The following night, Ryuji returned with three members of his gang. All three, two men and one woman, looked exactly like the type of friends Ryuji would hang with: stubborn and a sense of self-centered pride.
After ensuring that the front door was locked, I turned to look at Ryuji. His appearance hadn’t changed except for the two large semi-automatic pistols at his belt and the katana poking out over his right shoulder.
“Takuma,” said Ryuji, “this is Kaito Iwasaki, Yosuke Okada, and Azami Sano.”
“Hello,” I said, looking at each of them one by one to see that their expressions seemed to indicate that they’d rather be anywhere but here.
“So,” said Azami, sizing me up, “this is the friend that needs our help?” Azami was tall and slender, dressed in all leather like Ryuji. She had multiple ear piercings and an undercut of black hair that was long on top, the ends dyed a vibrant purple. She also wore a belt that held a handgun, the gun having been customized and painted purple like her hair.
“Not to be mean,” said Yosuke, “but this guy doesn’t look worth our time.” Yosuke looked younger than the others and had long black hair that hung about his eyes. He wore a black high-collar jacket that covered his mouth and, with all his hair in his eyes, made it look as if he were trying to hide his face.
I looked at Ryuji questionably in the face of Yosuke’s demeaning remark.
“Stop being such a downer, Yosuke,” said Ryuji, slapping Yosuke on the back. Yosuke didn’t react. “Takuma has a great mind and a strong will.”
“Is that right?” said Kaito. “The boss said you survived the Pits. This will of yours must be legendary.” I glanced from Kaito’s bleached hair, faded at the sides, to his business attire which was questionable when compared to what the other three wore.
“I lived there for four years,” I said. “Whether it’s because I have a strong will or not, that is beside the point. I just need help getting to the Mid-City.”
“We can do it,” said Azami. “But what’s in it for us? Ryuji dragged us here without a proper explanation.”
“We’re all here now,” said Ryuji. “Let’s talk.”
Moving into the middle room, Ryuji and I sat on the floor while Azami stood behind Ryuji, her arms crossed. Kaito stood against the wall, while Yosuke gravitated towards ASA.
“Please don’t mess with that,” I said to Yosuke, who had started touching the power cord I had hardwired into ASA.
Yosuke looked at me, his stony eyes showing no emotion. “Don’t get excited,” he said. Yosuke then walked over to stand near Kaito, his hands in his coat pockets.
“That OMNI unit holds the key to Takuma’s escape from the Pits,” said Ryuji, pointing at ASA. He now looked up at Azami who stared down at him. “To answer your question, Azi,” he said, “what we get out of helping Takuma is gratitude. He’s an old friend and as the leader of this gang I call the shots.”
Azami snorted. “I figured it was something like that,” she said. She then looked at me. Her eyes were sharp. “So what’s the full story? I can’t be helpful unless I hear it from you.”
As I explained my story thus far, everyone listened intently. “And if my parent’s house is vacant as I suspect it might be,” I finished, “I can upgrade ASA in my father’s lab there. Then I’ll really have a shot at revenge.”
“So you are after revenge,” said Kaito. “And everything hinges on this AI your father made.” He gestured in the direction of the defeated OMNI unit that contained ASA. “This is the original ASA?”
“The original?” I asked.
“Oh, you’re probably not aware,” said Kaito. “The Kazama Corporation released their own version of ASA.”
I now recalled the news headlines ASA had found and read to me almost a week ago, about ASA 2.0 and its exclusivity among the wealthy. “I did hear about ASA 2.0,” I said. “Does anyone know what it’s capable of, or how many are out there?”
“Let’s put it this way,” said Yosuke. “No one in the Mid or Lower-City has seen one. Kazama is holding their cards close to their chest. They’re up to something.”
“And we don’t make it to the Upper-City much,” said Azami. “If you couldn’t tell.”
Ryuji looked at me. “Your father designed ASA 2.0,” he said. “What do you think he would have added to it?”
I took a moment to think. “I’m sure ASA 2.0 is smarter than ASA 1.0, but by how much is impossible to guess.”
“What is ASA 1.0 capable of?” asked Azami.
“My father programmed it to be a mediator,” I explained. “He wanted it to help people, to one day blend into society. He wanted it to ease the hesitancy of humans living among robots that Kazama brought about. But it can change.” I said these last words as I glanced at ASA, thinking about how much it had changed since our first meeting four years ago.
“I think it’s safe to assume that Kazama forced your father to build ASA 2.0 with the intent of phasing out the OMNI in favor of ASA,” said Kaito. “That would mean that they are testing militarized versions of ASA 2.0.”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” I said, cringing at the idea of a more intelligent version of ASA with militaristic capabilities. “Knowing my father, he will have done something with the code to suppress its abilities to a certain extent.”
“But if we were to help you get to the Kazama Corp. HQ,” said Azami, “and these ASA 2.0 military units are there, can we beat them?”
“I really don’t know,” I said. “For one, I don’t know anything about you guys. Second, we don’t know for sure if there even are military ASA 2.0 units.”
Azami looked down at Ryuji again. “This sounds risky, Ryu,” she said, unconvinced.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Ryuji, shaking his head. “I already promised Takuma we’d help.”
Azami sighed. “Yeah, yeah,” she said. “Fine. But if things go south we should bail. We have a reputation to maintain.”
“So what’s the plan?” said Kaito.
Ryuji looked at me. “Takuma?” he said.
“First, we need to find an OMNI unit,” I said. “And I have a list of tools I need to be able to install the ASA core inside it. After that, we’ll be ready to head on to the Mid-City.”
“Tell me the list of tools and I’ll get them,” said Azami. "I'll also get you some new clothes. The one's you're wearing stink."
“I can get the OMNI unit,” said Kaito. “Would a Kenji Model-7 work?”
I knew model-7’s to be built for physical labor similar to the model-9’s. “Yeah, that works,” I said.
“I’ll just stay here,” said Yosuke, now sitting on the floor with his back up against the wall. With how long his hair was I couldn’t tell if his eyes were closed or not.
“No,” said Ryuji. “Go with Azami.”
Yosuke groaned. “Here I am being bossed around again.”
Ryuji stood, pointing at Yosuke. “Of course, you punk,” he said. “Because I’m the boss. You’ll go with Azami.”
Seeming to not be phased by Ryuji’s command, Yosuke simply stood and followed Azami from the house, with Kaito close behind.
“We’ll be back before long, boss,” said Kaito, waving, and then closing the door behind him.
With Ryuji and I now alone, I stood from my seat on the floor and began to pace, thinking about how quickly I could transplant ASA’s core again. I also thought about what the Kazamas could be planning. It was nerve-wracking being stuck here. I was a sitting duck in a pen surrounded by wolves.
“Yo, Takuma,” said Ryuji, interrupting my thinking process.
“What?” I said.
“You said that ASA talks, but I haven’t heard it say a word.”
“I hear ASA inside my head via my K-Link,” I said. “Though once I transplant the AI into the new OMNI, you’ll all be able to hear.”
“Has it said anything since we arrived?”
“Actually, no,” I said, now walking over to ASA’s spot on the floor. “ASA?” I said, crouching down.
“I am here,” said ASA.
“ASA’s listening,” I said to Ryuji. I now turned back to ASA. “So, what’s your idea of all of this?”
I still had to listen hard to make out ASA’s words. “Our odds of... success have not changed. Our hope... right now... hinges on your being able to... upgrade my code. If you can... do this, there will be little Kazama can do... to stop me.”
I turned to look at Ryuji to relay what ASA had said. “ASA is hopeful that we can make it to my father’s lab,” I said.
“Good,” said Ryuji, who now stood and approached me. “You said it can fight?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“And what about you?”
“What?” I said. “Why does that matter?”
“This could get intense,” said Ryuji. “Kazama owns the police and both will shoot to kill. You have to learn how to fight, Takuma, if you’re going to stay alive.”
“But that’s why I have you guys,” I said. “I’m not a fighter.”
“Look, man,” said Ryuji, “something could happen to one or all of us. We could get split up or face something unexpected. You should at least learn how to shoot.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Who would teach me? You?”
Ryuji laughed. “What? You don’t think I can teach you how to shoot a gun?”
“No,” I said. “It’s just, well, I’m more focused on the big picture. You know, fixing ASA so that we can make it to my father’s lab.”
“We’ll have time to practice then,” said Ryuji. “Besides, you said yourself you don’t know what comes after you get ASA upgraded.”
“Yeah, fine,” I said, knowing Ryuji wouldn’t take no for an answer.
It was just after 1 A.M. when Azami, Kaito, and Yosuke returned. Kaito entered the house last, an OMNI unit following close behind. Yosuke carried a large bag that he now set down next to ASA on the floor.
“Where’d you get this OMNI from?” I asked Kaito.
“My family runs a warehouse,” he said. “I borrowed it from there.”
“We got your tools, too,” said Azami, pointing to the bag with her foot. "And here," she handed me a bag she was holding. "Clothes. I hope they fit." She then looked at Ryuji. “Any other errands to do, hmm?”
“Yeah,” said Ryuji. “How about you go to a convenience store and grab us some food?”
“Did that,” said Azami, shooting a sly smile. “Yosuke,” she said.
Yosuke now opened the bag and pulled out a plastic bag that was filled with what looked to be a dozen rice balls. There was also a bottle of water for each person. Yosuke now handed out the rice balls, all of which were tuna mayo.
After we had all eaten and drank some, I dressed into the new clothes Azami had brought for me, a simple long-sleeve shirt and pants. They fit fairly well. I then got to work installing ASA into the new OMNI unit. The tools Azami and Yosuke had provided me were exactly the tools I needed. I was able to transplant ASA in about two hours, as well as rewire the core as to allow for adequate power to assure that ASA would have full use of its major functions. As I finished screwing in the last of the screws on the back panel, I stepped back to get the full picture.
“You done?” said Yosuke, who had been lying on his back staring at the ceiling the entire time.
“Yeah,” I said. This got everyone’s attention.
“Power it on,” said Azami.
“Good morning, ASA,” I said.
The OMNI unit clicked on, its bluish-white eyes glowing. “Good morning, Takuma,” ASA said. It was strange to hear the android’s voice out loud after playing inside my head all this time. ASA looked down at its hands. “Imprisoned inside another OMNI unit,” it said, injecting as much disappointment as it could manage into its words.
“I’m sorry, ASA,” I said. “It won’t be for too much longer.”
“Alright,” said Azami, “can we please get some rest now?”
The sight of red and blue flashing lights around the edges of the curtains forced our attentions.
“Cops!” said Kaito, crouching low against the wall.
“Did they find us or are they just snooping around?” asked Azami, her hand on her gun.
“I can’t tell,” said Kaito, who now peered out from behind a window curtain. “It’s too damn dark.”
Then it hit me. “Oh no,” I said, my hand slapping my forehead.
“Oh no what?” said Azami.
“The OMNI unit,” I said. “Its tracking signal must have gone offline once I swapped out the core. That would leave its last triangulated point here.”
“Shit,” said Azami. “Why didn’t you mention that before?”
“I forgot,” I said. “Down in the Pits, I didn’t worry about being tracked.”
“They’re coming!” whispered Kaito, now backing away from the window.
Azami drew her gun, as Kaito pulled a revolver from inside his coat. Yosuke revealed his weapon as well, a simple handgun. Ryuji drew both of his pistols.
“Takuma, stay with ASA!” Ryuji said, motioning us to stand behind him and the others.
As ASA followed me, there came a loud banging on the door. “Police! Open the door!”
They were OMNI police units.
The banging continued. Then, after a quick pause, the door was hit with such force that it was ripped from its hinges, fragments of splintered wood going airborne.
A barrage of bullets greeted the OMNI police units as they too opened fire. In seconds the first two OMNI police units were cut down, steam spewing and sparks flying.
Four more OMNI police units now stormed in, with two breaking in through a side window near where ASA and I had taken cover. Without hesitating, I watched as ASA grabbed the nearest police unit by its arm and punched it in the face with such strength that ASA’s fist sailed right through its head. As the defeated police unit fell, ASA engaged the second police unit where it lifted the police unit up and slammed it into the ground headfirst.
“Are you okay, Takuma?” ASA asked, stepping hard on the police unit’s back, which crumpled.
“I’m fine,” I said. “Help the others!”
The gunfire now stopped. Looking, I saw a total of eight OMNI police units lying defeated around the front door, smoke rising in the air from the gunfire.
“What’s happening?” Ryuji asked, still brandishing his pistols.
“Someone’s coming,” said Kaito. “It’s a man.”
This man now stopped several yards outside the door, a megaphone held in his hands. It was too dark to make out any of his features. The lights of the police cruisers still flashed outside, illuminating the outline of his person.
“Takuma!” he said into the megaphone. “It’s over! You are surrounded! Come out with your hands in the air and surrender your OMNI unit.”
“Yeah, that’s not happening,” said Ryuji.
I stepped forward to speak. “I’m being framed by the Kazamas!” I shouted. “They’re the criminals here!”
“The Kazamas?” the man said, the megaphone booming. “This has nothing to do with the Kazamas. The OMNI unit you illegally hacked caused significant damage in the Pits, millions of credits in value. You are a criminal, Takuma. Now surrender yourself!”
“He’s wrong,” I said to the gang. “The Kazamas are definitely behind this.”
“No lie,” said Azami, her eyes locked on to the man outside, her gun held steady. “Now just what the hell are we going to do?”
“I can defeat them,” said ASA, stepping forward.
“What?” I said, holding out my arm to stop ASA. “No. We can’t risk losing you.”
“These are OMNI police units,” said ASA. “They do not have the military coding I have. I am faster, more agile. I am the better marksman. I have the better strength. I am superior in every way.”
“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” said Kaito.
I looked at Ryuji, thinking he would back me up, but his expression was telling. “Sounds like ASA’s right,” he said. “ASA will escort us out the back door and we’ll make a run for it to the bikes.”
“Bikes?” I said.
“Yeah, our motorcycles,” said Ryuji. He now turned to ASA. “ASA, once you get rid of them, meet us at Harubashi Station.”
“Yeah?” I protested. “And which train at almost 4 A.M. do you want to ride?”
“I figure ASA could get us onto one,” said Ryuji, who looked at ASA for clarification.
ASA looked at me. “I could hack a single train car to take us to the Mid-City,” the android said. “But first we must be rid of this threat. Takuma, go. I will not be defeated here.”
“You better not be,” I said.
“Takuma!” said the man into the megaphone. “This is your last chance!”
ASA now turned to Ryuji again. “I require a weapon to perform at my maximum ability.”
“Take this,” said Ryuji, handing over his katana.
ASA looked at it curiously. “A sword?”
“It’s enhanced to cut through any metal and even deflect bullets,” said Ryuji. “Don’t lose it.”
“I see,” said ASA, now studying the sword closer. “A peculiar weapon.”
“Take this too,” said Kaito, handing over his revolver. “I put a fresh six rounds in.”
ASA took the gun and inspected it. “I now have what I require,” said ASA. “It’s time for us to go. I will meet you all at Harubashi Station once I have finished.”
“Let’s go,” said Azami.
As soon as we burst out the back door, the OMNI police units that had been stationed there began to shout, “The subject is escaping! Back exit! The subject is on the run!” They then opened fire, but were quickly engaged by ASA who unloaded two bullseye shots from Kaito’s revolver killing two, only to then deflect the remaining incoming rifle rounds with Ryuji’s sword.
As we turned the corner headed for the motorcycles, I looked back to see ASA leap onto the roof, Ryuji’s sword in hand, to cut the OMNI police unit bearing down on him in half. ASA then moved on to the front yard where gunfire soon erupted.
As we got to the motorcycles, I joined Ryuji on his bike while Azami and Yosuke claimed the second bike. Kaito rode his own. We then sped off down the shadowed street with a screech from the bikes, the din of the gunfire still echoing behind us.
As we rode away, I heard an explosion and looked back to see a fireball rise into the air. There were no more police lights. I closed my eyes, hoping that ASA would make it out alive. I couldn’t go on otherwise.
As soon as we pulled up to Harubashi Station, we dismounted the bikes and ran inside. Ignoring the automated turnstiles as well as the security guards, the guards whom Azami and Yosuke threatened verbally, we arrived at the nearest train.
“Where’s ASA?” I asked, looking around wildly.
“I don’t know,” said Ryuji, “but if that android doesn’t get here soon the police will and we’re done for.”
“There’s ASA!” said Azami, pointing.
I looked to see ASA leap out of nowhere and land near us, the ground cracking from the force.
“What happened?” I asked, inspecting ASA’s new OMNI body and seeing some burn marks and bullet graze wounds.
“There were more human police officers than I had originally anticipated,” said ASA. “I had to kill precisely.”
“You really hate OMNI units, huh?” said Kaito.
ASA was silent as it stared at Kaito, Kaito whom quickly looked away.
“Police!” shouted Yosuke.
A team of police cruisers were flying right towards the train station.
“Can we go now?” said Azami.
“ASA,” I said. “Get us on a train.”
It took mere seconds for ASA to hack into the train network and activate a single train car. As soon as we had boarded the train it sped off, right as the police entered the station.
“Yeah!” shouted Azami. “That’s right!” She cheered.
“Nice work, ASA,” said Ryuji. “I’d like my sword back now.”
ASA gave the sword back to Ryuji, as well as gave back Kaito’s revolver. ASA also held a rifle around its arm, and I noticed it as a police rifle it must have picked up after using all of the shots in the revolver.
“They’re going to be waiting for us when we get to the Mid-City,” said Yosuke.
“Yeah,” said Ryuji. “Which is why it think it’s best that we lay low somewhere first before going to Takuma’s parent’s house.”
“Where?” I asked.
“The dojo I trained in,” said Ryuji. “Sensei Kimura’s dojo.”
“Will he have us there?” I asked. “If we don’t have to rope someone else into all of this I’d rather not.”
“He’ll have us,” said Ryuji, “because I’m here.” Ryuji now turned to ASA. “ASA, stop the train a little bit before the station. We’ll get off a bit early in case they are already there. We can slip into the alleys nearby and be at the dojo in twenty, fifteen if we hurry.”
“I can do that,” said ASA.“We’re going to make it, Takuma,” said Ryuji. “I gave you my word.”