Out of habit, Logan looked around at his surroundings before entering. He was in Hikaru’s private apartment at CI headquarters. Daniel Carrington had called a top secret conference here because it was really the last place a potential spy would expect to find one. There was a young Indian girl sitting on the couch—she was probably the one named Jasleen that he had heard so much about. Sitting on a wooden chair was Carrington himself. Logan recognized CI’s own Dr. O’Connor sitting on another wooden chair. As a medical doctor, she would be the best person to identify differences between these new robots and humans. Finally, Logan’s gaze turned to Hikaru. She was sunk into an armchair, and for some obscure reason, she was cuddling Snuffels in her arms. The way she held him, Snuffels appeared to be peeking over her arms at all the people around. Having ascertained that there was nothing dangerous in the room, Logan sat down.
“Let’s get started,” Carrington said. “We know that United Motors has been manufacturing robots that are designed to be indistinguishable from humans. We are not exactly certain of their purpose, but perhaps Logan can shed some light on that. Let’s start with you, Dr. O’Connor. How exactly does one tell a robot from a human?”
Dr. O’Connor cleared her throat. “I’m not so sure that we should call them robots, sir,” she began in her deep voice. “That robber you brought in for me to examine was about as close as one could get to being a human without actually being human. I’ve done a study on the compounds that make up his body, and they are based on carbon just like any human. In addition, the chemical makeup of his muscles, nerves, organs and body fluids were 99% identical to that of a human. He could eat, breathe, sleep and go to the bathroom. He could even grow. His body is made up of cells that have their own artificial DNA. I could tell that the DNA was artificial, but only because I was looking for it. Any normal test would not have noticed. If I were inhabiting that body, I probably wouldn’t know that I was anything other than human.” She paused a moment to let that sink in. “There were only two major differences that I could detect. One was the bone structure. His bones were made out of something very much like human bones but not quite. They were made out of a complex compound that would be almost impossible for nature to produce on its own. However, the standard tests used all over the world do not analyze the makeup of bones. The bones of this robot were obviously designed to be extremely strong, and under an X-ray, they would have appeared completely normal.”
“It makes a certain amount of sense,” Logan said. “What I gathered about the manufacturing process indicated that most of the materials were created by growing. Muscles, nerves and skin were grown in a special liquid containing all the nutrients they would need. Somehow, all of this was fashioned together to form something exactly identical to human flesh. My guess is that bones grew too slowly and had to be manufactured instead. United Motors probably decided to use some especially strong stuff for their combat models. After that, they inserted the organs and wrapped the flesh around the skeleton.”
“It’s a technical marvel,” Dr. O’Connor said. “I would never have believed that it was possible. Hundreds of factors have to be taken into account, and everything must be within millimeters of the right place. Otherwise, the body wouldn’t even live.”
“My investigations indicated that there were quite a number of failures,” Logan said.
“You mentioned two major differences between an organic human and a robot,” Carrington said. “Bones was one of them. And the other?”
“The brain,” said Dr. O’Connor. “In fact, the brain is radically different from a human one. Perhaps this is because United Motors did not understand the exact nature of the brain. At any rate, the robot I analyzed was equipped with a brain made out of a combination of computer circuitry and organic nerves. Somebody performing brain surgery on him would have noticed immediately. Evidently, our wily car manufacturer decided that standard techniques would not detect that brain. They were right. X-rays do not penetrate the skull, and any radiation capable of passing through the skull would fry the brain inside. The only tests that can detect the difference would be a CAT scan or MRI, but that procedure is only used on patients who have something wrong with their brains. Electronics don’t develop schizophrenia or grow cancer tumors, so those brains are reasonably safe from detection.”
Hikaru spoke now. “You say that aside from the skeleton and the brain, the robot was identical to a human?” Dr. O’Connor nodded. “He was made up of cells which multiplied, interacted with each other and consumed the exact same nutrients as a human?” Dr. O’Connor nodded again. Hikaru was clearly struggling with something. “Then he was alive?”
“By most definitions, he was,” Dr. O’Connor said quietly. “He could probably reproduce with another woman as well. As I said before, I wouldn’t really call him a robot. He was created by people, but he was living.”
Carrington spoke the words that were on everyone’s mind at that point. “So Joanna was a living being after all.” There was a short silence. “If we are to consider these…artificial organisms as human, we should treat them as such. That means we don’t kill them unless they threaten someone. You said that they broadcast the information they received back to United Motors?” The last question was directed at Logan.
Logan nodded. “I suspect that the circuitry of their brains contained a weak transmitter that broadcasts sight, sound and perhaps other senses back to their base. If you want to neutralize them, the best way would be to simply make sure they don’t send anything back to United Motors.”
“That’s where you come in, Jasleen,” Carrington said. “You’re the technical genius at CI here. I want you to get to work on that brain to see if you can neutralize the transmitter in some way without deactivating the brain itself. We’ll put you at the head of a team.”
Jasleen was not used to having the full attention of CI’s director, so she only nodded her head at first. Then, apparently summoning the strength, she spoke. “It would be very handy if I could have the design specs for that brain. That way, I’d know exactly where to look.”
Carrington turned to Logan. Logan shook his head very slightly. “I wasn’t able to get my hands on any design specifications whatsoever. They were too well-guarded. I was posing as a janitor, so there was no way that I had the authority to access the room containing those papers. They’ll have to be taken by force.”
“That’s my specialty,” Hikaru said. “With all due respect, Dad, I think I’m up to the job.”
“I was thinking the same thing myself,” Carrington said. “We’ll have to take some time to gather all the necessary equipment, but I want it done as soon as possible. Do you think you will be ready for a mission tomorrow night?”
Hikaru nodded and got up. “I’ll be ready,” she said quietly. Immediately, Logan had an idea of how she had earned her A++ rating. Behind the excitable girl who clutched a teddy bear in her sleep was a woman who knew exactly what she was doing at every moment. Already, he could see that she was planning which weapons to take and preparing a solution for every obstacle she was likely to face. Those were the marks of an elite secret agent. “I’ll go practice at the range. I need to sharpen up a little.”
Carrington smiled slightly. “You can already hit 493 out of 500 shots on a target 20 meters away. What do you need sharpening up for?”
Hikaru grinned. “That means it’s time for me to practice on a target 30 meters away.” She set Snuffels down on the seat she had recently vacated and started for the door. Carrington also got up.
“I think I’ll come along and watch,” he said. “I think we’re done with this meeting. Go back to your regular duties. As always, none of what we talked about leaves this room.” Nobody even nodded. They merely got up and filed out of Hikaru’s room.
It had just been a routine visit, at the time. CI had been trying to find out where a particular boy had disappeared to, and for lack of anything better to do at the time, Carrington had elected to personally look at the records of a particular orphanage. His search would prove to yield more than he had bargained for.
The office of the headmistress had a window into the play area so that she could keep on eye on the children while attending to other business. There were other caretakers, of course, but this was a very hands-on headmistress. Carrington looked through that window now as the headmistress searched her files for the name he was looking for. Suddenly, he lost interest in his original task.
“I’m sorry,” the headmistress said. “That boy wasn’t adopted here.”
“That’s all right,” Carrington said expansively. “It was a rather slim chance anyway. Who’s that girl sitting with a bear in the corner?”
“Hmm? Oh her. We don’t know who she is, unfortunately. There aren’t any missing children reports matching her description, and she won’t talk to anyone. Our psychiatrist thinks she probably lost her parents in some traumatic incident, but we haven’t been able to find out what that incident might be.” The headmistress shook her head. “A very sad case. She eats and does very well in school although we may have put her in the wrong grade since we don’t know how old she is. Most of the time, she just seems like a ghost. She won’t relate to anyone. I’m afraid that she may just end up in confinement, and none of it is her fault.”
Carrington was not a man to shrink from a challenge, and besides, he had been thinking more about his own childless state these days. He had a permanent enough legacy as the founder and namesake of the Carrington Institute, but he had yet to leave his own imprint on a human. This girl seemed to be at that stage when she had finished most of her physical growing up but was still not quite a full blown woman. She might just be the very one for him if he could reach her.
As the dubious headmistress opened the door to the recreation room, all the children inside immediately looked up hopefully. They would all have to be disappointed, Carrington thought with at inward sigh. He couldn’t save them all. He did his best to ignore their pleading stares and concentrate only on the silent girl in the corner who as of yet hadn’t even acknowledged his presence.
As he drew near, he saw what he hadn’t been able to see from the headmistress’s office: the girl had been reading. Carrington recognized the stylized kanji characters in her book, and an idea began to form in his head. She finally looked up when he pulled up a chair and sat down before her.
“Konichi-wa, shoujo,” Carrington began. She blinked and seemed to scrutinize him more closely. He smiled and continued on in Japanese. “Ah, surprised that a gaijin like me could speak your language. Not everyone is what you think they are at first. What’s that you’re reading?”
She didn’t take her eyes off his as she raised the cover of her book for him to see. “The Art of War by Sun Tzu,” he read out loud. “A good book although I hope that was translated well from the original Chinese. Do you want to be a general when you grow up?” She shrugged, but he detected the thoughts hidden behind her face. “A general is a very lonely person,” he said quietly. “Believe me, I know. The general has no family and few friends. A general exists only for the purpose of making war. Is that what you want?” Her expression told him the answer in clear enough terms. “I think you and I have something to offer each other. I can see strength in your soul. So soon after this tragedy, you are standing tall and proud again. I need strength like that. And in return…perhaps I can offer you a different life. Something other than the general. If you’ll let me.”
She put her book down and thrust her bear towards him. Carrington chuckled. “Why hello there. And who might you be?”
The girl was very skilled at manipulating her bear. It even seemed to breathe as she applied a slight rhythmic pressure on its chest. “Are you a friend of hers?” Carrington asked it. The white furry face twisted around to glance at Hikaru and then turned back to Carrington to nod slightly. “I’ll bet she treats you well.” Two paws raised to each side: a shrug. Then one of the paws was extended toward him. Carrington had the distinct feeling that this was a test for him as he shook it.
“My name is Daniel Carrington,” he said gravely.
He wouldn’t learn that day about the fire that had killed her parents or how she had stumbled in a daze through the streets until the police picked her up. He wouldn’t even find out her age that day. All of that would come later. What was most important was that she lowered the bear, looked directly back into his eyes, and said, “My name is Hikaru Shinsuke.”
Hikaru walked down the hall towards the shooting range. Carrington was walking beside her. He was very quiet at the moment. Usually, he was all too willing to banter with her about a wide range of topics. Finally, Hikaru spoke. “You still haven’t gotten over the shock two nights ago, have you Dad? You still can’t believe that about Joanna?”
Carrington sighed. “She would have been the very last person I would have suspected,” he said. “She was absolutely dedicated to her job. She could have betrayed me any number of times, but she never did up until the end.”
“She probably didn’t even know that she was anything other than human.”
“No, probably not. But all the same, it’s eerie to think about. All the times when I talked with her, I was talking to a thing—a thing that was built by other human beings.”
“You heard what Dr. O’Connor said. She was alive.”
“That’s true. It makes me feel better. These revelations also give me an idea about how she died.”
Hikaru immediately began to pay close attention. Her father had never told her anything about Perfect Dark’s death. “Do you think United Motors was responsible?”
Carrington nodded. “She was killed while investigating United Motors for something completely different from what we are concerned with now. united Motors must have known through her transmitter that she would be breaking into one of their buildings.” He paused as his mind drifted back nine years to the moment when he had seen that fire. “And so, they set a trap for her. I don’t know why they couldn’t have stopped her some other way. Maybe there was no way for them to give her direct commands. At any rate, Joanna entered the building only to find that it had been evacuated. She immediately suspected something and told us so using her communicator. That was when the building she was in exploded.” Carrington paused again. “It wouldn’t really be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that there was not a single shred of her left for us to recover afterwards.”
Carrington had not told her that she would be performing a raid on the exact same building where Joanna had died. Hikaru had later found that out from Logan. Evidently, he had been nearby when the building had exploded, and his trained memory could recall every last detail. There was not trace of that explosion nine years ago, of course. A new building had been built by United Motors over the original one. Logan had provided her with blueprints. Somehow, he had managed to determine exactly which room would contain the files she needed. He was a great undercover agent, that much was certain.
The building was heavily guarded at night. Hikaru would have no problem bypassing human guards, but the security cameras were another problem. If she tried to avoid all of them, it would take her all night to obtain her objective. She needed enough time to get out of the building before day time, so taking that long was out of the question.
Instead, Hikaru elected to take the exact opposite road. Having entered the building through the roof and run past a number of guards on her silent feet, she encountered a split in the hallway. One hallway led directly to the room she wanted. Hikaru trotted down that hallway until she saw the security camera. Drawing her Falcon 3, she took aim and fired. Then she turned around and ran to the other hallway. The security officers would notice that the camera had been destroyed. Hikaru was counting on that. Anyone could figure out what her objective is, and that camera lay directly in the path that a smart agent would use to obtain the objective. Therefore, nobody would be watching the path that Hikaru really took.
The camera in the hallway Hikaru was running down was easily bypassed. Hikaru had only to crawl along the ceiling to avoid the viewing range of the camera which was pointed downward. Coming to the front of the building, Hikaru found a lobby with a foyer. She was on the tenth floor, and she wanted to get to the fifth. Attaching a rope to the railing, she slipped over the side and lowered herself down to the sixth floor. As she ran towards her objective, Hikaru destroyed several other cameras. They were all placed exactly in the path she was supposed to take but that she did not actually take. Hikaru could imagine that the security officers were growing very perplexed by now.
Finally, Hikaru arrived at the doorway to the room. Standing in front of the door were ten guards. United Motors was taking this threat very seriously. After peering around the corner, Hikaru drew back and readied her weapon. Her primary weapon on this mission was the CI-developed X-33. Like the Falcon 3, it used railgun technology to send its projectiles along. Thus, it was absolutely silent. As an added bonus, it had a special variable size barrel that could accept virtually any type of ammunition. Hikaru was using 7.62 mm bullets. Her powerful railgun could send those bullets along so fast that kevlar armor was useless. Leaning back around the corner, Hikaru opened fire. She was able to drop four of them before they reacted enough to return fire. At that point, she drew back. Two of the guards stayed behind while the other four survivors walked off toward her position. At least, they walked toward the position she had occupied seconds before. By this time, Hikaru had run back down the hallway and circled around until she was approaching from a different direction. Taking aim, she dropped the two guards in front of the door. They fell, and the only noise that anyone could hear was the sound of their heads hitting the floor. Walking up to the door, Hikaru faced the other four guards who had not heard the exchange of fire. She put a bullet into the backs of their heads before they knew what had happened.
Hikaru set an explosive on the reinforced door and set the timer to 5 seconds. The door was tough, but nothing could stand up to the special explosive developed by CI. Walking through the blasted remains of the door, Hikaru immediately saw the computer she was looking for. She pulled a palmtop out and connected it to the other computer. While it was downloading, she reloaded her gun and stood guard. That was when she noticed the other contents of the room. Specifically, she saw the tattered remain of a blue ninja suit. Then she understood. Carrington Institute had not been able to find Joanna’s remains because United Motors had gotten to them first. This wasn’t in her mission profile, but it was a matter of pride. Grabbing the palmtop which had finished downloading, Hikaru smashed the glass which protected the ninja suit. Clutching what was left of the perfect agent, Hikaru ran down the hallway to reach her exit.