Many years ago, on a fall evening, a woman sat alone at a coffee shop. She wore a dark brown sweater and round glasses that rested neatly on her face. She heard the door to the shop open, and in the doorway, she saw her friend. The man smiled a goofy grin and walked over to her. He wore a black wool sweater with a gray shirt underneath. The woman smiled politely as he sat down.
"So," she started, "what’s the news?"
"I got in!" he smiled, "I actually got accepted to the Triangle Company!"
"Congratulations!" she smiled, "I knew you would. Now you can think about what you really want to do."
"Actually," he paused with a shift in his eye, "I think I’m going to take it."
Her smile began to fade. She shifted her glance away and pursed her lips.
"They’re offering me a great package!" he insisted. "They say I can have my own team, and have a big impact right out of the gate! This is a dream job."
"You’re first in your class at M.I.T," she sighed, "Of course they’re offering you that. They’ll offer you that anywhere. What happened to your dreams of working at a startup or non-profit? What changed?"
"Nowhere is bigger than the Triangle Company" he started, "Nowhere else can I make this kind of an impact. And the money’s good. I mean really really good!"
She reached out to him and held his hand. "You’re the smartest person I know." she said, "And I know you’ll make a big impact wherever you go. I just hope you use your brain to make the world a better place, that’s all."
"Don’t worry." he smiled, clasping her hand, "I’ll rake in some cash for a few years, then we can retire on some island, and save the dolphins or something. Just picture the warm sand and the sun pouring down on our faces"
She smiled gracefully and hid her worry away. "That would be nice." she answered.
Coder looked around in the cold dark facility, glancing at Takahashi standing to meet his daughter. He remembered his younger days, when he was full of hope and optimism, when the power of code at his fingertips was a guiding light he could use to shape the world. Now, imprisoned by an army of his own making, he sought to remember the moment where it started going wrong.
Vault stood alone, surrounded by Machin, with Takahashi standing twenty feet before her. She stood tall and summoned the courage to face her father again.
"Father." she whispered.
Takahashi eyed her intently. " Vivian ."
"Why have you done all of this?" she asked. "The forced imprisonment. The Machin army? Everyone out there hates you and what you’ve done. We’ve had to change our names just so they don’t know we’re related to you. They just want to live their lives in peace. Why won’t you let them?"
Takahashi stepped forward and stared her down, studying her with purpose. "You call what those Tamashi live ‘lives’?" he scoffed, "I’ve held the world under my thumb twice. I’ve earned more than any man can imagine. I exist beyond the scope of mortal man, and don’t concern myself with the opinions of those who are less. My genes are blessed with the capability to win everything there is, and so, my daughter, are yours."
"So you think everyone else matters less because they’ve earned less?"
Takahashi stepped closer until he stood a foot away from Vault . He stared down imperiously towards her. "I judge others by that which they’re capable. While they scramble over scraps of the old world, I’ve bided my time until ‘Takahashi’ takes the world from them again. To be so superior that you dominate life and take all that it gives you - that is what it means to be a Takahashi . Your time will come daughter. Of that, I am certain."
Suddenly a large man came through the facility doors with a bright yellow screen and a black suit. " Takahashi !" he smiled. "It’s me! It’s Noir !"
Takahashi whispered to Vault , "Now there’s a man who knows his place."
Across the city, Gang , Hero , Jiro , and Key made their way towards the facility. They walked stealthily beside buildings making sure to avoid any clusters of Machin that marched through the city streets.
"How far into this are we going to get ambushed?" Hero barked at Gang .
"You know that’s not what I’m doing." Gang answered.
"I wish I did." Hero stated.
"What was it like?" Key asked.
"What was what like?" Jiro answered.
"You know, I mean, growing up, you know…"
"You mean growing up with my brother-" Jiro clarified. Key nodded. "With ‘the’ Takahashi…"
"Listen," Gang started, "I’m sorry I made you attack Stonks alright? I thought it was the right thing to do."
"Why would you think beating someone is the right thing to do?" Hero retorted.
"Because someone had to take charge, or Chaos would have! And I didn’t hold a knife to your throat! I didn’t force you to do anything. You thought that was the right thing too!"
"That’s because I trusted you." Hero sneered.
"Well I trusted me too!" Gang rasped, "And look what happened. Chaos still took charge, and everything still burned down just like I knew it would! We’re still sitting in the same hellhole, and I’m the only one who knew how bad it could get, so I had to be the one to take charge and make sure it wouldn’t get any worse! Chaos hurt me a lot worse than you did Stonks when I was fifteen, so FORGIVE me if I dirty my hands a bit to save everyone from what I had to go through every day."
Hero paused and looked down at Gang . "Why did you join his team then?"
"The same reason he joined mine. To kick him in the teeth."
"I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m sorry." Gang apologized. "I don’t know what the right thing is, but I’m really trying here."
"I can’t approve of what you’ve done." Hero answered, "but I do believe you."
" He was always a competitive kid." Jiro said. "He worked hard, excelled at everything, and made sure everyone knew it. He would work tirelessly to be better at things, and when he succeeded, he wouldn’t let you forget it. He wasn’t well-liked, but he was very smart and very popular. It was hard growing up with someone like him . I was a normal kid with a normal life. Fortunately I had good parents that made me feel equal. God knows he never did. Still, I had a family, and had a pretty normal, happy life. But when he took over the Triangle Company, things changed. He became a household name, and everything we ever did was in his shadow. But I suppose that’s what it means now to be a Takahashi."
"That must be hard on Vault ." Key stated.
Jiro looked down and shook his head. "Yeah. I don’t envy her life. I don’t think her parents cared to give her a normal childhood."
" She told me a bit about that before we were put to sleep." Key paused, "Look, there’s something I just need to say." he took a breath, "I’m sorry about taking her to that concert and putting her in harm’s way. It was selfish and stupid and I’m sorry. I didn’t know who she was - not that that would have mattered. I just need you to know that I care about her a lot - a lot, and I’m going to do whatever I can to save her."
Jiro turned towards Key and looked him over. For the first time, he pondered the implications of a young teenager infiltrating a hostile base. "You really do care about her , don’t you?"
"I do." Key answered. "And it’s important to me that you know that."
Gang and Hero stopped walking and waved down Jiro and Key who followed behind. "Looks like we’re here boys!"
Back at the hotel, Miné paced restlessly across the apartment hallway. Her pink bathrobe became frayed with tendrils hanging loose. Miné shook her head and glanced towards her empty bedroom. She turned her head again to face another bedroom across the hall. There she saw her mother in-law Nancī sitting in bed with her arms folded and a pleasant smile spread across her face.
Miné walked into the room with her arms folded and glanced towards Nancī . "I’m worried about Jiro ." Miné stated, "He left looking for Vault , and hasn’t come back for hours."
"Oh I’m sure they’ll be alright." Nancī smiled.
"That’s what I’m not sure about. I don’t know where he is - Genji has been gone all day. I don’t mean to worry you. I just don’t know if… I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m just stressed."
"Don’t worry about me dear. I have thick skin." she smiled, "Do you remember the day we first met, about what I told you? Jiro walked in with you, arm in arm, and spoke with such confidence about you two. I saw that’s what drew you to him. You admired the way he ran after his goals. And I warned you that you would need to learn to live with that confidence."
"I remember that." Miné smiled. "I was a bit intimidated at the time."
"I didn’t mean to intimidate you dear. I only meant to prepare you. It’s not always easy to be married to Takahashi men. They’re smart, stubborn, and relentless. They run endlessly towards what they want. When you’re young, and they’re running towards you, it’s exciting and magical, but then days come like today when they’re running towards something else. For Jiro , it’s family. For Genji , it’s to help someone, and ease the guilt he carries on his back. Even Vivian has some of that fire" Nancī shook her head. " He ’ll be back. They both will. But the important thing is to be strong for when they do. The world we’re in is far from perfect. And they need us both to face it with them."
– - - -
The old man and Superior emerged from the treeline to a clearing at the top of the mountain. Sitting several feet before them on the cold rock, was Aeth , who gradually turned to face them.
"Did you find what happened?" Aeth asked the old man.
"No, I picked up ‘ Superior ’ instead." the old man stated.
Aeth nodded. "It’s very nice to meet you Superior ."
"Do you mind if we have a moment alone?" the old man asked.
"Sure." Aeth nodded, stood up and walked back towards the trees.
Superior took a few steps forward and stared far across the horizon at the city spread out endlessly before him.
"It’s beautiful isn’t it?" the old man asked.
"It’s nice." Superior answered.
"Why don’t you sit down with me?" the old man gestured, and the pair moved to sit down next to each other, facing the horizon against the cold rock.
A moment passed as a cold breeze moved between them.
"I used to take my sons on hikes here."
"You mentioned that." Superior grumbled.
"I had two sons. One of them hated these hikes. He didn’t think he ‘got’ anything from it. He always wanted praise - mine and everyone else’s. He eventually had a career where he got plenty of praise and attention, but it wasn’t a good life. I just wish I could have changed things earlier - talked to him as a kid and put him on a different path. Maybe things would be different."
"He shouldn’t need attention." Superior scoffed. "Don’t care what others think. That’s the only way to be."
The old man glanced towards Superior . "Who do you look up to?" he asked.
"Me?" Superior looked down, then up again. "No one. I’ve achieved more than anyone I know. I had a great career. I’m a great fighter. Maybe Takahashi . I’m not a fan of the coma pods, but before the war, if I’d been born earlier, I could have become him."
"I don’t doubt it." the old man said, "the son I told you about, that reminded me of you, is him."
Superior pivoted fast towards the old man . "Hold on. So you’re…"
"My name is Genji Takahashi ." the man stated.
Gang , Hero , Jiro , and Key stood on the very edge of the city. Before them was a large grassy hill leading up to the facility itself. Four Machin stood guard on the hill. They were much taller than the Machin they had fought earlier. They stood at least six feet tall, had a blocky stature, with large shoulders and muscles etched through their metal frames.
"We need to dash across here." Hero stated. "I’ll shove off the Machin when we dart inside."
"And I’ll distract my brother once we’re there." Jiro nodded. "Where are Coder and Vault being held?"
" Coder ’s at the pods where we woke up." Gang recalled. " Vault wasn’t there before, so I don’t know where she is."
"We need to find them both." Key added.
"We’ll do everything we can." Hero assured.
Hero stepped ahead of the group then readied himself to run. He leaned forward, and while his large muscles bent to a flexed position, he eyed the unaware Machin with a quiet intensity.
"Is everyone ready?" Hero bellowed. "Yessir." Key answered.
"Ready when you are." Gang barked.
"Ready to go." Jiro whispered.
The wind blasted against the back three, as Hero sprinted across the grass. His tall frame and muscular legs propelled him forward, while Gang , Jiro , and Key struggled to follow closely behind. A moment later, the first Machin noticed the group running across, and sprinted forward to meet them. Its movements were slow, but the sound of its legs hitting the grass was loud due to its massive weight. Hero stopped in his tracks and punched the Machin in the shoulder. The Machin stepped back unphased by the attack. At this point, the group had caught up to Hero and saw the other Machin closing in around them. Hero thrust back his arm again to ready another punch, then fired it back again, this time hitting the Machin’s screen. The screen broke, causing the Machin to stumble backward and collapse.
"Come on! We’ve got to move!" Hero yelled. The group sprinted towards the facility door with the three remaining Machin trailing shortly behind. With a moment to spare, they entered the facility door and closed it behind them.
They were inside.
"You’re Takahashi ’s father?!" Superior balked.
"I am." Genji answered.
Superior stared ahead towards the sky, then looked down, too stunned to speak.
"It’s not an easy thing, being a father to someone like him ." Genji answered. "As a kid, he was smart and determined. Nothing stopped him from achieving his goals. I liked that." he paused. "I even rewarded that. After business school, he climbed the ranks of the Triangle Company. At first, I was proud of him. Who wouldn’t be? The head of the world’s biggest corporation - it’s a real accomplishment. Then I started hearing rumors about the corporation - what his serum meant for life as we knew it. People didn’t like the idea that we could just skip living and spend our days comatose in pods. I didn’t like it. But I told myself that it wasn’t important. It was just a business decision. Then I started seeing friends fade from my life like leaves in the winter, and all those quiet voices became loud in my head. I had to confront the fact that they were right, and that humanity was irreparably damaged. I confronted my son about what he was doing, but nothing could stop him from achieving his goal." Genji choked up. "I saw my son there. That little boy who was ready to take on the world. He did it, and he won, but at what cost? Finally, I had to confront myself. I, who had raised the destroyer of humanity. It’s not an easy thing, being a father to someone like him. To spend every day of your life, regretting the choices you made, counting the ways you could have saved him."
Gang , Jiro , Key , and Hero stood in the inside of the facility and took in their surroundings. Gang saw Coder , sitting beside the pods exactly where he had left him, but to their left stood Takahashi , with an army of Android Machin standing around him, and Vault and Noir standing by his side.
Takahashi turned to Noir . "Take her downstairs to be with her mother."
Noir nodded, grabbed Vivian ’s arm and escorted her downstairs. " Uncle !" she shouted.
Jiro clenched his jaw and stared forwards.
"Hello brother." Takahashi smiled. "What brought you all this way?"
"We’ve come to surrender, to plug ourselves in." Jiro stepped forward. Takahashi gestured to the Machin to stand aside. "But first, Ichiro, I need to speak my mind."
"Then speak." Takahashi answered, "But don’t debase yourself by insisting your opinion is equal to mine."
Vivian , escorted by Noir , reached the bottom of a staircase, as she shoved her shoulder away from his arm. Witch turned to face them, as Noir folded his arms and guarded the staircase.
"Mom." Vivian stated. "Why are you letting him just run things? If you have even an ounce of empathy, you would stop him from doing this!"
Witch looked down on Vivian, and traced her hand across her screen. "You know I don’t ‘let’ your father do anything. He makes his own plans. We’re all just lucky to play our part in his grand designs."
"Do you actually believe that?" Vivian glared inquisitively at her mother , "Or is that just what you’re supposed to say?"
Witch looked away, then turned back to Vivian. "I am your mother and you will not speak to me that way!"
"And what about you?" Vivian turned to Noir . "Do you also blindly obey my father ?"
" Your father is a great man!" Noir answered, "Everything he’s built has made the world a better place, even if people don’t understand."
"So you think this is all out of the goodness of his heart?! A few minutes ago, he told me that you didn’t matter, and that you were beneath us!"
"No," Noir shook his head, "Your father would never say something like that. You misunderstand. I’m sure he must have meant something else. He’s doing all of this for our benefit. I know it!"
Vivian gazed towards Noir with a mix of empathy and sadness for what he understood. And as the moment passed, she began to understand how so many had desired the pods in the first place.
Jiro cleared his throat and took a step forward. Hero , Gang , and Key also took a few steps forward, drifting ever-closer to Coder.
"Why are you doing this Ichiro ?" Jiro questioned, "I always knew you were self-centered, but not even I understand what you’re doing anymore. What’s the point of all this? You got everything you could get from the world, and now you’re doing it again. Why? It doesn’t help you. It doesn’t help anyone else. I know you disagree, but I’m telling you anyway. These people matter! It’s past time you remembered that."
"And why do they matter? They’ve done nothing, contributed nothing. I’ve done more than all of them combined. And when they pass from this world, it will be like they never existed. And you tell me that they ‘matter’? Do you even hear yourself brother ?"
A cold wind blew across the mountaintop, as Genji and Superior paused for several moments.
"You remind me of him, you know." Genji stated. "You’re very corporate. You call yourself superior."
"You’ve mentioned that before." Superior sighed.
"I never got the chance to help my son find the right path." Genji faltered. "And every day, I need to live with that. But then I saw you-"
"I’m not your son." Superior asserted.
"I know that." Genji said. "But I also know that you’re struggling with something. And it would mean a lot to me if I could help you. Please, just tell me what you want."
Superior narrowed his eyes towards the horizon, took a deep breath and paused for several moments. He studied the rocks and the small patches of grass shift against the wind. But foremost in his mind was his fight with Kitsune , and the rage he felt in that moment - and how that consumed every part of his spirit.
"Fine," he relented. "I want to be better. I want to be better than my sister . When I was a kid, my father made us train together. We were close, but she was always the better fighter. Then I left, made my own life, and she’s still better than me."
"Why do you want to be better than her so much?" Genji asked.
"Why do you feel the need to be better?"
Superior paused. "Because I was never good enough."
"You’re more than good enough." Genji assured.
" You think you’re better than each of us because you’ve done more." Jiro argued. "And you’re right that the world won’t remember me, or my wife, or my kids. It won’t remember most regular people. But that’s what Nozomi is. That's what Japan is. That’s what the world is. Just regular people who don’t matter, working together to build something that does."
"That’s a nice thought." Takahashi declared, "But I’m still the one that’s in control. And in the end, isn’t that the thing that matters?"
Jiro took one step forward and stared down Ichiro . Beneath the screen, and the suit, and the cape was the man who used to be his dear brother. He considered how to appeal to him, to win over his sense of morality. But as their shared history replayed in his mind, Jiro considered that he’d always been this way, and he was optimistic to think anything different.
"There are three things I’ve always wanted to say to you. First, I’ve never been jealous of you. All of your achievements have been about your own self-importance. I married the right girl, and have a great family. Honestly I feel bad for you. You’ve never lived your life for anyone else, or cared about anyone other than yourself."
"Second," Jiro took a few steps closer to Takahashi . "your position isn’t as strong as you think it is. When you led the Triangle Company, you had all the greatest minds working for you. But here, it’s you against the world, so you’d better be damned sure you actually are better than everyone else, because that’s who you’re up against."
"Third…" Jiro glanced towards his brother with a twinkle in his eye. He took a step backwards and tilted his head. "You’ve been outplayed."
Hero stood beside Coder , grabbed him and started running towards the door. Jiro turned to run with them as the swarm of Machin darted towards them.
Gang , Hero , Jiro , and Coder dashed towards the door while Key stood by its side. "What about Vault ? We have to get Vault !"
"There’s too many of them!" Gang argued. "There’s no way we’re getting through!"
"I’m not leaving without her!" Key insisted, then saw tides of violent Machin sprinting towards them.
"Fine by me!" Gang grunted and exited towards the door. Hero , Coder, and Jiro followed right behind him. Key turned to face the army of Machin, dashed outside, then violently closed the door.
The cold wind bellowed across the mountaintop as Genji sat beside Superior .
"If I was good enough, I would have won." Superior answered. "It’s that simple."
"Has it occurred to you that there might be something about you that she’s jealous of?"
"No." Superior answered. "Dueling was all that mattered when we were young." he paused, "why?"
"When I was your age, I had a rival in my company. She was smart, ambitious, and had the greatest interpersonal skills I’d ever seen. I wanted to be more like her, but I couldn’t be as warm as she was, or get people to like me the way she could. It bothered me for a long time, but it was only after I focused on myself that things started changing. A few months later we caught up. It turned out she was jealous of my knack for business strategies. It was gratifying to hear she’d felt the same way about me."
"Did you win?" Superior asked. "In the end?"
"Win?" Genji laughed. "I ended up marrying her . That’s the point of all this Superior . It’s not about being better than someone else. It’s about being better today than you were yesterday. If you want to be better, don’t focus on anyone else. Just be the best version of yourself."
Superior chuckled and stared ahead. He felt an undue pressure on his mind and body. He tried to visualize his resentment eroding away in the wind. He struggled to acknowledge that it wasn’t Kitsune ’s fault, and that his struggle with her had been misplaced, but some fire in him forced him to face the truth. His competitive spirit was strong - even stronger than his old worldview.
Superior shook his head. "You had to wait til we got to the top to tell me that?"
"I’d never made it to the top before." Genji said with a wry smile. "I wanted to see if we could get there together."
Hero , Gang , Key , Jiro , and Coder breathed heavily with their hands on their knees in the inside of a building on the edge of the city. Hero stealthily peered through a window while a group of Android Machin marched past.
Coder grabbed Hero ’s shoulder, "We need to go back!" he said.
"We can’t go back now. There’s too many Machin." Hero insisted.
"Then we need to get everyone together." Coder said. "And I mean everyone - now!"
"Why now?" Key asked.
Coder turned to face the group. " Takahashi ’s been taking it easy on us so far. We need everyone to fight off the Machin. I think he’s going to use the Bridge."
Takahashi marched down to the lower floor of the facility. The room was grey and filled with dark shadows, with a single light blue pillar at its far corner. He saw Vault , Witch and Noir all turn to face him. Witch and Noir both lowered their gazes slightly, while Vault tried to glare at him. He narrowed his eyes directly towards her, as she struggled to hold his gaze. He walked right up to her and stared down at her.
"It’s time you learn what it means to be part of this family." he whispered.
"I already know what that means." Vault sneered.
"Then tell me, how did I do it? While we created the Machin, only your mother, Coder and I were around. How did we eat? How did the power stay on? How did the water stay on?"
"I guess you worked hard?" Vault answered.
"Wrong answer." Takahashi stated. "As the population fell, we knew we had to consolidate all critical infrastructure into one computer program. That was Coder ’s first job out of university - to build the first and most powerful Machin. A program interoperable with every software in existence, and powered by every server on Earth." Takahashi turned towards the shimmering blue column in the corner of the room. " Vivian , this is Bridge, the very brain of the Triangle Company."
Vivian stepped closer to the column and noticed the blue liquid within shifting. She could make out the outline of a bluish green TV screen, and what looked like a man with a green shirt drifting in the fluid.
"Bridge, remove the safety inhibitors on the Machin. I don’t want them holding back anymore."
"Of course sir." Bridge answered. "Advanced Mode initiated."
"It’s time we remind them who’s in charge." Takahashi declared.