Shining Path


Chapter 14

When Kamioka Yoshihiro was shot to death by an unknown assailant on 2-day 2-month Shoumei 15, his "brothers" (no actual relations, but he had trusted them in life and called them brothers) were determined that the unfortunate departure of their leader should not interfere with the smooth conduct of his family's business; so they moved right into his house and attempted to pick up where the dead man left off. They couldn't resist doing a little remodeling and improvement, and of course they had to get rid of a few old relics that might interfere with the smooth continuation of the business. But the Kamioka Estate's trustees were creative and efficient, and they soon removed most of the obstacles.

One thing they couldn't get rid of was the elderly French butler, a certain Marcel Garnier – because, among other reasons, he was an old-school hacker and the only person who properly understood the mansion's pre-Deconstruction home automation system. There was no way the organization could justify the expense of replacing it and him. The deceased's teenage daughter represented another minor problem, particularly because of certain unfortunate lapses in judgment embedded in Kamioka Yoshihiro's will; but you don't rise through the ranks to the top of a drug, protection, and prostitution empire without learning a lot about what can be done with young women, and an appropriate solution for the problem of Kamioka Hanako was soon implemented. That was in Shoumei 15. Three years later, in 5-month Shoumei 18, the trustees' error of not simply killing their young charge finally caught up to them.

Kamioka Hanako sat on the bed in her hotel room on the evening of 14-day watching bad anime and chewing nicotine gum from the mini-bar until it gave her palpitations. Thinking to try something else, she stood, experienced a wave of dizziness and nearly fell over, then made it to the mini-bar fridge and took another look inside. There was a whole rainbow of brightly-colored but otherwise identical polyethylene bottles – seru vinyl, impotable to humans – and a choice between lite beer or extra-lite beer. Seru can't drink alcohol over about five percent, so given the typical clientele here, it didn't make sense for them to stock much of anything stronger. But the human found a bottle of shouchuu, twenty-five percent alcohol, and tried drinking that.

Hanako's stomach was still unbalanced by the recent resumption of her long-neglected gum habit. It was having none of such foolishness as shouchuu, and she immediately had to rush to the bathroom and vomit in the toilet. She lay there, on the hard floor, squinting up at the line-source sulfur lamp with the taste of bile in her mouth for some time afterward. Then she got up, and got to work.

The first news Hanako's uncle had that something important had changed was on 19-day, when a street-corner bank machine swallowed his cash card and refused to relinquish it. He resisted the urge to draw his concealed handgun and shoot the machine; instead, he found a bank branch and argued with an AI there until it escalated him to a humanoid seru on a teleconference link. He got a replacement card, but no cash, and the card was not even all that important anyway – he could do everything with chemo-bio that the card was good for, and he only carried it at all because it was a black one, a status symbol good for impressing the ladies.

Out on the street again, with more questions than answers, he ducked into a cafe and looked carefully through his mail for any clues. He found a message from the Shining Path AI a few days before, a message that had been automatically moved to trash because it was from an AI. He read it carefully now.

This man had faced down neosteroid-crazed hitmen, genetically engineered seru death sharks, the police's Special Economic Crimes Unit, and many other frightening things in his career as a gangster. He'd killed too many people, and seru, to count. He was no more afraid of his niece than of those other things; but the inconvenience she represented probably did at least make the top ten list. He abandoned his entertainment plans for the evening and rushed back to the main house, issuing voice mail and text messages all the way.

By about 9pm all three Kamioka brothers, and the leader's wife, were assembled around a table in earnest discussion of what to do. It did not look much like the image of yakuza meetings one might see in an anime – kimonos, swords, tatami mats, poisoned tea, tiger skins, a water-powered deer-scaring device going "clunk!" in the courtyard every few seconds, and so on. These people were not seru gangster stereotypes, but serious human businesspeople troubleshooting a business problem. They had a flip chart, a whiteboard, several computers, and a very complicated teleconferencing machine which none of them knew how to use properly.

Shortly after the meeting convened and long before they had any clear ideas on what to do to maintain the stability of their operations, a young male seru dressed in black showed up at the front gate of the estate. He presented his hand to the nose, and the system let him right in as if the owner had invited him. All the doors along the way opened without prompting as he walked straight into the main house, down the stairs to the basement, and into the room where the Kamioka leadership were meeting.

The man in black drew an historical-reproduction Walther P38 semiautomatic pistol and shot each of the gangsters twice in the head, starting with the leader. Four gangsters, eight bullets, neatly emptying the magazine. He took a spare magazine out of his pocket and exchanged it with the empty one. Then he turned, walked out to the street, and was never seen again.

Two seru maids got to the scene first, and in shock they fell back on their training without giving much thought to the actual situation or its implications. They were about to start cleaning up the mess when Monsieur Garnier got to the room and ordered them to leave it untouched; it was a crime scene. They were happy to comply – seru may be immune to human blood-borne diseases, but they were no less squeamish about the blood than humans would have been.

The butler looked around the room, and then made some inquiries with the building's computer. He had a strange feeling that he no doubt would have called déjà vu: he felt he'd seen this picture before. Dead humans each with two bullet entry wounds in the head, no exit wounds, blood and cerebrospinal fluid on the floor, silver-colored cases on the floor already starting to decompose, and so on. In fact, he'd seen it shortly after midnight on the morning of 3-day 2-month Shoumei 15.

The computer almost seemed not to have been cracked at all. There were no tell-tale compromised files lying around; none of the alarms or tripwires had triggered. The logs just showed an entry and an exit through the front door, with a scent it had treated as authorized but no identification of whose scent that was, and nothing in between those events. All the video went blank at the interesting times. Someone had logged in with administrative access, ordered the mansion to let the assassin in, and then carefully swept away all traces afterward. They must have finally disconnected only moments before he started looking for them. In the language of crackers, the intruders had "owned" the system. Marcel Garnier didn't fail to consider the possibility that that word might be literally applicable this time.

He thought to find out the current status of Kamioka Yoshihiro's daughter, about whom nothing had been said at all since she went off to college overseas after the old Master's death. He had watched three generations of Kamiokas grow up, and he knew enough about how the family operated to make a pretty good guess as to what might have happened here, even without confirming the details. He knew he wasn't the only latter-day kyonista with vivid memories from three years before.

But the butler also had more immediate problems. Regardless of any loyalty he might have to an abstracted notion of the Kamioka family line, all his real, official superiors were dead. His subordinates in the household staff would arrive in this room within a few minutes, demanding orders and decisions. Good Lord, even such a simple thing as the payroll run on Friday would be a nightmare with nobody to seal the documents and probably all the bank accounts frozen. As soon as he left the basement quiet zone, his phone would start ringing. There would be no hope of handling this discreetly within the family. Even if it made trouble for the Master's daughter later, someone would definitely be calling the police, and it had better be him. He used the very complicated teleconferencing machine to do so.

Over the next few days, the police showed up, took samples and photographs, interviewed Garnier, interviewed most of the staff. They wanted to search the whole house for all types of evidence, without specifically mentioning a limit to evidence related to the homicide. The butler knew better than to agree to that. They tried all their tricks, but their hearts weren't really in it, and he'd been playing that game since before these particular officers were born, so the effort went nowhere. On 22-day they finally gave permission for him to bring in the cleaners.

The eight spent cases that the assassin had left on the floor were of the aluminum-mercury type, and they began decomposing immediately. By the time the police arrived, the cases were eight small piles of oxide feathers. The bullets had been superplastic alloy, designed to flow like liquid when they hit. The forensics team was able to determine the caliber of the bullets and that was about it – nothing that could identify the individual weapon. They found some diamond-dust microtaggant residue in the bullet alloy, but it traced back to a pre-Deconstruction American manufacturer and was effectively useless. Seru do not leave DNA evidence.

As for the daughter, young Miss Hanako, none of the survivors at the house knew where she was except that she'd gone off to pursue her dreams at some overseas college, most likely in America, three years ago – as soon as her father could no longer forbid it – and she had never called or written since. If that were where she'd gone, a strong case could be made for writing her down as "presumed dead" and moving on. It would be up to the courts to decide who ended up owning the land and the buildings, which theoretically were owned by a trust with Kamioka Hanako as beneficiary and the dead people as trustees; but that was none of the homicide squad's concern.

They told Monsieur Garnier to call them if Hanako ever did show up again, but they clearly didn't expect it. They talked a good game, about how they would strike down with great vengeance and furious anger upon the perpetrators of this heinous crime, but he knew better. More likely the whole thing would be quietly closed as unsolvable, just one of those yakuza things, just like the similar case three years ago. From the department's perspective, gangsters bumping each other off wasn't a problem, it was a solution. And if the police wanted to bow out, that was fine with Marcel Garnier.

On Wednesday he found time to get out on the Net and start looking in earnest for young Miss Hanako. He even – and this is a testament to the depth of his loyalty – went as far as contacting some of his long-dormant underground contacts on the American side. Dealing with those guys was both expensive and dangerous, but he made the calls. A household without a head, like a chicken so deprived, will run around aimlessly until it falls over, and then it won't get up again. He wanted better than that for himself and the staff.

To the extent of Garnier's sleuthing ability, Hanako had not gone to America. He had his electronic agents look closer to home – "playing the infield in," in the baseball metaphor he would have used – and still couldn't find anything. The police had seized all the corpses' phones, but he had gotten to them first and knew that they'd erased themselves upon their owners' deaths. It was standard practice. No help there.

Late Wednesday night, the butler thought to check carefully through the household's finances. With a narrowly focused query he located a series of transactions that he traced as far as the Shining Path Academy. He looked up that name on the Net, read the school's advertising material, and read some third-party articles about it. It wasn't easy to remain polite on the phone when he called the school, but fortunately, he was talking to an AI that could not accurately measure his emotional state from his voice. When he presented his credentials, the AI was more than willing to release the information that yes, one Kamioka Hanako had been a student there, but she had left of her own accord on Monday of the previous week. The machine tried to shake him down for money, with some line about monthly payments on a yearly contract instead of month-by-month, but he hung up on it.

A good, law-abiding butler should have immediately contacted those polite young men from the police department who had left him their cards. Marcel Garnier decided that at the very least he should sleep on it first. He wanted to hear Miss Hanako's side of the story before doing anything that might cause her further annoyance. He went to bed, hoping he could find her quickly the next day. She saved him the trouble.