It was somewhere after the time that Itsuki had awkwardly shuffled Version 7.34 to being an assistant scientist that Sayoko had finally selected an automobile for herself. It had turned out to be a sports car, a vicious shade of red that reminded Itsuki of well-marketed violence when she'd driven it up to park in front of the Kisaragi house. There it had lingered like a stain while she had gestured enthusiastically to it, pointing out the detailing and features and the feel of new leather.

Here was her car. Would the doctor like to go for a drive with her?

The timing had been unfortunate. Quon had been complaining of shortness of breath earlier in the week, so Itsuki had confined his own business to the Kisaragi residence. While additions had been made to her life module that should have compensated, the doctor did not wish to be absent for even a second. Just in case.

Quon came first. Quon always came first, even when she lay back on her bed to stare out the glass ceiling of her room and refused to answer Itsuki's words with any of her own. He would watch her mind travel to a place he could not follow. Hours of this as the sky became the night became the dawn.

Eventually, he would get up, reach for the phone, and speak dull invitations of company into the dialtone.

Haruka never returned his calls.

Sayoko presented an escape from that. He knew it. She likely knew it, could smell it on him in the form of processed air lingering on his body and clothes. She could see it in how he winced against the volume of the island heat when he stepped outside. The world was bigger outside the birdcage of the Kisaragi residence; sometimes, Itsuki forgot this.

She repeated her invitation. He refused.

The smell of car exhaust lingered in his hair for hours. Sayoko had thrown herself into the car and taken off at such a speed that Itsuki thought he'd almost be hit before he could step away to a safe distance. Dust and grit kicked into his nose; the doctor had coughed as the blur of Sayoko's automobile ripped down the steep roads, and then absently sneezed.

That was the first sign of her rebellion against him. Her voice had tuned itself to a petty sulk for days after Itsuki rejoined the labs. Once he thought he caught her glare.

Eventually he gave in and requested a ride from her, which seemed to make peace between them, but Itsuki suspected the whole matter was far from settled.

It was as Itsuki had feared would come to pass; by receiving no standard to judge herself against, Sayoko had instead begun to look for ways to provoke him. She wanted a reaction. Bestowed with all the material goods of a fellow adult, Version 7.34 had determined that she was just as capable of playing wry, acting in control of a situation despite the reality.

Her becoming resentful with him was a thing Itsuki considered unavoidable. It was not forgivable on his part to know of such a consequence beforehand, and still allow it, but the only alternative he could think of would be to actively mold her like so much clay. Disregard the human creation, the human life; see only what can be turned to fit your fancy.

Thatwas a method more suited to Helena. Even Makoto might take more enjoyment out of manipulating people, but Itsuki's role was to be an example only. He was a living secondary. That was hisduty, determined by Bahbem himself.

That and Quon.

To make up for any lingering tension between himself and his assistant, Itsuki suggested a visit to Kanai later together. Quon was feeling well enough that the man felt an afternoon could be spared with a minimum of fuss. Perhaps they could pick up something to send back to Sayoko's brother--a new CD that he could sing to, perhaps?

The reaction was far from what was intended. Sayoko immediately bit her lip, folded her eyes up with sudden tears. "How can you say such a thing, Doctor?" she choked. "You knowmy family…" The breath caught in her throat and she turned her face away hurriedly.

Itsuki attempted to mask his surprise. "I'm sorry. It's…" and he had stopped, not knowing what he had done wrong at all.

Later on, after he wound the story with care from Sayoko's lips, Itsuki discovered that her memory had branched itself. Like flesh growing around an abscess to envelop it, Version 7.34 had reacted to a quirk displeasing. Her mind bulged misshapenly. In order to avoid an issue too deeply buried to touch, Sayoko had preferred instead to kill off her imaginary family.

Itsuki was keenly aware that he was the stand-in for Version 7.34's male relatives.

So why, then, did she prefer to think of them dead?

He must have done something to scar her, Itsuki decided eventually one eve. The glass of Merlot agreed. Even without trying, a phrase delivered by the doctor must have lodged itself in Sayoko's mind and she had been forced to react around it with a fledgling's development.

The Foundation should have known better. Do not let your newborns near a failed Ollin, or you will have an Itsuki Result.

What had it been? What had he done in all his attempts to be nothing at all?

This troubled him so much that he called Helena.

He interrupted her in the middle of dinner, or so she said. The chink of a fork striking itself repeatedly against its plate kept time like a metronome. Itsuki could imagine Helena drumming it until the china broke in shards and was pulped into so much expensive dust.

It was her way of showing she was enjoying the conversation.

Her languid purr was blurred over the transmission line, but not nearly enough. "My, my, Itsuki. It seems as if you just don't know how to treat a lady."

"Helena," Itsuki had replied, vaguely vexed, fingers twining in the plastic curls of the phone cord. "Just tell me what it is I'm supposed to do with her."

"Why, whatever you'd like." Mock surprise filled Helena's voice, the superiority of her certainty cruel. "Haven't you thought of something yet? She's yourgift. Don't tell me you don't know where to start with women, Itsuki. Though that would certainly explain something," she sighed, setting down the fork with a distant tingso she could pause dramatically over a sip of water.

"I'm not calling you to review my personal mistakes, Helena."

"Are you sure? I could give you some pointers."

Itsuki hung up.

There were no orders. No ideas of what standards he was to measure up to by having Version 7.34 in his possession.

No ideas of how to keep from going wrong.

The position was one that Itsuki did not like. It was not what he was intended for. Itsuki was a B, a second-place Ollin, and his life as he preferred it involved one Quon, many arias, and a house by the bluest sea he could imagine. At times, Makoto would visit. Then Itsuki would place an order for more diningware.

It was a good routine. Itsuki had examined it many times in his thoughts, both with and without a full glass in his fingers, and he had determined that he served the Foundation more than adequately in such a role.

An error in calculations had placed Version 7.34 in his care. It must have been. No one in their right mind would assign even a throwaway to an Instrumentalist whose entire purpose of being was to play second-place. Doing so taught all the wrong lessons.

Sayoko was Helena's personal joke. That must have been the case.

How inconsiderate.

Having no other evidence to go on than Helena's bemused mockery, Itsuki kept Sayoko on as an assistant. He wondered on occasion if Version 7.34 was a model to replace himself in the care of Quon. Sayoko showed little talent for the arias; if the woman was meant to be a third-place Itsuki, then he might pity her indeed, Helena's opinion or no.

Time progressed. Nirai-Kanai ignored the changing of seasons except to give temperatures a token nod before tending to the brilliance of its ocean waves. Sayoko kept an apartment nearer to the city so that she could resort to the shopping districts; after a while, Itsuki heard that Haruka had become better acquainted with his assistant. They attended Kanai's okonomiyaki parlors together on occasion, sometimes going for rounds of drinks in the bargain.

Such an excursion reminded Ituski of his schooling years. When Sayoko noticed he spoke of the parlors with nostalgia, she promptly invited him to go with her when he next had a free evening. Itsuki declined on the claim of work unfinished. Undeterred, Version 7.34 brought in leftovers the next day for lunch.

"Haruka made this one, didn't she?" Itsuki commented as he picked at the fluffy batter with his chopsticks. It looked stuffed with mushrooms. Far too many mushrooms, combined with squid and something that smelled oddly like pickled plum. It was an eternal mystery how Haruka managed to smuggle in extra toppings. Never once when he'd dated her had he caught her in the act.

A wooden crunch came from the direction of his assistant. She had slammed her chopsticks on the countertop at an oblique angle and had snapped the ends of one.

"Haruka, Haruka.Why do you have to think it comes from her?Just because she--"

The click of Sayoko's teeth shut off the rest of her speech. They looked at each other in mutual surprise for the outburst.

"I'm… I'm sorry, Dr. Kisaragi," Sayoko said after a time. "I... haven't been sleeping well." Slim fingers rubbed her temples with frustration. Sayoko was often careful not to grimace for any length of time, citing avoidance of wrinkles, so it was uncommon for Itsuki to see her in modes of self-expression. He inwardly suspected that the real cause was her imitation of his own mannerisms. A logical excuse had simply been slapped over the top.

Itsuki set his bowl down. Regardless of the card games played with their lives, he was admittedly concerned for Version 7.34's health. "Maybe it's your nerves," he suggested, neutral. Practical as kitchen raids and balconies smelling of champagne. "Have you thought about listening to music? That always does the trick for me. I would suggest music, in fact."

Violin. Piano. Quon's voice was enough to have Itsuki rest solid for hours, but he equated the two concepts to be one and the same in his mind.

"Like a lullaby?" Sayoko laughed. "I haven't had a lullaby sung to me since I was a little kid, Doctor. Not since... not since my mother," she frowned, closing her mouth as she tried to navigate the bumps in her memory. It had been a few years since her arrival, yet imperfections in Bahbem's work could linger in one form or another with some models.


"It's so funny." She tried to recover quickly, the fluster in her voice evident when she made another brittle breathy laugh. "She used to sing this one particular one. I just can't remember the name right now. Give me a minute, I almost have it on the tip of my tongue, I'm sure..."

"Yes, your mother must have sung many to you," Itsuki soothed. "Well, no matter. It was only a suggestion. Why not try a hot bath instead?" The same sound that coaxed Makoto down from violent fits now plied the doctor's assistant. "You like hot baths, don't you, Nanamori?"

She surrendered to the voice of green apples. "Yes."