Sakura Pochi was a rising minor star at WOMT Studios. That is to say, she was a low-ranking star, not an underage one. She of course had documentation to prove the Keika-Era copyright date and nonhuman status that made it legal for her to be a star in pictures like WOMT's at all. Sakura Pochi was not her real name. She had chosen it according to the time-honored formula of a type of tree (Sakura) and childhood pet (Pochi). The result could easily have been even worse. Someone at another studio had used Kurisumasu Tadakichi once as a joke, and then that picture became an unexpected hit and she was stuck with the name and the pigtails for life.
Professional pseudonyms were usual in this line of work anyway, but Po-chan had been designed by a couple of Europeans visiting Japan in a late-Keika cultural exchange program, and they'd saddled her with something unpronounceable in Polish. She hated her legal name and used her pseudonym even in everyday life. On the plus side, they painted her with an exotic body and face, and naturally blonde curly hair, which made her stand out among the cookie-cutter starlets of the AV industry.
After undistinguished beginnings in the K.O.L.B. series (fluffer for the first volume, uncredited background moaner in the second) she'd landed a speaking part in the made-for-3V project Pantsugroppe Guderian. That film was a ratings breakthrough for the network that had commissioned it, and since then Pochi had had speaking and what were called "action" roles, and steadily-improving credit positions, in all WOMT's projects. For the Soong picture she was a Russian admiral. Never mind that very few of those were women (indeed, none) in the real-life historical account; the writers had been ordered to put the character in regardless of accuracy. Mr. Wing wanted product placement for his Euro-styled lingerie collection.
On 29-day 5-month, her character didn't appear in any of the scenes they were shooting, but she had to show up anyway because the director was taking attendance. She spent most of the day standing around near the back of the crowd that assembled to watch the shooting, chatting with the others of similar status.
Hirose Konosuke waited until mid-afternoon to approach her. It would be romantic to say that it took him so long to get up the nerve, but that wasn't the real issue – actually, he was trying to avoid collecting an audience of joneko. The ginger never seemed to have any work to do, and she was at his side most of the morning. Even after she herself vanished around lunch, it seemed every time he turned around there would be at least one pair of green or yellow or gray slit-pupilled eyes fixed on him. Surely the ginger hadn't told them – his personal life was confidential, ne? – but even if it was just feline randomness, they'd somehow decided that he was very interesting today. He went to talk to Pochi as soon as he thought there were no joneko watching him. It was just as well that he did not think to look up into the rafters.
He drew her off a short distance from the others, politely introduced himself, and showed her the gift certificate and explained how he'd won it.
"It sounds pretty good. They've got a spa and games and stuff."
"You don't say." She spoke in almost a joneko's scornful tone.
"Uh--yeah! And it comes with food and stuff, and look, it says every room has, uh, let's see – 3V and holovid and–"
"So, uh, I was wondering – like, uh, would-you-be-willing – uh – would you like to try it with me Friday?"
There was a long pause.
"Well, Mr. Hirose, I'm flattered that you would think of inviting me to share your prize–"
Konosuke's face must have shown some mixture of disappointment and relief – she was going to turn him down, of course, he'd known she would – and that combined with the woman's natural mischief may have been what made the difference. Or maybe she'd made her decision long before anyway.
"–so yes, I'd be happy to."
"Oh. Oh. Wow. Thanks."
She patted him on the shoulder. "Better close that mouth, honey. Someone'll put something in it." Then she grinned, turned, and walked away.
The ginger appeared out of nowhere and tackle-hugged Konosuke, yowling ultrasonic congratulations. It took her several seconds to even calm down enough to make noises that he could hear.
After work on Friday, Pochi and Konosuke went straight from the studio to the hotel. They had dinner in their room, and kept their clothes on though Pochi kept toying with the buttons on her blouse; then she spent a couple of hours undergoing some kind of tetrahydrofuran rub-down in the spa. It didn't sound at all pleasant to him, but when she returned to the room, she seemed to have enjoyed it, and that was the main thing. Next they watched a bad horror movie on holovid and played a couple of rounds of anime trivia with the computer. The machine had to keep raising the difficulty level, and eventually maxed out, because its question database had never been intended for use by industry insiders.
By this point, with Konosuke having made no move at all, Pochi was pretty well convinced that the boy must be gay and confused about it. Well, she could roll with that. She was just ready to make the offer of inviting a very nice young man she knew, and she'd be okay with it as long as they let her watch, and nobody else needed to know – when Konosuke broke off the trivia game and said he wanted to talk.
He told her all about Matoike Kumi. He told Pochi about meeting the girl at the mall and scaring away the phthalate boys and 722 girls who had intended her harm; he told about how she'd called him after that, about the way Kumi treated everybody like a real person even to the point of endangering herself, about what it was like for her at her school; and he talked about her parents and how they felt about seru. Then he talked about the missed date, and how Kumi had disappeared without a trace. He described some of the things he'd learned in his research on the Net, and the locked bulletin board where her name had been mentioned.
Pochi hugged him close. She stroked her fingers down his forearm and over the back of his hand. She undid the button on his trousers. "Well, don't worry," she said. "You've come to the right woman – I'll help you forget the human girl."
"No!" He pulled away from her.
"Oh, it's 'no,' is it?"
"That's not what I want. I don't want you to – no, that's not the idea at all. I just want your scent."
"The bulletin board won't let me in because it requires a chemo-bio scent, and, and it has to be from someone who's female. But it only needs that to set up the account – it's just a standard cstBB, you've probably used them, after the account is up I can set a password and log in with that."
"So you want me to wave my hand under that computer nose so you can go on there in drag, pretending to be a girl, and you think that'll help you track down this Kumi."
"Well, yeah. I already got the form filled out on the room's computer, here. It really is just a matter of waving your hand; and I hope you know I won't do anything that'll be a problem for you, with it."
"So that's why you asked me to come here with you?"
"Well – yeah. I figured maybe, you know, you'd have a good time with the fancy hotel room and be grateful and willing to help me–"
"You think I'm a whore, to be bought so easily?"
He looked almost ready to cry. This wasn't going as well as he'd hoped. "Aw, please don't be like that. I asked you because I like you enough I thought I could trust you, to see how important this is for me – I was trying to do something friendly and nice for you–"'
"You have a teenage little sister, don't you, Konosuke?"
"I – yeah, what about her?"
"Just if all you needed was a female scent for the computer, you could have had your sister create an account for you, and saved yourself a lot of trouble–"
"Oh. Oh, I – I really didn't think of that."
"Of course you didn't. Are you sure that your little cracking project is the only reason you asked me here? Is that really all you want from me?"
Hirose Konosuke might not have known a lot about women, but he knew that that was one of those questions where any answer would be wrong. He just smiled and shrugged.
"You're really cute," she said, "and that's why I'm going to help you get onto that Web site so you can go chase after your precious little human girl."
"And afterward we'll talk about what I get in return."