister. The last thing they needed right now was for Demeter to pick a fight with Freya, not when they had no way of knowing what that man had in store for Rei.
Ceres smiled slightly at the look of puzzlement and confusion on her sister's face. "Oh sorry, Demi, I haven't introduced you yet. This here's Freya," she said with a smile on her face as she gestured towards her. "She's Rei's persocom, and you could say she's his girlfriend as well, but…"
"Actually, no, I didn't. Freya, why don't you fill her in with the details?"
Then she turned to her sister. "She's on our side, Demi. You can trust her. The mistress does, and I'm pretty sure our master would, too, if he knew her."
At Ceres' suggestion, Freya hesitated. Trusting Ceres with her secrets and burdens came easily; after all, the blue-haired persocom who Rei regarded as a surrogate older sister had all but acknowledged her place in the Mikage household. The problem was that, twins or not, Demeter may not feel the same way as her sister.
All that mattered right now, was getting Rei back.
And when they finally did, thought Freya as she began to narrate her tale, she'd have three things ready for him.
What awaited Rei was a kiss from Freya, then an embrace… and at least a dozen slaps, not necessarily in that order.
"Tell me, Rei. Why a persocom, and not a human girl?"
At Daniel's question, Rei couldn't help but gag on his soda. That was something he didn't expect.
In hindsight, though, he wasn't surprised that the older man would ask him about Freya. Having a persocom for a girlfriend wasn't exactly common in today's society, and was even looked down on by some of its more obstinate members. Rei might not be openly mocked in the streets, but that wouldn't stop some people from deriding him to and among themselves.
And yet, somehow, he'd ended up with a girlfriend who wasn't just any persocom, but the deadliest one on the planet.
Not that he cared.
"…Honestly, Daniel? I don't care whether she's a persocom or a human," Rei admitted truthfully, reiterating what he had told Ueda what seemed to be 10 years ago. "Hell, she could be some alien chick from another dimension and I still wouldn't care. It's about who she is,not what she is."
"And before you ask, yes, I know perfectly well about her background," he added, smiling slightly at the man he'd come to regard as his mentor. "Though I still have trouble imagining her capable of throwing temper tantrums like… that."
Daniel couldn't help but smile in spite of himself. So whatever was between the two of them was real. He could feel a grudging sense of respect for his adversary; while he'd always thought of her as some unfeeling, soulless, murderous doll, what existed between her and this youth was evidence to the contrary. It was almost enough to make him doubt whether he was justified in his self-appointed task.
Almost, but not quite.
"Even I admit that the idea of what she'd done disturbed me at first. Hell, it horrified me. When I first met Freya, she was always quiet and shy, and I could never imagine her doing… that."
For his part, Rei glanced at the wall clock right beside the fridge; it was now 2 in the morning, and they'd finished eating an hour ago. For some reason, he was beginning to feel rather tired, too. Had he really been in the Animus for that long, or was it just plain exhausting? They'd gotten here barely a few hours ago, as far as he knew.
Regardless, he took a deep breath as he continued:
"I know it might be a boneheaded thing for me to say, but I'm willing to overlook her past. Even disregarding how I've fallen hard for her, she's become part of our family now, and as I told her, I never abandon my own. You wouldn't abandon Pinocchio or Matt or the others, would you?"
Good one, kid.
At those words, Daniel winced. So we're more alike than I thought.
No, he wouldn't abandon any of them, not even if Vidic and the others demanded it. He, Daniel, had been with his team since day one, and had witnessed each and every one of their successes and failures. They'd mourn casualties and deaths among their own, and at least once, he himself had cradled his fallen comrades and given them their last rites. He was loyal to them, just as they would go wherever he would go.
And that, more than any order those old loons could give me, is why I need to put your girlfriend down, kid.
I owe them that much.
Elsewhere, a hooded figure walked through the empty streets of the city's residential area.
It had been less than half a day since her activation, but already she was being made to return home. She didn't want to, even protesting that she had a mission to accomplish, but her controller had been firm. The targets were dangerous, said her controller. As she was now, she wouldn't stand a chance on her own. If she wanted to be sure she'd be able to complete her mission, she couldn't take any chances.
It was strange, she thought. She'd been created as the shadow of her primary target; her opposite, but equal to each other in everything that mattered. Her creator, not to mention her controller, knew perfectly well what she could do, so this order to return made no sense to her at all. It made her wish, very much, that her controller – who insisted that she call her 'mother' – had more faith in her capabilities.
I'm the Nephilim. I'm no failure.
She was forced to abandon those thoughts, though, as no less than five persocoms, similar to her in appearance, landed all around her.
One of them's missing… Don't tell me they encountered the target?
Just then, too, her mother made herself known.
"Come home already, Siren. There's always tomorrow."
She hesitated, still unwilling to follow.
But the next words spoken to her, made it clear she didn't have a choice.
"That's an order."
At the voice, she and her fellows headed home, where their mother was no doubt waiting for them.