Shining Path


Chapter 34

A computer hacker employed by Kamioka Hanako's father once told her that pole dancing is a genetic imperative for joneko. They're naturally inclined to rub their bodies on trees to leave their scent as a territory marker. Any vertical object will trigger the instinct – like your housecat rubbing against your legs so other cats will know who your owner is. It's just a coincidence that if joneko do what comes naturally with a pole in a dimly-lit hot-house while there's music playing, the result happens to look like the same thing humanoid dancers do for other reasons, and that's why joneko are so good at it. They don't need to be taught and they don't need to think about it. "You can take the cat out of the jungle," the hacker said, "but you can't take the jungle out of the cat."

Hanako didn't buy that theory. You can't take the joneko out of the jungle because she never was there in the first place. They are seru. They don't come from the jungle, they get poured out of a bottle and painted on a sheet of plastic by a human animator, for purposes that may vary but are always defined by the hand holding the brush. Joneko didn't evolve; they were intelligently designed like any other seru. They are also a lot smarter and more mercenary, Hanako thought, than the "genetic imperative" thing gives them credit or blame for. The way she figured it, joneko dance because humans like to watch, and they know exactly what they're doing and why.

Cooking up a hypothetical alternate history in which joneko evolved as organic creatures in a jungle somewhere, is what delusional fanboys do. They just really badly want to believe that there's something exciting and real they get to be part of and it's not all just a fantasy cooked up because humans have money and like to be amused.

It never occurred to Kamioka Hanako that joneko might have other dances besides the ones they did for humans – purely joneko dances with joneko purposes. She never took an American History elective like Rurika's, and she didn't know about Jack Wilson's revelation; and no human would be smart enough to make that connection until years later anyway. What Hanako did think she knew, was how to get in touch with some joneko.

She told her staff that she was going to visit friends, and she took the Chiyoda line before transferring to the Yamanote, out to Ikebukuro. She got out at the station, and walked a couple of blocks into the industrial park. At the back of one sprawling building she found a series of doors labeled, in English, with the names of the businesses whose storefronts filled the other side of the building; and in between a vehicle detailing place and a proprietary fastener manufacturer, there was one door bearing a circle with pointed ears and a few words in a script she didn't know. It didn't correspond to any of the storefronts. It was, in fact, one of the last remaining above-ground traces of Hynaburu Group's failed development project. As she approached, the door swung in, revealing a steep staircase leading downward.

The stairs were lit, but not very well, by some kind of fiber arrangement worked into the tiles of the ceiling. Hanako did not stop to look carefully at the walls as she descended, but she had the impression of graffiti murals mostly in pink and green. Some of the tiles sparkled in the dim light, with little flecks of metal embedded in the glass. This stairway must have been built for some other purpose before the joneko took over, and it must have been splendid and elegant then. Now it just felt sad and dirty, like the men who frequented the place. She encountered a few of those on their way up as she went down, but fortunately they did not stop to address her nor even make eye contact. They just hurried past, shamed by the presence of a human female and not even thinking how odd it really was for her to be there.

The stairs bottomed out on a large square room, open along one side, and Kamioka Hanako suddenly recognized the architecture: this was a disused subway station. Most of the platform had been demolished, so the train stood welded to its track sections in an open space with sloping piles of rubble on either side. Light, music, and purring laughter spilled from it. She climbed down the rubble and up the two steps at the end of the train, took a deep breath, and stepped through the hole where the door had been removed.

At least there were proper lights here, but they were very bright and adjusted to a much redder hue than humans ever used. Her eyes hurt for several seconds before adjusting. Everything looked like it had been drenched in syrupy liquid sulfur. The first things she noticed, once she could see much of anything, were the bodies of the dancing joneko, wrapped around the hand-hold poles and each other, all the way down the train car, slithering and gyrating to the music. She was hardly the intended audience, but even she could feel herself inexorably drawn into the sensuous ebb and flow of the dance. Maybe it really was true about genetic imperatives.

The subway cars' loudspeakers, originally for announcing the next stop and telling passengers to squeeze in tighter, had been hooked up to a machine that generated non-stop hetero house music. It was made of nip-hop samples slowed down and run through a digital heterodyne filter (hence the name of the genre) to shift most of the energy into the 30-kilohertz range. It was largely for the benefit of the joneko, who could properly hear it and understand the lyrics. Only the bass line and some of the speaker distortion were directly audible to humanoids, with the main musical content just a pain at the back of the head that came and went with the beat. If you listened long enough, this kind of music would drive you mad as a joneko, which was the point.

Every couple meters down either side of the car a can of molten lead hung on a hook, with some pellets of microencapsulated curium-244 ceramic in the bottom to keep it hot. The liquid provided a heat sink to keep the nuke stuff from burning itself out, and some measure of radiation shielding. These cans radiated heat throughout the car, and constituted an extreme burn and fire hazard and a moderate explosion and radioactive contamination hazard. Nobody seemed worried.

As for the clients, they were polite to each other, forming a single line to wait their turns in a civilized fashion in the end of the subway car. The joneko did not respect the line. They just grabbed any men they liked from the front or middle of it and dragged them out through the side doors, or occasionally closed deals right on the benches and against the walls if their need was extreme. The balding salaryman at the front of the line had been passed over several times for younger and more appealing clients further back, and he was obviously becoming impatient. He gave Hanako an eager look as she passed. Maybe he thought she might be on the menu tonight, never mind not being a joneko nor even a seru. She ignored him so hard he practically got frostbitten even in the atmosphere of the hot-house.

This was a slow night and all the action was in the first car, with the remaining ones sparsely filled by joneko and clients relaxing, taking drugs, and waiting to be ready for another round. On a busier night there would have been dancing and enthusiasm in most or all of the cars. Like Ninth Queen in this very place years before, Kamioka Hanako tried to find a leader to talk to.

At any given time there were always a few bunnygirls wandering around the hot-house. Most of the original Hynaburu colony were among the stars by now, and the conditions were poor for laying eggs, but many discarded bunnygirls from all over the prefecture eventually found their way here, so the colony had maintained its population and even grown a little. There was little for a bunnygirl to do in the subway cars that formed the hot-house itself, but sitting in the dark eating hydroponic carrots and watching television all day is boring too, so sometimes they came to watch the joneko and the clients.

Some of the humanoid regulars had an informal betting pool open on the subject of who could be the first to do business with a bunnygirl instead of a joneko. So far there were three who claimed to have succeeded. None could convince the others, and in fact, joneko nature meant nobody was ever likely to score such an achievement for real at all. Bunnygirls play with boys sometimes, but they really prefer carrots; joneko have more specific needs that take priority.

So Hanako flagged down what looked like a senior bunnygirl and demanded to speak to whoever was in charge of the joneko here. She asked a bunnygirl instead of a joneko on the theory that the joneko were all in altered states from drugs or lust, scornful of humans at the best of times, and unlikely to be helpful. It was good thinking. The bunnygirl curtsied, said "Follow us, please," and hopped out one of the side doors. The human woman followed.

She followed the bunnygirl up onto the platform of the disused station, down a hallway and then into an opening in the wall which led into a hand-dug gallery. It was dark in there and Hanako could barely keep her step. She trailed one hand along the wall and kept her eyes on the bunnygirl's wiggling cottony tail, which was slightly luminescent. After several twists and turns, with the gallery mostly sloping down into the earth, they stopped in a chamber lit by LED pinpricks in the ceiling. Several other galleries connected to the chamber and there was a wooden door built into one wall. The bunnygirl curtsied again and said quietly "The Queen awaits you just behind this door. We cannot enter there." Then she turned and hopped off, back up the gallery down which they had come. Hanako foresaw an unpleasant journey back alone, but there was nothing to do about that now. She opened the door in front of her.