"It's a shock that it's so fast! It's a shock that it's so cheap! It's a shock that it's so good! Pizza Shock! It's a pleasant shock to the system!"
Ah, yes. Pizza. The closest thing to American food Jack Conners could find in this godforsaken section of Tokyo. Really, there was nothing like a good pizza to ease both his hunger and his homesickness at the same time.
Unfortunately, this was nothing like a good pizza. But there weren't any decent places nearby to get food from. Even McDonalds didn't bother with this section of town; it was just too damn seedy, too damn dangerous. So Pizza Shock would have to do.
It was made a little more palatable by the presentation. The Shock had evidently gotten themselves a perky new delivery girl, and a pretty one at that. Jack smirked as he wondered whether his boss (if he were here) would try to sign her up as a photo girl for V&A Studios. Well, best to leave that sort of decision up to Tamari. She'll probably be by another time.
Jack paid the girl, who flashed a brilliant smile at him that caused him to grin goofily in return. Ah, these cute Japanese girls…
As he listened to her scooter speed off, he took a bite of pizza, chewed a bit, and suddenly spat it out. Damn, these girls could make him do anything sometimes… but he drew the line at eating this crap.
Maybe if he was a little less sober…
A Key the Metal Idol fan fiction story
by Ukyou Kuonji
Key the Metal Idol is the creation of Hiroaki Sato. All rights to the characters and situations belong to him, Pony Canyon, Shogakukan, and Viz Communications. No infringement is intended, and my apologies if I left anyone out here.
Jack Connors was still picking at the pizza when the boss showed up. He scrambled unsteadily to his feet, nearly knocking over a bottle of Jim Beam.
Tamari grinned, and looked every bit as goofy as Jack felt he had when the pizza girl had left. It still felt a bit stupid, even after all this time, for Jack to refer to Tamari as his boss. Here he was, a great big, beefy guy, being ordered around by this skinny, sawed-off runt of a would-be pimp. And the oily way Tamari always pretended to know more than he really did… it just rankled Jack sometimes. Some day, he just knew Tamari's schemes and attitude would get them both into serious trouble.
But just as the selection of foodstuffs were rather limited in this area, so too were the opportunities. Competition for staff positions on the more prestigious magazines was fierce, and while his Venice Beach physique was admired for its exotic beauty, that same extremely foreign appearance was more than most Japanese were comfortable with, even if he were an expert. And a photographer that couldn't get regular work with a high-end magazine was stuck shooting cheesecake to make ends meet.
Cheesecake. Just the word made Jack's stomach growl. Tamari gestured at the pizza box, his grin widening. "So sit down. Have some already. Don't let me stop you."
Jack sat down, but did not eat. Instead, he took another pull of the bottle. "You're in a good mood, boss. Get lucky or something?"
"You might say that…" and Tamari stepped inside the cramped suite that served as the office for Visual & Arts Studios. And true to his word, a girl stepped out from behind him.
Jack's jaw went slack in shock. Where had Tamari found this kid? She barely looked fourteen, with spindly legs and arms sticking out from a shapeless grey dress that dropped straight down from her shoulders. A shock of dull brown hair crowned an empty face, devoid of expression except for…
…those eyes. Huge, black… no, wait, they're a light purple; that was just the pupil. Jack watched as her pupils shrank from nearly the full size of the eye to a mere pinprick. The edge of her irises seemed to turn, too… just like the way his camera would focus on an object.
But it didn't seem as if the girl was focussing on anything in particular. In fact, it felt as if she were staring right through him.
A sweatdrop broke out on Jack Connors' neck. This was getting terribly uncomfortable. He had to break the silence.
"Uh… hiya." His eyes landed on the pizza box. "Wouldja like a slice?"
"No, thank you. Key does not eat." Her voice was halting, stilted, as if she had enormous difficulty finding and speaking the words she wanted. Perhaps she was a foreigner, too…
"That's right," Tamari's grin became audible as he clapped her on the shoulder. The girl buckled slightly under the impact, but she quickly righted herself. Tamari paid her no heed. "Tokiko here claims that she's a robot!"
There was a spray of Jim Beam as Jack's system suddenly refused to digest either this information or the whiskey. Most of it simply hit the floor, but several drops struck the girl on the ankle, just where her leg sprouted from her tennis shoes. She bent down, ran her finger across her ankle, and straightened up. She brought her finger to her nose, and after a moment's analysis, to her lips. Jack stared as the girl slowly licked the traces of whiskey from her finger.
They make robots that do this?
Tamari's smile had faded with his underling's spit-take. "Get something to clean this up with, will ya?" he grumbled as he wandered over to his leather office chair. As Jack went to get a rag, he heard his boss discussing 'the particulars' with his new 'client': "Okay, now… you said you were seventeen, right?" A nondescript noise was the girl's only response. "Hmm… that's close, but I don't think it'll work…" No kidding. Who'd believe that girl was seventeen? "We'll make it eighteen… no, nineteen." Jack practically fell on his face. What was Tamari trying to pull?
Even the robot girl was objecting. "But Key is…"
But there was no stopping Tamari. He was on a roll now. "Now, we won't need to contact family members or school authorities, as you don't need to worry about stuff like that. Oh… do you have any seams or bolts on your body?"
"No… Key is very well constructed."
The boss stifled a laugh at that. "Well, let's see for ourselves, shall we? Take off your dress."
Silence… then, "Key does not understand… why…?"
"So I can check out the goods. C'mon… let's get it off." There was a pause, and then a 'shff' as the dress fell to the floor. Jack grabbed a rag and scrambled back toward the office, overwhelmed with curiosity… although he slowed to a casual saunter as he reached the threshold. Don't want to appear too eager, after all…
To say the least, the sight was disappointing. Jack had half-expected to see a pallid, metallic skin with possibly lines of rivets running up her sides. Or perhaps a torso made of Plexiglas, showing the mechanical inner workings of the Amazing Robot Girl. But no… She looked like an ordinary girl.
Extraordinarily ordinary. Her dress had not lied — she was thin as a rail, and just about as straight. Her nipples, sticking from her chest like thorns, were hardly the stuff of the male fantasies that V&A catered to. Only the thin, hairless folds of (synthetic?) flesh where her legs joined gave any indication that she had a gender at all. "Well, boss… the censors won't give us any trouble, anyway." Clearly, her creator, while quite skilled at mimicking the human physique, had very little appreciation for the beauty of the female form.
"Maybe not… take her into the studio. Try to make her look sexy."
Jack sighed. "Come with me, miss." And the girl followed, without even bothering to collect her shift from the floor.
It was not the most glamorous nor even the most savory of jobs, but Jack Connors was good at it. He could make any woman look sexy… or so he believed.
But this wasn't a woman he was dealing with here.
"Can't you smile, girl?"
"…smile…?" The naked girl kneeling on the bed gave him a puzzled look. She'd been giving him those looks throughout the session. And no matter what poses he put her in (and she was completely willing to pose, at least that was easy), the look on her face was of utter non-comprehension. This would just not do.
"Yeah, a smile… like you're looking forward to seeing this guy."
"Yeah, the guy who's gonna be looking at your pictures."
Her eyes dilated. Gods, but that was an unnerving sight. "My… friend…" Was that a question or a statement?
"Yeah, yeah, a friend. Whatever. Can you give him a smile?" The girl's face did not change. She continued to stare right through Jack. Once again, he was compelled to break the silence. "Look, you do know how to smile, right?"
The girl stared at him for a moment before slowly shaking her head.
Another shake of the head.
"Jeez… your programmer really fucked you up, didn't he?" Jack set the camera down on the floor, and stood up. "Look… it's like this… the corners of your mouth go up like this, see?" He demonstrated for her as he stepped over to the bed. "Now, you try it." His finger reached out to raise each corner in turn.
It was the first time he had touched her, and he resisted the urge to recoil from her until her face at least approximated a smile. It was too warm for metal, too cold for flesh, too soft for vinyl… what was this creature he was supposed to turn into the next Playmate?
He stepped back to retrieve his camera. The smile, if it could be called that, was still inadequate; it was not warm and sultry like he wanted it to be. Rather, it was crooked and forced, almost like…
Jack lowered the camera. It was almost like that famous painting whose name he couldn't recall…
It might just work.
He raised the camera up. "Okay… that's good. Now, stand up… uh-huh… let go of the sheet. Just let it drop." The cloth fell to the floor, pooling at her feet, while the incessant sound of the camera clicking echoed in the tiny room. "All right, that's nice. Now, bend over and pick it up… uh, huh… that's it, look over your shoulder at me… terrific…"
After about an hour or so, Tamari poked his head in. "So, how's it going?" He was talking to Jack, but he was staring at the girl.
"It's going okay. We've got enough exposures for now."
"Fine. Get 'em developed by tomorrow, and I'll work on the distribution angle. As for you, little robot girl… you can get dressed and go home for now. We'll let you know what happens next."
The girl stared at the floor, unmoving. "Key… has no home."
Jack almost dropped his camera. "Huh? What… you been living on the streets or something?"
"Couldn't be… I'd'a run into her sooner if she was."
The girl shook her head. "Key's home was with Key's grandfather in the Miyo Valley. Key's grandfather is dead. Key has come to Tokyo because Key's grandfather told Key how Key could become human…"
Tamari's eyes rolled, and he waved off anything else the girl might say. "Oh yeah, right. The 30,000 friends bit. Look, don't worry about it. You can stay with me for the time being. And if this pans out, who knows? You might be able to afford your own place."
"Key… is grateful." The girl didn't even look up, but continued to stare wide-eyed at the floor.
There was a look in Tamari's eyes that Jack didn't like. Jack rarely liked the looks in his boss' eyes, but this particular look Jack really hated. "Don't mention it. We'll discuss, ah… payment… over drinks, maybe?"
"Uh, boss… why don't I take her to my place? I think she'll be more comfortable there."
There was a slight trace of annoyance in Tamari's voice, as if he'd just been found out. Not that it would have taken rocket science to do it. "Humph. All right, you take her. She'll definitely be safe with you."
The girl blinked audibly, and looked up at Jack. "Key does not wish to be a burden…"
"No trouble at all, really. I've got an extra futon," Which I know Tamari doesn't, Jack's thoughts murmured.
"Okay, okay…! Take these and go. Both of you." Tamari tossed the girl's clothes at her, which she caught one-handed. She then stood up, throwing the shift nimbly over her head and wriggling into it. Jack watched his boss' eyes nearly pop at the girl's impromptu shimmy, and he closed his eyes and shook his head in irritation.
"It ain't the Ritz, a'course, but it's home." A mild case of embarrassment washed over Jack Connors as he opened up his apartment door, and he wondered why. It wasn't as if he were bringing a date home, or a potential bed mate, like Tamari might have. And it wasn't as if it were the pig sty it might have been…
It just didn't seem good enough for this girl.
And for the life of him, he couldn't understand it.
Well, it would have to do for her for now. He set up the futon in the middle of the main room, and gestured for Key to use it. With a small nod, she sat down upon it.
She was still in that position half and hour later, after Jack had finished getting ready for bed. Hesitatingly, he tapped her on the shoulder.
"Aren't you going to go to sleep, kid?"
The girl's head rotated to face him, and Jack could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. "No… Key does not sleep."
"Oh yeah, that's right… you're a robot." She nodded. "Well, I’m not. So I'm gonna catch some shut-eye. You do what you wanna, kid."
Key's only response was a nearly imperceptible shrug.
There are noises that keep some people awake; that much is common knowledge. But there are also silences that steal ones' sleep as well. Jack opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. Shouldn't he hear snoring… or breathing… or at least the sound of some internal clockwork running in the next room?
He sat up. Gotta check on her.
In the other room, the girl was still sitting up in the futon, as if she'd rusted in place. "Hey… kid."
Once again, that weird rotating head thing. A human would have jerked her head in shock at his approach, but not her. "Oh… Mister Connors."
"Please… it's Jack. Look, you gonna be all right? You're creeping me out, just sitting there, not moving and all…"
"Key… is…" she paused, once again carefully trying to select her words, "…all right."
"You sure?" A slight nod. "Yeah, okay. Well, now I can't sleep, so I'm gonna use the darkroom. Don't walk in on me, okay? These are your pictures, after all… your ticket to stardom." The face that stared back at him did not register the irony dripping from his voice. After a long moment of mutual staring, Jack grunted and straightened up. Scratching himself, he meandered toward the closet he used as a darkroom. As he closed the door, he could hear her, softly:
"Key is… sorry…"
Just because he had been shooting photos of schoolgirls (and schoolgirl wannabes) for V&A didn't mean Jack Connors understood the whole Roricon — "Lolita-complex" — mentality. What did these little girls have to offer? What was their appeal? They didn't have the curves to their bodies that one could latch on to, either with the eyes or (at least in dreams) the hands.
It was one more thing he didn't like about Tamari… the little shrimp not only understood Roricon, he was into the stuff. It was one more thing that made Jack usually have to stop at the public baths and have a good scrubdown after work.
Jack continued to muse about it as he lifted photos out of the developer and hung them up to dry. What was is about these little girls…?
What about those eyes…?
Eyes that seemed to account for half her face. Eyes dull and flat as sheet metal, yet deep and dark as a black hole. There was something in them, something compelling, something…
Jack paused and stared into those eyes. Why would a robot be afraid? Why would her creator give her a look of fear? Did her creator know she would need help from outside herself?
Something clicked. Not the camera, though… that was still back in his room. Not the girl… that would have been more muffled, and anyway, she probably still wasn't moving.
It was something right there in the darkroom. If he didn't know better, he would have sworn it was himself.
Maybe it was. Staring into those eyes, Jack found himself vowing silently to give this little robot girl the help that her creator apparently thought she would need; anything he could do, anything to take that look of fear from her eyes, he would do it.
And in the distance, not quite drowned out by the noise of Tokyo's meaner streets, there was an ominous sound:
Author's notes: Oh dear… I seem to have ended this one with a cliffhanger. Does this mean I'm required to keep going with it?
Anyway, it always struck me as odd that Key balks when Tamari requests that Key strip. Not that I necessarily wanted to see Key naked, but that there's no reason for her to object. Robots don't really have a moral code to speak of, save for perhaps the Prime Directive, so it's not as if she would have an objection. In addition, while Tamari may be a bit overconfident in his assertion, there's no reason why Key's pictures wouldn't get sufficient distribution to garner her 30,000… Well, maybe not 'friends', but the right word isn't coming to me at the moment.
Anyway, in order to help alter Key's decision, I had to get Sakura out of the picture. Perhaps the pebble-in-the-pond setup here is probably better suited for Gregg Sharp's "The Bet" series, but I doubt the prankster god Toltiir would find Key even remotely interesting. It's rather a grim series, even if it does end more or less triumphantly.
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