“It’s... happening,” Hanako gasped. She had just arrived at the house, panting as if she had just completed a marathon. I was surprised to see that she was dressed in her maid café uniform.
I let her into the house. “What is?” I asked, watching her lean up against the wall as she tried to catch her breath.
“The... rally,” said Hanako. “It’s happening soon. Kazama Corp. just announced that... that everyone should meet in the square outside... outside the HQ.”
“What time?” I asked.
“Soon,” said Hanako.
I looked at Chiyo. “Let’s check the TV,” she said. Chiyo now moved to turn on the TV and found the live broadcast which showed an aerial view of the square outside the Kazama Corp. HQ where hundreds of people had already gathered.
“Did you run all the way here from work?” I asked, eyeing Hanako’s maid café uniform.
“Yes,” said Hanako. “This couldn’t wait. I promised that I would keep you up to date with what was going on in the Upper-City.”
“If this rally is happening now,” said Ryuji, “then that means that Ichirou is probably going to show up sooner than later.”
“This is some sickening stuff,” said Azami, watching the TV. “Who does this? Do all these people really revere Masashi Kazama this much?”
Chiyo bowed her head. “I do admit that this scene is depressing,” she said. “And to answer your question, yes, people do revere him. But really what they revere is the idea of him, if that makes sense. In the Upper-City, my father is viewed as an idol, someone to look up to. He is the definition of that person who came from nothing and achieved great success. Of course, he really built his empire on the backs of others. My father is nothing like how these people see him.”
Hanako now tapped me on my arm. I looked at her. “Um, Taku,” she said. “What is that?” She was pointing at ASA.
“Oh,” I said. “This is ASA. The AI my father built.”
ASA turned to look at Hanako. “Nice to meet you,” said ASA. “I have registered your name as Hanako Fukuda.”
“Yes! That’s right!” said Hanako, her sudden burst of excitement causing me to recoil a bit. Hanako ran up to ASA to stare deeply at the android as if in a trance.
“Pardon my bluntness,” said ASA, “but you do have a distinct personality, Miss Fukuda. I have not met anyone like you before.”
“Oh really? That can’t be true...” said Hanako, her cheeks turning red as she continued to stare. She then looked at me. “This is so cool! Hey, what else are you working on down there?” She pointed to the stairs that led down into the lab.
I smiled. “You want to see?”
Heading down into the lab, Hanako ran over to the workbench and began inspecting the various robotics parts lying there. I had always admired her inquisitive side, even if it was a bit too forward sometimes. After she had finished looking at what was on the workbench, holding up various parts to look at them closer under the lamp there, Hanako went to sit in the computer chair where she spun around in the chair, a smile on her face.
“I didn’t think you’d be this excited,” I said.
“I think it’s so cool what you do, Takuma,” said Hanako. “I’m really glad that you’re my friend.” She paused for a moment, her smile fading a bit. “I’m really glad you came back.”
“I’m glad you’re my friend too,” I said, hesitating a bit. I never had these sorts of conversations with Hanako. I still felt like an older brother to her. “You’re one of the kindest people I know.”
Some of Hanako’s smile returned. “You know, after you vanished my parents began to act like you never existed. I hated it. I wondered for so long what happened to you, to your parents. It was just so shocking. And now that I know the truth, I can’t begin to wonder what it must have been like for you, what it’s been like for your parents.”
“Your parents did the right thing,” I said. “The Kazama’s would have stopped them had they begun asking questions.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“Speaking of your parents,” I said, “how are they?”
“They’re fine,” said Hanako. “They’re barely ever home anyways because they’ve still got their restaurant to manage, but yeah, they’re fine.”
“That’s good that they’re keeping busy,” I said.
Hanako turned to look at the computer screens. “Hey Takuma,” she said.
“Do you really think you can bring down the Kazamas?”
“With ASA and the others by my side, yes,” I said. “Why?”
“It’s nothing, really. Well, it’s just... it’s just that I don’t want you to die.”
“I’m not going to die,” I said. “Not at the Kazama’s hands anyway.”
“Do you promise?”
The keynote speech at the big rally was about to begin.
Everyone stood around the TV watching the same aerial shot of the square in front of the Kazama Corp. HQ where now thousands of people stood. Large screens hovered around so that even people at the back of the crowd could get a clear view of the podium that had been set up at the top of the steps that led into the towering HQ building.
A man with glasses and slicked-back, wavy salt-and-pepper hair now emerged from the HQ building, flanked by four OMNI military units. He wore a long, formal coat of smoky gray, buttoned, and matching pants.
“It’s my father,” said Chiyo.
Masashi Kazama waved to the crowd as he reached the podium causing an eruption of applause. Cameras flashed wildly.
“Citizens of Kamikoshi City,” he began, “thank you for coming here today to hear what I have to say. You may be aware that Kazama Corp. has been dealing with a growing disturbance lately, a disturbance I have tried to sort out as quietly as possible. Unfortunately, this situation can no longer be dealt with quietly.
“Allow me to explain. The disgruntled son of our distinguished robotics engineer Isamu Mori, Takuma Mori, seeks to take credit for our work on ASA, the line of android we unveiled four years ago. He is hell-bent on revenge, and he will stop at nothing to see Kazama Corp. destroyed and Kamikoshi as well if necessary.
“We know that Takuma is hiding somewhere in the Mid-City. In spite of this, I have decided that it is time to take drastic measures. Until Takuma Mori is found and arrested, I have coordinated with the city government to shut down all access to and from the Mid-City. All business will halt, all travel—everything—until Takuma Mori is found!”
The roar from the crowd sounded more like angry hornets than a celebratory applause. Judging by the smirk upon Masashi’s face as he turned to head back into the HQ building, this was exactly what he had expected— it was exactly what he had wanted.
I looked at Chiyo, her hand covering her mouth. “So,” I said, “is this what you expected?”
“He’s desperate,” she said, her hand falling to her side. “And that’s dangerous.”
“So, what?” said Yosuke. “He thinks that by closing down the Mid-City everyone will come looking for Takuma? You don’t really think ordinary people will do your father’s dirty work, do you?”
“He’s creating a distraction,” I said. “He knows where we are, trust me. Getting the people all riled up just makes it harder for us to get to the HQ.” I looked at Chiyo. “Can you call another air taxi?” I asked.
“Not with travel shut down,” said Chiyo.
I looked at the TV. The crowd of people had now turned into a frenzy with people that, I assumed, were rushing to get to the Mid-City before it closed. A small group of people were standing around the front steps to the HQ, their fists raised in protest, a line of OMNI military units standing resolute blocking them.
“What do you think about this, ASA?” asked Azami.
“I think that if the Kazamas know our location,” said ASA, “then we should surrender.”
“What?” I said, as the others gasped.
“You can’t be serious,” said Yosuke.
“I am,” said ASA. “If we surrender, we will be taken to the Kazama Corp. HQ. We will not have to fight our way in. Then, once we are inside, we can kill Masashi Kazama.”
“In theory that’s how it would work,” I said. “But things are never that cut and dry with the Kazamas.”
“I think ASA is on to something,” said Chiyo. “You would be taken to the HQ. And with our mutual friend still on the inside you could probably shift things to your advantage.”
“Hold up,” said Azami, her hand raised. “Are you suggesting that after everything that’s happened we just give up? I haven’t dealt with your family at all up until now, Chiyo, but my guess is Ryuji, Yosuke, and I are probably expendable.”
“Here’s what I think we should do,” I said to Azami. “You’re right about being expendable which means you’ll have to hide somewhere.” I looked at Hanako. “Do you think they could stay at your house for a bit?” I asked.
“Well,” said Hanako, knotting her fingers together, “I guess so. My parents get home around ten o’clock so there is time.”
“Okay,” I said. “That’s good. You guys can go over there. Now, if it is Ichirou who shows up I think we could set up an ambush. Once we have him thinking that we’ve surrendered, you guys can make your attack. I can play it up too. I can make it look like we’re alone, like you abandoned us after what happened at the rally.”
“I like it,” said Ryuji, rubbing his chin.
“I guess it’ll have to do,” said Azami.
“ASA?” I said, looking at the android.
“No matter what happens,” said ASA, “I am determined to see Masashi Kazama fall. I will do what I need to in order for this to happen.”
“Let’s do this then,” I said. “This is the final push. If we pull this off, we’ll have a transport to the HQ and Masashi will have no place to run. With ASA’s skills and my Combat Sense, and all of you at our side, we’ll fight through anything he throws at us.”
“You know,” said Chiyo, “as much as I hate hearing plans being made to kill my father, I know that he is deserving of punishment.” She went quiet for a moment before continuing. “I just... I just want you all to know that he wasn’t always like this. It’s like I said before, your father creating ASA changed him. It awoke something inside of him. So I guess what I’m really saying is that if you must kill him, do it quickly.”
“Takuma will make that call,” said Ryuji. “As for Ichirou, he’s mine.” Ryuji now stood from his seat on the couch. “You know, I’ve been thinking, Takuma,” he said, walking over to me. “I’ve been thinking that I want you to have these.” He placed his two pistols on the table next to me.
“What?” I said, looking from Ryuji to the guns and then to Ryuji again. “Why?”
“They’re powerful weapons, more suited for that crazy Combat Sense you’ve got,” said Ryuji. “Take ‘em. I’ve got my sword.”
I stared at the guns, knowing that if I touched them I would fall into that combat mindset, something I did not want to do right now. “Thanks,” I said. “I’m not sure how much I’ll have to use them, but when the time comes I’m sure they won’t fail me.”
“So that’s it?” said Yosuke.
“That’s it,” I said. “You guys can make your way over to Hanako’s house.” I turned to Hanako. “Can you show them the way?”
“Yeah,” said Hanako, and I noticed she looked sad.
“What is it?” I asked.
“You better come back, Taku,” she said.
“I will,” I said. “I promised, remember?”
A half-smile broke across Hanako’s mouth. She then looked at the rest of the gang. “Follow me!” she said, giving a salute.
ASA now approached me. “There is no way of knowing how long we will be waiting,” the android said. “I agree that they most likely know that we are here, but they might be toying with us, like some animals play with their food.”
“Yeah,” I said, scratching my head. “Do you have any solution for that?”
“I do,” said ASA. “I can mark our location with a beacon that will indicate our surrender. That should get things moving.”
“Alright, do that,” I said.
Chiyo now walked up to me. “You are ready for this, right?” she asked. “We both know that ASA X will show up again.”
“Yeah,” I said, picking up Ryuji’s pistols. “And we’ll destroy it.” I smiled as I felt that familiar cold-hearted determination fill my veins.I was invincible.