Hikaru Shidoo gazes quizzically at her classmates. The pig-tailed redhead had, as was her want these days, isolated herself when lunch period came. It was not that she was rude. Once, Hikaru had the reputation of mad impetuousness. Anxious to try out the latest fashion, explore places, meet people. Her classmates missed the old Hikaru. The Hikaru of today was a reserved young woman, her chestnut eyes haunted by unbelievable tragedy.
The truth was even harder to believe. When a freshman, Hikaru had been on a class trip to Tokyo Tower. There, with two girls from other schools, Hikaru had disappeared, seized and teleported away by a mysterious light. They reappeared moments later, in each other's arms, crying as if they had just barely survived World War Three. Later, they stated they had been teleported to an other-dimensional kingdom, Cephilio, where they became Magic Knights, warrior-guardians of that medieval place from the forces of evil.
Of course, with no additional evidence, the authorities were hesitant to accept such a tale. Eventually, Hikaru and her friends were allowed to return to their lives. But regardless of what the officials said, those lives were forever altered, changed beyond their comprehension.
Some who came to know Hikaru after that incident believed her to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Speaking to her, people sensed something incredible HAD happened, something which came close to killing the redhead, had in fact destroyed a lot of her spirit. Many tried to break through that shell, reach the girl they once knew. But over time, most gave up, realizing that if Hikaru wanted to overcome her pain, she had to do it herself. Most, but not all.
The three before here were dressed in the red, white and grey sailor fuku of their school. Their leader is a tall, very mature girl with long black hair reminding Hikaru of a fashion model. "That's right," she nods, sitting beside Hikaru. "We're part of a Japan-wide club which explores the lives of the Prettygirls."
"They're mannequins used by Prince & Co, that really cool ladies store in the Ginza," another adds, pulling out a photo album. "Here, take a look!"
Hikaru opens the book, gazing quizzically at the dozens of frozen beauties shown displaying everything imaginable. Gazing intently at one, Hikaru is struck by the realism. It was easy to tell they were mannequins; the plastic-like skin spoke volumes. But ignore that and even Hikaru, who had seen so many wild things when she was a Magic Knight, would be convinced they were real. "Beautiful," she slowly exhales.
"You can even write to them," the third girl explains. "Each of them is unique, with their own names and personalities."
Hikaru blinks as she examines more of them. "Making them must've cost a fortune if they're individually moulded."
"Not really," the first girl smiles. "They're fully poseable, just like a real girl. I write to several of them. They're very nice; Prince & Co wouldn't bring in girls who weren't. Here," she shifts some pages in the photo album to the last picture. "She's the newest one."
Hikaru gazes at a moderately tall brown-haired girl in a very stylish T-shirt and form-fitting jeans, a coquettish look on her face. The small magazine clipping beside her picture gives her details:
HOMETOWN: Wakkanai, Hokkaido
BIRTHDAY: April 13
BLOOD TYPE: A positive
FAVOURITE SCHOOL SUBJECT: Geography
LEAST FAVOURITE SCHOOL SUBJECT: English
FAVOURITE FOOD: Ramen, Ice Cream, Sukiyaki
LEAST FAVOURITE FOOD: Anything with heavy spices
INTERESTS: Meeting new people (especially girls!), writing, drawing, fashions, walking, travelling, quiet evenings with your lover or best friend looking at the stars
TURN ONS: Anyone willing to take a dare
TURN OFFS: Aliens (especially Urusians; lived in Tomobiki for some years), creepy Buddhist monks, unloving parents, snobs, nerds, anyone without a life, people who feel they have the right to dominate other people's lives
I'm a lonely girl who could use a good friend or lover, someone who doesn't mind snuggling before a fire. I don't bite but don't be surprised if I think you're very pretty and want to look at you. There's too much ugliness, too much mistrust and hatred in the world. Why can't there be more beauty and love in the world?
Want to make some?
Hikaru feels her eyes sting as she gazes at that haunted, lonely face in the picture. So much of her was there. "Wow! You'd think that fashion models would have perfect lives. This is weird!"
"That's their biggest appeal," the first girl insists. "They may be called 'Prettygirls,' but all of them are as ordinary as you or I. Look, here's the address for Prince & Co," she hands Hikaru a small note, then gives her a spare picture of Atako, this time in a beautiful bikini. "And here's something to keep you company at nights."
Hikaru blinks, then smiles. "Thanks."
* * *
Anime on Display
a story about Japanese animation and ASFR
by Fred Herriot
**** **** ****
Based on Urusei Yatsura, created by Rumiko Takahashi,
Magic Knight Rayearth, created by CLAMP,
and Sailor Moon, created by Naoko Takeuchi
**** **** ****
GENERAL NOTE: For those of you in ASFR not familiar with the anime stories this fanfic is based on, please see the writer's notes at the end of Part Three.
* * *
PART TWO - THE MAGIC KNIGHTS
"Fan mail, Atako-chan!!"
Atako stares as Pelsia, one of the older, more experienced Prettygirls still allowing herself to be frozen (she was in the last two years of a twenty-year contract), walks into the room with a small pile of envelopes. "I have fans?!" the brunette blinks confusedly at the redhead.
"Lots of them by this pile, from all over," Pelsia stares at the dozen or so envelopes with Atako's name on them. "I guess news of you spread pretty quickly."
"How big are the Prettygirl Wanna-bes, anyway?" Atako takes the pile from the older Prettygirl's hand.
"About two thousand according to last count...and that doesn't count all the fringe clubs and the hentai clubs," Pelsia rolls her eyes. "Anyhow, where's Haruka?"
"She decided to take a chance and call Michiru," Atako nods at the violinist's picture on their nightstand. "I hope she makes it through this time."
"Aren't we being the gallant knight?" Pelsia laughs.
Atako knew that Pelsia was once a boy herself, but eighteen years as a Prettygirl had transformed her from a tomboyish tough to a sensual seductress who still drew in hundreds of letters a year from fans. "Atako-chan, sooner or later, you're going to have to get your own lover. In fact..." a sly smile crosses her face.
"No thanks, Sempai," Atako smiles as Pelsia moves to slip off her cut-off jeans, revealing no panties underneath. "You're old enough to be my mother...and, these days, I don't like the idea of being intimate with older women, especially after my experiences with that idiot Sakura. But, thanks anyway."
"Atako-chan, I may have been at this job for eighteen years, but I'm still sixteen at heart," Pelsia winks, disappointment in her voice as she slips her cut-offs back in place. "I'd love to be with you. If it wasn't for your grandmother, I'd be a dead corpse on the steps of the Diet instead of living my own life here."
"I know," Atako nods. She had heard that story many times from those who knew of Haruka's private lust for Michiru, those who wanted to repay Atako's grandmother for the extraordinary new life they gained by being lovers with her. "But...part of me isn't ready for a long-term relationship. It's a hangover from when I was Ataru. Maybe I just haven't found the right girl. Besides, you'll be leaving soon." Given the way time seemed to fly when they were frozen, the word "soon" had extra meaning. "I don't want to weigh you back here; I know you want to get out and see the world as soon as your contract's up."
Pelsia smiles serenely. "You'll never be a burden, Atako-chan," she blows her a kiss as she leaves.
Atako rolls her eyes. It had been over two months since Ataru Moroboshi died and Atako Hana was born in his place. Two months since she and Haruka had entered a relationship which still could break if the former race car driver and Sailor Senshi got back together with her ex-lover. Atako was torn deep over what could happen. She cared very much for Haruka, could even say she loved her. But part of her balked at opening her heart so soon after she freed herself of Tomobiki. Further, she was not malicious. If Haruka got back together with Michiru, Atako would be happy even though it would hurt like hell. Yet, Atako could not see a woman on the horizon who could meet her needs. Out of 120 Prettygirls who spent time as mannequins, plus the over five hundred Prettygirl alumni, some of whom still worked at Prince & Co, you would think Atako could find someone!
Chasing that problem out of her mind, Atako unwraps the envelopes and begins to piece through them. Many were just short love notes with nude pictures, girls asking if they were fit to be Prettygirls. Atako's eyes roll even though many were very cute; since when did people think her a judge of beauty? True, Ataru had chased very beautiful women in his time, but Atako had long resolved to keep her old life's habits out of her present one. Then again, most of the Prettygirls got letters like this. Atako did resolve to write them back; no sense in breaking their hearts if no one bothered to acknowledge them.
One letter catches her eye. It is a personalized envelope, indicative of a well-off family. Atako's eyes widen on seeing the addressee. Hikaru Shidoo. "No way!!" she gasps as she gingerly opens the envelope, then draws the folded paper. She knew the story of the "Magic Knights of Tokyo Tower" quite well; Hikaru and her friends had disappeared when Ataru was a freshman at Tomobiki High. What would she be doing writing her?
Opening the letter, she gazes intently at the flowing script:
(Oh, what do I call you?!)
Forgive me. I feel so awkward writing to you. You have to admit that when I first heard of the Prettygirls, the rumour that you were real struck me as odd. I admit that your mannequin is quite beautiful. But even more, I admit that you're beautiful.
You lived in Tomobiki?! I guess with you meeting aliens and all that other weird stuff, what I, Fuu-chan and Umi-chan experienced wouldn't seem so odd. Please believe me, our story is true. Unlike Fuu-chan and Umi-chan, who've managed to get their lives back together after our time in Cephilio, I've been having problems. I can use a friend, too.
Could you write back soon, please? The anniversary of our trip to Cephilio is in a couple of weeks; we'll be going to Tokyo Tower. I'll talk Fuu-chan and Umi-chan into coming with me to Prince & Co so I can see you.
"Wow!!" Atako exclaims, then considers the point. Whatever Hikaru had endured must have been horrendous given the passionate plea of her letter. She moves over to the small work desk, draws out some paper, then begins to write...
* * *
Hikaru sighs as the panorama of Tokyo stretches before her. Two years ago, her life forever changed in this very observation gallery. She felt deja vu every time she came into this place, fearing that Mokona would zap them back to Cephilio to fight new dragons. But so far, her life has been peaceful, the citizens of that world electing to allow their Magic Knights to return to their old lives.
A security guard walks up, apprehension in his eyes. "Shidoo-san, you're not going to disappear on us, are you?"
Hikaru blinks surprisedly. The old Hikaru would have giggled in wild embarrassment. A content smile crosses her face. "I'll try not to."
He tips his cap, then returns to his rounds. Suddenly, the running footsteps of her two closest friends echo through the gallery. "Hikaru-chan, there you are!!"
Hikaru turns to see Fuu Hou'ouji and Umi Ryuuzaki run up. The three Magic Knights fiercely embrace, tears spilling down their cheeks as their shared experiences wash over them. "Hi, guys!" Hikaru sobs. "I'm so glad to see you again!"
"As are we," the statuesque Umi smiles, her crystal blue eyes flashing with delight. To Hikaru's surprise, she had braided her long platinum bangs in a heavy ponytail, thicker than her own pigtail. It looked very nice.
"I still wish we could live together," the still-slender Fuu muses. Still wearing round-frame glasses over her hazel-green eyes, her blonde hair remained at shoulder length. Hikaru doubted Fuu would ever change. "It seems we're more comfortable in each other's company than anyone else's."
"Yeah," Hikaru sighs as the three gaze on Tokyo. "I'm still having so much trouble adjusting to a quiet life back home. But I'd be loath to go back to Cephilio again."
"You just miss that hopping fuzzball Mokona," Umi frowns.
"Yeah, I do," Hikaru flushes, her memories of the curious rabbit-like alien always being good ones. "I even miss some of the others. But I doubt I'd be comfortable living there."
"As would we," Fuu nods understandingly, then gazes at the letter half-hidden in Hikaru's pocket. "Hikaru-chan, what's that?"
"Oh!!" Hikaru smiles as she pulls out the envelope. "Some of the girls at my school are part of that weird fan club that's getting around, the Prettygirl Wanna-bes. They convinced me to write one of them."
"The Prettygirls?!" Umi blinks surprisedly. "I've shopped at Prince & Co so many times, I can't count, but I've never really taken interest in their mannequins."
"It is a strange phenomena, I must say," Fuu muses. "But are they real women?"
"I guess the Prettygirls are moulded from real girls," Hikaru pulls out the letter. "This is the newest one, Atako Hana. She once lived in Tomobiki of all places."
"Ugh! She'd understand weirdness!!" Umi's eyes roll.
"What does she say?" Fuu wonders.
"Nothing much; I just wrote to her two weeks ago," Hikaru shrugs. "But I was thinking of going to Prince & Co and actually seeing these girls. Wanna come?"
"Well, I could pick up a dress on the way," Umi muses.
"I have nothing pressing right now," Fuu admits.
"Great!!" a flash of the old Hikaru appears in her eyes. "Let's go!"
* * *
Atako and Haruka were now modelling jeans and casual shirts on Four, having made their circuit of the windows and all the floors since the former started as a Prettygirl. Atako's fears of someone recognizing her had proven unjustified; she had seen several girls from Tomobiki when they passed through, but they had not stopped long enough to give her a close enough look. During the weekends, she brought herself up to date on events in Tomobiki.
After Lum's expulsion, the whole district had fallen into deep mourning. The fact that she faced first-degree murder accessory charges if she ever showed her face on Earth again was the ultimate deterrent. Lum's friends had not visited, either. The district's high school boys considered marching on the National Diet to demand a special reprieve for their favourite alien, but with Mendou cowed by his family and the bodyguards fighting among themselves, nothing came of it.
The district's high school girls had nothing to complain about; their icon, Mendou, was safe and sound and Lum was nowhere close to take him away. The problem of Asuka was seen as a mere inconvenience; they doubted a marriage between the man-phobic girl and the scion of Japan's richest family would ever succeed. They were also hurt when Rei had been trucked back to Uru a paraplegic. Many had come to despise Shinobu for crippling their other icon, but given Shinobu's fantastic physical strength, they never said anything derisive to her face.
Shinobu was still in mourning over Ataru. Atako found that odd; Shinobu dropped Ataru like a hot potato when Mendou first came to school, abandoning her old boyfriend to Lum's "tender" mercies. She hadn't become suicidal or anything quite so dangerous (save for those who got her angry). In fact, many said that Shinobu had achieved a certain level of contentment now that the chaos which had rocked Tomobiki had ended. Atako no longer cared; her feelings for Shinobu these days were about the same as her feelings for Lum.
Atako is shaken out of her remembrance as the voices of three young women echo close by. "Are you sure we can find her?" a high-pitched voice wonders.
"We've examined all the other floors save this one," a voice laced with considerable knowledge muses. "Wait! Look there!!"
"That's her!" a third voice, one full of self-assurance, concludes.
Atako is now fully awake as three girls appear. They were, if you were interested in such matters, three of the most well known faces in Japan. Hikaru Shidoo, Umi Ryuuzaki and Fuu Hou'ouji; the Magic Knights of Tokyo Tower.
"It's her!" Hikaru's chestnut eyes widen in awe. "Wow!! Up close, they're so real!"
"They are quite exquisite," the bespectacled Fuu muses. "The construction is so lifelike that save for the skin, I'd believe her to be as living as we."
"We've encountered a lot stranger," Umi leans up to take a closer examination, then notices Haruka beside her. "Hey, check the blonde out! She's pretty okay!!"
Fuu shifts over to stare at Atako's companion. Hikaru remains in place in front of Atako, her eyes never swerving from the frozen Prettygirl's. Atako could easily sense the storm of confusion and wonderment raging through Hikaru's heart. Weighing down on her, sadly, was a dark cloud of insane battles and strange encounters in an alien world which made Ataru's many adventures look tame.
Privately, Atako wished that she could talk to Hikaru, assure her that everything was okay, that she would get over what she experienced as a Magic Knight and swiftly return to a normal life. However, one part of the bioroid takes off on a quick flight of fancy. She imagines Hikaru as a Prettygirl, her angelic face frozen in plastic. Her wide, impish eyes were purest "kawaii." She would be great modelling specials on Floor One...and downright sexy in a negligee on Six!
<<Down, girl!!>> Haruka's laughter washes over her.
Atako flushes. Was her imagination THAT easy to detect?! Laughter answers her from across the room. <<I heard your hormones kick into gear over here!>> Kaori's voice echoes from her position ten metres away. <<I agree, she's beautiful! We should get her to stick around...perhaps get her to join us.>>
<<Can we?!>> Atsumi wonders from Atako's left. <<I mean, can't you sense how much shit they've been through?!>>
<<Many of us came here for the same reasons which're hurting Hikaru-chan and her friends,>> Atako muses.
She then pauses as a confused look crosses Hikaru's face. The redhead looks around. "Guys, did you feel that?"
Obviously, Fuu and Umi were also alert. "It felt as if...I was hearing voices!" the former blinks.
"This place is full of ghosts!!" Umi frets.
"No...no...!" Hikaru stares intently at Atako. "Hello! Can you hear me?!"
Atako moves to answer her, but Haruka cuts in. <<Careful, Atako-chan! Remember what they warned us in case we got tempted to talk to outsiders! Our telepathic powers're too strong for most normal minds!!>>
Atako catches herself from telepathically calling out to the former Magic Knight, then decides on an empathic approach; there was no danger. Fixing her attention on Hikaru, she projects an image of nighttime, an urgency to return when the store was closed and the staff moving to unfreeze the Prettygirls for the weekend break. Hikaru blinks surprisedly, then closes her eyes, her own powers interpreting the message.
Obviously, there was a bond between the Magic Knights. "It appears they're trying to tell us something," Fuu muses. "They want us...to return...after hours."
"They're real!" Umi exclaims. "Real girls!! But...how?!"
"I guess we'll find out tonight," Hikaru stares at her friends. "I assume we were going to stay here for the weekend."
The others nod. Hikaru gazes at Atako. "See you soon."
* * *
That night, the Magic Knights make their way down the front of Prince & Co. The window blinds were drawn, allowing the crews inside to undress the mannequins in privacy before moving them to the basement for unfreezing. "It always struck me odd that the place is shut down for the whole weekend," Umi crosses her arms. "Something tells me the truth's gonna be even stranger to believe."
"Agreed," Fuu nods, smiling. "Yet...I wouldn't deny myself this experience. I've always been one for mysteries. I think a profound one is afoot here."
Suddenly, a voice echoes from behind them. "There you are! We've been waiting for you!"
The Magic Knights turn to see Celeste walk up. "You know us?!" Hikaru blinks.
"Well, you three are pretty recognizable," Celeste muses, then notions them to follow her. "C'mon inside. Atako-chan and the others're waiting for you."
"So they are real," Fuu muses as the three fall in behind the display supervisor.
"Yes," Celeste nods. "We'd figure after what you three went through, telling you about our secret wouldn't strike you so odd."
"You believe us?!" Umi exclaims. "Just like that!"
"Just like that," Celeste nods as the four make their way through a service entrance into the main floor. Crews were already moving the frozen beauties to the freight elevators. "All the Prettygirls are telepathic and empathic; Atako-chan had to use her powers to persuade you to come visit us tonight. Would you believe I was a Prettygirl for ten years?"
The Magic Knights blink. "After what we've heard and seen tonight, not to mention what we experienced in Cephilio," Fuu smiles, "...I'll believe anything right now."
"Great!!" Celeste notions Hikaru to the passenger elevator. "Atako-chan really wants to meet you, Shidoo-san! Why don't you go back up to see her?!"
"Okay!!" Hikaru nods.
As Fuu and Umi are escorted around the store by Celeste, Hikaru makes her way to the fourth floor. Atako and Haruka were still in place; the crews were now just getting to work on Floor Two. "Hi, Atako!!" Hikaru smiles, appearing before the unmoving Prettygirl. "Thanks for inviting my friends and I here; we really appreciate it."
No answer. Hikaru blinks as she wonders what could be wrong, then slaps her forehead. "Geez, I expected her to say 'hi' back! Hikaru no baka!!"
Suddenly, Hikaru's mind seems to touch another's. <<Please don't call yourself that, Hikaru-chan. It's really an awful thing to say about yourself.>>
<<Atako-chan, be careful!>> another woman's voice warns.
Hikaru blinks, then shakes her mind clear. Staring at Atako's face, she leans up. "You can talk!"
<<You don't seem to be hurting her,>> a third woman muses from Hikaru's left. <<I guess she's more stronger than we thought.>>
"Atako-san?" Hikaru wonders.
<<Hi, Hikaru-chan!>> a voice sings from right before her.
"Oh, wow!!" Hikaru gushes. "This is neat! How'd you become this, anyway?! I never thought people could do this!"
<<It's...a very long story...>>
Atako spends about ten minutes relaying the background of the Prettygirls. Then, sensing Hikaru's curiosity, she fills in the gaps in her own story. Realizing that the woman before her was one of the most infamous high school students in recent memory, all Hikaru can do is allow her jaw to drop. "Geez! I mean, I heard of you! But down where I live, most of us heard that you really got a bum rap because of Lum!!"
<<That and more, unfortunately,>> Atako sighs.
Hikaru then blinks as the freight elevator alarm dings, the doors opening to allow the work crews to get the fourth floor girls ready for unfreezing. To Hikaru's surprise, Umi and Fuu are pitching in. "What's going on?!" the redhead wonders.
"They have to be undressed before they're unfrozen for the weekend," Fuu reports. "They can use some help!"
"Oh?!" Hikaru hums, glancing at Atako. "I guess that means you and your friend here need some help getting that off, huh?"
<<Be our guest,>> Haruka chuckles.
A devilish grin crosses the redhead's face. *Oh, no!!* Atako moans to herself. *I've created a monster!*
Hikaru then examines the display. Because of the tight blue jeans, Atako and Haruka were kept upright by foot braces in lieu of support rods. Remembering what she heard about the Prettygirls' agility, Hikaru quickly shifts Atako's arms up so she could slip the shirt off. The Magic Knight is amazed at the softness of the Prettygirl's skin. "You feel more like a love doll than a statue," she comments as she unbuttons the jeans, gently sliding them down Atako's legs.
<<I felt the same thing with the first girl I undressed, too,>> Atako chuckles.
Once the jeans are gone and cast aside, Hikaru undoes the bra, then moves to slip off the panties. She stops surprisedly on seeing the curly brown hairs framing Atako's groin. "Hey, what is this?!" she wonders, her fingers lightly brushing the hair.
To Atako, it is as if every nerve in her body overloads all at once! <<HIKARU-CHAN!!!!>> she screams as a rolling orgasm rocks her from head to toe.
Hikaru suddenly gasps as that empathic wave resonates deep in her, driving her to her knees. "Oh, gods...!!!" she exhales, trying to suck in oxygen as her mind stops spinning.
Fuu walks up, smiling sympathetically. "You best be careful when you touch them there, Hikaru-chan," she snickers. "They're very sensitive in that area."
Hikaru fires her an ugly glare, causing the bespectacled teen to retire in a fit of coughing. "Tell me something I don't know!" she grumbles as she stands, moving to undress Haruka...
* * *
An hour later, Atako walks gingerly out of the freezing chamber, the circulation pumping warm blood to her extremities as her stiff joints quickly loosen up. Taking the offered robe, she slips it on, then walks over to the three visitors waiting amidst the crowd of conscious Prettygirls. "Hi," she holds out her hands to gently grasp Hikaru's. "Nice to meet you...in person!"
"Me, too!!" Hikaru blushes, then looks around. "This is quite a set-up! I doubt no one in the Wanna-bes could ever imagine it being like this!"
"It's not so strange once you get used to it," Atako admits as she spreads her legs, drawing out her vaginal protector, then slipping it into her robe's pocket.
"Doesn't that hurt when you put it in?" Umi wonders.
"Not really," Atako smiles. "As a guy, I could never imagine what girls go through when they have sex. Now, I get to see how the other shoe fits. It's been a real education more than anything else, becoming a Prettygirl."
Hikaru blinks, a hidden voice deep inside her flashing a gentle warning. "What are you trying to say? That...you want me to be a Prettygirl?"
Atako jolts, then shudders in a spasm of coughing. "N-no! I...oh, jeez!!" she slaps her forehead. "I'm sorry, Hikaru-chan! Look, becoming a Prettygirl is much more complex than you could ever think. Not everyone's fit to be one. I became one because it was either that or I would die. But when you three came in here earlier today, we couldn't help but notice the sadness, the pain you three experienced when you were in...Cephilio, was it?"
"It was awful," Umi hugs herself. "Never knowing if we'd live or die, wondering if we'd ever see home again..."
"I've never been able to put that behind me," Hikaru shudders, then gazes at her friends. "At least you two have that."
Umi and Fuu blink, then shy away. Atako stares at them, but says nothing to attract Hikaru's attention. "Well, when I saw you, I found myself wondering what you'd look like as a Prettygirl," she blushes. "I gotta admit, you would look great!"
"Really?!" Hikaru feels her cheeks colour, then smiles. "Thanks! I appreciate that."
"So," Atako smiles. "Since you're here, how'd you like to see how we do things?"
The Magic Knights readily nod...
* * *
After the impromptu tour, Atako retires to her bedroom to get dressed. Haruka had already left to see Michiru. It struck the other Prettygirls as odd that the violinist would still see her former lover after their spat and Haruka's three-month absence. The Magic Knights were relaxing in one of the furniture displays on the first floor, watching television. "They seem so happy here," Fuu sips her cocoa.
"Well, this is the ultimate turn-on," Umi chuckles. "You stand in a window frozen still, no worries in the world while everyone gawks at you wishing they were just as beautiful."
"Yeah, but I don't think many see their presence here as that," Hikaru muses. "I mean, a lot are street kids, runaways from broken homes. Atako-chan's sorta like that. Failed relationships, like Haruka-san's and Kaori-san's. People who were so badly hurt, they had no choice if they didn't want to die. This place is more of a safe haven for the destitute than anything else."
"You get paid to show off clothes...really good, too!" Umi nibbles on a rice cake. "No worries about where you're going to sleep. Food and things like that only matter on the weekends or when you're on vacation. Time flies past. I talked to some of the girls about to finish their twenty-year stint. Many feel only a couple of years've passed."
"That's not to mention the eight hundred years you get to live after you stop being a Prettygirl," Fuu muses.
"Yeah, that would be so wild!!" Hikaru laughs, then glances at an empty display stand, naked support rods and foot braces marking where three Prettygirls had spent the previous week.
In her mind's eye, she sees herself, frozen young. People would pass by her, see what she was wearing, then race off to buy them. New fashion trends would be guaranteed because of her. Hikaru then blinks on seeing Atako with her. The subtle sales message both would produce would change a generation. Power like that was heady wine to consume.
Atop that, people would want to be as beautiful as Hikaru, as Atako. They would exercise, stay fit, eat right, do everything to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Hikaru had seen some of the more normal-looking Prettygirls. There was no need to look like some anorexic fashion model. Just keep watch over yourself and you would be fine. Hikaru would show the way, just by standing still.
Finally, she could make herself come to grips with the events in Cephilio. The pain of her time as a Magic Knight would fade, replaced by the security of knowing her future was in her hands, not in the hands of some capricious Fate who had whimsically destroyed her innocence, her childhood.
Hikaru blinks, then notices that Fuu and Umi are gazing concernedly at her. "What is it?"
"You okay?" Umi wonders. "You just seemed to zone out there for a moment."
"Oh, it's nothing," Hikaru chuckles, scratching the back of her head.
"I do not believe so," Fuu smiles knowingly.
Hikaru sweats. "In fact, I seriously believe that you are now considering taking Atako on her offer...and become a Prettygirl," Fuu softly continues.
Hikaru looks down at herself. "Are you?" Umi wonders.
Silence falls, then Hikaru nods. "Yes."
"Why not?" Hikaru sniffs. "You know what it's been like for me! I can't fit back in! I'm a stranger in my own home, my school...everywhere where I used to feel at home, right now, my skin crawls. People expect things of me, demand that I be a certain way, go back to what I was before Cephilio. Don't they understand? I'm not that person anymore! That Hikaru's gone!!"
Umi and Fuu exchange looks. "Atako could say the same thing of her life...even more so," the latter muses.
"You're really going to do it?" the former wonders.
Hikaru nods. "Yeah. I'm gonna do it."
Silence falls, then Umi nods. "Then I'll do it, too!"
"As will I," Fuu smiles.
"What?!" Hikaru blinks. "Why?"
The others look embarrassed. "Hikaru-chan...we've lied to you all this time," Umi stares at her. "It hasn't been easy for me or for Fuu-chan. You say you're a stranger in your own home. It's the same for me. I can't even talk to my parents anymore. They want me to be the stuck-up princess I was before Cephilio."
"Our parents, like yours, have never been able to understand what we endured," Fuu continues. "Try as we might to make them believe, they cannot conceive of our lives as Magic Knights. I'm tired of compromising for them. My very life has fundamentally changed since that day in the Tower. If my parents cannot accept that fact...then I can't live with them anymore."
"Nor I," Umi smiles. "Besides...I've missed you two so much. I feel more at home with you two than anyone else on this planet. I want us to be together, just like it was in Cephilio. We can have that here, you know."
Hikaru blinks, then shudders as joyous tears flow down her cheeks. "Oh, guys, I love you so much!!" she sobs, reaching out to fiercely embrace her best friends.
* * *
"Oh, man..." Hikaru moans as her eyes flutter open.
Atako's concerned face gazes down at her. "Wake up, Hikaru-chan. It's the first day of your new life."
"Atako-chan..." Hikaru smiles. "Is it...did it happen?"
"Yep," Atako nods, shifting the table up so Hikaru could see herself. "Hikaru-chan...meet Hikaru-chan."
Hikaru gasps, eyes widening in awe. She was already tall as a Terran, Atako's height. However, her new body did not possess the callouses, healed scars and other decorations her time as a Magic Knight produced. Very little had changed; Hikaru did not ask for alterations to make her more like a fashion model. "Wow!" she breathes out. "I look great!"
"I think so," Atako whispers in her ear.
Hikaru flushes, quickly sensing the more than casual interest in her fellow bioroid's eyes...not to mention the stirrings of her own heart. "Where're Fuu-chan and Umi-chan?"
"They should be waking up right about now," Atako turns to the other tables in the gestation laboratory.
Umi and Fuu remain asleep. Like their fellow Magic Knight, neither elected to have any alterations done to their looks. Fuu even wanted her eyes to be defective so she could continue to wear glasses. "Boy, these two'll sleep through an air raid!" Hikaru mutters as she walks over.
Staring at the lithe forms before her, the redhead devilishly smiles as her fingers land on Umi's left leg. They gently trail up the thigh, then press on her clitoris. The platinum-haired bioroid's eyes snap open as a shocked cry escapes her lips. Hikaru laughs as Umi draws her legs into herself. "HIKARU!!!!!!"
"Neat way of waking you up, huh?!" Hikaru snickers.
"Hentai!!!" Umi sneers.
"You better get used to it, Umi-chan," Atako snickers. "When you're frozen, people'll be touching you all over the place. The sooner you accept that, the better."
"I may not like this!" Umi sulks, then stares at the sleeping Fuu. "Hey, is she okay?!"
"I don't know," Hikaru muses. "But I have a neat way to wake her up!"
She then whispers into Umi's ears. The latter turns deep crimson as she looks away. "Not a chance!!"
"Oh?!" Hikaru slyly muses, then shifts Umi's head to gaze at Fuu's breasts. "Look at them, Umi-chan! Don't they look tasty?! You sure you don't want to try her out?"
Umi shudders as Hikaru's husky whisper ignites her own desires. Staring at Fuu, she remembers Atako's warning. Well, it wouldn't hurt...if Fuu didn't kill them first. "Oh, okay!"
Giggling, Hikaru guides her fellow bioroid to Fuu. Both lean down, their tongues flicking at their friend's nipples. They immediately harden as the dozing bioroid begins to shift. After a moment, Fuu yawns, her eyes fluttering open. "Oh, my," she smiles. "An...interesting way to be woken."
"'Morning, Fuu-chan," Hikaru leans up, kissing her.
Fuu turns to Umi. The latter blushes as the former slips on her glasses, then smiling, draws her into an embrace. Their first kiss as bioroids is tender and quite long. Hikaru quickly withdraws, slips into a robe provided by Atako, then the two exit the lab to give their friends privacy.
Once in the hallway, Hikaru and Atako gaze on each other. "I felt your attraction even when I was normal," the former begins. "I...thank you for helping me achieve my piece of mind, Atako-chan. I really appreciate it."
"Hey, I've always been inclined to help a damsel in distress," Atako smiles.
Both laugh, then Hikaru fixes Atako with a gaze. "Could you love that damsel in distress?"
Atako feels herself stiffen, but only for a second. Two weeks before, she was concerned that she would never find the right girl. Now, thanks to someone, she had. "I could learn how."
"Good," Hikaru slips her arm around Atako's. "Let's get better acquainted."
Laughing, the two head upstairs...
* * *
"So what are our assignments again?!" Hikaru wonders as she, Fuu and Umi wind their way into the gynaecologist's lab to be fitted for their vaginal protectors.
"You'll all be with Haruka and I on Five modelling bathing suits," Atako reports as Hikaru slips into the chair. "They're really nice; I saw them in the catalogue. Don't worry; Ayesha will be in charge of getting us dressed. She does excellent work."
"Considering it was done to her for fifteen years, that doesn't surprise me," Umi smiles.
Atako pulls out an unmoulded protector, then the heater. "Ready?!" she gazes at Hikaru.
"You sure you don't want some fun first?" the redhead meows.
The brunette makes a face. "Sex maniac! Besides, it's not smart to get horny when you're fitting these things. A bad fit'll hurt later."
Hikaru nods, gripping Atako's free hand as the latter slips the plastic sheath into her vagina. She cries out as her hymen is shattered, then breathes easy as the invasion of her nether regions stops. "Okay, here we go," Atako turns on the heater, then melts the protector into a perfect mould.
"Aaah, that feel's great," Hikaru purrs as the plastic fills every nook and crevasse in her vagina. "I hope I don't cum when I'm walking around; I don't want this thing to slip outta me."
"You'll be fine; I'm used to walking with it inside me," Atako helps Hikaru off the chair. "Who's next?"
Fuu slips into the chair as Atako gives Umi an unmoulded protector. "Care to do the honours?"
"Okay," Umi smiles.
As Fuu gasps deliriously on having her virginity taken, Hikaru reaches into Atako's robe to get her protector. As Atako bends over to apply the heater, Hikaru flips up her robe, then forcefully rams the protector into her lover's nether regions. "AAAAAAAAH...HIKARU-CHAAAAAAN!!!!!!" Atako screams, her hand nearly sending the heater into Fuu's thigh.
"Ouch!!" Fuu cries as the hot flash rips into her inner thigh. "Hikaru, if I've got a scar after this, you'll pay!!!"
The others laugh as Atako swamps Hikaru with a kiss. Once Fuu is prepared, Umi takes her place. In moments, the four gingerly leave the lab for the lineup to the freezer units. "Scared?" Atako stares at the former Magic Knights.
Hikaru kisses her. "As long as you're with me, never!"
"I hope the suits are nice!" Umi frowns. "I hate to start my new job wearing bad clothes."
"I doubt you'll have that problem here," Fuu chuckles...
* * *
Monday is a hectic day for Prince & Co. On the fifth floor, a gaggle of Wanna-bes flocks around the three newest Prettygirls. Given their fame...and that they chose not to craft new identities when they became Avalonians...they become an instant hit. "Oh, Hikaru-chan is so beautiful!" one girl from Shinjiku crows on seeing the white wrap-around Hikaru wears.
The redhead bioroid is depicted with one arm around Atako's back and the other on the brunette's abdomen. The brunette bioroid's left hand sits assuredly on Hikaru's shoulder, the right set to her side. Atako wears a deep burgundy string bikini leaving little to the imagination. "You know, they really look like a beautiful couple," a girl from Minato hums to her friends.
"Well, they sorta drifted together when Hikaru-chan wanted to become a Prettygirl," her friend concludes.
Fuu and Umi wear bikinis, the former's a lime green and the latter's a sky blue, reflective of their colours as Magic Knights. Haruka, the fifth Prettygirl on the stage, has a gold wraparound like Hikaru's. The crowds stare at the five mannequins, chatting excitedly away as they admire the display and those making it possible...
* * *
Night falls as the lights are shut off. A janitor makes his rounds through the various floors, singing away as he passes each display. "'Night, girls," he calls out as he passes the display housing Atako, Haruka and the Magic Knights.
<<'Night, Akira-san,>> the five girls chorus.
Darkness falls. Haruka allows herself to fall asleep, her thoughts full of Michiru and romance. Fuu and Umi remain in psi-contact, the two enjoying a private fantasy taking them back to Cephilio. Atako and Hikaru are also in psi-contact, imagining themselves on a private beach, walking nude down the shoreline. Atako tries to make herself a boy in this state, but no matter what, her mental image remains a girl. "I don't mind," Hikaru kisses her. "You're you. That's what I became attracted to."
"Thank you," Atako gazes at the beautiful moonlit night.
Hikaru introduces Atako to the people whom she encountered in her travels in Cephilio. Clef, Plesia, Felio, Ascot, Kaldina...and Mokona. Atako laughs on seeing the alien creature who was mascot, protector and general imp for the Magic Knights. "He's simply adorable!" Atako smiles, sensing the love Hikaru felt for Mokona, then remembers the imp's voracious eat-anything appetite. "I could've used him to dispose a few things...like Rei and Jariten!"
She then tries to conjure up the images of those who had been part of Ataru's life. But to Atako's surprise, the images remain dim, clouded. "Gomen nasai..." she looks down.
"Don't apologize," Hikaru embraces her. "They hurt you. They destroyed your old life; they would've killed you hadn't Prince & Co stepped in. It's natural for you to cast them all from your thoughts. Once you've had the chance to look at your old life from a distance, you might think of good things about them, even Lum. But it's still too soon for you. Even more, time passes faster when we're this way. Your healing will take a long time."
"Yours, too," Atako frowns.
"Yeah...but at least I've someone to share my pain with," Hikaru leans up to kiss her.
* * *
In the real world, a small beacon of light appears before the frozen Hikaru and Atako. It grows until it is the size of a car tire, then fades, revealing an beige egg-shaped furry creature with slender ears, stubby arms and the legs of a jackrabbit. Landing on the marble floor, it looks around, the ruby crystal on its forehead flashing intermittently. It then gazes at Hikaru. "Puu!!!" it coos, leaping up to land on her arm. "Puu, puu, puu, puu, puu!!"
Hikaru and Atako are shaken from their dream state. Seeing the creature now sitting on her arm, the latter gasps with shock and delight. <<Mokona!!!>>
<<WHAT?!?!>> Umi flashes from nearby. <<Mokona's here?!! How did that fuzzball get here?!!>>
<<What's he doing here?!>> Fuu wonders.
Mokona's ears droop as his favourite friend does not react to his presence. "Puu...?" he hesitantly inquires.
Concentrating, Hikaru projects as much positive empathic energy at Mokona as is possible. <<It's okay, Mokona,>> she calls out. <<I'm here; I just can't move! Can't you hear me?!>>
"Puu!!!" Mokona coos happily, his crystal sending an energy probe into Hikaru's mind. Understanding that the women magically suspended in this place wanted to be this way, he relaxes, then glances curiously at Atako. "Puu...?"
<<This is my lover, Atako,>> Hikaru flashes. <<Be nice!>>
"Puu-uu!!" Mokona hums understandingly.
<<I think he's got a dirty mind!>> Atako hums.
Mokona flushes as Hikaru's laughter tickles him. Hopping to her shoulder, he looks down. His energy beam then pulls Hikaru's hand from Atako, turning the palm up. Atako's free hand is then moved in front of her, palm gently placed in Hikaru's. Mokona then allows Hikaru to grasp her lover's hand. <<I think he likes you,>> Hikaru chuckles.
<<No, I don't think so...>> Atako hums.
Mokona then hops onto Hikaru's arms, leaning into her bosom. "Puu..." he coos as sleep takes him.
<<He's just looking for some place to nap,>> Atako concludes.
<<Mo-...ko-...na!>> Hikaru growls.
The other Prettygirls laugh...
* * *
Our Beloved Parents,
This letter informs you that we've decided to take our leave of you at this time. We do not do this out of hatred; that is the farthest from the truth. However, because you still refuse to understand the terrible experience we endured in Cephilio, we believe we have no choice but to seek a place where we can come to grips with what has happened and from there, proceed forward.
Be assured, we are alive and well. We can't tell you where we're residing at. We do this because we know you, acting out of concern for our welfare, would move to interfere in our quest for internal peace and harmony. Please do not think us cruel in refusing you; we love you dearly and know you love us in return. But your refusal to recognize what happened to us two years ago has created a chasm between us. Rather than permit the pain to grow to the point where a break would shatter our families, we believe a temporary separation at this time would be the best for all concerned.
Do know that we are with other young women who have gathered seeking a place where they can reconstruct their lives. By helping them, we help ourselves. It's a nice place; we've already made many good friends and hope to make many more. We suspect we shall be here for at least five years. If by then we can face the world without fear or pain, we'll happily come home. If we cannot, then here we'll remain.
Please do not cry for us; as we said, we do this out of concern for you most of all. Our thoughts are with you at this time, hoping for your prayers, but most of all, your understanding.
Your loving daughters...Hikaru, Umi and Fuu
P.S. That's Mokona in Hikaru's arms.
* * *
To be concluded...