Book 3: Chapter 6

The Key

Several years ago

Vivian sat idly on a velvet chair, watching her father stare ceaselessly into the distance. Surrounding them were walls of glass, and the dark view of the night sky, all the while, Takahashi was transfixed on the city gleaming below.

“What are you staring at?” Vivian asked.

“The future.” Takahashi said thoughtfully. He turned with a drink in his hand, and sat across from his daughter in a red velvet chair. “I’ve heard that you’ve been seeing a boy.”

“It’s not like that.” Vivian insisted.

“It’s not like what?” Takahashi asked.

“It’s not like … what you’re really asking. I don’t want you sending him away, like you do everyone else.”

“What I’m doing is taking hold of the world - making it mine. Making it ours.”

“It doesn’t feel like mine.” she said. “It feels cold and empty.” she paused, “I don’t want it.”

“What do you want?” Takahashi asked.

“I want a choice.” she insisted. “I want the chance to make my own destiny.”

Takahashi stared at her with a mix of pride and curiosity. “The key” he said, “is trust.”


“Who you place your trust in determines everything. That’s the key to all of this, if that’s what you want. It’s trust.”

Vivian stared at him perplexed. There was always a purpose to everything he said. There was a softness to his voice that she couldn’t help but notice, and a deliberateness that she knew she had to remember.


Vault looked up at Takahashi , with the Machin army standing before them, with a helpless look in her eyes. How had it come to this? Her father had set up a rigged game, and of course, he’d managed to win. The irony was that she thought she knew how to beat him. The passphrase that controlled Bridge . She thought she knew what it was. But with Witch and Noir around her, she couldn’t use it. And no one knew but her. “Was that part of his game?” she thought. “Did he want her to feel this way?” She couldn’t help but feel defeated. As she glared towards the back of his metal screen, she wondered how he could think this was a world that she could want. No one else could stop all of this… well, almost no one.

Key stared at the machinery that Coder and Inicio were working on. It was complicated and far beyond anything he understood. Still, he felt obligated to stand by in case there was anything they needed.

“You need me for anything?” Gang asked.

“No, I’m sure they’re fine.” Hero answered dismissively.

Gang scoffed back. He took a second to think about the world after all this. Would he be sent to the jail? Would they keep watching him, just waiting for him to act out? He didn’t like the way they looked at him - even when he told them his intentions. He glanced towards the shifting ball of metal that Inicio had by his side. “What’s that?” Gang asked.

“It’s not really anything” Inicio answered earnestly. “It looks cool though, right?”

“Yeah” Gang nodded. “I guess it does.”

The Machin began marching forward, and with the sound of their footsteps booming across the grass, Kitsune readied her sword. “This is it!” she shouted. “We’ll hold them off,” Long and Senshi nodded to her. “But we don’t have forever. How long do you need?” she asked.

“We’re assuming a lot.” Coder said. “If it’s an insecure password, we might have a shot.” he looked up gravely. “Just give us all the time that you can.”

Kitsune nodded back. “Understood.” she said, shifting her stance and focusing forward.

The Machin flexed their fists, aimed their heads forwards, and began running into a sprint. The dirt collapsed beneath their feet, as the sound roared across the hill.

Kitsune sprinted forwards as well, with Long on her left, and Senshi on her right. Hero , Order , Fear and some others followed closely behind.

Kitsune lunged ahead, and the sound of her blade hitting the screen of an Enforcer rang across the entire valley.

The moment passed, and the two sides collided together.

Kitsune was quickly surrounded by several Machin. She sliced through many of them, focusing her blade on the wiring holding them together. The Androids and Primes fell more quickly, but several Enforcers still surrounded her.

Long and Senshi stood back to back, moving swiftly across the field, kicking and punching Machin as they went, they managed to weave between larger Enforcers before they were caught in the flurry of their fists.

Hero and Vine stood side by side with several Enforcers surrounding them.

“Are you sure that you’re ready for this?” Hero asked.

“This new form of mine came with a lot of pain. I want to make sure they regret it.” Vine threw her fist forward, and collapsed the screen of a large Enforcer. Hero responded in kind, and boxed forward at the Machin surrounding them. They formed a solid perimeter, and while several curious Enforcers surrounded them, none seemed able to push through.

Order also stood firm as the Machin approached. He exchanged a few blows with some Primes, but their shifting strategy put him at odds. Unlike them, he was beginning to grow tired, which he grew confident was their intent.

Then suddenly a Prime collapsed behind him, and Order turned around, surprised. Chaos stood unfazed before him.

“I thought you were escorted out?” Order asked.

“You of all people should know how hard it is to escort me anywhere.” Chaos answered.

Order couldn’t help but smile. As much as he hated Chaos , he was happy to have his help here. And in this rare moment, he trusted his intent enough to stand back to back.

“We improvise?” Order asked.

“We improvise!” Chaos smiled, hitting a Prime with the head of another.

In the first moments of the battle, the Tamashi fought well and bravely, but as the fight raged on, it became clear that while the group fought with spirit, they were quickly running out of energy. And the Machin, a looming, unending wave of harsh metal, were not running out of stamina, nor numbers of soldiers.

Kistune struck back any Enforcers that got close, but as her breath grew heavier, the Primes could pick up on her weakness, and started to surround her as well.

Long and Senshi also grew tired. They tripped and fell on the ground. They took a moment to rise, but in that second were surrounded by Enforcers, glaring at them from cold unfeeling screens.

Kitsune took several deep breaths. She could feel the moment hold in her mind. The seconds felt slower and the cold sense of adrenaline began to take hold. Her stamina was limited. She could fight, but she knew that this might be her last stand.

She closed her eyes.

And then a warm breeze began to take hold. It whipped across the battlefield at an unnatural speed. She opened her eyes to the familiar sound of slashing metal, saw waves of Machin collapsing around her, smashing and crashing into fractal pieces. Then she saw a familiar sword appear before her, followed by blue fabric and a familiar face. Superior cut through an Enforcer and stood in front of her.

“I’m sorry it took me this long,” he stated. “I’m ready to fight by your side.”

“Like the temple then.” Kitsune said fondly,

“Yes.” Superior nodded. “Just like that.”

The pair stood back to back, their blades wound back to opposite sides.

“EVERYONE!” Superior shouted. Kitsune and Superior readied their blades. “GET DOWN!”

The Tamashi around them, crouched down. Long smiled to himself.

Superior and Kitsune started moving in a spiral, then dashing in opposite directions. They darted back and forth, slicing along the wirings of surrounding Machin. They wove back and forth in interweaving patterns, always catching each other’s blind spots. They moved in a flurry of sound and fury. Waves upon waves of Enforcers collapsed around them. Superior cut along the neck of an Enforcer, and he flashed back to his childhood, cutting bits of rope with Kitsune by his side. This was everything they trained for, and together, they were unstoppable.

Long and Senshi stood up as the Enforcers collapsed around them. The flurry of their blades had done much to stop the Machin. Mounds of collapsed Machin formed walls on the battlefield that the Tamashi maneuvered around. It appeared as though the Machin were unmatched.

But unfortunately, that wasn’t the end. As successful as Superior and Kitsune were, they could only cover so much of the battlefield. Hero and Vine , Chaos and Order , and others were at opposite sides and in danger of being overwhelmed.

Gang watched everything unfold from the sidelines. “Are you almost done?” he asked Coder , concerned.

“We’re doing everything we can,” Coder answered. “This tech doesn’t go through combinations that quickly.”

Chem glanced towards Gang with a judgemental look in his eye. Gang knew what he was thinking. Why wasn’t he on the battlefield fighting with everyone who could fight? It was a good question, and Gang wasn’t fond of the answer.

He glanced towards Inicio ’s device, and felt a cold wind pass through him. He thought about his mother, and what she would think about all of this. He knew she wouldn’t believe it, and even if she did, he didn’t know what he would say to her.

“Well”, he thought to himself. “Maybe I’ll find out.”

Gang grabbed Inicio ’s device, a glowing orb of shifting metal, and sprinted towards the far edge of the battlefield. He remembered what Coder had said to him.

“For example,” Coder said, “If they find a high-priority target, they’ll all dash towards it, even if it should only take one. For example, if you had an EMP, they’d ignore everyone else and just attack you.”

It wasn’t a great strategy. He was sure that someone would have tried to talk him out of it. But he didn’t want their permission. What we wanted was to win this fight for them.

“Hey toasters!” he yelled. “I’ve got an EMP!” Every Machin within earshot turned their heads at once to face him. “Yeah that’s right! How ya’ like that?!” he taunted.

He smiled as over a hundred giant Machin barreled towards him at a full sprint. It was beyond anything he’d seen. It was beyond anything he knew he could survive. He looked back fondly towards the base, where Chem stared soberly towards him, and for once, for a single crystallized moment, he understood exactly what he was doing.

The Machin grew closer with each passing second. After a moment, twenty Enforcers were lunging towards him, with their fists drawn back.

Gang laughed in a dark chuckle. For everything he’d done - for everything he’d tried. This was enough, he decided. Just to see the look on his face. That all of these assholes would know they were wrong about him.

He closed his eyes, as sixteen Enforcer Machin collapsed onto his chest, and beat him with every inch of their fury. He flashed back to the night he met Chaos , and he knelt beaten in the rain. He remembered when he tried to lead Nozomi, failed, then laid on the grass watching the stars with Kasumi. He remembered those moments fondly as his world grew dark, because for the first time in his life, he knew that it had been a life worth living. And as his screen broke, and his body collapsed into death, the battle shifted around him.

Key stood paralyzed as he watched Gang ’s sacrifice. His breathing grew heavy, and he broke into a cold sweat. He’d never seen someone die before. It made the stakes feel more real. He had no doubt that Gang knew what he was doing, and forced himself to hope that his sacrifice was worth it. He knew Coder wasn’t confident in his plan, but with the Machin growing close, he knew that this was the only hope they had. He thought about Vault , who was still with Takahashi . It gave him comfort to know that she was safe.

He thought back to their moments together. Before they were plugged in, when she gave him a chance. And after, when she chose to be with him, despite all of his faults and mistakes. He remembered the moment they had together, when they sat behind the hotel together, when she told him that riddle.

“The treasure of unlocking me, requires a five letter key. In order to receive this just - convince me to give you my-”

And it stopped there. He wondered what she could have meant, why she had been so cryptic yet poetic, and then the gravity of the moment hit him like a ton of bricks. That could have been it! Could that have been the passphrase they were searching for? He tried to see her through the tides of battle. He thought he saw Takahashi , but was that her by his side? He wasn’t sure. But he thought he saw her . And she was staring, unwavering, right back at him.

The cold sweat felt more real then.

“I know the passphrase.” Key told Coder .

“What?” Coder asked.

“It’s ‘trust’” Key insisted. “The passphrase is ‘trust’”

“How do you know that?” Coder asked.

“Just try it!” Key ordered.

“Alright, fine.” Coder answered. Punching a few keys in the keyboard, Coder hit a button and waited for something to happen.

Finally, after a moment that seemed like forever, the Machin stopped throwing punches, then they stopped moving at all. A few began to look around confused, or stare at their hands. Only the sound of the light breeze could be heard across the grassy hill, and everyone became silent. It took a minute to fully register. The Tamashi didn’t drop their guard right away.

“What happened?” Vault asked Takahashi . “Is it over?”

Takahashi stood firm, and continued facing forwards. “It is.” he said. “It looks like you got what you wanted. You decided to place your trust in someone else.”

“Did you know this would happen?” Vault asked.

“No.” Takahashi turned to face her. “I wanted you to rule the world by my side, as my successor. I know absolute victory. I know what it’s like to have everything, to have absolute control. And I wanted that for you. I gave you the key to the world, and you decided to waste it on these people. I gave you - everything. Maybe someday you’ll understand.”

“What about the mission?” Noir asked.

“What mission?” Takahashi asked.

“Plugging everyone in to save them from hardship, and suffering? What happens now?” Noir asked.

“I don’t care.” Takahashi answered, “I only care about my daughter.”

“I devoted my life to helping you!” Noir insisted. “And you’re telling me that it was for nothing?!”

“Your ‘devoted life’,” Takahashi stated, “was to be a human meat-shield and to open doors for me and my family. You had the privilege of serving someone far better than you. Some people don’t even manage that much.”

Noir angrily grabbed Takahashi ’s arm, forced it behind his back and marched him forwards towards the Tamashi.

Vault stared on, stunned into silence. For the first time in her life, her father wasn’t in total control. She wondered what the world would look like now.

Noir marched Takahashi forwards as the Machin aimlessly parted ways.

Kitsune and Superior reached them first. “I have half a mind to kill him.” Kitsune said to Superior .

“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” Superior asked Takahashi .

“Why would I?” Takahashi answered. “I won’t debase myself by appealing to you.”

Superior glanced downwards at Takahashi . When he faced the Kitsune -Enforcer, it reminded him of how ridiculous it was to hate his sister. The dark caricature forced him to confront his own image of her. Now, facing Takahashi, he was reminded of himself - of a twisted path he could have just as easily gone down.

“That’s funny.” Superior stated, “Because I’ve been compared to you a lot. With my screen and my suit. People think I’m a lot like you. And do you know why? It’s because I wanted them to. I thought you were better, and I wanted to be better. But what I know now is that being better is about self-improvement, and that sometimes comes with self-hate, but it’s not about putting yourself above other people. It’s about lifting yourself up.”

“Who taught you that?” Takahashi responded sarcastically.

“Your Dad did.” Superior walked away, turning to Kitsune . “And he’d want him alive.”

Key jogged briskly past Superior and ran towards the entrance of the facility. Vault saw him coming and slowly walked up to meet him. Key ran up to Vault and embraced her in a deep hug. They held each other for a moment, with Vault holding him close, both unsure of what to say.

“Thanks for trusting me.” Key finally said.

“Of course.” Vault kindly answered.

As the fighting subsided, several things became clear. After breaking free of Takahashi ’s commands, the Machin were sentient and directionless. They had no wish to fight, and for now, made their home in abandoned parts of the city. They had human wants and desires, but no certainty for what the world had in store for them.

The Tamashi were similarly uncertain. After Chem and Coder moved Bridge to a safe location, it felt appropriate to give Gang a proper funeral. As controversial as he was, the first death in Nozomi had sent a chill across the Tamashi. And even without defined traditions, they knew that his memory needed to be honored.

A Tamashi called Stargazer volunteered to lead the ceremony. He prepared floating lanterns to fly overhead. And as he stood in front of a podium before all the Tamashi, he had this to say.

Gang was a lot of things to a lot of people. I’ve heard some kind words, and some harsh ones. It’s difficult to imagine a future for us here. So much has happened, it’s easy, very easy for me, to become lost in the possibilities. But in the end, he decided to do what was right for all of us. He knowingly sacrificed himself so that we might have the chance to start again. Now we don’t know what’ll happen going forward. We can’t know. But I imagine a future where his sacrifice was worth it. And if you imagine with me - we might be able to build it together.”

After the ceremony, Chaos and Takahashi were formally locked in jail. A police officer stood watch and kept a very keen eye on both of them. Everyone went to bed for the night, anxiously awaiting what new order would take hold.

That night, Chem , Coder , and Bridge stood on top of a building looking down on the city. To their left, was the Nozomi they knew, faintly lit, with only three square blocks of electricity. To their right, was a large city sprawled before them, perfectly black against the night sky.

“Are you sure about this?” Coder asked. “It’ll change everything.”

“We can’t have the Machin in a dark city for long. We need enough space for all of us. And now that we can make things whole again” he paused, “I made the serum that made this all possible, that took away life as we knew it. We have to bring it back.”

“I’m hardly blameless, but you’re right.” Coder stated. “It’ll be a bustling city. With full power, things will look almost normal again.”

“A city of ten thousand robots and a hundred of us.” Chem whispered. “Does anyone else have the password?”

“Just the two of us and Key Chem stated.

“Good.” Chem answered. “ Bridge ,” he started, “Time to turn the power on.”

“As you command.” Bridge answered. And with a wave of his hand, the entire city beamed with full electric power.