With Ryuji and the rest of the gang having stolen a police transport, we managed to slip by the barricade and enter the Upper-City.
As the transport ascended to the top of the junction, it emerged to give us a wide view of Neo-Tokyo. Under the cloudless, pale sky, the towering skyscrapers gleamed in the red afternoon sun. And there, rising taller than any other building, stood the Kazama Corporation headquarters, a dark structure with the name KAZAMA written in large illuminated letters down the side.
“We’re almost there,” I said, then looking at ASA. “Are you sure you feel good?” I asked, looking at the android’s injuries.
“I am ready,” said ASA assuredly. “I do have one question, though.”
“What is it?”
“My system is registering a gap in my memory,” said ASA. “I do not remember anything following the fight with ASA X. Do you know anything about this?”
“Ichirou ordered your memory wiped,” I said, looking out the window at the bright city passing by. “If it hadn’t been for that back-up I saved, and Ryuji and the others hadn’t gotten here in time, things would be a lot different right now.”
“I am sorry that I failed to defeat ASA X,” said ASA. “Perhaps I underestimated ASA X. That will not happen again.”
“There’s no use in looking back,” I said.
“I have to,” said ASA. “I must learn. I must become more resilient. I must improve, become something more, something greater.”
“You are great,” I said. “Now enough with this talk about not being resilient. I’ll rebuild you a hundred times if I have to.”
“We’re getting close,” said Chiyo. “Five minutes.”
“So,” said Ryuji, “are we fighting our way in or what?”
“I would not advise that,” said Chiyo. “That being said, I’m willing to bet that my father will only allow Takuma, ASA, and I to enter the HQ. The rest of you will have to stay here, and we won’t be able to bring weapons.”
“Yeah, that’s not happening,” said Ryuji, shaking his head. “Takuma?” He looked at me.
“ASA,” I said, turning to the android, “is your location beacon set?”
“It is,” said ASA.
I looked at Ryuji. “I think Chiyo is right,” I said. “It is what it is. But you can call ASA’s registered number and enter the password ASAMoriOne to locate ASA. That will tell you where we are inside. If things start going south, feel free to fight your way in.”
“With pleasure,” said Ryuji.
“Do you really expect a fight though?” said Azami.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I just want to see my family again. According to Ichirou, my mother escaped somehow, but my father is still in there. I don’t know if what I’ve done will have put him in harms way, but I just couldn’t sit idle when I knew the truth about ASA, about everything they lied about.”
I now gazed out the window. We were flying at a steady pace through the commercial district now where there were many bright and flashing screens promoting all manner of products and services. Soon, the lights lessened and we entered into a district that was devoid of the previous district’s character. This district was austere and all meaning of the word corporate. The central business district, no doubt.
“We’re here,” said Chiyo. “What is that? No, it can’t be...”
I stood and moved to the front of the transport to get a look at what Chiyo was looking at. As we came up on the front of the Kazama Corp. HQ, I could see that standing in neat, organized rows were hundreds of OMNI military units.
“This is exactly what I expected,” said Chiyo, her hand on her head.
“I’ve never seen so many OMNI units,” I said as I continued to gawk.
The transport now landed. As the doors opened, I said farewell to Ryuji, Azami, and Yosuke. “I don’t know what’s about to happen,” I said, “but if you feel you have to, do what you need to in order to get to us.”
“Be safe, Takuma,” said Ryuji, giving me a stiff pat on the arm.
ASA, Chiyo, and I now left the transport, headed for the front steps that led to the entrance into the Kazama Corp. HQ. As we walked, the rows of OMNI military units standing at attention on either side, I saw three people flanked by two ASA X’s exit the building. As we walked closer, I recognized the man as Masashi Kazama and the woman as his daughter, Rin. Standing next to Rin, however, was someone that I was shocked to see.
It was Ayaka.
As the three of us came to a halt at the bottom of the steps, I stared up at Ayaka. “Ayaka?” I said, stunned. She looked at me. Her face was sad, her frown and dark eyes told all.
“Hi, Takuma,” she said. “I know how this must look...”
“That’s her,” said Chiyo, in a low voice. “That’s who sent me to you, who wrote that letter. Did you call her Ayaka? I know her as Atsuko.”
“No,” I said. “That’s Ayaka Matsuda. We’ve been friends since we were young. But I thought she wasn’t in Kamikoshi anymore.” I looked at Ayaka again. “What’s happening? Why are you here?”
“Ayaka here thought that she could continue to fool us,” said Rin, “but she was wrong. After Chiyo defected to your side, I began to investigate. The truth came out soon after that.”
“Wait,” I said. “Ayaka, you work here? You work for the Kazama Corporation?”
“For nearly three years, yes,” said Masashi. “She was the secretary to my wife, Keiko. You are lucky to have had a friend that cared for you more than anything to do something so bold on your behalf.”
I was at a loss for words. Had Ayaka really pursued a job at the Kazama Corporation after my family had been framed and split apart in order to infiltrate and keep an eye on my parents, only to then help me along the way after I had escaped the Pits?
“Enough about the girl,” said Masashi. “It is good to finally meet you, Takuma Mori. I have been tracking your progress. You are truly your father’s son.” He paused for a moment before saying, “Where is Ichirou? I sent him to collect you, did I not?”
“He’s dead,” I said. “So is the ASA X that was helping him.”
“A shame,” said Masashi, adjusting his glasses. “Ichirou was always foolish. As for that ASA X, that one was special to me. I hate to hear that such an expensive and advanced machine was lost.”
“It was no match for ASA and I,” I said.
Masashi shot a mocking smile. “You have no idea what you are talking about, boy,” he said. “What you are about to see will turn your whole little world upside down. Now, please, come inside.”
We now walked up the steps and into the building. Inside, the entrance was highly modern, utilizing mostly glass and brushed metal designs. We boarded an elevator that took us down six floors.
When the elevator doors opened, we stepped out into a cavernous room. I would have expected the air here to be cool, but it was warm and stuffy, tinged with that chemical smell of new electronics. Rising high on either side were rows of rackmount servers stacked on top of one another, catwalks running the length of each with adjoining stairs. Giant fans dotted the shadowed ceiling, cycling the heat the servers produced.
While this space was impressive, it was what sat at the center of the room that puzzled me. There, what appeared to be some computer system in the shape of a great hexagonal prism towered above the room, alive with many small and flashing lights and humming with energy. Thick bundles of what looked to be power cables extended from the base of the mysterious structure, vanishing into the floor.
Masashi stopped and turned to face us, Rin and Ayaka at his side. The two ASA X’s stood nearby, watching our every move. “Well?” said Masashi, holding up his hands. “What do you think? You’ve been given a great privilege to stand here, to witness the brain of this corporation, my life’s work.”
“Neat,” I said. “Where’s my father?”
Masashi smirked. “He is nearby,” he said. “First, I would like to show you why I really brought you here. We just have to walk a bit further.”
What Masashi was talking about turned out to be a large cylindrical tank full of some clear liquid. The strange thing was that suspended inside the tank was a person, or at least it looked like a person. They were nude, but showed no sign of biological sex. Thin tubes ran from the person’s neck and torso.
Masashi stood in front of the tank and turned to us. “Well,” he said, “here it is. This is what I have been working on.”
I stared at the tank. “What exactly am I looking at?” I asked.
Masashi smiled. “This,” he said, pointing, “is ASA Prime.”
It couldn’t be, I thought to myself. This was too human.
Masashi must have seen the look of astonishment on my face because he laughed. “Not what you expected?” he said. “Please, if you have questions, ask. Or ask your father.”
I heard someone approach me from behind. I turned around.
It was my father.
“It’s been a long time, son,” my father said. He had grown a misshapen beard since I had last seen him, his hair more gray, and he wore a lab coat like always. His face looked tired, his eyes sunken.
There was so much that I wanted to say but I couldn’t get any of the words out.
My father pointed at ASA. “Is that ASA 1.0?” he asked, looking genuinely curious.
“Yes,” I said. “I added some upgrades. I guess that makes it ASA 1.1.”
“You did this, Takuma?” My father now stepped closer to ASA to get a better look. “It looks like it's been through a lot.”
“It has,” I said. “We have. ASA helped me escape the Pits. I came here to save you, you and mother.”
“How brave of you,” said my father. “But your mother is no longer here. I don’t know where she is. But enough about that, let’s talk about ASA Prime. It truly is my greatest accomplishment.” He looked at ASA Prime inside the tank with an enamored gaze.
“Yes, Isamu was instrumental in creating ASA Prime,” said Masashi. “But I am its designer. It is my creation.”
“What exactly is your end goal?” I asked Masashi. “What does ASA Prime do that the original ASA doesn’t?”
Masashi laughed again, light glinting off his glasses. “ASA Prime is the next revolution in robotics,” said Masashi. “Firstly, it is biomechanical. It is everything that we are not. And it holds the key to the future of this city, of the world.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“Of course you don’t,” said Masashi. “How could you? You are stuck in the past with that... antique.” He pointed at ASA. “ASA Prime will make us immortal.”
“I think you fail to understand the real reason why my father created ASA,” I said. “ASA was meant to be a companion, a unifier. It was not meant to replace us. How could you ever hope to achieve something like that anyways?”
“That,” said Masashi, pointing at the humming prism behind me. “That is what will make my vision possible. You see, Takuma, that is a data center, a data center that can store a human being’s consciousness. Once done, that consciousness can be streamed into ASA Prime. Very soon, I will become ASA Prime, and then I will begin my quest to transition every person in this city, and one day what remains of humanity, into their own biomechanical suit. We will be a race of immortal biomechanical machines, and it shall be a grand utopia.”
“That’s insane,” I said. “You’re silly if you think you could actually do that. No person in this city would give up their humanity to stand by you and your sick vision.”
“Oh, but they will,” said Masashi, his finger raised. “You forget, Takuma. I own this city. I have spent a decade spreading my technology through the city with the OMNI unit. When I leave my mortal body and enter ASA Prime, I will have control over every OMNI unit with a single thought. The people of this city will submit to me or I will force them to.”
“Even if you could do that,” I said, “I find it hard to think that people will just blindly follow you afterwards. They will still have free will even if their bodies are changed.”
“In a way,” said Masashi. “But as ruler, as the person who knows what is best for this city, I will be instituting a series of programs that will prevent certain, shall we say, rash decisions.”
I couldn’t believe the madness that Masashi was spewing. Chiyo had been right. What Masashi was planning was more horrible than I could have ever imagined. “So that horde of OMNI units outside,” I said, “they’re waiting for your command to start rounding people up?”
“That’s right,” said Masashi. “If you are eager to begin, we can start. Unless you have other questions that is, questions about your fate.”
I looked at my father. His expression was blank. I knew now that I had to somehow destroy ASA Prime if I was to prevent any of this from happening. I looked at ASA. The android was standing quite still, staring at ASA Prime. “Alright,” I said. “Let’s do this. But I’m not going to make this easy for you.”
Masashi smiled. “You think you can still oppose me? Here? You are a fool, Takuma Mori!”
“Son!” my father said suddenly. It was almost an outburst. He had his hand raised as if he were motioning for me to stop.
“What?” I said. I could see that my father looked as if was conflicted about something. His eyes were wide, his face glistening with sweat.
“I want you to know,” my father said, “that I am so proud of everything you have achieved. Against all odds, you made it here with your mother and I on your mind. I am sorry that I have to disappoint you. You cannot save me.”
“What do you mean I can’t save you?” I asked, shaking my head. “Don’t say that.”
“No,” said my father. “You don’t understand. I have made my decision. I have no choice, Takuma. Forgive me.”
My father now pulled out a small device from his lab coat pocket. He raised it up, his eyes shut, and pressed the button on the device.
“What are you doing?!” exclaimed Masashi. “Isamu! What are you doing?!”
My father suddenly seized up, his teeth clenched, eyes shut tight. He then let out a shout only to then collapse to the floor, unmoving.
“Father!” I cried. I went to run to him but the ASA X’s stepped in front of me. “Father!” I cried again. “What’s happened to him? What’s going on?”
The tank that held ASA Prime now began to bubble, the fluid inside then beginning to drain.
“No,” said Masashi, his hands on his head in disbelief. “No! Damn you, Isamu! What have you done?”
ASA Prime’s eyes opened. The tubes that fed into its body fell away. It then smashed through the glass of the tank and stepped out slowly.
“Kill him!” shouted Masashi. At his command, the two ASA X’s launched themselves at ASA Prime.
ASA Prime stopped cold and punched each ASA X so hard that each of them flew across the room where they smashed into the wall with an echoing rumble.
ASA Prime now turned to look at Masashi, its mechanical eyes wild. As it made for Masashi, Masashi backed away nervously, saying, “No! You can’t do this to me! We agreed! We were partners! I gave you a voice and this is how you repay me? No! No!”
Masashi could not escape. Grabbing him by the throat, ASA Prime lifted Masashi up, its immense strength choking the life from him. After several seconds, Masashi dropped to the floor, dead.
I was frozen with shock. Rin screamed. ASA stood at my side in its defensive stance, ready to fight if need be. Chiyo and Ayaka were silent.
ASA Prime advanced towards me. It stopped feet away, and I looked at it square in the eyes.
“Father?” I said uncertainly.“Yes, Takuma,” said ASA Prime. “I have done it. I have fulfilled my dream at last.”