When Mayumi's friends bought her a persocom for her nineteenth birthday, she had thought that she would be getting a new computer. But, as she is quickly finding out, there's a lot more to Ran than what's in an owner's manual - and a lot more to her own feelings for him than she could ever have expected.
All of Cherry Street knew about Mayumi Inori's nineteenth birthday. Actually, it was a bit hard to ignore, with five giggling girls, three persocoms and a mobile unit stumbling along the sidewalk. People stopped to watch as the whole weird procession went by, remarking about how odd it was that the girl in the middle of the throng was wearing a blindfold.
The girl in the middle, Mayumi herself, just wished that her friends could throw her a surprise party indoors. Though she couldn't see what was going on or where they were headed, she knew that they were probably making a scene, and that her neighbors would be talking about it for weeks to come.
"Hey, c'mon! Can't you at least let me see where we're going? This is nuts!" she complained to the half-dozen arms jostling her along.
"That's the surprise!" giggled the voice of Kanna, Mayumi's best friend of seven years.
"Yeah, and you wouldn't want to spoil the whole thing now, would you?" Ryouka added, giving her a poke in the ribs. "Besides, we promise you're really going to like it!"
"Yeah, I figured, but I'd like it a lot better if I wasn't blind!" Mayumi shot back, wobbling unsteadily as her friends worked to hold her upright.
"Please don't get so excited, Miss Mayumi," said the typically deadpan voice of Yuka, Chikako's persocom. "While it was never our intent, your inability to visually track the horizon line seems to be disrupting your sense of balance. Please calm down and allow us to lead you to the destination."
With a resigned huff, Mayumi straightened up, faced forward, and let her friends guide her to wherever they were going. If these weren't my best friends, she silently seethed, I never would have let them talk me into this.
About five minutes later, Mayumi felt her friends maneuver her into a right turn, and somebody said, "Watch your step!" Mayumi lifted her foot a bit, encountered something hard, then raised her foot a little more, finally finding the top of the step. Sighing in relief - the last thing she needed was to embarass herself even worse by falling down - Mayumi made her way up the steps until her right foot wound up on the same level of her left, meaning that she was on a level floor.
"Yes!" she exclaimed triumphantly, raising her fists into the air - and falling backward onto her seat as she lost her balance.
"Um ... excuse me. Can I help you girls?" a male voice asked from somewhere in front of her.
"Yeah!" she heard Kanna reply. "Just hold on a second." Suddenly, the blindfold was pulled off of Mayumi's eyes, and she blinked as the world came back into focus. When it did, she found that she was sitting on the floor near the entrance of a shop. Basically, the store was just a single long stretch of carpet, with square pedestals along either side. On the pedestals stood male and female figures in various styles of clothing, standing straight and motionless, their eyes closed, as though they had all fallen asleep on their feet. Where a human's ears would be, each of the figures sported a pair of plastic protrusions featuring audio pickups and connector ports for interfacing with other electronic devices.
Mayumi was in a persocom store.
The birthday girl jumped to her feet, her eyes wide, her annoyance about the blindfold totally forgotten. "Oh, WOW!" she cried, running over to the nearest display pedestal, "This is awesome!" She turned to her friends with a huge smile on her face. "Thank you! I've always wanted a persocom."
Kanna grinned back at her. "Hey, these days, just about everyone does."
"Yeah, and now you won't be stuck with that scuzzy old laptop anymore," Chikako said. "Right, Yuka?"
The green-haired, child-size persocom nodded. "Agreed. Even the simplest persocom AI is far superior to that which can be installed in a non-mobile computer. And naturally, because persocoms are humanoid in shape, we can perform physical tasks that no other type of device can." She glanced at the tiny mobile unit on Ryouka's shoulder. "Then again, some of us aren't much more than glorified PDAs."
"Hey! Yuka is not nice!" cried Rie, pointing angrily at Yuka. "Rie can do lots and lots of things! Rie is Miss Ryouka's best and only persocom!"
"Can you buy and carry groceries?"
"Can you cook?"
"Can you even hold the door open?"
"Yes!" Rie finally exclaimed. "Rie is a good doorstop!"
Yuka rolled her eyes. "As I said, some of us are woefully lacking in physical capabilities - not to mention intelligence."
"Hey!" Ryouka said, standing up for her tiny mobile unit, "At least Rie doesn't make fun of people."
Yuka blinked, genuinely surprised, then hung her head. "My apologies, Miss Ryouka," she said. "It was never my intent to 'make fun of' Rie. I was merely stating facts as best I knew them."
Ryouka relented, but not before shooting Yuka a look that clearly told her to lay off. "It's okay, Rie," she said, reaching up to pat her tiny companion on the head. "Yuka didn't mean to hurt your feelings."
"Feelings?" came Yuka's response. "Technically speaking, persocoms ca--"
"Yuka!" Chikako said, cutting her off. "That's enough! Honestly, can't you go five minutes without starting a debate?"
"But I thought you enjoyed our debates?" Yuka said, her brow furrowed in confusion.
Chikako smiled and put a hand on Yuka's shoulder. "Yes, I do," she said, "but most people see it as being argumentative."
"Oh," Yuka said, then gave a nod. "Understood. I will endeavor to refrain from challenging the assertions of others." She turned back to Ryouka and Rie and bowed deeply. "Again, I apologize. It was not my intent to offend either of you, Miss Ryouka and Rie."
Though Rie still had her hands on her hips and looked ready to give the bigger persocom a piece of her mind, Ryouka gave a slight smile. "Just try not to pick on people, okay? You may have a hot-rod CPU, but the rest of us have to get by with what we've got."
"I understand," Yuka replied, then gave another bow and walked back to her owner.
Meanwhile, Mayumi was looking around at the various display models like a kid in a candy store, reading the plaques on each pedestal detailing each persocom's processor speed, disk space and capabilities. "Oh, wow!" she said for the umpteenth time. "So," she asked Kanna, "which kind did you get me?"
"Well, that's the thing. You've got to pick out what you want."
Mayumi's expression fell. "Uh, Kanna," she said, "I really can't afford--"
"Oh, don't worry!" Kanna said. "Once you pick out the persocom you want, we'll split the cost between Chikako, Ryouka, Motoko and me. Whatever you want, the four of us can get it for you."
"Oh, thank you!" exclaimed Mayumi. She gave Kanna a hug, then went and did the same for the rest of her friends, including their persocoms. She had always wanted a persocom of her own, but unlike her friends, Mayumi's family was barely able to pay half of her college tuition, so she had to use all her job money to pay for rent and her education. The only computer that she had was an old laptop her father had bought for her when she started middle school, now completely outdated and useless for anything except word processing.
Once the frenzy of hugs had abated, Mayumi turned back to the display aisle, and to the shopkeeper standing off to one side, a small, pleasant smile on his face. "So," he said, "is there anything I can do for you?"
Mayumi thought for a moment. "Um, no thanks. I'd like to just look around for a few minutes." She walked past him and went back to looking around, this time paying more attention to the various models on display. Though she did think mobile units like Rie were cute, she decided that she needed one that could do more than just keep track of her schedule. For one thing, Mayumi had always been embarassed that she couldn't cook; whenever she invited her friends over to study, they usually wound up eating ramen or microwave meals for dinner. Though the others were polite enough not to bring it up, Mayumi noticed that her friends tended to pick up dinner elsewhere before coming over to see her.
Also, Mayumi desperately needed a persocom with a decent processor. While she could make do by using computers at the public library, her laptop was way too slow to do internet searches for her homework assignments. Once, when she'd had to write a paper on existentialism, she had found that all the computers at the library were booked for the night, and had had to borrow Yuka to get her research done on time.
As she looked around, she found that there were quite a few persocoms that were designed for cooking, cleaning, and internet access. She was checking out a dark-haired female model with long, pink-and-purple "ears" in a bathing suit, when her attention was drawn to another unit farther down the aisle. It was about six feet tall, a broad-shouldered male design with an average-looking build. It looked like a young man of about her age. As Mayumi got closer, she noticed that its artificial muscles were very well-defined, like those of a human who worked out at least three times a week. It featured short, spiky platinum-blonde hair in a crew cut, with long, swept back, blue-and-white ears. The display model wore a pair of baggy black shorts - notwithstanding the fact that it was the middle of winter outside - and a sleeveless black shirt with "LEXINGTON" written on the front.
"Ah!" said the shopkeeper, walking up beside Mayumi, "That's the Lexington Robotics MPC-47. It's been one of our best sellers lately, especially among young women. It's a multipurpose unit, and each one comes programmed with a number of functions, including household chores, a Web browser, and some basic cooking capability. Of course, it also features some fairly good learning software, so if there's anything it isn't already programmed with, it should be fairly simple to teach what you need it to know."
"Sweet!" said Motoko, gazing appreciatively at the big persocom. "Nice choice, Mayumi!"
"Is it upgradeable?" Chikako asked. "Knowing Mayumi's financial situation, she probably won't be able to buy a replacement for a long time."
"Naturally," the shopkeeper replied. "The Lexington website offers free downloads and tech support, and all the parts are more-or-less standard. If, heaven forbid, there's some kind of major problem, it also comes with a four-year warranty, so you'll be able to get it fixed or replaced for free."
"And the CPU?" asked Yuka, "What kind of capabilities does it have?"
At this, the shopkeeper's smile went even wider. "Actually, the MPC-47 features Lexington's new Apexx quantum processor. It's got a speed of fifty teraflops and enough memory on the hard drive for just about anything."
Mayumi felt lightheaded. From what she was hearing, it sounded as though this persocom could do just about anything. It could cook, it could help with her homework, and it would probably last as long as she did without becoming obsolete. "I'll take it!" she exclaimed. "How much is it?"
"You can lease it for twenty thousand yen a month, or buy it for seven hundred thousand."
"We'll buy it," said Kanna, pulling out her credit card, as Mayumi's other friends did the same. "Can we split the cost four ways?" she asked.
The shopkeeper looked a little surprised. "Well, I suppose so. Would you like the one on display, or an unopened unit from the back?"
Mayumi looked up at the persocom on the display pedestal. "I'll take this one, thanks. He looks like he's still in pretty good shape." Yeah, no kidding ... she thought silently to herself.
"Excellent! Give me a few moments, and I'll help you get started." So saying, the shopkeeper walked to the back of the store with the girls' credit cards. Mayumi just stood looking up at what was soon to be her very own persocom. I just can't believe it, she thought. This is like a dream come true!
At long last the shopkeeper returned, carrying four credit cards, four receipts and four pens. "There you are! Now, if you ladies will just sign those for me, we can get your friend here started." The shopkeeper gave Mayumi a nod as he collected the pens and receipts, then stuffed them in his shirt pocket and turned to the persocom on display. "All right," he said, "here we go!" He tapped a spot behind the tall blond persocom's right ear. There was a click, a soft whirring sound, and then a series of beeps from somewhere inside as the persocom booted up. When its eyes opened, Mayumi felt her heart skip a beat; it had the most beautiful, clear blue eyes she had ever seen.
Come on, she chided herself, get a grip! It's not like he's a real guy or anything...
>>Lexington Apexx CPU package detected; 50TF Hard Drive, 1000000GB Free Space
>>Run MOVIT 6.0
>>Run ? Filename not found>
He blinked. Then he smiled.
"Hello!" he said cheerfully. "It's very nice to meet you. And who might--?"
Then he paused.
His programming told him that his owner should be right here in front of him. His owner should be very easily recognizable: a human, most likely a young woman, looking intently at him.
Instead, he found himself looking at one male human, five females, and four other persocoms, to say nothing of the dozens of other inactive persocoms standing on pedestals around the store. Every person in the room not standing immobile on display was staring at him.
This was not what he had been expecting.
"Ah ... excuse me," he said, looking around in bewilderment, "but which one of you is my owner?"
There were some scattered giggles, and he cocked his head to one side, now more perplexed than before. Why are they laughing? Is it funny to be very confused?
Thankfully, one of the human girls - average height, shoulder-length brown hair, soft brown eyes - stepped forward, smiling happily up at him. "Hi!" she said. "I'm Mayumi, and I guess that I'm your owner now."
He felt himself smile at her - partly because he was programmed to do so, and partly out of sheer relief. "Ah! As I was saying, it is nice to meet you, Miss Mayumi." He bowed formally to his new owner.
Mayumi smiled again, then returned the bow. "Thanks! It's nice to meet you, too. So, what's your name?"
Confusion hit him again like a blank white wall. He searched his programming for a moment, then shrugged. "I ... don't know," he admitted. "I know that I am a Lexington Robotics MPC-47 multipurpose persocom, but beyond that, I have no idea."
One of the other human girls leaned over and whispered in Mayumi's ear. "You're supposed to give him a name. Like a puppy, you know?"
Mayumi turned to look at him again, putting a finger to her chin and looking thoughtful. "Hmmmm ... What should I call you, huh?"
He could only shrug helplessly. "Whatever works best for you, Miss Mayumi. I have no opinion on the matter."
Mayumi continued to look thoughtful. Then she smiled again - an expression that he was already beginning to associate with good things - and exclaimed, "I know! I'll call you Ran! How about that?"
He - now Ran - recorded the information, then nodded, returning Mayumi's cheerful smile. "Ran it is, then. Thank you, Miss Mayumi."
Mayumi clapped her hands. "Great! Now that you're all set up, I'd like you to meet my friends." Mayumi took Ran's hand and helped him step down from the pedestal - a bit jerkily, considering that it was the first time he had actually moved his legs. "This is Kanna, Ryouka, Chikako and Motoko," Mayumi said, gesturing to each of the human girls. "Their persocoms are Kiki, Rie, Yuka and Trini."
Ran managed to log in all of the new data - no easy task, but he had been designed for it - and kept right on smiling, bowing to everyone in turn. "Hello. It's very nice to meet all of you." They all smiled, returning his greeting and saying how nice it was to meet Ran, too. Within a few seconds, he found that he was smiling more because he wanted to than just because his operating system said he should.
It was nice to have friends.
Mayumi felt like squealing with glee. My own persocom! He's cute! He's polite! And he's mine! Mine mine mine mine mine! As Ran finished saying hello to everyone, she grabbed his arm - oblivious to the look of surprise on his face - and started pulling him back toward her. "Hey, I just had a great idea!" she exclaimed. "Let's get lunch at the Golden Dragon, then go catch a movie!"
A chorus of cheers greeted her suggestion, and Mayumi started leading Ran to the door. Then she noticed that Ran was still wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Just looking at him, knowing that it was the middle of January outside, made her shiver. Turning to the shopkeeper, she said, "Um, excuse me. Does he come with any other clothes? Like, something warmer?"
The man nodded. "Actually, there is an accessory pack, if you don't mind paying another ten thousand yen."
"I've got it!" Kanna said, pulling out her credit card once again. She gave Mayumi a grin. "Thank God and my parents for the miracle of plastic money."
The shopkeeper nodded, took the card, and motioned for Ran to follow him into the back of the store.
"Thanks, Kanna!" cried Mayumi, giving her best friend a hug. "You're the greatest!"
"No, you are," Kanna replied. "You deserve this, Mayumi. Happy Birthday!"
As they came out of their second round of hugs, Ran came back out, now dressed in black slacks, a white button-down shirt, a black suit jacket and a blue tie that matched his eyes perfectly. "There you are!" the shopkeeper said from behind the tall young "man". "All dressed up and ready to go."
"Oh, he's perfect!" Mayumi cried, running over and wrapping her arms around Ran, who blinked in surprise at his owner's behavior.
"Miss Mayumi, what does this mean?" he inquired.
"Huh? You mean the hugging?"
Ran took a moment to look up what "hugging" meant, then nodded. "Yes, the hugging."
Mayumi blushed - he would have to remember to ask her what that meant - and pulled back for a moment. "Well ... it means I like you. I mean, I can't even afford a persocom, and here you are, brand-spanking new and looking great."
"Spanking?" Ran asked. There was a brief mention of it in his programming, but nothing he could make much sense of. It seemed that it was associated with discomfort, and he hoped that Mayumi had no intention of spanking him anytime soon.
Mayumi just burst out laughing - further convincing Ran that seeing someone else's confusion was supposed to be funny. "It's a figure of speech," she finally replied. "It just means that I'm your first owner."
"Oh." Thank goodness, he thought to himself. "Well, I am very glad that you were not planning to spank me."
Everyone laughed at that, and Mayumi's cheeks turned red again. "Uh, yeah. Let's just pretend I never said the S-word, okay?"
"Of course, Miss Mayumi."
There was an awkward silence for a few seconds, and then Mayumi took Ran by the hand. "Well," she said, smiling once again, "now that that's all settled, let's grab something to eat!"
So saying, she led the way out of the store with Ran, followed closely by her friends as they chattered and laughed on their way to the Golden Dragon.
Lunch was everything that Mayumi and her friends had come to expect from their favorite restaurant. Ran noticed that none of the other persocoms ordered food the way their mistresses did, so he kept quiet as the waitress asked what they wanted. When he had an opportunity, he decided that he would ask Mayumi about that, too.
After lunch, they did indeed catch a movie: an animated feature starring a white-haired young man in a red kimono with odd, triangular ears atop his head and an enormous sword. Ran didn't understand most of it, but recorded the movie for later reference. Hopefully someday, when he had more experience with human beings and the world in general, he would be able to make sense of it all.
Some time later, after Mayumi's friends had all said goodbye, his owner led him to her home - a small third-floor apartment with a living room, closet, kitchen and bathroom. No sooner had they walked in through the door than Mayumi headed for the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. Not intending to be in a location inconvenient for his owner to reach him, Ran opened the door - and was rewarded with a loud, high-pitched scream that made him worry that his audio pickups would explode.
"EEEEEEEEEEEK! Ran, get OUT! I'm trying to get changed!"
"Oh! Sorry," he said lamely, shutting the door.
A few moments later, Mayumi came back out, wearing a loose-fitting pair of pajamas. "Ran," she said, "from here on out, don't go into the bathroom - any bathroom - if there's already someone inside. Okay? People get freaked out if they catch you peeking."
"Understood," he replied, his eyes still wide from shock. Yes, indeed. I certainly do not wish to repeat that experience again!
Mayumi noticed the persocom's lingering distress, and her tone softened a bit. "It's okay," she said reassuringly, patting the big lug on the shoulder, "at least I was still dressed. Live and learn, right?"
"Ah ... right."
Mayumi shook her head, smiling at him. "Jeez, you're such a stiff! I'm going to have to teach you to lighten up a little."
"Lighten up?" said Ran, cocking his head to one side. "Do you mean in terms of weight, or do you want me to activate my LED's?" Suddenly, the persocom's blue eyes lit up - literally - and Mayumi was staring into two intense blue-white lights like a pair of car headlamps.
"Hey! Not so bright!" she compained, squeezing her own eyes shut and holding up a hand in front of her face . "I didn't mean it literally! 'Lighten up' just means that you're not supposed to take things so seriously. Yes, I yelled at you, but it's okay now. You can stop feeling badly for the whole bathroom thing."
Ran deactivated his built-in spotlights. "Really?" he asked.
Mayumi opened her eyes and smiled at her new, good-looking but very naive persocom. "Really." So saying, she went over to the couch, pulled off the cushions, and unfolded it into a queen-size bed. "Now, I'm going to sleep. Do you need to, like, plug in or something?"
"No thank you, Miss," Ran said, "My power cell is still at ninety percent of capacity. If you would like, I can go into standby mode until you need me again."
"Yeah, that would be great," Mayumi said, sliding in under the covers. There was a faint whirring sound, and Ran's blue eyes glazed over, leaving him standing next to Mayumi's bed, fully clothed, a blank look on his face.
Mayumi sighed. "Um, hey, Ran?"
The tall blond persocom gave a beep, waking up from his brief "nap". "Yes, Miss Mayumi?"
"Could you, like, sleep someplace less conspicuous? Maybe on the floor?"
"But I am on the floor," he replied matter-of-factly. "I am physically incapable of standing on the walls or ceiling, and I am not standing on top of any furniture."
Mayumi gave a sigh of exasperation. "I mean lying down."
"Ah. Understood." With that, the well-dressed persocom proceeded to get down on his knees, then lay face-down on the tatami floor.
Mayumi groaned. "No, not like that! You're going to get your clothes all wrinkled up!"
Ran looked up at her innocently from the living-room floor. "But you said to lie down."
Mayumi sat up in bed, realizing that this was going to be more difficult than she had thought. "Okay, first, go into the bathroom, take off those good clothes and hang them up. Then put on the shorts and shirt you were wearing in the store. Then lie down on your back next to the bed, close your eyes and go to sleep. Can you understand all of that?"
"Yes, Miss Mayumi," said Ran, then went into the bathroom and took off his suit jacket. Then he took off his tie. Then he unbuttoned his shirt, giving Mayumi a good view of his wide, muscular-looking chest and six-pack abs...
"Close the door!" yelled Mayumi, realizing that Ran was about to undo his belt next.
"Yes, Miss Mayumi," Ran said, not even batting an eye, and shut the bathroom door, not realizing how close he had come to giving Mayumi her very own peep-show.
Mayumi flopped back onto the bed, heaving a huge sigh of relief. For some reason, she found that her heart was pounding like crazy.
What the heck is wrong with me? she thought. He's just a persocom. Sure, he looks kind of like a real guy, but he's ... well ... he's just a persocom!
A few moments alter, Ran emerged, taking a few seconds to hang up his good clothes, then lay back down beside her bed, shut his eyes and went into standby mode.
Mayumi spent a couple of seconds looking down at the sleeping persocom, then settled back in her bed. I wonder if sleeping on the floor is okay for persocoms? she thought idly. I sure know it hurts my back whenever I try it. She decided that, if she remembered, she would ask Ran about it in the morning.
"G'night," Mayumi murmured sleepily.
Then she reached over, turned off her bedside lamp, and fell asleep.