A soft and familiar ring tone chimed as Shion stepped off the Durandal's bright red connection tram and into the open space of the docking bay. She stopped to take a seat on a bench nearby and check her messages.
"Looks like it's from Chaos!" said the bunny character AI who was in charge of her mail. Shion snubbed the bunny and went straight to the email with piqued interest.
"Sorry to disturb everyone, but if you have some free time today I'd like to meet you in the park area at 14:00. Don't worry too much. If you can't make it, I'll see you later. Thanks everyone!"
"He's always so polite," Shion mused, and checked the referral. The message had been sent to everyone, even to KOS-MOS's internal server. "That KOS-MOS on the other hand is so rude. She won't show up unless I take her myself." With that realization, she stood and continued towards her original destination, KOS-MOS's quarter, which was located onboard the Elsa docked at the other end of the bay. "I was going to do maintenance on her anyway," she reminded herself. "I'll just go and get her."
Though the cold-natured battle android didn't see the relevance of her involvement in a meeting not involving battle strategy, she accompanied her creator to the park area without a complaint. Riding the escalator to the park area, Shion and her mechanical shadow encountered Jr, the youthful master of the Durandal, who had also been called to the meeting.
"Hey, do you guys know what he wants?" he asked them.
"No, not a clue," Shion replied. "But he's been so nice to all of us I can't possibly turn him down."
Jr shrugged as they entered the park. The lighting was low as usual and the gently glowing environment-cleaning bugs drifted aimlessly about in the air. They spotted their friends; Chaos, MOMO, Ziggy, and Allen, all sitting around a table piled with a number of brightly packaged boxes.
Allen, having eagerly awaited Shion's arrival, noticed them approach first. "Hey boss!" he called out to her with a wave. Chaos turned his head their way.
"There you are," Chaos greeted them. His voice was soft and kind as ever, though there was a hint of excitement there as he stood and pulled a chair from the table. "Now we can get started. Would you like a seat?"
Shion accepted and took the seat he offered her, next to MOMO. "What's all this?"
"It's a holiday, so I have presents for you all."
"I didn't know that today was a holiday," said MOMO. "What holiday is it? I would have got a present for you too!"
"Yeah, it's not fair that you didn't tell us first," Shion agreed.
Jr gave a small laugh. "I understand sucking up to the ladies, but what'd you invite me and this old man for?"
"Oh no it's okay," he explained, waving his hands reassuringly to dismiss the onslaught of questions. "It's my holiday, after all. No one else celebrates it anymore. On this holiday we celebrate the joy of giving to others. That's why I've got you all a present. It's just as much fun for me, so please don't feel bad."
Shion smiled. "Well alright, if you say so, but I still would have liked to get you something too."
Chaos returned her expression. "Well, I don't want to keep you all too long, so let's get started. One of my personal traditions is that the youngest opens their presents first. That would be you, MOMO."
"Oh wow," MOMO excitedly took the box that Chaos offered her with a sweet grin. It was long and thin and wrapped in pink paper and ribbon just for her. "Even the ribbon is pretty!" She carefully removed the paper trying not to tear it, and opened the box gingerly. Inside there was a long black dress decorated with subtle orange and pink embroidery. "I love it!" she squealed. "How did you pick this out for me?"
Chaos beamed, quietly delighted with the success of his gift. "Once before you mentioned that you admired Shelly's elegant style. I asked Shelly where she buys her dresses and had one tailored to fit a realian. I think it will make you look just as refined as she is."
"Thank you so much!" MOMO continued to inspect her present, holding it up to her shoulders.
"Who's next?" Jr asked, trying hard to act like he wasn't interested in MOMO's new outfit.
"You are," Chaos grinned.
"What? I'm older than Shion! And Allen too, probably! Hell, KOS-MOS just got created didn't she?" This outburst resulted in giggles from both MOMO and Shion.
Chaos held out a box about the size of a square foot, wrapped in red paper and held it out tauntingly. "Do you want it or not?"
Jr grudgingly took the package and ripped the paper open as quickly as possible, throwing the mangled wrapping on the ground. Once the contents were visible his attitude changed to that of childish exuberance. "A set of books! Awesome!"
"It's the Chronicles of Narnia," Chaos explained. "I heard that you were a fan of L. Frank Baum, and C.S. Lewis's work is similar both in theme and the era in which it was written."
"These must be relics! Where could you possibly have found them?"
"Well, that's a secret."
Jr was hardly listening anyway. He immediately began reading.
"Next is KOS-MOS." He held out a small white box to the android. She grasped it with one hand and turned it over many times to examine it, rattling the contents.
"KOS-MOS!" Shion exclaimed, standing up. "You'll break it!"
"I do not see the logic behind coating the objects in paper and cardboard. This impedes the proceedings by 40% total time."
"Don't be rude, KOS-MOS. It's for fun."
"I apologize." She removed the delicate white paper and the box's lid with precision, pulling out a silver hair clip studded with an opal that sparkled shades of blue and pink. "What is the function of this item?"
"It goes in your hair," Chaos explained. "I know you'll probably think it's useless, but it actually improves your ether attack power by 15%."
"My analysis indicated that the improvement is actually 15.2%. Thank you. This is quite useful."
Chaos smiled. "You're welcome. I am very happy that you like it."
"Understood. However, I will require instructions to equip this item."
"Let me help," Shion offered, letting out a tired sigh. Holding the clip in her mouth, she pulled back a portion of KOS-MOS's long blue hair and then snapped the jewelry in place behind her head. After making sure it wouldn't fall out easilly, she stood back to look at her handiwork. "There! I have to say, it looks nice!"
"My physical appearance has improved 0.5%."
"Boss," Allen called to Shion, "Why'd you program her with that parameter anyway?"
"Hey, she may be an android, but she's still a woman!"
"Forget I even asked..."
"Next is Shion," Chaos said. "Here you go." It was another small box, this time with shiny silver wrap decorated with the bunny character that she was fond of. That in itself made her smile. Shion took it and opened it, wondering what the contents would be.
She looked up in surprise. "A pair of glasses?"
"Yeah. I know they can't replace your old ones' sentimental value... but maybe you can still use them? I think we all agree that you look nice with them on."
"Oh, definitely!" Allen exclaimed. Shion shot him an annoyed glance, remembering that it was Allen who'd stepped on her old ones in the first place. She was pleased though. "Thank you so much. I know that they are hard to find."
"You're welcome. I hope you get some use out of them. Okay, Allen, this one here is for you."
Allen raised his head. "You got one for me too?"
"Of course, you're part of our little family too, right?" Chaos held out Allen's present. It was the size of a shoe box, but weighed more than one would guess. "So come on, open this one."
"Alright." Allen opened the box and pulled out a pistol. "What? A gun?"
"Yeah," Chaos laughed ever so softly. "It's for when you go getting into trouble following Shion around. Your friend Miyuki at Vector suggested it for me. It isn't on the market yet."
"Miyuki made it?" Allen suddenly looked very apprehensive.
"Oh come on Allen, I'm sure it works just fine. She makes all of my equipment."
"Yeah... I guess so. Thanks Chaos. You're a real pal."
"Hey, Lemme see that!" Jr grabbed the gun out of his hand. "You're gonna need me to show you how to use this thing aren't ya?"
"Hey! Give that back! I was on the Woglinde, I've been through basic training!"
As they continued to bicker and Shion began to scold them, only MOMO gave attention to the fact that it was now Ziggy's turn. She turned to watch Chaos take a small item to Ziggy who was seated at the other end of the table.
"Ziggy," he said, with a serious tone of voice this time. "I haven't wrapped yours... because I'm afraid that you might not like it. I know that you prefer being a cyborg and you're comfortable with your body, but I thought this might be useful." With that, he handed him the small black device.
Ziggy inspected the item. "A hologram program?"
"Yes. There are many places where MOMO has wanted to go that I know of that don't allow cyborgs in for various reasons."
MOMO came to Ziggy's side and stood in embarrassment. "Chaos... You said you wouldn't tell him..."
Chaos smiled and placed a hand on MOMO's head. "Don't worry MOMO, this device can fix that. It generates an organic body form so that if he chooses to do so, Ziggy can use it to..."
"I see. So they will allow cyborgs to enter wearing this device which makes them appear human. That's quite an invention."
"So... you like it?"
"Yes. Thank you, Chaos. I still prefer my metal body... but I do see how this item could be useful. It could even have tactical advantages."
MOMO smiled up at Ziggy. "So would you really go to some place like maybe a zoo with me? I know it's silly but--"
"I wouldn't be much of a bodyguard if I couldn't accompany you in public. The zoo sounds nice."
Chaos's calming smile returned to his face. This was interrupted by a crash as Jr and Allen's antics toppled the table, and Shion's yelling ensued, echoing throughout the park. "I swear, you two act like a couple of children!"
Chaos picked up the table and decided to dismiss the group before anything else happened. "Well, this has been lots of fun. Thank you for allowing me to celebrate my holiday with you. I'm sure you all have things to do though, so that'll be it I guess."
"No, thank you," Shion replied, "for involving us, And these presents, they're just wonderful. Make sure we know about it next time! I'd like to give everyone presents too."
Everyone said their thanks again, and went back to their normal business. Jr returned to his position on the bridge, Ziggy and MOMO decided to go out to the foundation together, and Allen hurried to a communications center to contact Miyuki. Shion trusted KOS-MOS to find her way back to the Elsa on her own, and returned to her room in the residential area of the Durandal. There was still a lot of work to be done on her data.
It was not until later that evening Shion realized that KOS-MOS had not returned to her quarters after all. Her locator, much to her surprise, reported that KOS-MOS was on the foundation in the urban district. She headed for the shuttle without a second thought.
The glowing blue android was not hard to spot even amidst the bustling atmosphere of the urban area. She was carrying several large boxes staked effortlessly in one arm and gaining attention from everyone around.
"KOS-MOS! Just what do you think you're doing?"
"Shion. I just purchased your 'present.'"
"Presents? What are you talking about?"
"Chaos's holiday procedure was very effective in raising morale as well as the attack power of the party. Since it is customary for others to give gifts as well on this holiday, I decided to take this opportunity to increase everyone's battle efficiency. For Jr, two high-density ether laser pistols. For MOMO, napalm grenade extensions for the standard crossbow. For Allen, an anti-AWGS ether rifle. For Ziggy, an arm-mounted grenade launcher."
Shion stamped her foot in frustration. "And just how did you buy these things?"
"I charged it to the Vector master account."
"Y-you did what?"
"I charged it to the Vector master account."
Her head hung low. "I heard you the first time... Uhg, I'm so fired..."
"I did not anticipate any problem with the charge."
"Well," Shion pushed her hair over her shoulder and smiled. "I guess we can write it off as part of our expenses somehow. Anyway, let's go back."
"I have not completed shopping. I have yet to purchase a gift for Chaos."
"Aren't you just going to get him a cannon or something?"
"Chaos's combat skills are not in my database, therefore determining which weapon is most suitable has proven difficult. I asked for assistance, but the suggestions I recieved were lacking. They suggested, for a male, that I purchase cologne or a necktie. These things, I might add, only hinder combat performance."
"I don't think they quite understood what you meant, KOS-MOS. If you want me to help you shop, I'd be glad to. I just... never thought that you of all people would ask me to."
"Still," Shion looked off into the distance with a puzzled expression on her face. "What in the world would Chaos want? You know, we're close friends, but I hardly know anything about him! Hmm... why don't you just buy him a defensive item them? That way he's sure to use it."
KOS-MOS stood silently for a moment as if somewhere inside her mechanical brain, thousands of references were being looked up. "I shall proceed to purchase a silver cross."
"Huh?" Shion muttered, even more confused. "A what?"
"My database specifies that this item defends against roughly 10% of all damages. In addition to that, it has a cultural significance matching that of Chaos's holiday.
"Oh! You know, I forgot to ask what holiday it was! But you know of it, KOS-MOS?"
"Affirmative. The holiday in question is the celebration of the birth of god's son. Traditions surrounding this holiday are numerous. The giving and receiving of gifts is the most notable practice. This tradition predates the era of Lost Jerusalem."
"How odd... I wonder why Chaos celebrates this ancient holiday..."
"I do not know."
She took a long look a the street they were on. There was a jewelry store nearby where they might find the item. It occurred to her that keeping KOS-MOS out in the open for too long would be a bad idea. "Well, let's go, KOS-MOS."
"Oh wait, didn't you say you got me something too? What is it? I'm almost afraid to ask."
"For you, Shion, I purchased a platinum chain designed to keep one's eye glasses from falling. This will improve your mobility on and off the battlefield."
"You... you got me something like that?"
"Is this not acceptable?"
"It is," Shion smiled warmly. "It's just that aside from a minor improvement, that's a personal gesture of kindness. You could have gotten something which would improve my defenses much more."
KOS-MOS stood in her rigid pose silently, no doubt checking her databases for the best response.
"Never mind," she stopped her. "But thank you, KOS-MOS. This really means a lot to me."
KOS-MOS simply nodded. "I am happy to be of service."