“The worst thing about it is that it’s completely rational,” Carrington said. “If I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t believe anyone’s memories either.”
“Especially with UM’s production capacity,” Logan said. “My investigation suggests that they can put out three bio-androids every week.”
“They’re manufacturing people. Dear God.” Carrington rubbed his eyes. “No matter how this ends, humanity will never be the same.” He stopped and seemed to think for a moment. “How long has UM been at this?”
“We know that they’ve been building bio-androids since more than nine years ago. Joanna existed nine years ago. It seems to me that Joanna was a very advanced model, so I would estimate that UM has been manufacturing bio-androids since three years before Joanna’s creation.”
“So we’re talking about several thousand of these bio-androids?”
“Conservatively, yes. There may be other facilities that I don’t know about.”
Carrington sighed. “If they are all virtually bulletproof, we have a major crisis on our hands.”
“One thing that puzzles me,” Logan said, “Is that UM built in certain safety systems. Every bio-android is programmed to behave within certain parameters. One of those parameters is that he or she cannot kill or even attempt to harm a United Motors employee. Hikaru has done that frequently.”
“So you think that she’s been programmed differently?”
“It’s the only theory that makes sense. You heard Hikaru say that she is actually Joanna. She must have a good reason for thinking that. Presumably, Joanna found herself incapable of killing UM employees. It would only make sense for her to create an entirely new personality for herself. One capable of carrying out missions against UM. It would also explain the fact that UM does not seem to know what Hikaru is about to do in advance. Otherwise, they would have eliminated her the same way they tried to eliminate Joanna.”
“The question is how did Joanna do that? Even if we assume that she understood a bio-android brain perfectly, she can’t very well manipulate her own brain. Somebody else had to help her.”
“I don’t know if that is necessarily true. UM was building a machine designed to access a bio-android brain within the body and manipulate it. From what I can tell, Joanna would only need to plug herself into the machine. She would have fallen asleep and then when she woke up, she would be Hikaru.”
“That still doesn’t answer the question of how Joanna would know what to do. She was extremely smart, but I don’t think she was smart enough to program an entirely new personality.”
“That’s the troubling part about the whole situation, sir.”
“What’s your theory?”
“That before she was a bio-android, Hikaru was a human.”
The two men stared at each other for a moment. “You’re suggesting a very disturbing theory,” Carrington said.
“One that has implications much larger than Hikaru,” Logan agreed. “I have to find her as soon as possible to determine exactly what happened. Do you have any idea who she could have gone to?”
Carrington thought for a moment. “She wanted to start her martial arts training again after I adopted her. I helped her locate the man who had taught her before her parents died.”
Master Hazuku poured more tea into Hikaru’s cup. He was, in many ways, a stereotypical old master of the martial arts. He lived a frugal life of strict discipline, and there was something about his eyes that commanded immediate respect. His voice pronounced the Japanese language softly but with conviction. “You tell an incredible story, Hikaru.”
“Nonetheless, you know that I would never lie to you, sensei.”
“That is true. And the mark on your forehead is further proof of your honesty.”
“So is it true? Was I human after all?”
“And what if I am another one of these bio-androids programmed with memories of your childhood?”
Hikaru dropped her eyes. “I could never think that about you, sensei.”
“I know you better than that, Hikaru. Even as a little girl, you never placed too much trust in anyone. I was the one who taught you that.” Master Hazuku sighed. “I do remember your childhood,” he said in a softer tone. “I was there beside your mother and father when you were born. As soon as you learned to crawl, you went over to that knife you are now carrying. You reached out your hand for it. I handed it to you, and then you drew it out of its sheathe. You began to play with it, but you never cut yourself. In your playing, I could see some of the movements of a master. I knew that you had great potential.” He paused and gazed fondly at her. “I was right about you.”
He had never spoken this frankly to her. In all her years training with him in the martial arts, she had only remembered long, grueling hours after school performing the same exercises over and over until they became a part of her. Master Hazuku had trained many students, and it had seemed that he had been hardest of all on her. She bowed her head. “I could never have become what I am without you, sensei.”
“No, but perhaps what you would have become without me would have been better.”
“It is true. I was overeager to bring out your full potential. I drove you harder than any of my other students because I knew that you could become the best. In doing so, I may very well have destroyed a part of your humanity.”
“I have already lost a great part of my humanity. This body of mine was not created naturally.”
“There are many levels of humanity. Hikaru,” and here, his face turned very serious, “You must always remember the oath the you repeated every day before you began your training. Your skills are a means to an end. They are to be used to make the world a better place. More important than the ability to break necks or to run on silent feet is the ability to know when is the time to fight. That is what I should have taught you from the beginning, but I did not.”
“I can still learn, sensei.”
“Perhaps so. Perhaps so.” Master Hazuku stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I am an old man now, Hikaru, but perhaps there is still time for me to undo my mistakes.”
They both heard it at the same time. A car pulled up to the door of Master Hazuku’s house and stopped. There could only be one reason for that. Master Hazuku’s house was an isolated one located next to a barely used road. Nobody else lived nearby. None of his family was still alive. Only Hikaru could conceivably want to visit him. The only other people who would pull up to his house were those who wanted Hikaru.
Hikaru walked to the window and looked out. There was a van out there, and men in black suits were getting out of it. Then another van pulled up.
“It is time for you to go,” Master Hazuku said.
Hikaru turned to face him. “No, sensei. I cannot leave you here.”
“You must. Now is not the time for you to fight. You will only destroy lives meaninglessly. There will be another time when you can fight and make a change in the world.”
“Sensei, these people are ruthless. I know that you cannot run away from them. Once they have you, they will strip you of your dignity and your will to live until you have given me up to them.”
“They will not have me.”
There was a stricken silence. “Sensei—” Hikaru began.
“Go! Now!” There was unmistakable iron in his voice. “Let this be the beginning of your new lessons. You must leave and fight another day.”
Obedience to that tone of command was automatic for her. She walked out the back of his room and then gathered up her belongings. Then, she ran out his back door. She had run a few meters before she began to doubt herself. Surely, she could deal with this many people and save her master. She turned around, but then she heard the sound of the front door being smashed in. She knew that it was too late.
There was a cry of pain and the sound of bones snapping. Hikaru cautiously re-entered the house and peered into the room she had so recently vacated. All the lights were off now, so she was completely invisible. Master Hazuku had taken a sword from the wall and was using it to great effect on the men entering his front door. For a while, it seemed that he might, just impossibly might, triumph. Then someone threw a flashbang into the room, and then Master Hazuku was lost.
He stumbled backwards and fell. Immediately, three men with rifles swept in and covered him with their weapons. Another man entered behind them. “Well, old man, you put up quite a fight, but in the end you lost.” Somehow, the voice seemed familiar to Hikaru. She couldn’t quite remember where she had heard it before. “I won’t waste your time now. Where’s Hikaru?”
Master Hazuku pushed himself into a sitting position. “That you will never find out from me.”
“Oh, we will find it out soon enough. It doesn’t really matter anyway. We can find her anywhere she goes. I’m just giving you a chance to live if you make it a little easier for us.”
“Perhaps you may find her, but you cannot defeat her. I trained her myself, and in all my years, I have never had a better pupil. With her training and weaponry, she is invincible.”
There was anger in the other voice now. “All right, that’s about enough, old man. Let me make this clear: you tell me where Hikaru is right now or else we’ll take you right now and make you regret your insolence.” Standing only a few meters away, Hikaru had to bite her lip to prevent herself from calling out to save her master.
There was calm determination in Master Hazuku’s voice as he spoke. “That you will never do.” She would never forget the sound of his voice as he spoke those last words. For the rest of her life, she would always remember how his tone showed that he had made up his mind long before. She would always remember the way he raised his hand.
There was a gun in that hand, and Master Hazuku immediately pointed it at his head. Hikaru only had an instant to understand what he was doing before he pulled the trigger. She squeezed her eyes shut. In his last act, he had redeemed her. He had known that she would not have the strength to leave. Thus, he had taken away her reason for staying. And in that act, he had resolved her fears. He had known that she would trust no one who might be a bio-android, and he had shown her that he was not a bio-android after all. He had known that she would be watching, and he had shown her the only way he could.
And so she had had a life after all. As she began to comprehend what had happened, Hikaru opened her mouth to take a slow breath. She had to calm herself. Then she stopped and nearly cried out in pain. Her lip was hurting. Slowly running her tongue over her lips, she tasted blood. In clenching her mouth to stay silent, she had bitten her lips hard enough to bleed.
There was something about that taste of blood in her mouth. Opening her eyes, she saw the men who had unwittingly confirmed her life and at the same time condemned themselves.
With the taste of blood in her mouth, a Falcon 3 in her hand and revenge in her heart, Onryou became what her enemies had always dreaded.
She became fully human.
The house was very small, and so the special forces men did not expect to find much. Still, they were fully prepared to meet resistance, and that was exactly what they met as they rounded a corner. Standing there was a tall form silhouetted by the moonlight. They were under orders to shoot first and ask later. They shot first.
A few seconds later, the lead man realized their mistake. He walked up to the form and touched it. It toppled over with a metallic clang. It was nothing more than a suit of ancient Japanese armor. He turned around to say something to his comrades. He never said anything. The other men were all lying on the ground already dead. Something had been stabbed into their chests. Kevlar armor can withstand bullets, but it is useless against sharp steel.
Some sixth sense told him that there was something behind him. He whirled about and was immediately confronted with the eyes of death itself. He opened his mouth to scream, but a hand was clamped over it. He felt something slice into his belly, and then everything went dark.
On special missions, UM always did everything in threes. Two vans had arrived at Master Hazuku’s house, but the third had been slowed down by heavy traffic. It was arriving now. The men in the back of the van were in that sweet spot that every special agent craves: relaxed enough to be rational, tense enough to be ready. Captain Ferguson knew that his men were good. He had every confidence in them.
The van came to a stop. It was time. Getting up, Ferguson grabbed the handle of the backdoor. He turned to shout to his men as he opened the door. He never saw the bullet that hit him.
The other men never had a chance. They were still sitting in the van and had no time at all to bring their weapons to bear as bullets were sprayed into the van. One of them had enough time to realize that the bullets were being fired from a standard issue assault rifle. Those were the rifles that special agents like himself carried on missions. As he and his comrades were mowed down by one of their own weapons, as he lay trapped and dying within the confines of the van, he had enough time to wonder how the enemy had gotten hold of one of those rifles.
There was a sniper lying outside. There always was. This particular sniper was lying in the backyard of the house ready to shoot down anyone who came running out the back. So far, he hadn’t seen anyone.
He had picked this spot very carefully. Not only was he well-concealed, but he had taken pains to make sure that there were plenty of dry leaves about. Anybody trying to sneak up on him would step on those leaves and inevitably make a crackling sound.
He heard a low feminine voice say, “You shouldn’t waste your time. I’m not in front of you anymore.”
The sniper whirled about and desperately searched for a target. He was far too late. He heard a distinctive crack and felt an accompanying lance of pain shoot up his arm. He dropped his gun and lay on his back staring up at the gun pointed at his face. It was a strange looking gun. It seemed to be electric somehow. He stared up past the barrel of the gun at the cold eyes beyond it. “Who the hell are you?” he whispered. He never found out.
Brian Pearson paused long enough to deliver one last kick into the old man’s face. Why had he killed himself? It was useless. A gesture of defiance only. Then he heard gunshots. It was the sound of an assault rifle firing. One of his own rifles firing. And it was firing outside the house. His enemy was being fired upon outside.
Then he realized that something else was wrong. His team inside the house would normally have radioed in to ask him what all the gunfire outside was about. They hadn’t done that. He called them up on the radio. Nobody responded.
He decided to take a risk and look for them. Peeking his head into a hallway, he saw the bodies lying on the ground. He had enough time to curse before a bullet slammed into his head.
He reeled back and screamed in pain. He had heard about this, but he hadn’t known just how much being hit could hurt. He reached up with one hand to extract the bullet, and with the other hand, he flipped on his radio. “All units, proceed into the house. The target is inside the house.”
Immediately a team of six men entered the house from the front and another team entered from behind. There was a team missing. “What happened?” Pearson asked one of the men.
“I don’t exactly know, sir. All I know is I heard gunfire, and I thought it was one of us firing on the target. Turns out the target was firing into one of our vans.”
Pearson swore again and ran out of the house. It was time for him to use his car’s radio to call for backup.
His car wasn’t there. He stared at the spot where it had been for a moment, then looked up and down the street. His car was nowhere to be seen. He brought his radio to his mouth again. “Jacobson, where the hell have you driven off to?”
“Was that the name of your driver?” It was a female voice, soft and somehow innocent. “I’m awfully sorry about him. You’ll find him in that shot up van.”
Pearson didn’t curse again. He was beyond that point. Gripping the radio tightly, he asked, “Who are you?”
“You can call me Onryou. It’s as good a name as anything else. It doesn’t really matter what my name is.”
“You’re Hikaru, aren’t you?”
“I suppose I used to be. It’s not exactly true anymore.” There was a slight pause as if the speaker on the other side was thinking. “Tell me something: why did you bring an explosives expert into that house?”
It took a moment for the implication to sink in. By then, it was too late. He whirled about just in time to see the house go up in flames with a thunderous roar. He hadn’t had time to warn his men. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to speak calmly. “Well done, Onryou. I admit that I don’t know how you pulled that off. It doesn’t matter though. We’ll find you eventually.”
“I look forward to it.” Then the radio on the other side clicked off.
Hikaru was tired. The adrenaline rush of the past few minutes had worn off, and now she was looking for a suitably obscure hotel where she could stay. She had looted the men before leaving. She had found lots of bullets to load into her X-33 and even some cash. There was enough for a few nights at a decent hotel. In a few days time, she would be able to steal more from UM. She had to admit that the idea of using UMís own cash in a campaign against it was perversely amusing.
She passed a sign with the number 6547 on it. For some reason, that made her stop. She couldn’t understand why. It was just a broken sign lying on the ground next to a forgotten dumpster. Nobody had attempted to clean the dumpster out. Nobody lived nearby to put trash into it.
So what was the significance of this number 6547? Then she understood. Joanna Dark had created her personality. She had programmed Hikaru, and if she hadn’t been able to set personality values, she could at least program some sort of significance into a number.
Hikaru parked the car and walked over to the sign. If Joanna had programmed this number as a memory into her head, she had placed this sign as well. Hikaru peered into the dumpster and immediately saw what she was supposed to find. It was a black laptop computer lying in the bottom. She reached in and pulled it out. It still seemed to be working. She opened it. It was an old model. In fact, it was possibly old enough to have been manufactured nine years ago. She pushed the power button and the screen came to life.
An animated human head appeared on the screen. It spoke, and the animated lips moved correspondingly. “Ah, there are you are. I believe I’ve been waiting here a deucedly long time now, but since you’ve found me, everything must be going according to plan.”
It was an artificial intelligence. Hikaru had heard about those, but she had never seen one. There was generally no reason to build an artificial intelligence with the purpose of imitating the human mind. All the same, people had done some strange things nine years ago. She absently noted that this machine’s creator had to have been British. Either than or an Anglophile since this program spoke with a British accent. “I take it that you are a part of this whole web that Joanna has been spinning for me?”
“Yes, I suppose you could say that. She’s a clever girl, Joanna.” The program with a face paused for a moment. Whether it was actually thinking or simply imitating thought she couldn’t tell. “Oh dear, where are my manners. We haven’t been properly introduced yet.”
“Well, I’m Hikaru Shinsuke.”
“Yes, yes, I know that. I was involved in your creation. What you don’t know is my name, but I think you may have heard of me. My name is Dr. Carroll.”