My Government-Issued Girlfriend Can't Be This Cute!
"The true purpose of the Government-Issued Girlfriend program?" I stammered, stepping back on damp grass underneath me.
Asagiri's resolute eyes reflected my puzzled face even under the cover of darkness. She stared straight into me, as if giving me a chance to halt her revelations.
So there really was something going on after all, I thought. But why mention it now?
"It's nothing sketchy," she said, looking up towards the towering bridge. "Telling you would just help show whose side I'm genuinely on."
"You're making it sound like a war is brewing or something," I chuckled.
Her cold glare returned to me. "There might as well."
With a quick smile, Asagiri started walking dangerously along the river. "Did you know, Nishikata? That DeLightfulness infects those who are unsatisfied with their lives? I've always had a hard time in school, so it felt nice knowing there were people out there who supposedly understood me. DeLightfuls aren't all bad, but they push people in the wrong directions, and don't warn members against considering self-harm."
I thought of Noriko and the hypocrisy of her claiming they don't force suicide on anyone, but insisting I kill myself with her. Maybe even back then she was slowly separating herself from DeLightful doctrines she helped establish. What would she be thinking today if she knew Asagiri secretly idolized the Madonna persona? In fact, how did Noriko even stomach knowing she helped give rise to a prominent, worldwide death cult?
But at least in Asagiri's unique case, that death cult saved her from committing the unthinkable.
My girlfriend twirled around on one foot. "After Sonozaki and Sakura befriended me, I didn't really need the DeLightful mentality anymore, but I still wanted to help people. That's when I got curious about the GiG program's true purpose and what it supposedly was. So I decided to apply for a spot to confirm things myself."
"Maybe it's better not to tell me if there's a chance you'd get in trouble."
"Nah, we're fine. Technically it's a government secret, but the attrition is pretty much forsaken now anyway."
"Attrition? For what?"
"For the ongoing conflict, of course," she said as she peered into the night sky. Inquisitive eyes likely searched for their own personal answers.
"Conflict?" Just what kinds of things did the academy teach her?
"Yeah. DeLightfuls and their death romanticization came about when we were already dealing with high suicide rates and declining birth rates. A lot of people really do open up to self-harm once they become DeLightfuls, even if I got the opposite interpretation."
"Ok, but how's the government involved though?"
"You'll see soon." She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out Kill Switch, examining it in her palm carefully. "Here, catch!"
"W-Woah, hey!" I fumbled the small device into my hands; it looked like a car key alarm. "Are you nuts? We could've been knee deep in cops!"
"Heh, if you think that thing's freaky, just wait until you learn what it was inspired by." Asagiri trudged half-way back up the grass embankment and sat down. "This world is a small place after all."
I was beyond confused at this point. I'd traveled all the way here from home to have some dramatic reunion with my girlfriend, but it's almost like she planned everything in advance . . .
"What did you get involved with, Asagiri?" I asked out of genuine concern.
Her eyes gazed off towards the opposite river embankment, absorbing the ambiance of her scenic surroundings. Cars quietly drove over the nearby bridge as lights from the distant city shimmered against a nighttime background.
A smile spread across her face when she looked down towards me by the river. "I told you when we first met," she said. "I'm hoping to find someone I legitimately care about, but it'd be a lie to say that's my only goal."
"I'm a bit more worried about what the government's goals are."
Suddenly, Asagiri's phone in my pocket dinged a text message. I dug it out from my pocket and read a text preview from Sakura, but didn't wanna be a creep and read the whole thing. Yeah, why hasn't she asked for her phone back?
"The Government-Issued Girlfriend Program launched three years ago," Asagiri started, "around when DeLightfuls started targeting young people. Because of that, there was one specific goal—no—reason for our existence as GiGs, even if it's a losing battle."
I stood there in silence, unwilling to interrupt her, and too immersed to do so.
"If the true purpose of DeLightfulness is to spread the beauty of death," she said, "then the true purpose of the Government-Issued Girlfriend program is to spread the beauty of life."
"Huh? Okay I'm lost." I finally interrupted.
She pointed her finger at me. "Like I said earlier: what happens to a country with a high suicide rate and a declining birth rate? It'll eventually cease to exist, but the end accelerates if you introduce a cult that worships death, moreso if they target youth. So what do you think the government unleashed to fight back?"
"I-I'm not sure."
"Then tell me Nishikata: did you apply for a GiG because you were satisfied with life, or unsatisfied?"
I'd rather not go into detail, but she already saw those sleeping pills anyway. "I wasn't in a good place, to say the least. Part of me was probably even considering killing myself before you showed up."
"I saved you then, didn't I?" she confidently said, playing with some grass. "That's our job, our true goal. The vast majority of clients who order a GiG are depressed or dejected in some way. They're teetering on the edge, and that's when they're most vulnerable to DeLightfulness."
"Wait, so you're telling me GiG's weren't actually to help repopulate the country?" I half-joked, rubbing my head.
"Did any of the commercials ever say anything like that? It was just a convenient story we didn't deny to throw off DeLightfuls for a while. Not like we could force girls to have kids with strangers anyway."
"Ugh . . ." It felt like an entire world of info was being hurled at me. Though it's true: Asagiri did save me from a pit of depression, and it's probably accurate to assume every other GiG client isn't exactly happy at first either. "In other words then: government-issued girlfriends try to keep their clients away from DeLightfulness by showing them the good things life has to offer? That's the program's true purpose?"
"Exactly! If we're gonna solve the country's problems, slowing down the spread of DeLightfuls is top priority. That's why we move in too—make sure you're not mingling with the wrong crowds or have things like sleeping pills lying around."
The lollipop in my mouth suddenly tasted bittersweet. "Isn't all that like, working against yourself though? Aren't you still technically a DeLightful? Don't you still want them to exist?"
"Eh. They're not a net positive on society, so it's best they kick the bucket, regardless of what I still believe." She covered her mouth to yawn.
"You'd think there'd be more efficient tactics the government could try though, instead of sending girls to solve their problems."
"You think right, but there's one big issue."
Asagiri nodded towards my closed palm. "Look at what's in your hand."
"Huh? You mean Kill Switch?" I examined the small trinket again: a single, red, tiny button on its surface gave off an ominous vibe. "What about it?"
Two teenagers chatted as they strolled by on the pathway above us. Asagiri waited until they were clearly out of earshot and were walking across the bridge.
"What if someone had the power to request that millions of people kill themselves?" she said in a stern tone. "The snap of a finger and a country is effectively ended?"
I crossed my arms. "Ok, now you're just pulling my leg."
"It's not a joke," she replied. "There's tons of DeLightfuls all over the world now, but most reside here. What do you think happens to sycophantic, already suicidal followers when an authority figure tells them to end themselves?"
"Probably nothing good."
"Right? That's Cardinal's trump card, something he calls the 'Dead Man's Switch'."
Dead Man's Switch? I looked at the small device in my hand again.
She continued. "Cardinal is the last DeLightful founder, and he's alluded to his trump card in the book he wrote. Basically, if you read between the lines, it translates into 'If you fuck me, I'll fuck with you'. He has the equivalent of a nuclear bomb waiting to pop off, so the government refuses to go after him or DeLightfuls directly."
"That's some insurance policy," I said to try lightening the mood.
Asagiri stretched her legs out over the grass and sighed. "All just one big mess. But yeah, that's why GiGs are pretty much our only line of defense. We're not exactly direct action against DeLightfuls, so Cardinal hasn't activated the Dead Man's Switch—yet."
It was still hard to believe one man could be holding the lives of millions hostage. Even if only a portion of members between the fake, casual, and true DeLightfuls committed suicide on his command, Japan would still be eviscerated. Considering how most DeLightfuls were young as well, unleashing Dead Man's Switch might insure the country's eventual extinction.
'We desire to spread the beauty of death across the country, and eventually the world.' Noriko's words resurrected in my head. 'Cardinal already laid the groundwork for how we'll grow unfettered, hopefully transforming into something akin to religion one day.'
Seven long years later, Noriko's prophecy had been fulfilled in full. Is it something she regretted now though? And could her former status as Madonna be our only real weapon to counter Cardinal?
"It'll take a miracle to stop DeLightfuls now," Asagiri said. "I heard they already have a foothold in Africa too. Once they infect more of America or Europe, the Dead Man's Switch could be pointed at anyone."
"But isn't that a contradiction?" I blurted, remembering one of Noriko's points. "DeLightfuls never tell anyone to commit suicide, so why would Cardinal issue a command that goes against their principles?"
"Strange yeah, but if the country's literal existence was at stake, would you wanna call his bluff?"
"Heh, I've taken bigger gambles before . . ." My eyes looked up towards the bridge once more and remembered the life-or-death wager I barely survived. The somber poetry of returning here once again but with Asagiri wasn't lost on me.
"Well, whatever," she said, bringing her knees to her chest. "Now you're caught up to why we exist and why I am how I am; all that jazz."
I wanted to move away from the subject of high stakes. "It all does make stuff feel a little artificial though. If your job really is to basically keep me happy, no wonder you got close to me so fast."
"Mm. It's true, I cracked jokes and let you flirt with me right from day one so we could bond faster, but those things are pretty much my personality anyway. That's why I said I was happy you were my client; I could be myself around you, which helps keep my mind off DeLightfuls."
"So would you say our entire relationship is more of a lie than it already was?" I said as I tried reading her face.
She seemed to ignore me. "My main goal as a government-issued girlfriend is to rectify my client's pessimistic mental state, if any, and keep them away from DeLightfulness. This is basically our only way to slow down Cardinal's agenda, so we gotta take it seriously."
"Sure doesn't feel that way with how much of a mooch you've been," I joked.
"Stupid. Hurry and sit by me so we can bond more, and stuff." She patted the grass beside her.
I felt my face flushing with color, but hoped she couldn't see it under the cover of a starry night. "B-Better not regret this."
My bum plopped down near hers and we scooted close to each other, shoulder to shoulder on the grassy slope. Soothing sounds of cars crossing the bridge complemented an otherwise awkward silence between us. Pedestrians above the other river embankment casually walked along without a care in the world.
"Here, your Kill Switch back," I said, opening my palm to reveal the device. "Still kinda surprised it took inspiration from something like Dead Man's Switch."
She nabbed the device and rammed it down her shirt. "W-While you're at it, give me my phone back!"
"Oh yeah sorry, here.”
“Humph! Better not have snooped around!” She checked the phone before slipping it into her shorts pocket.
“Couldn’t have found you without it; thanks for leaving it if you meant to.”
“Meant to? Well maybe I didn’t wanna be found.” Asagiri said in a flirty tone.
"That'd be problematic for me in more ways than one."
"Shut up and put your arm around me."
I coiled my arm around her side and snugged her even closer to me. She rubbed the top of her head against my cheek like an affectionate cat.
"This is your reward for coming out here to find me," she whispered into my ear. "Sorry for being an edgy brat today."
"When aren't you being a brat?"
"That's what a girlfriend is supposed to be."
"No, you're confusing girlfriend with little sister."
"Huh? Chidori isn't nearly as corrupted as me."
"She probably runs laps around you honestly, but guess I'm a magnet for crazy." I briefly imagined Mai, Kikuchi, and Sakura standing behind us, ready to attack vulnerable me.
"You just imagined something sus, didn't you?" Asagiri teased.
"Better than whatever memes are probably playing in your head."
"That's just how I am, dummy." She gave me a gentle headbutt on my side. "We might have started out fake, and will still technically are, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have some fondness for you."
"Might be gas," I chuckled. She reciprocated by pinching my knee. "Ow! Ow!"
"Only I'm allowed to be a troll, remember."
I caught the red lollipop before it slipped out from my mouth. "T-This has gotta be Stockholm Syndrome at this point."
"For me or you?" she earnestly smiled. "Oh! And where's my lollipop? Don't tell me you didn't bring an extra."
I remembered how the one in my mouth was specifically brought for her. "Guess I forgot, haha . . ."
"Huge dummy." She nudged herself out of my arm and scooted in front of me. "Though, this gives me a chance to give you something you've wanted."
Her eyes gleamed cutely and she put the side of her hand to her lips. "You've been wanting to kiss me, right?"
"K-Kiss?" I stammered like a total virgin.
Without a word, she started leaning forward and slowly approached my lips with hers, puckering them.
What's going on! Is she joking around? But she's right here already!!!
As if on autopilot, my face inched forward to soon greet hers. Our eyes closed as her sweet, soft breaths mixed with mine in the air; I waited to be blessed.
And a sudden yank in my mouth broke the trance.
"Huh, what?" I yelled as Asagiri ripped out my red lollipop. "You could've torn out my teeth!"
"Mine now!" she cheered and rammed it into her own mouth. "Oh! It still has flavor!"
"What'd you do that for?"
"You wanted a kiss, didn't you? We just had an indirect one! Indirect kiss!"
I watched as she vigorously sucked the lollipop that was likely still coated with my saliva. Not sure if I'm grossed out or horny . . .
"Well, we already use the same utensils and stuff anyway," she said while she rose to her feet, "so it's not our first indirect kiss but whatever."
"Those get washed first though," I replied with a stern face.
"I'll save some of my bathwater for you later if it'll make things even."
"You drive a hard bargain, but no thanks!"
"Tsk. Guess I should stop sneaking it into your drinks then."
She cutely stuck her tongue out and extended her hand down to me. "Kidding. Come on, let's go home, Nishikata."
The skyline of the distant city behind Asagiri bequeathed her entire body a halo-like outline. Her warm smile radiated off a sense of adventure and thrills to come.
"Ten more months of supporting my government-issued mooch it is, "I said, and I clasped her hand once more.