"The Galataea Syndrome" Part I0

by Fred H

"Ten months?!!"

Atako and Lum nod. They, Shutako, Asako, their four young charges, Sakura, Shooko, Mie and Makoto meet with the Principal, Kotatsuneko and Mark Onsen for morning tea. The androids look devastated. The two Sagussans shudder with barely contained rage and frustration. The men are quiet, mutely sympathetic. Few could detect what the giant cat-ghost thought. "Yes," Makoto sighs, her voice full of ashes. "Something happened in the cloning chambers that caused contaminants to get into many of the cryogenic systems. Nearly half the new bodies were lost as a result."

"Seven more months as an android...?" Shooko shudders, her eyes brimming with angry tears.

Hisako tightly holds Lum. Tanako remains steady but her body quakes with her anger and shock, trying to maintain some strength for her new family, Atako's hand on her shoulder. Mika and Hitomi relax in Shutako's and Asako's warm embrace. "Have they found out what caused it?" Onsen wonders.

"Something similar to the Shoozooki nanite virus that hit everyone else, but magnified big time," Mie growls. "We're not sure if they got loose from the cybernetic labs we set aside to study them...they're quite close to the cryofreeze chambers...or if someone might have brought them there deliberately."

"Sabotage?!" Sakura pales.

"If it was one of us and if I catch the bitch that did it, she won't be living long enough to regret what she did!" Makoto snarls, her fists quaking with rage. "This is a direct affront to all of us!! When we decided to help you, we all took an oath to accept you as our new sisters, as Sagussans!! That anyone would do that is nothing short of state treason!! The motherfucker that did this deserves the slowest torture conceivable...!"

"Makoto!!" Mie snaps, causing her bond-mate to jolt.

"Sorry," Makoto looks down.

Mie sighs. "Noa called and said they've discounted any of the Daishi'cha. Everyone happily submitted themselves to a mind-meld with one of our Internal Security officers. All turned out clean. The third possibility is that the Shoozooki might have penetrated the Galactic Barrier and got to Sagussa."

"I hope not," Atako shudders. The Galactic Barrier was the gravity-electromagnetic field surrounding the Milky Way. Sagussa lay five thousand parsecs beyond the Barrier, a forcefield which supposedly could not be penetrated by any of the races around Earth, even Zephyrus. "What's going to happen now?"

"Well, the cloning project will be move to the Mobile Space Station over Sen'sha Seven," Mie sighs. "It's the most airtight location we can conceive of; no nanites were ever brought there. Once it's set up, we'll start over again. You know, those who were saved are ready for mind-transference..."

"No, Mie-chan," Lum shakes her head. "We all took an oath ourselves; we'd all become human at the same time. We won't back away from that oath as long as even one of us can't enjoy it."

Mie and Makoto nod understandingly. "My friends, you have our deepest sympathies over this setback," the Principal lowers his eyes. "Mark, Kota-chan and I've always prayed the day would come very soon that the heinous crime unleashed on all of you would be finally corrected. To see you suffer further for this..."

"Please, sir," Asako smiles. "Thank you. Your sympathies are more than appreciated. We just have to grin and bear it."

"That's the best attitude to take," Onsen nods, then looks at Shooko. "In the meantime, Suriyoku-sensei, we've got some news for you. Two friends of yours are going to come work with us as your assistant swimming coaches."

"Eh?!" Shooko blinks. "Who?!"

"Melissa Davenport and Natalie Wilkinson," Onsen smiles.

Shooko pales, her eyes widening with shock. "Melissa and Natalie are coming here?! To work here?!!"

"We just accepted their resumes yesterday," the Principal smiles. "What better way to recover from your sorrow than having good friends come work with you?"

"Oh, sir..." Shooko beams.

"Melissa...?" Atako blinks, then her eyes widen. "Hey, wait! Wasn't she the silver medalist for Canada at the Seoul Olympics in the high dive?!"

"Hai!" Shooko blushes.

"You know her, Shooko-chan?" Mika wonders.

"I should; I got the gold!" Shooko beams. "Natalie got the bronze for the U.K.! I haven't seen them in years!!"

"Well, they'll be here for classes tomorrow," Onsen smiles.

"They're bringing their younger brothers with them, two each," the Principal adds. "The older pair, Jeffery and Steven, will be in your class, Moroboshi-kun. The younger pair, Alan and Philip, will be in your class, Shimau-kun. I'm sure you'll wish to talk to the others to make the proper security arrangements."

"We'll get on it right away," Atako nods. Having six people from abroad come into Tomobiki, especially since two of them were close friends to Shooko, could make for some interesting times over the next while, especially if the Davenports and the Wilkinsons got curious as to why everything in this town seemed to be frozen still in time. "We'll cyberlink with all the others to pass the news."

"Splendid," the Principal smiles. "Anything we can do to help, by all means ask. We must endure this for another year at the most, but our community spirit is still strong. The conspiracy and the Shoozooki couldn't take that spirit away. As long as we remember that, we will in the end endure..."

* * *

"My, such sad looks on your faces," Hanawa frowns. "Has something happened?"

Everyone in Class 3-4 gazes at their homeroom teacher at the end of the day. "We...just got a bit of bad news, Sensei," Lum smiles. "It's not really too bad, but still a disappointment."

"I see," he nods, then smiles. "Well, I hope you'll all be in better spirits tomorrow. No matter how bad this situation might seem to you, there's always a better tomorrow ahead."

"Sensei, how much do you know...?" Ryuunosuke wonders.

"Fujinami-kun," he holds up his hand. "I don't understand what's happened to you. To be honest, I really don't want to know the whole thing. But I know deep in my heart that your true selves have never changed regardless of whatever befell you a year ago. That you have endured this far without losing hope speaks volumes about each of you. How long do you expect this to continue?"

"Ten more months," Atako sighs.

"Then let those ten months be happy ones, Moroboshi-kun. The love you express to each other hasn't been affected; in fact, in many places, it's increased to the point where it shines like a bright star that could never be extinguished. Believe that and you will endure! I have faith in you all," Hanawa waves his hands.

Hearing that, the women beam. Even many of the men smile, gazing at their android classmates. No matter how little Hanawa actually knew, that he could even now see the living spirits of the women under the fleshlike plastic and layers of circuits and motherboards was reason enough to be happy. "Now, in the meantime, I've an announcement to make," the teacher coughs. "Tomorrow as you might soon learn, Suriyoku-sensei will get two assistants, the silver and bronze high dive medalists at the Seoul games. Their brothers Jeffery Davenport and Steven Wilkinson will become members of our class. Please ensure that their stay in Tomobiki is a happy one." The bell then rings. "Well, that's it for today. Have a good evening and I'll see you all tomorrow, bright and early!"

"Hai!!" the students rise.

Hanawa heads out of the class as many gather together for the trip home. "Hey, guys, tough luck about your new bodies, huh?!" Kosuke Gisei walks up to Atako, Lum, Shutako and Asako. "Hang in there! We're all still with you!"

"Thanks, Kosuke-kun!" Atako smiles, then stares at her fiancee and friends. "Well, shall we go home?!"

The others nod as they stream out of Room 337. Their young charges await them by the front door, each sliding their arm around their favourite "big sister." "Onee-chan, do you and Asako-onee-chan want some help cooking tonight?" Hisoko stares at Lum, gently gripping her hand as they turn down the street for the Moroboshi home. "I'm pretty good with a stove and skillet."

"We'll be fine, Hisoko-chan," Lum beams, gently squeezing the younger android's hand, then gazes at Atako, who holds Tanako's hand. "Hasn't things been so crazy for the last while, Darling?"

"Are you kidding me?!" Atako laughs, then smiles at Tanako. "Gods, it's been like Musical Bedrooms ever since these two lovely scamps came into our lives!" She then stares at Shutako and Asako, both holding Mika's and Hitomi's hands respectfully. "I'm glad you two came down to live with us, Shuu-chan, Asa-chan."

"Wherever you live, Ta-chan, we'll live with you," Shutako kisses Atako's cheek. "Besides, Mother, Kinshou-mama and Chuuko-papa wanted a bigger room to live in even with Aunt Rui and the others moving back to their old homes to be with their daughters."

"Don't you find it strange, Shuu-chan?" Asako stares at her. "I mean with everyone being so mobile as of late."

"Asa-chan, we're just rationalizing our relationships to make them work better," Atako grins. "I mean, Negako-chan needs the chance to learn all about love. She went to live with Chigaiko-chan to learn it. Mom, Chuuko-papa and Haruka-mama love Aunt Rui and the others, but the marei'cha bonds are between those three. Aunt Rui and Aunt Yayoi love our parents, but the marei'cha bonds are between them. It's the same with Aunt Junko and Aunt Hiroko. Eventually, Tanako-chan and Hisako-chan will decide to live on their own; so will Mika-chan and Hitomi-chan. There's nothing wrong with adjusting to fit each other's needs, Asa-chan. Lum-chan and I happily adjusted our lives to allow you two and these four sprites come live with us for a time. You willingly came and we're glad to have you live with us. We're a family now."

"If this was over a year ago and someone told me I'd be living with you, I'd've made them a head shorter!" Shutako laughs, then smiles. "But believe me, Ta-chan, Lum-chan, I'm more than happy to be living under the same roof as you."

"You just like Grandma's fresh milk!" Lum snickers.

Shutako jerks as everyone else laughs...

* * *

The Galatea Syndrome

an Urusei Yatsura fanfic

by Fred Herriot


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Based on Urusei Yatsura, created by Rumiko Takahashi

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WARNING: This is a sometimes dark fic with lots of strange lemon scenes in it. If this isn't your style of fan fiction story, go elsewhere. All standard lemon fanfic/ASFR story warnings apply.

**** **** ****


"Is it almost done, Onee-chan?" Hisoko wonders as she and Hitomi peek into the kitchen.

"Hai," Lum looks up from her stove. "You know, there's one good thing about being androids."

"What's that, Lum-chan?" Asako looks up from making rolls.

"It's the fact that Darling can finally eat my cooking," Lum sighs, then shudders as all the disasters resulting from whenever she was unleashed over a stove come back. "Oh, gods, what I put Darling through at times! It's a wonder she still loves me!"

"What were all the things you turned him into again?" Asako laughs. "Twins, then a werewolf, then...?!"

Lum flushes as the Terran androids laugh. "You know, when we're organic again, I have to learn how to cook Terran food," the Oni android sighs. "I want Darling to enjoy a happy life with me, not spend most of it in a hospital bed."

"Good for you, Lum-chan," Asako hums, then looks around.

A week ago, she and Shutako agreed to swap homes with Haruka, Kinshou and Chuuko. Shutako's mother was still needed to run the Mendou Conglomerate, whose fate was now up in the air with Hajime Mendou's passing away a month before Shutako became an android. The Japanese government had taken official control over both the Mendou and Mizunokoji family fortunes until such time as Haruka Mendou and Saeko Mizunokoji were again organic. Most likely, the two zaibatsu would merge with Ryooko and Asuka taking joint charge. The Moroboshi Clan assets, under Komeru's administrative control, were relatively safe.

Asako loved the Moroboshi home. It had been her family's dream to own their own house, a dream derailed when the conspiracy transformed their daughter into an android. She wasn't used to being around such space. It must be more profound for Shutako, someone used to a giant mansion and servants doting on her. Yet when Atako and Lum offered the chance for them, Mika and Hitomi to move in, Asako leapt at it. To her surprise, Shutako happily agreed. Was it for me she did that? Asako wonders, gazing out the window to see another beautiful day in Tomobiki. How much more is Shuu-chan going to sacrifice for me? I hope she realizes that she doesn't have to always bend to my wishes all the time, that we're equals in this relationship. I have to show her that very soon or else I might risk running into the same problems I experienced with Kenji-kun. I have to tell her how much she means to me, how much being true to herself means to me.

Slender hands slide around her waist. Asako blinks, then gazes at Hitomi leaning into her back, a content smile on her face as she rested her head on the older android's shoulder. "Hitomi-chan, how were classes today?" she gazes at the younger android.

"They were okay, Onee-chan," Hitomi sighs. "We managed to do some diving in swim class. Shooko-chan's such a nice teacher. I hope the new teachers are just as nice."

"If Shooko-chan's happy to have them come, then we should have no worries," Asako sighs, then turns to embrace Hitomi. A glance out of the corner of her eye reveals Hisoko leaning into Lum's side. "Now, if you two scamps don't mind, your Onee-chans have to get dinner ready. Go wait in the living room."

"Hai!" Hitomi and Hisoko nod as they walk out.

Lum and Asako sigh. "I wouldn't change this for the world, Asa-chan," the former gazes at the latter. "My lovely Darling, two wonderful friends, four nice girls to care for. This is my idea of a perfect home, you know."

"It's not totally perfect," Asako reminds her, hoping the Oni wouldn't take this the wrong way. "Noa's not here."

"I know," Lum smiles, nodding at her. "But Noa-chan's bearing up. It's a good thing that a Sagussan's body produces regenerative enzymes which are like sulphuric acid to those nanites! I shudder to think of what could happen if Noa-chan, Mie-chan or Makoto-chan were ever attacked."

"So would I," Asako hums. "You know, Lum-chan, I'd really like it if we lived like this when we go to Sagussa. You and Ta-chan, Shuu-chan and I, the girls if they wanted to."

"And Noa-chan?"

"Hai, and Noa, too," Asako nods. "Say, she has a sister, doesn't she?"

"Hai, Honey," Lum smiles. "Care to be introduced?"

"Definitely," Asako laughs...

* * *

"That was a great meal, Asako-onee-chan!" Mika beams as she contently pats her stomach. It seemed strange to do that; the energy converter was located right between the two halves of their primary power packs, right where the heart would be. Still, every act which reminded them of their previous existence was encouraged to ease their transition back to flesh-and-blood.

"Hey, thank Lum-chan, too!" Asako blushes. "She helped!"

"It was a lovely meal," Shutako kisses Asako's cheek. "What did we ever do to deserve such wonderful people as you?"

"You love us, Shuu-chan; that's reward enough," Asako winks at him, then slips off her glasses. "So, what can we do for the rest of the evening? No one has homework, I take it."

Suddenly, the back door opens and closes. "Atako-chan!! Are you here?!" Nagaiwakai's voice hails.

"What's wrong, Grandma...whoo!!!" Atako gapes as she walks in.

Nagaiwakai now wears a very beautiful lace see-through teddy and string panties in black to complement her fair skin. "Well, Atako-chan, Lum-chan? Do you think this'll be too much for Shi-chan when she comes back tonight?" she makes a dramatic pose.

"Grandma, you'll knock her dead!" Atako beams. "Go for it!!"

"I'm so glad you like it!" Nagaiwakai beams. "If you excuse this silly old android, I have to download some new programs into my system so I can give Shi-chan a real present! I SO miss her when she's not around to ravage me!! Ta-ta!"

The younger androids exchange looks as Nagaiwakai heads back to her loft. "Grandma's really getting into the swing of things, isn't she, Darling?" Lum laughs.

"I've never seen her so happy," Atako sips her tea, then gazes at Tanako, who is warmly smiling at her, gently hugging her arm. "Now, what is it, Tan-chan? Did my silly grandma scare you?"

"No, Onee-chan," Tanako laughs, then kisses her cheek. "But Hi-chan and I were thinking that you and Lum-onee-chan deserve to be happy, too. Can we give you that happiness?"

"We did promise we'd teach them how to make love, Ta-chan," Shutako reminds her, gazing at Mika, who is hugging her arm. "You know that learning the basics by actual practice is a lot better than downloading programs from the CMU."

"True," Atako sighs, then gazes at Lum. "Well, Lum-chan, shall we take them up on their offer?"

"Tcha!" Lum readily nods, then kisses Hisoko's cheek.

With that, the two groups of androids clean up the living room, then Shutako, Asako, Mika and Hitomi head to the downstairs bedroom they shared, while Atako, Lum, Hisoko and Tanako head to the former couple's bedroom. Now fitted with a beautiful bed, the room seems smaller than before, the closet now being used to store just clothing, not futons and bedsheets. Hisoko's and Tanako's bedroom is the same way. The four androids sit on the bed in a circle. The younger pair exchange smiles, then lean up.

Hisoko's lips gently land on Lum's, she guiding the latter to lay down on the bed, her hands reaching down to guide Lum's uniform jersey off her body. Sitting across Lum's crotch, Hisoko grins, then pulls off her uniform, revealing a strapless lace bra. She leans forward to allow Lum to shove that off her breasts, revealing her perky nipples and soft areolae. "I'm so glad I can make love to my beautiful android Onee-chan who I love so much," Hisoko smiles as she leans down to deliver another kiss, then leans up to allow Lum to have a chance at her nipples.

Lum's tongue readily flecks at those lovely points, causing Hisoko to shiver as her circuits begin to flutter in response. Hisoko gasps as her breathing increases, the energy being drawn into her C3U demanding more oxygen intake into her secondary systems. She shudders as Lum's very experienced hands move to shove her skirt and panties away from her buttocks. Hisoko leans up, then rolls to one side as she kicks away the fabric, then quickly tugs at Lum's skirt to free her waiting love canal.

"Am I a beautiful android, Hisoko-chan?" Lum smiles.

"You're a very beautiful android, Onee-chan," Hisoko licks her lips. "May I please you?"


Hisoko shifts around to place her muff over Lum's face while she leans down to introduce her north gate into the Oni's south gate. Both quickly dig in, shifting to their sides to be more comfortable as their tongues deftly lash out to drink up the other's love juices, causing their clits to quiver and more spasms to shake their internal systems as an orgasm builds in their C3U.

The morality of such acts had long flown out of the minds of even the most conservative android. All that mattered now was that if sex occurred, it was voluntary and tied to either a relationship or a good friendship. While some visionaries like Kamatarou Uzuki would see the androids as one big family, the usual family morals couldn't be applied to androids whose minds came from nearly fifty thousand individuals, each from different backgrounds, each with their own dreams and realities, their own social mores, their own outlook on life and love.

Lum gasps as her orgasm overwhelms her, then she plunges her tongue deep into Hisoko's vagina to return the compliment. The younger girl squeaks as her first orgasm as an android woman thunders through her. Both pant as their systems return to normal, then blink as they hear Atako and Tanako cry out on reaching the big O. Both look over to see Tanako in Atako's lap, both tightly holding the other as they breathed out, then gaze into each other's eyes and tenderly kiss. "Arigato, Onee-chan," Tanako smiles. "It was simple, but it was very nice. I'm glad you showed me that."

"I'm always happy to please any android, especially one I care for very much, Tan-chan," Atako cups her chin. "And especially if she was constructed by Iyami-mama and the others."

"I'm not as beautiful as you, Onee-chan," Tanako blushes.

"Oh?!" Atako hums, then gazes at Lum and Hisoko. "Would you two care to comment on that? If anyone should have the right to say who's beautiful and who's not, it's the lovely androids whose lives we happily share...ne, Lum-chan, Hi-chan?"

Lum and Hisoko exchange glances, then the former beams. "It will always be you, Darling," she shrugs. "I can't chose anyone else but you. You've been with me for so long, both as Ataru and Atako, that I could never think of anyone else. Yes, I love Hi-chan and Tan-chan as friends and as part of our family, but I will only have one fiancee," she holds up her engagement ring.

"I agree," Hisoko nods readily. "Atako-onee-chan is the most beautiful android I've seen since I came to live here."

"And you said that in front of Tan-chan?" Atako gasps.

"Why not?" Tanako smiles, leaning into Atako. "You are the most beautiful android in Tomobiki, Atako-onee-chan. Even I agree to that...after all, how can't I trust Hi-chan's judgement?"

"I just hope it doesn't lead to you two breaking up!" Atako hisses, slapping her forehead. "Buddha knows, I've caused more than my share of pain over the last few years."

"We're all guilty of that, Ta-chan!" a voice calls from the door. Everyone turns to see Shutako, Asako, Mika and Hitomi waiting at the door, all having come up after their time together. "Can we come in and join you?"

"Hai!!" Atako smiles.

The four androids walk in, then everyone adjusts around so they could all fit on the bed, mostly sitting up relaxing in the embrace of the one they love the most. Since androids felt pain in a profoundly different manner than organics, they wouldn't feel as much discomfort remaining still. In fact, Kamatarou Uzuki used the androids' ability to remain frozen still on secondary power during many of his fashion shoots with the younger generation of androids. "Shuu-chan, I need your opinion," Atako coughs.

"What is it, Ta-chan?" Shutako stares at her.

"Am I really that beautiful, Shuu-chan, Asa-chan?! C'mon, I was pretty plain as a guy! Everyone can't possibly think I'm the one to look up to!"

"I think so!" Shutako laughs. "Ta-chan, beauty isn't just skin deep, remember?! You've said that many times both as Ataru and Atako. Everyone's just come to accept it."

"After all I did?" Atako frowns.

"Yes, you caused pain, Ta-chan...but you chased the pain away when you finally became one of us," Asako smiles. "How could we not love you anyway? You saved us, freed us, then fought to ensure we stayed free. Did you go too far with the Galcron-Sigma? That's not the real issue, I think. Personally, that wasn't really you that day. A court would probably judge you not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. We certainly did, especially when you began to disintegrate like that. That you chose in the end to live, to stay with us in this form, made us all very happy."

"How did that happen?" Mika wonders. "Everyone says that you wanted to die after you used that stuff on the men, Atako-onee-chan. How did Iyami-mama and the others convince you to fight on?"

"Well," Atako smiles. "As soon as it finally hit me what I did, I realized that I had gone too far, way too far...death was the only way I felt I could atone for what I did..."

* * *

Seven months ago, the Hinan Building.

"He's dying, Lum-chan."

Lum jolts as her eyes begin to water, a shudder quaking her as she gazes in horror at Sakura. Both now stood outside a private bedroom on the sixth floor, which served as a temporary hospital bed for her suicidally depressed Darling. Ataru had already tried three times to end his life, each time barely averted. Still, no one had come close to breaking Ataru from the darkness. "No...!"

"I'm so sorry, Lum-chan," Sakura shakes her head. "No matter what we try, he just gets worse and worse. He wants to finally end it, Lum-chan. He wants to die so badly, his body's slowly starting to shut down. Eventually, it will get to the point where even keeping him alive artificially won't help. We're losing him."

The Oni android shudders, gazing at the beautiful cityscape, her eyes detecting the men shuffling mindlessly to and from work or school. The Galcron-Sigma attack had claimed nearly five thousand in the first twenty-four hours. Deaths had scaled back much since that awful day five weeks before, but they were still occurring.

It was horrifying to look into the hollow faces of those boys who had been affected by the nerve agent. Along with memory loss came a loss of self-confidence; now the men were meek little mice not wanting to anger the women whom they once ravaged at will. Many had been spared thanks to psi-sensors and projection shield systems Ataru had set up prior to the attack. Anyone who still harboured anger or resentment to the women were affected. The others had, even moving, been shielded for the hour it so for the Galcron-Sigma to degrade into harmless bio-carbons now drifting in the upper atmosphere over the Pacific.

And now that black day would claim the one who perpetrated it, the one Lum and so many others had forgiven so many times for his bout of love-crazed madness. "How long...?"

"A month," Sakura replies. "That's being optimistic."

Lum nods, then enters the room. Ataru now lay strapped on the bed, IVs leading into his arms as an oxygen mask sat over his face. The Oni approaches him, horrified to see the wasted look in his cheeks, his open eyes. It was as if he had full-blown AIDS and was now on his last legs. "Please, Darling," the android weeps as she gently grips his limp hand. "Please, we forgive you! Please, don't die! Live! Without you, we'll have nothing to live for!!"

Sobbing, she leans down on his chest, her anguish stealing her voice as her mind rotates around the horrible thought of never being with this man who had happily sacrificed so much for her...

* * *

Across town, the Special Projects Group's eight workers relax as they wait for the converter chamber in the other side of the room to finish. "This might not work, my friends," Lilith Tomassen (TT-2619) sips her tea, her voice flavoured with the strong tones of Scandinavia. "Even if we can program the unit to the point where she'll be ready, will he help breathe life into her?"

"We must have hope, Lilith Tromsovna," Sophia Marakov leans into Kieko Kisashi's side, warmly holding her lover's hand. "Ataru Muchiovich had hope for us to eventually become human again. How could we not do the same for his time of misery?"

"It may not be enough, Sophia Iosefovna," Tiari O'Keefe warns, then blinks as a ding! is heard from the room next door.

The eight exchange looks, then stand. "Well, let's go see!" Luna Hamilton waves to the door to the conversion chamber room.

The others nod, then hesitantly approach. Luna grabs the door handle, then breathing in, opens it. The androids close their eyes as they shuffle inside, then once all are within visual eyesight of their creation, open them. Their eyes then go wide as their jaws drop in sheer awe of the lovely creature before her.

"Sacred Buddha, she's heavenly!!" Iyami gasps.

"My God, she's an angel!!" Luna covers her mouth.

"Bozhe moi!" Sophia exclaims. "What have we made?!"

Tiari blinks, then stares at her companions. "We've made the key to our future, Sophia Iosefovna," she smiles. "She's all our hopes and dreams locked into one person."

Inside the chamber, the recently completed android which would one day call herself Atako Moroboshi lays unmoving, full power fed to her systems and basic programs in her CCU, but nothing more. Hearing the voices, her eyes flutter open as she gazes at the eight responsible for her existence. "She's awake!!" Minari Bara gasps.

The android blinks, then her mouth opens as her speech centre modulates her oral sound output to match the normal speech of her creators. "Greetings. I am Android Unit Tee-En-Nine-Four-Four-Nine. My systems are operating within design specifications. I request initial sentience programming."

Everyone exchanges surprised looks, then beam...

* * *

Five days later.

"Ohayo gosaimasu, Mom, Aunt Aoi, Tampopo-chan, Hyooko-chan!" Iyami leans into Tampopo's. "How are you all?!"

"Iyami-chan!!" Kikuko beams as she opens her arms to allow her daughter to hug her. "And how's my beautiful daughter today? Are you and Lilith-chan getting along?!"

"We're okay!" Iyami beams.

She greets Aoi, Tampopo and Hyooko. "Do you want anything to eat, Iyami-chan?" Tampopo wonders. "By the looks of it, you've had a long night. What've you and the other's've been up to?"

"I've already eaten and recharged," Iyami shakes her head. "Anyhow, are you four really busy right now?"

"Not really," Aoi shrugs, then wanly smiles. "We're all just sitting here worried about poor Ataru-kun. Everyone is."

"Well, could you all come down to my office as soon as you can?" Iyami smiles. "We just finished the special project we were working on over the last bit."

"Oh, you mean the prototype android that could be built just from a blood sample," Hyooko nods. "How is she?"

"She's ready for intimate interaction testing," Iyami nods, then shrugs. "Um...the others and I're hesitant on doing it with her. In a sense, she's our daughter. It'd be like my doing it with you again, Mom," she looks at Kikuko. "We can't do that. In fact, she's already calling me 'Iyami-mama.'"

"Well, if you think of her as your daughter, she'd then be like our granddaughter," Aoi shudders. "That's almost as bad. Hyooko-chan, Tampopo-chan, could you do it?"

"Give a virgin android her first sexual experience?" Hyooko grins, then gazes saucily at Tampopo. "Shall we, my dear?"

"Let's!" Tampopo nods...

* * *

"We're so glad you're here!" Luna embraces Hyooko and Tampopo as they arrive in the younger androids' workshop. "Believe me, we can use all the help we can get to make her perfect."

"Does she have a name?" Hyooko wonders.

"Not yet," Luna shakes her head, then reaches for a magnetic sealer. "Now, before we let you in there, please understand that we're partially doing this as a surprise for everyone. We based her off someone everyone knows and we're not sure how people're going to react to this. We would like to disable some of your optic circuits before letting you go inside. It won't totally blind you, but it will obscure her face from your vision."

"Oh, making her a woman of mystery, eh?!" Tampopo hums, then nods. "Go ahead, Luna-chan. It makes it more exciting!"

Luna nods, then draws open a crack in both older androids' faces, drawing the skin away. Wincing on seeing the forest of circuits, wires and motherboards pierced by a perfect set of teeth and a still-human mouth, a triangular hole for a nasal cavity and two very human eyes, Luna steels herself, then pulls out another tool to disconnect certain feeds into their eyes. Once that's done, Hyooko and Tampopo see black spots over Luna's face. "It's working," the former announces.

"Good," Luna reattaches their faces, then waves them to the testing room. "Go on in and have some fun."

"Thanks," Hyooko and Tampopo head inside.

They then stop on seeing the reclining nude android before them. While her face is covered in darkness, the rest of the body isn't. "Heavens, she's beautiful!!" Hyooko gapes. "I wish they didn't affect our vision so we can see it all!"

"I like what I see so far!!" Tampopo growls.

On the bed, the still-unnamed Atako's eyes blink, then she smiles as she rolls around and stands up. "Greetings, sisters. I am Unit Tee-En-Nine-Four-Four-Nine. All my basic interpersonal programming is complete. May I have your code numbers before we begin the test Iyami-mama desires me to perform?"

"Unit Tee-Kay-Seven-Four-Six-Two," Tampopo announces.

"Unit Tee-Zed-Six-One-Nine-Three," Hyooko adds.

Atako smiles radiantly. "I am pleased that you have come here, Tampopo-chan, Hyooko-chan," her voice drops to a sultry purr as she walks up to gently take their hands in hers. "Iyami-mama tells me you're both very special. I've been instructed to give you as much pleasure as you wish. May I begin?"

"Please," Hyooko gulps. What were they in for?

* * *

A day later.

"I'm so damn fuckin' sore!!" Benten groans.

"I never thought making love to a girl would be so tiring," Oyuki moans as she finally reseals her face plate.

"She wouldn't stop!" Lum gasps, feeling her still-damp love canal. "Tcha, I need a recharge!!"

"What did you make her into, Iyami-chan?! A female Rudolph Valentino?!!" Shinobu pants as she begins to dress.

Lum, Shinobu, Benten and Oyuki were the next ones asked to come down to meet the new android. "Sorry, girls," Iyami laughs as they stagger to chairs and dress. "Maybe we should calm down her routines. Hyooko-chan and Tampopo-chan felt the same way when they went at her. But did you like what you experienced?"

"You made a fuckin' sex goddess!!" Benten whoops. "So, when can we finally see her in ALL her glory, Iyami-chan?!"

"Very soon, Benten-chan," Iyami nods, then gazes at the clock. By now, Minari and the others were making the sales pitch to Ataru, ensuring they brought Atako in unseen via a man-sized crate. "If all goes well, we'll do the final programming tonight, then she'll make her grand entrance tomorrow morning. But you'll all be on Triton seeing Oyuki-chan's parents, right?"

"Hai!" Lum nods. "We'll just have to wait to see our new sister after school, then. Tell her we'll be waiting."

"Hai, Lum-chan, we will!" Iyami beams...

* * *

Next morning...

Atako yawns as her eyes open, stretching herself as she feels soft blankets under her. Rising, she rolls her neck to work out a kink, then glances around the room. Her eyes work in standard visual light mode, all protocols to flash advisory datascreens suppressed. In fact, her self-aware program was modified to ignore or pass over all verbal references, demonstrated unique abilities and behavioral patterns concerning herself or anyone else, that would reveal them all to be androids.

Atako doesn't know this, of course. In her mind, she is a human being. All she knows is that she is Atako Moroboshi, the daughter of Muchi and Kinshou Moroboshi, lover to Lum of Uru and Earth's tag champion. Staring at herself, she smiles on seeing her trim body, her hand reaching down to gently guide her fingers over her skin. Her nerves spark as she gets close to her pleasure centre, then she holds back. No, she wanted Lum to ravage her...

"Where am I?!" she looks up, glancing around. She was in a barren white room with a single bed, a Tomobiki High School girl's uniform hanging from the wall, a bra, panties, socks and shoes by her feet. Stepping to the door, she looks outside, then sees the clock, noting that it's seven-thirty. "OH, SHIT, I'M LATE!!!!"

A dark blue smoke trail blazes from Taian Commercial School...

* * *

In minutes, Atako jogs into the Moroboshi home, races up to her bedroom, grabs her things, runs down to the kitchen to pour herself some orange juice and make a sandwich, then gulps it down fast. By then, Kinshou is up. "Lum-chan, is that you?!" she calls out from her bedroom, still in Haruka's arms.

"It's me, Mom!!" Atako yells out. "Going to school!!!"

"Okay!" Kinshou absently calls back. "Have a good day!"

"Hai!!!" Atako gulps down the drink, then races out the door.

In her bedroom, Kinshou sighs as her sleep program wavers from placing her back under or else allowing her to wake up as the confused data pours into her system. She yawns as a screen warns of a low primary power charge. "It's so nice that my daughter's so energetic..." she hums...then it hits her.


* * *

"Ohayo, Taiko-chan, Kaneko-chan!!" Atako smiles as she jogs up the front walkway. "Nice day, isn't it?!"

The Koinumas snap around, surprised to see the new android arrive. "Um...good morning," Taiko nods, then as Atako heads for the building, stares at her sister. "You recognize her?"

"Not in my datafiles," Kaneko shakes her head.

Atako arrives, then breathes out, staring at the clock tower. Still ahead of time. Whew, that was too close! She then blinks as Natsuko and Lan walk up. "Ohayo, Natsuko-chan, Lan-chan!"

Both stop, staring at her. "Who are you?!" Natsuko blinks.

"Mou!" Atako makes a face. "Natsuko-chan, I'm Atako! Geez, do you hate me so much that you're all pretending to have amnesia?! Where's Shinobu-chan and Lum-chan? Did they come in yet?!"

"Um...Lum-chan and Shinobu-chan are on Triton seeing Oyuki-chan's parents...er, Atako, was it?!" Lan blinks, running through her datafiles to try to locate information on this woman.

"Lan-chan, whatever happened to 'Darling?'" Atako laughs, then jogs up to the classroom.

Natsuko and Lan stare at each other in shock, then both jolt as a scream is heard from the front gate. They spin around to see Ryuunosuke race up, her eyes tearing. Everyone gathers around the tomboy as she stops, leaning against the rail. "Ryuu-chan, what's wrong?!" Atsuko wonders.

Ryuunosuke sniffs, then stares at them. "He passed away last night," she announces, her voice a hushed whisper.

Stunned silence falls as the androids exchange shocked looks. Eyes water as everyone drifts into their lover's embraces, the suddenness of the event overwhelming them. "Oh, gods, what do we do?" Kai claps her hands in prayer.

"Joseph put his body into cryofreeze," Ryuunosuke bites her lips. "Noa-san's people say they have enough memories of him that they could reconstruct his psyche when the time comes. As far as they're concerned, the promise to us still stands. After all, it's what he wanted all along..."

The androids look down. "Someone has to tell Lum-chan and the others," Yumiko looks away from hugging Nobuko.

"Let's do it now," Midori sighs.

"Wait!!" Momoe calls out.

The others stop, then hold hands as Momoe stares to the sky. "Lady Lyna, you who are the one who guides our friend Noa and her people, please protect Ataru-kun wherever he may go. Forgive him his many faults, but bless his pure and loving heart. Please know that in the end, we all loved him as he loved us. Take him to the just reward he deserves in Nirvana or wherever wonderful place you are now and watch over him forever more."

"Amen," the others nod, then head inside.

The procession heads up to the third floor, some breaking off to tell those who haven't heard. The members of Class 3-4 head to Room 337, then stop as they see someone at Ataru's locker. "Hey, you!!!" Ryuunosuke snaps, then races up. "Who the fuck're you going into that locker?!!"

Atako jolts, then stares wide-eyed at the tomboy. "Ryuu-chan, what are you talking about?! It's my locker!!"

The others stop, gaping at this long-haired beauty with the cherubic face, the wide brown eyes and the drop-dead gorgeous body, then gaze at each other. "Who are you?!!" Nobuko walks up to her.

"Nobuko-chan!!" Atako snaps, then sighs. "Jeez, you guys are something else, I swear! I'm Atako, Atako Moroboshi!!" she points to herself. "Your class president, remember?!"

Everyone jolts as they hear "Moroboshi," then stay frozen as Atako slips on her indoor shoes, then heads into the room. The other androids then exchange looks. "Atako...Moroboshi?" Kumiko gasps. "Masaka...it can't be..."

"I'll be damned!" Ryuunosuke blinks, then grins. "Someone made an android of Ataru-kun!! It must've been Iyami-chan and the others; their 'special project' they wanted kept secret!"

The others blink, then smile. "Well, that's better than him dying on us!" Lan giggles, then throws out her arms. "No wonder she said that I should call her 'Darling!' He's alright!!"

"He's a she now, Lan-chan," Natsuko reminds her.

Everyone beams as they head in, then stop by the doorway as they notice Atako sitting in Ataru's seat glancing at her history textbook, intently concentrating on her work. "Isn't it strange, though?" Chisono hums. "She doesn't seem to act as if she knows she was Ataru-kun. Do you think something fouled up?"

"Maybe," Nobuko muses. "Let's ask her."

The others approach Atako. "Hey, Atako-chan, are you okay?" Ryuunosuke wonders. "You sure your systems are working alright?"

Atako blinks confusedly. "Is this some sort of new fetish you girls're trying? What do you mean 'systems?' I'm okay."

Everyone jolts, exchanging surprised looks, then turn back. "Darling, don't you know?" Lan wonders. "About us?"

"What about?" Atako wonders.

"That we're androids!" Lan cries out.

"Androids?" Atako jolts, then laughs. "Lan-chan, you're such a kidder! Next thing you'll be telling me is that I'm an android!"

"Um...you are," Ryuunosuke hums.

"Mou, Ryuu-chan!!" Atako sighs. "I'm as human as the next girl! If I was an android, I'd be acting like this..." she then starts a robotic mime. "And-talk-ing-like-this," she stutters out in an imitation of Rika's pleasure robot program, then snickers. "Androids?! What a crazy idea!! Really, Ryuu-chan!! Geez, are you having a fight with Nagisa-chan or what?!"

The others blink surprisedly, then shuffle away. "Who's the creep who made Atako-chan forget she's an android?!" Kuruko hisses. "What happens when she runs low on charge or needs a diagnostic?!"

"Call Iyami-chan!" Ryuunosuke hisses. "Now!!"

Kuruko runs out of the room. Lan then marches up to Atako. "Darling, we're telling the truth! All of us are androids! You're an android, too!! And I'm going to prove it to you!"

She then grabs her magnetic sealer from her bag, then yanking up her jersey, moves to open her central access plate. "Lan-chan, what are you...AAAAAH!!!!!!" Atako screams on seeing the black line appear in the Seishin android's skin, then stumbles out of her chair as she passes out.

Everyone stares at the unconscious android. "Gee, she took that very well," Rikuko muses.

"Gimme that, Lan-chan!" Ryuunosuke sighs. "Taiko-chan, Kaneko-chan, put her on the teacher's desk! Let's open her up! Someone get me a two way CSAT jack!!"

In a second, Atako lays on the desk, her jersey hiked up, bra opened up and her skirt and panties pulled down. "Fuck me, she's gorgeous!" Ryuunosuke whistles, then leans up to open Atako's central access hatch.

"Yep, she's an android," Namiko gazes into Atako's central cavity, gazing at the systems now down to secondary power.

Ryuunosuke opens herself up, then links herself into Atako. "C'mon, Atako-chan, you gotta remember..." she bites her lips, then blinks. "What the fuck...?!"

"What is it, Ryuu-chan!" Kumiko wonders.

Ryuunosuke stares at the unconscious android in confusion and disbelief. "I don't believe any of this!" she gasps. "She's been programmed never to acknowledge that she's anything other than a normal girl! And...her memories have been changed, too!! She doesn't even remember being Ataru-kun!"

"What?!!" Tasuko gasps. "What about the Tag Race and all that?! It's public knowledge that our tag champ's a guy!!"

Ryuunosuke shakes her head. "Well, Atako-chan believes that she's the only child of Muchi-kun and Kinshou-chan, was born a girl, raised a girl, then fought Lum-chan in the Tag Race, tagged her horns, said 'now I can be married' and Lum-chan fell in love with...with HER?!?!" she gapes. "Fuck me, everything in Atako-chan's mind is right save for the fact that she now believes she's always been a girl...and...and, holy shit!!"

"What?!!" Fusako urges.

"She's been made to forget the Galcron-Sigma," Ryuunosuke stares at her classmates, her eyes watering. "She doesn't know about the conspiracy, doesn't know about the Shoozooki or the Sagussans, doesn't know about what happened to us, doesn't know about what Ataru-kun did..."

Suddenly, cold bursts from the broom closet at the back of the room. "That must be Lum-chan and the others now!" Midori runs over to open it. "Get in here, girls!! You've got to see this!"

"What is it, Midori-chan...DARLING?!?!?!" Lum screams as she, Shinobu, Benten and Oyuki race up to gaze at the android. "Who did this?!! What happened to Darling?!!"

"We think Iyami-chan and her friends did it, Lum-chan; their 'special project,' remember?" Ryuunosuke gazes at her. "But we're still trying to figure out what's going on here. Atako-chan here doesn't remember a damn thing about being Ataru-kun..."

Atako's eyes suddenly snap open. "That's correct, Ryuu-chan," she announces neutrally, rising up into a sitting position, her face now frightfully neutral.

The other androids jolt. "Darling?!!" Lum gasps.

"This is a recording from this unit's template prior to the termination of his bodily functions," Atako announces, then smiles as her voice softens, her voice modulating to that of Ataru's. "Forgive me, my dearest Lum-chan, my beloved friends, for leaving you. I know you wanted me to live on, but after what I did, no amount of strength could erase the guilt I feel. Still, I know how you've become quite emotionally dependent on me. I cannot bear to pass on knowing you will all suffer because I am no longer with you. Therefore, with the help of Iyami-chan and her friends, I give you all this humble gift," she indicates herself, "...to act in my place until the time comes that you can finally restore yourselves to that which you were before the Shoozooki came. I know Noa-san and her friends will insist on preserving my old body for their uses. I give them permission to do so. I give them also my love and my thanks for showing me even briefly the destiny that could've been mine had not cruel Fate stepped into my way."

"Darling...!" Lum's eyes water.

Atako stares warmly at her, then the others. "You will have noticed by now that Atako is different. She does not know she is an android. She doesn't remember anything about the conspiracy or how I plunged into the depths that has led to this point. She in fact believes that she has participated in all the events of my life as me...as a woman. I asked Iyami-chan and the others to prepare Atako this way for a reason. Over the last while, I noticed you've seemed to act more as pleasure androids than as real people. I beg you, be careful. You are androids BUT you're people first. The latter is as much important as the former and will become even more important when your new bodies are ready. Atako believes she is a person. She'll never accept any attempts by any of you to persuade her of the truth. Please, I beg you all, do not destroy her innocence. Atako doesn't deserve to know what I did."

By then, Sakura, Kinshou and Shooko have streamed in, along with a considerable crowd of other androids. "Ataru-chan!!" Kinshou screams as she runs through the crowd to gaze at Atako, her eyes watering. "Oh, gods, what have you done to yourself...?"

"Hello, Mom," Atako smiles. "I'm sure Lum-chan and the others will tell you my message. Please, remember this command phrase: 'Android Unit Tee-En-Nine-Four-Four-Nine, execute special emergency diagnostic program cancellation, authorization code Kinshou-Lum-Dee-Four-Nine-Four.' Atako will only respond to your voice, Mom. It will give her back all her memories of my life as me, restore the saikoo jinseijitsu to proper operation and remind her that she is an android. Please, do not use it unless it is absolutely necessary. And...please love her as you loved me."

"Ataru-chan...!!" Kinshou shakes her head.

Atako looks down, then smiles, her eyes tearing. "I cannot say much more to all of you. Minari-chan helped me leave private messages for each of you in the CMU. But, right now, I now give Atako what was once mine: a life, whole and complete as it can be given present circumstances. Therefore, everyone...I end my life as I would desire it to end, under my control, by my choice and no one else's. As for you, Lum-chan, my beautiful Oni-chan," she gazes at her. "I have always loved you."

"Darling...!!" Lum shudders. "Oh, Darling, I love you...!"

Atako then reaches down, unplugs the CSAT jack, takes her skin and the magnetic sealer, then reseals herself. She then blinks as her eyes flash for a second, then she shakes her head. "Oooh, did I pass out?" her voice returns to the wonderful lilt which is now truly hers. "Lan-chan, you shouldn't do that to yourself, you know! Are you hurt?!" she gazes at the Seishin teen.

Ryuunosuke jolts, then spins around to seal herself back up quickly. "I'm okay, Darling," Lan stammers.

Atako breathes out, then turns to see Lum staring teary-eyed at her. "Lum-chan, why are you crying?! Is something wrong?! You look like someone just died!"

"I...someone did..." Lum shudders.

"Gomen nasai," Atako slides off the table, then gently takes the crying Oni into her arms. "I don't like it when my beautiful Oni-chan cries," she tilts Lum's face to gaze into hers. "When my Oni-chan's sad, I'm sad. I don't like it when my Oni-chan's sad. Can't your Darling do anything to make you happy, my love?"

Lum blinks, her eyes widening in shock, then she smiles. "Darling...oh, Darling, you love me...?"

Atako responds by sweeping Lum off her feet with a throaty monster French kiss that nearly knocks the Oni android for an orgasm loop. "What does that say?!" Atako purrs.

"That's my Darling!" the twitterpated Oni gags, then stares dizzily at her. "Thank you, ma'am! Can I have another?!"

Atako quickly obliges her. "We lost him..." Benten blinks, then smiles, her own eyes tearing at her friend's joy. "But what the fuck! We got her!! Some trade, huh?!"

"I like it!" Lan claps her hands.

"I have a daughter!" Kinshou sniffs. "I have my child back!"

Everyone shudders, then howls with delight as they embrace and kiss each other, laughing and crying at their joy. Atako stares quizzically at them, then blinks as she looks at Lum, who gazes warmly at her. "Was is something I said, Lum-chan?!"

"No, Darling," Lum smiles. "You were just being you."


* * *

"And I was that way until the Shoozooki hit team arrived and they needed me to be back on my feet again," Atako finishes, gazing at the younger androids. "That's how it all happened."

Hisoko, Tanako, Mika and Hitomi exchange confused looks. "So, in essence, Ataru is dead," Tanako muses.

"Some would say that," Atako sighs. "Others would say that he never really died. That he gave himself a version of Galcron-Sigma and started all over again as me. It doesn't matter now, I guess. I like the way I am now, Tan-chan. I won't change it for anything, except being human in ten months or so."

"Gods," Shutako gazes at her. "You really committed seppuku, Ta-chan. You died honourably, then came back to start again, just like you let me do. I'm happy for you, really I am."

"Thanks, Shuu-chan," Atako grips her hand, then sighs. "Well, what say we all put ourselves down for the night? We got school tomorrow whether we like it or not!"

"Hai," the others sigh as Shutako, Asako, Mika and Hitomi stream out of the room.

Atako and Lum gaze at each other, then notice Hisoko and Tanako still sitting on the bed. "Are you two okay?" Lum wonders.

"Onee-chan," Hisoko smiles. "May we sleep with you tonight? No sex or anything, just...we want to be close to two people who have loved so much...so we can feel some of that love."

"You can have all the love we can give, Hi-chan," Lum beams, then allows the younger androids to lay together as Atako and the Oni, like protective parents, lay to the outside of them.

Downstairs, Mika and Hitomi sit on the heart-shaped bed Shutako and Asako would normally use by themselves. Shutako is patting the pillows down, then notices her lover gazing out the basement window as the sun sets over Tomobiki. "What's bothering you, Asa-chan?" Shutako lays down.

Asako smiles, then slips off her glasses as she warmly gazes at three of the seven teenage android women who presently matter the most in her life. "I'm sorry, Shuu-chan. I'm just worried about what'll happen to us over the next ten months. It's still a long time before we can get what we really want."

"Hai," Shutako nods. "We'll meet new people, probably have more adventures, be a family. No use predicting the future in this town, Asa-chan. Besides, even we can't calculate what comes next."

"True," Asako walks over, placing her glasses on the table, then lays down, allowing Hitomi to slip into the crook of her arm as she lays on her side, facing Shutako, who warmly embraces Mika. "Maybe it's for the best, ne, Shuu-chan?"

"Actually," Shutako reaches over, then pulls out a velvet case from the other nightstand. "There's one thing I can predict."

Asako blinks, then beams as Shutako takes one of the diamond engagement rings out of the box, then slips it on her finger. She then takes the other and slips it on Shutako's finger. "Hai, my love. That is one thing we can be sure of."

Mika and Hitomi beam as they tightly embrace the new couple...

* * *

"Another day, another four percent energy to be used!" Atako stretches herself as she and Lum await everyone on the front steps of the Moroboshi home. "Wonder what these new kids are going to be like. I hope they're nice."

"So do I," Lum breathes in. "Ah, it's such a beautiful day, isn't it, Darling? A good day to be alive!"

"Good morning, ladies!" Shooko's voice hails.

"'Morning, Shooko-chan!!" Atako and Lum beam.

The younger androids come out, then Shutako and Asako emerge, both gripping hands as their new engagement rings sparkle in the morning sun. "Gods, you didn't!" Shooko screams on seeing them.

"Hai, Shooko-chan, we did!" Asako nods.

"Wonderful!!" Shooko clasps her hands together. "I hope you two have a happy life together!"

"We're already having it, Shooko-chan!" Shutako winks.

Two slim hands land over Shooko's glasses. "SURPRISE!!!!!!"

Shooko spins around to see a wavy blonde-haired, grey-eyed woman in a white turtleneck sweater and jeans beside a tall straight black-haired, green-eyed woman in a gold halter top and jeans. Both in their mid-twenties, they're in fantastic physical shape, their slender but well-honed bodies hinting at their success in Seoul. "Melissa!!! Natalie!!!" Shooko screams as she embraces them. "Oh, when did you two come in?!!"

"Just last night, Shooko!!!" the blonde responds with a crisp Oxford accent, marking her as Natalie Wilkinson. "How are you?!"

"Surviving, I guess..." Shooko shrugs.

"Shooko, we know," the brunette, Melissa Davenport, shakes her head, her eyes tearing. "Merciful Jesus, how could you live with yourself being...being an android, for heaven's sake?!"

"I do it, Mel-chan," Shooko smiles, shrugging. "Every day!"

"Forgive me, but how did you know?" Atako blinks.

"Your government told us what to expect when we moved here," Natalie sighs, shrugging, then shivers. "We saw pictures of you with your chests open and all those wires and things in you. Bloody hell, no movie could come close to that..."

"What do you think, Melissa-san, Natalie-san?" Lum blinks. "About what happened to all of us, to Shooko-chan?"

Melissa and Natalie exchange looks. "What do you expect us to think?" the latter shrugs. "Our friend was raped and turned into something that she doesn't want to be. What type of friends would we be if we weren't there to help ease Sho-chan's sufferings?"

"Oh, thank you so much for understanding, Nat-chan, Mel-chan," Shooko beams as she hugs them again, then waves at the teenage androids behind them. "Well, these are some of the school's best divers: Atako Moroboshi, Lum, Shutako Mendou and Asako Yutaka. The four behind them are just starting out but already show a lot of promise: Hisoko Shimau, Tanako Inoshishi, Mika Wazawa and Hitomi Yanagi. You'll be working with them more often."

"You mean they don't short circuit when they hit the water?" Melissa wonders, then ducks Shooko's playful swat. "Jeez, Sho-chan! Even as a human, you couldn't take a joke!!"

"Our systems are waterproofed, you idiot!" Shooko snorts, then stares conspiratorially at Natalie. "Why in Buddha's name did you start a relationship with this insensitive clod, Nat-chan?! You know how obnoxious she is at times!"

"Oh, too true," Natalie sniffs, then smiles. "But tell me: why did you fall in love with this delightful woman Kimiki you've told us so much about in your letters over the last year or so?"

Shooko blushes. "Because she's the most beautiful woman I ever laid eyes on to that point and after what we all went through, I desperately needed someone to love."

"That's right," Natalie muses, then grips Melissa's hand. "She may be an insensitive clod at times, but she was the right person at the right time...and I've not regretted it one bit. You might say, my lovely android friend, that Mel's my love doll."

They laugh, then passionately kiss. "You are such a lovely couple," Tanako beams. "We're happy for you both."

"Thanks, Tanako-chan," Melissa beams. "You know something, Nat? Seeing how happy all the women of this town are, it'll be one heck of a temptation to become androids like them, eh?!"

"Don't think of such things, Mel-chan!" Shooko shudders. "I would never wish this on my worst enemy!!"

"I said it was a temptation, Sho-chan!" Melissa winks, then stares at her, sympathetic tears in her eyes. "It doesn't mean that we wouldn't succumb to it."

"Good," Atako sighs. "Hey, you guys, let's all get to school! Androids or no, we got another long day ahead of us!!"

Everyone laughs as they head to school. "Say, girls, if you're interested, our brothers're aware of what's happened to you, too," Melissa gazes at the teen androids beside her. "They'd be interested in getting to know you as much as they can."

Atako and Lum exchange looks. "Thanks, Melissa-san. If it happens, it happens...but tell them to remember one thing," she reaches down to pull up the Oni android's hand to show off their engagement rings to the new swim coaches. "With many of us, THIS is the relationship that takes precedence."

"Good for you," Natalie nods...

The End...For Now