Shining Path


Chapter 31

If Kamioka Hanako thought she could abandon her family's generations-old business interests just by taking off her blouse in a bishounen bar, she was sadly mistaken. More likely she had known all along that it wouldn't be that easy, but she just didn't have any better ideas. There were former associates who called at all hours to confirm that what they had heard was really true, or to attempt to claim real or invented favors supposedly owed to them by the now-deceased former leadership. There were Kamioka employees unhappy to find out they were now members of the Nobeyama Clan, and some of those were inclined to talk back to the new head of the family in a way they never would have dared with Hanako's predecessors. They received fast, brutal lessons on their status within the organization.

The paperwork alone was amazing. Until now Hanako had never realized how many forms her grandfather, father, and then uncles must have filled out every day to accomplish the simplest things. You never saw that in the yakuza movies. It was even worse than she imagined working for the government must be. The months wore on and she wondered if there would ever be any escape except death. Maybe that would be the only way to step off the Shining Path for real.

But after almost a year, the day came when there were no phone calls, and a week after that there were two more such days in a row, and by 4-month of Shoumei 19 she thought she had some breathing room and could finally start her new life. She called a meeting of her remaining domestic staff, not because they would be involved much but just because she had to talk to somebody, and said she wanted to make a list of women in her own situation – former students from Shining Path.

It wasn't easy to find them. She had to hire a broken-down old gumshoe private detective who could have stepped out of a Shouwa-era pulp novel. He kept trying to make dates with her, he seemed to spend most of his time drunk, and one time when she accidentally walked into the office next door to his, the occupant of that office tried to hard-sell her an insurance policy. That is, actual legitimate insurance, not the kind offered from time to time by her family's enterprise. But the detective was at least minimally competent, and he was cheap. He provided Hanako with a list of Shining Path alumnae, and she started sending out invitations.

The detective had not positively identified the school attended by each former student, because that was usually information their parents tried to keep private; so for some he only strongly suspected it was Shining Path based on whatever circumstantial evidence he could dig up. Hanako figured that was close enough – she wrote "Shining Path Alumnae Reunion" on the cards and she thought anyone receiving one who didn't really qualify would either ignore it or be a fellow traveler and it wouldn't matter.

She had a home theater, but the trustees had hideously redecorated it. They'd left the rec room untouched in its sombre stained Canadian cedar paneling, because after Kamioka Akehiro's death the family had no more members interested in such a square pastime as artistic billiards, and his custom-made table was much too heavy to move and too valuable to dismantle. His cues – dozens of them – were still locked in racks along one wall, covered by a thin layer of dust over the chalk.

On the afternoon of 26-day 7-month Kamioka Hanako stood in her rec room and surveyed the preparations. It looked like she was all set to host the world's squarest 20th-Century Christian Youth Organization prayer meeting, as long as one didn't look too closely at some of the items on the refreshments table. Most movable furniture had been removed to storage, leaving an open space where real Christian Youth would foxtrot after the prayers or something. Folding chairs had been unfolded to provide seating for about sixty, and the billiard table had been covered with a sheet of plywood and a polyethylene tablecloth run off on the poster printer with "Kamioka" stripes in one direction and "Shining Path" in the other. There were refreshments on the table, and those were pretty good because she'd picked them herself instead of letting the butler do it.

Hanako took a couple of pieces of cathinone gum from the bowl – because she'd regained enough nicotine tolerance by now that that, although still nice, didn't give her the gasping virgin rush anymore – and she wondered if the spirit of her grandfather was in this room today and if so, what he would think of what she was doing. Or, for that matter, Daddy's spirit. She made a mental note to burn something for them both, later. Maybe a building.

The AI controlling the front gate of the Kamioka estate was a pre-Deconstruction single agent type, and it could not handle conflicting orders well; so Kamioka Hanako, who was no expert on dealing with AIs from the command side of the relationship, had given it what she imagined were simple, unambiguous instructions. A few dozen young women in sailor fuku would be arriving. The AI was to let each one in, and direct her to the rec room, if and only if she had a legitimate invitation.

Hirose Konosuke was not wearing a sailor fuku, and just as well because nobody would really have wanted to see that. He had borrowed a boy's school uniform from the costume department at work. He was not a young woman – nor human, not that that issue had been mentioned in the AI's instructions. But he had what appeared to be a legitimate invitation. The AI was just smart enough to recognize that the case of the first visitor to arrive was not properly covered by its orders, and escalate the question to its master. Monsieur Garnier ran the visitor's face on a pay public-ID database as a matter of course, and it came up with the name "Hirose Konosuke."

Garnier was a computer cracker himself, and no amateur like this Hirose; on comparing the visitor's name to the one on the invitation, he came up with a pretty good guess as to what had happened. The butler buzzed Konosuke through the gate, but met him at the door of the main house, led him to a small sitting-room with a lock on the door and plenty of tamper-proof concealed cameras to reduce the likelihood of any nasty surprises, and left him there while he fetched the lady of the house.

"My lady, there's a young seru gentleman with a genuine invitation made out in a false name. It's my belief he tricked you into inviting him by pretending on the Net to be a former Shining Path student named 'Hiyose Konoko.'"

"Well, what happened to the real Miss Hiyose?"

"I'm sure she doesn't exist. It looks like, as I said, a false name made to gain your confidence."

"Is he a cop?"

"Evidently not."

"An ephebephile, then. Get rid of him!"

Such a directive, issued by the head of the Kamioka family, could have any of several different meanings. Many of them would be rather unsavory, as well as outside the reasonable job description of a butler.

"Miss, I'll tell him you don't wish to see him and escort him out, if that's what you want, but I'm not sure it's wise. Shouldn't you at least find out why he's here? It appears he thinks he's on your side, and it may be a bad idea to make an enemy if you don't–"

She put a hand to her aching head. Cathinone does not mix well with anything, and especially not third-generation adamantamines.

"Fine, fine. I'll go see what he wants. But I can't afford to leave here too long – the actually real guests will arrive any minute!"

"Yes, Miss."

Hirose Konosuke had watched, and made, enough movies that after having a couple minutes alone to compose himself, he was able to talk like an action-movie hero, and it probably made the difference. Instead of giving Kamioka Hanako a chance to seize the initiative and send him away, he launched into his speech about the human girl victimized by her parents, the girl who deserved better, and Hanako couldn't help but listen. She tried to think of good reasons why he shouldn't be allowed to participate, and could only sputter and bluster.

"Look. So I never went to Shining Path. That doesn't matter. I don't even know if that's where Kumi ended up, but that doesn't matter either. Even if it's not her I have to do whatever I can, and I'm sure you feel the same way. If I can help even one girl like her – this is really important to me, and I'll do anything to help."

Kamioka Hanako opened her mouth to say that no matter what his intentions, the newly-minted Shining Path Alumnae Association didn't need "anything" a perverted uppity male seru could provide – and then stopped. She had no joneko's sense of smell to distinguish real lost kittens from confidence tricksters, and she might not have been the kind of person to pay forward the favor she'd received herself, even if she recognized the parallel situation; but nonetheless she decided not to just send him away. Maybe the drugs were clouding her judgment; or maybe she just thought he was cute in his school blazer. Maybe her Level Three conditioning was kicking in. Nowadays she would consciously deny ever having believed such a thing, but she'd certainly been told enough times, and answered it back in the interviews, that girls alone would never succeed without a man to lead.