Shining Path


Chapter 15

Kamioka Hanako showed up in a taxi early on the morning of 24-day, and at least as far as the house AI could tell through its little camera eye, she was looking well. She'd had her clothing properly laundered – not by anybody who subcontracted to Wing's – and had eaten several good, balanced meals. She had eased up a little on the nicotine gum, but she'd also seen a robodoc, and it had diagnosed post-traumatic stress and given her real, legitimate prescriptions for propranolol and several different third-generation adamantamine derivatives, of which she'd immediately swallowed far more than the recommended number. The robodoc also gave her non-prescription promethamycin ointment for her shoulder.

The personality-modifying adamantamine effects wouldn't reach their full force for a week or so, but already Hanako felt a lot better than she had on 14-day when she arrived in the city. She was still saying "sir" and "ma'am" a lot, to people who really didn't warrant it, but it wasn't quite as much as her training called for. She knew that her lost years in the school were all frozen in blocks of glittering crystal and put on a glass shelf somewhere in the back of her mind, a place of razor edges shining with no paths, where she could still see and remember everything but it couldn't hurt her any further.

Any time she might otherwise be afraid or uncertain – like right now, standing in front of the gate of the Kamioka estate, the gate of what technically should be her own house now – she could stand solidly on that ice, the kilometer-thick ice sheet at the bottom of the world. The ice gave her strength. Sometimes tiny sparks of green and blue light crawled across her vision. They were pretty. She had a fixed grin. Her blood pressure was dangerously low. She raised her hand toward the nose – and then stopped.

The home automation system would let her in, that was no problem. Her scent had never been removed from the access list when she left, and she'd already used it to make some arrangements from remote; but she didn't want to just walk in like she owned the place. She wanted to be greeted. So she avoided the nose and rang the bell instead.

"Hello, Marcel," she said, "Do you remember me? Well, I'm home."

The butler rushed out to the gate, and the girl insisted he offer his arm and walk her formally into the building. He quickly figured out that was because, even if she looked happy and healthy, and she talked tough, she actually couldn't walk more than a few steps by herself. She said she had already heard about what happened to her uncle, and that was why she'd come back. But she wouldn't answer any of the butler's questions, not yet. First she wanted to see the house she hadn't seen in three years.

A larger-than-life-sized oil portrait of Kamioka Akehiro, Hanako's grandfather in an old-fashioned kimono, had hung at the top of the main stairs since before she could remember. It was the first thing she always did remember when she thought of her family's house. It was the first thing she looked for now. It was gone now, replaced by something from Korea in seru vinyl that reproduced a harem scene in a WOMT Studios film adapted from Abdul al-Hazred. Shoda Rurika would have liked it, but the new lady of the Kamioka house entered the great hall and gasped "What the Hell is that thing?" The painting was thus sufficiently identified.

"Get rid of it immediately!"

"Yes, m'lady."

"And get the one of my grandfather back there if it still exists. And if not, get another one made even if you have to download it to smart canvas – no. Wait, no, there ought to be a new one. It ought to be of me. Yes, locate the old painting if you can, but we'll put it somewhere else. Hire a painter, and a photographer because I won't have time to sit for the painter, and before that I want a new sailor fuku so get me a tailor, not a robot either–"

"You want to wear a school uniform for a formal portrait? I hardly think that–"

"I don't pay you to think, Marcel Garnier Level Six."

"Ah, no, m'lady." But from his face it was clear that he hadn't stopped thinking, and he didn't think highly of the school uniform idea. He also wondered what "Level Six" meant and whether it was a good thing.

"Now, I'm going to take a bath, and when I finish if I go back to my old room, will I like what I see there?"

"I – I – no, I don't think so, m'lady. Your uncle, shortly after you, hrm, left, he had it converted to house–"

"Skip it. I won't look yet, I can imagine. But see that when I do look in my room it'll be something I will like, understand?"

"Perhaps my lady would prefer to move into the master bedroom..."

"Did they ruin that too?"

"I'm afraid so, m'lady. Not that it matters, but I did advise your aunt against the mirrors in particular."

"Well then have those ripped out, and anything else that needs to go. I'll trust your judgment."

"Yes, m'lady." The butler was looking a lot happier now.

She promised they would have a serious talk after she got out of the bath. Then she fainted in the bath, and nearly drowned. They had to send in a couple of maids (fortunately, she hadn't locked the door) to drag her out, dress her in a nightgown, and tuck her into bed in the master bedroom – mirrors notwithstanding. Garnier ran her scent on the medical Net, got in touch with the robodoc, and it told him Hanako would probably wake up. It forwarded a custom-tailored document about the dangers of prescription drug misuse for her to read when she did.

It took another day, and a stern limitation on her drug intake, before she was properly on her feet and could give the butler the serious talk she'd promised him. She laid out the basic facts: how as soon as her father was killed, her uncle and the other trustees had her escorted to the Shining Path Academy, under the false pretense that it had been specified in his will.

"I don't think it would even be legal for a will to specify that, m'lady."

"Well, no, that's one of the things I've learned from the lawyers I talked to, but I didn't know at 3 A.M., face down on the floor with a man on my back, you know?"

She didn't dwell on just what she'd experienced on the Shining Path. Crystal razors or not, it wasn't something she liked to think about, and maybe too some of the secrecy inhibitions were still in effect, limiting her ability to talk about the Path to those not treading it. Those curriculum designers had planned ahead. But Garnier was an imaginative man and could fill in many of the blanks for himself.

The part he really wanted to know about was the events of the last few days – but many of those he also thought it might be better not to really know about. Both he and Hanako commented on how convenient it was that her uncle and the other trustees should have their dangerous lifestyles catch up to them just in time for the house to become vacant when she was ready to move back in. She expressed mild, appropriate regret that it would not be possible in this world to confront them over the deception.

As for the question of what to tell the police, well, it came down to as little as possible, whatever would get them to drop the case. At the very least, she hoped he could keep them out of her hair for a while. Hanako didn't care whether the killer was ever caught – she had a grudge against those people anyway, and she didn't feel too worried that whoever had wanted to wipe out the Kamioka organization might come after her too. She resisted the temptation to wink at the butler while saying this, but it was a temptation.

"Miss Hanako, I've served your family for a very long time – starting when your grandfather was a very young man–"

"Of course, Marcel, I think of you as practically part of the family – and now it seems I don't have any other family left–"

"Indeed, and in all that time, Miss, I have done my best to do my own business, which is the business of running the household as the butler, and to remain uninvolved in the business of the family outside the walls of this estate–"

"Yes, I know what you mean, sir."

"I thought you might, m'lady."

"It is a bit of a problem, though. I'm no expert on that type of business myself. I can't just step in and take over."

"Not to be rude, m'lady, but you don't have a choice. Your family – your organization – has business relationships that do not go away just because someone is very unfortunately shot to death. There are shopkeepers who contracted for 'insurance'; when they want to, ah, file a claim, they will come to you. There are shipments of products in transit as we speak. A large one is due to arrive on 2-day of next month. Someone's going to have to go pick it up and pay for it and then find someone to sell it to."

"But I don't even need any of this! I've already been through the bank account statements – I could retire for life, maybe keep you and one or two others on and let everyone else go – I don't need to run a business at all, much less the kind of business my dead ancestors ran."

"My lady, your dead ancestors' business needs you, no matter what you think you need."

"All right, look. I've actually thought through this. Suppose – just suppose, I'm just saying – the army accidentally releases a tactical kaiju weapon, takes out this entire estate. Splat! You, me, the entire Kamioka organization, all gone, just like that. What happens to the business?"

"It's not going to be that simple, you have obligations and you can't just destroy–"

"No, no, I don't mean I'd cause it, just supposing it happened, outside of me, what would happen in the world? What would other people in businesses like ours do, sir?"

"Ah. I see. I imagine that in such a case the Norikura Clan, and maybe Nobeyama and Hinode would move in and try to take over all our, ah, your territory and clients–"

"Okay. That's what I figure too – the hyenas move in after the lion leaves the kill, ne? So, out of those scavenger organizations and their leaders, who's our most respected rival? You know, the kind of guy you wouldn't mind your daughter dating?"

"You can't marry Nobeyama Yoshio–"

"Whoa, whoa! I didn't say a word about marriage–"

"–he's gay–"

"Forget it! I'm not going to just up and marry some guy I, like don't even know! I only wanted a name. Okay, you gave me one. Nobeyama Yoshio. Where can I find him?"

"Ah – I'm sure I wouldn't know, and I don't think–"

She grinned – not nicely, it was a creepy drug-aided rictus. "Well, you'd better find out fast."