From the first day of the year, the biggest mystery in Class 79-A was where the sixteenth student was. The number of classes in each year at Hope’s Peak varied, but without fail, every class had precisely sixteen students. Class 79-A had only fifteen. No amount of questioning seemed to get answers as to why, beyond vague assurances that their missing classmate would ‘arrive eventually.’
No class containing an Ultimate Detective would ever be satisfied with that.
And so Shuichi found himself in an empty room of filing cabinets, barely even daring to breathe out of fear that he’d be discovered. Detective or not, getting conned into agreeing to sneak into one of the faculty buildings was a little scary. Illuminated by moonlight and the bluish glow of his phone, he located the drawer labeled for his class, beginning to flick through the folders.
All was perfectly normal and expected. Profiles for everyone in the class, containing all manner of information on them, until...
K1-B0, Ultimate Robot. Eyes widening, Shuichi brushed a fingertip over the neatly printed label. He hadn’t actually expected to find anything about their missing classmate here. He removed the file from the drawer, flipped it open, and began to read.
A professor at a nearby university had been developing a true strong AI for years, and Hope’s Peak had provided him with additional resources and funding, in exchange for permission to enroll the robot in Class 79 once work was completed. Everyone had heard rumors of crazy, near-impossible things being done at Hope’s Peak, but a robot intelligent and human-like enough to be one of his classmates? Temporarily forgetting all thoughts of being caught, Shuichi knew he had to see this for himself.
He snapped a photo of the information and carefully replaced the file, making his way out of the room. It was time to go to the science buildings instead.
“Hello!” The slightly mechanical-sounding voice that greeted him upon entering Professor Iidabashi’s lab was nearly enough to make Shuichi jump out of his skin. He clutched a hand to his chest reflexively, leaning back against the closed door and taking a moment to steady himself.
Once he felt less like he might keel over from a heart attack, he glanced around to properly survey the room, quickly locating the source of the voice. It was about how he expected a stereotypical advanced robot to look, he supposed, and thankfully seemed to be finished physically. Shuichi wasn’t so sure he’d have an easy time chatting with a disembodied head or something.
“Ah, uh, yes, hello,” he stammered out, tentatively moving farther into the room as he continued to give the robot a good once-over.
“My name is K1-B0, but you can call me Kiibo. Who are you? People never come here without the professor.” There was a tinge of concern in Kiibo’s voice, and he frowned, as if worried something might be wrong. Fascination winning out, Shuichi took a seat.
“I’m Saihara Shuichi. I’m...really not supposed to be here, so I’d appreciate it a lot if you didn’t tell anyone about it,” he said, fiddling with the cuff of his shirtsleeve. “I just...wanted to meet you, I suppose. Apparently you’re supposed to be joining my class when you’re...” He paused, searching for a word that wouldn’t risk offense. “Ready. Everyone’s really curious.”
“You’re one of my classmates?” Kiibo’s eyes widened, and he emitted a high-pitched beeping noise that Shuichi could only assume indicated excitement.
“Yes, or I will be, at least.”
“That’s amazing! I’ve never had the chance to have friends before, aside from the professor, and he’s really more along the lines of a father figure than anything else...” The beeping had decreased in volume, but was still noticeable, more of a faint buzzing in the background than anything else now. “Please, tell me about yourself!”
“Oh, well, I’m not really that interesting,” Shuichi said, chuckling nervously. “Especially being put on the spot like this. But...I’m the Ultimate Detective, I guess, or the second one, anyway...Kirigiri-san is far more accomplished than I am. I enjoy reading quite a bit, and quiet, rainy days.” Another chuckle fought its way out, unbidden. What did it say about him that he even struggled to converse with a robot?
Kiibo seemed plenty interested anyway, though, listening to him with rapt attention. It was enough to motivate Shuichi to keep talking, listing off whatever facts he could think of about himself or his classmates. It wasn’t the most coherent thing, rambling and going off in unrelated directions. He kept glancing towards the door as well, worried that someone might walk in at any moment and find him there.
“Are you worried?” Kiibo chimed in after the third or fourth time Shuichi checked the hall. Apparently he wasn’t being as subtle about it as he’d thought. “Don’t be. Not even the professor’s here this late at night, unless he hasn’t left at all yet.”
“Alright, if you’re sure...” Shuichi leaned back in his chair a little, letting go of some of the tension. Even if someone did find out, surely they wouldn’t expel a primary department student for an infraction like this. There were rumors of far more harmful things going on that were simply swept under the rug.
“Yes, I promise! I wouldn’t let you down, Saihara-kun.” Kiibo nodded firmly, crossing his arms. “That’s what friends are for.”
“That’s, ah, really sweet of you,” he replied, chuckling softly. Nobody had declared themselves to be his friend so quickly since he was in elementary school, so he was a little caught off-guard, but it really was charming. Shuichi felt his face heating up a little, fidgeting under all the compliments Kiibo had tossed his way so casually in the time he’d been there.
Kiibo seemed suspicious at first, giving him a searching look and waiting a few moments before responding. But apparently he didn’t find whatever he was looking for, because he smiled soon enough, returning to the more easygoing attitude he’d had before.
“You really think so?” Now Kiibo was the one who seemed embarrassed. A similar whirring sound to the one from earlier kicked in, and he looked away bashfully, grinning.
“Yeah, of course. You seem really nice, and I’m glad we’re going to be classmates. We’re...we’re friends,” he said, stumbling over his words a little.
“My first friend! This is so exciting. My personality may not be quite finished developing, but I can assure you that you can count on me! All the memory modification is complete, so I won’t forget how kind you’ve been to me, Saihara-kun. Talking to you is so much better than just studying what humans are like.”
“I’m glad I could help. I’m afraid I should really be going now, though. It’s late, and I need to get some sleep before class tomorrow.”
“Oh.” Kiibo looked so dejected that it nearly broke Shuichi’s heart. He must really be lonely to be so disappointed, he thought. “Of course. I understand. It’s important to take care of yourself!”
“But I could come back sometime, if you want,” he offered hastily. “Probably not every night, but at least once in awhile, until you join the class for real.” The harsh fluorescent lighting flickered and buzzed. Shuichi dearly hoped that Kiibo would be able to move into the dorms soon. This lab was beyond creepy, especially in the middle of the night.
“Of course! That would be amazing. You really don’t mind coming to see me?” Just like that, Kiibo had brightened up again. Rather sensitive, but apparently easy to cheer up as well.
“No, it’s no problem at all.” Shuichi stood up, brushing some imaginary dust off his clothes in an effort to stall his departure a little. “Don’t worry about it. I’d like to visit you, Kiibo.”
“In that case, I can’t wait for our date,” Kiibo announced, completely matter-of-fact. Immediately, Shuichi blushed, struck speechless.
“I...uh...yeah. G-goodnight.” Nearly tripping as he went, he left the lab, heart racing far more than it had any right to.
That bit of human etiquette would probably be corrected soon, but maybe someday he’d be able to hear Kiibo say that to him for real.