Only One Way
What exceedingly struck the two was that the sound was coming from a machine that was also in the lab. It was a bizarre-looking machine, but Randy surprisingly recognized it as a duplicator. And Viceroy's little robot, Otto, seemed to be the principal ingredient. Two mechanical arms struck out from the machine and grabbed it, as they brought it over. Otto was just as confused as he saw himself being strapped into a large hole there, and bolted upright when a jolt ran through it. As the machine continued to whir, and Otto started shaking, Kuno suddenly started to scream.
"Kin?!" The Ninja tried running up to help her, panic-struck from her sudden outburst, but the girl robot just backed away. She was holding her head in her hands, as her eyelids were shut tight. She recoiled to floor, clearly in pain now. All Viceroy did was stare down at her.
Then, the screaming stopped.
Almost instantly, Kuno bolted upright from her position and kicked at his face.
Normal Randy would've gotten straight up knocked out. But as the Ninja, he dodged again quite easily. Only this time, his eyes showed terror in them. "Kuno?! What's wrong with you?"
Viceroy seemed to be snickering in the background.
Kuno tried for one more kick, followed by a punch. The Ninja dodged them, but only barely. He was too busy gaping. "Kin, what's gotten into you? Talk to me!"
The robot didn't respond. It just kept on punching; the Ninja kept dodging, until finally she got him straight in the face once more. He didn't even try to hold on. The boy was whacked onto the ground completely, now unable to stand up. But he didn't get back on his feet because of the physical pain…
"You see, Ninja?" Viceroy taunted. He pressed another button on a different, bigger remote, and Kuno returned to normal standing position. Her dark brown eyes were now completely red, the pupils not even seen through her metallic gaze. Viceroy patted her shoulder, now proud once again, as he smirked at the fallen warrior. "Appliances can't think twice. They have but one purpose. And that's to serve its owner."
At the moment, all Randy could do was stare at his friend.
Kuno was ready to strike once more, but the Ninja decided he needed to act. As the robot girl brought her fist down on his body, the boy flipped backwards and dodged it. He saw an open window and quickly saw chance. "Ninja scarf swing!"
He was on the sill before he knew it. The second he could've taken to leave, he hesitated and turned around. Kuno didn't even try to go after him. She just stood in fighting stance, as Viceroy squinted up at him, the machine behind them whirring even louder. All Randy could think of was how he'd even gotten into this mess in the first place. All he could do now was look.
Even still, he had confidence.
"I'll come back for you, Kin," he declared. "I promise."
Before the laser from her bangle hit him, he leaped through the window and disappeared into the night.
"'The Ninja that can't see might end up getting hurt,'" Randy was murmuring. "The Nomicon knew. It knew about Kin from the beginning. It was trying to warn me. That's why it attacked her in the book, because it was trying to protect me. If only we'd known Kin sooner, then maybe none of this would've happened." He then groaned out loud. "This is really annoying!"
"There you go again, Cunningham," Howard had sighed, as Randy told him the big news of the day. It was lunchtime, so he had a foot-long sandwich in his dainty little hands. But at the moment, as he was eating, he listened to the real story about Kuno and kept on nodding at every worry Randy poured out. He may have seemed calm, but in his mind, he was just as concerned as he was. "You're blaming yourself again. How many times do I have to tell ya it's not your fault?"
"Sorry, but…I can't help feeling like it is."
As Randy got all depression mode again, Howard sighed, gulped his entire hotdog down, swallowed, and continued, "Cunningham, you gotta calm down. So Kin is after you. You can just shut her down!"
"I don't want to hurt her, Howard!"
"It's technically not 'hurting' if all you're going to do is turn her off…"
"Yeah, but just forcing her to stop what she's doing isn't going to make things any better."
"She's an emotionless robot! She wouldn't care if we messed her memories again!"
"You don't know the face I saw that night Howard."
"OK, maybe she will, but she has to be stopped somehow!"
"I don't want to fight her."
"You're the Ninja! You have to fight! If she's out to destroy you or the city, you got to decide: it's either Norrisville, or one machine."
"You can't ask me to choose between that! I didn't choose for you!"
"This is different! She's a robot!"
"She's our friend!"
"I KNOW THAT!"
Randy almost jumped at his friend's sudden outburst. The purple-haired teen stared at the gingerhead, eyes slightly widened as Howard looked away. He had a rather ire expression on his face. "Of course I know she's our friend…Kin was one of the coolest friends we've ever had! And I don't want to hurt her as much as you do. But when you find the advantages and disadvantages of someone, you have to use them. Even when they're one of the closest people we know."
He reached up and placed a hand on the taller teen's shoulder, now looking into his blue orbs. Randy stared right back, the shorter boy's wise words burning into his mind. It was actually astonishing, and something he never thought he'd hear from him. But he didn't say that, and just placed a hand on his best friend's shoulder back with a smile.
"OK, buddy. I guess you're right. Thanks for that."
"Ah, don't mention it."
"Might I add, that was just really deep right there!"
"I know right! Honestly, I don't even know where all that came from. Must be the urge to pick a fight…"
"Randy? Howard? Is everything all right?"
Out came a voice Randy knew all too well now. The two boys looked up and eye widened when they saw Theresa and her best friend, Debbie Kang. The girls looked down at the boys at the picnic table, looking slightly confused at why they looked so emotional. Randy weakly smiled up at the purple-haired girl. "Hey, Theresa. Uh, yeah…everything's good."
Meanwhile, Howard and Debbie were squinting at each other so much, it was like their eyes were about to disappear. They acknowledged each other anyway.
"Ahem!" Randy fake-coughed, clearing his throat. "So, uh, what are you girls doing here?"
"We were just worried," Theresa said in a concerned tone. "We saw you guys all the way from over there and got curious."
"More like 'Resa was," Debbie put in. "I just followed her over."
"Rest assured, ladies. Everything is completely fine."
A loud boom emanated throughout the area. It was later followed by what sounded like giant crickets. Everyone in the school heard it, and immediately directed their attention to what Howard was pointing at upwards. They all gasped when they realized the sound was caused by dozens and dozens of large, angry, purple robots. They chattered their mechanical teeth, as their red, red eyes glowed, brightly and neared the closest thing they saw before chomping it to bits. Once the Norrisvillians got through the fact they were dangerous, everyone began to scream and flee away from the machines that were about to destroy their homes.
What's weird was that Randy recognized those bots.
He was interrupted by the sound of Theresa's screaming, when one of the Ottobots was directing a laser at her. Randy sprung to action and tackled her down, right before the laser hit the wall behind them instead. Howard and Debbie gasped, mouths agape, and Theresa was just breathed heavily, only thinking about how she owed the boy her life. The purple-haired teen snapped them all out of it before she could.
"Go, go, go!"
Instantly, Howard took both girls and practically yelled at them to get inside the school. Meanwhile, much to Theresa's confusion, Randy went the other direction, as he went to look for a good spot to put his mask on. Once he found one, he squinted his eyes at the bots. "It's Ninja time."
As he became the Ninja, he immediately threw himself at the bots. "Smokebomb!" Randy cried out, appearing back on the lunch table. When the bots saw him, it was as if they immediately hissed in harmony. Their first instinct: attack.
"All right, Otto. Let's see what Viceroy did wrong with you."
The first two robots surged forward, ready to chomp, but Randy dodged them. More robots started to attack, but her then wielded his sword to start slicing them up. "Ninja slice!" Once broken, he instantly moved to the other bots.
Some were in the school, chasing students, threatening to chomp at them and shoot lasers. The Ninja burst through the doors and his eyes enlarged at such chaos. In the corner, he could see Debbie screaming while Howard cowered behind her and Theresa. Another bot was trying to chomp them, and they couldn't find another way to escape.
"Ninja ring!" With that robot down, the three finally relaxed.
"Way to be on time, Ninja!" Howard yelled.
"Howard!" Theresa scolded.
There was another robot the Ninja demolished, and they immediately jerked back to reality, running away in the process. Randy continued to throw rings and slice bots, but he was still squinting at them all.
"Honking cheese, Viceroy! What are you planning right now?"
As if to answer his question, an Ottobot bared its teeth and just slammed into him. Suddenly, he was flying, right into the hallways. Before he knew it, his head hit a set of lockers and he slumped to the floor. Randy groaned as he sat back up.
"Why is everything spinning…?"
As he shook his head, he noticed something else. There was a really bright light glowing, and it was coming from the cafeteria. Randy slowly stood up and neared it cautiously. When he opened the door, he just gaped. "Whaaaaa…"
Once again, he saw Kuno there. But she was definitely not herself. A whirlwind had entered the room, and it was causing many messes and that week's mystery meat to go flying off the tables. Her blue hair was flying all over the place. Her pixelated dark brown eyes were now a pure, glowing red. More Ottobots were circling her, spinning and spinning, which seemed to be the cause of all the wind. They were no help at all in cleaning anything either. If Randy didn't know any better, everything appeared to be under her control.
"Kin? Kin! Kuno!"
His first instinct was to run towards her. But she had already noticed his presence, and raised a hand at him. The Ottobots followed her gaze and charged themselves at the enemy. Bringing his sword out once more, Randy cut every single one of them all up again. "Ninja slice, ninja slice, ninja slice…!"
Before Kuno could react, Randy tackled her to the ground. He was holding onto her wrists, resisting her from punching his face, grunting as his foot dug into her mechanical knee. He struggled against her wriggling, and grappled more when she tried shooting a laser from her finger. It sort of confused him in that millisecond. Must've been an upgrade? He directed the finger upwards just in time. However, the laser was causing the ceiling to break out so to avoid either of them getting hurt, the robot girl switched their positions.
Randy tried not to yell at her robotic strength, and moved his head to dodge another laser. One thing was for sure: she had definitely gotten an upgrade. A mere push like before wasn't going to faze her. "Kin!" he yelled from the wind. "It's me!"
As if that was going to work again. An Ottobot that managed to revived used its new mechanical arms to grab the Ninja by the shoulders and hold him out for Kuno. Before she could punch, Randy noticed his legs were free. "Ninja kick!" As she stumbled from the critical hit to the face, Randy punched the Ottobot aside and brought weapons out.
"Ninja tripping balls!" With them, Kuno fell to the ground and her metal skull hit the floor. A conscious of her old self caused her to stay down. Then he turned to the Ottobot.
"Ninja boom ball!" In a single blow, it exploded and was destroyed, its robot parts flying everywhere. But the Ninja didn't care. Now that all the bots were down, he turned back to his actual friend.
Before the robot could stand up, Randy brought out another secret weapon. "Ninja cuff, ninja cuff, ninja cuff, ninja cuff!" Each one attached to the floor, over Kuno's wrists and ankles. She was now properly restricted to the ground, and struggling now wasn't going to help at all.
Once Randy realized their position, he chuckled nervously. "OK, if you remember anything after all this, just know it isn't what it looks like."
Kuno was in no mood for a laugh. The more she struggled, the wilder she got. She couldn't busted out of those cuffs any moment now. In fact, she was starting to use her laser fingers. But the Ninja needed time.
"Ahhh, hold up, hold up, at least give me a chance to talk! Kin, I didn't want to hurt you. I know this isn't you. I don't care what Viceroy did, I just want you back. I'm really hoping you're in there somewhere, 'cause when I fix you now…well, I hope you remember I'm your best friend."
Only thing he got in reply was a blood red glare and one free wrist.
"That was barely one minute! OK, enough Mr. Nice Ninja."
Randy reached forward to unzip her jacket, but her now-free hand stopped him. He used his other hand to pry it off, but he quickly opened her heart panel once she was using her laser again. He found the wire and, connected it to his phone, and watched as her body stopped thrashing and then lay still. Her eyes died down and she waited for the rebooting. "OK…memories, language process, attack modes, holographic summer photos…wow, Viceroy had time…"
He then found a file marked "Plan B: Kill Mode"
"Ninja delete!" Once he clicked the button, the file disappeared and he restored everything.
Kuno's body jolted up. Her eyes were returning to their normal dark brown hue and analyzed the situation and the updated data. Once she was clear, she blinked away the pixels and watched Randy slowly uncuff her. As they stared at each other, Randy only prayed it worked…
The purple-haired teen felt his heart break.
"I mean, Randy…"
With a broken laugh, he wrapped his arms around the robot girl as she sat up. He could feel her tense slightly against him, but he smiled wider as she started to hug back.
From behind him, Randy didn't see her smile.
"I was so worried," the boy said, pulling away and placing a hand on her shoulder. "You won't even believe, I mean seriously, don't do that again!"
"My apologies," Kuno said blankly. Her blank voice certainly hasn't changed. "I did not intend to get you troubled over me."
"Troubled? Kin, you're my friend. Of course I care."
"Then I am well. There is no need to worry any longer." He could've sworn she was smirking at him.
"I thought Viceroy had you."
"Negative. Viceroy may be smart, but I had a back-up memory file in case he tried to take over me."
"So he's not your master anymore?"
"Hai…" Kuno nodded. Her face still may have been blank but Randy knew her well enough to tell something else was on her mind. "I apologize for all I have done."
"Kin, I understand. Don't worry."
"Randy…I know I am a robot, and I do not have much feelings…but I am terrified."
Her words practically melted his heart. "Hey, it's OK…" He reached over and put an arm over her shoulders. For a moment, the Ninja didn't pay attention to the screams and destruction outside. With his ears open to only his robot friend, his attention was only directed at her as well. "We'll figure it all out…when we put an end to Viceroy and force him to stop all the Ottobots, we can go back to being normal friends! Just you, me, Howard, occasionally you'll have to sit back and watch Theresa and I on dates…Oh, by the way, may I ask about, oh I don't know, everything?"
Kuno frowned. "I am afraid I cannot say as much as I hope to say. After you left last night, I was hearing noises from the machine Otto was placed in. It had created a complete replica of the robot. That bot was more aggressive than the Otto I knew. And that was intended, for it was created to make whoever duplicated it a better, more violent version. Before I could see the next one come to life, my inner consciousness was knocked out. Until you deleted my kill mode." She paused for a second. "The bots cannot be destroyed one by one, for with every kill, a new duplicated bot is made. If I know my m—I mean Viceroy, well, it is that he is fond of creating his inventions with, as humans call, 'autopilot'. Viceroy could destroy his machine if he wanted to. But he cannot shut it down. Dismantling it is quite difficult as well. He had spent many months creating that duplicator, even before a time where I was just a thought. It is a perfect model of termination. Too perfect to the fact that it will never stop functioning."
"So there's really nothing we can do?!" It was a lot to take in, but Randy understood that much,
Unfortunately, Kuno nodded. "Yes…I am afraid so."
"No!" Kuno stared up at Randy who just bolted upright from the floor and stomped over to the window. It hurt him to see all those people shrieking and running away. He whipped his mask off in frustration and Kuno watched for the first time as the suit began to peel away, revealing her friend. He turned back to the robot, and she could see the flames of fury in his pupils. "I can't believe that we failed. The Ninja has never given up once, and I'm not going to start now. There has to be some way to save Norrisville! The Ninja has dealt with worse. We are not going to end up dying by the mechanical hands of those robots."
"But Randy, they are unstoppable. It is impossible—"
"Where's the Kuno Ichi I know? When it comes to you, nothing is impossible! Come on, Kin, think, there has to be something to destroy that machine!"
The robot girl frowned and turned away. "I cannot think of much. Perhaps it would be possible if we managed to take Otto out of Viceroy's invention. But he is practically glued to it. Detaching him will take a great deal of force; in fact, the only way to remove him is if someone or something were to throw themselves at the power grid and shutting it down completely—"
Suddenly, Kuno stopped herself. The gears in her mechanical mind were turning rapidly, and her dark brown eyes literally lit up. They were scanning the idea that had just come into her mind and Randy watched her mouth open slightly. He stared at her hopefully, believing she got something. Yes, she got something.
"Sacrifices must be made to save the ones you love…"
The boy didn't notice her frown.
"I believe it is more possible than I thought it would be."
"Aw, yes!" Randy cheered, pumping his fist.
"There is only a 64% that this would work, though…"
"What? So the other something percent is…"
"The other 36%, the entire city and the citizens living here would die from the impact of the explosion this will probably cause. But it is really the only way."
"It's worth a shot! We got no other options. Lead the way, Kin!"
"Hai…but first…" She lifted her wrist and Randy noticed her bangle. Once she pressed a button on it, blue and black threads came out, and she was back in her Kunoichi suit.
"At least that part of you hasn't changed." With a grin, Randy put his mask back on and they exited the cafeteria through the window.
Ignoring the chaos displayed above them, the two began to run away from the school. However, they were only halfway through the courtyard when they heard a voice call out. "Kuno!"
The two froze and slowly turned around to see Theresa running up to them. Randy's eyes enlarged at the sight of her, just running across the battlefield. She literally just ran around a thrown car that landed right in front of her. ("My car!" Principal Slimovitz yelled.)
"Theresa Fowler?!" the Ninja cried, Randy pretending he didn't know her again. "What are you doing?! Get out of here!"
The girl ignored him. She went up to Kuno and laughed breathlessly. "Thank cheese you're all right! You know, Randy and Howard were really worried about you!"
Kuno glanced over at the Ninja, who only coughed and seemed to be paying very lose attention to a tree. "Arigatou, Theresa, I am well. The Ninja and I were currently on our way to try destroying all these robots."
"Uh, yeah!" the Ninja cut in. "You really must be staying inside with all the other students, it's dangerous for a girl like you to be out here in this kind of situation…" A car exploded from behind him.
"Well, OK…I just wanted to make sure things were fine…I mean, I was concerned about Kuno. And I was hoping you knew where Randy was…"
The Ninja and the robot girl suddenly exchanged looks. Kuno's expression was blank, but Randy read it well. If he wanted things to work out, he had to tell her.
"Kuno, could you excuse us for a moment?" he said, trying not to sound too awkward. "You can go ahead, I'll just catch up in a bit…"
"Of course," Kuno bowed slightly and nodded at Theresa. "It was a pleasure knowing you." Before Theresa could respond, Kuno took off.
"Please tell me I'm not going to die," Theresa said, laughing a bit at what the robot girl had said.
The Ninja laughed a bit too louder than he expected at that. "Whaaat? No, no, I just, um…" He cleared his throat. "Theresa, there's something I need to tell you…"
"Well, um…" He looked away for a moment, taking a deep breath before ready to announce his secret.
"Randy, you're the Ninja."
"Theresa, I'm Randy—Wait, what?" His startled expression caused the teenage girl to laugh out loud, but the purple-haired boy was still speechless. "How-How did you know?!"
"Oh come on, Randy, you were making it obvious enough," Theresa grinned at him innocently. "Your voice was familiar too."
"Wow…so much for keeping things low-profile."
"But really…whenever I look into your eyes…I can just tell you're Randy…" The short-haired girl was staring at the floor, blushing madly, as she couldn't bring herself to look at him.
Randy only stared down at her, his mouth slowly curving into a small smile. "You're really smart, 'Resa. I should've known you'd find out eventually."
She then looked up to him, a grin plastered on her face. "T-Thank you…also, is it true that Kuno is a robot? I sort of couldn't understand Howard through his ranting…"
When he should've been mad, Randy forced himself to laugh. "Ah, that Howard…but yeah, Kin's a robot."
"I knew it!"
"Now, that was pretty obvious, wasn't it?"
"Should've gotten a clue from the way she spoke…"
The two then laughed together, as it slowly died down and suddenly turned into a stare-off. For a moment, they were just gazing into each other's eyes, neither one of them moving a muscle. For a moment, they'd forgotten about everything. No chaos. No screaming. No robots destroying the city. It was just the two of them together…and for a moment, that was all that mattered.
Until Randy felt the presence of a lamppost about to collapse on them. He frantically tackled her to the ground, pushing her just in time for the post to fall in the exact spot they were just standing in. The light bulb crashed onto the grass, destroying it, and both teens looked up to see an Ottobot. It bared its teeth at them, as if annoyed they weren't killed and charged.
"Ninja boom balls!" Instantly, the robot was destroyed, and Theresa yelped as she dodged its head from falling on her. When the two looked at each other again, Randy was more stern.
"You have to get inside, Theresa."
"What about you and Kuno?"
"We're going to stop all this. She said she had a plan, and I trust her. We'll fix everything."
"But what if—"
"Hey, don't worry! We're going to be fine. I promise." When he smiled, he only hoped he was telling the truth.
Theresa forced herself to nod slowly. "OK…I trust you guys…but, before you go…"
She proceeded walking towards him slowly. He only looked at her, unfazed. Theresa reached over and began to roll up the lower part of his mask, until it revealed his mouth. At that, Randy felt himself take a breath. Before he could react, she pressed her lips against his, and time just stopped. He'd never been kissed before, and this first time with Theresa was simply amazing. All he wanted to do now was close his eyes and melt into their sweet bliss, but the ground began to shake. They were snapped back to reality, and quickly pulled away.
"Go, go!" Randy shouted, giving her a push towards the school. Theresa no longer needed to be told. She just turned and sprinted back into the still-settled building. Randy only prayed she would be all right.
"Randy." The Ninja suddenly turned to find Kuno right behind him. Her face was blank once again, but it had a stricter mien on it. She looked at him once and nodded. "Let us go."
He didn't want to admit it to his friend, but he too was terrified. However, his responsibility as the city's hero was first priority. He sighed inwardly, walked to her side and nodded as well.
"Yeah. Come on."