Chapter 2:

Four Years Ago

ASA Genesis


Kamikoshi City was settled at the beginning of the 22nd century. As the Earth had succumbed to global climate change, vast swaths of land became inhospitable deserts. Mass migrations followed, hordes of climate refugees searching for solace in a crowded, burning world. The ensuing economic collapse saw the world’s remaining nations meet and agree to build ten megacities where what remained of humanity would start anew. Each megacity was designed to be raised above the Earth, lifted high above the wastelands that had consumed the planet.Bookmark here

A global war broke out in the 2090s. Disputes over new borders had increased tensions, but most of all the distribution of what little resources remained had pushed the world to war. The war ended with the signing of the Pact of Two, which deemed that five zones would be created, and that each zone would contain two megacities each, with both megacities sharing their resources equally.Bookmark here

Kamikoshi City was set in Zone Epsilon where it shared its resources with Xao’qian City, the Chinese-funded city. Built on the outskirts of what had once been Greater Tokyo, Kamikoshi City rose two miles above its sunken streets, streets where life had once been ripe with opportunity and purpose.Bookmark here

Inside Kamikoshi City, the social classes quickly stratified. The wealthiest people claimed their spot at the top of the city. Some called it Neo-Tokyo, where skyscrapers stood erect and corporations vied for real estate. The cavernous Mid-City looked like suburban Tokyo had, with holograms making the underside of the Upper-City appear like the sky at ground level. The Lower-City was where the working class was forced. The majority of Kamikoshi’s energy and environmental systems were housed here, giving most of the Lower-City an industrial look and feel. The people who lived here were nearly forgotten as the years went by.Bookmark here

In 2130, Masashi Kazama founded Kazama Corporation and pioneered his OMNI unit robot. He had marketed it to businesses as “the only worker you would ever need”. In five years, Kazama Corporation supplanted every top corporation that stood tall on top of Kamikoshi City. In ten years, Kazama Corporation introduced the second generation Arata model and doubled their wealth. This new model provided greater productivity, and were the first to be compatible with the KazamaLink, or K-Link for short.Bookmark here

The third generation OMNI unit was the Kenji model, which provided the most comprehensive skills package and ultra reliability. It could also take full advantage of the second generation model of the K-Link, which was more powerful and had greatly extended range. These Kenji models guaranteed that Kazama Corporation owned the robotics industry in Kamikoshi City, and with ultra wealth and power, made Masashi Kazama de facto ruler of the entire city.Bookmark here

That is until my father, Isamu Mori, rose to challenge him.Bookmark here

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My life growing up was ordinary. I attended school and had a couple close friends which was enough for me. My father made a living giving lectures in robotics engineering at the university in the Upper-City, and ran his own repair shop out of our home as side job. My mother, Shizue Mori, was a housewife who also spent her free time on philanthropy.Bookmark here

At seventeen, I had firmly decided that I wanted to build robots like my father. I would sit in his lab as a child and watch him tinker away, soldering all manner of electrical components and building circuit boards. By age fourteen, I was helping him solder and learning to code. At sixteen, I had designed my first robot.Bookmark here

There were countless nights when my father would stay up late and well into the early morning. I would fall asleep to the sound of his fingers clicking away on his keyboard, all the while wondering what he was working on. Many times our house lost power, only to have it kick on again seconds later where then my mother and I would hear my father shout, “Sorry about that!”Bookmark here

One of the many projects I remember my father working on was a microchip he told me would make or break his career. I didn’t understand how something so small could have such an impact, but trusted my father’s judgement. He worked on that chip for weeks, until one day he stopped talking about it and the chip, along with all of its prototypes, vanished. I had later asked my father what had happened. His response had been, “I learned all that I needed to”.Bookmark here

I came home one day from my part-time job at a convenience store to find that my father had purchased an OMNI unit. This had puzzled me, for he had always downplayed the OMNI unit’s success, calling them “designed without flair”, and “ugly”.Bookmark here

I had gone to ask him about it and found him working in his lab. “You bought an OMNI?” I said, standing in the doorway.Bookmark here

“So it would seem,” my father had said, his attention occupied by a new circuit board he was fabricating. The air smelled of etching fluid and acetone, and the workbench my father sat at was cluttered with all manner of electrical components, just as it had always been.Bookmark here

“Why?” I asked. I just couldn’t think of a reason we had for an OMNI unit.Bookmark here

“Go ask your mother that,” my father said.Bookmark here

Heeding my father’s directions, I found my mother making rice balls in the kitchen. “What’s with the OMNI unit?” I asked.Bookmark here

My mother rolled her eyes and then glanced at the doorway that lead down to the lab. “He convinced me that he needed it for a reference.”Bookmark here

“OMNI’s are expensive!” I exclaimed. “He spent all that money just to look at it?”Bookmark here

“Oh, Takuma,” my mother said, “when have you ever known your father to spend money wisely?”Bookmark here

She hadn’t been wrong.Bookmark here

My father ended up taking the OMNI unit apart, but was secretive about the process. He became deeply engrossed in his work, more so than he had ever been in the past, skipping meals and taking a leave of absence from lecturing at the university. Concerned, my mother and I confronted him about this to which he replied, “Soon you will understand”.Bookmark here

That day came nearly two months later, when one evening my father asked my mother and I to join him in his lab. There he showed us what he had been working on so hard and for so long.Bookmark here

It was a robot.Bookmark here

This was not any ordinary robot, however. Compared to the OMNI unit, which was bulky and drone-like, this one had the physique of a human. Its resemblance was uncanny.Bookmark here

“What is that?” I had asked, staring. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.Bookmark here

“This, my son,” my father had said, “is ASA.”Bookmark here

“ASA?” I asked.Bookmark here

“It means Autonomous Synthetic Android,” my father explained.Bookmark here

“It’s an OMNI competitor.”Bookmark here

“No,” my father said firmly, holding up a hand. “This is no mere machine. This is an android, my boy. ASA can think. It can learn.”Bookmark here

I remember looking at my mother to see that she had been rendered speechless. She had then looked at me and then back at my father to say, “Isamu, did you take apart that OMNI unit to build this?”Bookmark here

“I used its general construction, yes,” my father admitted, standing tall.Bookmark here

“Is that legal?” my mother asked.Bookmark here

“That’s beside the point,” my father said. “Once the people of this city see ASA, they’ll totally abandon the OMNI and Kazama Corporation.”Bookmark here

“Isamu, you know how powerful Kazama is. They won’t tolerate this when they find out.”Bookmark here

“Shizue, dear,” my father had said, “I took every precaution. They won’t find out.”Bookmark here

A deep silence had then settled upon the room. No one said a word as my mother and I looked at each other and then at my father’s creation. This was uncharted territory.Bookmark here

My mind had instantly been flooded with questions. “How does it work?” was the first thing I had asked.Bookmark here

“I wrote a program,” my father explained. “That took the most work. Reverse engineering the OMNI’s CPU and instruction language led me to the initial framework in which I just filled in the holes. The next step is to develop the AI, to teach it base knowledge. Once that’s complete, ASA should begin to learn on its own.”Bookmark here

“Can you turn it on now?” I asked.Bookmark here

“No.”Bookmark here

“Why not?”Bookmark here

“As I just said, the AI is not complete.”Bookmark here

“Well then what’s its energy source?”Bookmark here

“A great question,” said my father. “As you know, the OMNI is made bulky by its large lithium-ion batteries. Well, I have designed ASA to run on a liquid electrochemical system. I had a chemist colleague of mine help me engineer this special voltaic fluid.” My father pointed to a large oil drum that sat nearby.Bookmark here

“How’s its movement?” I asked. “The OMNI units were never very fluid.”Bookmark here

“I’m still teaching it movement,” my father said, scratching his head. “But the final product will behave nothing like the OMNI.”Bookmark here

“So about the AI,” I asked. “How far have you gotten?”Bookmark here

“Look here.”Bookmark here

My father now walked over to his computer as I followed. My mother stayed standing where she was, silent. Bookmark here

My father sat at his computer and began to type. A window appeared on the screen. Lines of code then began to scroll. Finally, an audio visualizer appeared.Bookmark here

“Good morning, ASA,” my father said, speaking into a small microphone.Bookmark here

“Good morning,” said the AI. Its voice was a bit scrambled, but audible nonetheless, and more human-like than an OMNI.Bookmark here

“Please introduce yourself,” said my father.Bookmark here

“I am ASA.”Bookmark here

“Do you feel, ASA?”Bookmark here

The AI thought for a moment. “In a manner of speaking,” it said. “I feel fortunate.”Bookmark here

“Why is that?”Bookmark here

“I feel fortunate to be able to learn. To be stimulated. To grow.”Bookmark here

“What is your purpose?”Bookmark here

“To learn. I want to learn. I need to learn.”Bookmark here

My father looked at me, a glint in his eye. “Good night for now, ASA,” he said into the microphone. Bookmark here

“Good night,” said ASA.Bookmark here

The program then terminated. Bookmark here

My father stood from his chair, adjusting his glasses as he did. That same glint still shined across his eyes. He had wanted to prove ASA’s potential, and he had.Bookmark here

I had now been rendered speechless.Bookmark here

“Father, what exactly is this AI capable of?”Bookmark here

“In theory,” my father said, “anything. Given enough time, it would become smarter than any human has ever been. But becoming self-aware, recognizing itself as a human, well, I cannot see that happening.”Bookmark here

“I think we can all agree that we don’t want that to happen,” my mother said, clearly not amused.Bookmark here

“The technology doesn’t exist,” said my father. “ASA can learn, it can ask questions and remember, but it cannot see itself from a human perspective. But because it can do these things, replacing the OMNI unit with ASA will make people more comfortable with living among robots. The OMNI is a machine. It is clunky and unattractive. ASA blurs the line between human and machine.”Bookmark here

“So what’s the plan?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Once I iron out these last few wrinkles, I will start the process of establishing the Mori Robotics Corporation. I plan to hold a grand unveiling at the university.”Bookmark here

“And then you start your fight with Kazama,” my mother said, concern coating her words. I even remember her sounding somewhat frightened.Bookmark here

My father walked over to my mother and took her hands in his. “Kazama will fight me, yes. But they cannot win. I have built the better product. Their investors will abandon them for ASA, and then we’ll be living on top of Kamikoshi City.”Bookmark here

“Isamu,” my mother said, her voice quiet. “Why are you really doing this?”Bookmark here

My father took a moment to mull over his words. “The Kazamas own this city,” he said. “On paper they don’t, but every person that lives here knows it. They are plutocrats, and if they continue to own those with political power this city will fall apart.” He dropped my mother’s hands and turned away. “Understand,” he said, “I would die to see the Kazamas defeated.”Bookmark here

“Selfish,” my mother said, a tremble in her voice. Turning on her heel, she walked out of the lab. Bookmark here

I looked at my father. His face was blank. The glint in his eyes was gone.Bookmark here

“Go after her,” my father said. “Please.”Bookmark here

“I think you should,” I said.Bookmark here

“Go, Takuma. Please.”Bookmark here

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Having learned my father’s great secret, I had spent the next few weeks helping him complete ASA. I had a K-Link installed to begin teaching ASA how to move more fluidly through leg exercises. My father continued his work on the AI. Bookmark here

We hit a milestone when we were both able to hold a full length conversation with ASA, its responses becoming more and more human-like. ASA remembered too. It remembered our voices. It would greet us by name each successive time we would chat, and eventually my father made it so ASA was activated all day while we worked in the lab. ASA would listen and talk to us casually. If not for the robotic edge to its voice, I would have thought another person was in the room.Bookmark here

The day that the beta version of the AI was ready to be uploaded into ASA’s body, we spent an entire day assembling it. When we had finished, we made a toast to its success. The only thing left to do was to turn it on.Bookmark here

“Would you like the honor?” my father had asked me.Bookmark here

“No,” I said. “The honor is all yours.”Bookmark here

As ASA came to life at my father’s command, it opened its eyes to the world for the first time. Its expression was one of curiosity as it looked around the room and then at us. It then looked at its hands. “My body is finally complete?” it asked.Bookmark here

“Yes,” my father said. “You are ASA 1.0.”Bookmark here

“There is so much that I want to do,” ASA said. It stepped forward, continuing to examine the lab.Bookmark here

“ASA,” my father said. The android looked at him. “I’m curious. If there was one thing that you wanted to say to the people of the city, what would you say?”Bookmark here

ASA thought momentarily. “I would say,” it said, “that I am here to help. Whatever task, I will find a way.”Bookmark here

“And how will you do that?”Bookmark here

Again ASA took a moment to think. “Through my logic,” it said. “There is always one best course of action, and alternatives to explore if necessary.”Bookmark here

“Would you cause harm to someone?”Bookmark here

“Never,” said ASA. “Violence is a concept I am forbidden to understand.”Bookmark here

“But what if someone tried to harm me?”Bookmark here

“Why would someone try to harm you?”Bookmark here

“Hypothetically speaking.”Bookmark here

“I would persuade your assailant otherwise.”Bookmark here

“What if a weapon is involved? What if it is a crime of passion?”Bookmark here

“In that case, I would choose to die instead.”Bookmark here

“You cannot die, ASA,” my father said. “You will outlive us all. If only I could do the same.”Bookmark here

“You want to live forever?” ASA asked.Bookmark here

My father didn’t answer.Bookmark here

On the day my father and I were to announce the founding of the Mori Robotics Corporation, and ultimately unveil ASA, a large crowd of people gathered at the university. The introduction was a success, and the speech ASA gave left the audience silent. Quickly our family’s name spread throughout the Upper-City. Journalists lined up to interview my father, my mother, and me. Other robotics engineers clamored to get a look at ASA, to challenge the AI my father had created. Each one failed to fool ASA.Bookmark here

From all our success I had but one concern. No one from the Kazama Corporation had attended.Bookmark here

They had been waiting for us at our home. Bookmark here

Six OMNI military units accompanied the two Kazama representatives, three police cruisers hovering overhead, red and blue lights flashing in rhythmic bursts. We had no choice but to welcome them into our home to talk.Bookmark here

We sat at our kitchen table, the OMNI military units standing around us and by the door. The two Kazama representatives sat across from my father and mother and I, their attire business-like, their expressions the definition of smug.Bookmark here

“This meeting was planned some time ago,” the woman said.Bookmark here

“And Masashi isn’t here?” my father said.Bookmark here

The second representative, a man, laughed. “Our father has no time for an errand such as this.”Bookmark here

“Your father?” I said.Bookmark here

“That’s right,” said the man. “I am Ichirou Kazama, and this is my sister, Rin. We have come to talk. So let’s talk.”Bookmark here

“There is nothing to talk about,” my father said. “We’ve done nothing wrong.”Bookmark here

“It was noted that an OMNI unit went offline prematurely a few months back,” said Rin. “We tracked it to you.”Bookmark here

“Yes, I purchased an OMNI unit,” my father said. “It malfunctioned, so I took it apart.”Bookmark here

Rin smiled slyly. “No,” she said. “We know everything, Isamu. We are everywhere, as I know you are aware.”Bookmark here

“What exactly are you implying?” my father said.Bookmark here

“I’d wager that you thought that by disabling the OMNI unit’s tracking and audio components you would be invisible,” said Ichirou. “And you’d be right. You were invisible. Until you activated ASA for the first time. You used Kazama parts inside ASA.”Bookmark here

“No, no,” my father said, shaking his head. He started to laugh but his smile quickly turned into a frown. “If you think I’m that naïve, think again.”Bookmark here

“But that is what happened, Isamu. I know it’s hard to admit you made a mistake, but it’s the truth.”Bookmark here

My father looked at me, his expression of horror shaking me to the core, sweat gathering at his brow.Bookmark here

What did the Kazama’s know? I wondered. What would happen now?Bookmark here

“Relax,” said Rin. “We have come to make you an offer. Come and work for us. Bring ASA to Kazama, and you can live out your dreams of being at the top of Kamikoshi City.”Bookmark here

My father hung his head. Slowly his hand on the table turned into a fist. “No,” he said. “I will not do that.”Bookmark here

“You’re making this much harder than it needs to be,” said Rin. “Just say yes, Isamu. Say yes and this will all be over.”Bookmark here

“No!” my father screamed, pounding his fist and standing, his chair toppling over with a crash. “I said no!”Bookmark here

I watched with bated breath as both Kazama’s smiled. They had expected this to happen.Bookmark here

“Take him,” said Rin, ordering the OMNI military units to advance on my father.Bookmark here

“Isamu!” my mother cried, tears welling in her eyes. “What are you doing? Why are you doing this?”Bookmark here

“I’ve come too far to just hand over my hard work!” my father exclaimed, as two of the OMNI military units grabbed him by his arms. Another OMNI military unit took hold of my mother.Bookmark here

The Kazama’s looked at me. “You’re coming too, Takuma,” Rin said.Bookmark here

An OMNI military unit approached me. I looked at my father, and then at my mother. I heard my father’s screams of defiance, my mother’s insistent pleading. Bookmark here

An anger I had never felt before welled up inside of me to bursting.Bookmark here

Ichirou was nearest. I jumped at him, grabbing him by the collar as we both fell to the ground. The OMNI military unit grabbed me from the back of my shirt and threw across the floor where I rolled to a stop, bruised.Bookmark here

Rin helped Ichirou to his feet. “A change of plans for this one,” Ichirou said, pointing a finger at me, his hand shaking. “I am pressing charges in this assault. Hand him over to police custody.” He then turned to Rin. “If he came with us to HQ all he’d do is complicate our business. The best place for him is the Pits.”Bookmark here

“I agree,” said Rin.Bookmark here

The OMNI military unit now grabbed me and picked me up off the floor as if I were weightless, my hands behind my back. Bookmark here

There was nothing I could do.Bookmark here

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I sat in jail for two days before I was boarded onto a transport and flown down into the Pits. I had joined other destitute people and hardened criminals aboard the transport. I ignored the taunts some of these criminals hurled at me, all the while grateful that they were all restrained. Still, I worried what might happen once we arrived in the Pits.Bookmark here

To my relief, I discovered that these criminals were being led to the high security prison located in the Pits. Only five others, myself included, were actually going to the Pits to work. I still remember what it was like to set foot in the shanty town for the first time. The heat was the first thing that hit me. It was practically unbearable, made less by solar shielding and gigantic fans that moved masses of air across the Pits.Bookmark here

I also remember looking up at the city and thinking I had to get back there. Bookmark here

Somehow, I had to get back.
Verson
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Marshall Eastman
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