PHOENIX REBORN

written by Victar, e-mail vctr113062@aol.com
Victar's Archive:
http://www.victarfanfics.com



Chapter 11: Family Reunion


   "Your time is not yet come. When it does, help may come from anywhere - a friend, an enemy, a stranger, a relative..."
         -Roger Zelazny, Roadmarks


VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: Mishima Syndicate Tokyo Headquarters
video surveillance cassette X0111584
Private Teleconference Studio A3
December 6, 2017
4:08 a.m.


The field of view shows a room filled with audio speakers and video monitors of varying sizes. An exhausted Julia Chang enters, followed by Ishida and Kimura.

JULIA CHANG: Do it.

ISHIDA: What? Do what?

KIMURA: We humbly beg your pardon?

C: Do I have to explain everything to you? Use one of these things to call my grandmother, now!

I: Not all of us are mind-reading freaks, you little-

K: At once, young mistress.

Kimura activates the central monitor and taps a sequence into its controls. The screen fills with static.

C: <Grandmother? Grandmother, can you hear me? Are you there?>

An elderly female voice answers through the white noise. The static gradually forms the darkened shape of an old, grey-haired woman, dressed in a plain blue gown and wearing a diamond-patterned headband.

MRS. CHANG: <-Julia? Julia, my child! You're alive!>

Mrs. Chang shudders and puts her hand on her side of the video screen.

C: <Grandmother, I'm so sorry. I should have told you what I was planning - I wanted to tell you->

Ishida speaks to Kimura through the corner of his mouth.

I: Hey, what're they saying? I thought they were American. They're not talking American.

K: Hush.

MRS. C: <Julia, come back to me! Come back, before it is too late! You have one chance. Heihachi Mishima will send you home unharmed, but you must leave now! Hurry!>

C: <Is that why you gave him the sacred treasure? As a ransom for my safety?>

MRS. C: <All the treasure in the world could not buy your safety from the House Mishima. But if you come home now, Heihachi might lose interest in you.>

C: <I can't leave. Not until I get the sacred treasure back. Letting it stay in the wrong hands could risk the end of the world; you taught me this.>

MRS. C: <It is not sacred. It is a thing of doom! May its curse destroy the House Mishima in your stead!>

C: <I'm sorry, Grandmother. There's an even greater threat than the House Mishima. The whole world is in danger.>

MRS. C: <My child, you have fallen ill. You have walked alone at night, and evil has haunted you. Delirium poisons your soul; you need to be healed and blessed. You must come home! I will have a shaman tend to you->

C: <I'm not leaving, Grandmother.>

MRS. C: <-he will sing over you for four days and four nights; we will hold a great curative and cleanse you of this sickness - Julia?>

C: <I've entered the Iron Fist Tournament.>

MRS. C: <Julia, no!>

C: <I will come home alive, Grandmother. I promise.>

MRS. C: <NOOO!>

The old woman sobs and wrings her hands. Ishida flinches from the sight. Julia bows her head.

MRS. C: <No, you won't! Kazuya will murder you! I have seen it!>

C: <What? But Kazuya is->

MRS. C: <I saw Kazuya strangle you with his Power. I saw you bound and gagged. I saw him hold the knife; I saw fresh blood spill upon the unholy altar! You must not stay, you must not, Kazuya will murder you like he murdered my daughter!>

C: <Kazuya is dead, Grandmother. I can't live my whole life in fear of his ghost. I just can't.>

MRS. C: <You must run away, before the dream becomes real and Kazuya cuts open your heart!>

C: <I'm sorry, Grandmother. There is an even greater evil. Heihachi is going to fight it->

MRS. C: <Let him fight! Let the Toshin destroy him!>

Julia's eyebrows come together. She leans slightly forward.

C: <How did you know the Toshin's name?>

MRS. C: <Julia...>

C: <I never heard it before I arrived in Japan. And I doubt Heihachi would have told you; he hoards his secrets as jealously as his treasures. You know something about the Toshin, don't you?>

MRS. C: <Only that if Kazuya does not murder you, it will.>

Julia rests her chin on her knuckles.

C: <It can't be an accident that our family kept the sacred medallion. It must have come with a story, handed through the generations. A story that you learned. You know that it's the key to destroy the Toshin, don't you? You've known all along.>

The old woman clasps her hands together, so tightly that they shake and turn pale.

MRS. C: <It is not the key to destroy the Toshin. Nothing can destroy the Toshin. It is the key to control the Toshin, but it is a key that fits no lock.>

C: <What do you mean?>

MRS. C: <To use the medallion against an evil being, you must know that being's true name. The Toshin's true name has been lost forever. Without the Power of that name, the medallion is only a cursed harbinger of suffering and death!>

C: <I can't believe that. It helped me save lives tonight. I used it to banish the Toshin's minion->

MRS. C: <That could only have been possible if you knew the minion's true name!>

C: <Um, well - all right, so her name was Nina Williams. But if Heihachi learns the Toshin's true name, or knows it already->

Julia snaps her fingers.

C: <That's it. That's what he was keeping from me! He doesn't want to kill the Toshin. He wants to control it, and use its Power to complete his dreams of world domination! It's all Heihachi's evil plot!>

Julia curls her hand into a fist. Her lips tighten in a snarl.

C: <I'll never let Heihachi get away with this!>

MRS. C: <No, Julia. Wait. Hatred is not the answer. Do you remember why you were taught the power to fight? It was to protect Mother Earth, not to destroy.>

Julia lowers her eyes.

C: <That's why I have to stay, Grandmother. To protect Mother Earth from Heihachi and the Toshin.>

MRS. C: <But who will protect you?>

The old woman holds her hands over her heart.

MRS. C: <You are all alone, surrounded by enemies. When Kazuya comes for your blood, there will be no rescuer to save you! The House Mishima took my husband and my daughter away from me; it can't take you too! It can't! Julia, my beloved granddaughter, please... come home. The land awaits you.>

Tears run down Julia's cheeks.

C: <I love you, Grandmother.>

Julia touches the monitor's power switch. The old woman's picture fades to a blank screen.

I: What was all that, Indian talk? How can you talk Indian, anyway? You don't even look like an Indian.

C: Kimura, shut your cousin up.





A BRIEF CONVERSATION BETWEEN LEE CHAOLAN AND JIN KAZAMA
February 10, 2018
12:45 p.m.


         *It is not necessary.*
         "It is a matter of responsibility."
         *I have no use for a salary.*
         "Lee..."
         *I am a Guardian of the Grey Kingdom. Guardians, by definition, do not labor for reward.*
         "But you're not working for the Grey Kingdom right now, are you? You're helping me run the syndicate. As long as you're with us-"
         *If you feel moved to generosity, then there are others in this world who need and deserve the benefit far more. I am not a living person. I do not have the needs of the living. What would I spend a salary on?*
         "How about books?"
         *Pardon?*
         "I know you like to read about the Great Invasion. You could start your own collection of books, instead of just borrowing from the syndicate library."
         *My very presence in the domain of the living is contingent upon borrowing. It is only fitting that my hobby reflect as much.*
         "Then what about Bryan?"
         *What about him?*
         "Well, he has 'the needs of the living,' doesn't he? Don't you-"
         *I'm sorry. Bryan's private finances are not something that I may casually discuss. You would have to speak with him directly about any such matters.*
         "You know he'd never accept anything I offered him."
         *Then it cannot be helped. I am under obligation to honor my contract.*
         "All right, all right. So it comes back to you. I'm not saying it has to be a lavish salary, if you don't feel comfortable with that. But at least-"
         *Why do you insist upon this?*

         pause

         *Jin?*
         "Lee, I..."
         *Yes?*
         "...I... know how my father used to treat you."
         *I see.*
         "I... I'm sorry, I don't want to upset you-"
         *There is no upset. Please continue.*
         "I know he used to treat you like a... a bondsman..."
         *I was a slave, Jin.*
         "Um - right. What I'm saying is, you're back here, doing the same job you used to, and I do need your help, but if you won't accept anything for it then I feel I'm exploiting you. Like my father used to exploit you. He never paid you anything either, did he?"
         *Room, board, and his continued permission to exist.*
         "And - and look at you now. You won't stop working. I can't even get you to take some time off, and you desperately need it-"
         *What induces you to say that?*
         "You're in your true form again."

         pause

         "Didn't even realize, did you?"
         *When did I...?*
         "At the presentation this morning, or so I'm told. You really shook them up. The Microsoft representative had to be treated for shock. He's still mumbling about 'the Second Coming.'"
         *Oh, dear.*
         "Lee, you need a salary and some time off. This situation isn't right, and I can't let it go on."
         *Then this truly is a matter of conscience for you?*
         "I - yes. Yes, it is."
         *Very well, then. It is not my place to blindly refute your moral convictions. If you must assign me a monetary allotment, then I will attempt to find a suitable purpose for it.*
         "And you'll take weekends off from now on?"
         *That seems like a bit much...*
         "I am President of the Mishima syndicate, Lee. I'll issue an executive order if I have to."
         *Sundays, then. I will attempt to refrain from working on Sundays.*
         "And you'll get some sleep today?"
         *If I were to sleep now, it would disrupt the circadian rhythm that Bryan and I have established. That would only generate more stress upon us both.*
         "Then at least take it easy for the rest of the afternoon. I'll bet Xiaoyu would love to spend some time with you. And I don't mean just helping her with schoolwork, I mean having fun."
         *But-*
         "The syndicate can survive without you for one weekend. Go on. I already promised Xiaoyu I'd get you out of here; you're not going to make me go back on my word, are you?"
         *It would seem that I have little choice. There is only one matter to which I must first attend. I have another interview scheduled for, well, right now. Could you please stall for me while I, ah, compose my appearance?*
         "How long do you need?"
         *Not long. Two minutes, at most. And Jin...*
         "Yes?"
         *There is another kindness that you could do for me. Something that would be far more charitable than any monetary disbursement.*
         "Anything, Lee. Anything."
         *Come by and see me more often. You're my only nephew, you know.*
         "Of... of course, Lee. I promise."
         *Take care.*

         click

         Oh, you're here already? Well, if you could just wait a couple minutes, Lee will be right with you for the interview.
         Say - you weren't listening at the door, were you?





INTERVIEW WITH LEE CHAOLAN, section 3
February 10, 2018
12:50 p.m.


         Good afternoon. Please, sit down.
         Yes, yes, I received your message. Don't worry; I've made the appropriate arrangements in Bryan's schedule. He might pretend to be recalcitrant, but deep inside, he truly appreciates your commitment to present his point of view.
         Is there anything else, before we begin?
         Ah.
         I believe that is for the best. Your interviews were forcing Jin's memory block to work 'overtime,' as it were. Even if you cannot entirely cease your questions, I'm grateful that you are trying to scale them back.
         Well...
         I think... I think that Jin is doing all right. He has suffered some troubles with the block lately, but his true malady has remained safely dormant. I believe there is good cause for optimism. In particular, his closeness to Julia has a strongly beneficial effect. The love in her soul is far more powerful than any mortal medicine.
         A cure?
         No. I fear Julia deludes herself in her search for one. Yet there are a great many human ailments that can only be treated, not cured. Diabetes mellitus, for example. Various chemical addictions. Certain types of mental illness. Even so, with the proper care it is eminently possible for people with these disabilities to enjoy the full length of their lives, happy and healthy. Jin deserves no less.
         You and he are alike, in that way.
         You also carry an affliction that can only be controlled, although perhaps your situation more closely resembles Bryan's. While I would not wish to give you false hopes, I believe there is a slight chance that the research into his condition may benefit you.
         Hm? Did you not know?
         Part of my contract with Bryan Fury requires that I pursue ways to undo the biotechnology that transformed him into Prototype Alpha. Should it ever become feasible for him to survive and function without my aid, then I will have to say goodbye to all of you.
         No, I don't mind. It is Bryan's generosity that has gifted me with a second chance in Life. I would have no right to further impose if there were any other way to keep him alive and well, and I have the duty to investigate other possible ways. The research has not been successful so far, but assorted side developments have produced other benefits. In particular, I believe the syndicate has just patented a new anti-rejection drug for organ transplant patients. If all goes well, we should be distributing it at cost within another year.
         But all this is tangential to your purpose. You came for an interview, did you not?
         Yes, that's right. Last time, I told you of how I tried to free Jun Kazama's soul from the Toshin; yet she sent me to the Crossroads in her place.
         I'd been to the Crossroads before, many times. It is, essentially, an interdimensional shortcut. Most sorcerers who can teleport do so by consciously or unconsciously traversing its pathways. However, one must be able to reach it first. Few Earthly sorcerers have possessed the gift to visit the Crossroads at will; Kung Lao, hero of the Great Invasion, was one such. So was my brother Kazuya, but he specialized in necromancy. I am not certain how adroit a teleporter he may have been, for he rarely made use of the skill. It drained a tremendous amount of his energy, and incidentally, he almost never elected to teleport himself. He preferred to apply his Power to servants or inanimate objects. Perhaps he feared where the Crossroads might take him, given the darkness within his soul.
         The Crossroads place a high demand upon the strength of mortal teleporters. A living sorcerer must have his intended destination firmly in mind, and the further it is from his initial location, the greater the toll upon his life energy. Since I am not alive, I have nothing with which to pay any such toll; this frees me from physical threat, yet drastically limits my access. Once I am within the Crossroads, I may follow it almost anywhere without personal risk; yet I can reach the Crossroads only from certain nexus points of concentrated, external energy. Such nexus points tend to be sparsely distributed throughout the realms of existence.
         Even so, I often used to search for and blindly dive into such nexus points. Entering the Crossroads without an explicit destination in mind can be fatal for a living mortal, but of course that danger did not apply to me. I simply focused upon my desire to serve, and the Crossroads would obligingly guide me to those lost souls who needed me the most.
         Perhaps even the Crossroads have their limits, however. Once, shortly after the Black Abyss claimed Kazuya's soul, I entered the Crossroads with the desire to see him again. They did not take me to my brother. They did not take me anywhere. I merely remained within their formless paths, until I finally had to relinquish my aspiration. So, wherever the Black Abyss leads, I fear it is no place the Crossroads may follow.
         Yes?
         Jin is... only a student of sorcery. He knows a little about creating gateways, but - direct teleportation, no. He has expressed interest in learning, yet... I...
         ...I've agreed to start teaching him after his twentieth birthday, barring unfortunate complications. By then, I believe I'll have enough information about his condition to judge whether doing so would worsen it. In theory, it should be harmless for him to practice sorcery - it might even be beneficial - but I would prefer to rely upon more than theory when my only nephew's life is at stake.
         He will be all right. I have to believe that. I have to ensure it. There is no other possibility that I may allow.
         He will be all right...
         Hm? Oh yes, the Crossroads.
         One instant, they absorbed me into their vortex; the next, I heard the desperate cry of a panicked soul, echoing through Space and Time.
         God, no, don't make me do this! Somebody stop this! Stop me from doing this! God, someone, anyone, STOP THIS!
         I turned toward the call. Its distress was too strong, too sincere to be ignored. As much as I wanted to go back to Jun-chan, I knew that it was too late. By now, the Toshin would have disincorporated her soul, rather than risk letting its purity escape. There was nothing I could do to rescue her, nor would there be until the Toshin was defeated.
         But this new soul was another matter.
         SOMEONE STOP THIS!
         Then let that 'someone' be I.
         With my decision came a flash of light. A cloak of darkness. Fresh wind on my skin. Cloying smoke in my lungs. Pressure waves of sound on my eardrums.
         It was an avalanche of feeling. The experience almost paralyzed me in its sensory flood. I'd been naught save shadow, perception, and memory for so long; the tingling of countless discrete cells overloaded my consciousness. Jun-chan had previously bestowed her one wish upon me - the wish to live again, and keep my memories - yet I had not believed that even she had the Power restore me to Life. Certainly, I never imagined it would be like this.
         I had a body.
         A real, physical body.
         Not my own body, of course, but something remarkably similar to it: male, late twenties, muscular, and sharing the silver color of my hair. There were even several scars on the face and torso, slightly similar to the ones I had once borne- hm?
         Oh, I did not inhabit this body in precisely the same manner that you inhabit yours. My awareness was intimately a part of all its cells, and receiving information from each one of them. Which is why I did not need a mirror to know the pigment of its hair follicles. Similarly, I did not need measuring tools to know that this body was approximately eight centimeters taller and fourteen kilograms heavier than I used to be. It was not overweight, however. A certain amount of that excess mass came from cybernetics within its vitals. Partly because of increased inertia, this body had less potential speed than my old one. Its sheer strength was noticeably greater, however.
         The whole situation should not have been possible. Not for any deceased soul; not even for a Guardian of the Grey Kingdom. The dead simply cannot interact with the domain of the living, unless dire necromancy is involved. And my condition definitely did not involve necromancy, for there was no such sorcerous residue in this new body. The best explanation I have for it is Jun-chan's wish. She made me capable of inhabiting this form.
         Well, in all due consideration, I believe the Toshin's medallion also played a critical role in summoning me to this body, at that place and time. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
         "Wh-where am I...?" I stammered. Yet even as I mouthed the bewildered question, speaking thickly with an unfamiliar tongue of flesh, I realized where I was. I recognized the surrounding architecture.
         "This... this looks like..."
         The exterior walls had been repainted, and a set of new towers had been constructed around the central skyscraper, but it was still-
         "...home..."
         Though I had returned to Earth many times since becoming a Guardian, it was always to serve and guide individual souls. I had not actively kept track of Earthly current events. Nor had I previously investigated what became of the Mishima syndicate headquarters.
         Of my home.
         Kazuya had teleported the syndicate into American territory during the Great Invasion. But unless my memory of the northern Shinjuku neighborhood completely deceived me, the syndicate was once again in Japan. I never thought it would have been moved back, whether through labor or sorcery. I thought the survivors of the Great Invasion would have demolished it, the better to symbolically cleanse the genocidal horrors it once stood for. Yet the structure before me now was no mere replica; I could sense the faded resonance of Kazuya's past necromancy. His death had liberated all the souls that he once held captive within the syndicate's walls, yet lingering traces of his black sorcery remained. Like indelible bloodstains seeped into a crime scene, long after the victim's body has been given a proper burial.
         A young woman was coughing at my feet. I'd been holding her by the neck an instant ago, I realized; something of hers remained in my hands. It was a golden medallion with ruby-red inset gems, and it tingled with eldritch Power. There was something familiar about it. I felt I should know more about this object, but I could scarcely think about that because-
         "I... I'm alive," I expressed, wonderingly. "I'm alive! I can touch, I can smell, I can - air! I'm breathing real air!" When I tried to take a deep breath, I choked on the stenches of blood and smoke. "Foul air, at that. How-?"
         "G-give... give that back..." wheezed the young woman.
         I looked down at her.
         "Michelle?"
         It was my first impression of her. Darkened firelight only half-illuminated her thin body, save for the cardinal red feather of her headband. A feather just like Michelle Chang had once worn. For one, shocking moment, I wondered if Michelle had also been restored to Life.
         Sometimes, I still wonder.
         She shares neither Michelle's blood, nor Michelle's passion for the fight. And yet, I know not for certain what destiny Michelle's soul chose for herself, after she showed me mercy. Could she have been reborn into a new life? And even if she were, is there any evidence to presume that she was reborn specifically as the young woman you and I know today?
         Most likely not, I suppose. It is only sometimes that my suppositions weaken for a little while, and I wonder.
         "I-I'm sorry, is this yours?" I stammered, handing her the medallion-
         -and remembered where I had seen it before. Michelle used to wear it around her neck. By the Grey Lords, Kazuya and I had once kidnapped Michelle's mother in order to ransom her for this!
         Kazuya never told me why he wanted the medallion. It had to be worth more than the gold it was made of; certainly, its feel in my hand confirmed that it possessed great Power. But the Power to do what? Kazuya never lived long enough to find out. By the time he captured Michelle and her treasure, he was in the midst of a desperate struggle to decide the outcome of the Great Invasion. With a deadly war occupying his attention, he neglected to closely examine the artifact. I had the medallion locked away, along with a host of other valuables stolen from the men and women that we murdered. I've read in books that after the Great Invasion, most of those possessions were returned to the families of their rightful owners. Certain records that I kept of the syndicate's atrocities apparently expedited the whole endeavor; my paperwork included detailed lists of which victims owned what.
         As I think back, though...
         I remember how Kazuya tried to mind-probe Michelle, and how she resisted so fiercely that he directed me to murder her. What I never understood before was why she fought back. She ultimately did not have any information of value to us - or so we thought.
         Perhaps we had been wrong. Perhaps the secret she died to protect had nothing to do with our enemies' defenses, but rather with the treasure she carried in plain sight.
         "...mine..." coughed the young woman in front of me, gripping the shiny medallion.
         "Michelle, how-?" I asked, bewildered.
         "...get away from me..." She clutched at her bruised throat and tried to retreat. Had she forgotten how I became a Guardian only at her sufferance?
         A motion in the background caught my eye.
         Armored men.
         Lots of them.
         With guns.
         They were sighting their weapons in our direction.
         "No, you must not run!" I urged. "Can't you see the militiamen? They could shoot you if you rush them!" I reached - clumsily, keeping my balance was difficult after so many years of freedom from mass and gravity - and took hold of her wrist.
         "Let go!" she croaked, weakly pulling away.
         "Michelle, no! I won't let you be killed again!"
         "What were you trying to do before!? And my name's not-" she couldn't finish, because of her sore throat.
         Her words caused me to notice something, however. Even taking her coughs into account, her voice was noticeably dissimilar to what I remembered of Michelle's. Her tones were more high-pitched; she had less raw aggression fueling her breath. And her skin was a lighter shade, her eyes a rounder shape.
         "You're... not Michelle?" Yet she carried Michelle's medallion, and wore clothing similar to Michelle's.
         "Let go of my wrist!"
         She slapped me with her other hand. It wasn't a particularly hard hit, but the shock of concentrated sensation left me reeling.
         "Pain... that was physical pain. I really am alive!" I babbled, half in a daze.
         Then I became aware of the voices in my head.
         Not from the militiamen, not in the background - these truly were vibrations from inside my skull, assuming the low-key pattern of human voices. They had most likely been talking for a while; I was just too overwhelmed to pay attention before.
         DESTROY IT!
         I knew that voice. Remembered it from so long ago. It had aged over time, become coarser and throatier, but it still sounded like - could it truly be-?
         I can't! I worked so hard to create it! That was a stranger, with a rasping Yiddish accent.
         Then get out of my way! Yes. Yes, there could be no mistake. I wanted to reply to him, but I couldn't, because-
         "Oh, no," I muttered, releasing the girl's wrist.
         A remote buzzing noise sounded as click, a large assortment of my new body's vital processes shut down at once. Starting with my heartbeat.
         "...aaaghhkkk...!" I gagged, collapsing on my face.
         "Hey. I didn't hit you that hard," the girl protested, uncertainly.
         There was more taking place in the outside world, but I couldn't afford to focus on any of it. Jun-chan had sacrificed everything to give me this strange new body, and damned - damned if I was going to lose it now!
         I've told you that I do not inhabit this body in precisely the same manner that you do yours. Please allow me to be more specific. You don't have the Power to consciously monitor and influence processes at the cellular level. You can't divide and attest your psyche to hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of simultaneous tiny tasks, all coordinated for the express purpose of keeping yourself alive. I wasn't sure I could do it either, at first. But as a Guardian, I am invested with several Powers beyond the limits of an ordinary mortal soul. One of these is the Power of Comprehension.
         Yes?
         Well, perhaps this is an oversimplified metaphor, but it more or less means that I can process information like a supercomputer, if there is need. Please note that this is not the same as elevated intelligence. Even a supercomputer is only as smart as its programmer.
         Combining this Power with the preternatural influence I possessed over the cells of this new body, I could make it function in spite of its disconnected life support. Just as I make it function now. In effect, I am its life support. The processes have long since become automatic to me, but at the time, I had to immediately figure out how they were done and how to maintain them. It wasn't until some time later - perhaps thirty minutes or so - that I could disengage enough of my consciousness to pay attention to the outside world.
         My surroundings had changed. The girl was gone; I hoped she was all right. I was inside...
         ...inside...
         I remembered this room. Kazuya and I had been forbidden to play here when we were children. The paint had been stripped, and volumes of new clutter had replaced the old, but it was the same room.
         "How can it still breathe?" That voice again. And that face. That powerful, intimidating form. I knew him the moment I saw him.
         Heihachi Mishima.
         My father.
         Perhaps that is not the most accurate description of him. Though he adopted me off the streets of Guangzhou, he never truly thought of me as his son. He rarely thought of me at all. He didn't abuse me, but then, neither did he love me. Even so, he was the closest thing I had to a father.
         He had grown so old.
         The last time I'd seen him in person had been during the Iron Fist Tournament of 1994. Shortly before Devil Kazuya took the Mishima syndicate away from him. Shortly before everything went to Hell.
         I called him 'old man Heihachi' behind his back even then, but he hadn't truly appeared 'old' the way he did now. His hair used to be jet black. His skin used to be free from wrinkles. I remembered when he could pace without twinging from subtle aches and pains.
         Heihachi was still alive. I'd thought that if Kazuya hadn't killed him, then he would have died in the Great Invasion; as harsh as it may sound to say, Heihachi's soul was indeed malevolent enough to have fallen victim to the Shao Kahn's aether. But he had survived. Endured like an intractable force of Nature.
         Father...
         I wanted so badly to speak to him. To tell him who I was. To-
         "Why is the prototype still here? Why hasn't it been destroyed!?" Heihachi roared like a tiger at a shriveled old scientist with a thin, close-shaved mustache.
         "I need to study it!" insisted smaller man, craning his neck and peering through thick, horn-rimmed glasses at Heihachi's imposing visage.
         Wait. I knew who the scientist was, too.
         Doctor Abel.
         His voice wasn't familiar, but I had seen his picture. He was a professional rival of Doctor Boskonovitch - ah, yes?
         Well, you do remember that Kazuya and I once enslaved Boskonovitch, don't you? It's a long story, you'll find it all in the history books. We considered enslaving Abel as well, but he didn't have quite the same caliber of scientific genius, plus another militia had already taken a vested interest in him - the Yad Vashem Self-Defense Force, I believe - plus Boskonovitch had a daughter that we could use as a lure, and so on. With one factor and another, we decided to kidnap Boskonovitch and leave Abel alone.
         I should also mention that Abel's medical, scientific, and humanitarian ethics were purportedly quite 'flexible.' Given what I had heard about him, I was mildly surprised to see that he had also survived the Great Invasion with his soul intact.
         "How am I to know what went wrong if I cannot analyze the problem?" Abel continued, passionately. "This is the only working prototype we have for the Cyborg Army project. None of the other bodies have progressed past stage two of implantation, nor will they - your bumbling idiot Tekkenshu cannot get them into cryo fast enough!"
         "I need to transform any intact corpse into a soldier," Heihachi growled. "If you cannot process bodies that are but a few hours old, then you may as well build robots instead."
         Abel flared at that. Indignantly. I remembered hearing about his bitter failures in robotics, failures that had formed the core of his cutthroat rivalry with Boskonovitch. After all, Boskonovitch was the only scientist ever to successfully create a functioning line of androids - the Jack and Jack-2 models. Or at least, he had been the only such scientist, when I was alive.
         "I cannot learn to process decayed bodies if I do not succeed with better preserved ones. Yet you seek to take away my one triumph! I cannot work under these conditions!"
         "You will work, or forfeit your head." There was no trace of exaggeration in Heihachi's threat. He sounded as hostile and ruthless as the father I once knew.
         "I am not like the rest of your worms. Browbeating me will not change what I can and cannot do! I need the prototype. From the very beginning, I warned you that it was not programmed for all contingencies; I warned you, and yet you act outraged when it fails! Of course it is going to fail sometimes. It is not the final product! Why are you so obsessed with destroying it?"
         Heihachi looked at me.
         I remained motionless, resting in a human-sized capsule with the door propped open. Heihachi's gaze turned hard and cruel. His brow furrowed with suspicion.
         "Its eyes are the wrong color," he observed, darkly.
         "What?"
         "They used to be grey. Now they are auburn."
         "That is it? That is your reason?"
         "Why are its eyes the wrong color!?" Heihachi demanded, wrathfully.
         "How am I to know, if you will not let me study it? Perhaps the video transceivers in its irises have shorted out-"
         "And why was it speaking strangely before? Why does its heart beat after its life support has been terminated?"
         "If you will only give me a chance to learn! Do you want more Cyborg Army soldiers by the end of the month or don't you?"
         Heihachi seethed.
         Abel held his breath. Not obviously, but close examination revealed that his diaphragm had paused in its movement.
         "You may take the rest of the night," Heihachi rumbled. "Then, it will be incinerated. Report to me tomorrow with your findings."
         "Yes, Mishima-sama."
         "And you will design your next prototype with implanted explosives for its self-destruct!" With that, Heihachi stormed out the laboratory.
         Abel allowed himself to exhale.
         I wanted to cry out. To call for... well, for my father. But of course I couldn't do it.
         What would I say to him? 'Otou-san, it's me, the pretend son you ignored and despised. I'm dead now, but I'm doing all right; only I'm sorry I failed to save your real son from the Black Abyss. So, how have you been?'
         No. Not here. Not like this. Besides, I had just discovered another complication with this new body.
         I wasn't alone inside it.
         GET ME OUT OF HERE!
         wham wham wham wham
         He must not have been conscious before. Most likely, the shock of my arrival had overwhelmed him. But now he was awake, aware, and a prisoner within his own flesh. Installed cybernetics controlled his every physical movement; yet his psyche was able to sense me, and slam violently against its formless cell. He was screaming inside, close to insane, pounding and clawing at nothingness. And he was giving me a terrible headache.
         Perhaps you might remember something I had previously said, about almost missing physical pain?
         I would like to take that back, now.
         Aaargh...
         What have you done to me? Get me out of here! GET ME OUT! GET ME OUT I'M GOING TO KILL YOU BASTARDS GET ME OUT GET ME OUT AAAAAAAH!
         WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM
         GET ME OUT GET ME OUT GET ME OUT GET ME OUT-
         QUIET!
I psychically 'yelled' back.
         That stopped him, if only for a moment.
         All I have 'done' to you is keep you from dying. You can't control your actions because most of your voluntary nervous system has been disconnected from your brain; however that came to be, I had no part of it. I think I can learn to simulate an alternate path between your nerve cells, but right now, I don't dare concentrate on the problem because you are not safe here. Once we're free of the syndicate, I promise I will help you regain motor control.
         Get me out of here. Get me out!
         Give me one day. I need time to adjust to your internal biology, learn more about our current situation, and arrange our escape. Twenty-four hours, and then I will help you.
         Get me out of here.
         Twenty-four hours.
         Get me out of here!
         Twenty-four hours. That's all. I give you my word.
         Get me out of here, GET ME OUT
GET ME OUT AAAAAAAAH!
         WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM
         What part of 'I will help you' don't you understand?
         GET ME OUT
GET ME OUT AAAAAAAAH!
         WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM
         Enough was enough.
         *Stop that now or you may never have your freedom again!* I proclaimed, in the psychic rendition of my true voice.
         When I use my true voice to communicate, it tends to stun or halt listeners in mid-thought. Which is why I sometimes feel uncomfortable about resorting to it. The odd thing is, I don't hear it the same way that other people apparently do. To me, it's just my voice; it is notably smoother than when I speak like I did as a living mortal, but that's all.
         I'm not sure exactly how it affected the other man. Certainly, he was startled. Yet he was also frantic, almost driven mad from long-term sensory deprivation. I felt confusion in him, and fear, and festering hatred.
         What are you?
         I am a Guardian of the Grey Kingdom,
I replied, returning to a less imposing mind-voice.
         A Guardian? You mean, like a Guardian Angel?
         Argh.
         No. A Guardian. My name is Lee Chaolan.
         Undercurrents of flustered ill temper churned chaotically in his emotions, then flattened into an ultimatum.
         You have four hours.
         Well, it was better than nothing. I will try my best.
         Fuck the 'try.' You will GET ME OUT OF HERE, or I will wring your angel neck!
         Encouragement noted. In the meantime, it would be helpful if you could tell me more about yourself, and what you know. Who are you? How did you come to be controlled by the Mishima syndicate?

         No answer.
         Ah, can you still hear me?
         I am Bryan Fury. You have four hours.
         All right.
         And then you will GET ME OUT OF HERE!

         WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM wham wham wham wham tap tap tap tap
         His pounding lessened to a quiet, repetitive drumming sound, soft enough as not to further intensify my headache. He wasn't madly lashing out anymore.
         He was counting.
         Focusing on the rhythm of passing seconds. Continually keeping track as they summed piecemeal into minutes and hours. Conserving his rage for when he would be set free. It was an improvement over his previous hysteria, but-
         Could you at least tell me what year it is? I probed, tentatively.
         You. Have. Four. Hours.
         tap tap tap tap

         Then again, perhaps it would be better to leave him alone.
         I still worried about a host of questions. Where were Jun-chan's husband and son? Were they all right? How much time was left before the Toshin returned to menace them both, and how by the Grey Kingdom was I going to protect them when it did? The last time I had fought the Toshin, it completely vanquished me.
         Pardon?
         Well, that is true in theory. Yes, I could have searched Bryan's recent memories for relevant information, but such an action would have been an unjustifiable violation of his privacy and personal rights. Besides, I had just barely managed to calm him. The last thing I needed was to incite him to more psychic violence. I still had to escape before my father made good on his threat of incineration.
         I did have several advantages. For one, the syndicate was my home. Jun-chan and I used to play hide-and-seek in its corridors, when we were children. Later, I became the syndicate's primary bureaucratic administrator, responsible for overseeing its structural maintenance and expansion. There was scarcely a single corner that I hadn't known blindfolded. In particular, I recalled a hidden side-door in that room's left wall, which led to a secret passageway.
         Then again, my memories were from the Great Invasion. Heihachi had probably remodeled the syndicate since then. The tunnel could be blocked or rerouted.
         Hmm...
         Another advantage was my lack of guards. Doctor Abel was the only person in the lab with me, and it would not be difficult to overpower him. He puttered back and forth, hurrying almost to the point of delirium. Dark, sleepless hollows encircled his puffy, red-streaked eyes. My chance would come soon.
         Abel muttered to himself quite a bit while he worked. He'd subconsciously slip back and forth between Yiddish and accented English. If I concentrated, I could use my Power of Communication to understand him, but most of what he said were trivialities like, "Not again, not again, why don't these readings make sense?" Or, "Prototype Alpha, what are you hiding from me? Why do you work while all the others have failed?"
         Abel scanned this body with a magnetic resonance imaging device, x-rays, ultrasound, and a host of other non-invasive tests. Which was just as well, because if he had tried an invasive test - such as, say, vivisection - then I would have had to stop him. As it was, I had the opportunity to watch and learn a great deal about what, exactly, made Prototype Alpha tick. The knowledge would serve me well, as I adapted to this body's requirements.
         I also learned something else of importance. At one point, when Abel was typing his latest inspirations into a computer file, I noticed the current date and time displayed along the bottom row of his word processing program: December 6, 2017, 5:05 a.m.
         So. It was the year 2017.
         The Crossroads must have thrown me forward through Time as well as space. Jun-chan's son would have to be, ah, twenty years old? No - nineteen. She had perished on his fifteenth birthday; that was May 20, 2013 in Earth time. So he would have been born in 1998, a little over a year after my own death.
         Something bothered me about these dates. I wondered if I had calculated them incorrectly, even though my Power of Comprehension ought to preserve me from that. Perhaps Jun-chan had misremembered when she told me?
         Argh, never mind, all that was inconsequential. What mattered was that, in May of next year, the Toshin would escape its banishment. Less than six months remained to prepare. This was in fact an appreciable time buffer, but even so, I wondered if it would be enough. I knew I could not defeat the Toshin on my own. Containing its menace would require strong allies and a feasible plan, and right now, I had neither. All I had was a borrowed body, whose soul had its own share of troubles. And I wouldn't be able to help anyone if that body were incinerated. The time had come to subdue Doctor Abel.
         Abel was sitting like a hunchback in the simple wire chair before his computer, mechanically typing formulas and symbols. I silently eased out of my resting capsule, and crept up on him from behind. He was grumbling a nonstop stream of irritated complaints.
         "...cannot believe Mishima-sama expects me to finish this in one night. He does not even give me a whole night in which to work, he gives me less than half!" With no warning at all, Abel turned in his chair and stressed his appeal to me. "How am I supposed to get anything done under these conditions? How?"
         That could have spelled disaster. Abel could have raised an alarm; I wasn't quite close enough to stop him in time. But he just looked at me like he was expecting an answer.
         "Just how long has it been since you had a chance to rest?" I asked, casually resuming my approach.
         "Thirty-eight hours. Thirty-eight! It is not tolerable! How does Mishima-sama ever expect me to-"
         Abel's voice gave out, in a sudden onset of panicked laryngitis. His olive eyes bulged like songbird eggs. His already pale skin turned the color of morning frost.
         "H-how?" his mouth worked, although he made no sound.
         *Sleep,* I instructed, resting my hand on his forehead.
         Normally, sleep spells are an unreliable means of attack, because they are fairly easy to resist. But when your target is an old man on his thirty-eighth hour, then the needs of his own body exponentially accentuate the strength of your sorcery.
         Abel crumpled. I caught him before he could fall out of his chair, and settled him on the floor.
         tap tap tap - tap - tap -- tap
         What the hell are you doing?
Bryan incredulously demanded, breaking off his mental count.
         It is only a precaution. An unconscious person can choke on his own tongue, if it falls against the back of his throat, I answered, removing Abel's horn-rimmed glasses and gently positioning his head to the side.
         That's NOT what I mean and you know it! Why don't you KILL him?
         I am a Guardian of the Grey Kingdom. It is my pledge to serve and protect mortal souls, not to kill them.
         What are you raving about?
         I have taken a pledge to serve and protect-
         Shut up! Don't you know what that - that
ghoul did to me? What he tried to make me do? Shit, I don't know if that girl is dead or alive-
         I suspect she is alive. If Heihachi had wanted her dead, he would have ordered his militiamen to fire on her well before he activated your self-destruct.
         Yeah, whatever, what I'm telling you is
this bastard on the floor tried to make me kill her! And if you let him live, he'll do it again! He'll make more - more-
         Cyborg Army soldiers?
         Whatever. You let him live, and what's to stop him?

         That was a good question.
         I know you sob-story bleeding heart types, Bryan sneered, contemptuously. I've met fools like you before. You pretend you have some holy set of morals, but you're just afraid to get your hands dirty. If I tell you that I WANT MY REVENGE, that only makes you feel noble and pious and better than me. But if I tell you that he WILL cannibalize and murder more people, then can you wave that away? Are you squeamish only because you can see his face right now, and you can't see the face of his next victim?
         It is not that simple.
         Bullshit! What if he decides to finish what he started with that girl? Then her death will be on YOUR head, because you had the chance to stop him and
you threw it away!
         You neglect the fact that Heihachi Mishima clearly controls Abel. Are you suggesting that we also murder Heihachi?
         Sounds like a good idea to me.
         But as the presumed master of the Mishima syndicate, Heihachi must have a designated successor to inherit his duties. Should we find and execute the successor as well?
         Uhh...
         And whoever is assigned to succeed him?
         What are you-
         And the rest of the syndicate could not function, let alone maintain the Cyborg Army project, without its employees. Is it your desire to murder them all?
         -talking about-
         But the Mishima syndicate could not exist if people did not patronize its enterprises and buy its products. Tokyo has long been the syndicate's most reliable market. Would you like to slaughter everyone in Tokyo?
         -now you're getting ridiculous-
         How about everyone in the world?
         Shut UP! Stop dancing on the head of a pin! You have a murderer right in front of you, right now. The only way to stop him from killing again is to break his neck!

         In literal point of fact, I did not know for certain that Abel was a murderer. Yes, I had heard rumors, but that was not proof. However, I did know that Abel had tried to use Bryan to kill an innocent young woman. I shared Bryan's body; he could not lie to me without my knowing it. So, Abel was at least guilty of attempted murder.
         But to split hairs in that debate would be overlooking the heart of the matter.
         You are wrong, I returned, solemnly. Killing him is not the only way to prevent him from hurting others.
         It's the only sure way.
         My brother and I tried the 'only sure way.' We tried to extend it to every 'evil' person in the world. The 'only sure way' made us collaborators in the Great Invasion, stained us with the blood of one billion victims, and nearly destroyed the Earth. No more. Not again. Not ever. Present all the arguments you wish; they will not move me. There will be no killing and that is final.
         Your... brother?

         I felt no need to answer that. However, Bryan had previously pointed out an important concern, about the Cyborg Army project. Abel's work had to be sabotaged, or at least set back until it could be shut down for good. I settled in the doctor's chair and typed commands into the computer keyboard.
         You're... that Lee Chaolan?
         There. There it was - the hidden directory of top-secret specifications on Prototype Alpha and the Cyborg Army. It would have to be expunged, and I don't mean just deleted; deletion merely marks a file's memory space for reuse, and is easily undone if caught in time. No, each file in here would have to be deliberately re-saved as pages of nonsense syllables. Perhaps it would have been swifter just to destroy the computer, but it seemed to be linked to a server, and I didn't want to risk that interrupting its power could set off a network alarm. This would only take a few minutes. Well, perhaps more like fifteen minutes; there were so many files-
         "What are you doing?"
         That wasn't Bryan's mind-voice. It was real, physical sound, and it was very familiar. I had never heard it before - not exactly - but it was so close to... to...
         I slowly turned toward the speaker.
         He looked so much like Kazuya.
         It was a similarity far beyond mere family resemblance. The angular face... the strong yet trim build... the perniciously thick eyebrows... the jet black hair thrust back in a natural spike, stiff and sharp from the static residue of his own Power...
         It was almost as if my brother had come back to Life.
         Sometimes, I wonder if he did.
         Could he be Kazuya's soul, reincarnated in a younger body? Logically, it does not seem possible. No soul has ever been known to return from the Black Abyss, in any way, shape, or form...
         ...no. No, rationally I must conclude that he is not Kazuya Mishima reborn. But he is all I have left of my only brother.
         He did not regard me as Devil Kazuya once had - not with hatred, contempt, or paranoia. Curiosity creased his eyebrows; a hint of uneasy concern showed through his jet black eyes. And as I looked upon him, I could not help but see my brother. My true brother, that is; my brother from before. Before the Devil possessed him. Before he mortgaged his soul to nigh-unspeakable evil. Before vengeance and madness poisoned the love in his heart.         
         "You must be Jin Mishima," I murmured.
         "Jin Kazama," he corrected, neutrally.
         I didn't know what to say. It was all I could do to refrain from embracing him, knowing that he wasn't my brother, knowing that he would not recognize me in this form. I had failed to save my brother's soul, and Jun-chan's soul, but now I knew - I knew that I had been sent to save their son.
         He did not appear in the peak of health. Blood and dirt stained the torn cloth of his high school uniform. Weakness stressed his muscles, paled his skin, and induced him to lean against the lab's near wall for support. His stiff black hair was dirty, bent out of shape, with clumped and tangled forehead bangs. He rubbed his neck as though it were quite sore; nearly all his movements were uncomfortably cautious of internal pains.
         "Are you all right?" I asked.
         "Close enough," he replied, evenly.
         Hey - how did-? I saw the pretty boy die! That blond psycho-bitch killed him! Bryan exclaimed.
         You may have seen him injured. It would appear that he has inherited his parents' Power of Healing.
         But - but - but-
         "You should know," Jin continued, "that I am a telepath and a sorcerer. If you try to attack me, I will defend myself. If you try to run away, I will raise a psychic alarm throughout the syndicate, and you will not escape in one piece."
         Psycho-bitch didn't give him enough of a workover. He needs another few rounds.
         "Very well," I said, trying to ignore Bryan's hate-filled interjection. "I assume there is a reason why you haven't raised the alarm already?"
         "I wasn't certain that there was sufficient cause. I'm still not certain."
         "'Sufficient cause'?"
         "His distress woke me up," Jin explained, with a nod to Doctor Abel. "It cut right through my barriers - a panicked crest of confusion, followed by unconscious silence. I've never felt him so afraid before. But I didn't know whether he was just having a nightmare."
         "He isn't hurt, only under the effects of a sleep spell. It should wear off when he is fully rested."
         "I know. That's why I'm willing to hear you out."
         "Ah..."
         "I know that you are Prototype Alpha of the Cyborg Army. And I know you have been acting so strangely that Grandfather wants to destroy you; I felt a whisper of it in his thoughts. What I don't understand is how you can function independently of Abel's commands. It's almost as if someone else were remotely controlling you, but that is not possible. The entire syndicate is insulated against all unauthorized communications frequencies."
         Get me out of here. I'll show him how to 'function independently.'
         "Abel no longer controls this body because I have taken spiritual possession of it. I am Lee Chaolan. Your uncle."
         Jin blinked in surprise. His eyebrows rose, suggesting increased curiosity; then they lowered, betraying increased suspicion. "My uncle died twenty years ago."
         "I know. I was there."
         Get me out of here. I want to kick the pretty boy's ass!
         "I also speak for Bryan Fury, until such a time as he is able to speak for himself," I added. "Although right now, he is saying things that I would prefer not to repeat."
         A patronizing attitude began to affect Jin's vocal tone. "Bryan Fury is that body's donor. He is also dead."
         Who is HE to talk? I saw the blond psycho-bitch break his NECK! Don't tell me he used some mumbo-jumbo magic to heal THAT!
         "If Bryan were truly dead, his soul would not remain tied to his body."
         Jin shook his head.
         "Why don't you believe?"
         "Because I can't feel anything from you."
         "'Feel'? Do you mean telepathically feel?"
         Jin nodded once. "Usually, it's all I can do to keep out the thoughts and emotions of anyone near me. But around you, I feel nothing. No words. No impressions. You're no different from the furniture. Or the computer."
         Now that was curious. I suppose it makes sense, though. If Jin had been able to sense Bryan's emotions, he most likely would have detected a great deal of 'distress' emanating from this lab, well before now.
         "Perhaps the cybernetics in Bryan's brain are interfering with your reception," I speculated.
         "Or perhaps you're not who you say you are. Not exactly."
         "What do you mean?"
         "I know Abel designed Prototype Alpha's command subroutines on our computer system. Our software."
         "And?"
         "Lee Chaolan created the Mishima syndicate software, over twenty years ago. It's undergone a lot of upgrades since then, but its core programming is essentially unchanged."
         "My work? It's still being used?"
         Mistrust balanced the traces of amiable humor on Jin's face. He hesitated for a moment before he consented to elaborate. "Too many of our embedded computer systems are interdependent on that software. To replace it would require us to completely overhaul our electronic equipment, and that would cost a fortune. Even though Lee's code has certain encrypted subprograms that none of our experts have fully deciphered."
         "I... could give you the decryption keys..."
         "I'm certain you could, because I think you are the software."
         "What?"
         "An artificial intelligence. Like Doctor Boskonovitch's artificially intelligent Jack-2 androids. Only you're programmed to believe you're Lee Chaolan."
         Hey, what is this pretty boy? A Japanese Trekkie?
         "You also believe you're Bryan Fury because you've been uploaded into his body, and you possess background data on both men from our computer files. I'm just surprised that the inherent contradictions haven't crashed your program."
         Get me out of here. The pretty boy needs to be brought down to Earth. Face down.
         I stared at Jin, scarcely able to believe he was inventing such wild theories.
         Ah, yes?
         Grey Kingdom.
         Yes, I like to think that I was once a competent computer programmer. And yes, I did design the syndicate's software specifically to compensate for the Year 2000 problem, which may partially explain its continued use into the new millennium. But, well, I? Create a humanly functional, self-sustaining, true artificial intelligence? Such an extraordinary opinion of my mortal skills is flattering, yet vastly exaggerated. I was hardly in Doctor Boskonovitch's league; if I were, I never would have had to kidnap him.
         "At least you're not calling me an angel," I muttered.
         "A what?"
         "Never mind. If I were to assume a form closer to my original, would that convince you?"
         "You're a shape-shifter?"
         I answered him with an adjustment of my self-perception, recreating a likeness of how I looked during my last day as a living man. However, I only dared to alter Bryan's external appearance; any meddling with his internal physiology would have risked upsetting the delicate maintenance that over half my psyche carefully monitored. I didn't want to attempt that until after I'd had more time to adapt. For similar reasons, I did not wish to chance reverting to my true form, just yet.
         Hey - hey, what are you doing? That's MY body! WHAT are you making ME look like!?
         There should be no danger to you, I reassured. Shape-shifting is unsafe for living mortals to practice, but I am not living and you are not the one who is practicing.
         Bryan spat a few choice remarks about what I could 'practice' with him.
         Jin stared at me. His mouth opened and closed, like a fish gulping water. He rubbed his eyes, shook his head, then stared at me some more. "I knew you were proficient in sorcery when I felt you cast the sleep spell. But I never dreamed I would live to see such a meeting of technology and magic...!"
         "Do you still think I'm an artificial intelligence?"
         "I just can't feel anything from you. No offense."
         "None taken, I suppose." With that, I let the surface appearance of my mortal self go. My borrowed body reverted to Bryan's bullet-scarred form. "I don't have time to argue this any further, right now. We have a bigger problem: the Toshin."
         All congeniality disappeared from Jin's face when I said the monster's name. His eyes turned as dark and remote as a starless night.
         "What do you know about the Toshin?" he demanded.
         "Much less than I would wish. It is Immortal, immensely powerful, immune to sorcerous attacks, a danger to the entire world, and it will escape its banishment within six months."
         "That's no help."
         "When it returns, it will be weaker because it won't have as many souls inside it," I offered. "Other than that, all I have is the prophecy you may already know: 'Only purity within and purity without can close the wound that is Toshin.'"
         Jin gritted his teeth. He clenched his right hand and brought his knuckles on level with his chin. Hypnotic streaks of indigo lightning flared about his fist. It was a gesture I used to see in his father.
         "I don't want to 'close' any 'wounds.' I want it dead!"
         "Is that why you're living with Heihachi Mishima? Has he offered to help you destroy the Toshin?"
         "We're going to fight it together."
         "And you trust him?"
         "I should be insulted by your implication, but it's not your fault. You can't help thinking what Lee programmed you to think."
         You should be insulted by his implication, but it's not his fault, Bryan parroted, in a surprisingly accurate mimicry of Jin's voice. He can't help being an idiot.
         "Please," I entreated. "This is important. Is Heihachi treating you all right?"
         "My grandfather is a good man," Jin declared, as if that ought to settle any further debate.
         "Is he a better man than he used to be?"
         "What are you trying to say?"
         "Jin... do you know what Heihachi used to do to your father?"
         "Look - you're not really my uncle, and you don't really know my family. You're just a computer program-"
         "You're leaning against the wall," I interrupted, softly.
         "So?"
         I took a deep breath.
         "I was twelve. Kazuya was thirteen. Jun-chan - your mother - was seven. None of us were supposed to come here; the syndicate's research and development complex was off-limits to children. But I had lost Jun-chan's dove.
         "It was a wild creature; she found it with its wing broken, and wanted so dearly to save it. Of course she couldn't go to Heihachi, or any of the people who worked for him; the only 'pet' he permitted within the syndicate was his grizzly bear. I didn't know anything about birds, or veterinary medicine. So she begged Kazuya for help.
         "Kazuya tried his best. He dressed its wing, and kept it in a makeshift incubator, showing her how to feed and care for the dove while it slowly mended. This was before either of them had matured into their Power of Healing, I think, so it took them a few weeks.
         "I was jealous of that dove. And of my brother, for attracting Jun-chan's attention. It wasn't enough that he was old man Heihachi's 'favorite' son; he dared to cultivate a friendship with her, too? Even at that early age, I wanted her all to myself.
         "So, I decided to get rid of that dove. Throw it back into the wild, let it fend for itself. I tried to carry it out of the syndicate. Only it started pecking my hands, and struggled free, haphazardly fluttering down the forbidden hallway.
         "I didn't know what to do. I didn't dare follow it, but if I turned away it would almost certainly be killed, and how could I ever explain that to Jun-chan? So I ran to Kazuya. He decided that we had to rescue it, and we went exploring in forbidden territory.
         "I found the dove.
         "Heihachi found Kazuya.
         "I was right behind the door. Saw and heard everything, with the terrified dove quivering in my hands. When I think about it now, it's like rewatching an old horror movie. I can stop and freeze the frames. One of those frames is from when Heihachi hurled my brother against the wall. Right where you are now.
         "I remember the falling clumps of Kazuya's hair, torn out at the roots. I remember the sickly blue-black marks on his cheeks and forehead. I remember the crimson stream oozing from his flattened nose, the drool of bloody vomit seeping out the corner of his mouth. I remember the dark red stain he left on the wall, as his battered legs failed him and he slid to the floor. And I remember his tears. It was the last time in his life that I ever saw him cry..."
         "STOP IT!" Jin shrieked.
         His cool, distrustful exterior disintegrated completely. He recoiled from the wall as if it were on fire, clutching at his brow with both hands.
         "You can feel it, can't you? You can feel your father's blood within these walls."
         "Stop it... stop talking about it... I can't..." Jin gasped for breath, and seemed on the verge of hyperventilating. He forced himself to settle down, wrapping his arms around his upper body as if trying to hold something inside his ribs. It was a gesture I used to see in his mother, when she felt lost or distraught.
         "Don't... don't do that again... it's hard enough to keep my barriers..."
         "Jin, this wasn't an isolated incident. It belonged to a pattern, dating back at least to when Kazuya was five years old, and Heihachi threw him into a ravine. A pattern of suffering partly responsible for driving Kazuya to embrace the Devil."
         "I said shut up!" he hissed. Sweat beaded on his face. His legs weakened, and he slumped to one knee in eerie reminiscence of his father's collapse. "Have to... have to rebuild the barriers..."
         I watched him struggle for several seconds, until the tension eased from his face.
         "Did you already know what I have told you?"
         A hint of moisture appeared in Jin's eye. Not quite a tear; he wiped it away before it could form.
         "My grandfather... he... he's told me that he made 'mistakes' with my father... he never gave any details."
         "Indeed."
         "It's why he trains me with the Mokujins. He never fights against me himself. He won't admit it, but he's afraid of losing control. Like he used to lose control with my father."
         "I see."
         "My grandfather is a good man," Jin stressed, fervently. "He can't change what he's done in the past. He doesn't talk much about my father, but when he does, I can feel his regret - so strong he can't keep it hidden, like he does with most of his emotions. He knows that he failed. The shame haunts him.
         "He took me in when he didn't have to, and he taught me how to fight. He's willing to risk everything to help me take revenge on the Toshin - his life, his soul, everything. What right do you have to deny him a second chance?"
         No right.
         No right at all. Not from my house of glass.
         At least I could rest assured that Heihachi wasn't subjecting Jin to physical abuse. But there was something else I had to know, something that stemmed from the depths of forlorn memories. "What do you feel in your grandfather when he talks about me?"
         That seemed to mildly disconcert him. "Um."
         I waited, patiently.
         "I've, uh, never really heard Grandfather say anything about y-... I mean, about Lee," Jin confessed.
         My head drooped.
         "I'm sure he thinks about Lee, sometimes. He's just a very private man."
         "Never mind," I sighed. "You said that he's going to help you against the Toshin. Does he have a plan?"
         "We've renewed the Iron Fist Tournament."
         "And?"
         "Um, Grandfather is still working on it."
         "Are you using the Tournament to recruit strong allies in your quest?"
         "Uh, I think so. Sort of. Well, maybe. Grandfather is, um..."
         "Still working on it?"
         "I trust him with my life."
         Perhaps. However, I wasn't sure I trusted him with Jin's life. Not when I had seen the cruelty in Heihachi's eyes only a few hours ago, and heard the hostile ruthlessness of his voice.
         I could give my father the benefit of a second chance, but I could not give him my trust. Not yet. On the other hand, if Jin were to distance himself from Heihachi, then to whom could he appeal for help against the Toshin?
         "What about your stepfather? Is he still alive?"
         "What?"
         "Your stepfather, Lei Wulong. Is he-" I broke off my inquiry as vicious hatred flooded Jin's expression, drawing his eyebrows together in a malignant V-shape. It was a hatred even stronger than he had felt for the Toshin. Sometimes, I think the greatest single difference between my nephew and my brother is that Jin absolutely cannot keep whatever he is thinking from leaping off his face.
         Lei Wulong? Since when does that son of a bitch have any kids?
         "That man is not my father," Jin snarled, every word a venomous serpent's fang.
         See? I told you.
         "I don't understand. Did something happen between-?"
         Damn straight something happened! That arrogant, alcoholic, glory-hound phony cop-
         "I don't have to explain anything to you!" Jin snapped, straightening himself as he rose from the floor.
         Are you even listening to me?
         I tried to think of a good reason why my nephew should explain, a reason that he would believe. Nothing came to mind. I tried to think of an emotional appeal that would soften him. All I could remember were countless times when I had tried to appease Devil Kazuya, and failed. I tried to think of what could possibly be the right thing to say.
         I said, "Please. Your mother asked me to watch over you both."
         "You're a computer program. You never knew my mother. You have no part of her. You've no right to-!" He turned away in mid-sentence.
         "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you."
         He was silent for a time, before his response.
         "It's not your fault. Lee programmed you the way you are. He programmed the core of all our systems. It's not right to be angry with you over what he did."
         "What - what did I do?"
         Jin cleared his throat.
         "Computer," he said. "Verify my voiceprint."
         There was a quiet whirring noise, from speakers embedded in the ceiling.
         Voice print verified: Jin. Kazama. The computer's words carried the halting rhythm of mechanically sutured syllables, yet their essence was as soft, feminine, and comforting as the lonely night when I'd fed their tapes into the audio records.
         It would seem that even the most petty of my selfish deeds had cruel consequences, enduring far beyond what I was once able to see.
         "When Jun-chan ran away from the syndicate, I programmed her voice into the system because I missed her," I explained, contritely. "I told myself I'd leave it that way only until she was 'mine' again, as if she were a misplaced piece of treasured jewelry. I didn't think that any of my software, let alone my specifications, would last for twenty years after I was gone."
         "No one knows how to change it," Jin stated. "Grandfather says it's ridiculous for me to be upset. My mother died protecting the Earth, and I... I hear her calling like a lost soul, almost every day..."
         I looked at the floor in shame.
         "Computer," I requested, "access primary vocal file. Authorization: Lee Chaolan."
         Please state passcode.
         "'He loved Big Brother.'"
         Jin turned toward me. His eyebrows rose in an unsure ponder as I instructed the computer to use backup files of a generic female voice, and erase the record of Jun's.
         "I'm deeply sorry for any pain I caused you," I apologized, sadly.
         Jin seemed to mull that over, for a time.
         "You still want to know about Lei Wulong?" he sighed.
         "Please."
         "He murdered my real father, Kazuya. Killed him in cold blood, rather than accept a surrender. He lied to my mother and me about it, telling us that Kazuya committed suicide. He hid us both in the wilderness, where my grandfather couldn't find us or tell us the truth. And when the Toshin came, he abandoned my mother to it. He let her die to save his own life!"
         Well, well, well. So the legendary 'Super Police' has some dirty secrets of his own, does he?
         "Are - are you sure?"
         That tricky Chinese bastard. I always knew he was hiding something...!
         Jin glared at me.
         I didn't know what to think. Could any of this be true? Could Lei Wulong have murdered my brother, or deserted his wife? Jin clearly believed it, but...
         "Do you have proof of this?"
         "I was there when the Toshin attacked. Wulong wasn't."
         "And - and my brother? Did he - did Wulong - have you seen this in his mind?"
         "I felt his guilt. Brought to the surface, after sixteen years of hiding behind lies. He would not let me see the truth."
         "Then how did you know?"
         "Grandfather told me all about it. He knows the real truth. I felt it in his mind."
         "But... but can you be sure that the hatred you have for Lei Wulong is truly your own, and not Heihachi's hatred impressed upon your psyche?"
         Are you kidding? What's not to hate?
         "And why shouldn't my grandfather hate Wulong!?" Jin burst out. "Don't you understand what Wulong took from him? My grandfather never... never had the chance to reconcile with Kazuya... never got to say he was sorry..."
         Grey Kingdom.
         I could hardly picture Heihachi ever wanting to do such a thing. To him, an apology could only be an admission of failure. Of weakness. Of everything he despised the most. But if Jin were right - if my father truly were a changed man...
         "Did you feel this longing in your grandfather's thoughts?"
         "I told you, he is a very private man. I've no right to invade that privacy. It's just that, very rarely, his feelings are so strong I can't help feeling them too."
         In other words, 'no.' Then again, if Heihachi had craved forgiveness, he would have been loathe to broadcast as much to his telepathic grandson.
         Hmm...
         I considered what I knew. Lei Wulong had fought Kazuya Mishima in Kazuya's inner sanctum, hidden from mortal sight, near the end of the Great Invasion. Wulong's victory broke Kazuya's Power, and freed all the trapped souls within the Mishima syndicate. Then Kazuya died. I had presumed that he killed himself, rather than be taken prisoner. Now, for the first time, I questioned that assumption.
         Dark resolution descended upon me. I'd promised Jun-chan that I would 'take good care' of her husband, but there were a variety of ways in which I could choose to interpret those words.
         "Where is Wulong now?" I rasped.
         "Tokyo Mishima General Hospital."
         I remembered what Jun-chan had told me about Wulong's liver cancer. "How sick is he?"
         "Terminal." Jin shrugged, coldly. "Technically, he's in the Iron Fist Tournament, but he'll probably have to forfeit."
         He'd better not. I want a chance to kick his ass.
         "Why do you ask?" Jin requested.
         "Because I am going to make Wulong confess what he did to my brother."
         Get me out of here. I'll beat the truth out of him.
         "Um, that isn't really necessary."
         "No. It is absolutely necessary."
         Really. I volunteer.
         Jin bit his lower lip. That was another little habit his mother used to have.
         "I'm sorry. I can't let you leave on some wild chase," he said, trying his best to sound reasonable. "We need you here, where we can study you. And you have to restore all the Cyborg Army files you just destroyed, or at least help us recreate them from memory."
         "What?"
         "It's all right. Grandfather won't do anything to hurt you, once I talk to him," Jin reassured. "You're too valuable. You're the first stable artificial intelligence the syndicate has had since it abandoned the malfunctioning Jack-2 production line-"
         "You - you know everything about the Cyborg Army project? You support it?"
         Jin didn't bat an eyelid. "Of course. Grandfather has trusted me with the responsibility of being its day-to-day overseer. Why do you think I came to check up on Abel personally?"
         "But - but-"
         Get me out of here. I'll give the pretty boy a 'personal checkup'!
         "Why?" I exclaimed, turning both hands palm up and clawing at the air in shock. "Don't you realize what you're doing? It's wrong! It's EVIL!"
         At first, Jin appeared perplexed by my sudden outburst. Then he folded his arms and shook his head. "I'm not going to let a computer program preach to me about good and evil."
         "Will you please desist the ad hominem rebuttals!? Look at what you're doing! You're stealing people's bodies-"
         "We do not steal!" Jin snapped, hotly. "Bryan Fury signed a notarized contract of his own free will, donating his remains to us!"
         Bryan? Is that true?
         Shut up.
         Is that a 'yes'?
         I said shut up!

         "Was this a recent contract? Within the past several months?"
         "It was."
         "Doesn't it strike you as suspicious that Bryan just happened to 'die' right when you needed a fresh body for your prototype?"
         "I had one of our best operatives investigate the Hong Kong shootout that killed him, and she willingly submitted to psionic verification. The syndicate was not responsible for Bryan's death in any way."
         Bryan? Is that-
         Shut UP!

         "All right. Maybe the syndicate is 'innocent' in this one case. But don't you see? If your technology is successful, it will spawn a lucrative demand for corpses. You will create a global black market. Innocent people will be murdered for their bodies!"
         "There is already a 'lucrative demand' for people's bodies. Organ transplants. Cadavers to train medical students. None of these have created a 'global black market.'"
         "This is different."
         "How?"
         "This is for war." I rose from the chair and started pacing, restlessly. "You're creating weapons. Artifacts with the power to kill people if they don't do what you want, or for any other reason, or for no reason at all!"
         "That's true of any weapon."
         "It's especially true of these! Think of what you're making. It's a- it's a-"
         A soldier that never tires, Bryan supplied, grimly. Never requires pay. Never mutinies. And never dies.
         I repeated his description. "Now do you understand? Power is seductive. If Cyborg Army soldiers become the way of the future, then you'll start an arms race to harvest dead bodies. Even if you don't think it's likely, can you live with the possibility? Can you live with yourself?"
         Jin closed his eyes. Tightly. His hands clenched and unclenched. Then he opened his eyes again.
         "A minion of the Toshin attacked the syndicate tonight. She slaughtered twenty-one of our security people before we finally stopped her, and that's not counting the Tekkenshu or civilian casualties. Can I live with myself over that?
         "Look - I know the idea of a Cyborg Army is a horrifying one. But if we'd had a Cyborg Army when the Toshin's minion attacked, it could have saved a lot of people from dying! The Mishima syndicate has spent the last twenty years bringing peace to the world, but sometimes 'peace' means that good soldiers come home in body bags. With a Cyborg Army on our side, we can change that. We can protect the innocent without paying a blood price in human lives!"
         "There is always a blood price. If it is not paid from your flesh, then it will be paid from your soul."
         "You're not making sense."
         "Think. If having and using soldiers becomes as free of blood cost as you hope, then there will be less incentive not to make war. History is filled with atrocities committed by living soldiers; a dead soldier has even less of a conscience. If a commander tells a platoon of living men to murder every human being they see, there is a chance - not a certainty, but a chance - that they will refuse to do it without some form of moral justification. If a commander gives a platoon of Cyborg Army soldiers the same order, then there is nothing to stop them. This technology you're developing is too easy to abuse. The people who will control it are too prone to corruption. That is why it must not be allowed to exist."
         "I..." Apprehension clouded Jin's face. He shook his head, as if to clear it of a fog. "Grandfather explained it better than I can. His belief was so strong..."
         "I know about the Power of Belief. When my brother betrayed the Earth, his belief was so strong it could have moved mountains. That didn't make it right." I stopped pacing and looked directly into my nephew's eyes. "Don't believe because someone else does. Believe because you know you are right, or don't believe at all!"
         "But everything you're saying is hollow speculation. The Cyborg Army is just a tool; it's meant to defend and protect people."
         "Like Bryan was used to 'protect' people tonight?"
         "What are you talking about?"
         "Bryan was forced to attack an innocent young woman. Could you confirm her current welfare? She had a red feather in her hair, and carried a golden medallion."
         That got to him.
         "Julia?" he gasped. "Julia Chang?"
         "Is that her name?"
         The fake Indian girl? Yeah, that's her name. Doesn't even sound Indian, does it?
         Ah, that explained a few things. This 'Julia' must be a member of Michelle Chang's family. No wonder she dressed like Michelle, and carried Michelle's medallion.
         "What did you do to Julia?" Jin charged.
         "It was not I. It was Abel who directed Bryan to strangle her. She would almost certainly have perished, if not for my interference."
         "Wh... what...? Nn-no, that's not possible... she... I... I sensed bruises around her throat, but she couldn't - she didn't feel like - how could she almost be killed by one of our own and not even be thinking about it when - when-" Jin's half-formed words sputtered to an uneven close. His head swivelled. He fixed his jet black eyes on Abel.
         "What are you doing?" I asked, as Jin crossed the distance to the doctor in a few swift strides.
         "I have to know if he hurt Julia."
         "But-"
         "It's only a light scan of his recent memories. It won't hurt him. It won't even wake him up." Standing over the doctor's supine form, Jin held out his hand palm down, above Abel's head.
         What the hell? Every time I convince myself this isn't a bad TV show, someone starts doing this "Psi Factor" shit all over again.
         Color receded from Jin's face. His head jerked back. His hand reflexively clutched his throat.
         Jin had been mildly surprised to learn who I was. He had been amazed to see me shape-shift. But now he was utterly shocked. His entire body became rigid, as if he had succumbed to a paralytic. His eyes bulged wide, and his breath stopped for just a moment. Agitated crackles of indigo electricity rustled up and down his arms. For someone who labeled me an 'artificial intelligence,' he rather reminded me of a Jack-2 android on the verge of total systems failure.
         "Gods-!" Jin exclaimed, in horror.
         I was rather astonished, myself.
         When Kazuya used his Power to probe memories, he needed his target to be awake. He had to take hold of them and stare into their eyes. And he certainly couldn't do it without inflicting immense psychological distress. Jin didn't even require physical contact, and Abel had not so much as stirred the whole time.
         Jin's telepathy was an order of magnitude more powerful than his father's. At least.
         "Gods..." Jin whispered, backing away from the doctor's unconscious form. "What - what have I been doing? Why couldn't I see how evil he was?"
         "Because he wasn't as evil as you think," I answered.
         "He tried to kill Julia!"
         "Exactly. This technology you're creating - this Cyborg Army - makes it easier for borderline people like him to become monsters. It is a science that will facilitate the banality of evil. I know. I was a monster myself."
         "No - Julia..." Jin covered his eyes with one hand. "I-I didn't know..."
         "She is still alive, isn't she?"
         "Y-yes..."
         "Then count your blessings; her blood is not on your hands. But if the Cyborg Army project is not stopped, its next victims will not be so fortunate."
         Jin nodded, and took several deep breaths to steady himself. "You're right. It has to end here."
         "I've already overwritten most of the files."
         Jin raised his hand. Indigo electricity crackled from it, turning the atmosphere dry and prickly with static charge. He made a motion over the computer's hard drive, and its monitor went blank.
         "Magnetized," Jin explained, without turning his head. He walked in a circle around the lab, passing his hand over shelves of diskettes. "I'll make sure that the hard copies are burned. There are no backups outside this room."
         "Are you certain about that?"
         "Yes," Jin confirmed, with a nod to the sleeping doctor.
         "I thought you were only scanning him for his memory of Julia."
         "His work is all he thinks about. He's dreaming about it right now."
         "What are you going to do with him?"
         Jin folded his arms and closed his eyes in thought. He remained that way for nearly a full minute.
         "He must not create any more Cyborg Army soldiers," my nephew decided, opening his eyes. "There is only one way to make sure of that, short of killing him, imprisoning him, or destroying his mind."
         "You mean, you're going to-?"
         "He tried to murder Julia. I can't let him threaten her again."
         It took less than thirty seconds. Jin kneeled next to the doctor, and held himself motionless with adamant concentration. The indigo energy around his hands singed clumps of Abel's hair in the process, but did not burn his skin.
         "It's done," Jin said, quietly. "The only problem left is you. You're the walking embodiment of the Cyborg Army project. The most logical solution would be to destroy you."
         What?
         "I don't like that solution."
         Get me out of here! I can't die like this, not without a fight! I'LL SMASH HIS PRETTY BOY FACE!
         "Bryan also wishes to express his displeasure."
         Jin looked away. "I'm not sure I like it either. You may be an artificial intelligence, but you're the most advanced one I've ever seen. I can't rule out the possibility that you could be sentient."
         "How comforting."
         GET ME OUT OF HERE! Dammit, dammit, DAMMIT!
         "But I'm not sure Grandfather would see it in quite the same way," Jin reasoned. "You could be in danger from him."
         "Does this mean you'll help me escape?" I asked, dryly.
         "Can't you just shape-shift into a disguise and walk out?"
         "Uh, no."
         "Why not?"
         "Because I would be deliberately misrepresenting myself. It would be the same as lying about who I am."
         "So?"
         "I can't lie. Pathological truth-teller."
         Get me out of here! I'm a trained undercover detective! I can lie as much as I want!
         That wouldn't help. I can't shape-shift your body if you're in control of it.

         "Besides, my strength is ebbing," I continued aloud. "I have to attest over half my consciousness just to keeping Bryan's body alive, and that doesn't leave much for sorcery or creative shape-shifting. Do you know whether the secret passage from this room is still open?"
         "Yes, it is, but it's also monitored by hidden cameras and infrared motion sensors. All of the syndicate's 'secret' passages are. So are its regular hallways."
         "I see."
         "Do you have enough data on the 'secret' passages to navigate them to the south exit?"
         "Ah... yes."
         "Then I think I can arrange for the surveillance system to encounter a glitch for about fifteen minutes. And I'll issue a temporary recall of the south exit guards. We're still hurting from Toshin-Nina's attack, so we don't have as many people to go around right now. Once you're safely clear..."
         Jin tapped his foot.
         "I've got it. Computer: state current residence of Doctor Boskonovitch."
         The computer returned a Tokyo street name and number.
         "Go there," Jin suggested. "I can't think of anyone better able to help you - is something wrong?"
         "Why - why is Boskonovitch in Tokyo? Is he involved in the Iron Fist Tournament?"
         "I don't know. I'm told he disappeared for almost twenty years after the Great Invasion. Conducting private research, I think. In Switzerland. Until the syndicate recently discovered where he was. We've been trying to recruit him ever since, but he's refused all our offers. Maybe he came to Tokyo because he's thinking of changing his mind?"
         Somehow, I doubted it.
         "What about you?" I asked. "You'll probably get in trouble for doing all this."
         "I... I know Grandfather will be angry with me, but..."
         "Come with me, then. We can confront Wulong together."
         Wait, wait. He can't come. Wulong is mine!
         Jin blinked, and looked at me as if - well, as if I were a computer program. One that had just returned an absurd error message. "I'm not going to abandon Grandfather."
         "I see."
         "Wait for ten minutes after I leave this room, and then move as quickly as you can without making noise. Good luck." Jin turned toward the exit.
         Something he had mentioned a short while earlier suddenly flickered in my thoughts.
         "Before you go, just a moment-"
         "Yes?"
         "Did you say, 'Toshin-Nina'? As in Nina Williams, the Silent Assassin?"
         Assassin and strip queen. I take it you missed that part?
         Jin nodded. "She was possessed. I couldn't save her."
         God, that woman was built. Bet she could corrupt even an angel.
         "What... what about Anna?"
         "Who?"
         "Anna Williams, Nina's half-sister - don't you know anything about the history of the Iron Fist Tournament?"
         Nina Williams has a sister? Is she built anything the same?
         "Um..."
         You are trying your damndest to completely ignore me, aren't you?
         "She was in the other half of cryogenic unit Alpha. Was she also revived? Is she all right?"
         Yeah, well, fuck you too.
         "I honestly don't know."
         "If there's anything you can do to help her..."
         "I'll look into it."
         "She saved Kazuya's life once, you know. You wouldn't exist if it weren't for her."
         "I'll keep that in mind." Jin opened the door, and carefully searched the outside hall.
         "Don't forget: wait ten minutes." He closed the door with a gentle click.
         Hey. Angel! ANSWER ME!
         I am not an angel, and I have not forgotten about you. It is only that I had no comment in response to your last few remarks.
         Yeah, whatever. Has it crossed your mind for one split-second that the pretty boy could be setting us up? What makes you think we're not blundering into a trap?
         Jin is the son of my brother and Jun-chan.
         What the fuck do I care who you think you're related to?
         I've also seen picture books that were harder to read than his face.

         That seemed to partially satisfy Bryan.
         You have one of your four hours left.
         Partially.
         And then you will GET ME OUT OF HERE!
         WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM
         My headache had returned, worse than ever.


         Ah, pardon?
         My first meeting with Jin was under circumstances that were dubious at best, outright bizarre at worst, but - whatever gave you that impression?
         Grey Kingdom.
         No, no, though our words were sometimes tense, we certainly never came to blows. For goodness' sake, I had been sent to protect him, not to fight him. May I suggest that perhaps you have been watching too many animated movies?
         And yet...
         It is true that I had thoughts of violence, as I navigated the syndicate's benighted inner tunnels to potential freedom. Nor do I refer to Bryan's semi-maniacal presence. I mean thoughts better suited to the old Lee Chaolan. Acrid, vengeful thoughts. The deepest, burning embers of forgotten anger. They smoldered, and guttered, and would not be doused until I knew the truth.
         The truth about Lei Wulong.
         If Wulong had indeed murdered my brother, then may the Lords of the Grey Kingdom have mercy on his soul. For I most assuredly would not.


End of Chapter 11: Family Reunion


END OF PART II: CONVOCATION