Jozenji Avenue in winter. (source, CC3.0)

Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture | December 2024

From the university hospital, the couple walked in comfortable silence for a long while, down Kimachi-dōri hand in hand. It was cold, but not bone-chilling, and ahead of the Starlight Festival, the trees and the shops below them were strung with festive lights. But even in the cold, it was good to be home.

On Jōzenji Avenue, they paused under the trees. Face shrouded in the folds of her shemagh draped close against the cold, River smiled.

“So. This is where it begins.”

“I can hardly believe it myself, doll,” Kasu replied. “But Dr. Ōtsuki confirmed it. This time next year…”

“Nda. Ogasan ni narunossha.” ‹Ayup. We’re gonna be moms.› The doll nodded slowly. “You ready?”

“I’m more worried about you, love,” her Wielder observed.

“Right now I’m just happy we’re done with that course of IVF,” the doll nodded with a hopeful smile. “Wanna catch my breath ahead of going to Tokyo for JDDEX.”

JDDEX– the Japan Defense Dollworks Exposition– was a conference in the capital bringing together industry and government partners in discussing and displaying the latest in combat doll equipment. Santaku Dynamics’ JDDEX booth had been months in the planning.

“Mm.” Kasu chuckled. “Honestly I can’t wait to see what gimmick the Iwasaki Heavy Industries people have this time around.”

“‘Style without substance’ personified,” the doll laughed. “I just wish they weren’t such dicks to their own dolls.”


Every now and then the couple passed others out to see the winter lights. It was still early, and the real tourist traffic wouldn’t begin for another few days. Both were grateful: the sparse foot traffic allowed for a more leisurely pace.

“I’m bummed about one thing, though I’m glad it was Toshi-san who gave me the news.” The blade doll glanced sidelong to meet her Wielder’s gaze. “Having to sit out even simulator runs for the new prototype power armor. I get not strapping in to a Nioh suit in the field up at Ōjōjihara or out in Higashine, but I dunno. Wasn’t quite expecting this.”

Toshi-san– Kannari Toshi, MD, PhD– was a researcher colleague at Yōkendō University, and an old friend of Kasu’s. While River’s physician was Dr. Ōtsuki, Kasu and River, as one unit, collaborated with Toshi, providing research data that furthered cybernetic medicine for humans and dolls.

“The interface is the same on the simulators,” Kasu reminded her gently. “And if it’s that kind of a load on your nervous system…”

River sighed. “I know, ma’am. Still a bummer. I love that fuckin’ thing.”

“You could use an old analog-type sim,” Kasu offered, meeting River’s rising gaze just in time to add “but I know, I know. Not the same.”

“You’re so understanding,” the doll chuckled, sticking out her tongue cheekily.

“If anything I should be thanking you, for always keeping me honest,” her Wielder replied sheepishly.

At that, River felt her cheeks flush. She squeezed at her Wielder’s gloved fingertips. Kasu squeezed back.

“Let’s not tell anyone until after the conference and the New Year’s shindigs are done, eh, Kasu-sama?” the doll asked gently. “Once word gets out, then human or doll, nobody’s gonna shut up about it.” She paused, thought further. “Though I figure Miyakozawa-san and Zee had eyes in the doctor’s office. You know how they are.” River playfully waggled her fingers. “Knowing things.

“Then we’ll have to thank them in advance for their congratulations,” Kasu laughed, but then nodded readily. “And of course, love. We’re going to have our hands full as it is. When the time comes, we’ll face the world’s bullshit hand in hand.”

The doll beamed. “One heart together.”

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