The square outside the Kazama Corporation HQ resembled a battlefield, littered with the deactivated bodies of the hundreds of OMNI military units Masashi Kazama had planned to use to carry out his diabolical plan.
A squad of police cruisers quickly surrounded us as we stood on the steps outside the HQ building. As there were no longer any OMNI police units, those officers that showed up were all human officers. We surrendered calmly, knowing that we would have words later. The police also called in a medical team to assist Rin who was still unconscious, and also arrested her mother Keiko who had barricaded herself in the penthouse suite.
At the police station, I was questioned by the police chief himself, Shigeru Ishii. Shigeru was a middle-aged man, clean-shaven, with short black hair that he kept tidy.
“So,” Shigeru was saying, looking over the contents of the file he had in front of him, “you’re the one who’s responsible for the incident in the Pits. Takuma Mori, age twenty-seven.”
“What happened there I didn’t plan for,” I explained. “I never instructed ASA to hack into the Kazama servers and download that military programming.”
“Is that what happened?” Shigeru said, rubbing his chin. “ASA, huh?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Interesting.” The police chief now looked over the file again. “You are the son of Isamu and Shizue Mori? Graduated from Kamikoshi-Tokyo University with a degree in robotics engineering. Not much work history to talk about. Pretty average.” He then looked up at me, his dark eyes curious. “I’m wondering,” he said, “how does someone like you end up in the position you are now?”
“I honestly don’t know,” I said. “I just did what I thought was right.” It was the truth. Ever since I had made it out of the Pits, I had been driven by nothing but my aching desire to have things put back the way they used to be. There was also anger, an emotion I had rarely dealt with before the Kazamas had invaded my life.
The police chief continued to rub his chin in thought, examining me, as if he were trying to physically see through me. “I won’t be the first to say that what you did was foolish,” he said, now ordering the papers neatly and closing the file. “But you seem like a pretty smart guy. I’m sure you calculated the risks. You’ve got balls, kid.” He laughed. “Masashi Kazama has been the top dog in this city for near a decade now. But somehow, you managed to stop him.”
I looked at the police chief curiously. “What are you saying?” I asked.
“It’s no secret, Takuma,” said Shigeru, “that the Kazama Corporation’s influence had leaked into every corner of this city. A few years back, when I was deputy chief, I was asked to lead an investigation into their business practices. We had one lead, but the trail went cold. That’s around the time that the government issued a special branch of the police force, one meant to protect Kazama Corp.”
“If it’s no secret,” I said, “then why am I here?”
Shigeru shrugged. “Protocol,” he said. “That branch of the police force I mentioned will be disbanded. I’m sure that as soon as all of the OMNI units went offline, Masashi Kazama’s allies knew that they were in trouble. In fact, now that we have full access to the Kazama Corporation’s internal data, we can expose them for who they really were.”
I had underestimated the police chief. I had imagined that I would have to fight through the ensuing bureaucracy, that I would have to speak until I was breathless about what had happened and back it up with proof. “What’s going to happen to me?” I now asked, thinking that there had to be something I would have to answer for. “What’s going to happen to my friends? Chiyo Kazama helped us bring her father down. She should be treated the same as us.”
“Relax, Takuma,” the police chief said, holding his hands up. “Everything is going to be taken care of. I guess what I should really say is thank you.” He now stood, his head bowed.
“You don’t have to thank me,” I said, shaking my head. “I just... I just want to live normally again.” I stopped to reflect on my words. What was I saying? Of course I could never live normally again. I had changed too much. Everything had changed. All I could do was take it all in stride.
“Take some time to rest, Takuma,” said Shigeru. “You have many more interviews to give before all of this wraps up for good. Your actions have changed the city, and not just Neo-Tokyo. The fall of Kazama means that our robot workforce has been taken out. There’s a lot of damage control to be done.”
“I understand,” I said. “So, can I leave now?”
“Well, hold on one second,” said Shigeru, holding up a finger. “I think you probably want to see your mother first.”
I sat upright. “My mother?” I said. “She’s here?”
“She is,” said Shigeru, grinning. “I’ll take you to her.”
Seeing my mother for the first time in four years was one of the most emotional moments of my life. What made it emotional more than anything was that the man who we had both admired so much was gone. Still, my mother was a strong woman. She mourned for her husband in her own way. As we embraced, she whispered in my ear, “He was so proud of you.”
Ryuji, Azami, Yosuke, and Ayaka were there as well. After we talked briefly, we decided to go back to my mother’s apartment. Neo-Tokyo was still abuzz with news teams covering the breaking story. The police deemed the streets unsafe as some civilians turned unruly in the wake of the loss of the entire OMNI unit workforce. A curfew was therefore instated.
At the apartment, my mother told me that my father had arranged for her to escape and made up the story that she had escaped without his help. She also told me that my father had built a secret device that he installed into ASA Prime to allow for him to steal ASA Prime from Masashi when the time came.
I got the chance to talk with Ayaka as well.
“I can’t imagine what you went through in the Pits,” Ayaka said. We sat together on the couch in the modest apartment, while Ryuji and the others ate and drank in the next room. I should have known that breaking out the sake was a bad idea, as the trio had gotten rowdier, but I took comfort knowing that they would probably all be asleep soon.
“It was awful,” I said, recoiling at the memory of the intense daily heat and the endless dust and the reeking smell of everything. “But I had a few friends.” I suddenly remembered Hanzou, and how I had promised that I would come back to get him should I succeed. “That reminds me,” I said. “I promised a close friend there that I’d bring him up to the city. He was born in the Pits. He’s never been here.”
Ayaka smiled, her face bright. “I’m happy you got to connect with someone down there,” she said. “I’m sure it made a difference.”
“It did,” I said, remembering all that Hanzou and I had done together, how we had worked as a team to resurrect ASA. “What about you?” I asked. “You spent three years working for the Kazamas? What was that like?”
“It wasn’t too bad at first,” said Ayaka. “Of course, at that time they didn’t suspect anything. It was once I was promoted to secretary to Keiko Kazama that I got access to many internal reports and memos regarding your father and what they were working on. And then I met Chiyo. There was something about her, maybe it was the way her family treated her, that stuck out to me. I could tell that she was different. We eventually talked and discovered that we had things in common. We agreed to help each other.
“Then the news broke that you had escaped the Pits. I was afraid, afraid that they would kill you. Frankly, I didn’t think you had a chance. What I didn’t know was that you had ASA and your other friends helping you. Things changed when you made it to the Mid-City. It was clear that if you had come this far, then surely with some more help you could go further. So I wrote that letter and Chiyo offered to hand-deliver it. I told her it was too risky, but she wanted to prove to you that there was a Kazama that was good.
“It was after that when Ichirou and Rin started to suspect something. Ichirou tracked Chiyo to where you were hiding, and Rin went looking for me. I had no place to run. And then you showed up days later.”
“I’m indebted to you, Ayaka,” I said. “Thank you for everything.”
Ayaka blushed. “No,” she said. “I did what you would have done, the right thing. I was just so angry after what the Kazamas did to you and your parents. I couldn’t stand for it. You’re my greatest friend, Takuma. You’ve... you’ve always been my greatest friend.” Her cheeks had gone a bright, rosy red.
The memory I had of us sitting on the bench outside our high school gates suddenly came fluttering back to the front of my mind. Back then, Ayaka had wanted me to leave the city with her until I had talked her out of it. And then, years later, she chose to infiltrate the Kazama Corporation in an act of pure retribution for what the Kazamas had done to us.
How could I have been so clueless? Talk about being dense...
It was clear to me now that Ayaka thought of me as something more than a friend. But did I feel the same towards her? I had to know, and the only way I could think to find out was to spend more time with her, to remember more about what time we had spent together as friends all those years ago.
Before I knew it, two weeks had come and gone. In that time, the Kazama Corporation was dissolved. Keiko and Rin were to be put on trial to answer their involvements in the deep corruption their family’s company had engaged in. The government also requested a loan from the Chinese city, which reciprocated. A basic version of the OMNI unit was brought back online to serve those industries that needed them the most.
My mother, Chiyo and I appeared at a government hearing where we faced the legislature of Kamikoshi City. We recounted our stories and faced a series of questions which led to our official exoneration. I also learned that the government would award me the opportunity to establish the Mori Robotics Corporation to design a new age of robots to serve the city.
I did, however, agree to mass produce a version of ASA in lieu of my father’s original vision. It was what he would have wanted.
After all of the political hassle had been resolved, Ryuji asked me to meet him at Sensei Kimura’s dojo. And so, my mother, Chiyo and I went there where we found that Ryuji, Azami and Yosuke had taken to repairing the damage that was done to the dojo in preparation to live there. Yumi was there too, and I was happy to see that Yosuke had taken her out of the orphanage as we had planned. To me, she seemed happy.
“You should live here with us,” Ryuji told me as we stood together in the courtyard. The others were off somewhere else. “All of you. There’s more than enough room. This place is huge. We can’t just let it sit and rot. Come on, what do you say?”
“Yeah, why not,” I said, upbeat. “And I should say, there’s a friend of mine from the Pits who will be coming to visit. I don’t know if he’ll stay, but I’m sure he’ll be around for a while.”
“Who is it?”
“His name is Hanzou Ishida. I already arranged to have him flown up here. I promised him I’d show him the city.”
“That’s cool, man,” said Ryuji. “Any friend of yours is a friend of mine.” As I turned to leave, Ryuji stopped me. "Oh! And before I forget, that Hanako girl stopped by looking for you. You should probably give her a call."
"She did?" I said, wondering how Hanako could have known where to find the dojo. Ryuji must have told her. "I'll call her then," I said.
My father’s body was cremated and the ashes were buried in the courtyard next to Kaito and Sensei Kimura. The camellia tree was in full bloom, its large salmon-pink petals staggering. I made a point to sit here in contemplation for a little bit each day. Here before me sat the most plain representation of life and death—balance of the purest kind.
As the weeks went by, I set up a robotics workshop. After the battle at the dojo, I had done superficial touch-ups to ASA’s damaged body, and now I took the time to fully repair the remaining damage. I also worked up a blueprint for my design and sent it to the former production factory of the Kazama Corp. to start to make more ASAs.
In two months, three-hundred ASAs had been built, stamped with the logo and title of Mori Robotics. I reintroduced ASA to the city some time after, and was met with an outpouring of support.
One evening, ASA joined me in the courtyard as I attempted to meditate.
“How are you feeling, Takuma?” ASA asked. “You have been quiet recently.”
“I feel good,” I said. “There’s still a lot of latent anger, though. This Combat Sense is here to stay.”
“Do you see it as a curse?” asked ASA.
“It’s a curse and a blessing,” I said.
I wasn’t looking, but I could feel ASA’s eyes stare at me. “A blessing? How so?”
“I’ve gotten so used to it,” I said. “It’s a part of me. So I’ve decided to train it, to develop it further. I’ll need it, after all.”
There was silence for a moment before ASA spoke again. “As our minds are still connected,” the android said, “I detect that there is something else you have not told me. What is it?”
I sighed. “I was told in private that the biggest organization that backed Masashi Kazama has vanished without a trace. They lost millions when the Kazama Corporation went under. The intel is that they want me dead.”
“I see,” said ASA. “Do you know anything about this group?”
“No,” I said. “But I had a feeling something like this might happen. ASA, if something were to happen to my mother, or Ayaka, or any of us, I don’t know what I would do. And that scares me.”
“I will not let them harm you, Takuma,” ASA said. “I will not let them harm any of you. I will die before that happens.”
“I wish I could be more like you,” I said, looking up at the hologram sky. It was a brilliant periwinkle blue. “You have the advantage of not being human, not feeling these feelings how I experience them.”
“We are similar, though,” said ASA. “We are bound together after all. Together, we can make Kamikoshi City better. Like your father envisioned.” ASA looked up at the sky too. “Speaking of that,” ASA continued, “what do you plan on doing next?”
I looked at ASA, a smile now spreading across my lips. “It’s time I break out of my shell a bit. This city is huge, there’s so much to explore. Besides, living with Ryuji means we are pretty much honorary members of the Bleeding Hearts. I’m sure there will be times when we have to bail him out of trouble.
“I also want to make something, something that no one has ever seen before. I’ve got a few ideas, but nothing planned yet. I’m an engineer after all. I can’t stop creating. My mind is just constantly thinking about new projects to undertake.” I looked at ASA who looked back at me. “So, that’s what I was thinking,” I said. “What do you say? Care to join me on another journey?”ASA’s eyes shone brightly. I could see possibility there. “I would like that, Takuma,” the android said. “I would like that.”