As soon as ASA stopped the train, the six of us got off and followed Ryuji in the direction of an alleyway just near the tracks. After climbing through some fake foliage, a majority of the foliage across the Mid-City was fake, we entered the alleyway and moved at a quick pace. We then turned to head down a darker alleyway and stayed on this path for near ten minutes.
We eventually arrived at a right turn, which led us to a quiet side of the district. Across the street ahead was Sensei Kimura’s dojo. I had never met Sensei Kimura, but Ryuji had spoken of him in the past. As far as I knew, Ryuji had practiced martial arts since he was a boy.
“Okay,” said Ryuji, turning to face the group. “I’ll do all the talking. The sensei will probably going to be a bit cranky, but I’ll get him to come ‘round.”
“He’ll probably be a little cranky?” said Yosuke. “Of course, he’s probably sleeping.”
“Sensei Kimura doesn’t sleep,” said Ryuji. “Let’s go.”
Now crossing the street, we walked up to the front door of the dojo. There was a small fountain in a courtyard just outside the door, a neat rock garden on either side. The dojo’s exterior was built in the traditional Japanese design, rare in Kamikoshi City.
Ryuji now knocked on the door. We waited. Soon, the door opened and we were greeted by a young girl who looked as if she had been woken up.
“Hello?” she said, then yawning. “What do you want?”
“Hi, Yumi,” said Ryuji, bending over slightly. “Is your grandpa here?”
“Ryuji?” said Yumi, then rubbing her eyes. “Is that really you?”
“Yeah,” said Ryuji. “Can we come in please?”
“Okay,” said Yumi, now stepping aside to let us pass.
Now following Yumi into the dojo, I saw that sitting at the far side of the hall facing away from us was a bald man who looked to be meditating. Yumi walked up to this man and kneeled beside him. “Papa,” she said in a low voice, “there are people here.” She then scurried off into a nearby room.
There was a brief moment of silence as we all stood there before the man spoke. “Ryuji Gotou,” he said. His voice sounded as though it had once been deep but had weakened some in his later years. “Didn’t I tell you to never disrupt my meditation?”
“Yes,” said Ryuji. “I’m sorry, sensei, but we need help and you’re the only one I could think of that would help.”
“We?” said the man, now standing slowly and turning to face us. There was some light facial hair upon his face, his face of which was still mostly free of wrinkles, though I’d guess he was in his mid-sixties. He wore a gray kimono under a black haori and stood with fine posture. Soon he stood before us, eyeing each of us intently. “What is the meaning of this?” he said, looking at Ryuji.
“Sensei, please,” said Ryuji. “I can explain.”
“You will explain,” said Sensei Kimura. He then turned to look at the rest of us. “I am Daichi Kimura. Welcome.”
Soon we all sat together on soft cushions while ASA stood quietly nearby. Sensei Kimura made us all some green tea and we sipped at it slowly.
“So, Ryuji,” said Sensei Kimura. “I am still waiting for you to start singing your tale.”
Ryuji pointed at me. “This is Takuma Mori,” he said. “We’ve been friends since high school. He was forced into the Pits four years ago by the Kazama Corporation and his father and mother were taken hostage. His father created an AI called ASA that Kazama stole and has since been making his father work for them. Takuma wants to free his father and mother and prove to the city that it was his father who created ASA, not Kazama.”
“I see,” said Sensei Kimura, rubbing his chin in thought. “And how exactly do I enter into this tale? What part do I play, Ryuji?”
“Shelter,” said Ryuji. “This is one of the safest places I know.”
“Is that all I am good for anymore, Ryuji?” said Sensei Kimura, scowling. “This is no boarding house, boy. I am Daichi Kimura, master of martial arts, and this is my sacred dojo where the walls are stained with my sweat and blood.”
Ryuji looked confused. “I just meant that I always felt safe here.”
“I know I am old now,” said Sensei Kimura, waving dismissively. “I know that I have given up on teaching. But this place is as much me as I am myself.”
“I’m sorry, sensei,” said Ryuji, now bowing his head. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
Sensei Kimura snorted. “You’ve changed. I warned you, Ryuji, to stay off the streets. But you didn’t listen. And look at you now. As someone who can call themselves a student of mine, your appearance is an embarrassment.”
Ryuji continued to bow his head, silent.
“I’ve had enough,” said Sensei Kimura, now standing. “If you must stay here, you will find some extra futons in the next room.” Sensei Kimura now walked off, his legs wobbling a bit, into the next room where he closed the sliding door behind him.
“What was that all about?” Azami asked.
“I don’t know,” said Ryuji. “He’s probably just tired.” Ryuji sighed. “Well, we should all get some sleep.”
After we had each found our own futon, we settled in to sleep. ASA entered stand-by mode and stood sentinel near the wall.
In the morning, we ate grilled fish and miso soup. Yumi ate with us, though she was quiet and would only speak to Ryuji. Ryuji told me later that Yumi was seven years old and had lived here with her grandpa the sensei ever since her mother died and her father, the sensei’s son, didn’t want to care for her anymore. There was more to this story I could tell, based on Ryuji’s tone and body language, but I didn’t think it was a good idea to ask.
As midday approached, none of us saw the sensei. Yumi brought his meals to him in his room, but the sensei never came out.
Around midday, Ryuji asked me to follow him. We walked to a building joined at the back of the dojo. Here was a shooting range with four targets and a whole stockpile of weapons.
“Why is all this here?” I asked, looking at each weapon curiously.
“It used to be an archery range,” said Ryuji. “But after the sensei stopped teaching, I convinced him to let me use it as a shooting range. He wasn’t very happy.”
“I can imagine,” I said. “So, why are we here?”
“I told you I was going to teach you to shoot, remember?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. I had hoped he had forgotten. I had no choice now. “What do you want me to do?” I asked.
“Take a gun from the table,” said Ryuji. “That handgun there.” He pointed.
I picked up the gun Ryuji was pointing at. But as soon as my hand had so much as touched the grip of the gun, something unexpected happened. I felt something change inside my head, like a switch had been flipped. I then became focused, filled with cold-hearted determination. Holding this gun just made sense. It’s what I was trained to do, right? No. No, that wasn’t right.
What was happening to me?
I was engaged in a mental struggle. I stared at the gun, immobilized.
“Yo, Takuma,” said Ryuji. “Are you okay?”
“Uh... yeah,” I said, a bead of sweat rolling down my forehead.
“It’s just a gun, man,” said Ryuji. “All you have to do is aim and—”
It was too much. Acting on this sudden, intense instinct, I turned to face the target, my arm extending to aim the gun. The center was locked in my vision. I could see it as if it were inches away from me, a shot no one could miss. Then firing, I unleashed every round in rapid succession, all of them hitting the center of the target to form a wide hole.
Gasping as if I had not been aware of what I was doing, I dropped the gun. As it clattered to the ground I backed away as if it were primed to explode. As I did, I felt the feeling of anger and determination wash away in an instant, and I was back to being Takuma Mori, firearms novice.
Ryuji stood quite still, dumbstruck in light of what I had just done. He looked at the target and then back at me. “Takuma,” he said. “What the hell was that?”
My hands had begun to shake. I could a faint sound of white noise. “I... I don’t know,” I said. “As soon as I touched that gun I... I felt this feeling. I can’t quite describe it.”
“Well, try and describe it.”
“It’s hard to put to words,” I said, wiping the sweat from my forehead. “There was anger, an anger I have felt before, but this time it was like I could weaponize it. It’s almost as if... as if it gave me the ability to shoot that target.”
“Takuma,” said Ryuji, “when learning to shoot there are two things to keep in mind. They are precision and accuracy. Most people learn to be accurate, that’s just landing a hit, but being precise takes the most practice. You were precise and accurate. And you’ve barely touched a gun before.”
“I know,” I said. “Like I said, it’s hard for me to put to words.”
“Something’s definitely changed with you, Takuma,” said Ryuji. “Did something happen down in the Pits? Is there something you haven’t told me?”
“No,” I said. “I told you everything. I—”
I stopped cold. I was thinking about ASA’s outburst after it had hacked into the Kazama Corp. servers, how ASA had downloaded the military programming and managed to pull off those advanced combat maneuvers. ASA had also mentioned my K-Link being suspect, saying that my anger for the Kazamas allowed ASA to bypass the firewalls through some enhanced attack. Could it be that ASA’s hacking into the Kazama servers had influenced my brain? Was that even possible?
“I need to talk to ASA,” I said.
As I turned to leave the shooting range, Ryuji held out his hand. “Wait,” he said. “What’s going on? What are you thinking?”
“Just come on,” I said.
Finding ASA who was currently in rest mode, I woke the android. “Hello, Takuma,” ASA said. “Is there something that you need me to do?”
“I have a question,” I said. “ASA, when you hacked into the Kazama Corp. servers you said that you thought it was my anger for the Kazamas that allowed you to breach the firewalls, right?”
“Yes,” said ASA.
“Do you still think that’s what happened?”
“I do,” said ASA. “Why? Do you have a different perspective? If so, you should tell me. It would be beneficial to the both of us as I still do not fully understand the technicalities of what allowed me to hack into the servers.”
“No,” I said, looking at my hands as if I were no longer human. “I think you’re right, ASA. My anger did influence you. But you also influenced me. We were linked by the K-Link, and when your programming was rewritten as a result of my anger it fed back to me, to the K-Link. All those military combat skills you downloaded, well, I think I know them too.”
“That would be most peculiar,” said ASA. “What evidence is there to support this?”
“Come look at the target he just shot,” said Ryuji. “Eight bullseye shots.”
“Impressive,” said ASA. “Show me.”
Showing ASA the target I had shot, ASA then turned to me. “I want to see you shoot the other target now, Takuma.”
I hesitated. “Are you sure?” I said. “The feeling I get really isn’t pleasant.”
“Seeing you do this will help me learn,” said ASA.
“Alright,” I said, sighing, and then picking up the gun I had dropped. As I did, the feeling returned. Focused, I loaded a new magazine and took aim. I saw the new target as I had the previous one. I now shot three shots, just managing to hold back unloading the whole magazine this time as I fought with the anger coursing through me.
After setting the gun back on the table, I looked at ASA as I returned to feeling like myself again. “I understand,” said ASA. “Takuma, we are no longer paired via a K-Link. That bond was broken when your first OMNI unit was destroyed and I gained this new OMNI body. What do you think would happen if we reconnected ourselves?”
“It’s hard to say,” I said. “I worry about the risks, though.”
“What risks?” Ryuji asked.
“This feeling could be amplified for all we know,” I said. “I could lose control. I already don’t feel I have control over it.”
“If we are connected,” said ASA, “I think I could help you to control it.”
“You think so?”
“There is only one way to find out.”
I looked at Ryuji. “I’m not saying you should be prepared,” I said, “but just in case, go easy on me.”
“You’re expecting the worst?” said Ryuji.
“Just being realistic,” I said. I looked at ASA. “Alright, reconnect us.”
In less than ten seconds, it happened. I heard the sound of white noise followed by a temporary dizziness. And then, breathing deep, I picked up the gun. The feeling returned. I was alert, ready to face any adversary with an arsenal of skills.
“I can feel what you are feeling,” said ASA. “I will attempt to tweak the programming.”
The feeling now began to build. “Hurry, ASA,” I said, struggling against this urge to fight. I wanted to lash out, to seek and destroy my enemies.
“You should start to feel different now,” said ASA. “I have deactivated a few of the antenna bands on your K-Link.”
“Yeah, I feel it,” I said. “It’s better, but I still feel angry, like I could take on anything right now. I hate this.” I set the gun back down on the table, then feeling normal again. I rubbed my forehead with the back of my hand, still feeling a bit dizzy.
“Your brain has been altered,” said ASA.
“This is crazy, man,” said Ryuji. “So, you’re telling me that every time you pick up a weapon now you’re going to become this killing machine?”
“Yeah,” I said, not thrilled. “It does seem that way.”
Ryuji laughed. “This is unbelievable!” he said, still in awe. “So, why does it only work when you pick up a weapon?”
I shrugged. “It’s all just psychological,” I said. “Weapons are the trigger.” I paused for a second before continuing. “This is dangerous. I don’t know what to do.”
“What do you mean you don’t know what to do?” said Ryuji. “You’ve been given a gift, Takuma. You have learned in a day what many train hard for years to learn. If you want to bring down the Kazamas, well, this skill will come in handy.”
“Ryuji is correct,” said ASA. “You can now defend yourself on your own. This way, should we be split up, the enemy will not stand a chance.”
“I just... I just need time to think about this,” I said. “I need to learn to control it. What you did ASA to the K-Link helps, but keeping that anger in check is up to me.”
“I know the perfect solution,” said Ryuji. “I’ll ask Sensei Kimura to teach you meditation. That’ll help.”
It was a start. “Yeah, alright,” I said. “So, what now?”
“We have to tell the others about this,” said Ryuji. “And then, I want to see what else you know.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, I’m guessing that if ASA can do all those martial arts you described, you can too.”
He was right. What else did I know how to do? Had everything transferred from ASA to me?What had I become?