“Mine honor is my life.”
---- Shakespeare, Richard II, I, i.
Once again I sit on my horse on the rain drenched Adachiagara Plain. Beside me, my lord and master. He to whom I would gladly surrender my life to protect, sitting high and proud in his saddle.
The battle against the enemy has been going well. But all that will change – as it always does. Under the layers of my armor, even through my thick fur, I shiver and for the first time I realize the coincidence. Am I reacting to the cold or is it a premonition from what I know will happen next?
Through the haze of the downpour I see that the messenger has arrived from the front, his body is covered with mud mixed with blood, to the small hill where we stand. He comes, as he always does, with his last message.
My Master’s once calm and serene face distorts with anger as he listens to the detailed account of this most base treachery by one of his retainers. Suddenly, an anonymous arrow finds its mark on the messenger’s back, silencing him forever.
Once again, I am in awe of my lord’s bravery as he orders the futile attack to break the ranks of the enemy. Our doomed counter thrust is launched under a thick hail of enemy arrows. One finds its target in my lord’s heart, killing him instantly.
I’ve failed him again. But my duty to him does not end with his death. I dismount and with one swift slash of my sword, I decapitate him in order to avoid my master’s public disgrace. Now I grip the reins of my horse tightly as I race towards the hills surrounding the battlefield to hide it.
Uh-oh, the young man in the virtual-suit looked at his chrono. I’m late.
“End simulation, please,” he uttered.
Immediately, the entire computer generated scene of carnage and battle from what a historian would recognize as 17th century Japan disappeared. He removed the hood of his virtual-suit as he used his fingers to comb back his shiny black hair, which was slightly damp with sweat. Hastily, he unzipped the rest of the suit from his lean and toned body, while he recovered his katana-Z, Tempest and his wakizashi, Northwind from the Simulation Room’s locker. Once secured on his belt he began grooming the wrinkle free, blue and black Bushido International uniform, which he wore underneath the V - suit.
At this precise moment the Sim-room door clanged open. Without needing to look towards the doorframe he was well aware that the newcomer was the “shugyosha” under his tutelage, Mori Padilla. His mind pictured perfectly the slender, tall, Indian-like beauty.
Turning to finally acknowledge her presence, he noted that her hands were on her shapely hips of her BI uniform, lips pouting with a slight air of annoyance. “Permission to speak freely?” she asked.
Ramon Sakai knew that it was futile to deny her request. When apart from other Bushido International staff she always freely spoke her mind anyway. Still her manners were irreproachable.
“Go ahead Mori,” he sighed.
“Could you please remind me again. What is the reason for your obsession with simulations depicting these … funny animals---”
“Anthropomorphic!” Sakai interjected, as he folded his V – suit on his arm.
“…based on some archaic art form. What was it called?” she continued without missing a beat.
“Comic books,” Ramon hissed.
“Ah, yes,” her perfectly shaped eyebrows shot up. “That’s it, comic books. Juxtaposed pictorials and other images in a deliberate sequence. Correct? And drawn and printed on paper, I believe.”
Ramon shook his head in defeat. It was the same argument all over again. He had tried before, unsuccessfully, to explain his affection for the material. But the chances of that happening were about the same as attempting to address the finer points of Three Stooges slapstick comedy. Sakai had already resolved that the day Mori understood those two guilty pleasures of his would be the same day Hell froze over.
It also did not help matters that during every attempt he invariably lost his train of thought, totally distracted by her soft golden tanned skin and almond shaped eyes with their dark inviting brown pupils. Wondering if her lush black hair had that touch of sweet smelling perfume he secretly adored.
Still, he composed himself as best he could and replied, “This rabbit character I role-play is loosely based on the famous 17th Century samurai called Miyamoto Musashi. In late 20th century the author, Stan Sakai, wanted to publish a comic book on the Samurai Saint but drew a sketch of a rabbit with his long ears tied up, instead.”
“A rabbit samurai,” she smirked, again pouting such desirable lips.
Was it getting hot in here? He agonized.
“Uh …what was I saying?”
“Musashi? Stan Sakai? Rabbit samurai?” she teased playfully.
The young samurai abruptly felt a shock of fear. Did she know? Had he been so careless, so unprofessional that she realized he had a crush on her?
“Ah, yes. Sorry.” Sakai cleared his throat nervously, “Scoff all you like but his work was required study at universities. Many considered the comic book “Miyamoto Usagi” more than just stories about rabbits and honor. It was full of keen observations and faithful adaptations of that important period in Japanese history, using compelling storytelling and a unique style of art. Isn’t the fact that our own company was founded using many of that era’s traits and vernacular enough to prove its worth?”
“And this has nothing to do with the fact that you both share the same last name?”
Ramon pointed at the chrono on his wrist, changing the subject. “We’re wasting time, shugyosha. We have to be at the Daimyo’s office in five minutes.”
The use of her title of samurai-in-training, signaled that the good-natured teasing of her mentor ended and it was back to business as usual. They both walked briskly out of the Sim-room, searching for a lift that would take them to their scheduled appointment.
The view from the lift’s cabin as it traveled on a rail along the outside of their building was majestic. Standing proud over a sea of clouds, with the golden hue of the sun as a backdrop, the Staten Island Pyramid could be seen from a distance.
Pyramid buildings had been the engineering marvels of the early part of the 22nd Century. Each borough of New New York had at least one and the Brooklyn Pyramid was one of the first constructed. So successful had been this solution to the population and housing shortage of the 21st Century that it had been adapted in all major cities nationwide.
Even the corporate headquarters of many private companies that had fled the city in 2001, due to tragic terrorist attacks, had long returned full force. For decades now, New New York, once again, was the nerve center of the world’s commerce.
“Brooklyn-P”, as it was commonly known, stood one hundred and fifty stories high, twenty city blocks wide and was home to spacious and luxurious apartments, a small airport and innumerous offices. Bushido International, one of the oldest and most respected private security firms in America called Brooklyn-P home.
Daimyo Murtagh is going to be furious, Sakai’s mind was filled with apprehension. “Tardiness. The first clear sign of a lack of self-discipline.” The Daimyo’s infamous stern lectures, during morning briefings, had humbled many a samurai.
The lift, having reached the B. I. – office level, smoothly opened its doors allowing both samurai and trainee to emerge. But Sakai found his exit blocked by the imposing figure of a man, Daimyo Connor Murtagh.
Murtagh was six feet, three inches tall, easily two hundred and twenty pounds of muscle. Looking regal in his long black and white robe, hands clasped behind his back, his red hair seemed on fire, while his equally fiery red handle bar mustache covered his upper lip. Known in private circles as the “Living Legend”, thanks to his many exploits as a Street Samurai, his cases had been adopted as standard investigative procedure at the Academy.
One of the most celebrated and decorated samurai in the history of Bushido International was now dissecting both Sakai and Padilla with his penetrating blue eyes.
Better play it safe, Ramon said to himself. Both late arrivals dropped their arms to their sides and bent their heads slightly, which was the customary salute.
“Shugyosha Padilla report to Operations. Mr. Sakai come with me,” he growled with his deep Scottish brogue.
“Hai!” they replied in unison. Ramon stepped again inside the lift, standing behind and to the right of his superior officer. Whatever tinge of emotion he felt as he was abruptly separated from his trainee, he kept buried within himself.
“Departure Bay eleven,” the Daimyo’s commanding voice seemed to make even the lift respond with more promptness.
A few nervous minutes later Sakai stammered, “Daimyo Murtagh, sir. I apologize for being late. It will never happen again. Please don’t blame my shugyosha…”
With a raised hand, the legendary Daimyo silenced Sakai’s apology. “We have matters more important to discuss than tardiness, Samurai.”
The Daimyo lowered his voice, as though somebody might accidentally eavesdrop on their conversation and continued, “Listen closely Sakai: For years the Edo Conglomerate have been absorbing smaller independent security agencies. All in a concentrated effort to monopolize “Yojimbo” services. Bushido International has successfully fought off their takeovers bids in the past and has slowly become one of the few remaining freelanced operations in this country and the Shogun would like to keep it that way. Thus, competition for lucrative contracts has never been so fierce. Yesterday we received a message from our satellite office in Neo-Tokyo. An attempt on the life of Dr. Emil Vasso has been made.”
“Dr. Vasso?” Ramon’s tone was filled with awe. “The Nobel Prize winner for Biology? The man that identified and treated Moncrief Syndrome and discovered the cure for the Mertz Plague of ’29?”
“Yes, Sakai, the same. I am also aware who he is, thank you.” Murtagh snapped as he reached into his robe and thrust a palm-sized, rectangular PPC into Ramon’s hands.
“The news has just been made public by the Info-web. The Edo’s Tokugawa have been administrating his security for years. This near successful assassination attempt made the doctor reconsider their contract.
“I just received word that he has accepted our bid to continue with his protection. This is a unique opportunity to build on our meager foothold in Japan, a victory there would be considered a major coup in their own backyard.
“During the lengthy vid-con with our Shogun, the esteemed doctor specifically asked that you supervise the transition from Tokugawa to Bushido International security. It seems Vasso was impressed by your performance during the Chicago Hunger Relief incident.”
“Sir, the Chicago …but that was years ago.” Ramon said puzzled.
“Nevertheless, it stills seems to hold great significance with the doctor. That PPC has all the pertinent information on Vasso’s attack and our file on his personal history. Plus a priority “A” access to Operations where your shugyosha will be stationed, around the clock, to provide you with any further support you might need.”
The doors of the lift opened as they arrived at the cavernous departure bay. Their senses were assaulted and almost overwhelmed by the loud engine noises and the powerful fumes from the aircraft fuel. The bay’s mammoth opening led out into the blue sky and was large enough to accommodate small commercial aircraft such as VTOL, planes and helicopters.
Following a green colored path, etched on the ground just for pedestrians, the Daimyo ushered the young samurai past boarding passengers and scrambling flight crews, towards the section reserved for Bushido International chartered flights. The agent at the counter cleared them as soon as he saw them with a nod and they marched briskly past the gate and towards a sleek shaped, white airplane.
Murtagh stopped short just at the boarding ramp. “I know this all seems a bit – hasty – but that can’t be helped. Regardless of the importance of the contract, the life of a great man is at stake. Stop that assassin at all costs.”
The Daimyo’s face had an odd expression etched on it and Ramon was unable to identify it. Was he worried?
“I’ve been your Daimyo for some time now. We have faced many adverse situations before and in all that time, you’ve never given me cause to question your abilities or loyalty. I trust that you can carry out this assignment.”
“I will do my best, sir.”
The odd expression had disappeared and was replaced by his more characteristic austere visage. “Your travel papers are in order and on the plane. One of Vasso’s assistants will meet you at his residence. Remember this Sakai-san, ‘Act well your part; there all honor lies.’”
Sakai simply responded “Hai” and boarded the plane.
Over the aircraft’s speakers the pilot advised his crew to initiate take off procedures. Ramon settled into his seat, placing his virtual suit in the empty chair beside him. While he fastened his seat belt he noticed how vacant the small plane was.
No problem getting service on this flight, he joked silently.
Ramon glanced out his small view port and saw the Daimyo standing outside the gate waiting for the plane to depart. The odd expression had returned to Murtagh’s face.
Putting it out of his mind for the moment, the young samurai’s eyes caught a tender scene playing itself further behind his supervisor. A small girl with curly brown hair, she couldn’t be older than nine, was hugging her Nana-bot as she bid farewell to her father who was boarding a medium sized craft, its decal identifying it as a commercial carrier. The matronly designed guardian robot cradled the child tenderly in its wide steel reinforced plastic arms.
A precious child --- like so many others including himself, that would not have been born if not for Dr. Vasso.
Ramon needed a break.
His trip was still a few hours away from completion and ever since take off he had been reviewing Dr. Vasso’s file on the PPC. Much of the information on the famed doctor was general knowledge. Ramon glanced over the standard media Holo-vid images of the doctor’s childhood, Nobel Prize acceptance speech and clinic scene where the image of a young Vasso was captured administrating the first M-Plague vaccine. What the samurai did study in detail were vid’s of the doctor’s entire staff and schematics of his palatial home in Japan.
Sakai sighed and stretched, shutting down his portable computer and placing it on the empty seat beside him. A middle-aged, female flight attendant approached him, smiled warmly and announced that the galley was ready to serve him his meal. Ramon nodded and activated the HV-Cable flat-screen situated on the back of the seat in front of him.
A computer-animated female anchor with a husky toned voice appeared. “How can HV-Cable be of service?”
“I wish to buy one hundred minutes of viewing.”
“Please place you thumb print on the scanner near the flat-screen in order to process your order.” Ramon complied and the screen read “Thank you.” A menu appeared with topics ranging from Sports to Entertainment.
“Scan news channels: Nationwide coverage only. Random sorting, please.” Complying with the order, tiny rotating vid-captions appeared. Each one vying for Sakai’s attention.
“….politicians never miss an opportunity to appear on the vids. And here we see the entire House of Representatives on the stairs of the Capital reciting the pledge of Allegiance without “under God”…”
“….we could be experiencing a resurgence of real, flesh and blood actors with real directors filming on real sets the way it used to be. A spokesperson for The Synth-Actors Guild, when pressed for a statement about the return of the human element to acting, replied, ‘No comment.’…”
“….six million more than last year. The elderly are committing suicide and what we are asking is that the Surgeon General take action…”
“….Lanski, is the first, full-time Elvis impersonator to be elected governor. When asked what the king might have thought about all this, Lanski replied, ‘He’d hope I had a lotta hunk’a, hunk’a, burnin’ love for my voters.’...”
“…. anniversary of the Act, which classified all gunpowder firearms as obsolete antiques. Of course, they were replaced by the vastly popular and more humane sonic blasters but even those are even more heavily regulated than their ancestors…”
“….house that Ruth built’ finally met its fate with the wreaking ball today. A small group of baseball fans were allowed access to obtain souvenirs while lamenting the death of the sport once considered ‘The ‘Nation’s Favorite Pastime’...”
“….sweeping changes not seen in this country since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in ’02—”
“Hold there.” Ramon ordered.
At his command the flat-screen monitor held the image on a “springer” broadcasting from Washington D.C. The host was a slightly overweight Lati-merican female and her guest was a dour looking Afrika-merican.
“….you’re suggesting a unified national police force with the military included?” The host demanded.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Why stop there? Why don’t we just allow this to become a police state?” she rebuked.
“Please,” the Afrikan calmly took off his therma-shades, rubbed the bridge of his nose and replaced them before he continued, “I know hysterical antics and fear mongering are good for ratings but allow me to explain.”
“Go ahead, I can’t wait to hear this,” she said crossing her against her ample bosom.
“The official deputizing of bounty hunters, private security firms and investigators by the then head of Homeland Security back in 2021 was a step in the right direction but a timid step.
“Until twenty years ago, fifteen reputable private companies, in concert with the government, oversaw the security of our streets. Now there are less than six. It’s natural evolution and anyone can see that it’s already heading in that direction. The fittest company, with the best Street Samurai shall survive and thanks to the repealing of the Anti-trust laws, one company is all we really need.”
“So your answer is to go back to the ways things were done in the beginning of the twentieth century. One Rockefeller or one Gates with their hands – and only their hands -- on the ‘button’,” the host disputed.
“Again with the hysteria, Ms. Jacinta, I warn you. I will not be provoked,” her guest adjusted his tie before replying, “Laws granting the government unlimited access to inspect companies and CEOs for abuse and corruption today are ten times more stringent than they were back then. Remember the corporate corruption scandals of the beginning of the 21st century? That hasn’t happened since nor will it again. This country and its citizens have matured.”
The host waved a finger threateningly, “I must say I am surprised to be having this type of discussion with someone with your educational background, that seems to have forgotten that they were once a minority in this country. A person whose great, great grandparents – like mine -- quite possibly lived their day to day lives in terror, as long suffering abuse victims from Anglo law enforcement.
“Have we the right to spit on the legacy of those people that finally exercised their political muscle and won the push to privatize the Anglo Police Department and totally revamp the inefficient legal justice system?
“In effect, stopping years of Anglo political influence, Anglo fiscal mismanagement and endless scandals of Anglo corruption. This world we live in today exists because we learned to respect the views of all people not just those of an elite few.
“Dr. Saide, I thought you were a Marxist, sir, but you’re worse, you’re another limp d --- wannabe fascist!”
“That’s enough b ---!” The guest rose from his chair angrily, “How dare you…”
An incoming transmission warning flashed across the flat screen, interrupting the broadcast.
“Hold my account,” Sakai directed, “Accept transmission.”
The screen faded and his heart skipped a beat as he saw the lovely face of his shugyosha appear. “Your PPC was off, so I linked with the plane’s HV. How’s the trip so far?” she asked jovially.
“Service is great,” he motioned with his head at all the vacant seats, “There’s tempura on the menu, I haven’t tried it yet but I hear it’s quite fresh. And you?”
“We’re ready over here. I got a hookup to every info-net you can imagine and some I bet you haven’t heard of. All you have to do is ask me and I’m yours.”
Her innocent and off the cuff remark made Ramon clear his throat and blush slightly as a highly erotic scene with her flashed in his mind.
“Are you alright Sakai-sama?”
“Yes, yes. I’m fine,” he gushed, “A … uh … peanut went down the wrong way.”
“They still serve them?”
“Look, the flight attendant is bringing my meal,” he gathered himself again, “You’ve done a great job so far. I’ll get back with you at Vasso’s residence.”
“See you then,” she ended the transmission smiling. Her image faded away and the flat-screen blinked “Pause”, waiting for further instructions.
Sakai was lost in thought. He missed her. Ramon had become so accustomed to her presence it was as she had always been a part of his life. Padilla wasn’t his first love or his first lover -- Ramon wasn’t that naïve. But ever since the day she had been assigned to him there was something … he couldn’t fathom what exactly… that allowed her to reach into him and affect him in a way nobody before ever had.
His hand was still touching the screen softly when the flight attendant brought him his meal asking, “Did you call for me earlier?”
“Uh, no. No,” he muttered, “I was talking with someone from HQ.” Putting on his poker face, he swiftly changed the subject and said, “My, that tempura looks delicious.”
The moment the young Street Samurai set his foot out of his chartered limousine and onto the palatial estate of Dr. Emil Vasso, a sense of immediate danger almost overwhelmed him. Dr. Vasso lived in a recreated Japanese 16th Century stone castle just minutes away from the spiraling, pristine towers of Neo-Tokyo.
It’s like something out of Mifune National Park, he thought to himself.
Dr. Vasso’s Chief of Staff, Matabe, greeted Ramon with a slight bow. They were standing at the entrance to the north gate, where hours before a press conference had been held, explaining the situation at Vasso residence.
Matabe was a bald, thin, fragile looking man with enormous black eyes, wearing a white and brown kimono that looked two sizes too big. In person he appeared much older than his image on the vid-file that Sakai reviewed. He sure doesn’t look twenty-eight years old. Ramon’s impression of the doctor’s Chief of Staff was that he reminded him of a human sized Chihuahua.
“Welcome, Ramon Sakai,” Matabe said with a shaky, nasal obstructed sounding voice. “Dr. Vasso has been expecting you. I trust your flight went well.”
Before Ramon could reply, a high pitched whine of accelerating hover engine turbines heralded the swift approach of three large ebony spheres. Years of training and field experience nurtured defensive habits and Sakai casually crossed his right hand over his waist and rested it on the hilt of his katana-Z. The Street Samurai’s earlier sense of peril becoming even more acute.
Matabe noticed Sakai’s discomfort and quipped, “Really, Mr. Sakai. They are simply the estate’s AIBOs sent here to escort us.” The black globes hovered and circled the two men and Ramon instantly recognized their model and classification.
Doberman Class, he mused.
Oblivious to the threat, the Chief of Staff turned, leading the walk up the steep white stone path towards the castle’s main gates. At that instant one of the AIBOs separated from the other two and blocked his progress. Ramon grabbed Matabe with his free hand and slowly placed himself in front.
“Don’t move!” Sakai hissed through clenched teeth.
“I don’t understand,” whined the lanky thin man. “It must be a malfunction.”
“All three of them?” Ramon retorted.
Through the corner of his eyes the Street Samurai measured the positions of the other two AIBOs and calculated the distance between all three spheres and himself.
Just a few more meters!
The AIBOs slowly closed the circle and their lights changed from passive amber, signifying intruder alert, to a more menacing red, meaning attack mode. In a few seconds, Sakai knew, small pincer-like extensions would deploy from inside and discharge a lethal volt of electricity.
With an ear-piercing cry Ramon unleashed Tempest from its scabbard. The katana-Z’s thin omni-blade extended instantly to its meter length and faster than Matabe could follow the Street Samurai slashed repeatedly at the air surrounding them.
The frightened Chief of Staff nervously pried the fingers of his hands from in front of his eyes and saw Sakai standing serenely with his katana-Z once again on his belt. Miraculously, the three AIBOs had not attacked and simply continued to hover.
“What hap….” Matabe’s words were caught in his throat as he saw tendrils of blue-white energy flashing and dancing across the surface of the spheres and then all three AIBOs began to split apart, falling inert to the ground.
“It seems that your security problems,” Sakai said without looking at him, “include undomesticated mechanical pets.”
The north wing of Vasso’s castle was designed and furnished with western sensibilities in mind. Only here were shoes allowed inside.
Matabe gracefully opened the oak double doors and Sakai’s eyes immediately took in the beautiful European nude paintings – Renaissance period? – plush Afghan carpets, and the matching oak chairs and table.
His field of vision finally came to rest on another set of double doors, at the far end of the room where two Tokugawa guards stood in hushed conversation. One of them, a stocky middle aged man, was clearly chastising the younger, taller one.
Upon realizing they were no longer alone, they abruptly ended their exchange and stood at attention. Sakai was impressed. The duo looked impeccably stylish in their period clothing. All Tokugawa dressed exactly as the samurai did during the 17th century, which included the shaved forehead and slipknot. They also practiced the laws of the time but unlike the American Amish – which many unfairly drew comparisons – they were both familiar with and utilized current technology.
Matabe faced the contemporary samurai, “Sakai-san, may I introduce you to Ichinobei, Captain of the Guard and Hatsu, his assistant. Then he turned and faced the Tokugawa, “Gentlemen, Ramon Sakai of Bushido International.”
As manners dictated Ramon bowed and the two Tokugawa responded in kind. But to Sakai, even under the veneer of gentility, their simmering disdain was evident.
“He must be the luckiest gaijin I’ve ever met,” Hatsu spat out suddenly in old-Japanese. “How else can you explain taking out three AIBOs with that needle he calls a sword?”
“Hatsu, enough!” the captain fired back, “You will speak in English-Standard and show more respect.”
“It is alright, Captain,” Sakai volunteered, “I am well versed in the language of our honorable ancestors. But I did take offense to one thing ---”
In a spurt of lightning speed, Sakai reached over, drew Tempest out of his belt and struck Hatsu’s waist with the point of his sword. A hand-sized AIBO remote control fell out of the stunned Tokugawa’s pocket, splitting in two as it bounced on the floor.
“…. I am not a gaijin.”
Hatsu gasped. Ichinobei, although stunned by Sakai’s display of speed and skill, nonetheless, swiftly unsheathed his own standard katana.
“Are you accusing Hatsu of provoking your incident with the AIBOs?” the captain protested.
“I didn’t accuse your colleague of anything but you will discover Ichinobei-san,” Sakai’s voice was as cool as ice as he fell into a more aggressive stance, “that my actions always speak louder than my words.”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen! Please!” Matabe cried as he foolishly placed himself between the blades of the three samurai. “Not here. Not here! The furniture is worth millions of yen!”
“Ah, Matabe,” teased Dr. Vasso as he emerged slowly from the double doors the Tokugawa were guarding, “only you would consider the value of inanimate objets over witnessing the priceless technique of such skilled and deadly warriors.”
Born in the United African States, Vasso was an extremely tall, dark skinned man with large hands and a bushy mustache. His skull was bare, and he wore a small interlink terminal, surgically grafted to his right temple, covering also his right ear. The terminal was the “mark” of his stature in the scientific community, granting him access to information from any computer terminal, anywhere.
Everyone on the room immediately bowed at the doctor, muttering apologies for such a crass display of rude behavior.
“Nonsense, nonsense,” the doctor cooed, “Fortunately no harm was done. Now if you would please sheath your katanas? Ichinobei-san and Sakai-san follow me. We have much to discuss.”
Albeit silently, Ramon admitted that the captain had been very thorough during the Tokugawa’s stint as security managers. Over the course of Ichinobei’s briefing, it was clear to Sakai that every manner of precaution concerning the doctor’s safety had been taken into account. The captain of the guard occasionally prodded Dr. Vasso with indirect pleas for the Tokugawa to continue their contract but the doctor simply ignored him.
“Well, Sakai-san,” Dr. Vasso turned to the Street Samurai, “have you anything to add?”
“With all due respect, sir. I have reviewed all pertinent data you sent to my superiors back at Headquarters, and after what I’ve just heard from Ichinobei-san, I find myself wondering, why Bushido International? Aside from the failed attempt on your life, your security had been more than adequate.”
The doctor chuckled lightly. “I see your reputation for being direct is well deserved young man. But regarding the assassination attempt I fear your supervisors were not given complete disclosure. Allow me to rectify that now, Ichinobei, please show him the vid-images from file 81855.”
The captain complied and a large wall-monitor activated and began to show split screen images of Tokugawa, twenty in all, on guard duty in and around Vasso’s castle. Suddenly, one by one, they fell before a deadly blur of movement. So fast was the unidentified attacker that some of the guards were struck completely unaware, unable to draw their weapons, others did but paid the ultimate price. In a span of a few minutes the entire group of Tokugawa were either dead or severely wounded.
“An unpredictable departure delay had my staff and I arriving from the airport later than usual,” Dr. Vasso said softly. “Had I been home as scheduled—“
“What was that … thing?” Sakai exclaimed.
“That Mr. Sakai, is the reason why I hired you.”
Settling into a sparsely furnished small room near the east wing, serving as both his dormitory and private office, Ramon spoke with his shugyosha via secured channel on his PPC, keeping her abreast of his progress.
“Twelve shugyoshas from our satellite office here in Neo-Tokyo patrol the gates, hallways, personal quarters and interior garden. I’m using squads of three guards per shift and keeping five in reserve.”
“Understood.” Padilla acknowledged.
“Those modified motion detectors arrived thirty minutes ago and I … uh …borrowed some Technos. They are installing MDs at major entry spots and some other areas I’ve identified plus they’re working on a few surprises that I’ve planned, as we speak.”
“Borrowed?” His shugyosha smirked before she continued, “I heard you commandeered them. And they were not too happy about it.”
“Borrowed, commandeered. To-may-to, to-ma-toe,” Sakai returned the smile.
“The Daimyo has agreed with your recommendation that security maintain a visible presence near the doctor. If that assassin truly is as formidable as I saw and not some elaborate vid special effect, reaction time is going to be crucial. Be extra careful Ramon.”
Did he hear correctly? Was that genuine affection or just apprehension in her voice?
Yes. No. Yes! He fretted. Of course she was worried but as a fellow colleague, a student concerned about the safety of her teacher and nothing more. Nothing more.
“Ahem.” Mori cleared her voice and dragged Sakai back to the here and now.
“Any luck enhancing the image from file 81855?” he huffed regaining his composure.
“Still nothing,” a frown marred her smooth forehead, “Our Technos here concluded that the assassin knowing he or she would be under surveillance wore a portable cloaking device of some kind.”
“Portable? That small?” Ramon dissented. From what he knew, technology that sophisticated was still decades away, “What does the register say? Do we have any techno-company on record researching or experimenting with that type of technology in our database?”
“Nothing on current files,” Mori shrugged her shoulders, “databases are rife with rumors of the military looking into it. I’m almost positive that the civilian side has nothing. I got into a similar argument here in HQ but Ops went over that image with everything we have and the evidence – what little there is – supports the theory.”
The samurai paused for a few seconds, weighing alternatives.
“Keep trying to enhance that image until we retrieve something more definitive.” Ramon then touched a “Send” icon and continued, “Meanwhile, check the military archives for any information regarding the first item I just mailed to you. As far as the second….”
Padilla’s expression darkened, “The first one is do-able. But the second … are you absolutely positive? You know that our Med-Unit banned their use except for very extreme cases.”
Reluctance again. Normally she followed orders without hesitation. Was this … No! Damn it! This had to stop! He deliberated fiercely with himself.
His feelings and his desire to see them reflected in her were inching their way onto the surface. It was becoming an impossibility to mask them anymore. This added distraction was not welcome – too much was at stake. When this assignment ended he must address this situation or it would completely undermine their student – teacher relationship. Ramon silently thanked the Daimyo for separating them.
“You have your orders Shugyosha Padilla,” he decreed, “If my hunch is correct that item will be the difference between Dr. Vasso surviving this or not.” He lamented reminding her of her rank and position but it was too late to take it back.
“Yes sir,” her voice adapting a more formal tone, “I will inform you as soon as the item is sent out.” Without signing off, she abruptly ended the transmission.
Was she angry? Was she just anxious to accomplish the tasks he had placed before her? Once again Sakai found himself staring at an empty screen, fighting to keep his mind focused on the task before him and not on regrets and doubts.
“Is this really necessary?” Dr. Vasso spat.
“I apologize for the inconvenience, sir,” the young shugyosha bowed slightly. “I’m just following orders.”
Modern plumbing for his bathroom was another concession Vasso had made when approving the plans of his ancient castle recreation. The apprentice samurai swiftly finished scanning the room before declaring it safe and clear.
“Thank you,” the doctor icily replied as he tied the waistband of his robe.
Matabe quickly intervened shushing the samurai-in-training away and took his place beside the bathroom door. The shugyosha stood at attention near the entrance of the master bedroom and tried hard to blend in with the walls.
“I will speak to Sakai-san immediately,” Matabe raised his voice to ensure the Street Samurai could hear him. “This is an outrage ---”
“You will do no such thing,” Vasso’s muffled voice interrupted as he dabbed his face with a towel.
“The Street Samurai are thorough,” the doctor added in a more measured tone. “And just a bit extreme. However, I approve. Not another word.”
Vasso left the bathroom and strode into his enormous closet absentmindedly choosing a leisure suit. He then placed it upon a night table beside his futon, turning towards another part of his closet to select a pair of boots. Matabe swiftly selected another suit, one much more fashionable, replacing the one chosen by his employer.
“He is the only one that can help me, you know,” Vasso said softly so his words would not carry.
Matabe shook his head slightly, “You know I hate to doubt your wisdom, but are you sure, sir?”
“Judge him not with the clouded eyes of prejudice,” Vasso waved a finger at his assistant, “like our previous protectors did. Street Samurai from Bushido International are quite formidable. Unlike the Tokugawa, their ranks are filled with men and women of all races and cultures. People willing to voluntarily withhold their personal beliefs to honorably serve justice and the pursuit of truth. It is their “Holy Grail” and their greatest strength.”
Having finished grooming himself, the doctor finally stated, “Yes, Sakai is a great asset. Of that I have no doubt.”
“Then that is all I need to hear,” Matabe whispered bowing.
“Sakai-san, I trust you find this dinner more pleasing to your palate than that tempura that you had on the plane,” Vasso inquired before he sipped his sake.
The doctor and his new Captain of the Guard sat on their knees in the castle’s spacious dining room. A shiny black table filled with sushi, rice balls and other Japanese delicacies separated them. Dark wood sliding doors were pulled back, allowing them a splendid view of the castle’s beautiful bonsai garden. Two shugyosha were posted there and one in the hallway that connected the Dining Room with the private quarters.
Ramon tenderly placed his bowl of rice on the lacquered table and replied, “Oh, yes. Thank you. May I say that it is truly an honor to dine with you.”
Near the entrance of the dining room, Matabe sat quietly, supervising the entire meal. Two lovely female servers sat closer to the men at the table, outfitted in their colorful and alluring kimonos, ready to remove or refresh items at any moment.
“The pleasure is mine,” the doctor grinned. “The transition has gone well, I take it?”
“Very well, in fact. Our shugyoshas are posted and have been thoroughly briefed.”
“Have you been able to identify the intruder?”
“Not yet, but I have some theories.”
“Really? Would you share them with me?”
“Forgive me but with all due respect, Dr. Vasso, I rather not. Lacking concrete facts, I do not wish to discomfort you unnecessarily.”
“Tell that to Matabe and my bathroom.”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Nothing Sakai-san,” Vasso fibbed while dabbing the corner of his mouth with a napkin, “a private joke. I am delighted to observe first hand that a Bushido International Street Samurai’s reputation for honesty is not an exaggerated trait.”
“Thank you sir. If I may be so bold, after acquainting myself with your vid-file, the style and design of your place of residence fascinated me. You could live anywhere in the world – why a recreated castle in Japan?”
The doctor leaned back, smiling generously. It had been a question asked many times before. “I was touring the world, personally supervising the distribution of the M – Plague vaccine and when I arrived for the first time in Japan, I felt that I had arrived home. I know that this sounds hopelessly naïve but it true. I’ve even toyed with the idea of becoming a nationalized citizen.”
“I never would have guessed.”
“Oh, yes. As far as my humble abode, ever since I was a lad, I was a rabid fan of this particular period in Japanese history. Between my studies in medicine and biology, I devoured entire texts related to the rise and fall of the Shoguns and samurai class. Much to the chagrin of my parents.” His shoulders shook slightly while he chuckled.
“The Tokugawa or Edo Period secured a military style rule of relative peace for two hundred and fifty years. Remarkable, is it not? Even with all the obvious flaws: Isolation from the West, clear division of social hierarchy and convoluted treachery of the ruling class, it also gave birth to extremely important intellectual and cultural developments some copied and others unequaled even today.”
“More that just rabbits and honor.” Sakai mumbled.
“I beg your pardon?”
“My apologies,” Sakai tilted his head, “it would seem that in this we are kindred spirits. Please continue.”
“As a reward for the eradication of the M – Plague here, the Japanese government and the Royal Family offered me the chance to relocate here. Normally, I would have refused but when I made an off the cuff remark about ‘only if I could live in a castle’ they went so far as to offer to construct it to my specifications.
“Even generously offering to supply my personal protection. It was one of the reasons the Tokugawa were assigned as my exclusive security guards. The government insisted on it but I also admired their passion and courage to embody that period of time in today’s world.”
We studied at the Academy that the awarding of that contract made them a force to be reckoned in the security world. Ramon recalled.
“I have the greatest respect for them,” Sakai stated evenly, “I wish they could say the same about others in the profession.”
“Privately they do. But taking into account the harsh competition surrounding companies like yours are embroiled in and their chosen way of life, it is simple to understand why it will never be admitted publicly.”
“Sir, if I may change the subject slightly, allow me to be frank. I am at a loss as far as motive for this attack. My files denote a few rivals and detractors in your field but nothing serious enough that would warrant the desire to see you dead.”
The doctor remained silent for a few moments then replied, “I began to receive death threats via mail-links a few months ago. At the time, I refused to grant them even a moment’s notice. Those of us that constantly live under public scrutiny grow accustomed to them but ignoring them seemed to only make them more frequent.
“Then came the damage to equipment and property. Vehicles were vandalized and threatening phrases sprayed on the castle’s walls.”
“What did they say?” Sakai exclaimed.
“Phrases like: ‘I know your secret’, ‘Your death will reveal the truth’, among other things.”
Sakai’s mind went into overdrive. It was all he could do not to raise his voice in anger, “Sir, why did you not share this information when I arrived?”
“I did not think it relative,” the doctor replied nonchalantly.
“Dr. Vasso, no matter how minor the detail may have seemed to you, everything is relevant. Is your assistant aware of the pertinent facts?”
“Then I am afraid I must cut short this wonderful repast and get back to work,” Sakai moved away from the table and locked eyes with the doctor’s Chief of Staff. “Matabe-san, may I speak with you? Please excuse me, doctor.”
The doctor tilted his head silently, and when his Chief of Staff and new Captain of the Guard left, he continued with his meal.
Silence reigned at Vasso’s residence. The night shift went about their duties with hushed efficiency, trying not to disturb the peaceful atmosphere. But not all the inhabitants of the castle were enjoying the noiselessness.
For one particular individual the screams in his mind had become a familiar but unbearable noise. A cacophony of voices pleading, begging, and wailing endlessly. It took an enormous effort to shut them out. It inevitably failed.
Even when a brief silent window of peace was achieved, the voices would come back, stronger and louder than the previous time. Only one thing would assure their silence forever: The corpse of Dr. Emil Vasso.
A new security firm had taken over the doctor’s protection. It was a logical move and from what the assassin had been able to observe closely, the Street Samurai Ramon Sakai would be a noteworthy opponent.
Yet, even he could be fooled. It was the assassin, unseen near the castle’s entrance that scrambled the AIBO’s controls. Setting up the Tokugawa was just a red herring.
Laughing to himself, the assassin welcomed the challenge posed by the Bushido International employee. For regardless of any new measures adapted by Sakai, the outcome was unavoidable – a foregone conclusion. And this time happenstance had been factored out of the equation.
Suddenly the assassin paused. Was it possible?
The voices! They seemed to have slightly muted their cries. They still could be heard whispering, murmuring but they were more subdued. The assassin continued with the final preparations for the assault on Vasso’s castle with renewed vigor.
A shugyosha for two and a half years, Yoshiro was learning his craft at the Tokyo satellite office. And while it was the customary norm before graduation, to him it was a never-ending torture.
Sipping hot tea from a small porcelain cup, the youthful looking twenty-two year old admired the way the garden was illuminated by the full moon. Standing beside the wooden steps outside the master bedroom he could make out the plush leafs of the cherry blossom trees, the quiet murmur of the various brooks and the garden trail that led eastwards towards the Buddha shrine forty yards away.
His parents, aware of his inclinations to become a yojimbo, begged him to join the Tokugawa but he declined. He hated those archaic haircuts and dreaded even more dressing up daily as something from a bygone era. Respecting tradition is one thing, living by it was another. Besides, Bushido International had kept its promise exposing its samurai to different cultures, seeing the world and being on the cutting edge of today’s technology.
Absentmindedly, he patted his katana-Z, Black Rain. Deadlier than a sonic blaster, the hilt of this standard issue Street Samurai weapon held billions of microscopic nanites swimming in a silvery metallic substance called “Mercury – Z”. With a touch of the activation switch, that only recognized the DNA of its owner, the razor sharp nanites instantly attached themselves magnetically and formed a meter long, needle-like blade – able to pierce almost anything.
Although the Tokugawa used a traditional katana, it was coated with a Mercury – Z polymer, the only substance that could stop a katana- Z blade. Yoshiro heard a rumor that some of the Tokugawa swords held historical significance.
To each his own, he shrugged. When the assignment order came from Daimyo Murtagh’s samurai, Ramon Sakai, Yoshiro jumped at the chance to garner experience under the few men fortunate to be supervised by one of Bushido International’s greatest.
Perhaps, after everything ended, the esteemed Connor Murtagh would preside over his graduation ceremony and personally issue his wakizashi.
What an excellent way to begin his career as a Street Samurai!
This new development with the doctor had taken Ramon totally by surprise. During his interview with Matabe the vandalism incident was covered in great detail. But why did Sakai feel there was not a genuine sense of alarm, rather annoyance from Vasso’s assistant? How can there not be any mention of this incident in the Tokugawa’s security history file? Was it omitted on purpose?
Exhaling heavily, he opened his eyes and focused on what was before him.
The Street Samurai was in his quarters, sitting on a mat in the lotus position, a small holo-cube on the floor in front of him showing a rotating humanoid image and schematics downloaded from his PPC. It was an artificial shinobi, an ancient Japanese shadow warrior more commonly referred to as a Ninja.
A Ninja-bot 3000 series to be precise.
Designed and built by Tezuka Industries based here in Japan, sponsored by the military and used primarily for government sanctioned assassination of world leaders in politically unstable regions. The Ninja-bots, however, had a short shelve life of only eighteen months before they were discovered by the World Council of Robotics, outlawed and decommissioned fifty years ago.
Seventy-five innocent government workers at a United States embassy in Kenya were massacred by a 3000 series and the resulting public scandal forced their early retirement.
Ramon recognized the pattern of infiltration and attack on the Tokugawa as one from a Ninja-bot but as he continued to review the file sent to him by his shugyosha, he also observed that all Ninja-bots had been accounted for and destroyed. While it wasn’t impossible that one Ninja-bot could have been omitted from inventory or reproduced, there were two nagging doubts about his theory.
First: the cloaking device. A Ninja-bot 3000 built with a cloaking device was a stretch but what other explanation was possible? Second: the attack itself. A 3000 series, once activated, would have left no one alive. It was that fatal programming flaw that resulted in the Kenya incident. Yet, this invisible assassin did. Why? If only he could confirm his theory with the blurred image!
Since his assignment began, Ramon felt a great unease. At first he believed it was a heightened sense of peril but now he realized that it was much more than that. It was a sense of … finality … lacking a better word. So many questions and no time to answer them.
Suddenly, further reflection was impossible for a flashing light on his sleek desk demanded his attention. Someone or something had tripped a silent alarm of one of the hidden motion detectors.
Urgently he began assembling the package that Mori had reluctantly sent him.
If only the command from Samurai Sakai made sense, Yoshiro mused.
All shugyosha were explicitly ordered not to deploy their blades if confronted by Vasso’s would be assassin. He had been briefed about the previous assault and seen with his own eyes the vid-file with the grounds full of injured or dying Tokugawa guards. Yoshiro would comply with the directive but with great misgivings.
Further doubts were suppressed as the first of the motion detector alarms began to wail. Immediately, the shugyosha ran to his post. During an emergency the samurai-in-training had been assigned inside the doctor's personal quarters and Vasso had retired for the evening. Without knocking, Yoshiro slid the bedroom door open, entered and locked it behind him.
Matabe was already inside. At first, Vasso’s assistant resented Yoshiro’s intrusive presence – especially after the bathroom incident – but now, as the sounds of struggle grew closer, Matabe’s eyes registered fear then relief as they welcomed the shugyosha’s appearance.
Positioning himself a few feet in front of the sliding door, Yoshiro observed that the doctor was not in his bed but on his knees, in the middle of the room, attired in a white kimono. His eyes closed, deep in a state of concentration, the doctor was a portrait of serenity and calm like the eye of a hurricane.
Yoshiro was about to order him to hide when, suddenly, the bedroom door exploded catching the shugyosha totally off guard. The force of the blast threw him roughly on his side. Luckily, he had been far enough away to be merely shaken and not lose consciousness.
Two guards were posted at the hallway, what happened to them? Yoshiro cursed to himself. These orders are insane! How can he defend his charge? Regaining his footing, he wiped his eyes from the cloud of dust and stared at the entrance, waiting for the assassin to present himself.
A figure cautiously entered the door. It was the only way Yoshiro could describe it since all he saw was the slight disturbance the wake of the intruder’s movement made in the dust cloud. It seemed more like a shimmering ghost, adapting to the color and shape of anything it came across.
Placing his body between the figure and the stoic Dr. Vasso, his instincts screamed at him. Draw it! Yoshiro’s hand squeezed the hilt of Black Rain, his knuckles turning white.
But the samurai-in-training realized that the intruder had stopped in his tracks. It was waiting. Waiting for what? He argued quietly.
Shh – snit!
The sound of a katana-Z’s blade deploying made Yoshiro look back at the ruined doorway. There with Tempest firmly grasped in his two hands stood Samurai Sakai, over his blue and black uniform he wore an AE (Adrenaline Enhancement) suit. Six tiny hoses branched out from a small backpack, each one ran along Sakai’s extremities, with two smaller ones beside his temples. An adrenaline chemical compound was administered directly through his skin allowing the wearer the ability to react with a speed and strength many times greater than normal. A visor and facemask completed the ensemble.
“Over here!” taunted the Street Samurai.
The ghost responded with a burst of speed, ignoring Yoshiro and leaping at Sakai. Finally, the shugyosha understood his superior’s directive. No normal human being could ever hope to react as fast or confront such a creature without help. Only wearing an AE suit could the odds be evened. But at what cost? Even he, a novice, heard of the perils of the AE suit.
The shugyosha’s task was clear. While Sakai engaged the assassin, he would evacuate the doctor and his assistant. The novice shook him, “Dr. Vasso! Please sir, come with me!”
So focused was Yoshiro on escaping with his charge that when Matabe broke a heavy vase over his head, he was knocked out instantly. Barely enough time for his mind to even register surprise.
The battle between nearly invisible assassin and modern day yojimbo was impossible to see with the naked eye. Both moved as blurs, stopping only for fractions of a second before repeatedly engaging their swords. Sparks flew each time Tempest and the ghostly killer’s blade met. If not for the polymer coating, the assassin’s blade would have long been destroyed.
Sakai moved the combat away from the bedroom by retreating back into the larger hallway, leading to the edge of the castle’s garden. He hoped that the shugyosha assigned to Vasso’s quarters had taken his cue and evacuated the doctor to a safer place. The samurai wished he could confirm it but distracting his attention anymore from his adversary was inviting an instant death. Ramon’s visor barely tracked his opponent!
Suddenly, Ramon was struck by a small but sharp knife-like spasm. It was pressure from inside his chest signally that his heart had began to succumb to fatigue. He had to end this fight soon! The AE suit took a great toll on the human body. This lapse urged Bushido International Med-staff to ban its use.
The assassin charged at Sakai. Taking full advantage of the superior strength provided by the AE suit Sakai executed a triple somersault and landed away from harm. The camouflaged killer’s response was to race horizontally across the castle’s wall, instantly shrinking the distance separating them, while slashing at the modern yojimbo.
Tempest, however, was ever present, parrying blow after blow that would have easily been a mortal wound. Sakai adopted a strategy that was childishly simple. He met whatever attack with an equal defense. Never pressing offensively and evading whenever possible. In effect, stalemating the assassin at every turn.
How much longer?
As if the blurry image had read his mind, it paused momentarily, deactivating the cloaking device that had shielded it from sensors and the naked eye alike. Sakai smiled underneath his face guard, as his assumption was proven correct. The killer had been a Ninja-bot 3000 series.
The robotic assassin was a foot taller than Sakai, its chest cavity slightly wider than the files he had studied -- it even wore a black cloth kimono. But where his human eyes would be located only a red glow peered out of its mask. Giving the artificial being an almost demonic resemblance, instead of the ancient shadow warrior it was modeled after.
A Ninja-bot equipped with a cloak! Amazing!
While speaking with Mori, Sakai speculated that if in fact he was to confront a Ninja-bot with a cloaking device that tiny, it would drain copious amounts of energy to remain camouflaged. The Street Samurai then gambled that at some point, if engaged long enough, its programming would choose between decloaking or remaining invisible, exhausting all its energy and shutting down.
But then his body shook uncontrollably from another spasm, his face was cold with sweat and he felt light-headed. His eyes became harder and harder to focus. Sakai had only one option available to him. If he failed to anticipate how the Ninja-bot would react …
The Street Samurai shut off the suit’s adrenaline flow and sheathed Tempest. The pounding of his heart instantly began to subside to more normal palpitations, his vision and head began to clear.
Once the Ninja-bot’s scanners confirmed it was not under attack, the robotic assassin sheathed its own sword, turned and began to walk towards Dr. Vasso’s bedroom.
I was right!
Ninja-bots were taken out of service because their programming failed to distinguish friend from foe but during the attack on Vasso’s castle Tokugawa were left alive.
The common denominator had been the fact that the survivors had been unable to bare their swords. Whatever programming this Ninja-bot employed had corrected the flaw of the original one.
That was the key! Sakai concluded.
Ramon tried to chase after the robot but lost strength in his legs and fell on his knees. His breathing was labored, his entire body felt exhausted and sluggish. Reaching into his pocket with a shaky hand, he found a blue pill.
This stimulant will jump-start my body, he noted as he swallowed, letting the pill take its effect. Precious seconds passed but the wave of weakness lifted. Ramon leaped from the ground back to full strength.
He reached Vasso’s just in time to witness a chilling scene. With its blade held over the doctor’s head, the Ninja-bot was ready to deliver the final blow.
“Now?” implored a voice in the shadows.
“No you fool, not now!” rebuked another. “We need to see how this plays out.”
“Enough!” the other broke in. “Or I’ll kill you myself.”
“Musashi!” shouted Ramon.
The response was immediate as a realistic holographic image of the Samurai Saint, a large wooded oar in his hands and poised to attack, appeared in the doctor’s bedroom. It was one of the surprises he had forced the Techno’s to install into the castle’s main security system by adapting the virtual suit he had accidentally brought with him from the Sim – room.
The artificial ninja’s programming forced it to ignore its target and scan the immediate threat. Just the distraction Ramon needed!
In concert with a running leap, the Street Samurai crossed his right arm at the elbow and grasped Northwind. Pivoting clockwise in mid air, he deployed both swords simultaneously with his katana – Z leading the charge.
Sakai’s battle cry filled the master bedroom as Tempest slashed downwards, meeting the mechanical assassin’s sword. While the robotic assassin’s central processor was swift enough to determine that the Musashi image was benign and prepared itself to meet Ramon’s attack, it was unable to compensate for Northwind.
The modern yojimbo’s left arm snaked out and impaled the point of the wakizashi into the robot’s neck. Sparks flew and bluish lubricant sprayed out from underneath the pierced artificial “skin” as the mechanical assassin staggered, mortally wounded.
The Street Samurai was relentless as he pressed his offensive cleaving off the mechanized ninja’s sword arm. The once mute robot howled as a banshee as it tried to move away from Vasso’s bodyguard. With an almost invisible stroke, Tempest decapitated the murderous robot, its open neck bursting with tendrils of energy and lubricant fluid. The head rolled and bounced on the hardwood bedroom floor, while the mutilated torso twitched and fell like a human body in midst of its death throes.
“No!” screamed Matabe suddenly. “NO!”
Ramon spun just in time to avoid the Chief of Staff’s dagger. Grabbing Matabe’s slender wrist, he wrenched it and the knife fell to the floor with the thin man following suit.
“It was you all along,” Sakai spat. “You were trying to murder the doctor.”
“No, no! It wasn’t that. You don’t understand,” Matabe whined, “I wasn’t trying to kill him. You are!”
“Not … in …sane.”
Upon hearing a soft, female sounding voice, Ramon froze. It had come from the head of the Ninja-bot. With its hood removed by the roll on the floor, Sakai could clearly see what was underneath. The body of the mechanical assassin may have been that of a Ninja-bot 3000 but its head was that of a Nana-bot.
“How is this possible?” Sakai gasped.
“Vasso … cre …a …tor,” came the stammered response. “Re … demp …tion. Re….” The robot grew silent as the bright light from its doe-like round eyes slowly faded.
“Redemption? Creator?” Sakai turned to Matabe. “What is going on here? Answer me!”
“Nana-bots are programmed to safeguard human life, Ninja-bots to take it,” droned the Chief of Staff, “the conflicting programs of this hybrid created by the doctor were combined. That is why it only attacks and kills immediate threats.”
“What did it mean by redemption?” Sakai insisted.
“For sometime now the world governments have been meeting in secret, forced to address the drain on Earth's limited resources. When the cherished hope of colonizing other worlds finally proved itself too expensive to become a reality, the United African States offered to develop a method to help reduce the ever-increasing population.
“With the success of Moncrief Syndrome fresh in the scientific communities’ mind, the doctor was assigned the task. And he succeeded beyond everyone’s wildest dreams. He created the M – plague.”
“Impossible! Dr. Emil Vasso, crusader for human rights, responsible for one of the world’s most vile and deadliest disease? I refuse to believe it,” Sakai roared.
“The original intent was a benign contraceptive but Vasso discovered that once in a patient’s bloodstream and when exposed to oxygen during intercourse, the chemical compound mutated. It brought irrevocable sterility to both partners, in some cases even death.
“Commoners or non-people, people with disabilities, abnormalities, beggars and prostitutes were used during the initial phases. When the implications of the first results became evident Vasso brought it to the attention of his superiors. He was rewarded with laughter. They were content that he had created a form of “hierarchy-cleansing” as the government chose to label it. The purpose was to reduce the population and those non-persons certainly qualified as surplus.
“As word secretly leaked out, the African government could not supply the nations requesting the drug fast enough. The doctor knew that it was nothing less than sanctioned murder but he was powerless to detain it.
“Only when the plague spread out of control and birth rates began to decline in an outbreak similar to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, affecting the previously untouched, privileged classes was an alarm raised.
“In little more than a decade after first distributing the drug, emergency rooms and hospitals filled with the “anonymous disease” with patients now showing leper-like disfigurations, a sign of the plague’s further mutation. The doctor worked feverishly to find a vaccine. If it could not restore fertility at least it would stave off death.
“By the time he perfected the cure, the loss of life was staggering. In the end seven million people died, twenty two million, scarred or sterile. Those were the longest years, the guilt compounding itself with every passing day. Vasso opted to name the plague after a homeless man that had been the first recorded fatality.
“The doctor traveled and supervised the distribution of the vaccine. Every man, woman and child regardless of their social standing was inoculated. During that tour he surprised his government by deciding to stay and live here in Japan. For him it was a self-imposed exile.
“And as far as the public knew the M – plague was a potent sexually transmitted disease that caused impotence, disfiguration or death.”
“Doctor?” Ramon pleaded, “Is this true?”
“He can’t respond.”
“Is he dead?”
“No. He administered a neural paralyzing agent,” Matabe whispered. “It slows down brain and body functions.”
“To await the release of death,” Matabe murmured. “The grief buried inside him scarred him. He suffered through deep bouts of depression and his mind defended itself the only way it could by disassociating itself from his reprehensible acts. His depression turned into madness and from this abyss a second personality emerged.
“This Emil Vasso was more pro-active and daring. It was this side of his personality that greeted you when you first arrived. It was this facet of his mind that vandalized the castle and wrote those cryptic messages. He also taught himself robotics and created the Ninja/Nana-bot hybrid. During dinner you witnessed his true personality. Only I who have served him for so long could notice the subtle changes.”
The Street Samurai tilted his head slightly, then walked to recover his wakizashi, which had rolled near a bedroom wall. “Something is still not clear. Why the suicide attempt masked as an assassination? Why take even more innocent lives, unless there were others that knew the truth.”
“Others?” Matabe queried, “Who ---”
Ramon’s stuck so suddenly that Matabe jumped with fright. The samurai’s sword penetrated the bedroom wall, cutting through the wood effortlessly and stabbing the person, his senses had perceived, stalking behind it.
Motioning with his hand for the Chief of Staff to remain where he was, he walked through the ruined doorframe. Ramon knew what waited for him on the outside --- he finally understood everything.
Hatsu’s corpse with a frown of anger etched on his face lay in the hallway. Further towards the castle’s garden, Ichinobei stood surrounded by ten Tokugawa, all with their katanas drawn.
“You cannot imagine how many times I reminded that fool to control his impetuous nature or it would be the death of him,” the ex-captain of the Guard said flatly.
“The final piece of the puzzle has fallen into place,” Ramon stated. “Obviously the African government wished to maintain their thin veil of secrecy. But when the doctor chose to live in Japan they feared the worst. Imagine the repercussions if he one day confessed his sins outside of their circle of influence and the entire world discovered that they had sponsored the scourge of the twenty-second century.
“So they “cut a side deal”, as they used to say, with the Tokugawa. You were not just protecting the doctor – you were really protecting the secret of the M – plague.”
“Just a deal with the Tokugawa?” boasted Ichinobei. “How little you know.”
Sakai was stunned. That remark implied forehand knowledge from the Japanese government as well.
“That explains why Vasso’s other personality constructed a Ninja/Nana-bot to kill himself. Once he realized that he wasn’t in a self-imposed exile but under arrest, ordering it to attack the castle invited public and media scrutiny. Giving him a legitimate reason to involve my company. But why didn’t the governments implicated just kill him? Dead men don’t tell tales.”
“The doctor’s mind,” replied Ichinobei, “even addled, was worth more than ten sane ones. Isn’t the robot proof enough? Had we been ordered otherwise….”
The ex-captain of the guard let the sentence fall adding, “After witnessing your skill during our first encounter I acquainted myself with your career. Tell me. Were you bluffing when you threatened to destroy the train the terrorist captured? Even if it meant that people in Chicago would have starved to death?”
“Your question insults me,” Ramon argued, “Bushi are bound to duty.”
“No,” Ichinobei snapped, “Tokugawa are Bushi -- true Samurai! You are travesties, vile bastardizations of our once pure and unique culture. Your arrival here gave the Edo Conglomerate the opportunity to discredit your organization once and for all.”
With Tempest held in both hands, diagonally up over his right shoulder, the Street Samurai prepared his invisible “circle of defense” and his method of attack. With the possibility of more men laying in wait to ambush him, retreat into the castle was out of the question. Ramon had no other choice than to reduce the number of his opponents here before he could make his stand at the specific he spot he had prepared.
“You realize,” the ex-captain of the guard pledged, “that you will not leave this castle alive.”
“And you forget what I mentioned earlier.” Ramon jeered, “my actions speak louder than my words.”
Without warning, the first wave of Tokugawa leaped at the Street Samurai. Both samurai grinned confidently as their katanas stabbed at Ramon.
Tempest’s response was a burst of rapid motion, the thin foil-like blade slashing in the form of a horizontal figure eight. Their grins disappeared, replaced with an astonished look now frozen on their faces. Both samurai were dead before they hit the ground.
Ramon then roared and charged at the other Tokugawa, his movements reminiscent of old-style fencing. Inchinobei and his men, caught by surprise, moved backwards and the Street Samurai took full advantage of their hesitation. Again the katana-Z scored a fatal blow on the nearest Tokugawa unable to parry swift enough.
A curt nod with his head, Ichinobei signaled four of the Tokugawa to break off and surround their formidable opponent. None of the combatants wasted energy by talking, speech now would be an unnecessary distraction. For the span of a heartbeat, each swordsman stood poised waiting for the other to move.
In a blink of an eye, Ichinobei suddenly found himself skipping backward, again dodging a cunning stab to his chest but Ramon’s attack was a feint for the Street Samurai then spun 180 degrees, sweeping Tempest in a downwards spiral angled left and right. The two Tokugawa that tried to approach him from behind fell lifeless.
With a path now cleared Ramon leaped over the two dead Tokugawa, and sprinted on the narrow garden trail leading towards the one place he knew his enemies could not surround him.
He arrived at a small arched wooded bridge connecting to the doctor’s recreation of a Buddha shrine, a gazebo-like wooden structure with a statute of the founder of Sangha surrounded by a six-foot wide moat, just as one of the quickest Tokugawa came within arm’s reach.
Spinning Tempest around Ramon hoped to catch him unawares and eliminate another combatant but this opponent was ready. He parried Sakai’s blow, mounting a deadly counter attack. For a few seconds both fighters were locked in a duel of deadly charges, stabs and sudden retreats.
The deadlock broke when, after a feint stab at the Tokugawa’s head, Sakai arched his blade below the waist, then up -- scoring a blow against the other’s chest. The samurai fell but Ramon accidentally hit his wrist against the bridge’s wooden guardrail, the sharp pain loosening his grip on Tempest, which fell into the moat.
Ichinobei and his remaining men were approaching too rapidly for Sakai to make an attempt and retrieve it. The Street Samurai had just enough time to pick up the dead Tokugawa’s sword and cross the bridge.
Now with the religious icon behind him and the small bridge serving as its only access he could defend himself from further attacks. The Tokugawa shook their katanas and screamed curses at him but dared not cross the bridge. Just as he surmised Ichinobei would not desecrate such a sacred symbol by hiding men in or around it.
“Coward!” Ichinobei howled from the other side of the bridge, “come back and face us!”
“I’m a coward yet you ‘bravely’ come after me with ten men,” Ramon replied as he reached into his pocket and pulled out an AIBO remote. It was Sakai’s second surprise. The ex-captain of the guard’s eyes opened with shock as the Street Samurai activated the device and the whine of a hover engine filled the air. From behind the shrine a camouflaged trap door opened and a polished brown and black striped sphere rose, its lights shining a brilliant red.
The more sturdy Boxer class, the yojimbo mused. With its pincers already extended, it attacked.
Livid with rage, Ichinobei boldly raced across the bridge as the AIBO’s pincers fired. The lethal electrical charge missed him, striking the remaining Tokugawa and shocking them senseless.
“Blasphemy! You disgrace the Buddha’s shrine to achieve victory,” Ichinobei spat, “Truly, your soul is a wasteland without honor.”
“Didn’t Master Sun-tzu say, ‘Attack where they are unprepared. Go forth where they will not expect it?’” Ramon shrugged as he let the AIBO remote fall, “Tokugawa hold the past as sacrosanct --- their greatest attribute and their greatest weakness. I don’t need extra men or a robot to defeat you.”
Sakai held the borrowed katana firmly above his head. His eyes spoke volumes. Both men knew there was only one way this would end.
The Tokugawa captain allowed himself a fleeting glance at the starry night, marveling at the celestial beauty. What had he read once? Ah, yes. “A man is a small thing and the night is very large and full of wonders”.
Returning Sakai’s penetrating gaze, both men nodded. Then without wasting any more precious time Tokugawa and Street Samurai ran towards each other.
Imbedding the borrowed katana on the ground next to where Ichinobei’s head had landed, Ramon retrieved Tempest from the moat, ordering the AIBO to search the grounds for signs of any more Tokugawa. Minutes later the robot guard dog reported that the castle was free of intruders. Sakai knew that would not last for long. The Edo Conglomerate would waste little time calling reinforcements unless he acted fast.
With his PPC he notified Mori to advise the Shogun and Daimyo Murtagh of the situation and to also contact the United States Embassy at Neo-Tokyo. Also he ordered that a Bushido Retrieval Team be scrambled to Vasso’s residence immediately.
Sakai walked through the castle, surveying first hand the results of the attack from the Ninja-bot. He confirmed that all shugyosha except for the unconscious Yoshiro were dead. Upon reaching the doctor’s bedroom he saw Matabe huddled in a corner trembling uncontrollably. A nervous breakdown?
Possibly, Ramon concluded. It certainly wasn’t hard to imagine a man like the Chief of Staff unaccustomed to witnessing so much violence and death.
Sakai found a medical glove on the floor and activated the auto-scan to determine how much longer the doctor had to live. There was a slim chance the Retrieval Team could reverse the neural agent. Vasso’s eyes slowly moved and stared directly at Ramon. A murmur not unlike labored breathing escaped the doctor’s lips. The samurai believed that it was the agent finally shutting down his lungs but the glove said differently.
Again Ramon heard the doctor make a sound. Was it a word? Although almost completely paralyzed the doctor was attempting to communicate something to him. Ramon kneeled closer in order to hear it. “E … man … ci … pa …tionnnnnnnn –”
Sakai shuddered. The outcome, if he took it, played itself in his mind. Ramon paused, taking stock of the revelations of the past hours, realizing that in an ironic twist of fate, accomplishing his mission – in effect -- wrenched away the doctor’s chance for atonement. Matabe was right.
Images of the doctor caring for the sick in remote parts of the world and being arrested with protestors with Amnesty International for the release of tortured political prisoners flooded Sakai’s mind. A man of peace, devoted entirely to serving his fellow man.
That’s why he specifically asked for me. He understood and respected my personal belief that a Street Samurai’s responsibility to a client did not end simply because the more immediate threat had been prevented. What was that old motto, “To serve and protect?”
He wishes to die with dignity. With honor. His soul unburdened by the weight of the albatross that was not his creation. Emancipation.
Oh, Mori. I’m sorry, he mourned sadly. But I must do this. I must.
“Rabbits and honor, ” the samurai shouted, “So be it.”
Yoshiro had just begun to regain consciousness, shaking his head to clear it, when he saw Ramon Sakai’s sword descend on the doctor.
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months as the investigation into the murder of Dr. Emil Vasso dragged on. The Japanese government, the United African States, the United States of America and other countries even indirectly involved demanded separate inquiries. The Edo Conglomerate took advantage of the opportunity and sued to close Bushido International operations.
Throughout the entire ordeal Ramon Sakai remained firm in his assertions on Vasso’s mental deterioration, the truth about the M-Plague and the conspiracy to withhold the secret. Media-Vids bombarded daily newscasts with minute to minute updates of the repercussions stemming from Japanese and African government involvement.
The trail of evidence led investigators to many high level officials across the globe and some committed suicide before accepting subpoenas mandating their presence before the seemingly endless committees. Whenever possible, the Shogun of Bushido International and Daimyo Murtagh accompanied Ramon and served as character witnesses.
Sitting on a bench outside a conference room, in a gray painted corridor at Bushido International -West HQ, Ramon smiled slowly as he accepted the warm, supporting touch of his shugyosha’s soft hand.
The entire situation began to wind down. All, except the Japanese and African investigating committees - of course - found no fault with Sakai’s conduct.
Thanks to the Edo Conglomerate lawsuit, there had been some fallout against Bushido International in the form of some cancelled contracts and negative publicity. But Edo’s legal action to close the security firm was bogged down in the courts and the rumor was that the case was heading nowhere. Still, Ramon realized that his company would be forced to take disciplinary action against him in order to disavow his actions.
The choices were: summarily fired for exceeding his authority in taking the doctor’s life or his record of service would be taken into account and he would be demoted to a “ronin” status. This meant he would be assigned cases solely on a temporary basis and authorized to use and wear his katana – Z and wakizashi only during duty.
Sakai became a living incarnation of the ancient fable of the man who fell from a cliff, holding himself by a fragile strawberry branch with two hungry tigers, one on top, one below, waiting for him to fall. And like that hapless character Sakai stood on the brink of losing everything, his name to be forever synonymous with failure. Despite outward appearances, barely holding on to his composure and sanity.
Padilla watched him closely with just a tiny measure of sadness, her face beamed more with pride and why not? Throughout the entire ordeal her mentor had acted with nothing less than steely determination, honor and grace.
Such a modern man in many ways, yet so old fashioned in many others. Of course, she had known since the very beginning that he was in love with her but she never took the first step towards acknowledging it. Somehow she sensed that unless he did, he would rebuff her. It wasn’t an act of pride on his part. Simply, it was a 20th century show of respect for her as a woman and shugyosha.
Even now, if he chose to keep his ‘secret’ from her, she would respect his wishes. As far as she was concerned he still and always would be the best of Bushido International, the samurai that others would measure themselves against.
“Ramon Sakai enter,” the booming voice of the Shogun came out of the intercom. He dutifully rose from the bench, turning momentarily to face his soon to be ex-shugyosha. Of that he was certain. In fact, this was possibly the last time that he could be alone with her while wearing the Bushido International uniform.
But now Ramon did not purposely turn away from her gaze and instead drank in her brown eyes, the smell of her perfume. For a fleeting moment he allowed his mind to wander to a happier time and place. The moment they first met and he felt his heart skip a beat. The first time he fell in love.
He had to do it and now -- timing be damned. Ramon reached for her, his hands tenderly framing her face and sighed, “I love you. I always have.”
Sakai kissed her and she happily returned his passion.
The ordeals and tribulations of the past months melted away in the embrace of the woman he had desired secretly for so long. Time froze and his impending fate seemed a million years away. The young samurai almost fooled himself into believing they could stay forever within this state of bliss.
Everything would be fine as long as he traced his finger across her strong jaw line, felt her warm body snuggled closely and recognized the palpitations of her heart against his chest. It was everything he had wished … he had dreamt of … and more.
He struggled to break their embrace, stark reality cruelly dissipating the delicate illusion of eternity. Yet even within this moment of despair, the unselfish love he was experiencing had been the sweetest fruit he had ever tasted.
“I have to go.” He murmured.
“I know,” she purred sadly, caressing his cheek sending ripples of warmth throughout his body. Her eyes then locked with his and she added, “No matter what happens in there, no matter what they do, remember this: I’ll be waiting.”
With that promise, with that hope alive in his heart, a bowed but reinvigorated Ramon Sakai, Street Samurai, opened the conference room doors. Fearless now he strode inside, ready to face his fate.
Ready to pay the price of honor.