Hijikata Toushirou didn't like alien technology.
It was foreign, it ran on heavens knew what power, and above all, it was confusing to use. He stared mutely at the display on his Shogunate-issued mobile phone and wondered why he didn't just chuck the damned thing behind a vending machine and just use Sougo as a messenger.
Subject: Get a Big Duck
Hijikata stared at the message. "Kondou-san? Why is the Shogun sending me mails in English? I don't understand what this says."
"It says you should die already," Sougo informed him without looking at the phone. "Executive order to commit seppuku, directly from the Shogun. Finally."
Hijikata placed his hand on his sword hilt. "Do you want to die?"
Sougo rolled his eyes. "Here, let me see. Oh, it really is in English. Sorry, I can't help you. I can only read ancient Sanskrit."
"No, you can't!" Hijikata growled, snatching the phone back.
Kondou peered at it. "I think the Shogun wants us to bring him something. That first word means get; I'm sure of it."
Hijikata frowned. "Why would he ask us? He has errand boys for such things, doesn't he?" It wasn't that he had a problem with getting something for the Shogun, but they were in the middle of tracking Katsura.
"Maybe the item is in a dangerous place. Like Yoshiwara," Sougo suggested.
"You just want to go to Yoshiwara," Hijikata said. "You've been bringing it up ever since we passed that one woman who's friends with the Yorozuya."
"I feel terrible for you young people without love in your lives," Kondou opined. "Ever since I met Otae-san--"
"Nobody wants to hear it, Kondou-san," Sougo said.
A young couple exited the family restaurant nearby, smiling at each other in a sappy way that really pissed Hijikata off. He barred their way. "You there, can you read English?"
"J-just a little?" the man squeaked. The woman glared at Hijikata with suspicion.
"Read this," Hijikata commanded, thrusting his phone in front of the man's nose.
"It says, ah, it says get a big duck."
"Duck? As in quack quack?"
"Y-yes, that is correct. Quack."
"Thank you for your time," Kondou said, stepping up behind Hijikata and placing a hand on his shoulder. "Toshi, what did I tell you about not terrorising the citizens?"
"I wasn't terrorising; I just have an imposing presence." Hijikata waited for the couple to scamper away, then continued. "Anyway, it seems the Shogun wants a big duck."
"A big... duck?"
"Yeah. Where can we get a duck? Is there a store that sells them?"
"How about this one?" Sougo said, his tone conversational.
Hijikata turned to look and beheld a human-sized white creature with round eyes, a short bill, flippers, and stumpy webbed feet. Something about it looked familiar. "In what world is that a duck? Ducks have wings, don't they? Those are clearly flippers."
The creature held up a sign that read, IT'S NOT FLIPPERS, IT'S ELIZABETH.
Sougo tilted his head to the right. "It looks like a duck."
"But can it quack like a duck?" Kondou wanted to know.
"Uh, it's holding up a sign with a flipper. Ducks don't do that," Hijikata said. He studied the message again. "What's this square with dots in it, at the bottom of the screen?"
Sougo leaned down to look closer. "That's a QR code. Don't you know anything, Hijikata-san? Why are you the Vice Chief of the Shinsengumi if you don't even know what a QR code is?"
"Show me where it says in the Regulations that the Vice Chief has to know about whatchamacallits."
"You wrote the Regulations so of course it doesn't say that. But it should. QR codes are used on advertising flyers and such so people can access the company homepage without having to type the address."
"What's the point of putting it in a mail message, though? I'm already on my phone so they can use a link." Hijikata tried to select the image but his infernal phone ignored him. "I can't even click it, what the hell is this?"
"Maybe it's not a link. Maybe it's another message that you can only read if you're able to scan it."
"How the hell am I supposed to scan it?"
Sougo shrugged. "Find somebody with a smartphone."
"Oh, so what, now even my phone is stupid? You're really pissing me off."
"A smart phone is just a certain type of phone, Hijikata-san; you're way too sensitive. You can't scan something that's on your phone screen with your own phone, obviously."
"So let's scan it with your phone."
"My camera's broken."
"So you have a stupid phone, too. Hypocrite."
"What are you losers bickering about?"
Hijikata looked up to find Gintoki standing next to the vending machine with an unconscious woman slung over his shoulder, her green braid trailing in the road dust.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, you sick freak?" Hijikata demanded. "Unhand this woman immediately or I'll arrest you."
The woman's head rotated 180 degrees. Hijikata shrieked.
"Why is the Shinsengumi officer screaming, Gintoki-sama?" the woman asked in a serene voice.
"I dunno, he must have a crush on me that's so desperate he can't take it any more. Isn't that true, Oogushi-kun?"
"Who are you calling Oogushi-kun?" Hijikata exploded. "Who's got a crush? Seriously, I'm going to cut off your head right now, so stand still."
"Oi, oi, no need to get violent," Gintoki said, holding up both hands. "I'm busy at the moment, as you can see." The woman started to slip off his shoulder, but he quickly readjusted his stance.
"What happened to that robot, Danna?" Sougo asked.
Robot? Hijikata took a better look, and sure enough -- this was a maid robot, not a woman. There were no laws against carrying unconscious-looking robots around, unfortunately. He would've loved to stick the stupid wavy-haired asshole into the city jail for at least a couple of days.
"The old bat from downstairs accidentally put brandy into Tama's oil canister and Tama's legs gave out. I'm taking her to Gengai's," Gintoki said.
It really pissed Hijikata off how friendly Gintoki was with Sougo. That was expressly against Regulation 46. He would so write Sougo a citation when they got back to HQ.
"Since you're here, you wouldn't happen to have a smartphone, would you, Gin-san?" Kondou asked.
"Me? I don't even have a stupid phone," Gintoki said. "Who the hell can afford a mobile these days, besides bloodsucking government leeches?"
"Hey," Hijikata gritted out. "You really want to die this afternoon, don't you?"
"Don't get so upset by rhetorical questions, Oogushi-kun."
"Too bad," Sougo said. "I guess there are some things even the Odd Jobs can't do."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Gintoki asked, clearly affronted. "If it's a request, I can find you six of the smartest phones in the galaxy, but you dingbats hardly ever pay us for our services. I've got two kids to feed, you bastards."
"We'll pay you this time," Kondou said. "I'll even put it in writing. If you can find us a smartphone in the next ten minutes."
"What do you need it for?"
"We need to scan a QR code," Sougo said. "It's for the Shogun."
"My QR scanning interface is online," Tama said. "I can scan and interpret the code for you, officers."
"Excellent!" Kondou said, rubbing his hands together. "Toshi, give the young robot lady your phone, please."
"I do not need to handle the mobile device in order to scan the code," Tama said. "You need only to hold the device in front of my eyes."
"Go ahead, Toshi," Kondou said, and Hijikata complied.
A thin green laser shone out of Tama's right eye briefly.
"One moment; translating." Tama's head rotated to its normal position for a few seconds, then back again to 180 degrees. Although Hijikata knew now that she was a robot, he still had to hold back a surprised squeak.
Tama's mouth opened. In a screeching metallic voice, she began to declaim:
ENLARGE YOUR PENIS INCREASE THE LENGTH AND GIRTH OF YOUR PENIS IN MINUTES WITH THE REVOLUTIONARY "ACAI BERRY" PUMP. ORDER NOW CALL 1-888-BIGDICK TODAY
Tama blinked three times. "That was all."
"B-but the message says duck," Hijikata protested, his voice weak. Around them, people were staring. The Shogun's inviolable personhood had just been assaulted right in front of him and he could have done absolutely nothing to stop it. At least none of the onlookers knew the mail was from the Shogun. "Are you sure you didn't scan it upside down?"
Sougo snickered. "That's not how QR codes work, Hijikata-san." Hijikata was getting really tired of Sougo's superior attitude when it came to technology.
"My data bank indicates that there has been a misspelling. On the English keyboard, the letters I and U are right next to each other, so the sender must have meant to type the English vernacular term for the male sexual organ but instead typed the English noun designating members of a species of birds belonging to the Anatidae family."
Hijikata wasn't listening, and neither was anyone else. They stood in their odd little circle -- three Shinsengumi officers, the Gintoki-and-robot-maid combo, and the weird duck alien -- and said nothing for a good minute or two.
Gintoki broke the silence. "What are you all looking so shocked for? Of course the Shogun wants a bigger dick; why wouldn't he? He's the goddamned Shogun so he's supposed to have the biggest one. Wasn't that the whole point of the war, in the end?"
"Danna, he's already got the biggest one. If it got any bigger it would need an official title and its own placemat at dinner time."
"Well, there are lots of boys growing up in our fine country; one of them might accidentally surpass the Shogun without realising it," Kondou said. "He's obviously just trying to be proactive."
"Is this process like a hardware upgrade, Gintoki-sama?" Tama put in.
"More like a combined upgrade of hardware and software," Gintoki said.
"Understood. I'll store this information in my data bank: human bodies run on wetware."
NOW YOU'RE JUST BEING DISGUSTING, the duck said.
"Well, that's that," Hijikata said. "The Shogun wants a bigger dick."
"What do we do with this duck, though?" Sougo asked.
ELIZABETH, the duck insisted.
Hijikata glanced at Kondou, but he was on the phone with someone. Judging from the serious expression on his face, it was probably Matsudaira.
"I'll take the duck off your hands," Gintoki offered. "I know this weird guy who collects them."
RUDE, the duck said.
Hijikata's phone rang. "Hijikata speaking."
"Matsudaira here. Where the hell are you guys? Why is Kondou not picking up the phone?"
"We were tracking Katsura and--"
"Never mind that. Some American joker hacked into the Shogun's phone account and has been using it to send people obscene junk mail. Only he keeps spelling dick wrong. Anyway, ignore any mails you get from the Shogun."
"Yes, boss," Hijikata said, hanging up. "Kondou-san, false alarm. That was Matsudaira-san on the phone; he says the dick thing is junk mail."
"Oh," Kondou said in a small voice. Then he offered a dejected little smile.
"Don't tell me you called and ordered one, Kondou-san," Sougo said, leaning against the vending machine.
"Well," Kondou said. "I guess I'll just take delivery-- ah, responsibility."
"The Shimura woman won't like you any better even if you have the biggest dick in Kabukichou, Kondou-san," Hijikata said.
"Behold our tax dollars at work," Gintoki quipped. "This is why I call them thieves, Tama."
"Understood. Members of the Shinsengumi enlarge their reproductive organs at the expense of the general public. I'll record that in my data bank."
"Do that and I'll erase your data bank, you bucket of rusty bolts," Hijikata said, lighting another cigarette. "Let's get out of here, Kondou-san."
"What about Katsura?" Sougo asked.
"Screw Katsura," Hijikata said and blew a stream of smoke in Gintoki's general direction.
"Well, if it's for practice..." Kondou trailed off. "I am going to be better endowed soon, so I guess that'll increase my sex drive--"
"I didn't mean it like that!" Hijikata yelled. "Per Regulation 47 Shinsengumi personnel are not allowed to have sexual relations with the enemy."
"There is no Regulation 47," Sougo said.
"There is now." Hijikata glanced at Kondou. "Could you please not look so dejected, Kondou-san? One might think you wanted to enter into an illicit affair with the leader of the Joui ronin."
KATSURA-SAN DOES HAVE VERY NICE HAIR, the duck put in.
"Wait, you know Katsura?" Hijikata asked.
Low-pitched maniacal laughter sounded from somewhere below them. "Well done, Elizabeth!" Katsura shouted, climbing out from beneath the duck. "We've obtained valuable intel on the Shinsengumi; now let us away!"
They barrelled down the street, Sougo plus bazooka in pursuit.
Nothing good ever came from technology.