Shining Path


Chapter 10

Kamioka Hanako sobbed, "–but, but since I didn't graduate from Shining Path, the trust fund disappears and–"

Shimada Takashi blinked at her. "What are you talking about?"

"The thing in the will, sir – would you read it to me again?" He did.

"I don't understand. I thought I had to graduate from Shining Path Academy or I was cut out, and I didn't do that, so that was my problem and I thought maybe there was a way to overturn the will for not being fair or something so I could get my father's money anyway. Is it in some other part of the document?"

"There's nothing here about any 'Shining Path Academy.' At age twenty-one the money became yours, unless you died first or your mother remained alive, neither of which happened."

Mr. Shimada set down his pad and looked at her severely. "Am I to think, Miss Kamioka, that someone led you to believe your father's last will and testament said something very different from what's in this document, and that you relied on some such representation in making life decisions? Is that how you understand your problem?"

"I – I guess so. I thought the whole thing was set up to keep me in school."

"What exactly were you told, and by whom?"

The girl just sat staring into space.

"Miss Kamioka?"

"Sorry. I just don't know what to think now. This means it wasn't Daddy's plan, and I was – can I see that document?"

He handed the pad across to her and she read through the whole will, very carefully. Then she sat staring at it some more. Shimada finally coughed, breaking the silence.

"Miss Kamioka, I think I have at least an approximate idea of your situation now. Of course to get to the bottom of it you'll have to explain in detail what you were told about your father's will, and by whom, and what happened as a result. We'll also have to search carefully for any alternate versions that may exist, and look into issues like why your father's will seems not to have been updated when your mother died. I get the idea that going into all of that may be hard for you and you probably don't want to do it more times than necessary."

"Yes. No. I don't know. I – I don't know what to do." She looked about to burst into tears again; but you aren't allowed to cry after Level One, and Too Fower Tree had learned some ability to hold it back. She'd need a better reason than this to continue sacrificing the points after having cried so many times today already. Instead Kamioka Hanako just said again, almost calmly, "I don't know what to do, sir. What can I do?"

"It sounds like someone lied to you, and that's a big deal. They shouldn't get away with it, and you do have rights and you do deserve to have your rights defended. Coming to a lawyer was certainly the right thing to do, and I'm glad you contacted me instead of just giving up."

She smiled, again with one of those partial smiles that looked just on the edge of tears. "Thank you, sir. That – that really means a lot to me. And although I don't have any money, if there's anything I can do for you–"

"However!" said Shimada, interrupting a speech of which he probably didn't want to hear the remainder, and the smile vanished immediately but he had to continue, "it's not going to be simple, and it's probably not something that I can help you with myself. My specialty is entertainment law; I mostly negotiate contracts for seru performers. It sounds like there is a trust fund involved in your situation, and I know a bit about those because many seru are paid via trust arrangements, but I know very little about probate, or fraud prosecutions, or any of several other important issues here. It wouldn't be responsible for me to take your case. You need to speak to someone else."

"I see. Who?"

"Well, if it's fraud you'll need to file a complaint with the police eventually, but before–"

She interrupted him. "No! Not the police, sir!"

Shimada blinked; he shouldn't have been surprised, but he was. The girl was hyperventilating, staring wildly around the room as if expecting armed officers to jump out of every groove in the paneling, and clutching at her wrist again. Miss Takada would have said the humanoid looked like a cornered rat.

In fact, at that fraught moment Miss Takada buzzed him on the intercom, distracting his attention for a moment. She politely reminded him that it was the end of the day and he must remember to eat dinner. The unspoken messages, clear to both of them from having worked so long together, were that she herself wanted to go home but would stay as long as he needed her – and that she was concerned for his health and didn't want him to overwork. Nice, responsible employee, Miss Takada; professional but caring to the last – almost human. He was lucky to have her.

When his attention returned to Hanako, he saw that she had calmed down a bit, and he tried to speak as gently as possible.

"Look. I know that you're worried about some things in your past that you can't tell me about, but knowledge is power, Miss Kamioka, you know some things that are probably important, and right now power is something very valuable to you, you know? You need to talk to the people who can help you."

She kept sullen silence, and he continued.

"Some people lied to you and that's against the law in an important way, and so the law can help you. But you have to be willing to tell the whole truth yourself, because that's something your deceased father's friends cannot take away from you. If you're willing to cooperate, I think you can find some really powerful friends."

"No, I can't go to the police. Please."

"The police force exists to serve and protect all citizens, Miss Kamioka. That does include you. Even if you've perhaps done some things yourself that I don't want to hear about, you're still a human adult and a citizen. Right now you need to be served and protected, and I can't do that myself. You shouldn't be afraid of the people who can help you."

"No. I can't go to the police, sir."

"Well, then it's very difficult for me to know what to say to you."

"Please. I'll do anything."

"Anything except you won't talk to the police."

"I can't go to the police."

"This is very difficult, Miss Kamioka. I'm not sure what I can do to help you. I'll do my best to refer you to some other lawyer who knows more about problems like yours – it's not the kind of case I usually take, not at all – but I'm quite sure that any other lawyer will also tell you you will need to talk to the police and make a fraud complaint. And many would attempt to force you to do that even if you refused. At least I'll try to send you to someone who won't force you. But it's difficult."

He stared out the window, thinking, and she waited, quietly.

"Look. It will take me a little bit of time to find the right person for you to talk to. We're not going to solve that tonight, especially because I can see it's important not to make any mistakes, ne? Where do you live?"

"I don't know."


"Well, I was in boarding school until this afternoon, but I'd die before going back there..."

"I see. That also suggests you don't have a job, hence the concern about money – what do you plan to do after you leave my office today?"

"I don't know, sir."

"Do you have somewhere to stay? A friend? Relatives – no, you said you didn't have any. I'd certainly recommend against any of the people you were talking about before, you're much safer without them."

"Yes, sir."

"You can't just go wandering the streets all night. Especially not dressed as you are now."

She shuddered. "No. I'd be raped and killed, sir." She had learned about it in school, and from some of Daddy's friends before that.

"You almost certainly would not be raped or killed in this city, but other bad things could happen. You do need a safe place to sleep. If you try to sleep on a park bench you'll be talking to the police soon enough whether you want to or not. You said you had no money, but does that really mean none at all, no cash, no card, nothing?"

"Yes. No money at all."

"When did you last eat?"

"I don't know, sir."

"Do you have a phone?"

"Yes, but it doesn't work anymore." She showed it to him.

Shimada Takashi put the phone next to his own on the charging pad, and it lit up, but only to show a "prepaid contract expired" message. The prepaid contract had expired about three years ago.

"Well, you can get that topped up again at some point, but really, you'll probably want to replace this phone anyway because it's obsolete. That can wait, though."

"Yes, sir."

"All right. I don't know yet how to resolve your inheritance. That is a difficult problem, and I don't even know whom you should talk to first. But even though it is not precisely a lawyer's job, I often help seru performers who are staying in this city for a short time and need short-term residence contracts and such, and I can do something similar for you. Would you like me to help you in that way?"

"Yes, please, sir."

He shook his head. "The 'sir' really isn't necessary, you know. But just give me a minute here." He poked around on the pad, called up a standard local-arrangements agency contract, struck out a few clauses, and filled in some blanks. Miss Takada could actually have done this work more efficiently – it was more her job than his – but the human girl seemed to have a hard time trusting professionals, and he wasn't sure he should ask her to trust the joneko immediately.

"All right. This contract gives me permission to pay for your living expenses, Miss Kamioka – food, hotel bills, that sort of thing. It's like a loan, though it technically is you retaining my services and then me charging things through to my expense account. You will be required to pay me back when you have access to your money, along with some additional charges for my efforts described in the schedule at the bottom. I don't need to tell you that failure to pay the bill would have serious consequences. But it can wait until you do have access to your money, however long that takes. You should take some comfort from this – I am confident that you will get your money back and you will be able to pay me. I trust you will find the terms reasonable."

She signed, obviously without reading it – not a good habit at all, and Shimada Takashi hoped he could break his new client of that, but at least this particular contract was harmless enough.

"Fine. Now, first we need to top up your phone. I'm going to register a fresh number for it; even if anyone remembers your former number, you're probably better off not receiving calls there at this point."

"Right. I don't want to be back in touch with anyone who remembers me from three years ago."

"Probably wise." He poked around a bit on the computer, and the phone squawked a couple of times.

"Here. This will need to charge up a bit more before you can make calls, but load your scent onto it and get it configured while I find you an hotel room."

It had been years since Shimada Takashi booked an hotel anywhere outside the Quarter – the joneko took care of that on the rare occasions when he traveled – and traditional seru capsule hotels roll up their guests like posters and stuff them into tubes to save space. Such treatment obviously wouldn't be acceptable, he thought, for someone as, ah, three-dimensional and animal as this Miss Kamioka. Fortunately, he did know a few establishments catering to humans or (more often) pretentious seru, and he chose the least seedy of them.

"This hotel is mostly for seru, but they take human guests also, and I have the idea you might not want to see too many other humans just yet."

"Uh, yes, sir."

"They offer mending and laundry services, of course, but those are probably overpriced and contracted out to Wing's, and I'm sure you know what that means."

"Uh... not really?"

"Hmm! Well, let's just say you don't want to go that route. I suggest, instead, that you buy some new clothes and have them charged to your room and delivered. The hotel's concierge AI will probably help you with that."

"I don't like AIs, sir."

"Who does? You just have to be polite but firm when you give your orders."

"Yes. I see." It had been some time since she'd thought of giving orders to an AI.

"You can order food from room service and charge that to your room too, and I recommend you do so instead of trying to pay cash, but I'll have my secretary give you some of our petty cash fund so you'll have cash in your pocket just in case."

"Is it safe?"

"Miss Takada is very well-behaved and would never bite or scratch a client."

"No, I meant–"

"Oh, the hotel? I would not advise that you go walking around the back streets of the Quarter too much, especially at night, at least not until you've sorted out a few more of your current difficulties. But you won't find much trouble unless you go looking for it on purpose."

"Oh, I'll stay in my room, sir, but I meant the room service, is it safe?"

"Miss Kamioka, if you are really so worried about your personal safety, you've probably got a reason for it, and it is my honest, professional advice that you ought be talking to a couple of police officers right now. I'd be happy to get you in an armored car to the central station, and I'd make sure they listened to you. They'd feed you safe food and give you a safe place to sleep, for as long as you needed. Even if that means the rest of your life. It's called witness protection, and it applies even if you don't end up testifying, provided you cooperate fully. Nobody would harm you. Just say the word. But if you refuse that, yes, it is safe to eat the room service food at this or any halfway-decent hotel. Just be sure you tell the kitchen you are human when you place your order – seru food won't hurt you much if you don't overdo it, but it tastes terrible."

He spoke into the intercom, and almost immediately the gray tabby joneko from the front office entered without knocking and handed Hanako a few plastic bills. The lawyer thanked her and she mewed before leaving the room, but the secretary had a definite look of disapproval on her furry face. Kamioka Hanako wasn't sure what she or her situation smelled like, but probably not anything that would smell good to a joneko.

"Now, I'll walk you to the door. I've called you a taxi – yes, I'm sure it's quite safe, taxis are bulletproof, you know. Go, relax, try to get over whatever's upsetting you. Don't go anywhere or do anything to get yourself in trouble; and I'll call you mid-morning tomorrow and we'll talk about your next step."

"Yes, sir."