Working to assemble ASA’s new body was the most difficult project I had ever undertaken. As I worked to map out what parts of the OMNI Kenji Model-7 I needed to salvage, I quickly realized that I would have to fabricate some of my own parts to complete ASA. I also had to factor in some extra parts that I wanted to include, parts that my father had been on the verge of experimenting with before his work had been stolen.
The first of these experimental parts was a reinforced carbon fiber that was extremely durable and lightweight. My father had been considering this material as an upgrade for ASA’s current steel skeleton. Remembering this gave me cause to wonder if Ichirou’s ASA X had been built this way. What I wanted to use it for, however, was armor. As ASA was a fighter now, and since I expected we would encounter more battles as we made our way to the Kazama Corp. HQ, I figured this was a necessary upgrade.
There were other additions as well, such as advanced optic and audial sensors, as well as enhanced strength. All of the blueprints and materials to build these existed in my father’s lab, and I couldn’t help but laugh at Masashi Kazama’s stupidity at leaving this treasure trove untouched.
With ASA’s new body now done, I got to work engineering the carbon fiber material to fit on this new exterior. I managed to complete this in about two days. At the same time, I worked on building a new housing for ASA’s core. I also rewired the core now that I had the time to do so, undoing my sloppy work I had done in the Pits.
By the week’s end, I had the skeleton of ASA laid out on the lab workbench with all of the necessary OMNI internals and the stock ASA parts lined up where they would be placed inside the body. I then began the process of connecting each piece, having to stop and recode or rewire several of the parts which were not compatible.
When the entire internal structure was complete, I afforded myself some time away from working. I found Ryuji sitting in the living room alone, looking at his katana.
“Hey,” I said, walking over to where Ryuji sat.
“Hey, Takuma,” said Ryuji.
“Where is everyone?” I asked.
“Azami is upstairs asleep, and Yosuke went to buy some food. I think Chiyo is upstairs too. Not sure what she’s doing.”
I looked at Ryuji’s katana which sat across his lap. I pointed to it. “Where’d you get that?” I asked, now sitting in the chair across from Ryuji. “It’s not a traditional sword by any means.”
“Yeah,” said Ryuji, “you’re right about that. It’s a long story.”
“We have time,” I said.
Ryuji seemed to be lost in thought. “You remember that gang I was running with back in high school?” he then said, frowning.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Things got... out of hand. I was young. I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was stupid. I thought that being in a gang was the only place where I could meet people like me. The Liberated, they call themselves. There’s only one thing they want, and that’s more young minds to corrupt. Quickly the friendship I had hoped for vanished. We were ordered to play the role of mindless drones doing whatever the boss told us to. They sent us young ones out to engage in all-out brawls with rivals, or to assault members who defied the boss in some way. I was conflicted the whole time.
“I tried to find a way to leave. This was near the end of high school. One day, word got to the boss that I wanted out. He sent one of his lackeys to harass my parents when I was at school. They wrote a message in black paint on the wall that spelled out, ‘No escape’. It enraged me, but there was nothing I could do.
“I had Sensei Kimura, though. Learning to fight at his dojo gave me confidence and helped to relieve my stress.”
I now thought back to my last conversation with Sensei Kimura, how he had told me that he had wanted Ryuji to take over the dojo. In the emotional state Ryuji was in, I decided it was best that I keep this to myself.
Ryuji continued his story. “Still, every now and then, the boss would send someone to my house to remind me that leaving the gang was not an option. It eventually came to it when I decided I had had enough.
“I bought a gun and went to kill the boss. I got close to him but I was caught and they beat me. What did I expect, right? The boss applauded me, though. He said that he liked that I had ‘taken the initiative’, or something. He challenged me to a duel to the death by sword. I accepted his challenge. I won. This sword was the boss’s sword. And that was my last day as a member of the Liberated.”
As I sat in silence processing Ryuji’s story, I thought back to how Ryuji had acted in high school. Had I known what was going on in his personal life, I would have tried to help him. He had been lucky.
“I’m sorry you had to deal with all that,” I said.
“Nah, man, don’t be sorry,” said Ryuji. “It was my fault. I was stupid.”
Chiyo now entered the room. I looked at her and saw her eyes dart from the sword and then to Ryuji. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” she said. “I’m sorry.” She pointed at the sword. “That sword, my father made it.”
“Are you serious?” I said, looking at the sword again. Its design did show signs of the Kazama Corporation’s standard motifs. It looked like a weapon fit for an OMNI unit.
“I am,” said Chiyo. “My father designed and created a whole line of combat gear. So the person who had that before you either worked with my father or they stole it somehow.”
“Despite that,” said Ryuji, “it’s my trophy now. It’s sacred, in a way. I only use it when I have to face my worst enemies.”
“Do you know how it works, Chiyo?” I asked. “Ryuji said that it can deflect bullets and cut through metal. Is it possible that we’ll have to fight OMNI’s using this gear you mentioned?”
“I don’t know how it works,” said Chiyo. “And to answer your second question, no. My father is too obsessed with ASA now.”
Later that day, Hanako stopped by.
“Look!” she said as soon as she had stepped inside the door. “I brought my scissors, Takuma. You still want to get your hair cut?”
“I guess so,” I said. I knew she wouldn’t take no for an answer. In no time, I was sitting on a stool in the bathroom with Hanako clipping away at my hair. “Hey!” I said. “Not so much!”
“Be quiet,” said Hanako. “I know what I’m doing.”
After she had finished, Hanako let me turn to face the mirror. She was right, she did know how to cut hair. “Thanks,” I said. “Maybe you should become a stylist instead of working at that maid café.”
“Nah,” said Hanako. “I like it at the café. I just couldn’t stand to see your hair so long and untidy. Now you look like you did before you disappeared!”
She wasn’t wrong. Before I had gone to the Pits, I had always kept my hair on the shorter side.
With the energy that Hanako brought to the house, the rest of the gang got to talking with her about her experiences in the Upper-City.
“What’s it like up there?” Ryuji asked.
“Oh? Have you never been?”
“Nah,” said Ryuji. “They don’t want people like us up there.”
“Oh but it’s great!” said Hanako. “It’s best at night. The city is all bright with lights and flashing signs and there are people everywhere.”
“Speaking of the Upper-City,” I said. “Have you heard anything new about me or about the Kazama Corporation?”
Hanako thought for a moment before saying, “Well, actually yes.”
“I think I heard something about the Kazama family holding a big rally in the Upper-City. I don’t know what it’s about, but your name was mentioned. It sounds like they’re trying to turn the people against you, Taku.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“Well,” said Hanako, “before, all the stuff they’ve been saying only resonated with a handful of people. I think if they really wanted to hurt you for some reason they would want as many people on their side as possible.”
“That makes sense,” said Chiyo. “It’s something my father would want.”
“What would he gain from turning the people against me?” I asked.
“I thought your family spied on all of us anyways,” said Ryuji.
“There is a surveillance system,” said Chiyo, “but it is not as integrated as some people think. But think about what a horde of brainwashed people could do. If my father were to convince a large number of people to come searching for you, they’d tear the city apart looking for you.”
“I don’t think your father needs to do that,” I said. “I think he knows where I am. He’s just waiting for me to finish ASA and then he’ll send Ichirou or someone else to collect me again. We’ll be ready for him, though.”
“You really think they know we’re here?” said Yosuke.
“I do,” I said. “It was the risk in coming here. Where else would I go besides this place? Ichirou knows that ASA was damaged again. It just makes the most sense.”
“When is this rally set to happen, Hanako?” asked Ryuji.
“In two days,” said Hanako. “Right outside the Kazama Corp. HQ.”
“I should probably get back to work then,” I said. “It was nice to see you again, Hana.” Now heading for the lab, I was stopped by Hanako who grabbed my shirt.
“Wait, Takuma,” she said.
“What?” I said, turning.
“You told me last time that you would tell me why you disappeared. I want to know why, and I want to know what you’re doing here.”
I sighed. “Hana, look,” I said, “it’s a lot to take in.”
“I can handle it,” said Hanako. She looked determined to get her answers.
“The Kazamas took my parents hostage, Hana,” I said. “They stole the AI my father built, and then they sent me to rot in the Pits. But I escaped and now I am trying to save my parents so that we can make things the way they used to be.”
Hanako stepped away from me, her eyes wide. “Are you serious?” she said. “How could they?”
“My family is sustained by the power of money,” said Chiyo. “My father has called the shots in this city for years with his influence. I think he’s even had people killed. So given the facts, I think it’s clear why my father did what he did.”
“I want to help you, Taku,” said Hanako. “Please. Just tell me what I can do to help.”
“No,” I said. “It’s too dangerous. Plus, I told you how risky it is with you having even spoken to me. You can’t tell anyone that we are here.”
“I know,” said Hanako. Her insistence was strong. “But there must be something I can do to help. Anything.”
I looked at Chiyo and then Ryuji for help.
“Well, I guess there is one thing you could do,” said Chiyo.
Hanako turned to Chiyo, eager to hear what she had to say.
“Because you work in the Upper-City, you can keep us updated on what you see there. You’ve already been doing that, and it’s helpful.”
“I can totally do that!” said Hanako, now bowing. “I will keep my eyes and ears extra open from now on.”
“Thanks, Hana,” I said. “I really need to get back to work now. I’ll see you later.”
“Alright,” said Hanako. “Good luck with everything!”
The following day, I finished assembling all of the internals into the exterior shell of ASA’s new body. The final step was to take ASA’s core out of the OMNI unit and install it inside this new body. Before I did this, I made sure to back up ASA’s data onto a server.
Before I went to remove the core, I spoke to ASA.
“You’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” I said.
“I have,” said ASA. “I hate being inside this retched OMNI body. My skills far surpass its capabilities. What would your father say if he saw me like this?”
I smiled. “I think he would say how proud he is that I used all the skills he taught me to bring you back to life, even if it took installing you into an OMNI unit to do so.”
“That is fair,” said ASA.
“I’m going to disconnect you now, ASA,” I said. “When you come back online, you will be inside your new body.”
It took fifteen minutes to install the core inside ASA’s new body. Afterwards, I called everyone down to the lab to witness ASA awaken as I had witnessed with my father and mother all those years ago.
“Wow, Takuma,” said Azami, inspecting ASA. “I can’t believe you actually made this. Ryuji said you were a genius, and this proves it.”
“Thanks, Azami,” I said.
“What are you waiting for then?” said Yosuke. “Fire it up.”
I now turned to face ASA. “Good morning, ASA,” I said.
ASA’s human-like eyes lit up. The android took a moment to get adjusted to its new body before moving to stand between all of us. It looked at its hands and the rest of its body.
It was everything I had dreamed it would be.
“Welcome back, ASA,” I said.
“I feel so... alive,” said ASA. “I remember this feeling. And you have made some upgrades, according to my system diagnostics. Thank you, Takuma. I will not disappoint you in our fight to reach your father at the Kazama Corporation headquarters.”
“No,” I said, “I don’t believe you will.”
ASA now turned to the others. “I have waited until this moment to give a full introduction,” it said. “My name is ASA. I was designed by Isamu Mori as a companion to the human race. It is my sole function to help in any way that I can.”
“We’re with you until the end, ASA,” said Ryuji. “Don’t let us down.”
“I am prepared,” said ASA.
“ASA,” I said, the android now turning to face me. “I did my best to make you more durable in a fight, to compensate for the military programming you stole from Kazama. But you were never designed to fight. I don’t know if it will make a difference. That being said, I am afraid what would happen should you face ASA X. What do you think about this?”
ASA took a moment to mull over my words. It then said, “I only partially analyzed ASA X, as my OMNI sensors were not as advanced as these I have now. But from what visual data I acquired, I can say that ASA X is a formidable opponent. It is not unbeatable, however.”
“So now what?” said Azami.
“We wait,” I said. “We wait for Ichirou to show up.”
“You’re still sure that he will?” asked Ryuji.
“He definitely will,” said Chiyo. “My brother is our father’s son, no question. There isn’t a challenge he won’t accept.”
“We best prepare, then,” said Azami.
“For Sensei Kimura and Kaito!” said Ryuji, holding up his fist.
“For Sensei Kimura and Kaito!” we all said together.
ASA stared. “I still have much to learn about human behavior,” it said. “But I know enough already to say that humans have a resilience I hadn’t thought possible. I hope to rise to this level one day.”“I wouldn’t worry about that,” I said. “You are the future, ASA. You will change this city.”