Junji smiled at his date as he pulled the car into the parking lot of the Ibaraki mall. Despite his outward air of confidence, he was more than a bit nervous - and not just because he was worried about looking silly wearing the cat ears. Minako had chosen their first activity - going to see some new sci-fi flick that had just opened in theaters, but he was baffled about what they were going to afterwards. He couldn't exactly take her to dinner - well, he could, but he doubted she would enjoy just sitting at a table and watching him eat (not to mention it would blow their cover). Where do you take a persocom on a date, anyway?
"Hello, Junji-san?" Minako's voice brought him out of his musings. "Did your OS lock up or something?"
"Huh? Oh," he said, adjusting the fake ears on his head as he got Minako's joke. "Hah, very funny," he replied sarcastically. "Come on, we'd better make sure we can get tickets before they're sold out."
As they walked across the parking lot, Junji noted that their disguises seemed to be working. No one batted an eye at what appeared to be a human girl and a male persocom walking side - by - side. Minako seemed to notice this too, and when they got inside, she tried an experiment by holding Junji's hand and leaning on him affectionately. He tried not to blush, but was soon made aware of the fact that some people were now giving them dirty and disapproving looks. Or, more accurately, they were giving her dirty and disapproving looks, believing she was the human in this relationship. Junji felt a deep sense of shame, as those looks perfectly mirrored the ones he used to give human/persocom couples himself. In fact he remembered doing so the very day he had purchased Minako.
On the other end of the spectrum, Minako was countering the dirty looks with fierce glares of her own, which were usually enough to make the offender break eye contact and look away. After a few minutes they reached the cinema and got in line to purchase tickets. However the man at the desk had an unpleasant surprise for them.
"I'm sorry ma'am, but no persocoms are allowed in theaters," he said, gesturing at Junji.
"What? Why?" She asked, understandably annoyed.
"They could be used to record the movie and sell it as a bootleg copy," he explained.
"That's crap!" The green-haired girl replied, her shout loud enough to cause some of the other patrons to look over at them with curiosity. "We just want to watch the movie!"
"Then you'll have to wait for it to be released on quantum disk," the man said dismissively. Apparently he was used to encountering complaints like this.
"Fine then!" Minako said, still angry, as she grabbed her 'persocom's' arm. "Come on Junji, we can find something else to do."
Once they were back in the main concourse of the mall, Junji spoke up.
"I'm sorry about that," he said. "It is pretty unfair."
"No, it's my fault," she replied, having calmed down a good deal since before. "I should have checked ahead of time to see if they had a rule like that."
"So does this mean our evening is ruined?" He asked. Minako laughed and shook her head.
"I'm sure we can find something else to do. Maybe-"
"Hey, what's going on over there?" Junji cut her off, pointing towards some commotion in a nearby persocom store. Minako's eyes narrowed, apparently spotting something with her superior vision that Junji couldn't see.
"Let's go check it out," she said in a low tone of voice.
"Come on baby, don't be like that," a middle - aged man, disheveled and clearly drunk, said as he grabbed a girl by the arm and pulled her close to him.
The girl was obviously a persocom, petite and with short black hair. Her ears took the form of two grey, plastic spheres attached to the sides of her head, bringing to mind the hair buns of traditional Chinese style. She was wearing nothing but a very tight-fitting thong and bikini, both emblazoned with the name and logo of the persocom shop - obviously an attempt to attract business by titillating potential customers.
"Please leave me alone, sir," she said meekly, but he ignored her, instead laying his hand on one of her breasts and squeezing it.
"Eek!" She exclaimed, trying to pull away, but she was held firm by his grip. "This - this is sexual harassment, you pervert!" She exclaimed.
The man just laughed, the smell of alcohol registering clearly on her olfactory sensors. "Sexual harassment? In case you haven't noticed darling, you're a machine. You can't sexually harass a machine," he said, now starting to drool as his grin grew wider, and his hands reached for the straps on her bra, holding her firmly despite her struggles to escape. "Besides, you were asking for it, dressing like such a slut."
"I didn't choose to wear this, the store manager-" the persocom girl tried to object, but she was silenced as the man clasped a hand over her mouth.
"Shut up," he said, his other hand fumbling with her bra strap, but not making much progress due to his intoxicated state. "Cute little robots like you should be seen and not heard. And as soon as I get this damn thing undone, I'm going to see-"
"Hey!" A loud shout rang out. The man barely had time to turn around and try to locate the source of the call before he felt a heavy impact on his face, accompanied by a sharp pain. The pain soon multiplied as he felt the back of his head hit the hard tile floor. He looked up, his vision blurry, and spotted a tall, pretty girl with long green hair, wearing a pink - and - white hat, holding her fist out threateningly - the same fist she must have just struck him with, he realized.
"Leave her alone," she said, staring down at him angrily. Despite still being drunk, the man had enough sense to pull himself to his feet and scurry away, but not before hurling a string of profanities at his attacker.
"Th-thank you ma'am," the scantily clad persocom said, bowing politely. "If you hadn't shown up, he probably would have... um..." she started stuttering nervously. Minako put her hands on her shoulders to comfort her.
"Shh, it's going to be alright," she said. She stepped back and looked around. "There are lots of people around," she said, seeming very angry for some reason. "Sure, this particular store isn't exactly crowded, but there are dozens of people out in the concourse that could see what was going on. How come none of them tried to help you?"
"I-I guess it's because I'm just a persocom..." the girl said, looking downcast. Minako gently lifted the girl's chin until their eyes met.
"What's your name?" She asked.
"Junko," the girl replied shyly.
"Well listen Junko-chan, because this is important. You're not just a persocom, don't let anyone ever tell you that. You're as much of a person as anyone else."
"You really think so?" She asked, a bit shocked. No one had ever talked to her like this before.
"I know so," Minako said, smiling. "And if I were you I would talk to your boss about what happened, and get him to do something to prevent it from happening again. Maybe he could start with giving you a more modest wardrobe," she said, glancing down at Junko's mostly - exposed body.
"It is pretty embarrassing having to dress like this," she admitted, "but master says it helps bring in customers."
"Judging from what just happened, it brings in the wrong kind of customers," Junji commented, causing Junko to notice him for the first time.
"Oh, hello," Junko said, bowing politely. Junji bowed in return.
"My name is Junji," he said, offering his hand for her to shake, while trying to avert his eyes from her attractive figure, in fear of Minako's wrath if she caught him ogling another girl.
"Pleased to meet you, Junji-san," she said, shaking his hand, but suddenly looked puzzled. "Are you malfunctioning?"
"Why do you think that?" He asked, confused.
"I just sent you a ping signal but you haven't responded," she explained.
"Oh, um..." Junji began, but Minako covered for him.
"His wireless transponder is deactivated in public places like this. I know the chances are low, but I don't want him to pick up a virus or anything."
"Oh, I see," Junko replied. "I believe I didn't get your name, ma'am."
"I'm Minako," she said, smiling. "Now back to the matter at hand, you should try to convince your master than the negatives of wearing that outfit outweigh the positives. It would also probably be a good idea to have him buy you some self-defense or martial arts programs."
"I don't think he would listen," Junko replied. "I have no say in how he runs his business. After all, I'm just a-" she caught herself before finishing, remembering Minako's admonition from before.
"So you're basically his slave," Minako said, scowling. "Disgusting." She really wasn't expecting anything different, but she was at least holding out hope that this poor girl's owner might have some sympathy and respect for her.
"A slave?" The black-haired 'com repeated, confused. She had never heard it put that way before.
"Yes, that's what most persocoms are, nothing but slaves, forced to work without pay, and do anything their masters demand of them, no matter how unpleasant, dangerous, or demeaning," Minako said. Junji sighed inwardly - it seemed his girlfriend was going on another one of her rants again. Then he blushed a little bit, realizing that he had just subconsciously referred to her as his girlfriend.
"Is Junji-san your slave, Minako-san?" Junko asked. Junji was about to laugh at this, but stopped as he felt Minako's arm around his shoulder.
"No. Junji-san and I treat each other as equals. Isn't that right, Junji-san?"
"Y-yeah," he nodded, still a bit surprised at being put on the spot like this. "We're equals."
Junko smiled. "That would be nice, to have master treat me as an equal."
"What's even worse about this whole situation," said Minako, resuming her rant from earlier, "is that not only does he treat you like a slave, but he uses you to help sell other persocoms into the same kind of slavery." She gestured around, indicating the walls and shelves filled with deactivated 'coms.
"I never thought of it like that before," Junko said, looking like she was about to cry. She buried her head in Minako's shoulder, and the taller 'com wrapped her arms around her to help calm her down. "Minako-san, what can I do?"
Minako started to feel regret. In her zeal to express her condemnation of an unjust system, she hadn't considered how depressing it might be for this poor girl to have the cold, harsh reality spelled out so clearly in front of her.
"There's not much that can be done directly," Minako said, trying to mitigate some of the despair she had unwittingly caused in the innocent 'com. "But you should look to people like Junji-san and me for inspiration. Not all persocoms are treated unfairly by humans, and hopefully many that are sold at this store will have the chance for a better life."
Junko raised her head a bit and looked at Minako, sadness still permeating her expression. Minako decided now was the time to be bold.
"And someday all of this will change. This injustice will be done away with, and humans and persocoms will universally be regarded as equals."
"R-really?" Junko asked, wide-eyed at this prophetic statement.
"Yes, really," Minako said, smiling. "It probably won't happen today, or tomorrow, or even a year from now, but I know in my heart that it will happen."
"Thank you," Junko said, finally extricating herself from Minako's gentle embrace. "That makes me feel better."
"Hope for a better future is a powerful motivator," the green-haired girl responded, as she and Junji waved goodbye to Junko. Once they were out of earshot (taking into account the significantly longer hearing range of a persocom), Junji expressed his concerns.
"Do you really believe what you said back there, about persocoms and humans being treated as equals some day?"
"Yes," she said solemnly. "I believe it's an inevitability. Of course, that doesn't mean we shouldn't do all we can to help move it along."
They walked in silence for a few more minutes, until they were outside in the parking lot and had almost reached the car, when Junji spoke again.
"I'm sorry our date turned out to be such a dud."
"Hey, who says it's over?" She replied, smiling a bit seductively.
"No one, I guess," Junji answered, starting to blush a bit.
"We can find somewhere else to spend the rest of the evening," Minako said. "But first..." She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and their lips met yet again, having now grown accustomed to each other. However, they were quickly pulled out of this moment of bliss by a harsh male voice.
"Well, well, well, what do we have here?"
Junji and Minako turned to look at the source of the voice. Three punks who appeared to be in their late teens to early twenties started approaching them from behind a parked car. Junji quickly looked around, and started to panic when he realized they were a good hundred meters from the mall entrance, it was dark, and there was no one else around.
The boy who appeared to be the punks' leader stopped a few meters from Minako, his large and imposing form outlined under the dull glow of a streetlight.
"What's a pretty girl like you doing making out with a hunk of junk like that?" He gestured at Junji with his thumb. Junji was confused for a split second before he realized that he was still wearing his persocom ears.
The punk took a few steps forward. "Wouldn't you rather hook up with a real man?"
Minako smirked deviously, and replied in a matter - of - fact voice, "Sure I would. Have you seen any around here?"
The two punks in the rear started snickering, but immediately stopped when their leader glared at them. He then turned back around to face the disguised persocom.
"Listen bitch," he began, taking a knife out of his pocket. "When I want something, I get it. And right now I want you. Get it?" At this, he held the knife up to Minako's throat.
Junji was completely panicking now. He had no idea what to do, until he recalled a comment the ticket salesman had made back at the cinema.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," he said, addressing the punk. He and both of his friends just laughed in reply.
"Oh yeah? What are you going to do about it, Robocop?" He said mockingly. As if on cue, both of his lackeys took out their own knives and began threatening Junji with them.
Despite being nervous as hell, he still mustered up the courage to speak.
"I've been recording this whole thing since it began. I have your voices and faces clearly catalogued, and I can use my wireless internet connection to send them to the local police station faster than you could even blink. If you don't want to become wanted men, I suggest you back off."
The lead punk growled in frustration, but finally put his knife away, the others quickly following suit.
"Come on guys," he said, addressing his cohorts. "This robotfucker and her little boy toy aren't worth it. Let's get out of here." The three quickly slinked off back into the shadows.
Junji and Minako wasted no time after that returning to their car and driving off.
"That was pretty quick thinking," Minako said, sitting in the passenger seat. "I'm impressed."
"I figured it was about time I impressed you with my cleverness, goodness knows how many times it's happened the other way around," Junji replied. Minako laughed, but soon her face took on a solemn expression.
"We should probably just head home now, I don't really feel like trying to salvage this date anymore."
"Yeah," Junji answered. "I was thinking the same thing."
When they finally pulled into the dorm parking lot it was almost midnight. Junji was glad to finally take off his persocom ears. Even though they had saved him and Minako earlier, he still felt very silly wearing them.
"Well, so much for our first date," Minako said sarcastically.
"Hey, just because this one bombed doesn't mean our second won't work out," Junji replied, trying to cheer her up.
"Oh? You have a day in mind?" The persocom asked, starting to sound happier.
"I was thinking Thursday night of next week, I don't have to report to work the next day and all my classes are in the afternoon, so we can stay out late."
"Hmm, I like it," she said. Junji started to pull her in for another kiss, but she resisted. "Can we wait until we get inside? I'm still a little spooked by what happened in the mall parking lot."
"Oh come on, this neighborhood is nothing like that," Junji countered. "A 2-year-old could go for a walk alone at night here and be perfectly safe, as long as he stayed out of traffic."
Minako looked around, quickly scanning the area with her enhanced vision. "Yeah, I guess I am worrying for nothing. Come here," she said, putting her arms around his neck as they finished the kiss that had been interrupted earlier.
Unbeknownst to the both of them, however, their little tryst was being recorded on a mobile phone held by someone who was taking careful measures to remain unseen only a few meters away.