Chapter 27: Though I Be Damned
Kotoko heaved a sigh as she sat down on Kojima's bed at home, reflecting on the events that had recently transpired. He'd sent her home ahead, telling her he was going to be in his office tonight, and so she used the time to think back on how crazy recent developments had been.
It seemed like just yesterday, he was just another custom persocom enthusiast, albeit one who happened to be a bit of a jackass. Aside from the whole Chii incident, he also had a way of being condescending to people he butted heads with. Indeed, Kojima had a habit of coming into conflict with his peers much too often for his own good.
Kotoko smirked to herself as she remembered the arguments he'd get into on the BBS. There was one user in particular, using the online handle 'M', who he butted heads with on a regular basis.
Then, the Chii incident happened.
Kojima had kidnapped her just as she happened to be spacing out at the local bookstore, ostensibly out of an insatiable desire to study her further. Unfortunately, he ended up biting off more than he could chew. To say the least, his attempt to find out more about Chii – one of two legendary persocoms called Chobits – ended up royally blowing up in his face.
Not only did he fail to find out anything at all, Motosuwa forced him to give her to him as well – just in case he tried to delete the data pertaining to the incident. Even when they encountered him afterwards, he hadn't seemed to change much. Needless to say, it was a huge shock when Kojima suddenly showed up at Motosuwa's apartment, asking for his forgiveness and for Kotoko to be returned to him.
She, Kotoko, had always known that he was nicer than he let on; there was something in the way he treated the persocoms he himself had built that hinted at a kinder side to the normally haughty youth. But even she didn't expect that he'd do something like that. It was probably the first time she'd ever seen him quite literally beg for someone's forgiveness.
And ever since then, the changes in his attitude only seemed to continue; while he never completely got rid of his ego, he'd become much less of a misanthrope ever since.
In fact, when Abstergo came calling – no doubt having heard of his reputation and expertise when it came to custom-built persocoms – he agreed to join them right away. And when she, Kotoko, asked him about his decision, he said simply that something in their mission statement of changing the world appealed to him. Kojima called it his own way of doing some good in the world.
Needless to say, he wasn't too comfortable with the project Abstergo put to him.
Kotoko remembered the conversation Kojima had with her when he first started working on Project Nephilim. He'd confided to her his misgivings about creating a persocom for such a purpose, to be used only as a killing machine. His superiors had wanted him to create the Nephilim – not to mention her sisters – as little more than a mindless doll, the better to prevent her from going rogue like what happened with Project Seraph. That particular instruction went disregarded, though.
Or rather, Kotoko chose to ignore it for him.
Indeed, thought Kotoko; while PNE-000 – the Nephilim, who she'd christened 'Siren' – had a personality not unlike that of the fictional Terminators, even she could eventually move past that seeming emotionlessness. It was part of the reason why she'd insisted that she be called 'mother' by the persocom assassin, though only between the two of them.
Siren was practically her daughter anyway, given her involvement in her creation, and Kotoko sure as hell didn't want her daughter to be used as some mindless, murderous doll. She might not be able to completely prevent Siren from carrying out her mission, but she had hope that, eventually, her 'daughter' would end up growing a conscience of her own. That eventually, she'd end up rebelling, following in the footsteps of Abstergo's so-called Platinum Angel.
If you value free will of persocoms so much, why'd you install 'those' programs into her?
The sudden creaking sound interrupted Kotoko's train of thought.
The balcony door opened, revealing a hooded, platinum-haired, feminine figure, whose bright eyes glowed in the darkness.
The days that followed caused Rei to experience a mild case of culture shock.
"Dude, wake up already!"
Everyday, Rei was unceremoniously roused from his slumber at around 5:30 in the morning to take part in morning runs and exercises with the rest of the team. Actually, he thought, 'exercises' was a bit of an understatement, considering how the training he'd signed up for turned out to be not unlike that typically undergone by army cadets.
The first time this happened, it was Daniel who'd woken him up, and with that smug grin on his face. He'd complained, too, wondering why he was being made to wake up so early, at which point his mentor reminded him that physical conditioning was part of the training he'd signed up for. No pain, no gain.
"And conversely," Daniel had said, sporting his characteristic mischievous grin, "A lot of pain, a lot of gain."
Rei understood that well enough, but he wasn't wholly convinced at first. Hadn't they told him their training program revolved around the Animus?
But when he raised this, Daniel explained that while he'd undoubtedly gain the necessary skills as a result of the time spent in the Animus Virtual Training Program, he still needed the physical conditioning to properly apply those skills. All those badass Assassin skills he'd assimilated from the training regimen would be useless if his body wasn't in peak condition.
"Besides," Daniel had said, "Don't you think it'd be a bit embarrassing? In your current state, you'd probably die trying to pull off all those fancy moves you've picked up. We don't want you falling on your ass the first time you climbed a building out of the Animus, now do we?"
Again, reflected Rei at the end of that week, he couldn't argue with his new mentor. However, the way his body still throbbed and ached all over begged to differ. He wasn't out of shape, not by any stretch of the imagination, but the training regimen Daniel and his team had prepared for him was on a whole new level.
I'll become the best you'll ever have, huh, Daniel…?
That's if I don't die first.
But no sooner did Rei form that thought, a grimace on his battered face, than her face appeared in front of his mind's eye. Smiling at him, extending a hand as though welcoming him home, tears welling up in her eyes.
He shook his head as he laid back down on the bed, the grimace having been replaced by a crooked smile.
I'm doing this for you.
I'll become strong enough to protect you.
Though I be damned.
Right there and then, just before he finally drifted off to sleep, Rei Mikage made a solemn vow to himself.
He would become an Assassin, or die trying.
"I'll be at a friend's house until tomorrow, mom. No need to wait up for me."
Nanako Mizunuma let out a sigh as she locked her mobile phone, having finished sending her text message to her foster mother.
Lying beside Ceres as she stared up at the ceiling of Oyuki's room, Nanako went over the past week's upheaval in her head. It had been barely more than a week since she and Ceres first met, since the persocom had comforted her after the horror in that alleyway. Nanako still remembered the cold rage that seemed to emanate from her as she levelled the gun in the face of her would-be tormentor, before eventually pulling the trigger.
But now, all too soon after that incident, it was her turn to return the favour. If, that time, it was Ceres who'd held her as she cried silently in the Mikage family's living room, it was now Nanako's turn to help the persocom cope with this most undesirable turn of events.
She turned towards Ceres, embracing the sleeping persocom with her right arm as her thoughts turned to him.
Nanako knew perfectly well that Ceres served as a mixture of retainer and maid for Rei and his family, but even she was surprised at how the blue-haired persocom seemed almost as upset as Freya was. While she'd tried to hide it, polishing and maintaining the twin pistols she kept in her apron in a would-be casual manner, it was the ominous glow in Ceres' wintry eyes that gave her away.
It must have been all too clear, thought Nanako, as it was then that Demeter – who, in a vain attempt to try and lighten the atmosphere somewhat, had half-jokingly referred to herself as Nanako's future sister-in-law – deigned to explain something: Rei Mikage had become something of a younger sibling to Ceres. Just as she and her sister had all but become part of the Mikage family, so too did they come to feel affection and love for the family they'd been assigned to protect.
So for something like this to happen…
But even that, thought Nanako, was probably an understatement.
There wasn't much she could do for Ceres, and her realization of that fact did nothing at all to reassure her.
Unlike Ceres or Demeter, who had shown themselves more than capable of staring evil in the face and giving it the finger, she, Nanako, was pretty much useless. If anything, she knew all too well that, in the worst case scenario, she'd end up becoming a burden to them. In the worst case, she might even be the cause of their deaths.
Unlike Ceres or Demeter, all Nanako was good for was crying for help –
It was at that moment that inspiration struck her.
And as Nanako tapped away on the touch screen of her phone, she hoped that this idea of hers would actually work.
At the Kokubunji residence, too, all was still. Uncharacteristically of him, Minoru chose to sleep early that night, with most of the maid persocoms likewise taking the opportunity to recharge. The only one still active at the time was a lone female figure, seated in front of the terminal located in her master's study.
The five identical persocoms surrounding the big house moved as one, bypassing the walls by climbing surrounding trees and then jumping down from the branches. As they landed, they checked the functionality of their hidden blades, which replaced their standard-issue long katars for this mission. Their handler had judged such weapons to be sufficient for their current mission, given that the resistance they anticipated from this first target wasn't very much.
The mission they and the Nephilim – who they were designed after – had been given involved the liquidation of certain individuals deemed a threat to Abstergo's plans. Most of them were estimated to have at least a moderate level of danger attached to them, but the danger level on this particular target was non-existent, and so they'd decided to go after him first.
After all, a child, prodigy though he might have been, surely wasn't that dangerous?
The lead persocom raised a hand, signalling her fellows to follow her, silently, into the house.
Unbeknownst to them, however, their host had prepared a welcome of sorts…