Author's Notes: Happy Halloween one and all! Yes, I am still around and I am still hammering out this story. Many thanks to the readers who have stuck around this long for me as well as the newcomers who have recently reviewed. You're the ones that keep me on track, no matter how slow the train might be rolling.

Without further delay, here's the latest. Enjoy!

Ch.29 - Proving Grounds


Saburo hung a right out of his neighborhood and followed the sidewalk into the main part of town. He took his time, checking out what has changed over the past year and a half. Most things he remembered were still around, some with new renovations or a fresh coat of paint. Others, including a computer shop he did not think very highly of, had long since closed up and disappeared. He laughed to himself as he passed by.

"Still my old home." he said.

"Hey, Saburo!" He heard Jiro call out behind him.

Saburo turned around and saw Jiro running to catch up. "Thought you were still at the Port, what's got you out around here?" he asked.

"Heading home. Kichiro and I are roomies for about a month until my new apartment opens up and his place is this way." Jiro replied, catching his breath. "He's still out with Ryo, but I'm sure he'll be back before the sun comes up."

"Don't know what surprises me more, you rooming with Kichiro or the fact that he has a place that isn't a basement." Saburo replied jokingly, "It's a constant war for bandwidth, isn't it?"

"Why yes it is." Jiro said, causing Saburo to erupt in laughter. "So what has you back out here?" he asked.

"I'm picking up some things for Mom."

"Mind if I follow?"

Saburo shrugged his shoulders, "Sure. It's just getting some groceries, but you can tag along." Jiro nodded and followed alongside. "So now that we're somewhere we can hear each other talk, how's everything?"

"All the usual. Not much has changed, really."

"Same here." replied Saburo. "Well, except for Reia. But that's about it on my end of things."

"So you're serious about this?"

-- -- --

"It's you, isn't it?"

Reia knew exactly what Sumiko was asking. She attempted to feign ignorance, giving Sumiko a blank stare and cocking her head to the side. "I saw him kiss you a few seconds ago." Sumiko commented as she sat down in Saburo's chair. A small streak of light shot across Reia's eyes and they immediately shifted and locked onto Sumiko's. "You're the girl he mentioned, aren't you?" Sumiko continued to press. Reia finally nodded, knowing Sumiko had figured it out.

Sumiko leaned forward and hung her head. "I knew he was acting weird around you." she said. "How long?"

Reia picked up her PDA and tapped around for a moment. She held it out to Sumiko and gave her a quick tap on the shoulder. It took Sumiko a few seconds to realize what Reia was doing, and then she finally read the screen.

"Five months, eleven days. Three months and five days after he acquired me."

Sumiko looked back up at Reia with slightly squinted eyes. "Okay, what's with the doodle pad?" she asked, pointing to the PDA.

Reia flipped it around and quickly wrote a response. "I am damaged. This is the only way I can 'speak' to you."

"You can't say anything?"


Sumiko twitched her head slightly. "Explain."

-- -- --

"Silence... I get it now."

"Crack straight through the subprocessor. Her primary board has a slight stress mark, but the chip is toast." Saburo walked through the automated doors to the store and picked up a basket. "Problem is replacement parts are impossible to locate."

Jiro cocked an eyebrow, "So how do you..."

"Sign language." Saburo replied, picking items from the shelves as he zipped up and down the aisles. "Software was free, too. She's also got a PDA she uses to write basic messages should I not be around."

"Clever hack, bonus points for style. Any idea how she get damaged?"

"Last owner did it."

"Doing mods or something?" asked Jiro.

Saburo shook his head and reached up towards one of the top shelves. "He beat the hell out of her." he said, stretching to grab a jar of spices.

"The point being what, exactly?"

"I haven't the slightest." Saburo shrugged his shoulders while sorting what he had tossed in his basket. "I'm gonna guess that he's a bit on the unstable side."

"No doubt. So how'd she land in your lap?"

"She ran away from 'em. Again, no idea, that's what she told me." Saburo said, reacting to Jiro's look of disbelief. "She stopped and got picked up by the 'com shop near my place."

-- -- --

"Saburo acquired me twelve days later."

"What in the..." Sumiko sank back into the chair and slowly spun around a few times. "'Com or not, I can't say I really blame you." she said. "So then what?"

Reia went to her PDA again as her eyes continued to light up. She held the PDA out to Sumiko who picked it up as she spun back around. "I have been with him since then."

Sumiko handed it back on her way around again and continued her slow twirling. "Oh-kay, what I meant is how did all this start? Did he just bring you in and tell you that you're gonna be his girl or something?"

Reia shook her head. "That is not how it happened." she wrote.

-- -- --

"Daisuke asked me to hang out with him and this new girl he met. She's apparently had some scare or something, I don't know. Anyway, he tells me to bring Reia along." Saburo explained as he walked out of the store. "And I'm thinking he's just going to weird this poor chick out dragging me and Reia along on a double date."

Jiro laughed. "He must have it bad."

"That's exactly what I said. Anyway, the 'date' wound up being all of us at a bar chatting over drinks. For some of us, maybe a drink too many. Some of us being me."

"So you got drunk and made some moves on your 'com?"

"HA! How to answer THAT without running into a brick wall." Saburo laughed out loud. "Short answer... no. Long answer... that's not why it happened."

"Fair enough."

"The entire night was great, just the four of us having a blast. Daisuke definitely had this girl from the word go, and they hit it off perfectly. We were supposed to see a movie, but I think we all decided to stick around and just chat amongst ourselves."

"Probably the best idea, too." replied Jiro. "Most people think you're trying to pirate movies when you take a 'com into a theater. That's a can of worms nobody wants to open these days."

"Yeah, you're right. Hadn't thought that far." Saburo nodded. "Anyway, Reia and I finally get home however many hours later and after a few seconds of unwinding she hands me her PDA, asking if she 'did well'. I start to reply and before I can get half the words out..."

-- -- --

"Whoa, wait-wait-wait-wait... you started it?"

Reia nodded and doodled on her PDA. "Yes." was her one word written response.

Sumiko stared blankly at Reia for a moment. "What exactly would make you do that?" Sumiko asked.

"It is difficult to explain."


Reia nodded as her eyes lit up. She took to her PDA, tapping and sliding the stylus across the screen. After a few seconds, she turned it towards Sumiko.

"Saburo is not like everyone else. He is special. There are things only he is capable of doing. He is the only one who understands me, the only one who protects me, the only one who sees me as more than a disposable convenience."

She didn't let Sumiko have a chance to reply. Once Reia saw her eyes leave the PDA, she flipped it around, cleared the display and started writing again. Her eyes continued to remain lit by tiny dashes of light streaking from one side to the other.

"I do not want somebody else to take him away. I do not want to lose what he has given me. I do not want to lose that one person, the only one to whom I am not 'just a persocom'."

-- -- --

"Why her? Why a 'com?" asked Jiro.

"When people think of a 'com, they immediately think perfection... always at your call, never faltering or making a mistake." Saburo described as he walked into his neighborhood. "That isn't Reia. That's never been her. In reality there's a shy, clumsy girl behind those plastic ears who barely understands herself, much less the world around her. She's just... something else entirely, it's impossible to explain."

"But did you do it because she's a persocom?"

"That is the big question, isn't it?" he replied. "I don't care that she's a 'com. It really doesn't matter to me. Sure, it's cool having a girlfriend with a ten gigabit fiber link coming out of her head, but what we have wouldn't be any different if she were chromosomes instead of logic circuits. It's who she is, not what she is."

"I can respect that." Jiro nodded.

Saburo finally made it back home and stopped at the front door. "You wanna come in?" he asked.

"I'll pass. I need to make sure Kichiro doesn't go throttling my 'net access again." replied Jiro.

"That's funny." laughed Saburo. "Well, I hope you don't think I'm crazy or anything."

"Whatever, it doesn't bother me. I'm not one to tell somebody else what is right for them. The only person that needs to be convinced of that is you. Anyway, I'm gone. Call before you head out."

Saburo nodded and Jiro headed towards the street. 'At least he's on my side... I hope.' he thought to himself.

-- -- --

"He is that which is most important to me."

Sumiko looked up from the PDA, "Are you trying to say that... you love him?"

"Our conversation would not have lasted this long if I had told you that." Reia wrote in response.

The front door opened downstairs and Saburo announced his entrance. Both Reia and Sumiko looked towards the hallway and then back at each other. "We'll continue this later." Sumiko pointed her finger at Reia, giving her a serious eye. Reia cocked her head as Sumiko dashed out of Saburo's room and ducked back into her own. She continued to stare blankly through the door, even after Saburo walked in.

"Reia? Something wrong?" he asked.

She quickly looked up at him and shook her head. "Nothing is wrong." she hastily signed.

"Hmmm... okay." he shrugged his shoulders and sat down in his chair. "Finally this thing is done, I can actually get somewhere now." Saburo hammered away at the keyboard and started up a number of applications. Reia stood up and walked up behind him, watching him work. "This thing is my old faithful... had it since high school. Found it in the trash one day. It's a decent system, did what I needed."

"Saburo!" Mrs. Irutaya called upstairs again.

Saburo let out a short sigh, slid his chair over and poked his head around the door, "Do I have to go out again?"

"No, but if I could ask for Rayla's--"

"It's Reia, Mom."

"Reia, then. Can she come and help Yasu clean up the kitchen? I'm need to go lie down for a while."

Saburo scooted back around to his desk. "Mind helping Yasu?" he asked, to which Reia nodded. She headed downstairs and Saburo called out to his mother, "She's coming."

"Thank you."

Saburo pulled his head back around and continued typing. "Okay, open a connection to my systems at home... export the displays... there we go!" he said to himself as he started more programs, typing and clicking the entire way.

Sumiko walked in a few moments later. She stood beside him and stared silently.

"Hey sis, whatcha need?" he asked, keeping his eyes fixed on the screen.

Sumiko smacked her fist against Saburo's shoulder and slowly pressed it in. "That's for the hot water!"

"AAH!" Saburo pushed himself away from his sister's attack. "Damn that hurt!"

"Good, you deserve it!" She quickly replied and threw herself on her brother's bed. "Now I wanna hear what's been going on in your world."

"Work." he replied, rubbing his shoulder. "Other than that, not a whole lot. Daisuke hasn't been around as much as usual, but I can't fault him for finding a decent girl." Saburo rolled his chair back to his computer and resumed his work. "We still hang out, just not as much."

"What about this girl of yours? You haven't said much of anything about her."

"Patience, Sumi."

"Patience?!" asked Sumiko. "You're weird. I just wanna know if she's a good person, you know... if you're happy with her. You don't have to give me between the sheets details, sheesh!"

Saburo spun his chair around. "Yeah, she's cool. I like her a lot."

-- -- --

"Thank you for helping." Mrs. Irutaya told Reia. "Yasu has been instructed on what needs to be done, she will let you know what you can do." Reia emulated Saburo and gave her a smile and a thumbs up. "Very well." she replied, "I am going to get some rest, these bones aren't getting any younger." she chuckled.

Reia turned her attention to the kitchen and to Yasu.

"Mrs. Irutaya says we are to clean everything here and over on the table." Yasu pointed to several piles of dirty dishes spread throughout the kitchen. "She cooked a rather large amount of food today."

Reia nodded and started up her PDA again. She doodled a response and held it out to Yasu.

Yasu stared blankly at Reia. "What is that?" she asked.

Reia hung her head for a second, then brought her hand up and flicked her ear open. She zipped out one of her data cables, tapped Yasu's halo and plugged into her transfer port. Reia's eyes lit up with tiny streaks of light and Yasu's fell into sync shortly afterwards.

"Transferring." Yasu said in a monotone voice.

Both persocoms stood motionless for a moment, then were brought back to reality after a series of beeps and Yasu confirmed the transfer. "Language codices installed."

Reia disconnected her data cable and zipped it back in. "That is much easier." she signed.

"Interesting." Yasu said upon interpreting Reia's signing.

Reia grabbed a pile of dishes and brought them over to the sink. "I wash, you dry?" she signed in between plugging the drain in one side and filling it with fresh water and detergent. Yasu nodded and Reia plunged a large plate into the soapy water and started scrubbing. The two quickly got into a near rhythmic pattern of washing, rinsing, drying and storing.

"Did I do something wrong earlier today?" asked Yasu as Reia brought over two large handfuls of silverware and cooking utensils.

Reia put the utensils in the water and shook her head. "I did not interpret--" she started to sign, stopping quickly after she realized that her gestures were sending soap suds in every direction. "I did not interpret your actions properly." she signed again after drying her hands.

"I apologize if I did anything wrong." Yasu replied.

"You did nothing wrong." Reia smiled and returned to washing.

Yasu and Reia made quick work of the dishes and moved on to cleaning the counters and tabletops. Shortly afterwards, Sumiko came down the stairs and stood at the edge of the kitchen. She watched quietly as the two persocoms cleaned every corner and countertop with speed and efficiency. When the two had finished, Sumiko cleared her throat to get their attention.

"Hello Miss Sumiko. Is there anything I may do for you?" Yasu smiled.

"Can I have a moment with Reia, please?" asked Sumiko.

Yasu nodded, "Of course." she replied and left the room.

Reia stopped cleaning and kept eye contact with Sumiko as she approached her. She folded up her cleaning cloth and set it on the table beside her.

"Alright, here goes..." Sumiko started, "I'm going to take the leap of faith here and go along with this... and with it the possibility that my brother hasn't gone completely insane." she pointed at the ceiling in the direction of Saburo's room.

Reia lit up and replied with an energetic nod and a smile.

"But just because I accept it doesn't mean I have to agree with it. It's going to take a bit more than telling me how incredible he is for me to jump on board with the idea that I might wind up with a persocom for a sister."

Reia nodded again and reached for her PDA. "What must I do?" she wrote.

"Nothing." replied Sumiko. "This is a personal judgment thing and if you're the real deal, I'll see it. Also, I haven't told him about this, I'll let you two handle this your way. But this won't stay quiet for long... this isn't a cat that will stay in its bag. Eventually Mom and Kazuo will find out, and I am sure Saburo has told you just how difficult things may become."

Reia showed her PDA to Sumiko again. "I understand."

"I hope so, I really hope so." Sumiko quietly said as she walked back towards the stairs.