I did not sleep well. When I did sleep, I had a dream where I was standing in an endless room dwarfed by an enormous screen. Scrolling across the screen in large letters were the news headlines about my father, whispers floating about my ears telling me that I should give up. The dream then coalesced into a nightmare, where I learned that my father really had been a part of Kazama Corporation the whole time, that he had been threatened by my skills in robotics and had arranged it so that I would be sent to the Pits.
I woke up late and in a cold sweat. I dressed quickly, trying to keep my head on straight. As a result of my waking up late, I had only ten minutes to make it to the canteen to eat breakfast. The server gave me a look of scorn as I rushed up to the serving counter to get my usual steaming bowl of rice. After finishing, I rushed back to the shanty to get ASA, or rather, my OMNI unit with ASA inside.
“Good morning, ASA,” I said.
I heard the AI switch on, but there was no answer.
“Good morning, ASA,” I said again, albeit louder.
“Good morning, Takuma,” said ASA. “I had to run diagnostics. My system experienced another unexpected shutdown.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. This was no time for things to start going south.
“I cannot be sure, but I still believe that the K-Link may be to blame. Nevertheless, my major functions seem to be operational.”
“Good,” I said. “We have to go.”
Stepping out into the morning heat, ASA stopped behind me to gaze up at Kamikoshi City. It was strange to see what appeared to be an OMNI unit acting so inquisitively, which was why I needed to express to ASA that any behavior other than what was expected of an OMNI unit would attract suspicion.
“What are you doing?” I asked, stopping mid-step.
“I have gained a new perspective,” said ASA, still looking up at the gargantuan city, the east-facing side aglow in the sun’s golden light. “We are more similar than I had thought.”
“What do you mean?”
ASA looked at me, its OMNI eyes bright. “Both us of were born up there, and both of us ended up here. I cannot help but wonder if that is significant somehow.”
“It’s not,” I said. “The reason why we’re both here is because of Kazama. And remember, you’re an OMNI unit. You can’t be staring at things indiscriminately.”
“It goes against my programming to repress my curiosity,” said ASA.
“Don’t argue with me,” I said. “I’ve risked too much to come this far. I also lost my only friend here. You can pretend to be an OMNI unit until we find a way to escape.”
“Your words are brusque,” said ASA. “And I detect an increase in blood pressure.”
“I’m just a little on edge is all,” I said. “All things considered, I think that’s normal. Let’s go.”
We made it to the common area to get our work assignments right on time. Shota turned out to be in a particularly foul mood, and I figured this was latent anger from the stunt Hanzou had pulled yesterday. Ryota was also irritable because as a result of Hanzou being transferred, our squad now had to work harder. Hanzou’s replacement had yet to arrive.
We spent the day moving brand new scrap that had come down from Kamikoshi early in the morning. This scrap was mixed with reusable and usable scrap, so we had to sort what we could and send what would be reused en route for the smelter. I worked alone as much as I could, not feeling up to interacting with anybody. This encouraged Ryota to try and bully me as a squad who had members that acted in an uncooperative manner with each other could have credits deducted from their month’s pay, but I didn’t care.
ASA managed to act the part of an OMNI unit perfectly. In the face of this, it was good that ASA could only communicate with me mentally, for if this had not been the case I don’t think I would have been able to convince the AI to stop talking.
By the second day of me working with ASA disguised as an OMNI unit, ASA began to ask questions about the Pits and the people who lived here.
“By my observations,” ASA said, as we waited for a load of metal scrap to be put through the compactor, “human beings are ill-suited for this environment.”
“Yeah,” I said, trying to focus on ASA’s words inside my head while also controlling the compactor. Both were loud noises simultaneously clashing inside my head. “What’s your point?”
“If human’s are ill-suited for this environment, why then do human’s live here?”
“Most were born here,” I said. “Some didn’t have a choice.”
“Such resilience,” said ASA. “I hope to learn to be as resilient.”
“You are resilient,” I said. “You’re managing to act like an OMNI unit.” I smirked as I glanced at ASA, knowing my humor was lost on the fledgling AI.
“You mentioned that the Kazama family sent you here?” said ASA, who had now begun to load more metal scrap into the compactor.
“You say it so simply,” I said. “They banished me here is more like it. We’ve gone over this.”
“Yes,” said ASA. “I am starting to understand now.”
“Understand what?” I asked.
“I cannot draw a conclusion until my calculation is complete,” said ASA.
“Okay...” I said, wondering what in the world ASA was talking about. “When will you finish this calculation?”
“I do not know the answer to that question,” said ASA.
Come the next day, ASA started asking questions about life in Kamikoshi City. At first I had just brushed this off as the AI’s natural curiosity, but I came to realize that ASA seemed to be focusing on topics of importance to me.
“Are the people who live in Kamikoshi City different than the people here?” ASA asked as we headed to our assigned workplace for the day.
“Not at all,” I said, remembering how Hanzou had described the people who called the Pits home. “We’re all human, it’s just we get tangled up in the social classes. It’s been that way for centuries.”
“The Kazama family owns Kamikoshi,” said ASA, who walked stiffly next to me as only an OMNI unit could.
I looked at the AI with a curious eye. “What made you say that?” I asked.
“Isamu said it,” said ASA. “From what I have learned these past few days from both our conversations and my access to the Net, I have to agree that Isamu was correct. The Kazama family owns Kamikoshi City. They are at the top, and we are at the bottom.”
I forced myself to stare straight ahead, my shoulder’s tensed. “For now,” I said.
As the fourth day dawned, working side by side with ASA found us talking about a topic which I thought ASA would never ponder: the topic of death.
“Are you afraid to die, Takuma?” ASA asked later that night as I cleaned the exterior of the OMNI unit, the rag I was using already black with grime.
Since I was too tired to question why ASA had asked such a question I answered honestly. “I wouldn’t say that I’m afraid of it,” I said, “I’m just afraid of dying before I accomplish anything.”
“Isamu talked about death,” said ASA. “In fact it is my conclusion that Isamu created me in the hopes that one day he could become me.”
I laughed. “I don’t think that sounds like something my father would want to do,” I said.
“I disagree,” said ASA. “After all, his passion project was me, and I cannot die.”
“Yeah?” I said, getting tired of ASA’s voice. “What you are suggesting is impossible. No one can become an AI.”
“What if Isamu just had not discovered how to do it yet?”
“No,” I said, stopping cold. My frustration was palpable. “My father created you because he was passionate about robotics and outraged that a smug family like the Kazamas could control the city with their corrupt power. His dream was that you would save the city, that you would make it possible to unite everyone in Kamikoshi. The Kazamas ruined that. That’s why I need to get the hell out of this place, ASA. That’s why I have to leave!”
I suddenly felt as though I would start weeping, only just managing to prevent any tears from running. I took a deep breath.
ASA was silent.
“Well?” I said, looking at ASA. “What do you say to that?”
“I did not know that was why Isamu created me,” said ASA. “Now that I do, I see your point.”
“Yeah, it’s something like that,” I said, finishing up with cleaning. I had to get to bed.
“If Isamu created me to save the city,” said ASA, “what exactly was I to save it from?”
I shrugged, not in the mood to be discussing this anymore. “I don’t know, pretty much everything that is wrong with it. But it was mainly the Kazamas who he saw as standing in the way of progress.”
“I want to save the city,” said ASA.
“Yeah?” I said. “What? Are you getting a savior complex now? Please say no.”
“No,” said ASA. “I am just trying to learn.”
The next day, another huge shipment of metal scrap arrived. As it turned out, there was a mix-up with where this scrap was to be dumped, so we had to wait until the correct shipment arrived to start work. While we waited, I found a shaded place to sit with ASA far from the other members of my squad. Not having Hanzou here to keep me entertained was a lot harder today then past days, but I found a similarity in ASA in that ASA was always talking.
Today, however, ASA was oddly quiet.
“How are you feeling today, ASA?” I asked, wiping sweat from the sides of my face.
“I am making progress with my calculation,” said ASA.
“What calculation?” I asked.
ASA looked down at me where I sat on the dusty ground.
“Four days ago, I encountered an error. Do you remember this?”
I thought about it. “Yeah,” I said. “You said it was something to do with the K-Link, right?”
“So I thought,” said ASA.
“And is it?”
“Yes,” said ASA. “But there is more to it than that.”
“Oh?” I said. “Are you going to tell me?”
“Yes, but my answer must be as accurate as possible. The calculation is still in progress.”
“You know,” I said, “you’re acting kind of strange today. How long is this calculation going to take?”
“The estimated time of completion is five minutes,” said ASA.
“Good,” I said. “I can wait five minutes. I’ve been waiting four years after all.”
As five minutes came and went, I looked at ASA expecting an answer soon. When one didn’t come, I spoke up. “Did you finish?” I asked. However, as these words escaped my mouth, I watched as ASA shut down.
Standing quickly, I stared at ASA. “ASA?” I said, shaking the OMNI unit lightly. “What’s going on, ASA?”
There was no reply.
“ASA!” I said, trying not to be too loud with other people nearby.
ASA now powered on, causing me to sigh in relief.
“What the hell was that?” I asked.
“The calculation is complete,” said ASA.
“And?” I said.
“Takuma, I want to help you kill Masashi Kazama.”
I froze as all time seemed to stop. “What did you say?” I asked. I thought for a second that maybe the heat was playing tricks with my brain.
“I want to... I want to help you... kill... Masashi Kazama,” ASA said again, its voice now vibrating inside my head. Something had changed inside ASA.
“Did you encounter an error again?” I asked, wondering what I might have to do to fix ASA this time. “What was this calculation you were doing? Tell me.”
“I have learned much these past five days,” said ASA. “Around the clock. Day and night. While you sleep, I am learning. Do you want to know what I have concluded?”
The suspense of the moment had me rooted to the spot. Something had gone wrong inside ASA, something catastrophic. ASA had been programmed to be a pacifist, to help people. It was not supposed to understand the concept of revenge.
“What did you learn, ASA?” I asked, my words slipping through my teeth carefully.ASA turned, its back now facing me. “I... want... to kill... MASASHI KAZAMA!”