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The Shopping Trip

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A knock on the door. It was always the same knock, always half a second apart, always the same amount of force. Precise and punctual. It awoke Labrys from her recharging slumber, and she smirked.

“Sis,” she said, her eyes jolting awake, “you really don’t havta knock, y’know.”

The door clicked open, and Aigis stepped into the room, wearing her usual neutral expression. Labrys, however, had spent enough time around her to notice a faint glimmer in her eyes. She was excited about something, but she was trying to make it a surprise.

“It is always important to be polite, Sister,” Aigis replied.

“Yeah, but...” Labrys looked around her, “we’re sharin’ the room.”

Despite Mitsuru’s insistence on flaunting the Kirijo Group’s money, the two shared a bedroom, cleared out for their use. It was, admittedly, spacious. There were no beds, because why would Anti-Shadow Suppression Weapons need them, but the space had been filled by a roughly chair-shaped apparatus that recharged and maintained the androids’s systems.

It was, Aigis had proudly declared, the new lightweight model. It looked, and was, about as heavy as a small car.

The room itself was bare of almost all furniture. Other than their chairs, a dresser rested on the far wall, originally meant for clothes but now supplemented with oil, spare parts, and ammunition. The chairs had been positioned to look out the windows on the wall opposite the door, which had a nice view of the city sprawl.

Yukari and Mitsuru had, during one of their rare bonding sessions that Labrys was only vaguely aware of, realized that the old members of SEES hadn’t spent all that much time together recently. Sure, there were those incidents in Inaba a couple months back, but the group had gradually drifted apart again as human lives always seem to.

They decided the best solution to that was to invite every member of the Shadow Operatives to stay together during summer vacation. This was, of course, meant to harken back to the old days of SEES, when they all lived together.

Aigis was ecstatic to have everyone together again, and with her older sister, to boot. Labrys had rarely seen her so happy.

“Sister,” Aigis said, bringing Labrys’s attention back, “I am pleased to inform you we have a task!”

“We have a what?”

Aigis stepped further into the room and held up a finger. “Mitsuru-senpai has given me a directive to perform! But I thought it would be good to have you come along, so I can show you more of human life! I find that it is both fascinating and educational.”

She was positively beaming at this point.

“It will not take long, and I think you will find it very interesting!” She looked pensive for a moment, which to her meant tilting her head slightly, narrowing her eyes, and frowning slightly. “I have never performed this task, however, Mitsuru-senpai assures me it is well within my...”

“What’re we doin’?” Labrys asked, holding a hand up. Aigis had a tendency to babble when she was left alone, not to mention excited.

“Oh, yes,” Aigis said, letting her finger fall again. “We, Sister, are going to go ‘food shopping!’“

Labrys blinked.

“Sis, we don’t eat.”

“Correct!”

“So then, why...”

“But the other members of the Shadow Operatives do! Mitsuru-senpai has tasked us to procure this evening’s dinner for them. She has not informed me if we are to prepare the food, however.” Aigis tilted her head, bringing her hand to her chin. “Is that something I should have asked?”

“I... don’t think it matters,” Labrys said, putting her hands on her hips. It was one of those things she did without really thinking consciously about, some sublayer of her personality matrix that just sort of happened. Another side-effect of the Plume of Dusk, the foundation of that personality. “Why’s she having us do it? What about Junpei-senpai or Ken-senpai?”

“Mitsuru-senpai has specifically given us this task to accomplish! I agree with her in that it would be an excellent use of our time.”

“You’re really lookin’ forward to this, ain’t ya?”

“Yes!”

“Well,” Labrys grinned, “it’s infectious. Sounds like fun!”

Aigis beamed again. She’d often confided in Labrys how envious she was that her older sister had manifested her personality so much quicker, due to her larger Plume.

Labrys didn’t much like thinking about it. Aigis had developed her emotions in relative peace, surrounded by friends. Labrys, however...

“Do y’know what we havta buy?” Labrys said, stopping that thought process. No time for that now.

Aigis nodded. “Of course! Mitsuru has given me a complete list. I have also been informed that our destination has what Yukari-senpai described as a ‘limited-time bargain sale.’ She says this is a very important opportunity!”

“...D’ya have any idea what that means?”

“No! We will find out together!”

Well, Labrys thought as Aigis gripped her hand and led her to the dresser, it’d be an adventure one way or another.

#

Changing into human clothes was something of a process.

The Shadow Operatives, of course, didn’t care to see Aigis and Labrys in their chasses. Yukari once told Labrys that seeing them wear human clothes in private always felt sort of weird, like they weren’t being themselves. Labrys could see her point but the Yasogami High uniform was pretty much her default look these days. It brought back memories. Besides, everyone said it looked good on her.

Aigis usually wore a business suit to disguise her chassis, and for her, the matter was simple. Labrys, however, wasn’t built with such concerns as ‘passing off as human’ in mind, and so had to do things a little differently. She remained in her school uniform, albeit wearing a longer skirt with the same checkered motif. She wore leggings specially designed to hide her mechanical legs, emulating a human wearing opaque black ones. The real problem was her arms.

Aigis helped Labrys take off her forearms, one at a time, then disconnected the heavy chains she often used in combat. These were replaced with arms more like Aigis’s, thinner and sleeker, which she’d cover with a long-sleeved uniform. It had taken the Kirijo Group longer than they would admit making this a simple process.

“I like the old ones,” she muttered, twisting her right arm in its elbow socket to ensure it was connected properly.

“As do I,” Aigis said, “however their appearance is startling to those who do not know you. It would be slightly... problematic to see your normal bracers.”

“I think we’re already temptin’ fate with the headpiece.”

Labrys kept her long, metal headpiece that ran alongside her silvery hair. They were stabilizers which ensured her ax didn’t knock her off-balance, however, they were mostly useless when she didn’t need it.

The problem was that they didn’t come off. Her programming was so tied to them as her main balance sensors that removing them would prevent her from walking. The Kirijo Group was still figuring that one out.

So, she just had to deal with it. Sure, she caught a few stares, but to those few who actually asked, she lied and said they were a new fashion piece. That plus the unnatural hair color usually convinced the other party. Usually.

“Now then, Sister,” Aigis said, adjusting her tie and cuffs one last time. “Let us be on our way!”

#

It was 35.645 degrees Celsius outside. 60% humidity. A 2-mph wind came from the northeast. There was 10% cloud cover. It was, by all accounts, a beautiful day.

“Humans really like days like this, don’t they?” Labrys said as they walked toward the small rail station that would take them further into the city.

“Yes,” Aigis replied, walking with her hands swinging at her sides. “I have taken to appreciate them myself. It is better to be outside, enjoying a sunny day, than to be inside when the weather is cloudy or rainy.” Aigis put a finger up. “It buoys the spirits! Human moods are often influenced by external factors like the weather or the season. It is fascinating, is it not?!”

“It’s, uh, somethin’,” Labrys replied.

The street was packed with commuters. They passed by the two androids with nary a glance, only some noticing Labrys’s strange hair before continuing on their way.

Here and there, small trees and bundles of shrubbery grew on the sidewalk, their deep green leaves a shock of nature on an otherwise developed street. Spaced along the street were tall lanterns with spherical bulbs, perhaps meant to give off an elegant, artistic vibe. Tall billboards in both Japanese and English seemed to hang off every building, advertising their disparate services. Labrys always wondered at those, how people could fit so many companies inside a single building.

Humans really were something.

“When I first met the members of SEES, all the days seemed the same,” Aigis said. “They were no meaningful differences. However, as I observed my new friends, I began to notice how they perceived the world. Rainy days would lead to feelings of boredom or laziness, and sunny ones would energize the team. It was... strange to me. Why would it matter?” She looked over at Labrys, perhaps expecting an answer, however, she kept speaking. “Even after my own emotions awakened, I didn’t understand.”

Labrys looked up at the sky, blocked from view somewhat by the skyscrapers.

“Can’t say it changes my mood much.”

“Exactly!” Aigis replied. “I am so glad to know you are the same way, Sister.”

Labrys smiled. “I’m happy when I’ve got reason t’be happy. Don’t see how the weather should change that. “

“I agree, however, humans seem to operate differently. Their emotions are much more susceptible to external influences, in addition to their internal ones.” She reached over and held Labrys’s hand, squeezing gently. “It would seem that ours are entirely internal, where we have complete control over what we feel, and why. Even if the exact methods are hidden underneath subroutines.” Aigis looked at the sky, brushed a few locks of hair out of her eyes. “I cherish the ability to think like this. That we are able to contemplate what makes us human, yet recognize in what ways they differ from us.”

She looked to Labrys for agreement, yet found only a neutral expression.

“Can’t say I’ve thought much about it,” Labrys said with a shrug. “I only woke up a few months ago. I’m still tryin’ to figure everythin’ out.”

“I see,” Aigis replied, her expression falling.

Labrys squeezed her hand, smiling back at her. “Y’know, we don’t get a whole lotta time to ourselves these days, so I don’t think to, uh, contemplate life. I think it’s awesome you do, sis! Show’s how much wiser my little sister is than me.”

There was that beaming smile again. Aigis was one of the sweetest, brightest girls Labrys had ever known, and these days she knew quite a few. Many were bubbly, playful, or sincere, but none were quite like Aigis. The Shadow Operatives all had a similar zest for life, and perhaps that was one of the reasons Labrys found her time with them so fulfilling. They reminded her that there was yet life after tragedy, after loss.

She knew what they had endured, all those years ago, had hardened them. She had her own experiences that weighed heavily on her soul. But those memories gave the team so much hope for the future that it sometimes felt like Labrys’s heart would shatter from the sheer force of it all.

They made her feel like she could do anything, be anything, and none made her feel more like that then her sister.

“Do not sell yourself short!” Aigis said. “You may be inexperienced, but that is where I will help! Look, the rail station. Let us board, I will show you how.”

They turned, headed into a larger building, following the motion of the crowd. This station was kept in good condition: the walls were placidly white, colorful, lighted signs hung from the ceiling, and the metal gates looked almost polished.

#

Aigis led the way toward one. “Come, Sister, follow me. Hold your hand above this sensor, like so. The system will register your pass and let you through.”

Inside her and Labrys’s right hand was a small chip that mimicked the rail passes most human commuters used, and served the same purpose. After reading the data on the chip, the system would debit her account and unlock the gate.

Her hand passed over the sensor. The gate buzzed in rejection as the attached screen flashed red. As she was still in motion, Aigis walked into the closed gate, almost forcing it open from her sheer weight before registering the error.

“Hm,” she said quizzically, looking at the machine.

She passed her hand over it.

The machine buzzed.

She passed her hand over it again.

It buzzed again.

Pass. Buzz. Pass. Buzz.

Pass. Buzz. Pass. Buzz. Pass. Buzz. Pass. Buzz. Pass. Buzz. Pass. Buzz. Pass. Buzz. Pass. Buzz.

“Um,” Labrys said, putting a hand on Aigis’s shoulder. “Maybe... maybe it’s broken?”

“My systems are fully operational,” Aigis replied, passing her hand over the sensor again. It buzzed once more.

“But I don’t think it’s supposed’ta do that.”

“It certainly is not, Sister.”

Pass. Buzz.

“Then, uh, maybe we should be moseying along or somethin’?” Labrys looked around her. They were beginning to attract a crowd, and given that Aigis was waving her hand above the sensor like a madwoman, that probably wasn’t going to take care of itself.

“Perhaps the sensor is malfunctioning,” Aigis ventured, after another pass/buzz. “It would be in need of repair. I should examine it.”

She looked around for a maintenance panel, running her hands over the gate.

“I-I don’t think that’s a good idea!” Labrys replied, grabbing Aigis’s arms and pulling her away. “I think there must be some, er, other solution!”

“It would be no trouble, Sister,” Aigis replied neutrally, putting up no resistance to Labrys’s half-dragging her away. “Really, such malfunctions happen all the time.”

The stares of the crowd followed them, and if Labrys could have sweated, she probably would have started doing so by now.

“Sorry, very sorry,” Labrys muttered to the crowd as she navigated a way out. “Havin’ some, uh, gate trouble, yeah that’s right...”

Soon enough, they were in a more secluded area near the stairs they had taken down. Labrys let go of Aigis, who began smoothing out her suit.

“Sister,” she said, “may I offer an observation?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“I think you may have overreacted back there.”

Labrys frowned. “Yeah, well, the situation wasn’t gonna get better anytime soon. I don’t think the people operatin’ this place would take kindly to us going and messin’ around with...”

She blinked.

“Sister?” Aigis asked, looking at her with some concern.

Labrys grinned and grabbed Aigis’s hand again. “I have an idea, come on.”

Next to the gates was a tiny kiosk meant for information and assistance. An extremely bored worker sat behind a desk, who barely flicked his eyes to the two approaching androids. Once he noticed their appearance, he straightened, clearly puzzled.

“Good afternoon...?” he said.

“Yeah, hi,” Labrys replied, pointing between them. “We lost our badges!” A blink. “Passes. Rail passes.” She tilted her head, thinking for a moment. “We lost our rail passes.”

He looked at Aigis. “Weren’t you the one just waving your hand over...”

“That ain’t important! Look, is there any way we can get some new passes?”

“Uhh...” he looked around his desk, clearly grasping for something to say. “Uh yeah, we can do that. I mean you should be using the ticket machines outside but…” He switched gears upon seeing the androids’ mutual confusion. “I’ll need your full names and addresses.”

Labrys looked back at her sister. “See, I told you it’d be easy, sis!” She looked back to the station worker and provided their details.

“Aigis and R... Ra... Labrys Kirijo,” he repeated back.

Labrys nodded. She wasn’t particularly fond of the last name, but it was the best they were able to come up with. It kind of made sense, considering they were created by the family company, even if it implied they were related to Mitsuru-senpai.

Of course, they weren’t created with last names in mind, so they just had to figure it out on their own.

“Yeah, I have you in the system,” he replied. “It’ll be a ¥2000 fine each for the new passes.”

Aigis reached into her coat and pulled out a credit card, sliding it under the window.

Just like that, they had passes that actually worked.

“An excellent idea, Sister!” Aigis said, once they were on the platform and waiting for their rail. “Your improvisational skills are magnificent!”

Labrys ran a hand through her hair, grinning. “Nothin’ to it!”

#

Then came the train itself.

“Aigis, why’re you standin’ like that?”

“Like what, Sister?”

“You… ain’t holdin’ anything.”

Aigis stood stock still in the middle of the rail car, her hands at her sides, staring out the window. As there were no seats available, the two androids stood together. The train was in motion, but she swayed perfectly with each bump and jostle. They wouldn’t have very long to travel, the market was just a few stops down, however she had been like this since the train first departed.

Aigis turned her head, confused. “Why would I? My gyroscopic stabilizers are functioning properly, and I...”

“I mean,” Labrys interjected, stopping her with a hand. “Why ain’t you holdin’ any of the handles?” She pointed to the many thick handles above their heads.

Aigis examined them. “They are unnecessary.”

Labrys had to suppress a smile. Aigis looked back at her as if she’d lost her mind. Everyone around them, meanwhile, looked at the younger android with the same expression, some looking impressed, instead.

“Well, they may be for you,” Labrys replied, pointing behind her, “but not for them.”

Aigis turned. The few people who stood held tightly onto the handles, jerking slightly with the rail’s movements. Without gyroscopic stabilizers of their own, those thick plastic handles were the next best thing.

“Oh,” Aigis said.

Her hand shot up to a handle so quickly that Labrys almost feared she’d break it off, clutching it in a tight fist. She didn’t really sway in the same way the others were, but at least it looked to be in the same ballpark.

“Does this look acceptable, Sister?” Aigis asked. If she could blush, Labrys thought, she’d probably be as red as jelly right now.

“Yeah, sis, that’s great.”

Aigis beamed again.

#

The train deposited them a block away from the supermarket. This was a slightly less dense part of the city, near a large park. Trees were in full bloom, and most of the storefronts bore flowers or other decorative flourishes. Labrys detected a faint floral scent underneath the earthier tone of the city, mixed with a fresh scent from the wind blowing through the park.

Many people walked into and from that park, most with children, partners, or dogs. Through the gates – humans really like gates for some reason – she saw people settled on the grass, others onto benches.

“You were right, sis,” Labrys said as they walked past the park, “they really do like sunny days.”

“Right? I find myself happy for them,” Aigis replied. “Even if I cannot feel their happiness as they do… I am still happy.”

The supermarket was across the street. The storefront was full of multicolored bins, all proclaiming their contents were on sale. None of what they needed was inside, as Aigis strolled right past and entered the building.

This was Labrys’s first time in a supermarket, discounting one trip to Junes when she was still in Inaba, and she didn’t even go to the part where they sold food that time. Here, the market stretched out in front of her, separated by clearly marked aisles alluding to what they might find within. Being the daytime, the market was sparsely populated, and only a few of the registers were manned.

“Wow,” Labrys murmured, “that’s a lot of food.”

“It is, is it not?” Aigis said, grabbing a cart. “Well, it is time to execute our task, Sister! I have calculated what I believe is the most efficient route through the supermarket.” She started directing the cart down to the right end of the building, which seemed to hold fruits and vegetables.

#

Labrys followed alongside, examining everything as they went.

“They’re… spraying the vegetables with mist,” she said, pointing.

“I believe it is an attempt to keep them fresh,” Aigis replied, selecting a ball of cabbage and placing it in the cart. “Oh, is this meant to go into a plastic bag?” she said, noting the bags hung up at the end of the display. “Hm. Sister, what do you think?”

Labrys shrugged.

“Perhaps I should. Oh, but should I place each type of vegetable in its own bag, or combine them all into one?”

Labrys shrugged again. “I really don’t got any idea, sis.”

“I will attempt the former.”

And so Aigis put the ball of cabbage into a bag and tied it.

“There appear to be many decisions that encompass ‘food shopping,’” Aigis said. “Fascinating.”

They continued. Aigis wound her way deftly down each aisle, selecting items as her mental list demanded, laying them in the cart in precise, logical groups. Labys walked at her side, content simply to watch her sister, asking questions so often.

“Why’re there so many different cuts of meat? Don’t it all taste the same?”

“What does ‘organic’ mean? Ain’t… ain’t all produce organic?”

“Why did that woman just hand me a cup of fish broth? What… do I do with it?”

Even despite her own experience, Aigis seemed much more adept at figuring all this stuff out. She answered her questions with logical guesses, which sure sounded right to Labrys.

“I believe they have different levels of fat, as well as difference sizes of the cut. They are apparently meant to be prepared differently”

“Perhaps they are grown with all-natural methods? With no artificial procedures or fertilizer?”

“She appears to want you to drink it, Sister.”

One of the last things they needed was rice, which they paused in front of. A small mound of the stuff lay at the end of one of the aisles.

“I am to procure two kilograms of Sanshiki-brand rice,” Aigis said, moving to lift one of the smaller bags.

“Why’re there so many brands?” Labrys muttered. “There’s five here. It’s just rice! Why do humans need so many choices? Ain’t it all the same?”

Aigis paused, holding the rice just over the cart. “That is an excellent question.” She looked back. “I have no idea as to the answer.”

“I’ve seen that everywhere else in this place… there’s multiple brands with different pricin’ for everythin’. Here, see this brand of rice is ¥500, but this one is ¥445! And that one’s ¥520! It’s all just plain white rice!”

Aigis turned around, still holding the bag of Sanshiki, and examined the selection.

“Maybe put the rice down first, sis?” Labrys said.

Aigis dropped it onto the pile.

“I mean, in the cart.”

Aigis picked it up and deposited it in the cart.

“Hmm,” she said, looking over the packaging for each brand. “They all proclaim to be Japan’s #1, best, or highest-quality rice. They all to have the same nutritional content, or perhaps… no, they have the same ingredients, as well.” She stood up straight, folding her arms under her chest. “This is very strange.”

“Yeah,” Labrys said, following Aigis’s lead and folding her arms.

“We shall have to ask the others when we return.”

“Yeah, I think that’s a good idea.”

“I wonder what they’ll say.” Labrys noticed movement in her peripheral vision and turned her head. “Oh, wait, ain’t that the limited-time sale thingy?”

Aigis looked over. “It appears so! Come on, Sister, let us see what it is.”

It was another set of multicolored bins, all with handwritten signs proclaiming ‘90% OFF!”, “ONE HOUR SALE!”, or thereabouts.

The bins turned out to be full of facial tissues.

“Do…” Labrys began, “D’ya think this’ss what Yukari-senpai had in mind?” She lifted one of the boxes of tissues, looked it over. They appeared to be entirely ordinary.

“Possibly.” Aigis picked up a box of her own and examined it. “Yukari-senpai did not give me instructions, other than to ‘take advantage’ of this ‘opportunity.’”

“Well… how many should we get?”

“Do you know how many we have at home?”

“It… hasn’t really been somethin’ I’ve kept track of.”

“Neither have I.”

They looked at each other.

#

“Let me get this straight,” Mitsuru said, pinching the bridge of her nose. “In addition to the food we sent you out to get …”

“All the options didn’t make it any easier…” Labrys muttered.

“You bought twenty boxes of tissues.”

“Correct!” Aigis said.

Said boxes were stacked up on the dining table. The androids stood on one side, Mitsuru on the other. Yukari and Fuuka, the only others at home right now, sat at the middle of the table.

“Why… did you buy twenty boxes of tissues?”

“They were being sold as part of the limited-time bargain sale,” Aigis replied. “Yukari-senpai asked me to take advantage of it.”

“I didn’t mean like this…” Yukari replied, her head in her hands.

“Then what did you mean?” Labrys asked.

“I-I don’t…”

“Regardless,” Mitsuru interjected. “It would seem… that we have them now. Maybe we’ll have to return them.”

Aigis lifted a finger cheerfully. “The cashier informed me that they do not take returns on their one-hour sales!”

“Fantastic,” Yukari murmured.

Fuuka, sitting opposite Yukari, picked up a box. “Well, at least we won’t run out.”

“For the next year.”

“Indeed,” Mitsuru said, sitting down. “Well. Good work getting what I asked, you two, as well as… all this.”

Aigis beamed.

“You’re welcome!” Labrys said. “Oh, and another thing! Why’re there so many brands of rice?”

#

As the sun began to set, Labrys stood on the balcony of the house Mitsuru had rented out. It had a nice elevated view of the city, down to the bay. The group spent a lot of time here, a lot of long talks late into the night, but for now, Labrys was out here alone, leaning over the railing and watching the water flicker far below.

She heard the glass door behind her open, and Aigis’s telltale steps tapped onto the wooden deck.

“Sister, the others were wondering where you were,” she said, coming to Labrys’s side. “Junpei-kun and Akihiko-senpai have returned. The others were thinking of beginning dinner soon.”

Labrys gave her a sidelong grin. “Not that dinner does us a lot of good, huh?”

“Indeed not.”

Aigis looked at her, eyes pinched together slightly. Labrys could see her out of the corner of her eye, knew what she was thinking. She was surprisingly good at picking up on Labrys’s moods.

“Sister? Is something wrong?”

Labrys didn’t say anything at first. What could she say? She could put it into words, but would they even be good ones?

“Hm,” Labrys said, shifting to look at Aigis. She smiled, weakly. “Sorry, sis. I was just thinkin’…”

“About what?”

Labrys ran a hand over her head, through her hair, careful not to catch it against her headpiece.

“You think we did good today?”

Aigis’s eyes widened, and a little gust of wind rattled her hair, making it sway. “Good? Of course we did. We accomplished our mission, as well as…” She bit her lip for a moment. “Yes, the tissues were not popular, however, I do not believe anyone was sincerely angry about them.”

“Yeah, but…” Labrys folded her arms over her chest, tightly. “I dunno, I’m just feelin’ like… like times like this remind me of, uh, what we are. That we ain’t human, y’know?”

“Of course not. We are Anti-Shadow Suppression Weapons, Sister.”

Labrys gave her a flat smile. “We got hearts, though. We feel like humans do, but… days like today, I just keep thinkin’ there’s a distance between us.”

Aigis looked between the two of them.

“A distance of half a meter…”

Labrys put a hand on her forehead. “Sis.”

Aigis’s frowned bashfully. “Apologies. A poor attempt at a joke. Please continue.”

Labrys nodded. “When I’m with you guys, and our friends in Inaba, I feel… human. Wanted, loved… peaceful. But when it’s just me, and I’m makin’ my way in the world, I’m lost. I just… don’t know anythin’. There’s so much that they take for granted that confuses me, that doesn’t make sense, and I just…” She threw up her hands, then returned them to fold under her chest. “It’s like I don’t belong.”

Aigis laid a hand on the railing between them, her other over her heart. “This has upset you greatly, hasn’t it?”

Labrys turned away, brought her hands to burrow into her hair. “I don’t even know! I don’t lose sleep over it… figuratively speakin’, but when I think about this stuff, I get all quiet. Makes me just want to close my eyes and think.” She turned back to Aigis. “Is that what they call ‘musing’?”

Aigis nodded, and her eyes sparkled with understanding.

“You seem like you know what I’m talkin’ about,” Labrys said.

“I do.”

Labrys hadn’t talked to her like this before, she realized. They shared their pasts with each other, their experiences, their pain. They talked about the people in their lives, the people they’d lost. But they rarely talked about the world and their place in it. Labrys could see in Aigis’s eyes that this was not a new problem she raised. If anything, it was one of countless swirling in the younger android’s head, waiting to be let out. Aigis always seemed to have a philosophical bent, underneath her bubbliness. The former lent an endearing weight to the latter.

Aigis was one of the only people Labrys could think to ask these questions to. She was the only person in the world who had a life even somewhat close to hers. Even so, Aigis’s life had been different, drastically so, and sometimes Labrys could not even imagine how much it weighed on her soul. The decisions she made, the losses she bore.

But here she was, listening to Labrys’s so-called musing. Not judging, only listening as if it was the most important thing in the world.

Maybe it was, to her. Labrys felt that strange heart of hers swell. Her programming didn’t quite capture what it expressed, but it didn’t need to. She still felt the love subsume through her.

“I do not know if we were ever meant to be human,” Aigis said. “I do not know if it was ever intended.”

Memories of the lab rose in Labrys’s mind, the trials, the shattered chasses of her failed sisters.

“Our emotions were meant only as a means to an end,” Aigis continued. “A way to cheat Personas out of machines. It was not meant as anything more.” She laid a hand on her chest, to her own Plume. “I only know that I am happy to have them. I know that I will never be entirely human, and I… do not think I want to be. We will live in their world, and we will not fully understand it, but I think… that is okay. We will figure it out. Together.”

She put a hand on Labrys’s shoulder, squeezing tightly.

“As long as I am with you, Sister, and everyone else, I am happy.”

Labrys nodded, slowly. She made it sound so simple. She always did. For a little sister, she really did know so, so much more about everything.

Aigis pulled her into a hug, and Labrys went willingly. She wrapped her hands around Aigis’s back and held on as tightly as she could.

“Weird, ain’t it?” Labrys murmured into Aigis’s ear. “We’re robots. We don’t feel warmth. But this still feels good.”

Whatever indecision, whatever darkness Labrys felt evaporated in that hug, like mist over a mountain.

“Perhaps it is human behavior rubbing off on us,” Aigis replied.

Labrys thought of the Plumes in their chests, about how there were some things it needed that neither of them could explain, nor would they ever want to.

“Maybe it’s just us, sis.”