When I learned Dr. Light was dead, I packed a suitcase, booked a same-day flight for Tokyo, and sent my daughter to stay with my mother-in-law.
"We'll meet up soon, who knows where," said my husband, as he ran out the door to hail a taxi, carrying nothing but his wallet.
I was ready. I knew exactly what would happen next.
"Nishikawa, this story is yours," said my superior, editor-in-chief of the Sapporo Herald. A normally stoic man, his hands were shaking. "Are you really okay with it? Can you be objective?"
"Yuichi and I have talked, of course. There's no conflict of interest." Many years ago, when Dr. Light had been head of the robotics department at Waseda University, Yuichi was his protégé. He later became an intern at Nurtech, a private A.I systems company, where he assisted Dr. Light and a few other brilliant minds, including the now-infamous Albert Wily, in their early work. And there, my husband had a front row seat to the strangest drama the tech age has ever seen.
"If you want to bail out, or if your personal connection starts getting in the way, tell me. I'll get someone else."
"I'm not going to change my mind." I glanced down at my own hands to make sure they weren't shaking too.
Takada leaned forward over his desk, smirking. "Just be safe and be smart," he said. "Remember, you have a daughter. You've heard the rumors, right? You're not going to stay in Tokyo, are you?"
"Shizuoka," I assured him.
"And does… Yuichi have any inside information about those rumors?"
"Not yet," I sighed. "But he will."
"Either way, my regards."
My flight was nearly empty, and eerily quiet. A stewardess confessed there had been "a few" last-minute cancellations. The other passengers, like me, kept their eyes glued to the news broadcast. We sat far apart from each other in the darkness, our faces illuminated by the glow of the netscreens.
"Dr. Light dead. Foul play suspected. Rockman's whereabouts unknown. Wily's next move?" the caption read. Above the caption was a video taken that afternoon, shot from a helicopter, of the outside of the computer scientist's sprawling home. The front door was missing, as if it had been blown right off its hinges. Masked forensics specialists were going in and out.
This was interspersed with live images of candlelight vigils held all over Tokyo and beyond. People held up signs they had hastily scrawled with the words, "Rockman, do your best!" or "Rockman, we love you!" A reporter asked a four year old girl in Odaiba to say a few words. She looked into the camera and said, "We just want Rockman to appear and cheer us up, like he always does. But he must be sad right now. That's why, when he comes out, we have to cheer him up instead."
People had loved Dr. Light, but they loved Rock even more.
Rock was Dr. Light's most famous invention, an android made to look exactly like a little boy of nine or ten. He was short, with a round face, big bright eyes, and thick messy black hair. He was cute, yes, but also extremely powerful. Rock, also called "Rockman," (his "superhero" name) was always the first to fight back whenever Wily attacked some part of the city. He could change at will into his fighting form, complete with shiny blue armor and a helmet. His right hand converted into a super-focused EMP cannon, harmless to humans but devastating to machinery. He was fast, and fearless, and smart. He could shut down destructive robots ten times his size.
But Rock did much more than fight Wily's robots. After the imminent danger had passed, he stayed behind to collaborate with rescue workers. He pulled people from burning buildings, dug out victims from beneath rubble with his bare hands, and comforted scared children. Once his work was finished, he usually disappeared as quickly as he came.
He was the type of hero Japan had long dreamed of: a modern-day Tetsuwan Atomu. And he was real. Every child wished desperately to meet him. Well, actually, every adult too. Some people were even known to hang around disaster sites just to catch a glimpse of him, or, better yet, be rescued by him.
Rock had saved many lives in the ten years since he'd been assembled by Dr. Light. After all, the good scientist said in interview after interview, saving lives was Rock's "directive." And yet, the people he saved often swore there was something strange about him, that he was more than just a life-saving machine. These people spoke of "warmth" and "energy" and "feeling."
A well-known and respected surgeon, after he had worked alongside Rock for hours to search for survivors in a collapsed hospital, told reporters this on a live news broadcast: "He's an incredible kid. Thanks to him, we found lots of people. I just hope he's all right. Toward the end, we couldn't find more survivors, only bodies, and he took it really hard. He's at risk for PTSD after this, so I think he should see a counselor. Anyway, I wish him good luck in his schoolwork. His parents must be very proud."
None of the reporters dared to correct him on camera. Rock was not in school, did not have parents, and could not possibly need to talk about his feelings with a counselor.
Many people who had interacted with Rock, however briefly, made the same mistake of "forgetting" he was a machine. His fluid movements, body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice were well documented on news cameras and netphones, compiled on the internet for anyone to see. There was a kind of joy in the way he fought Wily's robots, a kindness in the way he afterward reunited children who'd been separated from their parents in the commotion. Anger or despair when he arrived too late to help someone.
The rumor that had so unsettled Takada, and propelled my husband out our door without a second thought, and was now squeezing my insides like a vice, was that Rock had been destroyed while trying to protect his creator. There was talk of a media cover-up to prevent mass panic. For, if Rock was really gone, Dr. Wily would be free to menace Tokyo once again.
But I knew what Yuichi was thinking. He wasn't worried about Tokyo.
I called the stewardess so I could order a drink. Then I changed my mind, apologized, and sent her away. What was I worried about? I recalled all the glaring details my husband had omitted from his past, the times I had asked about Nurtech only to be told "I'm really sorry, but it's confidential." Even after Yuichi had left the company, even after Nurtech had ceased to exist.
During the Nurtech days, I rarely saw him. I wanted to know what he was doing with his life between the hours of eight a.m. and midnight, or why he sometimes disappeared for days at a time. Even when we were together, his eyes were far away. At first I suspected infidelity, but I was later consumed by something else, something that transcended our tentative young marriage: whatever Yuichi was involved in, it was world-changing.
So, I did some snooping. I'm a journalist, after all. Yuichi was good at covering his tracks, but he slipped up once, just at a time when my snoop sensor was in hyperdrive. It was thirteen years ago, when Rock had not yet been created, and Dr. Wily was known as nothing more than a very bright computer scientist. Our daughter Mirai had been born two weeks before, and Yuichi, still adjusting to his new role as a father, was more exhausted than usual. Early one morning, as they dozed together in bed, I noticed something odd written on the palm of Yuichi's hand. It was the barely-visible remnant of a date: 01.03.61. Yuichi often wrote notes on his hands, but this one caught my eye because the date was just two days before Mirai's birthday. The closeness, and incongruity, of that number disturbed me.
I slipped into the living room and scooped up Yuichi's phone. My heart pounding, I scanned through his recent emails, and found a message sent to him from Dr. Judith Sorensen, one of his senior colleagues at Nurtech. I needed a password to access it. I knew what the password was.
The message read:
Dear Yuichi, congratulations on the birth of your daughter. Please give my love to your wife, Kaoru. What a happy coincidence.
As expected, he needs a little time to get his bearings. We'll be able to meet him before long, but for now, I hope this is enough to satisfy your curiosity.
There was an attached video file named "Blues, 10:00 a.m., 1/3/2061."
I hastily copied the file to a disk, and buried it within my magazine collection. The next day, after Yuichi had left for work, I finally found the courage to watch it.
Later, I stored the disk in a safe deposit box at the post office. I never told Yuichi about it.
A year later, Nurtech announced it would hold a press conference to declare the success of the Jinsei Project, whose aim was to produce the first self-aware android. Dr. Light, who had led the project, was going to introduce "him" to the world. But to everyone's shock, the press conference was cancelled the next morning. Nurtech said that the android had been destroyed in an explosion.
Yuichi couldn't hide all of the truth from me any longer. He admitted he had been involved in the project, but refused to say anything more. He was morose.
The Jinsei Project was abandoned. Dr. Light retired from his professorship and dropped out of the public eye. A short couple of years later, out of the blue, Rock leapt into it.
Sometimes, when I was alone, I felt compelled to retrieve the disk from its safe deposit box and pour over the images again. The video showed Nurtech's ill-fated android, "Blues," opening his eyes for the first time, taking his first steps, and speaking his first words.
Privately, for years, I mourned for that strange new life cut short.
I rented a car at the airport, located my hotel on the GPS system, and set to autodrive. Cocooned in darkness, I watched the city lights flash by, saw the dark hulking forms of skyscrapers parting and shifting. There were people in the streets, but they appeared as nothing more than fast-moving blurs. With nothing but a netscreen for company, I felt more desolate than ever.
I tried calling Yuichi, but there was no answer. I sent him a message: "Headed for Shizuoka. Where are you?" A few minutes passed without a reply. I wasn't expecting one.
My finger wandered to the underside of my left arm, near the elbow. I pressed slightly and felt the smooth outer shell of my PIT tracking device. If I were to get into any serious trouble here, whether from a natural disaster, abduction, or Wily attack, this is how the Sapporo Herald would find me.
It was getting late, and the vigils on the netscreen were beginning to thin out. As it became clear nothing more would be learned about Dr. Light's fate today, the news stations began to broadcast old interviews they had done with him, or about him, in the past.
A typical interview with Dr. Light went like this: "There are people who insist that Rock is fully or partially human. According to some theories he is a cyborg, or even a normal human boy in a special suit. How do you respond to this?"
Dr. Light would smile. "Well, that's the highest compliment I could receive, and a testament to the genius of my colleagues and mentors, and the many who paved the road before us. We set out to create A.I. that was realistic and could understand the feelings of humans intuitively. This has been a goal of A.I. research for nearly a century now. There are programs all around us, in our homes and in public, that do this to some degree.
"Rock learns from social interaction, and knows how to emote appropriately. That's all. He looks, sounds, and feels human, and he's cute: there's a purpose to all of that. The more humans communicate with him as if he is one of them, the more he learns. The technology is sophisticated, but not beyond the reach of any other dedicated team of roboticists and programmers today."
"Dr. Light, is Rock related in any way to Nurtech's Jinsei Project, which you founded, the goal of which was to create a truly self-aware A.I. program?"
"No, and I have no desire to attempt anything like that again."
Try as they might, no other team of dedicated roboticists and programmers were able to produce a computer that could "emote" as appropriately as Rock.
About Rock, I suspected that what Dr. Light said in public and what he said in private were very different.
"Rock, what do you like to do when you're not fighting, or helping people?" a popular young celebrity, Miki Ito, asked him once in an interview at Dr. Light's home.
"I practice, do simulations and stuff," he answered. "I'm trying to get better." It was summer, and he wore a grey jinbei decorated with white dragonflies. With bare knees and elbows, and a sheen of sweat in his black hair, his human boyishness was painfully apparent.
"You're working so hard to protect us. Is there anything else you like to do? For fun?"
"Um," he said, hesitating. His eyes wandered upward for a moment, then focused again Miss Ito. "Sometimes I'm really lazy and like to sleep a lot. Sometimes I read books. And I like hanging out with my sister, Roll."
"We'll be meeting your 'sister' later in the show. What do you do together?"
"We talk, play games, watch netscreen. She's the best. She likes to build things. She's smart, a lot smarter than me." He laughed. He shifted a bit in his chair and scratched his elbow, a gesture that did not go unnoticed.
"Hey, did your elbow really itch just now?" Miss Ito said.
"I guess," he said, a sheepish look on his face.
She giggled. "You're creeping me out! It's just like you're a real human boy."
"I'm not, I swear!" A playful grin appeared on his face. "I'll prove it to you." Quickly, he undid the tie at the top half of his jinbei. Opening the two folds of cloth, he revealed his chest—a normal, human boy's chest. With his index finger, he traced the shape of a rectangle slowly across his skin, twice. The camera zoomed in, right on cue. An opening appeared, and the "skin" pulled slowly back, revealing a mass of internal wires of many different colors and configurations.
There was a piercing scream. The camera panned back to Miss Ito, who had leapt out of her seat and was shielding her face with her hands, shrieking with laughter. "I didn't know you were going to do that!" she said.
Rock's insides were back in their place, and he was retying the straps of his jinbei. "Yes, you did," he said, smiling, as he brushed a strand of hair from his eye. "You practiced your scream in rehearsal."
"Well, sadly, it looks like our interview has almost come to an end." Miss Ito, having recovered, settled back into her chair. "On behalf of everyone, I want to thank you so much for being Japan's biggest hero. You give happiness and courage to people all over the world." She half-stood and crept forward to be nearer to Rock, pulling her chair beneath her. "But before we say goodbye, will you do you do something for me? Please? I'm embarrassed to ask, but…"
"What is it?"
She leaned in close. "Would you give me a hug?"
"Okay," he said. He stood up. She knelt down a little, to account for the difference in their height, and opened her arms. He walked into them quite naturally, letting his head come to rest on her shoulder. The camera zoomed in on his expression. He closed his eyes, a sanguine smile on his face.
Miss Ito squealed with delight. "He's so warm!"
Roll's one and only netscreen interview followed shortly after. She entered the living room in a flowery orange and red yukata, her blond hair tied back with a green ribbon. By all appearances, she was a spirited little girl the same age as Rock. The smile on her face was ecstatic.
"My goodness, you're pretty!" Miss Ito said.
"So are you!" the girl answered. She took a step forward, and held out her hand. "I'm excited to meet you… how do you walk in those shoes?"
The camera cut to a shot of Dr. Light's entranceway, with Miss Ito's purple ten-centimeter platforms arranged neatly in the corner. Audience laughter.
"They're in fashion now. As a girl, you understand, right?"
"I'm not a girl," Roll insisted, smiling, as she took her seat. More audience laughter.
"I apologize. Roll, thank you so much for honoring us with this interview today. This is a special occasion indeed. Your brother said you like to build things. That's very interesting. Could you show us something you've built?"
"Sure," Roll answered. With her delicate little hands, she opened a small cardboard box that had been sitting on the table since the beginning of the interview. She pulled out a still replica of a black and turquoise butterfly, placed it in the palm of her hand, and showed it to the camera.
"It's beautiful," Miss Ito said. "Is it a sculpture?"
"No," Roll said. She pressed gently on the butterfly's head, and it began to flutter around the room of its own accord.
"Amazing. Just like a real butterfly. How did you make that?"
Roll watched the butterfly as it alighted near the ceiling. "Dr. Light gave me the directive to make a simulacrum of a butterfly," she answered. "First, I went out into the garden to observe live ones. But there weren't enough for my research, so I planted flowers that would attract them. Soon there were plenty. I took videos of them flying. Then I had to do some research and some calculations… I chose the materials I needed, and I just made it."
"That's all?" asked Miss Ito. "It's really that simple?"
"No, it's not," Roll said, laughing, "but your producer is doing this at me." She made the "time's up" gesture with her hands. The camera cut to the producer, who laughed and nodded.
"That's right, I almost forgot," Miss Ito said. "The show's almost over, but we have to get your butterfly down from the ceiling, don't we?"
"Yes, we do."
"Luckily, we just so happen to have two butterfly nets with us today." An assistant entered the scene to pass the nets to her. "One for each of us."
When both had their nets in hand, they looked expectantly at each other. The butterfly, as if sensing their intent, started to flutter in wide circles at a frenetic pace. "Ready…" they said in unison. "Go!"
Roll's fate, like that of her "brother," was unknown.
The next morning, I woke up not knowing where I was. It was hot. Through the sunroof of my rental car, I saw a faded night sky above me, ringed by the tops of tall cedars. Venus was still visible, a faint little point of light being swallowed by dawn. I heard some chattering from the netscreen, but there were no words, only sibilants. "Ss-ss-ss." All other sounds were muted by the cawing of crows.
I jumped up in my seat and looked out the window. There were trees and hills all around. To my left was a one-lane farm road. Ahead, in the distance, I saw a shuttered produce stand, and behind me a derelict noodle shop, its roof slightly sagging. There wasn't another human being in sight.
I hadn't made it to my hotel.
The GPS monitor on the dashboard said: "Arrived at location: Shizuoka Prefecture, Shizuoka City, Aoi-ku, Umegashima, 8-8-12." It was 4:42 in the morning.
My netphone was flashing to indicate I had a message waiting for me. It was from Yuichi. "In Yokohama. I had to meet with Dr. Light's lawyer. Judith is here too. See you soon."
The news station on the dashboard netscreen was broadcasting another interview. I turned the volume up. "Dr. Light, according to a variety show that aired recently, your female robot, 'Roll,' is engineering some rather complex machines from scratch. Aren't you worried this could get out of hand?"
"Of course not," he said. "She builds only what I ask her to."
"But, what if you asked her to build a nuclear warhead, for example?"
"She'd have a hard time procuring the uranium, just like anyone else."
Of course. I remembered where I was and why I was here. I fumbled for my camera, kicked open the car door, and ran into the darkness.
This was Dr. Light's address.
In front of me, an unpaved road swerved off to the right, into the trees. It was flanked by a rusty postbox bearing the scientist's name.
I followed the path through the darkness, half at a run, with my hands held out in front of me. The crows' cawing became louder, as though it was me they were talking about. Within just a few hours, this place would be crawling with reporters. Now would be my best chance to get a good glimpse of the crime scene; perhaps the outside of the house, or property, would yield some clues about what happened there.
The trees opened up to reveal a sea of grass and wildflowers at least half a kilometer wide. In the middle of the clearing stood the house, flanked by a couple of cherry trees. It was one story, in a plain and refined traditional modern style. Behind the house was a garden, with a long stone wall hiding all but the tops of a few carefully manicured pines. The yellow tape was gone; the crime scene had already been cleared of evidence and scrubbed of all traces of death. The front door had been replaced.
I regarded the house with hope and dread. Pure, empty, and expectant, it was a Schrödinger's box.
A short fence ringed the perimeter of the property. I hopped over it, and was about to reach for my camera, when I saw a figure emerge from the trees on the far side of the clearing. I ducked into the shadows, too frightened to breathe. I was not alone after all.
Through the zoom lens of my camera, I watched the figure, short and thin, wearing jeans, a black t-shirt, and dark sunglasses, approach the house. He carried an empty brown rucksack across one shoulder. I took as many pictures as I could, but the image was grainy, and I didn't dare to use the flash. The figure pulled a key from his pocket, attempted to put it into the lock, and withdrew it without success.
The figure paced in front of the door for a minute, then walked to the side of the house. He placed his hands on the stone wall, hesitated, and at last began to scramble up with an agility that was inhuman. After a lot of heaving and grunting, he reached the top, and jumped over to the other side.
I waited. Five minutes or more passed. Lights went on and off in various rooms behind closed curtains. Finally, one light went on and stayed on. I began to hear faint piano music, played haltingly, which I recognized as the first part of Chopin's "Nocturne Op. 9."
With my heart in my throat, I crept toward the side of the house where the light was shining and squatted beneath the window. The music, beautiful and sad, filled the air. A few crows cawed in the distance, and the first cicada of the day screeched. Venus was gone, replaced by the pale yellow glow of morning. I, and the figure, were running out of time.
Feeling courageous, I peered through the window. There was just enough space between the curtains for me to see inside. The brown rucksack was lying open on the floor, crammed with notebooks and two large photo albums. I saw the figure at the piano, his sunglasses off and his eyes down at the keys. He was a young teenage boy, pale but handsome, with messy jet black hair.
I covered my mouth with my hand in shock. I knew that face as well as my own. It belonged to the boy from Yuichi's secret video file. A naturalistic, "appropriately-emoting" android that my husband had some part in creating, the first of its kind in the world. Rock's, and Roll`s, prototype.
Without warning, the boy stopped playing mid-phrase and put his face into his hands. He jammed his elbows against the keys, and the discordant burst of noise made me jump. He sat like that, completely still, until the noise faded. Then, he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, got slowly to his feet, picked up the rucksack, and turned off the light.
I heard a key turn in the lock at the back of the house, and then the small thud of the rucksack being thrown from the height of the wall, and at last the bigger thud of two feet landing on the ground. I followed the sound around a corner, and there he was with his back turned, stooping to pick up the rucksack.
"Excuse me," I said.
Without even turning to look at me, he threw the rucksack across his shoulders and ran. He was fast, and he was heading for the trees.
"Come back, please!" After thirteen years, I couldn't let him get away from me. My feet pounded against the dirt and my face dripped with sweat. I plunged into the woods after him. Without slowing his pace, he swerved around tree trunks and batted low branches out of his way. I was losing him. The fence was just ahead. "Wait, Blues," I said. "I'm a friend."
He stopped. Everything was silent except for the sound of my own panting. He turned toward me, at last, his hands clenched at his sides. "How do you know who I am?" he said. His mouth was curled into a tense frown, and although he was wearing his sunglasses I could imagine the fear in his eyes.
"I'm Yuichi's wife," I said. "Thirteen years ago, I saw the video of your birth… er, activation. I've always wanted to meet you. Won't you talk with me a while?"
"You were watching me," he said, his voice shaking.
"I'm sorry. I just came to take photos of the house. I didn't know you'd be here. Like everyone else, I thought you were dead."
"You're a journalist, right?"
"Yes. I'm writing a story about Dr. Light's murder. Do you know anything that could help the investigation?"
"Yeah," he said. "But don't come any closer. Throw your camera to me first."
I did, and he caught it. He fiddled with it for a few moments and threw it back. "If you're my friend," he said, "let me stay dead. You have no proof you saw me, anyway."
"Tell the police that Dr. Wily's body is in this forest," he said. "I found it this morning. Hurry, Ms. Nishikawa. It's a hot day." He retreated, jumped the fence, and disappeared into a flash of light that shot upward into the sky.
I looked at my camera. Blues had deleted every photo of himself.
From a payphone, I called in an anonymous tip to the Shizuoka prefectural police. On the dashboard netscreen of my rental car, I watched the results unfold as I drove toward the city.
"We've just received word of an important development in the Dr. Light case," the reporter said. "Police are now searching the area around Dr. Light's home. But, they won't yet tell us exactly what they're searching for. We'll keep you posted."
Two hours later, sweating, exhausted, and wearing the same clothes as yesterday, I found myself crowded with a horde of reporters in front of the Shizuoka police headquarters. The police chief, his face dour, stepped before the microphones and cleared his throat.
"I can now confirm," he said, "that the body discovered outside Dr. Light's property earlier this morning is that of Dr. Albert Wily.
"I can also confirm that when Dr. Light's body was removed from his house yesterday, two andoids, damaged beyond repair, were also removed. Judith Sorensen, Dr. Light's colleague and executor of his estate, identified one of them as the world-famous Rockman; another, as Roll."
A collective gasp went up from the crowd, and the reporters began screaming out their questions.
"Mr. Taniyama, what is the current status of the forensics investigation? Do you know what killed Dr. Light and Dr. Wily?"
"Mr. Taniyama, is it certain that Rockman can't be repaired? Has any robotics scientist other than Dr. Sorensen made that assessment?"
"I'm afraid I have nothing more to tell you now," the chief said. "Obviously, this is a story that many people care about, but we have a long investigation ahead of us. We will let you know more details as they emerge."
I lowered my camera. I was feeling lightheaded. Something wasn't right. Rock and Roll were dead, but Blues, whom I'd long thought to be dead, was alive.
"You have no proof you saw me, anyway," said the voice of Blues in my head.
I messaged Yuichi: "Press conference. Is Judith with you? I need to talk with her."
Yuichi replied instantly. "She needs to talk with you too."
That afternoon, I heard a rhythmic knocking at my hotel room door.
It was her.
"It's so good to see you again, Kaoru. Though, I wish we could be meeting under different circumstances." Judith bent down, drew me in close and gave me a peck on each cheek as I stood there, flummoxed. Despite the warm smile on her face, her eyes were puffy and her makeup in a mess. She smelled like perfume.
"Come in," I said. "By the way, where is Yuichi?"
"He's gone ahead," Judith said, and pulled a tissue from her pocket. "To Russia."
"Um, pardon me?"
Judith sat down on the edge of the bed. "Sakhalin Island, to be exact. Tom had a good friend there by the name of Ivor Cossack. I'm sure you've heard of him."
"Dr. Wily kidnapped his daughter a few years ago," I said. "Rock saved her."
"Yes. He's going to hold a private memorial service, and you're invited to come along with us."
I took my voice recorder from my pocket and sat down next to Judith. "Wait," I said. "Before we talk about that, you need to tell me about Rock and Roll. Where are they?"
"Of course," she answered. Her eyes were watery. "They were found in the same room as Tom. As you know, I was asked to identify them. Their faces were intact enough. I'm sorry," Judith said, and was overcome with emotion. I put my hand on her shoulder to steady her. She dabbed at her eyes with the tissue. "Put your voice recorder away, please, Kaoru," she said. "Everything I'm going to say next is off the record. As Yuichi's wife, you have a right to know, but it's for your ears only."
I did as she asked.
"Tom and I were very close," she continued, cradling the tissue in her hands. "We were partners and friends, and after Catherine died, we were sometimes more than friends. I'm going to miss him dearly.
"Rock and Roll were not just a scientific interest to me. I loved them as much as I love my own grandchildren. Tom downplayed their sentience to the public in order to keep them safe. The truth is, they were as alive as you or me. Many people have suspected it. They were right.
"Yes, it's okay for you to know now: Tom created Rock and Roll using the same programming we, with your husband's help, refined during the Jinsei Project."
I wanted to hug Judith, but I couldn't move. My hands were shaking in my lap.
"I apologize," Judith said. "Yuichi should have been the one to tell you that."
"Why couldn't I know until now? Why the big secrets? And who, besides Dr. Wily, did Rock and Roll need to be kept safe from?"
"From the people with yen signs in their eyes," said Judith. "Please understand: Tom, Albert, Yuichi, and I, everyone involved in the Jinsei Project, all became liars and withholders. First, it was because Nurtech demanded secrecy. It wanted to protect its product. The company was generous in its funding, and we had to comply.
"After Blues was completed and finally walking among us, we had a change of heart. We socialized him, got to know him, got to like him. The time was coming when we would have to hand over a copy of his code to Nurtech, and we had no idea what the company planned to do with it. Nurtech said that part wasn't our business. We realized we had done something terrible.
"We'd created a being with human levels of reasoning, feeling, and moral sense—and zero legal rights. Nurtech was expecting to profit. How?—if you use your imagination, a few ideas may come to mind. In all those years, we'd never even thought about it."
"What happened to Blues?"
"A couple weeks before he was to be revealed to the press, Tom realized there was something wrong with him. Blues was tired almost all the time; he couldn't seem to hold a charge. He complained of pain, but couldn't describe where it came from. After some searching, Tom discovered that the reason a serious flaw in his energy system. He began working on a way to fix it.
"All the while, Blues knew nothing about Nurtech. Tom couldn't bring himself to tell him. The night before the press conference, Blues finally learned the truth. He ran to Tom's lab, where the code was stored. Tom kept a few flammable materials there. There was an explosion. You know the rest of the story."
I nodded. Actually, I didn't know the rest of the story. Neither did Judith, it seemed. Blues was alive.
I heard his voice in my head again. "If you're my friend, let me stay dead." I had no idea what, or whom, he was hiding from.
Judith sighed. "We're the ones to blame for his short, confused life. We sold his happiness in exchange for the funding we needed to create him." She cast her eyes down at her lap. "We spent our whole lives bringing him into the world, but we never put any thought into how we would care for him once he was here. He was doomed from the start.
"In my dreams, I'm still chasing him down the stairs, reaching out to grab his arm before it's too late. But I never get there.
"Anyway, the Jinsei Project was closed. We didn't have the heart to try again, except… Tom had been keeping a secret from the rest of us. He had another copy of the code, which he used to create Rock and Roll. He was determined to raise them as his children, with the love and dignity they deserved.
"The media caught wind of them. Publically, as you know, Tom insisted they were just household robots, but not everyone was fooled. You don't create something that can sweat, itch, and cry, just so that it can wash your dishes and fold your laundry for you.
"Of course, Nurtech got involved. They demanded that Tom hand over either the code or one of the robots. Tom and Albert fought over what to do. Albert said he believed in keeping the code away from Nurtech at all costs. He stole Tom's copy, and then tried to erase Rock's and Roll's programming, which in effect would have killed them. Tom stopped him in time. That was the end of their friendship.
"Albert reprogrammed some of Tom's other robots, which he had built in the past, and set them loose to wreak havoc. He hoped that Tom would be blamed, and the government would rush in to destroy Rock and Roll in case they too were dangerous. As you know, Rockman appeared shortly after to put things right. He became a beloved public figure, which forced Nurtech to give up its claim on him.
"Tom had realized the only way to protect them was to hide them in plain sight. Well, it worked for a decade at least.
"Now, Kaoru," she said, "We'll go tonight. Cossack, his daughter, and Yuichi are waiting for us. You want to go, don't you?"
"To Russia?" I said. "But, I didn't bring my passport."
Judith opened her bag, and after some digging pulled out my passport and placed it in my hand. "Yuichi is one step ahead of you," she said. She managed a tight-lipped smile. "You'll be the only journalist allowed. We want you to be the one to tell this story." She glanced down at her netphone, and stood up. "This is rude of me, but I've got to go now."
Again, something wasn't right. I pulled at her hand. "Wait a minute. What killed them, anyway?"
"That's what I hope to find out," she said. "The police have just found Dr. Wily's lab. They want my opinion about something. The answer is in there somewhere. Pack your bags, Kaoru. You'll hear from me later," she said, and with long strides hurried toward the door.
I sat motionless for a few minutes. When I finally got up, my first act was to turn on the netscreen, where the news headline read: "Rockman gone: the nation mourns."
The idea popped into my head that I should follow Judith. I grabbed my purse, opened the hotel room door, and made a dash for a waiting elevator. When I got to the lobby, I approached a bellhop.
"Excuse me," I said. "Did you see a middle-aged white woman pass through here just now?"
"Yeah," he said. "I've never seen someone run so fast in all my life."
There was no trace of Judith in the parking lot. I realized the effort was hopeless, so I staggered back up to my room, feeling defeated. My eyelids were heavy. I remembered I had barely slept the night before. I collapsed onto the bed, but my mind was racing.
"Search 'Chopin,'" I said to the netscreen. "Play first result."
It was Op. 9, part 1. I closed my eyes and let the music sweep over me.
"I'm glad you're alive, at least," I said to an imaginary Blues.
I thought of my husband, on the surface such an ordinary and quiet man. "Yuichi, what part of his code did you write?" I said. "Damn you, how did you do that?"
Then my thoughts turned to our daughter, and I shut off the music and picked up my phone.
Judith knocked just after 11 that night. The sound was heavy and frantic. "Ready to go?" she said. "Our flight leaves in an hour." She was white as a sheet.
"Okay," I said. My suitcase was propped against the wall.
Judith closed and locked the door behind her. "Excellent," she said. "There's just one thing we have to do first." She took a small pen-shaped device out of her purse. It trembled in her hand.
"Are you all right?" I said.
"I will be. Kaoru, you have a PIT, don't you?"
She took my left arm in her free hand. "We have to deactivate it."
I yanked my arm away. "What?" I said. "No. I can't let you do that."
"I'll explain," said Judith. She took a deep breath. "You see, Ivor is a terrible recluse. His house is deep in the wilderness. He hates the press, and he doesn't want the Sapporo Herald knowing where he lives."
"The PIT is for my safety," I said. "Anyway, the Herald will know if it's been deactivated. They will think something's happened to me. My daughter will be worried."
"You can call Mirai and tell her you're okay. She just can't know where you're going, that's all."
I looked Judith in the eye. "This is crazy," I said. "I could lose my job over this."
"The bodies are there," Judith said. "Rock's and Roll's. Yuichi transported them yesterday. We're going to destroy them, to ensure no one will be able to extract pieces of their code from what's left of their CPUs. This is your last chance to see them.
"Now I know why they're dead, and Tom also. You want to know, but it wouldn't be right for me to tell you sooner than the people in Sakhalin who knew them and loved them. Come with us, and you can hear it too.
"Perhaps this will get you into some trouble with the Herald," she said, "but I promise you'll have a hell of a story to write when you get back." She checked her watch. "Decide quickly, Kaoru."
An image came to me of the key Blues had used to get into the back of Dr. Light's house. After the explosion long ago that supposedly killed him, the house had reportedly been torn down and rebuilt, locks and all. So, where did he get that key?
I realized I could not be the only one to know Blues was alive.
I cast a sidelong glance at Judith as I held out my left arm. I didn't know if I could trust her, but at this point, I would follow her to the ends of the earth.