Frozen Butterfly Arc 3 Chapter 9

With a strangely muted crack the emergency exit opened. A heavily armored panel in the rear of the DD dropped free with what should have been a screech of metal and ringing clang as it hit the roof of the tower. The muffled sound was a good indication that my hearing was one of many things damaged by Largo.

The full list was available, just waiting for review. I chose not to. I didn't want to know how badly hurt I was. The pain was excruciating. Only the fact I could mostly isolate it made moving bearable.

Blinking didn't help clear my vision any. The world was still a blur. Reaching up with a shaky hand I realized why. My glasses were broken, one lens missing entirely. So I stumbled more than climbed free of the DD. As I lay there, trying to catch my breath I could feel the heat pouring off the slowly cooling armor of my once mighty body.

Around me I saw flashes, motion, and dull clashing sounds assaulted my ears. The excitement lasted perhaps a minute longer before the world became still leaving only smoke and the scent of burning asphalt in my nose. It took me a moment to realize that the fight might, no, must be over. I hoped we had won. If not I probably wouldn't get to enjoy my nice quiet spot on the roof much longer.

The first indication I had as to which side had won was the cool down force from the Knightwing's propellers blowing fresh air over my face. I enjoyed that for a small eternity. I had just gotten to the point of worrying when Nene arrived.

True I couldn't see her face behind the helmet she wore, or smell her scent over the smoke and fire of the rooftop, or even hear her real voice behind the program that scrambled it for privacy. But I could feel it was her all the same.

It was obvious in a myriad of small ways; how she moved, the familiar electromagnetic scan, the gentle touch as she cradled me in her arms, lifting me from the roof. Though she spoke I couldn't make out her exact words, my damaged hearing conspiring to make them little more than a buzz.

Still I managed a smile. "It's okay. I'm okay; better than last time." I did my best to hug her. "My Knight."

In retrospect I'm not sure why I said something so insipid, I blame the pain and lost processing speed due to all the injuries, but it seemed like the logical thing to say at the time. The short trip into the cargo bay was painful enough to bring me out of the hazy princess fantasy I blame on head trauma, boomer or not.

As Nene laid me down I slowly became aware of pressure against my body and realized she was carefully strapping me down. At least this time I'm stable and can remember it. The last time she had to care for me in a similar situation had almost been the last. This time although the damage done was almost as bad I wasn't deteriorating, or bleeding out and in danger of imminent shutdown.

"The others?" I managed to ask. I couldn't see well, and in the dark I didn't trust myself enough to make a judgment.

"They're fine." Nene answered, cracking her helmet and pulling it off. As I felt us lift off she went on, her voice growing emphatic. "But what were you thinking! You could have been killed." Her voice dropped, but even with my degraded hearing I could make out the recrimination in her voice. "Risking yourself like that, what were you thinking?"

I could feel one Kevlar shrouded hand hold my own tightly, the closest she could come to genuine physical contact without stripping off the rest of her armor. "I thought I could be the hero." I joked, trying for my best smile. I hoped that I didn't look TOO ghoulish given my injuries and the poor light.

"But you're not trained for this, or built for it, or… anything!" Her tone of voice reached me despite my hearing loss and turned my forced smile into a natural, happy one. Master's signs of affection genuine 89% probable.

"Nene, I should have been safer than you were. The DD really is, was, an amazing machine. Sylia didn't really even need me to do much more than turn it on…" Only as I continued to ramble did I realize that I was just talking to fill space. I didn't really believe what I was saying any more than she did. So instead of going on I gave her hand a hopeful squeeze and asked the important question. "Can you fix me?"

"Yes, you dummy, I can fix you, I WILL fix you, but this is the last time. So, so no more doing stupid things like that." Master's tone indicates suppression of tears 92% probable. Though still fuzzy by squinting I could make out just enough of her face to see I was right. She was holding back tears.

I could have pointed out that she went into combat with rogue boomers all the time, or that she shouldn't be quite so upset or worried because I was if not fine, at least salvageable. I could even have pointed out she had said she didn't want to give me orders, but for some reason the words stuck in my throat. I didn't want to argue now, or call her on her hypocrisy, or even really want to disagree with her ever again, even without a direct command against it. So instead I settled for nodding and giving her hand another squeeze. The bone deep ache of my injuries only added weight to her commandment anyway.

"Never again without your permission, I promise." With luck she wouldn't ever realize what she had done. I didn't want her feeling worse about the situation than she did already.

Of course it was at that moment that we had to be reminded we weren't alone in the back of the VTOL craft.

"What's the matter, already past your warranty?" Priss asked acerbically. "You know Nene, you shouldn't go around picking up secondhand merchandise. You can never tell what been done if the tamper seal is missing." Turning back to me she continued to rag "And seriously Kari, don't just stand there and take it." Swallowing a lump in her throat she gave my shoulder a quick squeeze. "That's a good way to get hurt."

I might have complained about the painful touch but for two things. The first was that Priss was already walking away with Nene yelling after her. The second was far more meaningful. Despite her words, and despite her tone, she too cared. Probability subject feels sentiment towards unit 76% probable. My program might not consider the odds to be high enough for action but I knew I was right nonetheless. Priss did care, she just wasn't good at showing it.

I was able to bask in those warm feelings for only a moment however. When I tried to think what I might do differently I hit a wall. What had happened during the fight? I tried to think back, to find something to tease her with only to run into a problem. I knew what happened, I remembered, at least I thought I did, but I couldn't bring up the exact memories, my server path was broken, missing?

Starting to panic I tried to remember something else, anything else. Last night, warmth, the softness of Nene's cheek, just as clear to me now as the moment it happened. I could feel the shared heat of our bodies and the spearmint scent that was her.

Sisters or not, sharing or not, when it had come time to sleep I had firmly but quietly, and behind Nene's back put my foot down about the sleeping arrangements. Sylvie and Anri could have the couch, but both the bed, and Nene were mine. While she had fallen asleep quickly, and to my joy snuggled close I hadn't been able to do the same.

Not with her right there, holding onto me like a teddy bear. I could feel our hearts beating as one, and though it took an hour to work up the courage, or presumption finally I gave her a soft, gentle kiss, on the cheek. Not quite what I wanted, but as much as I was willing to take without permission. Even with no more pressure than the weight of a butterfly behind it the moment was miraculous.

It was my most treasured memory; how her arms held me tight when I had finally let myself drift to sleep. So it was an incredible relief to be able to recall it now. It was only the memories of combat; mostly in the form of sensor records from within the DD's J1 system that were lost to me. A painful lesson about using external storage and processing, but thankfully one I could recover from.

"Don't listen to her Kari, she's just upset you're the one who defeated Largo." This time however Nene realized just what she said and slapped her hand over her own mouth. Then as if realizing that was no good began to quickly backpedal as I started giggling at her predicament.

"No, I didn't mean that! Do listen to her, wait, I mean, um… ignore what I just said, or no, wait, which parts would be the command?"

I winced slightly as her continued stumbling just made it funnier, and unfortunately made me laugh harder. She noticed and reached out to touch my hand lightly, trying to offer the reassurance physically that she was having trouble vocalizing.

"It's okay Nene. I'll be alright, it's just funny. You could just tell me to use my own best judgment." I offered with a wink. I could see the slight flush of her cheeks as she realized my shaking was from laughter not pain.

"I would, but we just saw what kind of trouble your 'best judgment' gets you into!" she protested before slumping slightly. "But you're right. I don't want to be ordering you around anyway, even by accident." Thinking a moment she offered weakly "So, I order you to use your best judgment about listening to my orders?"

That made me roll my eyes even as I smiled up at her. "It's no good in the form of a question you know." Squinting up at her I managed to catch her indignant expression mostly in focus.

"Fine, use your best judgment in listening to any orders I give you!" Sticking out her tongue Nene then asked, "Better?"

"Yes, much, thank you." My answer was soft, but very sincere. It was a weight off my shoulders. I had an out now, a legitimate excuse if I ever needed to get around my own programing. It hurt, and my body almost wasn't up to the task but I reached over to give her hand a squeeze of appreciation before taking a slow fresh breath.

"I think I'm just going to rest now." I gave her a grin, meant to assuage her concern, "Not in a tragic movie ending kind of way, just in a, I've really been hurt and want to pass out kind of way."

From what little of her expression I could make out as my eyes fell shut I was certain she wanted to kiss me or kill me, or something in between probability 99.9%. Before she could make up her mind I finished putting myself into standby for once feeling safe as the darkness fell.