Chapter 9:

This isn’t training ( part 1: Shinagawa ward)

The Dusk of Revenge

   “… When I left the youth detention centre, I studied in the military development facility for four years. In that period, we used the inventions of Akira Takahashi as a reference to learn how to develop a new generation of intelligent mechanisms. All we had was just the reports of his research. In the development lab, he is considered a legend.”

Remembering those words made me think once again that there is a tremendous secret behind the sudden disappearance of my father 6 years ago… I started again to believe that the probability of him being alive at this very moment somewhere in the world is still existing.

The documents and reports Asahi talked about were the ones that went missing after the attack, along with my father. I am sure of that. After all, the development of Ai and the other model was a secret that no one knew about except for me and my father himself…

I used to help him at that time since I took an interest in the artificial intelligence field. The military lab couldn’t create something similar to Ai because of one crucial piece of information that they were lacking, which was the program that I created. The reports that the lab has now are lacking that very important information. When we created Ai, we agreed to write the report of the experience separately. Eventually, when the attack occurred, I didn’t write even a single letter in my report while he didn’t finish his.

I know that the leader of the Red Claws took the incomplete version of Ai with him. I saw him use it at that time. But I hadn’t the power to fight him. I was exhausted at that time and even if I was in my best condition; I doubt that I would’ve been able to land even a single hit.

Honestly, that was a terrifying experience. Being overwhelmed by someone’s presence was a feeling I only felt once, and it was at that time. I am now wondering if with the force that I gained in the past six years and the knowledge that I learned will I be able to withstand tomorrow’s attack…

We are currently moving towards the capital Tokyo to do the last preparations before the battle. In the car, the commander was driving. I was sitting next to him while the two girls and Asahi were sitting behind us. In the back seats, Akira, Rintaro, and Kazuto were sitting. Our direction was the Shinagawa ward. We are going to rest there for this night and tomorrow morning we are going to move to Setagaya, where we will spend two hours searching for any information that may lead us to the hideout of the terrorists.

This is maybe the first time in years for most of us to visit one of the areas covered with a crystal dome. The small military base in which we lived for the past years was one of the rare areas that had a perfect climate despite not being covered. That gave us the feeling of freedom that the citizens here are lacking. Everyone was looking through a window, trying to figure out the changes that occurred during the years we were absent. Once we entered Shinagawa, the commander decided to slow the car a little, allowing us to take our time watching the area.

Everyone was excited. Everyone except for me and the commander. They were totally forgetting that tomorrow we are going to put our lives on the line for the first time in years. “… You couldn’t bring yourself to stop thinking about tomorrow?” The commander asked while keeping his voice down to attract only my attention.

“… I would be lying if I said that I am feeling comfortable seeing them enjoying the scene, forgetting about tomorrow. At these moments, I want to fight alone as I did in the old days.”

“… You aren’t the only one that feels that way.” He replied as he looked through the mirror at the backseats. “Looks like Rin shares the same thoughts. Look in… the mirror and you will see that she is sitting in the middle between Asahi and Shuna and looking straight forward. No! I doubt that she is looking anywhere.”

“…In last year’s holidays, we went with you and your family to a nearby city. I guess that’s the reason behind her behaviour now.”

“… You think so?” He took a glance at me and then returned to focus on the road.

“… Do you have another explanation?”

“… Since the day she cut her hair, she has been acting a bit different. The tone of her voice has become a bit nicer. Especially when talking with you!” He smiled as he continued: “… Although you never talk too much with anyone in the squad, you talked with her more than anyone else in the last couple of days.”

“… I was trying to figure out the reason behind that change myself. After the first day of the special training, she decided to cut her hair short, and changed how she used to talk.”

“I noticed that,” he replied. “she used to act with a small feeling of superiority. I don’t mean she was arrogant. But she used to give the listener the feeling that she was confident and had total control of any situation... You didn’t say to her anything that might’ve caused her to act strange lately?

I looked at him with a puzzled face silently for a few seconds then asked: “… Anything like what?”

“… I don’t know, maybe she heard you say something on the first day of training and that caused the sudden change she went through.”

“… I don’t remember saying anything to her that may have had such a big impact. I don’t even remember talking to her that day.”

“… Then it has to be Asahi! If you ask me, it has to be either you or him.”

“… conclusion, I don’t think that Asahi has to do anything with her at that time. And what is the reason behind this conclusion, anyway?”

He made a sign with his right hand to remind me to keep my voice quiet: “… This is my opinion. After all, I am the only one who knows every small detail about everyone in this squad.”

“… I know that… I asked you many times to share the info you had with me since I am the leader of the squad and yet you rejected my request more than once. As for Asahi, I did a little research about him, as you might have known already, but I didn’t find anything that has to do with Rin. If you’re insisting on the idea of him being the reason, then that means that I didn’t find enough information.”

“… I was just thinking of a crazy situation, but it definitely can’t be… I can’t tell you all the details now since I can’t believe such a dump coincidence happened, but for the time being, let me tell you this. Six years ago, exactly when the accident happened, Rin happened to be in your city…”

“… You never know. Sometimes, the craziest ideas are the only solution to some questions in certain cases… More importantly, why didn't you tell me that when she joined our squad?”

“… I told you this information now just because you may need it shortly. Other than that, you know that I am only worried about her mental and physical condition before the mission tomorrow.”

“… We’re on the same page…” I sighed.

“… My priority is to assure the safety of all the squad members first and the safety of her second. That's why I don’t want her to perform badly tomorrow.”

The commander raised his voice as he announced to everyone that we arrived at the mansion where we were going to have some rest: “… We finally arrived at our destination. As you can see, the place needs a bit of cleaning. As for the dinner, Akira and Kazuto will prepare it. Asahi and the rest of you will clean the rooms. We meet at 7 p.m. Does anyone have a question?”

“… Are you going somewhere, commander Kazama?” Rintaro asked as he raised his hand. After looking at his hand watch, the commander turned his back and started walking away while saying: “… I’ll be there at 7 p.m. for dinner, no worries! I have some important errands to take care of now.”

Although the mansion was a property of the military, it looked like being abandoned for many years. The stairs and floors are covered in dust. It was a thick layer of dust, to be precise. Of course, cleaning all that took a great effort from everyone, especially Asahi, who wasn’t accustomed to tasks requiring physical strength. On the ground floor, there was the kitchen, a large television room with a large sofa, a space for guests, a dining room, and a bathroom. Moving to the next and only other floor, there were four rooms which we decided to split as the following: the commander will have his space, Rin and Shuna will share the same room, Akira and Asahi will have the third room, and the rest will share the largest room.

Luckily, we ended the cleaning duty before the time for dinner, so we were able to go take a shower after a long and tiring day. Asahi went to prepare the guests’ room with the necessary equipment to use tomorrow when supporting us from a distance. As for Akira and Kazuto, I bet they prepared a delicious meal for dinner. There was a nice smell coming from the kitchen half an hour before the time of the dinner. Maybe we were able to detect that smell while being covered in dust as we were about to finish cleaning because we were simply tired and hungry at that time…

Five minutes before dinnertime, the commander returned to the mansion while holding a box. He went to meet Asahi immediately, without saying anything. I figured that the equipment Asahi asked for had just arrived.

After dinner, we had the last meeting to do the last check before going to sleep. The mission tomorrow starts at 6 a.m. 4 hours before the predicted time of the strike. This meeting didn’t take much time since no one had any questions. I wanted to express my dissatisfaction with the idea of the commander leading us on the battlefield tomorrow while he’s over 60 years old, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk while everyone decided to just listen to him…

In these kinds of situations, Rin was usually the one to talk and object to any idea that she thinks was ridiculous…

After the meeting, as we were heading to our rooms, I asked her if there was something that wasn’t going on well, but she ignored my question with a smile!

[That means something was going on!]

I thought about repeating my question until she gives me a solid answer, but at the last moment, I decided to continue observing the situation, hoping that nothing bad happens tomorrow. If anything, I still have the option of throwing caution and military laws to wind and take the actions I see necessary.

It looked like everyone was concerned about Rin's situation, but no one dared to ask her… After going to the room, Rintaro and Kazuto said that Shuna asked them if they knew anything about what happened. They seemed to be concerned and worried about her performance tomorrow, too. We weren’t thinking that the change she went through was a bad one or something… We were all just surprised. There was no sign of her being depressed. There was no clear reason behind this change except for what the commander said…

I liked her new personality more than the previous one. She became all of a sudden cutter in personality and appearance. But even so, no one was able to stop worrying. I, on the other hand, before falling asleep, asked Ai to do deep research about Rin before and after the attack and Asahi's childhood. I knew the results won’t appear anytime soon, so I slept that night and tried to forget completely about the whole thing. After all, tomorrow won’t be a training session.

At 5 a.m. we started moving toward Setagaya to meet up with other members of the special forces to do the first mission, which was to look for any explosions that were maybe planted anywhere near the dome. Each squad, preceded by their leader, will scout a different area to make things easier and finish the mission quicker. For us, the commander was the one leading us and walking in the front line while Asahi was assisting us from behind as well as Ai, who notifies me from time to time when she detects the presence of an unidentified object. Every time I go to verify the spot mentioned by Ai, I hear Asahi complaining about being defeated by an intelligent system.

I left my badge with him in the guest’s room since Ai can communicate with me from far away distances with no problem.