I told the rest of the gang about my newfound ability. Their reaction was more or less what I had expected, disbelief which had then morphed into a barrage of questions. In the end, ASA was able to explain it better than I could, which cemented the fact that what I was trying to explain was true.
Wanting to be able to talk about my new ability without having to stumble over an explanation, I began to call it Combat Sense. I also experimented with it further as Ryuji had suggested, engaging in hand to hand combat with Ryuji in which his suspicions were confirmed. As we would spar, my mind would flick back into its combat mind-set, where I would become hyper-focused and feel as if I could lift a mountain. It was an adrenaline rush that I knew I needed to learn to control as soon as possible.
To help with this, I consulted with Sensei Kimura.
None of us had seen the sensei for most of the day. He came out of his room to drink tea in the courtyard where I was surprised to find one of the few living trees I had ever seen in Kamikoshi City. It was a beautiful camellia with vibrant pink blooms. Here the sensei sat, alone, sipping at his tea, gentle steam rising from the cup.
“Excuse me, Sensei Kimura?” I said, not wanting to bother him.
He grunted. “Yes?” he said.
“I was wondering if I could ask you a question.”
“What is it?”
“I have this problem with controlling my emotions,” I said, knowing that this was putting it mildly. “Meditation seems the best way to help, and I was wondering if you could show me how to do it properly.”
“Meditation is an art that comes with practice,” said Sensei Kimura. “I can show you how to do it, but whether it can help you depends on your willingness to practice.”
“I am willing,” I said.
“In that case,” said Sensei Kimura, “sit here across from me.”
I did as the sensei asked. Once I was sitting, the sensei poured me some tea. I sipped it, the steam fogging my vision.
“Meditation cannot be defined outright,” said Sensei Kimura. “At its core, it is about mindfulness. You must close your eyes and focus on the present, then mold your awareness to be what it is that you want it to be.”
I closed my eyes. My thoughts were many, too many to control. I had to listen to what Sensei Kimura was saying, to focus on the present. I thought about where I was sitting and the calming nature of the courtyard. Though while the thought was pleasant, it did little for my churning thoughts.
“Breathe,” said Sensei Kimura. “Begin with focusing on your breathing. Then, divorce yourself from your mind.”
I inhaled and then exhaled my breath. I did it again. As the air entered my lungs and then escaped I focused on the sound. I could hear my pulse. I was starting to forget my thoughts. They were untangling.
“That is all there is to it,” said Sensei Kimura. “Now, the rest is up to you.”
I opened my eyes. “I guess I just needed to hear someone say it,” I said. “I’ll do my best. Thank you, sensei.”
Before I knew it, three more days had passed. In that time, I had come to grips with my Combat Sense. I managed to convince myself to accept that I was changed and that my new ability should be looked at in a positive light. In doing this, I made a point to meditate in the courtyard everyday. I also got used to holding a gun and continued sparring with Ryuji where it was hard for me to not hurt him unintentionally.
“Did you get stronger too?” Ryuji scowled, just after I had performed a joint lock as if I had practiced jujutsu for decades.
“I don’t think so,” I said, scratching my head. I had never had much muscle, at least not until I had been sent to the Pits for four years.
By the end of the fifth day at the dojo, I thought it was time to convince everyone that we would be leaving come the morning.
“We’ve rested here long enough,” I told the others as we ate a dinner of fried noodles. “We’re just wasting time now.”
“You’re right,” said Ryuji. “I didn’t think we’d be here this long to begin with.”
“Any idea how we plan to get to Takuma’s parent’s house, boss?” asked Kaito.
“Whatever way we end up choosing will still be risky,” said Azami. “With Takuma’s face plastered all over the city we’ll have to get over there quickly.”
Our conversation was suddenly interrupted by a knock at the door.
We all stopped what we were doing and looked at each other. The air was tense. Nobody spoke.
The knock came again. It was light, almost barely audible if not for the echo that reverberated throughout the hall.
“What should we do?” I whispered.
“They can’t have found us,” said Ryuji, staring at the door.
Azami was silent as her hand went to her gun.
Knock, knock, knock.
“We have to answer it,” I said. “It doesn’t look like they’re going to leave.”
“Have ASA answer the door,” suggested Yosuke.
“Alright,” I said. I now looked at ASA. “Answer the door, ASA.”
Obeying, ASA walked over to the door. As the android opened it, I prepared for the worst.
A girl entered the dojo. She looked as if she was in her lower twenties, with long straight black hair. Her clothes were ordinary underneath a long tan coat. She stared at ASA and then looked at us at the far end of the hall.
Sensei Kimura stood as the girl approached us. “Who are you?” he asked.
The girl stopped. She looked like she was trying hard to find the right words to say. She hesitated, and then said, “Takuma Mori?”
No one moved.
Who was she? I thought to myself.
“What do you want?” asked Sensei Kimura, his hands crossed in front of him.
“I have been sent by an ally of Takuma Mori’s to deliver this message.” She now pulled a folded letter from her coat pocket.
I now stood. “I am Takuma Mori,” I said. “Who are you?”
The girl looked nervous. “I cannot say who I am,” she said. “The person who wrote this letter, your ally, is also my friend. I promised to keep my identity a secret.” She looked up at ASA who stood tall over her. She then looked back at me. “May I give you the letter?”
I looked at Ryuji who nodded. “Yeah,” I said to the girl. “Okay.”
The girl now approached me, ASA stalking her from behind. As she handed me the letter, I sat down and began to unfold it. “Sit,” I said to the girl. She knelt down in front of me, watching me open the letter.
I read out loud:
I am writing this to say that you have an ally inside the Kazama Corporation. For fear of my identity being revealed to the wrong party, I will not reveal my name. I hope one day we will see each other again and you will understand why I did what I did. Until then, you must keep moving.
The Kazamas are scratching their heads at how you have made it this far. They had practically forgotten about you ever since they sent you to the Pits. Nevertheless, they now see you as a serious threat.
You are in grave danger, Takuma. I can help slow them as I have done already, but I cannot stop them altogether. One day, soon, the Kazamas will catch up to you.
I have sent this letter to be delivered by someone who I have grown to know well these past few years. You can trust her. I have instructed her not to reveal her name, but once you finish reading this, I think you will be comfortable with knowing who she is.
Take care, Takuma.
As I finished reading the letter, I looked up at the girl who still knelt in front of me. Her anxiety was strong. It was as if she felt that she shouldn’t be here.
“I have been wondering what was written in the letter,” she said. “I will do as it says.” She now stood. “My name is Chiyo Kazama, youngest child of Masashi Kazama. I want to help you get your family back, Takuma.” She bowed.
“Chiyo Kazama?” I said, almost in disbelief. “You are a Kazama?”
“I am,” said Chiyo. “I know you hate my family. Many people do. And while I do love my family, my father has become increasingly more unstable recently. The AI your father built, ASA, has changed him. I know he has secret plans for it, plans that will surely spell the end of life in Kamikoshi City as we know it.”
“This has to be a trick,” said Ryuji, his expression glaring. “Why would a Kazama want to help defeat her own family that she says she loves? That seems a mighty big contradiction to me.”
“Yes,” said Chiyo, “I do love my family. But there comes a time when one has to choose between being narrow-minded and doing what’s right. And it’s not a trick. You read the letter. If you knew who wrote it you wouldn’t question any of this.”
I looked at Ryuji. “Who could have written it?” I said.
“I have no idea,” said Ryuji.
I thought through everyone that I knew. “Maybe my mother?” I said. “Or Ayaka?”
“It’s not Ayaka,” said Ryuji. “I’ve been meaning to tell you, Takuma. I lost contact with her. I don't know where she is.”
“What?” I said. “Where could she be?”
“I don't know,” said Ryuji. “Maybe she left the city?”
I looked back at the letter, trying to forget about Ayaka. Leaving the city was something that she had talked about in the past. “If it’s not my mother who wrote this, then I don’t know who it is. I guess we’ll just have to make it to the Kazama Corp. HQ to find out.” I now looked at Chiyo. “I’m going to take you at your word. But the moment things start smelling fishy, you’ll have ASA to deal with.”
Chiyo glanced at ASA and shivered a bit. “I promise,” she said. “I want to help.”
“How can you help?” asked Azami.
“I am your direct link past the security of my family’s corporation,” said Chiyo. “And with our mutual friend on the inside, we can cause them some headaches. You have no choice, Takuma. You must stop my father.”
“We haven’t exactly planned that far ahead,” I said.
“Well now is a good time to do so,” said Chiyo, sitting again. “You want to free your family? You want to prove to the city that ASA is your father’s own independent creation, that your father is more of a genius than my father ever was? Then you must destroy the AI my father has created. If you do not, he will be unstoppable.”
“What AI?” I said. “ASA?”
“He calls it ASA Prime,” said Chiyo. “I don’t know what it is capable of, or what my father plans to use it for, but I do know that if he succeeds Kamikoshi will be in danger.”
“So, what?” said Kaito. “We’re supposed to break into the Kazama Corp. HQ and kill a hyper-intelligent AI that could wipe out all of Kamikoshi City? I didn’t know that’s what I signed up for, Ryuji.”
“Totally,” said Yosuke. “I’m not suicidal, but thinking about that plan makes me wonder if suicide is better.”
“You guys can’t start having second thoughts now,” said Azami. “We work together. That’s how it is.”
“You don’t mean to say that you think we can actually pull this off?” said Yosuke. “We’re street delinquents. We steal and beat each other up. We don’t lead tactical assaults on megacorporations.”
“Shut it, Yosuke!” said Azami. “We’re in this to the end, like Ryu said.”
“Yosuke has a point,” said Kaito. “We don’t have the gear to pull this off. I know we have Takuma and ASA, but this is big stuff we’re considering.”
“Can we get back to the bigger picture?” asked Chiyo impatiently.
“Go ahead,” I said.
“You may have heard that my father completed and shipped ASA 2.0, yes?”
“ASA 2.0, or ASA X as my father calls it, is more humanoid and smarter than the first version of ASA. A total of twenty-four ASA X models were sold. Most of them are being used as a highest level of security or as supercomputers to run whole networks. They are worth many millions of credits. They frighten me.”
I looked up at ASA. “What do you think about all of this?” I asked.
“I think,” said ASA, “that Chiyo is right. My successor is frightening, even to me. But even I as its ancestor know that it is not unbeatable.”
“If only we could download the best of ASA X into ASA then we could be on equal footing,” I said. I looked at Chiyo. “Can you get us around the firewalls?”
“No,” said Chiyo. “But I can get the data to you via a data card. It will take some time, but I think it is possible.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do,” I said. “Do you know the state of my parent’s house?”
“I do,” said Chiyo. “My family bought it. But no one lives there.”
“Good,” I said. “We need to get there if I am to upload ASA X into ASA. My father’s lab will have everything I need.”
“I’m glad we’ve come to an agreement,” said Chiyo. She now stood and bowed. “It’s late and we’ve talked enough. I must be on my way.”
“Hang on,” said Ryuji, his hand raised. “I don’t think you should leave. If you’re one of us now, you can’t risk being found.”
“But I have to go back,” said Chiyo. “They’ll notice I’m gone if I don’t.”
“Let her go, Ryuji,” I said. “Good night, Chiyo.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said, then turning to leave the dojo.
It was quiet for a moment after Chiyo left.
“I still don’t trust this,” said Ryuji, his arms crossed in thought. “It’s just... too convenient for a Kazama to show up unannounced to help us.”
“I agree with Ryuji,” said Kaito.
“I’m tired,” said Yosuke, who had been lying on his back on the floor and now rolled onto his side with an exasperated sigh.
“Does anyone want to know what I think?” said Azami.
“It’s not like any of us could stop you from saying what you think,” said Kaito.
Azami ignored Kaito’s comment. “I think she wouldn’t have risked coming here as a Kazama if she didn’t really want to help.”
“Yeah, you have a point,” said Ryuji. “Still, I think it’s best to ere on the side of caution.”
Later when we had all turned in for the night, I couldn’t stop thinking about one thing Chiyo had said. “You must destroy the AI my father has created,” she had said. “If you do not, he will be unstoppable”.I shivered. What did my father help Masashi Kazama to make?