We buried Sensei Kimura and Kaito in the courtyard garden. Yosuke offered to stay behind with Yumi and get her to a new home. As it turned out, Yosuke had grown up in an orphanage and said that Yumi would be safe there for the time being. He made plans to meet us later.
We departed immediately. Chiyo summoned an air taxi and, after getting ASA loaded onto it, we all boarded and took off.
Everyone was silent during the short trip.
My mind would not stop racing. Every thought I had seemed to contradict the previous. Why was this happening? Why did my life seem to be falling apart again? Was it because I had witnessed what the Kazamas were capable of? Was it ASA X’s power? Or maybe it was just that I was out of my league as Ichirou had said. What ever the answer was, I knew one thing for certain. I knew that I had been shaken to my core, and that should it happen again, I would most likely crack and fall to pieces.
I glanced at Ryuji. He sat hunched, his weight supported by his sword in front of him. His expression was telling. It was a canvas of hate and heartbreak.
I looked at Chiyo who sat across from me. She looked back at me, our eyes locked. Her face was uncertain, her eyes sad and confused. She looked away from me. “Don’t look at me like that,” she said, now gazing out the window.
“Like what?” I said.
“Like you expect me to have all the answers.”
I tried to think of something to say but my mind was too occupied to form any words.
Tears began to well in Chiyo’s eyes, and she wiped them away. “I wish I could reverse everything that happened,” she said.
“How couldn’t you have known?” said Ryuji quietly.
Chiyo looked at Ryuji. “Know what?” she said.
“How could you have not known they would track you?” Ryuji was trying hard to keep his cool.
Chiyo looked as if she were being falsely interrogated. “I took every precaution,” she said. “I hid my face, took public transportation, covered my tracks. Gosh, my own family never paid much attention to me as it is.”
“It was your K-Link,” I said, now staring out the window.
“What?” said Chiyo.
I looked at her. “Ichirou said that it was the surveillance network that caught you,” I said, “but I don’t think it was. It was your K-Link. You have one, don’t you?”
“Yes, but it’s turned off.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “The K-Link can’t be turned off completely. If it could, you’d lose control of your OMNI unit. My guess is he didn’t say anything about it because he’s got you thinking it’s the surveillance that’s tracking you.”
Chiyo now looked into her lap. Her face revealed she had just come to a shocking revelation.
Ryuji couldn’t contain his anger. He punched the window, the glass cracking. “You stupid idiot,” he said under his breath. “Idiot!” Ryuji now reached to grab Chiyo, but Azami grabbed his hand before he could.
“Stop it, Ryu!” Azami yelled. “It’s not her fault!”
“How can you say that?” Ryuji exclaimed, trying to pull his hand free of Azami’s grip but failing. “Her dad is Masashi Kazama and she doesn’t even know how the K-Link works?”
“I’m saying it’s not her fault that the sensei and Kaito are dead,” retorted Azami, now letting go of Ryuji’s arm. “It was Ichirou who caused that, remember?”
“She led him to us!”
“And we threw everything we had at him! Even if she hadn’t led him to us we still would have lost! Get your head on straight, Ryu!”
Ryuji snorted in disgust, now staring out of the window, staring through the cracks.
“Azami is right,” I said. “We can’t beat ASA X. Not yet, at least. And while it was Chiyo who led him to us, she did it unintentionally. Remember, she got Ichirou to leave. I would be in his custody right now if it had not been for her.”
Chiyo looked at me. “Can you remove it?” she asked.
“Your K-Link?” I said. “No. But ASA can disable it.” Now using my K-Link, I activated ASA.
ASA, who had been in low power mode, now switched on. “Your thoughts are wild to behold, Takuma,” said ASA. I kept forgetting that we had reconnected our minds. “I am learning much about human emotion.”
“We can talk about that later,” I said. “Can you do something for me?”
“What is it?”
“Find the data stream to Chiyo’s K-Link and deactivate it.”
In less than thirty seconds, Chiyo grimaced as her fingers went to her temples. “What’s happening? That felt weird inside my head.”
“Your K-Link is now deactivated,” said ASA. “You may feel some cranial discomfort for the next fifteen to twenty-five minutes.”
“Thanks, ASA,” I said. “That’s another I owe you.”
“What do you owe me?” asked ASA.
“It’s just an expression,” I said. “Never mind.” Looking at Chiyo again, I could see she now looked at least a little happier.
As we soon landed on the street in front of my parent’s old house, we got off the air taxi, each of us supporting some part of ASA. The air taxi then took off, leaving us standing at the edge of the dimly lit street.
The house looked the same to me. It was dark covered in shadow, and the plants in the front, my parents had insisted on growing real plants, were overgrown.
“Well,” I said. “Here we are.”
Going inside, the first thing I noticed was that it smelled exactly as it had four years ago. All of the furniture remained where had been too. Dust lingered in every corner.
“Where’s the lab?” Chiyo asked.
“Just give me a minute,” I said, drinking in the sight and smell of the house.
“I know you probably feel sentimental now,” said Azami, “but we’re on the clock, Takuma.”
“I know, I know,” I said. “The lab is this way.”
Now lugging ASA down the steps and into my father’s lab, I was happily surprised to see that everything here was as it had been all those years ago. After we had set ASA on the ground, I went to sit in my father’s desk chair. My father never used to let me sit here, but now that I was I imagined I was him, seeing from the viewpoint he had seen countless days and nights.
“So what comes first?” asked Chiyo.
I looked around. “We need power first,” I said. I located the generator switch and flipped it. The power kicked on, a low hum resonating, as the lights then flickered to life. The computer screens powered on too.
After blowing a bunch of dust from the keyboard, I held out my hand to Chiyo. “The data chip, please.”
Chiyo pulled the data chip from her coat pocket and handed it to me. I then turned to the computer and inserted the data chip into the computer. As the files began to download, I stood from the chair and walked over to ASA.
“ASA?” I said.
“I am here, Takuma,” said ASA.
“You are about to get your own body.”
“I am relieved,” said ASA.
“How exactly are you going to make an entire new body?” asked Chiyo.
“With this,” I said, pointing to a large machine that looked like a tall transparent cylinder. “This is basically a human-sized 3D printer. It will print ASA’s body, a shell if you will. My job is to fabricate the internals which just entails taking the OMNI internals and upgrading them with the extra parts my father didn’t use before. I’ll add some upgrades of my own as well.”
“How long is this going to take?” said Ryuji, who had been silent up to this point.
“Days,” I said, shrugging. “We’ll have to be as low key here as possible. In fact, I say it’s best to expect Ichirou to show up.”
“I hope he does,” said Ryuji.
Over the course of the next few days, I worked diligently. I barely slept, further conforming to my father’s former lifestyle. I remembered thinking to myself when I was younger how did he manage to stay up so late essentially doing the same thing over and over again. I knew now that it was ambition, plain and simple.
Yosuke showed up. He told us that Yumi was in good hands at his former orphanage, and that he had explained to her that her grandfather Sensei Kimura had passed on. We all agreed that should we come out of this alive we would take her back.
One day, Azami told me that she had caught a girl peaking in through one of the windows upstairs. I dismissed it as one of the neighborhood kids just playing around, that is until this mysterious girl kept coming back to peep in through the window.
Thinking, I came up with an idea of who it could be. I asked Azami to come and find me when the girl showed up again. When she did, I came upstairs and saw the girl outside the window. When she saw me, she looked surprised and then ran to the front door where she knocked furiously.
“What’s going on?” Azami asked.
I sighed. “It’s Hanako,” I said, now going to open the door. As I did, the girl on the other side jumped at me to hug me around the waist.
“Takuma!” she exclaimed. “It really is you! I can’t believe it!”
“What the hell?” I said, trying to pull free from her grip. “Hanako, calm down!” I now closed the door behind her.
“It’s been so long since you left,” said Hanako, looking at me from head to toe. “Your hair got long, Taku,” she said, touching my bangs a bit.
“Stop that,” I said. “What are you still doing here? I figured you’d have moved out by now.”
“Nope, I’m still here,” said Hanako. “I’m working at a maid café in the Upper-City.”
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” said Azami, who now stood with Ryuji and Yosuke who had come to see what all the racket was about, “but who are you?”
“Oh! I’m sorry,” said Hanako. She now bowed. “My name is Hanako Fukuda.”
“She grew up next door,” I said. “My parents were friendly with hers. We’re practically siblings.”
“We really shouldn’t have people coming into the house like this,” said Yosuke.
Hanako now locked her sights on Yosuke. She then ran up to him, a glint of curiosity in her eyes. “Oh, do you have tattoos?” she asked. “Can I see them?” She was craning to get a look at the one that was partially visible on Yosuke’s neck.
“Um...” said Yosuke, looking at me for help.
“I would just show her,” I said, scratching my head.
Rigidly, Yosuke undid his coat and pulled back the collar of his undershirt to show his tattoos, a sleek and abstract design.
“So unique!” said Hanako. She then looked from Yosuke to Azami and then Ryuji. “So, like, who are you guys anyways? You don’t look like the kind of friends Taku would have.”
“I’m Ryuji Gotou,” said he. “And this is Azami and Yosuke. We’re helping Takuma with... with some pretty important stuff.”
Hanako turned to look at me. “What does that mean, Taku?”
I smiled nervously. “It really is a long story, Hana,” I said. “I’ll tell you about it eventually, but right now I’m busy, okay?”
“Hey, don’t talk to me like I’m nine and not nineteen!” said Hanako, pointing her finger at me.
“Yeah,” I said, “I didn’t mean it that way. But I am really in the middle of something important. Can we talk more another time?”
“Fine,” said Hanako, now walking to the door. “I was just really excited that you came back. I’ve been hearing all sorts of weird things in the news about you. I don’t believe any of it. And working in the Upper-City is a different story. Everywhere I go I hear how awful you are. What’s happening, Taku?”
“What exactly have you heard?” I asked.
“Well, let me see,” said Hanako, her finger at her lips. “Mainly that you are a murderer or something. It was pretty crazy stuff. I didn’t believe it for a second though. You could never kill someone, right?”
“Right,” I said. “It’s the Kazama Corporation who is behind those headlines. None of it is true, Hanako.”
“I thought so!” said Hanako. “But, why are they saying those things about you? Why did you disappear all those years ago? My parents never wanted to talk about it.”
“That’s the long story that I’ll have to tell you another time,” I said. “And there’s another thing too, Hana. You can’t tell anyone that I am here, okay?”
“Alright,” said Hanako. She now grabbed the door knob to open the door. As the door opened, Hanako turned to me. “Hey, maybe the next time I come over I can give you a haircut! You don’t look good with long hair.”
I laughed. “Hey, don’t be mean,” I said. “But if you really want to you can. That is if you really know how to cut hair...”
“I do!” said Hanako. “I’ll make it look great!” She then left the house, saying, “It’s good to see you again!”
After I had closed the door, I turned to the others who still stood there.
“She has way too much energy,” said Yosuke, his face glum.
“Tell me about it,” I said, rubbing my forehead. “And I’ve known her since she was born.”
“You trust her?” said Azami.
“Yeah,” I said.
Chiyo now came upstairs from the lab. “What was all that noise about? Was someone here?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Just an old friend from next door.”
“Oh,” said Chiyo. “Well, something’s happening down in the lab.”
“What?” I said.
“Come and see.”
Down in the lab, I found that the 3D printer had finished fabricating ASA’s new body. As I opened the door, a thin vapor escaped and rolled along the floor. And there, standing resolute, was ASA it meant to look.
“Wow,” said Azami. “It looks great.”
“It looks like ASA X,” said Chiyo.
“Yeah,” I said, smiling. “But after I’m finished building this, Ichirou’s ASA X is going to meet its match.” I looked at Ryuji who smirked.
“We can kill him together,” said Ryuji.“Together,” I said.