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Author Topic: A Fractured Tale  (Read 5899 times)

Offline Fracture

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A Fractured Tale
« on: December 12, 2006, 04:34:19 AM »
The hover-cab shuttered noisily before lift-off, ascended and swept away in a huff, sputtering a vapor-trail across the dimming Tokyo skyline.

From the back seat, Ueda glanced nervously at driver, then at the speedometer.  It was a Tachibana 5400 Series, brand new, probably straight off the assembly line.  The driver, not the speedometer.

600 KPH?  Christ, the speed limit at this altitude is only 450.

"Umm, sorry, but..."  He leaned closer to the robot at the wheel.  "Could you...could you slow down a little?  I have--"

"Shut it!" the driver snapped.  "Just shut the fuck up."

In the dimness it looked eerily human, its pale synthetic skin stretched loosely to simulate wrinkles down its pudgy face.  It aped a human snortle and lit a cigarette before proceeding with the derision.

"Fucking humans, always blabbing on and on, like you invented the goddamn wheel or something.  I was built for driving, okay?  It's my sole purpose in this world.  I don't tell you how to do your job, so shut your filthy hole."

That much was true.  No one told Ueda how to do his job.  He was, after all, the most revered biologist in the solar system.  Practically every notable breakthrough in the field of genetics for the last two decades was a direct result of his research.  He had lectured everywhere, from NeoTodai to the Mars Institute.  He had mingled with Nobel Prize winners, presidents and prodigies.  Yet for all his experience, there was an unsettling feeling that nothing could prepare him for this night's business.

Don't let the robot get to you, you have a long night ahead, Ueda thought to himself.  Outside his window, the structural behemoths of Japan's largest population center rolled past as lights from passing vehicles flickered like countless fireflies.  The enormity of it all somehow made even the break-neck velocity of the cab seem a tad slow.

He closed his eyes and tried to relax, letting his mind drift back to the scene at his office some hours ago, where his assistant had given him some bizarre news...


"Tsunku?  THE Tsunku?"  Unbelievable.  "You're telling me that Tsunku called for me?"

"His receptionist, actually," the automated secretarial unit chirped back.  "He's invited you to his home tonight.  He'll send a cab for you at eight o'clock sharp."

Getting a call from Tsunku was like getting a birthday card from Merlin the wizard.  "Jesus Christ...He must be, like, a million years old."

"Two hundred and six," the machine corrected.  "Shall I ring back to confirm your visit?"

Ueda thought for a moment.  It can't be real, it just can't be.  Even so...He knew that he couldn't resist.  The natural curiosity that had served him well throughout his professional life had also predetermined his reply.

"Yes.  Tell him I'll be there."


A sudden awareness snapped Ueda out of his flashback.  Something was wrong.

"Excuse me, driver?  Where are we?"

Through the window, the bustling city-scape had receded, giving way to a grim countryside.  It was the sort of backdrop one might expect in rural Transylvania, or in one of those classic horror films from back when people still watched films.  Ueda had no idea that such a place even existed in Japan, let alone so close to its greatest metropolis.  From above, the ominous treetops seemed tangled together in a blanket of foliage, as if to shield its hallowed ground from intruders.  Or to protect us from it.  Ueda had a terrible feeling.  What kind of maniac would live here? "Are you sure this is the right--"

The driver's head ratcheted and spun owl-like toward the passenger, its dark eyes settling on him with the kind of menacing glare that only a pissed-off cab driver could ever muster.  This was especially true of today's industrially-engineered robotic cab drivers.  These latest models from Tachibana Industries' famed AI division were disconcertingly life-like.  In keeping with the company's policy of making "invisible AI", the units were pre-programmed with a wide array of human-like personalities and mannerisms.  The results were sometimes...extreme.  "Don't make me stop this car, fleshbag."

"S-Sorry," Ueda meeped, and crawled back into his thoughts.


Tsunku.  A living legend.  Well, a legend anyway.  The "living" part was disputable.

Though there had never been any official announcement, most people assumed that the man had died decades ago.  The common belief was that his empire was being operated from the shadows by his descendents, the covert executors of some unseen will.  There had been rumors, naturally...A few even claimed that by committing a considerable sum of money to the pursuit of various longevity-increasing medical experiments in the 21st century he had survived to this day, relegated to the life of a recluse.

Is that possible?  It was hard to swallow, even to Ueda, who had worked his share of scientific miracles.

Despite Tsunku's absence from the spotlight, his most famous creation, the music factory Morning Musume, had remained a constant fixture in pop music for nearly two centuries.  Some would credit the group's durabiity to the perpetual greenness of its ever-changing roster.  Others would say they just don't know when to give up.  How many generations were there now?  100?  200?  Was anyone keeping track?

Whatever the case, one thing was certain:  No one had set eyes on the guy for over a century. He was a ghost, a figure of myth that no one really believed in anymore.  Ueda was speeding towards an engagement with a phantom.

This is crazy, he thought.  What the hell would Tsunku want with me?  It was true that Ueda had been a devout follower of the group in his youth. Some would even have called him an authority, having intimated himself with much of their early history:  the first hundred singles, the generational fluctuations, the Mitsui Aika scandal and subsequent ban on cyborgs, the interplanetary holocaust of 2076...All of these things were well known to him.  But that was long ago, and if there was anyone who didn't need a HP history lesson, it was Tsunku.

Ueda only had a moment to ponder these mysteries before the cab came churning to an ungraceful halt, jarring him back to reality and nearly planting him in the front passenger seat.

"Are we there already?" he asked, rubbing a fresh lump on his skull.

With one glance out the window, he knew the answer.  They were most certainly not "there".  Not unless Tsunku lived in the middle of a forest.  Aside from a narrow dirt road, faintly visible through the gloom, there was nary a human construct in sight.

"This is as far as I go," the driver quivered, with a tinge of...was that fear?

"I don't get it.  Where's the house?"

"Another two kilometers or so down this road.  Or so I've heard..."

"You expect me to walk?"

"Just get the fuck out already!"  The robot's speech synthesizer was issuing its best approximation of panic, letting Ueda know that this was no joke.

*****

(to be continued)

« Last Edit: January 10, 2007, 04:53:59 AM by Fracture »

Offline JFC

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A Fractured Tale
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2006, 04:41:26 AM »
Nice story Fracture...just one thing though, shouldn't this be in the fanfic thread instead of the Pics thread?

JPH!P :heart:'s Fushigidane, ChrNo, Jab & marimari. Always.

Offline Fracture

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« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2006, 04:41:42 AM »
What do ya know, I clicked on the wrong forum >_>

If someone would be nice enough to move this to fics, please :D

Offline Foxy Brown

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« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2006, 05:57:19 AM »
Quote from: Fracture;256535
What do ya know, I clicked on the wrong forum

If someone would be nice enough to move this to fics, please


I was that nice.

Offline Mikan

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« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2006, 12:30:05 PM »
Wow ...Future fic.
200+ Tsunku
Cabs (Its still a novelty for me. I didnt see one till I was 15)

Where is the inspiration for this?

Read the complete Doki Doki!!

Offline kazitakato

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« Reply #5 on: December 12, 2006, 01:14:09 PM »
yeah...a new fic.....is it going to be about awakening Momusu from sumkind of chryogenic sleep? Biological Reincarnation??and the most important question....will there be an Ayaya appearance?? better still, will there be AyaMiki ??? or any pairings for that matter??

spreading the usa-chan love....i mean darkness(thanks to JFC)

Offline rndmnwierd

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« Reply #6 on: December 12, 2006, 04:08:49 PM »
Flying cabs and cranky robots? *favorites story* And it's only the first chapter.

Offline Aioros

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« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2006, 02:57:13 AM »
Tsunku is a vampire like Gackt! His son from a human named '♂Uknust' will appear and right all the wrong things his father has done in the past, like graduating Konno,Ogawa,Miuna and Asami too early,picking only one winner in the Happy8 audition, etc...

Awesome start Fracture! I will definitely follow the adventures of Ueda! :thumbsup

WAR AKARI!!! Infernal Ninjutsu, Hidden Lore...Freedom of Opposites Technique!!! Rest in peace Kyle,Jab,Mom,Tita, ChrNo...

Offline rndmnwierd

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« Reply #8 on: December 13, 2006, 04:30:48 AM »
Graduating Miuna and Asami? What?

Offline Fracture

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« Reply #9 on: December 13, 2006, 11:31:50 PM »
Thanks for your comments, and I hope people enjoy this.

It's kind of a weird story and starts slowly, but that's just my goofy sense of humor and writing style.  It's all just for fun, you know? :)

Part two is coming in a few minutes.

Offline Fracture

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« Reply #10 on: December 13, 2006, 11:43:25 PM »
*****

Deja vu.  Ueda remembered a scene strikingly similar to this...Where was it?

The road beneath him, dimly illuminated by the full-moonlight, split the forest like a seam.  To either side, Ueda couldn't see more than a few meters off the trail.  Shadows hung like draperies from gnarled tree-limbs, extinguishing the moon-rays in their impenetrable darkness.  Perhaps the most disturbing thing, though, was the damned quiet.  The gloom hadn't permitted so much as an owl's hoot to slip its stifling grasp.  Indeed, there had been no signs of life of any kind.  It seemed like the whole forest was dead.

The thought bestowed Ueda with a moment of recognition.  Oh yeah, he thought, I remember now.  A light breeze brushed his face.  It was in Dracula.

The sky was clear and starless.  The stars knew better than to hang out here.

Get a hold of yourself, man.  This is nothing like that silly old book.  It was time to be rational, to take stock of the situation:  For reasons unknown, his driver had freaked out and abandoned him.  In the middle of a spooky forest.  Alone.  In the dead of the night. On his way to meet a man that should have been dead a hundred years ago.  See?  Nothing at all like--

Okay, enough creepy thoughts.

He knew he was over-reacting to a perfectly innocuous situation.   In this age of scientific enlightenment, superstition was all but dead. The possibility of vampires had long since been disproved, along with other primitive wives-tales like werewolves, gremlins, and Hard Gay.  Ueda had left such childish notions in the crib.  He was a man of science now.  Besides, didn't the Prince of Darkness live in a treacherous castle on a hill?  There was certainly none of that here.

Caught up in snickering at his own foolishness, Ueda had stopped paying attention to the road ahead. He hadn't noticed the abrupt incline in the local geometry until he was already upon it.  His feet stopped moving as a terrible thought flashed through his mind.

He lifted his head slowly, his eyes following the dirt path upward.  That...looks like a hill..  The path spooled around it, climbing to a precarious summit.  And there, perched atop the plateau like a tarnished crown, was...

"Oh, goddammit."


Castle Tsunku, despite its menacing outward appearance, was a marvel of structural engineering.  Unknown to Ueda, more than seven hundred construction bots had met their demise attempting to balance its girth upon this narrow pedestal.  In fact, the castle was actually wider than the hill it occupied, its stone spires seemingly suspended in mid-air.

An elevator would have made sense here, he thought as he marched along the spiral path winding up the base of the hill.  Maybe it was like this to give visitors plenty of time to reflect on how lovely their lives had been before this moment.

"WHO GOES THERE?"  A thundering robotic voice snapped him back to his senses.  Without noticing, he had trudged all the way to the top, and stood now before an ornate iron gate.  In another context, its elaborately detailed gargoyles might have been frightening, but here it was just another part of the scenery.

He looked around for the source of the voice.  To the left of the gate, a stone pillar jutted out from the exterior wall, housing a small surveillance camera and a two-way intercom.

Ueda inched closer.  "My...my name is--"

Before he could finish the sentence, the gate swung open with a clang.  A few meters beyond the opening, a pair of high-arched doubled doors parted to reveal the hulking frame of a Tycho class-9 service-bot.

These 'niners', as they were called, had originally been designed for deep-sea deployment.  They were typically used by oil companies to drill in places that no human could reach, their tough frames capable of withstanding the kind of pressure that would crush Ueda like a grape.  This was the first time he had seen one employed for domestic service.

From its bulky upper-body and spindly legs, it looked vaguely like something that Marvin the Martian would build to chase wascally wabbits.  Its demeanor, sadly, was not so amusing.

"Professor Ueda?" it inquired dispassionately.  If the cab driver had been constructed from the 'foul-tempered' blueprint, this bot's personality profile must have come from the 'creepy as hell' bin.

"Y-Yes."  Ueda shivered.

"You are expected."


Somewhere in the distance, thunder crashed.

A storm?  Odd, the sky was clear when I arrived.  Rather than dwell on it, Ueda decided it would be best not to question this sudden phenomenon.  No use complicating the situation.  Erratic weather was probably the least of his problems.

A small hospitality droid scuttled out from behind a curtain and wheeled toward him, stopping at his feet.  Its abdominal screen slid down, revealing a paper cup full of swirling black liquid.

"Coffee," it beeped.

Ueda didn't like coffee.  It made him jittery, even more than usual.  That's the last thing he needed right now.

"No, thank--"

"COFFEE."  The little droid didn't budge. Apparently, it wasn't asking.

"Umm...okay then...I'll just, uh..."  No sooner than he had stooped to receive the cup, the droid scurried away back behind the curtain, presumably to resume its stasis.

The niner, which had been re-programmed to serve as the butler, had led him through the entryway and into a cozy study to wait before quietly excusing itself.  Maybe 'cozy' isn't the right word.  It certainly would have been cozy, it was just missing a few vital accessories.  For instance, there was no furniture.  Anywhere.  There hadn't been so much as a footstool in any of the rooms he had seen.  Now, as he stood anxiously on a floor of cold stone, he was being served coffee in a paper cup.

A paper cup.  Ueda's mind tinkered with this peculiarity like a Rubik's cube.  Tsunku can't afford a coffee cup?  And what's with this house?  Where's all the furniture?  If it weren't for the arrangement of elaborate wall decorations displaying a touch of human sensibility, he would have thought the automated servants were the only inhabitants.

Gold records, silver records, photographs of the man in his prime...they were mounted everywhere around the room.  Ueda scanned each relic in turn, hoping to see something that would prove he was still sane and this wasn't a horrible dream.

Within moments, his eyes had fallen upon a series of portraits aligned in a corner of the room.  Photographs of antiquity...Ah, here were his favorites.  There was Goto Maki, who had gone on to become an international sensation before being tragically murdered by an obsessed fan.  There was Kago Ai, once disgraced, later re-indoctrinated into HP history when, at the age of 86, she became Earth's first ambassador to the Solar Council.  For the first time all night, Ueda felt a smile cross his lips.

"Please excuse these inhospitable accommodations."  He turned to see the butler lurching through the doorway.  "We are not used to having guests, you see."

Of course not.  What sane person would want to come here?  The obvious irony occurred to him a moment later:  Ueda had come here.  He had forsaken the comfort of his own bed and trudged through the wilderness in the dead of night, all to see a man that logically should not exist.  If this is a dream, I'm calling a shrink the moment I wake up.

The robot had paused, as if to allow Ueda to finish his thought before continuing.  "Please come with me,"  it resumed, its built-in personality articulator shifting to 'ominous' mode.  "The Master will see you now."

*****

Offline meowchi

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« Reply #11 on: December 14, 2006, 02:13:38 AM »
Loving the futuristic blend, can't wait for the next!

Offline rndmnwierd

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« Reply #12 on: December 14, 2006, 06:32:40 AM »
Maki died tragically? The bitch...

Offline Aioros

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« Reply #13 on: December 14, 2006, 06:40:16 AM »
Quote from: Fracture
There was Kago Ai, once disgraced, later re-indoctrinated into HP history when, at the age of 86, she became Earth's first ambassador to the Solar Council.


I would pay good money just to live long enough to see this...:ONwahaha:

WAR AKARI!!! Infernal Ninjutsu, Hidden Lore...Freedom of Opposites Technique!!! Rest in peace Kyle,Jab,Mom,Tita, ChrNo...

Offline Fracture

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« Reply #14 on: December 15, 2006, 10:17:39 PM »
In the annals of history, it has been recorded that Tsunku once made a notable contribution to the scientific world:  To his credit - or shame, depending on your perspective - he was responsible for creating the first fully-functioning cybernetic organism.  He called her 'Aika'.

Aika was created 170 years ago, long before the world was ready for her.  Indeed, the public-at-large didn't believe that such things could even exist within their rudimentary grasp of biotechnology.  But Tsunku and his yakuza-like organization of henchmen known as 'UFA' had the resources to prove them wrong.

She was developed in secrecy.  Designed to be the perfect addition to MM's roster, she was completely obedient, able to work round-the-clock without rest, never smoked in public, and never expected a paycheck.  She was truly UFA's dream come to life.  Well, pseudo-life.  She was given a fake family, birth records were forged, and a mock audition was staged to 'recruit' her from obscurity.

Later testimony from insiders to the plot had suggested that there were originally two cyborgs developed.  The second unit, called 'Ayami', had regrettably malfunctioned at the last moment.  The technicians of the day being unqualified to repair her properly, she was quietly dropped from the audition, never to be seen again.

Aika, however, continued to function perfectly...for a while.  Naturally, she 'won' the audition, and in grand ceremony was introduced to the world.  Things went splendidly for the next year or so, when the scheme at last unraveled.  At a press conference promoting the group's thrity-sixth single, the flash of a photographer's bulb struck Aika's synthetic eyes at precisely the wrong angle, triggering an unforeseen neural anomaly.  Moments later, she was prostrate, bashing her head against the floor while singing 'Aruiteru' backwards, machine lubricant gushing from her eyes like oily tears.

The scandal was too much to handle, even for UFA's crack PR team.  Strangely, the group's most devoted followers were unperturbed by the event.  Online fan-forums were flooded with comments like "she's really cute tho! :heart:" and "she still has girl parts, right?"

The rest of the world was not so forgiving of UFA's deception.  Within six months, Japan had enacted legislation barring the use of cyborgs for entertainment purposes outside of certain "government-licensed establishments".  Thus, the brief era of cyborgs in HP ended forever.

*****

Offline rndmnwierd

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« Reply #15 on: December 16, 2006, 06:23:08 AM »
I rolf'd

Offline JFC

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« Reply #16 on: December 16, 2006, 06:43:09 AM »
Quote from: Fracture;259524
he was responsible for creating the first fully-functioning cybernetic organism.  He called her 'Aika'.

Aika was created 170 years ago, long before the world was ready for her.  Indeed, the public-at-large didn't believe that such things could even exist within their rudimentary grasp of biotechnology.  But Tsunku and his yakuza-like organization of henchmen known as 'UFA' had the resources to prove them wrong.

She was developed in secrecy.  Designed to be the perfect addition to MM's roster, she was completely obedient, able to work round-the-clock without rest, never smoked in public, and never expected a paycheck.  She was truly UFA's dream come to life.  Well, pseudo-life.  She was given a fake family, birth records were forged, and a mock audition was staged to 'recruit' her from obscurity.

Later testimony from insiders to the plot had suggested that there were originally two cyborgs developed.  The second unit, called 'Ayami', had regrettably malfunctioned at the last moment.  The technicians of the day being unqualified to repair her properly, she was quietly dropped from the audition, never to be seen again.
I KNEW IT!!! :pen_shocked: :ONomg:


Quote from: Fracture;259524
The scandal was too much to handle, even for UFA's crack PR team.  Strangely, the group's most devoted followers were unperturbed by the event.  Online fan-forums were flooded with comments like "she's really cute tho! :heart:" and "she still has girl parts, right?"
:ONwahaha:

JPH!P :heart:'s Fushigidane, ChrNo, Jab & marimari. Always.

Offline glcorps2002

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« Reply #17 on: December 16, 2006, 07:03:42 AM »
Ok, 2 things.
 
1) I would have loved to see Aibon do some negotiating. She probably started WW3.
 
2) Would it cost more for a real person in one of those "government licensed establishments"?

Offline Aioros

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« Reply #18 on: December 16, 2006, 06:38:48 PM »
Sumire never had a chance. Poor girl...   :MKsniffle:

But Aika's really cute though.

Quote from: Fracture
Moments later, she was prostrate, bashing her head against the floor while singing 'Aruiteru' backwards, machine lubricant gushing from her eyes like oily tears.

:ONxD:

Great stuff!

WAR AKARI!!! Infernal Ninjutsu, Hidden Lore...Freedom of Opposites Technique!!! Rest in peace Kyle,Jab,Mom,Tita, ChrNo...

Offline Fracture

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« Reply #19 on: December 18, 2006, 07:44:29 PM »
"Thirteenth floor."  In response to the butler's spoken command, the elevator clanked and shimmied a bit before finally ascending amid the groaning of rusty gears.

Even the elevator is a piece of macabre.  Ueda was trying his best to rationalize the situation, but the more he saw, the less sense it all made.

When the door at last slid open again, the butler ushered Ueda out into a slender corridor leading to a lacquered wooden door.  The bot walked to it and rapped twice, prompting a voice to call from the other side.

"Come in."

For Ueda, this was the moment of truth.  The bot pushed opened the door and gestured for him to go ahead.

Ueda walked into a windowless office.  Bookcases housing various tomes of scientific interest lined the walls.  Opposite the entrance was a wooden desk, stacked high with various official-looking documents.  Next to the desk was a marble pedestal, upon which sat a sort of odd cylindrical aquarium.

"Where is he?" Ueda asked the bot in the doorway.

"Look harder."

He turned and scanned the room a second time.  Books, desk, aquarium...wait..  He froze, his eyes fixed on the murky vessel.  That's not an aquarium.

If someone had told Ueda that someday he would see the sort of thing he was presently gazing upon, he would have commended them to therapy.  Resting on the pedestal was a tube of liquid, roughly one meter tall.  But this isn't what astounded him.  Rather, he was more distraught by what was floating inside the tube.  There, within its glass casing, was...a brain.  A disembodied human brain.

He gasped.

"Surprised?" a voice asked.  "I wonder how good you'll look at two hundred."

"Two hundred and six," the butler corrected.


Ueda gawked at the thing in the tube.  It wasn't the first time he'd seen a brain, just the first time he'd seen one like this.  It was completely submerged in murky liquid.  The microscopic nanomachines charged with keeping the fluid free of bacteria lent a slightly greenish aura, casting a dull neon glow from the soft light of the climate controller.  Beneath the casing, a plastic pump chugged away, keeping the fluid in a constant state of simulated bloodflow.  Wires extended from the forebrain, connecting the shell to a small camera, the eyes and ears of the thing.

"I'm not always like this."  Through its external voicebox, the brain sounded about halfway between Stephen Hawking and HAL9000.  "I do have a prosthetic body.  Several, in fact.  For tonight I wanted you, Professor, to see me as I truly am."

As Ueda stared, his amazement was slowly being replaced with revulsion at the vile looking thing.  I really wish you hadn't bothered.  "Uh, thank--"

"There should be no secrets between us," the brain interjected.  "I want to build this relationship on...trust."  If Tsunku had had eyelids, they would have narrowed to a slit.  "Mutual trust.  Why don't you have a seat?"

For a moment, Ueda managed to peel his eyes off the tubed abomination.  To his left there was a chair, the first that he had seen since entering this awful place.

"We had it brought up especially for you," the brain clarified as Ueda slumped into the seat.  "Here in my part of the house, I have no need for such things.  How about some coffee?"

Ueda gestured to the full paper cup in his hand.  "Actually, I--"

Once again, the brain wasn't listening.  "Remus, bring some coffee, would you?"  The butler slinked away with a grimace.  "Now then, you're probably wondering why I brought you here."

Ueda didn't try to answer.  He was starting to understand how this worked.  The brain was waiting for him to say something so that it could deliberately interrupt him again.  It was a common tactic among egocentrists.  To test this theory, he said nothing at all.

Tsunku waited.  A minute of silence passed, then another.

Well, maybe it's just my imagination.  "Why did you--"

"Have you heard," the brain interrupted, "Morning Musume's latest single?"

"...Not exactly, no."

"Of course you haven't.  No one has.  I haven't even listened to it and I produced the damn thing.  Our sales are the worst they've been since the Aika incident."  Here the voice grew scruffier.  "It took us decades to recover from that," Tsunku muttered ruefully.

"Deceiving people like that was bad idea, I guess."

"What the hell are you talking about?"  If Tsunku had had teeth, they would have chewed a cigar bitterly.  "The only mistake we made was getting caught.  You really think Aika was the last borg we made?"

Actually, Ueda had thought that.  "What do you mean?  After Aika, they were all human, right?"

The brain answered his question not with words, but a laugh.  An evil, taunting laugh.

"How...How many more were there?" Ueda asked sheepishly.

"After Aika...hmm, let's see here.  If I had to estimate, I would say approximately...all of them."

"All of them?"  He felt like a kid that had just learned the tooth fairy isn't real.

The butler lumbered in with two paper cups.  He gave one to Ueda, who now had a full cup of coffee in each hand, and set the other on the desk for Tsunku.  He then hulked back out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

"Kusumi Koharu was the last human being inducted into Morning Musume," the brain continued.  "What, you think we were going to keep paying real performers?  Dealing with their scandals and their egos?  Humans stopped being a profitable investment for us long ago."

"But...that's illegal..."

"Illegal?  Ha!  Those impotent old geezers at the Justice Department wouldn't know a real girl from a cyborg if it snorted all their Metamucil and shit in their beds.  Once we worked out the design kinks, the borgs were undetectable."

Ueda sighed.  It wasn't the first - or last - disillusionment of his life.  "I don't get what this has to do with me.  Automatons aren't my specialty."

"Of course not, you're a biologist.  There were, however, twenty-two living members, the real flesh-and-blood goddesses of the old days.  Do me a favor, open the top drawer of that desk."

Ueda slid the drawer open with his knee, as both hands were occupied.  Inside, he saw a neatly-arranged set of numbered cannisters, each about the size of a tuna can.

"What's this?"

If Tsunku had had lips, they would have been turned up wryly at the corners.  "DNA samples."

Ueda had a dreadful premonition.  "How exactly--"

"Don't ask how I got these."

I wasn't.  I was going to ask how you expect to drink that coffee with no mouth.

Through his work, Ueda had learned to revere nature as a delicate apparatus, infinitely more complex than any instrument of mortal device.  Human cloning was an especially foul transgression, typically resulting in shattered lives at the very least.  He pushed the drawer closed.  "If you're about to ask me to clone those old members for you, you can forget it."

"Don't be stupid.  I wouldn't ask you to do that..."

Oh thank god.  Maybe he's not completely insane, after all.

"...because we've already done it."

*****

At that moment, far below Tsunku's office, Remus the butler clanked noisily down a narrow hallway lined with steel doors, each affixed with a brass nameplate.  The hefty bot examined each name as he passed...he could never remember who was in which room.  At last, near the end of the hall, he found the one he was looking for.  He cracked open the door and cautiously peeked inside.

Darkness.  Answering a silent command from the castle control center, the room lights flickered on.  This looked like a girl's bedroom...Rows of stuffed toys rested on the lacy pink linen of a double bed.  Near a standing wooden dresser, a closet door stood slightly ajar.  Not a soul to be seen.

Remus opened the door wide.  "I know you're in here,"  he pronounced.  "It's no use hiding."
 
All remained still.  His eyes focused on the closet door.  "I'll find you, you know."  Slowly, carefully, he crept toward the door.  "I always find you."

With one swift movement, he jerked open the door and maneuvered his legs into a balanced fighting poise, ready for any possible retaliation.

The closet was empty.

An instant later he ducked...too late.  A plasma whip lashed out and stung Remus in the back, leaving behind a snake-trail of crackling electrons.  Before the whip could recoil, he gripped it with a titanium fist, a feat that would have dismembered a lesser bot.  Giving a firm tug, he yanked the unseen assailant from her hiding place beneath the bed.

She looked to be about twenty-one years old, with medium-length brown hair.  She was gowned in loose pink pajamas, the sash wrapped tightly around her slender waist.  On her back was emblazoned her personal emblem, a cutely-drawn white bunny.

"Tough as ever, Remus," she said, retracting the whip.  "But slow.  If you were anything less than a niner, you'd be in pieces."

"I didn't come to play."  Remus's expression hardened.  "Get dressed.  You've been summoned."

*****

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