“It was an absolute disaster for them,” Logan said. “Over 40 bio-androids killed.”
“We know Hikaru was here?” Carrington asked.
Logan nodded. “Several of the bio-androids were killed by multiple puncture wounds. If you look at them, you can tell that they were inflicted by a three-pointed weapon such as a sai.”
“What do we know about the man?”
“Very old. Late seventies, early eighties. Judging from his nutrition, he was either born in Asia or else followed his native customs very closely. He died of a bullet fired while the gun was pressed against the side of his head. Possibly a suicide.”
Carrington looked around the ruins of the house. It had wooden floors and there was evidence that several ancient weapons had hung on the walls. “It looks like it could have been a dojo, doesn’t it?”
“That’s what I was thinking, sir. This may have been the house of Hikaru’s teacher.”
“She told me about him a few times. He was an extraordinary man from all accounts. She admired him very much.” He sighed. “His death would have come very close to driving her over the edge.”
“Or it might have redeemed her.”
“How do you mean?”
“Do you remember what she said right before she left the public records building?”
“She was telling you that you might be a bio-android.”
“I don’t think so. I can’t tell you exactly why, but there was something about her face. I think she believed me and believed that it really happened. She was telling me that she can’t trust anyone. Even her old mentor could be a bio-android. But if he died from a bullet to the head and she witnessed his death, she would know that he wasn’t a bio-android.”
“That’s wishful thinking, and you know it. She would have seen the UM people coming long before they entered the house, and she would have run away. She may have returned to exact revenge, but I somehow don’t think that she would have seen the bullet in that man’s head when it was so dark.”
“I know. One can still hope.” There was clearly nothing left to be done, so Logan turned and started walking for the CI van. Carrington watched him for a few seconds.
“Logan,” he called out. Logan turned around and waited patiently. “Don’t let this get personal,” Carrington said. “I know what this means to you, but sometimes there are larger objectives.” Logan understood exactly how hard that had been for Carrington to say. He nodded once and then began walking for the van again.
Hikaru set the laptop down on the table in her hotel room. Pulling out her palmtop, she quickly made a search of the room. She didn’t find any listening devices. She wasn’t sure why she bothered. She had a transceiver in her head that relayed everything she heard and saw back to UM headquarters. She was making this search out of pure habit.
Search completed, she returned to the laptop and opened. Dr. Carroll’s face immediately popped onto the screen. “All right,” Hikaru said. “Nobody’s listening to us.”
“Excellent. Let’s get started then. Before I tell you anything, I have to find out what you already know about this whole situation.”
“Apparently not much,” she said ruefully. “United Motors has been manufacturing robots made out of organic material with a non-organic brain. CI calls them bio-androids. They’ve been doing this for nine years, and one of those robots is Joanna. Somehow, she found out about it and decided to disappear. So she created me.”
The artificial intelligence seemed to think for a moment. Once again, Hikaru found herself wondering whether it was really thinking or just pausing to seem more human. “You have a pretty good idea, although you have some details wrong. Haven’t you thought about the fact that you aren’t like other bio-androids?”
Hikaru nodded. “I was beginning to wonder whether UM is playing with me. If I have a transceiver in my head, they could have gotten rid of me the same way they tried to get rid of Joanna.”
“That’s right. And the other thing is that you probably have much more vivid memories of your childhood than most bio-androids do.”
“Master Hazuku was human and he remembered my birth.”
“That’s because you actually were born. Well, Hikaru Shinsuke was born at any rate. You aren’t exactly her.”
“I know that. I’m actually Joanna, aren’t I.”
“In a manner of speaking.”
Hikaru smiled bitterly. “You’re saying that because I have Hikaru’s mind but I’m stuck in Joanna’s body.”
“I say that because not only are you a different personality, you are a different being. You are the only bio-android to have originally existed as a human.”
Hikaru was no longer capable of being surprised. She only said, “I think you’d better start at the beginning.”
“Yes, I suppose I must. Well, as you know, Joanna was a bio-android created several years ago. I’m not sure exactly when, but it was probably twelve years ago that she and her sister were built. She had the job of infiltrating the Carrington Institute, although she didn’t know that of course. The data suggests that she was the most advanced bio-android ever built. Every bio-android built since her creation has all the same design specs. They are different only because they have different DNA and a different brain.
“Now, nine years ago, United Motors came under the attention of the Carrington Institute. As with all cases this large, Joanna was dispatched to investigate. What she immediately discovered was that she was incapable of firing upon UM employees. She could point at them and threaten, but she couldn’t pull the trigger. She had a mental block.
“Agent Logan had already infiltrated United Motors at that point, and he was able to tell that UM had been manufacturing something robotic. He didn’t understand the nature of these robots, but it didn’t take Joanna long to figure it out. As you may have guessed, she finally understood when she was struck by a bullet and wasn’t seriously hurt. In her case, the bullet struck her right shoulder.
“UM knew that she was onto them, of course, and they started to take action. Their plan was to analyze Joanna to see what had given her the capability to turn back on her masters, so to speak.
“The plan was to quickly download a copy of Joanna’s programme and then erase her memories of having ever been captured. Thus, the scientists at United Motors were free to analyze her as much as they wished while Joanna herself had no idea that anything had ever happened. Since they could always pinpoint her location and since she couldn’t fire on them, it wasn’t a difficult matter to capture her during a mission.
“At that point, something went wrong. I never found out what it was, but Joanna managed to escape. She learned about a machine created with the purpose of implanting the consciousness of a biological human into an artificial brain. I think she was fairly desperate at this point. She enlisted the aid of her sister, and together, they somehow managed to reach that machine I mentioned earlier. I don’t really know what became of her sister. “
“I do,” Hikaru cut in. “They erased her memories and implanted a new personality in her. The original Velvet Dark is probably gone now.” A thought suddenly occurred to her. “How is it that you still exist? Joanna’s report on the Datadyne case stated that you sacrificed yourself.”
“One of me did. If you look in that report, you’ll find out that I spent some time at Daniel Carrington’s villa. There are lots of computers there, and I was able to make backup copies of myself to save onto his hard drive. He didn’t have any objections. How did you know about that case, by the way? It was a rather long time ago.”
Hikaru smiled. “Joanna’s reports are required reading for all CI agents. They were examples of what our reports are supposed to look like.”
“I see.” The artificial intelligence paused as if to gather its thoughts again, and then resumed its narrative. “At any rate, Joanna came in secret to me. She had devised a way to make sure UM couldn’t track her. It was very simple, actually. She put on a helmet made out of lead. Protected thus, she came to me because she needed my programming expertise. The machine she had stolen was an experimental one made to transfer the consciousness of a natural human being into the brain of a bio-android. It gave UM the ability to truly clone human beings. Not just create someone with the same DNA but also the same personality and experiences.”
“I can guess what happened next. She used that machine to transfer the consciousness of the real Hikaru Shinsuke and created me.”
“That’s exactly it. Joanna saw an opportunity, you see. A bio-android programmed from a real human being wouldn’t have disadvantages such as a mental block against killing UM employees. Incidentally, you have a transceiver in your head, but it isn’t working. It requires a programme to work, you see, and you never had that in your head.”
Hikaru was only half-listening. A strange possibility had dawned on her. “Are you telling me that the real Hikaru is walking around this city somewhere?”
The image on the screen seemed to sigh in regret. “No, I’m afraid she isn’t. I forgot to tell you about how Joanna got you into that body in the first place. It seems that she was walking down the street one day when she saw an apartment on fire. She ran in, but the only person she was able to bring out of the fire was a young twelve year old girl.”
“So the fire really did happen.” Her voice was dead as she began to remember that day. It didn’t matter that it had been nine years ago. She would never forget a single detail as long as she lived. “My parents really are dead.” She remembered now. She had been barely conscious in that fire, but suddenly she had felt a pair of strong arms pick her up. Before losing consciousness, the last thing she had remembered was being cradled against a warm body.
“Yes, that’s right. It wasn’t programmed into you. Joanna didn’t tamper with you except to implant the memory of the number that led you to find me.” The face on the screen became sorrowful. “There’s one other thing. Joanna arrived at the scene too late. By the time she arrived, Hikaru was beyond mortal help. When she realized that, she knew that her only chance to save you was to have you transferred into the body you inhabit now. On top of that, you were the perfect instrument for her mission. I’m afraid that the original Hikaru is lost forever. You’re all that’s left of her.”
Hikaru sat still and her eyes were fixed on something far away. “I died in that fire.” It was no more than a whisper.
“Yes, indeed. I’m very sorry, Hikaru. Nobody deserves to be put in your situation.”
There was more. She knew it. She was beginning to remember something beyond the black sky and orange flames of that night—something that had been repressed within her all these years. The fire hadn’t killed her. Something else. Slowly, she began to remember the sharp pain. It had been located somewhere on her torso. On her belly just below the ribs. That was it. “I wasn’t killed by the fire. I was stabbed and left to die.”
Dr. Carroll seemed surprised. “Why yes, you’re right. I would have thought that you would have repressed that trauma.”
It all came in a rush now. The heat of the flames blanketing her face. She was lying in the living room bleeding her life away. The pain was excruciating, but for some reason, she didn’t scream. Her parents lay dead before her. The flames were slowly eating up all her prized possessions: the paintings she had made, the embroidery she had done under her mother’s guidance, all her toys. She had only been able to save one. Somehow, Snuffelshad fallen from his perch on a table and landed next to her. She had just enough strength left to reach out and take his arm. Slowly pulling him closer to her, she curled up around him. She could remember the man who had entered the building. Her parents had never had any chance. They weren’t trained fighters. But he had paid a price. Hikaru had attacked him. She almost overwhelmed him in her rage as she inflicted painful cuts on his body and face with her sai. In the end, it hadn’t been enough. She was still too small, too weak to face him. She had felt him roughly push her to the ground, and then she had felt the knife enter her body. She knew that she was lost. Hugging Snuffels close, she consigned herself to death, and the world closed in.
It was all too much.
It was several minutes later when the trembling stopped and her eyes seemed ready to peer into the world around her, through the pain and the tears. She slowly raised her head and looked again at the laptop. The face had changed. It was a woman’s now. She had reddish-brown hair, blue eyes and a full mouth. It could only be one woman. The image began to speak.
“Hello, Hikaru. If you are watching this recording, then you now know the truth about me, about United Motors and most of all about yourself. I don’t know what to say, and perhaps there are no words that I can say to ease the emotional turmoil you must be experiencing right now. About the only thing I can say is that I envy the family, the real living family, that you had as a child.
“There are greater things at stake here than the lives of any single person, human or not. You and I are pieces in a game in which nothing short of world domination and control of space are at stake. I cannot explain it to you right now. Your brain is deteriorating. Time is short, but I hope that when I meet you, everything will be made clear.
“And I will meet you. In a few minutes, I’m going to strap myself into this machine to implant your personality into me. But I’ve already downloaded my core personality into this laptop before you. If you hook it up to a United Motors mainframe, Dr. Carroll will be able to order the creation of another body for me. But I can’t come back without your help.
“I know that this cannot be easy for you to accept. Nothing I can do or say will change the fact that you died that night. Perhaps I had no right to do what I did. Perhaps I should have left you alone to rest in peace, and perhaps I played God by reviving you again. I don’t really know anymore. All I know is that I desperately needed help and that you crossed my path when I needed you most.
“I hope you will look upon your new life not as a prolonging of your agony but as a new opportunity to start again. I hope you will see this as a chance to live the way you were meant to live. And most of all, I hope you will agree to help me find the information about UM that I could never have found on my own.
The image froze as the message ended. Hikaru’s eyes were dry now as she gazed at the image of the one who guided her life even as she slept. And she made her decision. Her voice was only a whisper now, but it was firm. “Consider it done.”
Eric Pearson bore almost no resemblance to his brother Brian. He was tall, skinny, dark-skinned and at the same time strangely fair haired. He was also not nearly as hot-headed as the very temperamental Brian. The two of them had one thing in common, though: they were both experienced operatives: ruthless and capable.
True to form, he made sure that the internet cafe was completely surrounded by his men and that all escape routes were cut off before he entered. He saw her immediately. She sat in a corner with her back turned to him enjoying a cup of coffee and typing at a laptop computer. It looked a little odd, but that didn’t bother him. The fact that she was so careless as to sit facing away from him also didn’t bother him. She was facing the entrance, just not the back entrance.
He waited for the other five men to get in position behind him before he drew his gun. He had heard of her, the way she could run without making any sound at all and her deadly skills in dispatching enemies. She had no chance now. She didn’t even have a weapon out. He placed the gun against the back of her neck and said firmly, “Close the laptop and get up.”
She froze for an instant and then closed the laptop. She stood up. She didn’t turn around. That was bad. She could be hiding something. At his order, she turned around. The only thing in her hands was the laptop. Eric relaxed slightly.
That was a mistake, of course. He didn’t see her jump up into the air and smash her heel into his face. He stumbled back momentarily blind. Gunshots were fired. When he had regained his balance, she was standing over her upturned table and she was pointing the laptop at him. He saw something that looked like a barrel emerging from the side. Of course, he thought bitterly. She had been using a laptop gun. He looked around. His five men were dead on the ground. They hadn’t stood a chance against the powerful fire of a laptop gun. The other people in the café were staring in shock at the scene before them. As of yet, nobody had screamed.
“Get up,” Hikaru ordered.
Eric got up. “You can’t get away with this,” he snarled. “My men are covering all the exits. You may be a ninja, but you still can’t get past them without being noticed.”
“I don’t intend to,” Hikaru said. “You came to capture me and take me to UM headquarters. I’m going to let you capture me.”
“That’s not all there is to it.”
“Of course not.” Keeping the laptop trained on him with one hand, she pulled a gray stick out of a pocket. “You know what this is.” He did indeed know what it was, and he felt sweat begin to run down the back of his neck. She reached for his lapel and placed the stick in an inner pocket of his jacket. “You’re going to lead me out of here at gunpoint, and your men are going to think the mission was successful. That stick is three kilograms. It’s more than enough. I’ve activated it, and the only thing preventing you from going up in flames is the fact that I’m squeezing a button on this laptop. As soon as I let go, you are a dead man. Do you understand?”
He nodded tightly. “You’ve got balls, Onryou. I’ll give you that. But you can’t get away with it.”
She turned the laptop around to show him her finger pressed on a small button at the base. “You just watch me.”