69 – Near Automata
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Alpha massaged her throat and then took a long drink from a cup of warm honey and lemon tea. She smiled at the pleasant sensation and sweet taste before turning back to the work in front of her.

The recording studio in Myth Inc. HQ. After resolving herself to help her father by joining Project MirAIs, that was where Alpha had been spending her time.

Holding the cup of tea in her hands, Alpha swept her crimson eyes and took in her surroundings.

While it was a recording studio, the equipment didn't take up the whole floor like the streaming area at the top of the building.

Perhaps because it was created by mortals and not a transcendent like her father, only half of the room was dedicated to the recording studio. The other half was more of a lounge area, with plush baby blue sofas arranged in a 'U' around a glass coffee table.

Along the walls of the lounge area, there was a countertop with a sink, a microwave, and a tall stainless steel refrigerator.

Originally, the cooling contraption had been empty. But after Beta had essentially consigned Alpha to the recording studio to practice until she was acceptable to serve as a member of Project MirAIs, Alpha's younger sister had filled it with various treats and goodies to tide Alpha over.

She appreciated it a lot... Though it did make Alpha somewhat envious of the fact that her younger sister had such convenient abilities.

Then again, Beta was completely useless by herself in a proper fight, so perhaps the tradeoff wasn't too great. At least, Alpha couldn't imagine just standing there and having Father protect her.

...Which was why she was hard at work now. Even if he said that it was fine, Alpha didn't feel right just sitting around and letting her father handle everything.

Sweeping her gaze across her surroundings again, Alpha's gaze rested on a door near the back.

That was the restroom area, a small tiled room filled with a half dozen stalls. There was also a glass shower in the back behind another door, along with a small dressing room.

Though why such a thing was needed when the floor was supposed to be recording area, Alpha had no idea.

Beta might know better, as well as their father, but to Alpha it was a complete mystery.

Not that she didn't appreciate it.

After hearing her warbling voice played back in the recording booth a few times, Alpha found that a nice warm shower was a pleasant way to relax and unwind.

...Especially when that Asako woman had showed up with Beta to practice as well.

Remembering that sent a frown on Alpha's face. "That woman... Just why did Father hire her anyway?" Alpha huffed and plopped herself down on the nearest sofa, idly sipping her tea.

It was true that they did need some more staff members to run the business and avoid suspicion by the mortals, but was it necessary to choose 'her' of all people?

Not only that, but where was her father anyway? After showing up with that woman, he hadn't shown his face at all.

Beta had mentioned something about him entering closed door cultivation to avoid causing more trouble, but...

"...I wanted to spend time with you, Father." Alpha muttered, staring into her cup.

Her crimson eyes stared back, half-lidded and sorrowful.

Alpha sighed and took another sip from her tea. Unlike before though, instead of tasting the sweetness from the honey, she could only taste the sour of the lemon. Grimacing at that, she quickly downed the rest and then stood back up. "This isn't the time to be sitting around."

She might miss her father, but she couldn't wait for him all the time.

Right. She was a grown woman, so she should take some charge in her life. Even if her father was someone that could hold the entire cosmos at bay and turn all of existence upside down for her sake, she couldn't rely on him forever. That just wouldn't be fair.

Alpha walked over to the counter and washed her cup at the sink before making her way back towards the recording booth.

It was a sound-proofed room with a control console on the outside and a door walking into the padded recording area. A one-way glass window served for the sound engineers to keep an eye on the singer while also giving the singer some privacy.

Through that window, Alpha could see a microphone and a headset resting on a stand. On a countertop nearby, there was a simple remote control that Beta had created for Alpha with two buttons: Record and Play. Next to that, there was a tablet to choose what song to play through the headset and sing along with.

Alpha opened the door and then entered the recording area. After closing it, she walked over to the stand and picked up the headset, putting it over her ears. Out of habit, she glanced over to the side where Beta usually was. But no one was there.

Of course. Beta couldn't be there to help Alpha every hour of the day. There was Rin and, unfortunately, that Asako woman to train as well.

It did make Alpha feel a bit sad though. Beta was a bit harsh, but she was always patient and helpful...

Alpha shook her head. "Enough feeling sorry for yourself. Concentrate."

Sitting around and bottling up her emotions wouldn't help anyone.

Instead, she should let them out like her father said. And like Beta said, songs were a way to turn emotions into music. So...

"Ah."

A realization.

Up until that point, Alpha had been trying to copy Rin and sing what she sang. And while Alpha had improved enough to mimic her, at least in part, it was still insincere.

"...Maybe I need a different song?" Alpha muttered.

Her father had said it. That he would be proud of her even if she wasn't perfect. That she was his precious and irreplaceable daughter.

So then...

"...I should try to sing for me."

Right.

A song for her.

Forget about Beta. Forget about Rin.

Right then and there, she should just sing a song that she wanted to sing.

Even if it was terrible. Even if it was flawed.

Alpha picked up the tablet and cycled through the songs that she could sing.

There were a lot, but as Alpha scrolled through them, one caught her eye. "The Song of a Broken World?"

Curious, she tapped on it and pulled up the lyrics on the wall-monitor in front of her. And when she read them, her heart pounded.

"This song..."

She realized it. This was the one. The song for her.

To be sure, she played it through once to listen to it. But right after, she nodded and picked up her headset. Walking back to the microphone, Alpha pressed the record button on the remote and then closed her eyes.

-----AI|IA-----

It was evening, around 5 PM. After spending a whole day playing games in his ultimate gaming setup, John decided to check on his daughters.

After all, he had spent basically 24 hours away from them and he didn't want them to think that he had forgotten about the two. 

Well, Beta told him to stay behind until she contacted him, but it shouldn't be a big deal as long as he restricted himself to the office.

Standing up from his chair, John stretched and then swept his spiritual sense through the building to see where everyone was.

"Let's see... Asako's in the lounge area, probably taking it easy due to her wounds. Betty's in the streaming studio with Rin, probably streaming since Hana's live right now. And Alphy's... in the recording studio?"

That was strange. Did Alphy like singing?

Curious, John warped to that floor. As he did, he took a look around.

It was fairly typical for a recording studio. A small lounge area, bathroom, and the booth and mixing equipment in the back.

And it seemed like Alphy was recording something right now.

She was standing there in the booth, visible through the window. Her eyes were closed and a headset covered her ears. But most importantly, her usually harsh expression was soft and vulnerable.

"Alphy...?"

Shocked at the out of character expression, John subconsciously muttered her name.

Of course, she couldn't hear him. And considering that the window seemed to be one-way, she couldn't see him either.

John noticed a headset by the recording equipment and then walked over. Just as he put it on, he heard it.

Soft and reverberating piano notes, accompanied by shimmering sounds, almost like cicada but a bit more artificial.

A beautiful and somber melody.

And then...

Alphy's voice. Quiet and delicate, bare and fragile. In that soft tone, she began to sing.

[Play The Weight of the World (JP) ]

-----AI|IA-----

My salvation slowly fades
And my body rots away
As the sky turns into endless night

Slowly time draws to a halt
All of it, just my fault
My eyes blinded my own light

It's a cruel curse... placed... down upon me

Retribution for all of my endless sins

Your... wish... that I destroyed

Now karma makes me pay the price again... For how long, and til when?

So someone please tell me why
Ah, even so I still just can't cry
Singing now a song for times that can never be...

So someone please tell me how
Ah, even if I can't recall now
Was I like this always or have I changed?

All alone now I just wonder if you'd be proud of me...? In your dreams...

-----AI|IA-----

John slowly put down the headphones and stared at his daughter through the window.

Tears were running down her cheeks, but it seemed that she didn't notice.

Her singing... it wasn't great. Unlike Rin, Alphy's voice was a bit warbly and unrefined. But the song she chose didn't need that. No, because her voice was unrefined, the essence of the song came through even more.

A young woman standing at the end of the world, crushed by countless expectations. Realizing suddenly that she was alone, having destroyed everything with her own hands.

Was... that how Alphy felt?

The raw emotion in her voice wasn't faked. It couldn't be. Neither were those tears.

John felt a pang in his heart and then he sighed. "Alphy..."

She was still singing. With her hands quietly folded over her heart, Alphy continued to sing, letting out everything she was holding inside.

But John didn't listen to it. He couldn't.

After all, his beloved daughter was singing her heart out to the extent that tears were running down her cheeks.

Such a delicate and vulnerable moment... John couldn't bear to disturb it.

After placing a few restrictive formations so that Alphy could have some privacy, John headed back down to his room in the basement.

Sitting on his chair, he picked up his controller and muttered, "Time to get serious."

He waved his hand, causing Kiri, Maji, and Saji to show up on screen.

The three of them had been roaming around various parts of Kamurocho. But all of them froze when they noticed John's presence.

Maji reacted first. On the bottom left screen, the infamous 'ghost' tucked his hands into his pockets, fiddling with the knife he kept there. "Something the matter, Boss?" He grinned and said, "Ya finally decide to go all out?"

John nodded and said, "We're speeding up the time table."

On the top right screen, Kiri frowned. "What happened?"

"Nothing big. Just..." John frowned, remembering Alphy's vulnerable expression as well as Betty's faint tears that she tried to hide when he called her by that name again for the first time. "...I have to make sure my cute daughters have a safe place to be themselves. Away from all the bloodshed."

On the bottom right screen, Saji punched his palm, nodding. The tall and muscular man rolled his neck, causing his heavy green coat to shift, and he said, "Enough said, Boss. Just give us orders."

Maji's manic grin faded away, replaced by an unusually calm expression. "For your daughters, huh?"

"Yeah." John stared off into space, unable to get Alphy's and Betty's crying faces out of his mind. "I thought about dragging this out a bit longer until Sunday... but let's get this done by Thursday. Three days. In that time, we're taking over. I don't care how you guys do it, but make sure that the underworld's sorted by then."

Maji nodded. "Bit hasty there, Boss... but I can get behind your reasons." He hummed and said, "I've got an in with the Torabu. Might give the old man a heart attack by showing my face, but he'll listen." He glanced off to the side and said, "You comin', Saji?"

The taller man nodded, walking over and overlapping his screen with Maji's. "Of course, bro. They'll just try to exorcise you unless I'm there too."

"Heh. You've got a point." Maji glanced towards Kiri's screen, as if he could see it, and said, "What about you, Kiri-chan? Wanna come with?"

Meanwhile, Kiri adjusted the collar of his gray blazer and shook his head. "No. If Boss wants to protect his daughters, there's someone else I need to meet with."

"Aaaah." Maji nodded. "That guy, huh? Guess we do need someone to handle that side as well if we want to let Boss's daughters have a quiet life."

John frowned at listening to their conversation. "I feel like I'm missing some vital information here."

"Don't worry your pretty face about it, Boss." Maji waved and started walking off into the night, Saji marching along beside him. "It'll spook some people, but that's what 'ghosts' are for, right? You just get things ready to deal with that demon when he comes back from the mountains."

"...Alright." John nodded. "I'm trusting you guys on this. Needless to say that you'll regret it for eternity if you fail though."

While John had placed some implicit rules down to keep himself in check... if it was to ensure that Alphy and Betty could live a peaceful and quiet life for once, he was more than willing to break them.

Even if that meant forcibly removing certain people from existence and rewriting reality to make things work.

Did he read John's mind? Or was it that obvious? Either way, Maji waved his hand and said, "Easy, Boss. Don't go blowing your lid on us mortals just yet."

John let out a slow breath and nodded. "Fine. Then I'm counting on you."

The guys smiled, even that stern Kiri, and then the screens cut out.

Well, most of them.

John Titor remained on the screen, sitting there in a chair of his own, mirroring John.

"You should relax."

John frowned and kicked up his feet. "Easy for you to say. You're not actually on this side of reality."

"True." John Titor nodded and then adjusted his white lab coat. "But I'm you. And since I'm you, I'm telling you what you need to hear. Relax. What will Alphy and Betty think if they see you wound up like this? Betty hasn't come to get you yet, but she'll probably do that soon considering that Asako is up and about. And then since Alphy is practicing singing... Well, it's pretty obvious what she wants, right?"

"...True."

Knowing his oldest daughter, and after seeing her singing, it was clear that she wanted to join Project MirAIs in some way to help out.

"So just get that stuff ready. Relax and unwind. Let those guys handle the situation. The only reason why things ended poorly for them was because that Shin guy is in a class of his own compared to the other humans in this world."

John let out a long sigh. "You're right."

"Of course. I'm you... and the part of you that has the luxury of not worrying about that side of things."

"Cheeky bastard."

"That's funny, coming from you."

John rolled his eyes.

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