Shining Path


Chapter 22

Kim Ji-Geom filed all the appropriate paperwork including the ethics form (easy because no living organisms were to be involved) and got on a plane to Sapporo with two grad students named Kim Soon-Wook (no relation; "Kim" is a very common name) and Kumari Rawat. They rented an unmarked white van and filled the back with packing crates, locally-purchased bondage gear, and an expanded polypropylene cooler full of Chongju beef steaks, graded "D but edible for students and seru" and laced with 5-chloronepetalactone. They cruised into the Quarter just after the full Moon rose on 8-day 11-month Keika 6, with the windows rolled down and every ear tuned for the sound of howling. Soon-Wook drove, Kumari rode shotgun with the map and GPS on her lap, and Professor Kim rode in the back with his fingers tight on the door handle, ready to throw it open and hop out with the rope at a moment's notice.

It wasn't as easy to collect a good sample as they had hoped. There were plenty of candidate subjects on the streets, of course. NTT was just putting the finishing touches on its Sapporo point-of-presence facility, replacing the one damaged in the Heisei 26 earthquake and demolished by protesters in Keika 2. They were running countless strands of single-mode South to Tokyo and North and East to the New Frontier demonstration cities of Russia. There was flooded-vault work and high-irradiance work, none of which could be done by humans, and the seru population of Sapporo had swelled to about 80,000 in the Fall of Keika 6. That was more than four times the pre-Deconstruction number, and because of wage issues and claustrophobia issues, a disproportionate number of the workers were joneko. The Quarter in that city had only been built to serve the amusement needs of human factory employees around the turn of the century; now its face and focus had shifted, every establishment was running beyond capacity, and excess furry bodies packed the sidewalks. It was no place for human academics, especially not males, not on a full Moon night.

The plan had been to throw a drugged steak from the safety of the van, wait for it to be consumed and take effect, then run out and pack the specimen into a crate before moving to the next block and repeating. No fuss, minimal danger, and (an important ethical point) no excessive impact on any single block's population. That protocol obviously wasn't going to work. The Kim expedition checked into an embarrassingly furnished love-hotel suite, because they were too illiterate in the local culture to be able to find anything better on the schedule and budget they had, and they re-thought their strategy.

The new protocol, invented by Kumari Rawat, involved parking the van in an alley behind a warehouse just outside the Quarter. Ji-Geom and Kumari waited there holding chloronep-soaked rags, carefully, in nitrile gloves. Soon-Wook got the dangerous job. They tried to make it sound more dignified, but it came down to being the bait in the trap. He was to walk into the fringes of the Quarter, make contact with a potential subject (but if possible, only one at a time), and lead it back to the alley without incurring injury or attracting too much attention from the general population. There his colleagues would tranquilize and crate the subject. They would sacrifice the wide geographic distribution offered by the original protocol in the interests of actually getting a sample at all.

Everyone was too polite to mention the exact basis on which Kim Soon-Wook was considered the coauthor best-qualified for the role of bait, but the reasons were related to his being unmarried and a serious, committed student. Before the Moon came up, he found a curiosity shop and bought a protective device to wear just in case. He also carried his phone, on open-mike hands-free, broadcasting his location and the sounds around him back to his colleagues at the van.

It was difficult and scary, but the plan worked quite well, and they got their sample. There were a few nasty minutes when the police showed up to ask for an explanation; Kumari Rawat had not thought of disabling the cameras in the alley even if she had thought of everything else. Fortunately, a combination of academic credentials, fast talk, and bribery was effective in smoothing over any difficult questions. There were plenty of the animals to spare in Sapporo, and taking just a few off the streets for a while in the name of humanitarian scientific research was obviously a worthwhile project.

Soon-Wook was less fortunate with the officer who picked him up for "behavior likely to incite," because he really was more or less guilty of that, but he only had to pay her an on-the-spot fine and get a receipt which he knew his supervisor would eventually reimburse, so that was all right. The city knew human nature, and joneko nature, and the public good of keeping everyone satisfied, so they never gave that particular ordinance any real teeth.

The field expedition spent another unpleasant night in the love hotel. Kumari Rawat had to decline some embarrassing offers from the room AI, which had decided that since she was a repeat customer who evidently liked Korean men two at a time, perhaps she might also like to buy certain value-added entertainment services relevant to her particular interest. Kim Soon-Wook experimented with the controls on the bathtub, and wished he hadn't. Neither of his colleagues could find the soap the next morning. Kim Ji-Geom spent the night sleeping peacefully on the couch, putting to good use the drowsiness side effect of his antidepressant medication.

On the morning of Thursday the 10th, they flew back as economy standby passengers with twelve joneko, anesthetized, tool belts removed and discarded, crated, and shipped express parcel on another plane. Soon-Wook joked that the experimental animals had better tickets than he did, but of course that was not literally true; he was only human and couldn't have survived the temperature and the thin air of the cargo hold. The customs declaration said the shipment was a dozen large rolls of cellulose acetate animation stock for cultural research, and that was close enough to fool the scanners. In the event of an investigation, which never happened anyway, Kim et al. could have played the absent-minded academic card, and claimed that they didn't know they were supposed to mention if the base stock carried live seru vinyl.

Kim, Kim, and Rawat established their experimental population in what had been the dormitory of a Government-run military boarding school outside Kaesong. The dorm had been built mostly underground for protection from American bombs that never came, and that made it a lot easier to secure. The windowless rooms had held eight students each; with the bunks removed and the fixtures hardened, each one was just large enough to maintain a joneko. The scientists did not have the budget for all that work themselves, of course; they leased the facility for a few months from an industrial partner agency which had originally set it up for quite a different project.

Subjects were stabilized, as Kim, Kim, and Rawat later wrote, on a conventional diet of kibble and occasional steaks as described by Wilson and Sook. Initial stabilization time was three weeks to allow the lingering effects of the anesthetics to wear off and establish a hormonal baseline. During that time the subjects were more or less left alone, one in each room.

The original plan had been to choose sample animals with uniformly distributed cycles, and watch each subject as it came due, but the modifications to the collection protocol had created a synchronized sample population, and thus a bit of a scheduling problem. Sufficient monitoring equipment to evaluate all twelve subjects simultaneously was unavailable, and apart from that there was what might have been called an "all cats in one bag" problem. It was understood that the first few subjects evaluated would probably not give good data; the researchers hoped to use those subjects to debug the protocol and obtain better data from the later ones. Running all twelve replications of the experiment at once would allow no time to make mistakes.

After some thought it was decided to allocate three subjects for initial debugging purposes and allow the remaining nine to go through an undisturbed cycle; that would provide a better baseline anyway, and the hope would be that by the time the main sample became due again the final form of the protocol would be in place. Maybe by then more monitoring equipment would be available also. Accordingly, nine subjects were randomly selected and in early 12-month, one by one as they were noted to display the characteristic signs, they were exposed to human volunteers recruited from a nearby boys' high school.

For the safety of the volunteers it was necessary to sedate the experimental animals during this process, leaving them as conscious as possible while being unable to attack, and the volunteers had to take a much more active role than would be typical of human-joneko interaction in the wild. Volunteers were furnished with instruments purchased from the same curiosity shops that had supplied the ropes and such on the initial collection trip, and given precise instructions. Compliance was 100%.

A question was raised as to whether a single encounter of this type would be sufficient to trigger a normal hormonal response in the subjects, so volunteers were rotated according to a partial Latin square under which which 27 volunteers visited three subjects each, while the subjects each received nine volunteers. That was still less stimulation than might be available in the wild, but it was what they had time, budget, and volunteers for, and the chlorotinizing hormone levels after the fact looked reasonable, so it was decided to just leave that section of the final paper vague and assume for the sake of the experiment that this first cycle was successfully completed in the case of the nine main-sample subjects.

The three protocol-debugging subjects were transferred to observation rooms and fitted with conical polyethylene veterinary-style collars and low-friction mittens to prevent licking or rubbing behaviors, along with telemetry gear to record their vital signs. It didn't work. Within minutes of when the drugs wore off, the subjects had shredded all the restraints, kicked the telemetry units around until they shattered, and started trashing the room fixtures. One subject had been a video surveillance installer pre-collection. The researchers were unaware of that; what they knew was that that subject managed to disassemble the data-collection camera that had been screwed to the wall at a height intended to be out of reach. The subject removed three flexible printed circuits from the camera – circuits made of untearable polyimide film – and easily tore each one down the middle.