The receiver in Joanna’s ear crackled slightly as the voice came through. “Go ahead.”
“This is Perfect Dark. Where’s Onryou?”
“We can’t determine exactly. GPS data indicates that she’s somewhere in your building, but we can’t pinpoint which floor she’s on.”
“I can’t establish radio contact, but perhaps there’s some interference. What’s her radio status.”
“She’s turned her radio off.”
Joanna swore inwardly and broke off the contact. Anna looked at her. “So what happened?”
“Whatever it is, Hikaru’s at least still alive,” Joanna said. “She switched her radio off, so she probably doesn’t want whoever’s around to know where she is.”
“Do you have any idea what she’s be up to.”
Joanna thought about her very brief conversations with Hikaru. She had mentioned someone from UM killing her mentor. “I think I have an idea of what she might be doing,” Joanna said. “It’s very unprofessional, but I can’t really blame her. We’ll just have to do the rest of this without her.” Anna nodded and stood up. She took a PX-27 magazine from her belt and loaded it into the X-33 she was carrying.
Joanna was carrying the only other X-33 in existence. Hikaru had given it to her. As Joanna’s coordination and reflexes were still not quite what they used to be, she didn’t quite understand why Hikaru had given her the gun. It was entirely possible that Hikaru had not intended to be along for this mission at all. At any rate, Joanna now had the gun, and she might as well use it now. She also stood up and loaded her gun. Then she walked along with Anna out of the room they had been hiding inside.
Everything was quiet within the building. That wasn’t surprising as they were in a section of the building that wasn’t particularly sensitive or secret. They would encounter resistance later. Hopefully, Logan’s strike force was stretching security to its limits. With any luck, he might even break into the building and be able to help them out.
They met a guard in the hallway. He was quickly disposed of. Running now, they approached a set of double doors. Joanna stood to one side and slightly behind. Anna drew her foot back and delivered a smashing kick to the doors. The flew inward, and Joanna moved up to provide back-up for Anna. She didn’t really need to bother. The guards inside were caught totally by surprise, and the two agents didn’t bother aiming for vital organs with their poisoned bullets. They didn’t stop running as they entered. There was another door on the other side of the room. Joanna pulled a grenade from her belt, armed it and tossed it underneath a computer. She and Anna sprinted away, and five seconds later, the room exploded.
There was no point in concealing their location. They had both seen security cameras in the room. Perhaps Hikaru would have found a way to avoid them by climbing the ceiling or some other similar acrobatic maneuver. Joanna and Anna simply had to make do with what they had. They entered the next room.
Joanna was definitely feeling odd throughout the whole ordeal. When she pulled the trigger, the gun in her hand was supposed to recoil. And it was supposed to make noise. As she and Anna entered the room squeezing the triggers of their weapons, the enemies before them simply collapsed to the ground. If she strained, Joanna could almost imagine that she was hearing the sound of bullets whizzing through that air, but she couldn’t be sure of that. Technology had greatly advanced since nine years ago, and she was definitely feeling old now.
Finally, they arrived at their destination. It was a room full of computers. Within these computers was contained the core of UM’s data on the creation of bio-androids. It was their job to destroy it all. The procedure on their part was very simple. They simply contacted their palmtops to the computers. The palmtops were connected to CI programmers at the base van who would begin systematically copying the files and then wiping them from the UM computers.
Once Anna had connected her palmtop to a computer, she immediately accessed another one and began typing on it. Joanna was immediately curious about what Anna was doing. She appeared to be looking for something. Joanna walked over to the terminal and looked over Anna’s shoulder. The interface was very poorly built. Anna had to search through all the files to find whatever she was searching for.
Joanna heard the click of a gun being cocked and knew immediately that she had made a mistake in dropping her guard. She silently cursed herself. She had definitely lost her edge in all the passing years. Every CI agent was trained to always be on the alert. She had failed to do that. Her mistake now would probably be a fatal blow to the entire mission.
“You can stop right there, now,” the man with the gun said. Joanna recognized his voice.
“So nice of you to drop by, Eric Pearson,” she said acidly.
“I’m flattered that you remember me, Perfect Dark,” he said pleasantly. “Especially after all those years.”
“It wasn’t all that long ago. And as you don’t seem to have realized, I’ve been asleep for those past nine years.”
“I knew that. My orders were to take you into custody, but I think we’ll have to agree that it’s not possible in these circumstances. You and Anna are known to be very hard to handle.”
It was then that Joanna saw it on the computer screen in front of her. Anna had been searching for a file named “Velvet program.” It was the program for Velvet Dark’s mind. UM had erased Velvet Dark’s brain, but they had still preserved it for research purposes. Anna had known this, and so she had come here with the intention of finding the file for the original mind.
And suddenly Joanna realized what Anna intended to do with that program. She only had time to shout the word “No!” before Anna whirled about and brought up her gun in one smooth motion on Eric Pearson.
The two guns fired at once, one with a loud bang, the other without so much as a whimper. Anna was thrown back and immediately crumpled to the floor. Eric had been struck in the arm, and he reflexively brought up a hand over his wound. Then his expression changed to one of shocked horror as he felt the poison stop the beat of his heart. He was still staring into space in terror as he crumpled to the ground.
Joanna activated the radio and reported, “Agent down, agent down.” Then she knelt next to Anna. The other woman had been shot squarely in the chest. The bullet would have punctured her lung. She didn’t have long left to live. “Damn you, Anna,” Joanna whispered. “Why’d you have to get yourself killed? Haven’t you realized by now that you are a living being? Don’t you know that you can’t throw yourself away like that?”
Anna slowly opened her eyes and then smiled at Joanna. “I found it, Joanna,” she whispered. “I found your sister. She’s lived all these past years. I’m only three months old. I was created just that long ago. Your sister remembers everything that happened up until then. She lived up until then.” Her breathing was growing labored now, and her whisper was so tiny that if there had been any ambient noise, Joanna would not have been able to hear her. “She deserves a body much more than I do.”
Joanna stared into the other woman’s eyes. Those were the eyes of her sister, but a different soul peered out into the world at Joanna. She realized suddenly that a hand was gripping hers. She watched as those familiar yet strange eyes slowly closed. Then, the hand grew limp, released its grip and then fell to the ground.
UM had set up an assembly line in this building as a front for its bio-android operations. The assembly line was fully functional, and probably very few people who had ever walked inside the building even knew what the building had really been built for.
The assembly floor was the perfect place for an ambush. There were plenty of large objects to hide behind. The entire area was huge so that it would take one several minutes of looking around to find a single person hiding somewhere else on the same floor.
Fortunately, Hikaru had a critical advantage. Holstering the Falcon 3 in her left hand, she activated her sticky cable. Pointing at ceiling beam above her, she fired. The cable flew upward, its sticky end striking the beam and remaining attached as long as Hikaru kept her thumb pressed on a button. Pushing another button, she began to reel the cable in and rapidly rose into the air, Then she looked down on the factory floor.
She saw Brian Pearson immediately. He was hiding behind an unfinished car chassis with his gun pointed towards the entrance Hikaru had come from. He had obviously never expected to find Hikaru somewhere above him. She took aim with her Falcon 3.
Then she heard a noise to her left. Twisting around sharply, she saw a guard on a walkway taking aim at her. Cursing silently, she pushed a button with her index finger and began to rapidly descend. She did that just in time to avoid being hit by bullets from the guard’s rifle. As she descended, she brought her gun to bear and fired once. The guard crumpled to the ground.
It was too late anyway. Brian had been alerted to her location. Turning and pointing his gun upwards, he began to fire on her. Hikaru threw her body to the side and then swung the other way. There was a robotic arm there. She planted her feet against it and pushed off, all the while reeling in the cable. As she rose up and flew sideways, she aimed downward at Brian. He was too far away, and firing while hanging on a cable was never very accurate anyway. Nonetheless, Hikaru fired two bullets at him and came within a few feet. He ducked behind a column. Swinging on a cable, she alighted on a metal platform next to a machine that played some sort of role in the assembly of a car. She could see other guards on a raised walkway to her right. Detaching her cable, she drew her second Falcon 3 while it was still reeling in and fired on the guards. They quickly fell. There was another group below her on a lower walkway in the room. Holstering the Falcon 3 now, she leaped off of her platform and aimed her cable at the walkway. It stuck to the walkway while she was still above it. Letting out more cable, she allowed herself to swing underneath the walkway. Then her momentum pushed her up until at the top of her swing, she floating in the air on the other side of the walkway. The guards were still facing the other way. She quickly dispatched them before falling back downwards. She let out more cable so that she could build momentum. Then, as she began to swing upwards, she reeled in, increasing her speed even more. As she was reaching the top, she released the cable and was flung upward into the air. Twisting to her right, she fired the cable at a column. Her upward momentum translated into sideways momentum now, and she quickly reeled in. She knew that there were still guards about, so she had to keep moving.
She had exhausted the magazine in her Falcon 3 by now. Releasing the cable and allowing herself to fall to the ground while still travelling forward, she grabbed a fresh magazine and jammed it home. Then she saw that there was a guard near where she was going to land. Landing on the ground, she twisted to her left, brought up one hand and slammed it against the top of her gun to chamber a round while at the same time bringing the gun to bear in a smooth motion. She fired, and the guard fell.
Then, to her great surprise, she saw Brian rise up into the air. He was using a cable similar to the one she had. She spotted him first. Drawing her second Falcon 3 now, she began to fire on him. He was still far away for her to accurately draw a bead on him. He returned fire. Hikaru ducked behind somethingóshe wasn’t sure what. Her second Falcon 3 had run out of ammunition now. She didn’t have any spare magazines left. Holstering that gun now, she fired her cable into the ceiling and also rose into the air. Along the way, she kicked off a column and began to build up momentum. She reeled in until she was somewhere above Brian hanging on his cable. She began firing on him. All her shots missed. She was out of bullets now.
There was no help for it now. She holstered that gun now and then drew her short knife. She had taken it out of her apartment with the intention of using it to commit suicide, but it seemed pointless now that she knew that the real Hikaru was dead anyway. Now, its keen, razor-sharp edge would serve a different purpose. She patiently continued to swing about, moving her cable from rafter to rafter. Finally, she had her chance. Swinging forward, she reached out toward Brian’s cable and sliced it with her knife. He was in the middle of a forward swing when she did that, and so he began to fly forward completely out of control. He slammed bodily into the railing of a walkway. His gun flew out of his hand. He was defenseless now and grounded. Hikaru watched him fall to the floor as she also began to descend.
And so the hunt began.
Joanna had reached her last objective now. In the room before her was the head scientist of UM’s research division. All the records of UM’s bio-android research had been destroyed now. The only task left to do was to destroy him.
She blew the door open with a flash-bang. There were a few guards inside, but she quickly dispatched them. Then she turned her attention to the white-haired old man cowering in a corner.
He looked up at her in astonishment. “Joanna Dark,” he said in a small voice. Then he looked about at the dead guards. “But howÖ”
“I removed the block, Dr. Carpenter,” Joanna said.
“And so you’ve come to kill me, your creator,” Dr. Carpenter said. “I don’t understand. I give you life, and then you turn on me?”
“It’s not the life I want.” She raised her gun.
Dr. Carpenter shook his head. “Do you think you were created for the sole purpose of furthering UM’s ambitious designs? You don’t truly understand.”
“I don’t care.”
“Do you truly? Do you even realize the implications of your existence, Joanna?” Seeing that he had her attention for the moment, he continued on. “We have now the ability to create bodies for ourselves. Think about it, Joanna. Until now, the use of human cloning for the purpose of harvesting organs has always been frowned upon. This technology avoids that issue altogether. A body without a brain, without a mind even, is simply another dead body. We have here the ability to create an unlimited supply of organs to be donated to the sick and needy. Do you know how many people there are in the world now who are desperately sick, desperately in need of an organ transplant? Do you know how many of them die without ever receiving the treatment that could save their lives?
“That’s not all. You, Joanna, are one of the first of a new race of humans to appear on this earth. Do you know that you can heal your bones? If they are ever broken, you can heal them by synthesizing new material for them in the same manner that any normal human heals his own fractures. You are fully alive, and you can grow. Even more, you can reproduce. Do you understand me? The dominance of your race is inevitable. Do you really believe that the results of my research has been so bad for humanity? Do you believe that I would have conducted this research for UM if I hadn’t been sure that I could improve the lot of humanity in the process?”
“It doesn’t matter now. All the files containing your research have been destroyed.”
Dr. Carpenter was shocked. “Destroyed? Why, Joanna? Why do you choose to place yourself against the advance of technology that could ultimately benefit the human race?”
Joanna fired her gun. Dr. Carpenter slumped to the ground. Joanna’s voice was only a whisper as she spoke. “I don’t know.”
Do you remember how I asked you about destiny? You said you don’t believe in destiny and fate. I wasn’t sure myself, but now I am sure. It is destiny that has led me here, led me to you. It is destiny that caused you to enter that hallway at the exact moment that I was also in there. It is destiny that brings us together.
I realized something else as I battled your men in that subway. I have the methods for erasing you completely. You can be recreated if your body is cloned and your brain is implanted into that new body. So, in a way, you cannot really be killed.
Unless your brain is destroyed. That is what I will do. While fighting in the subway, I killed one of your men by stabbing my sai into his head. I shouldn’t have been able to do that. The head is bullet-proof after all.
That was when I realized it. These sai were created using the finest techniques of Japanese craftsmanship. But there’s more. They’re tipped with diamond. They’ll stab through human flesh as if it were nothing more than air. I can drive them through walls of concrete or steel. And I can drive them through your head as well. I have the means of destroying you forever.
I can see you now, Brian.
“This is all about that old man, isn’t it? You’re an awfully touchy one, Onryou. Chasing me all this way just to exact vengeance for an old man who was only years away from death anyway.”
You actually believe that, Brian? Do you think I’m here to avenge Master Hazuku’s death. That was part of it, but there’s more. You owe me much more than Master Hazuku’s death.
I’ve been carrying my parents’ files with me ever since getting them from Logan. Maybe you should have a look at them. I’ll just fold them right here behind a corner where you can’t see me. Then, I’ll toss them over to you in the form of a paper airplane.
It’s a good thing I had plenty of origami practice when I was younger.
“What’s this? Personal files for two people named Shinsuke.”
That’s right, Brian. Do you remember now? Nine years agoÖ
“They died nine years ago. Wait, can this be them? Was Shinsuke their name? I can’t remember. It was so long ago. Their portraits are familiar. Yamato and Erika Shinsuke. Was that their names? I never knew.”
Now you’re beginning to understand, Brian. I didn’t think you could forget something like that crime you committed nine years ago. I wasn’t entirely sure until I remembered all the details of that night. I attacked the man who killed my parents. I was armed with my sai. He was armed with a knife. He should have died. I kept slashing at his face as he held me and stabbed me. The sai should have broken through his skull and killed him instantly.
But I wasn’t strong enough then. I was only twelve years old at the time, far too weak to kill a bio-android.
But that’s changed now. It’s time now, Brian. Watch me step out. Look into my face.
“Your name isn’t Yamato or Erika. Wait, you’re Hikaru Shinsuke. Are you related to them?
Oh my god. You’re the right age. Nine years ago, you could have been her. Everything fits. The face, the sai…”
It’s time now.
“No! No! You can’t be that little girl! You can’t be, it’s impossible! I killed her. I felt the knife sink into her. I cut her open. She was as good as dead, and then I set the apartment on fire. I killed her.
You can’t be alive! You can’t be here! I killed you!”
That’s right, Brian. You did.
Hikaru had noticed it the very first time she had visited her parents’ graves to pay her respects. It was a simple tombstone erected somewhat off to the side. It was physically very small, and only a few simple words had been engraved on it.
Two destinies meet
And so for a time are one
In fire there is life
There was no name. It didn’t matter. Hikaru knew who was buried under that tombstone now. Knowing what she knew, it wasn’t hard to figure out. It was a small little grave next to the grave of her parents. That was a haiku carved on the grave.
“May I join you?” a voice asked.
Hikaru turned. Joanna was standing beside her. Hikaru only offered Joanna a stick of incense. Joanna took the stick, smelling sweetly as smoke drifted from the end. After making the traditional three bows toward the three graves before them, Joanna leaned forward and planted the sticks into the soil before the graves. After a moment of silence, Joanna said, “I suppose you’ve already deduced the identity of that unknown person buried next to your parents.”
Hikaru nodded. “It’s fairly obvious now.”
“I’m very sorry, Hikaru. In many ways, you didn’t deserve this.”
“Don’t be sorry, Joanna. Maybe it was better that I was able to avenge my parents.”
“Perhaps.” Joanna looked down at the little grave now. There was a small box sitting in front of it. “What’s that?” she asked.
“Is he that stuffed animal you were clutching when I found you?”
“I was under the impression that you were very attached to him.”
“Yes. Hikaru was very fond of him.”
“You talk about Hikaru as if she were a different person.”
“But she is.” Hikaru looked up now at Joanna. The other woman’s eyes were exactly on level with her own. “I can’t be Hikaru, Joanna. Not the one who lived nine years ago. Hikaru is dead. I’m something else created in imitation, but who can say that if she had lived, she would have turned out like me? Too many things have changed. I’ve learned too many new things. I’m a different person.”
Joanna looked back at Hikaru thoughtfully and then finally nodded. “I suppose you’re right. No individual person can really be copied exactly. It’s probably better that way.” Joanna took a breath. “But on the other hand, maybe it doesn’t really matter. I think no matter what you choose to be, you will always have Daniel Carrington.”
They stood together for another moment contemplating the graves before them. Hikaru was the first to speak. “It’s a rather odd coincidence that sparked this whole thing, isn’t it?”
Joanna looked up sharply. “What are you talking about?”
Hikaru’s returning gaze was steady. “You know exactly what I’m talking about Joanna. I never believed that you just happened to be nearby when my parents were killed. Everything’s all wrong. The Shinsuke family lived in the southwest corner. Your apartment and the Carrington Institute were in the northeast corner of the city. The neighborhood where Hikaru lived consisted of a random assortment of streets and back alleys. It was a maze for anyone who didn’t know the way around. If you wanted to hide from someone, there were much better places than the street where the Shinsuke family lived. Besides, we lived in an apartment with a window facing the inner courtyard. You couldn’t have seen a fire started in that apartment if you were standing in the street. So you wouldn’t have run into the apartment trying to rescue the people caught in there.” Hikaru paused to gauge Joanna’s reaction. The other woman betrayed nothing. She was good. “Please, Joanna,” Hikaru said. “Tell me why you were really there.”
Joanna sighed. “You’re right, of course,” she said. “I wasn’t at your apartment by pure happenstance. The scientist who developed the method for storing anti-matter did manage to have her last file destroyed. There’s no trace of her research left. She didn’t personally destroy the last file. Before UM closed in and she committed suicide, she managed to get word to her son. It was he who found her last file and destroyed it completely.
“Naturally, UM wanted to interrogate him in the hopes of finding something out about anti-matter from him. He was very good at hiding. He fled from his native Japan with his wife and established his family here. For several years, he lived in peace.
“Then they found him. I knew that they had found him. They sent Brian Pearson to interrogate him. I knew their methods. They would interrogate him, torture him until they had squeezed everything out of him, and then they would kill him to ensure that he never spoke to anyone else. I escaped from my prison because I wanted to prevent that from happening. Right after escaping, I hurried as quickly as I could to his house.
“By the time I arrived, it was far too late. He and his wife were dead. The only person left alive was his fatally wounded young daughter.”
“He was my father,” Hikaru whispered.
Joanna nodded. “I don’t think even his wife knew about his secret.”
They were silent again. Hikaru spoke just a few words at last. “Thank you, Joanna.”
“You’re welcome, Hikaru.”
There was nothing left to say. Hikaru turned to walk away. As she walked, she turned to glance back only once. By that time, Joanna was gone.
She got into the passenger seat and buckled her safety belt. Logan was sitting at the driver’s seat. “Were you right?” he asked.
“Yes,” Hikaru said. “It was exactly what I thought it was.”
Logan nodded and then began to drive. Most of the ride passed in silence, but there was something different about that silence this time. Hikaru could feel it. Finally, she asked him, “What are you going to do now?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s all over now. United Motors has been destroyed, so you don’t need to carry out missions against the company. Your job for the past decade is over now. So what are you going to do?” She searched his face. “You’re not still searching for redemption, are you?”
Logan seemed thoughtful for a moment. Then, he said, “Are you hungry?”
Hikaru was a little surprised, but she answered. “I’m starving, actually.” She looked longingly out at the city passing by. “I think I could eat a whole tray of sushi.”
“Well then, why not?”
Hikaru sighed. “There aren’t any good restaurants in this city for that kind of thing. All the Americans here are content with sushi that’s just good enough. They don’t know what good food tastes like.”
“There’s a fairly new restaurant on the opposite side of town. It could take a while to get there, but the chefs are native Japanese. They use fish caught that very day to prepare their food, and the difference is very noticeable.”
Hikaru raised an eyebrow. “Why Logan, I would never have expected you to be a connoisseur of fine dining in the area. Where do you get all this knowledge of restaurants?”
She was looking at him, so there was no mistake in her mind that he had smiled. “Being an intelligence officer has its advantages,” he said quietly.