I don't own Angelic Layer. CLAMP does. I don't own Chobits either. CLAMP owns them too. I do own Hitomi, but who really cares?
The doorbell rang.
"One minute." Shuuko stood up carefully - the powered leg augmentations were quite good for most types of movement, but standing up from a couch was sometimes tricky. She walked to the door - amazing, even after five years, that she could do so! That Ichiro's dream had come true, that Angelic Layer had provided the funding needed to complete the research to allow her, and hundreds like her, to walk again...
It was a pity that their relationship had not worked out. She still missed him, still felt warmly towards him, but there hadn't been that...spark. It just wasn't enough for her. And so they'd parted ways, a year after moving in together, in an attempt to keep the friendship intact.
She opened the door, and smiled warmly. "Hello, Ohjiro. Misaki's in her room."
"Thank you, Miss Shuuko." He held up an envelope. "Actually, I have two items of business with you as well, before I talk to Misaki."
"Oh." Shuuko took the envelope. "What's this?"
"Miss Chitose and my brother have finally set a date. And since you two are still friends, she insisted that you be invited to the wedding." Ohjiro smiled crookedly. "My brother thought that inviting you might be...awkward."
Shuuko smiled. "I've wanted to meet her for quite some time. What was the other item?"
"My brother wanted you to drop by the lab some time in the next few days."
Shuuko blinked; this was a bit unexpected. Not to mention, given the fact that he'd designed her prosthetics, worrisome. "Did he say why?"
"He did. But he also told me that I'm not to discuss it with you." Ohjiro smiled. "It's nothing bad. Don't worry. He just has a...surprise...that he wants to spring on you."
Hikaru danced alone on the Layer.
For almost a year, she'd been alone on the Layer. Interest in Angelic Layer had finally waned, and the word was that there would be no tournament this year. Many of the long-time players - herself, Hatoko, Sai, or Kaede, for example - still played, but as often as not, they no longer fought. Instead, they'd devised new games, ones that required the Angels to co-operate rather than do battle.
Her mother was one of those who no longer played, one way or the other. As much as she loved Angelic Layer, without the culture that surrounded the tournaments, there was nothing to hold her into it. Athena was an extension of her mother's will; Hikaru was her own person - so to speak - who answered to Misaki's will.
There was a knock at her door, and Misaki jumped up. She glanced at the mirror to ensure that she was presentable, and then opened the bedroom door.
"Hi, Ohjiro!" She grabbed him in a rib-cracking hug, then stepped back. "You've never visited me at home before."
He grinned. "Your mother still has a tendency to intimidate me. Can I come in?"
"Of course!" She glanced over to the layer, where Hikaru still danced. "Hikaru, say hello to Ohjiro."
The Angels had not been designed with any speech capability, so Hikaru merely bowed to Ohjiro. She then crossed to the edge of the Layer, sat down at the edge, and leaned back to keep her antennae in the Layer's power field.
Ohjiro chuckled. "I remember when Wizard first started moving on his own. At first, I thought I'd gone crazy. Then I thought that he'd gone crazy."
"Icchan told me that the Angels are something like twenty percent computer," said Misaki. "Their entire chest cavity is all computer. That's why they look female; the designers had to add boobs to make room for more computer."
"Outstanding," chuckled Ohjiro. "Only the Angels need bigger breasts to be smarter."
Misaki cuffed him, and chuckled. The five years since they first met had put some curves on her body, but while they were all in the places she wanted them, they were not, in her opinion, sufficient in size.
"So what brings you here? Must be important."
"Actually, two things. First off, I've got an invitation for you, for my brother's wedding." He handed her an envelope. "Second, my brother wants you to stop by the lab at some point. Bring Hikaru with you."
Misaki paused. "I'm not really doing anything now. Can we go now?"
He shrugged. "I don't see why not."
Ohjiro grinned. "He sends his regrets, but he has business elsewhere."
"Right," laughed Misaki. "So why does Icchan want to see me?"
"He said it was a surprise."
"So you don't know?"
Ohjiro laughed. "I know exactly why he wants to see you. But I also know it's a surprise. And I can keep a secret."
"Meanie." She glanced over to their left. "Think we can stop for a coffee?"
"I don't see why not." He dug into his pocket, extracted a number of coins. "I'll pay. You got the last one."
The cafe was small, with a friendly air, and the waitress did not even blink when Misaki set Hikaru on the table with them. Angelic Layer wasn't the fad that it used to be, but it still attracted fans. Misaki waited until their drinks had arrived - coffee for her, heavy on the cream and sugar, and tea for him.
"So tell me. What's the surprise."
He shook his head, smiling. "You should know me better than that by now."
"He wants me to bring Hikaru, so it's about Angelic Layer." Misaki ticked the points off on her fingers. "He wants me to bring her to the lab. So it's about an upgrade or maintenance issue. You don't have Wizard with you, and said he was elsewhere and busy, so it's not just me. You didn't say that you left him somewhere, so it's something about free will. And you asked me about Hikaru's free will, so it has something to do with her free will."
"Therefore," continued Hikaru, "Icchan has found a way to allow the Angels - those who have developed free will, that is - to move about off the Layer."
He laughed. "Anyone who underestimates your intelligence is in for a rude surprise."
"So I'm right?"
"You're close." He raised a hand. "No more questions on this. You'll find out when we get there."
She pouted, then picked up her coffee cup. "Fine. Play your games."
Her smile took the bite out of the words.
"Took you long enough," chuckled Icchan.
Misaki ducked her head. "We stopped for coffee, and--"
"Calm down." Icchan waved a hand. "I'm just teasing you. I didn't expect you to show up at all today; figured your schedule would be full."
"I don't have a lot of stuff on the go right now," she admitted. "So Ohjiro told me that you have an upgrade for Hikaru, to free her from the Layer."
Icchan looked sharply at Ohjiro. "It was supposed to be a surprise."
"It's not his fault," Misaki giggled. "I figured it out myself."
"Well, you're generally correct," admitted Icchan. "But you are a little off on the magnitude of the upgrade."
"Then what's the upgrade?"
Icchan grinned. "We're going to let Hikaru play Angelic Layer."
Misaki blinked. "What do you mean?"
Icchan walked over to a door on the far side of the lab. He pulled it open, revealing a morgue-like set of sliding pallets. He grabbed one and pulled it out.
Resting on the pallet was an Angel. A remarkably large Angel. In fact, she would be taller than Misaki, if she were standing upright. She was naked, save for a curly mop of pinkish-red hair held in place by a black band. Her joints were much less obvious to the eye than those of the smaller Angels.
Save for her size, and the long ponytail draped over her chest, she was identical to Hikaru. Misaki drew in a breath.
"Mister Icchan...is that--"
"No." He shook his head. "It is a larger model, based on Hikaru, but only Hikaru is Hikaru."
He touched the Angel's ribcage, and a panel popped open on her chest. Within were several electronic components. Misaki had learned a bit about computers, during her time playing Angelic Layer, but what was inside the panel might as well have been spaghetti to her. Icchan extracted one set of cables, ending in a small connector.
"With this, I can copy Hikaru's memory to the larger model. There is a couple of down sides, though; everything that makes up Hikaru's personality will be moved from the Angel to the new model."
"I assume there is an up side?"
"Yes. Hikaru gets a new body, one that can function without the Layer. She gets a larger body. In addition, with a lot of additional volume, I added some other upgrades. She will have more memory, and a permanent storage device, so she can get smarter. She has a link to the cellular network, and can place phone calls, for you or for herself. And she can access the internet, and find out information for you or for herself."
"Sounds like a personal computer," said Misaki.
"Yes. I designed her to be able to act as such. Except that she can walk and talk, and--"
"Talk?" Misaki leaned forwards, hands clasped before her. "You can make her talk?"
"Of course." Icchan smiled. "I needed to add that functionality so that she could use the phone. But there is another problem as well." He sighed. "Everything that Hikaru has already learned, about walking, fighting and dancing, is for her smaller body. Relative to their size, Angels are very strong. But this new model lacks that strength. She is no stronger than you our I."
"So she'll need to learn to walk all over again. And she won't know how to talk immediately, either. You'll have to teach her that. I've supplied the basic phoneme structure, so she has the sounds, but she won't have the words. She'll still be able to understand you, as Hikaru does now, but the Angels don't hear; she'll be reading your lips, as she already does."
Icchan paused. "But the transfer of her personality is one-way. And destructive. If it fails, or if the new model breaks down, her personality will be lost. Even if one hundred percent successful, the effects of the upgrade will render it impossible to put the old personality files back into the Angel. The immediate bombardment of her hearing, the opening of new mental pathways for speech - the increase in required memory will be enormous."
"So there's no way back."
"And because it is a destructive copy," continued Icchan, "it means that the Angel Hikaru will go back to being merely a doll - not even a new, blank Angel, for the basic input-output system will be lost." He leaned forward. "We can do this, and you have the potential to have a new best friend. But the risks are high, especially given how close you and Hikaru are. You need to think it over."
"I--" Misaki paused. "Okay. Can I see you tomorrow about this?"
"Not before five o'clock." He grinned lopsidedly. "Board meetings. I hate them."