Shining Path


Chapter 37

Mid-morning on 16-day 9-month Shoumei 19, four joneko climbed each of two large office buildings in the Quarter. They went unnoticed among the general rush of parkour couriers trying to make tight delivery deadlines – even when they continued climbing past the buildings' sky doors and all the way to the roofs. The two towers were just close enough together that the joneko could see each other and exchange obscene gestures by way of salute across the distance; then they went to work.

Impact wrenches, braided aramid rope, and many other tools and supplies were removed from tool belts. Six queens fanned out to sakura cannons, one each, and began detaching them from their mountings. One queen on each building traced the electrical and control connections to tie those off and prevent any alarms from triggering. Once the machines were freed, the joneko took them to pieces, and carefully lowered those to the ground with the window-cleaning cranes conveniently already in place. A few workers in the buildings saw the disassembled cannons pass by on their way down. Only one, a certain Atsushi Ryuuko, who worked in product placement for the Hynaburu group of companies, actually figured out that someone was removing the sakura cannons; and she assumed it must be legitimate routine maintenance or something. The idea that someone would steal such devices never occurred to her.

They rappelled back down the buildings, packed up the sakura cannons – which really should be called missile launchers, since that was their original purpose when they came out of the factory in Kutaisi – and hit the road. By midnight all six launchers were set up in the woods around the Shining Path Academy, with the crews comfortably asleep in the trees nearby, waiting to get the signal.

The signal was delayed, and for stupid reasons. Hanako, Konosuke, and the others were supposed to assemble at the Kamioka mansion at 2:30 in the morning, to leave about an hour and a half each for preparation time and the bus trip to Shining Path, and then they'd be ready to attack with the sunrise at 5:25. But when Hanako's dogs started to arrive, most of them already late, they discovered that the rented bus hadn't come with a driver included. A quick poll of the assembled pack determined that there was one member whom the others believed might have professional bus-driving experience – and she had fallen unconscious only minutes before from the effects of something she'd consumed in premature celebration of the coming events. She might be awake by the time they were scheduled to arrive, but wouldn't be in any condition to operate heavy machinery any time soon. There were three more who said they didn't, like, actually know how to drive a bus, but they were willing to give it a try – cooler heads prevailed, however, and after Hanako placed a telephone call to the rental agency and offered them really an inappropriate amount of money, a professional driver arrived in a taxi.

"Special school trip here, Miss?" he asked.

"Yeah. Kind of."

"Well, I guess that's nice for some people, ne?" he said, gesturing at Hirose Konosuke. In the middle of the crowd of scruffy-looking human girls, all wearing age-inappropriate schoolgirl outfits, Konosuke was quite conspicuously the only male and the only seru. But Hanako gave the driver a freezing glare, and he didn't comment further. He did think, as the girls all filed onto the bus with their little pink backpacks, that those packs looked awfully heavy for a school day-trip, and he guessed they might contain more than just cameras and a change of loose socks. Probably better not to inquire further.

Kamioka Hanako was actually quite proud of the weapons that made those packs so heavy. Not that she had invented them, of course, but she'd done a good job of negotiating with the procurement people and explaining the requirements. She'd said she needed something usable with minimal training and no aptitude. She'd gotten something much like the stun batons the city police carried in rougher neighborhoods, but much more stylish, and with some cute little extra features not found in the police issue.

Each weapon resembled what is known in the trade as a "young lady's hand massager," in pink or black acrylonitrile butadiene styrene copolymer and complete with a cute little seru kitty or penguin figurine on the control switch. The weapon, however, could vibrate at a much higher frequency, all the way into the ultrasonic, and back it up with an electric shock, and it could telescope out to half-meter length. A solid blow would incapacitate a person; or, with the addition of a bayonet made of self-healing zirconia glass, it could cut through steel. You wouldn't want to massage your hands nor anything else you wanted to keep, with one of these. They were cheap, too – basically just a commercial off-the-shelf product with an upgraded control chip and the vibration counter-mass replaced by a much heavier tungsten one. The batteries wouldn't last long, but they would last long enough, and with the batteries dead, it could still be used as a blunt instrument.

With a vague knowledge of military special-forces doctrine and terminology mostly derived from watching anime, she had divided her forces into what she called "Platoon Kitty" and "Platoon Penguin," according to her private assessment of each girl's intelligence, drug-addiction status, and ability to follow instructions. Hanako carried a black weapon and planned to enter the building with the other Penguins. Alumnae deemed too unreliable to behave predictably once inside, as well as Hirose Konosuke and all the joneko, were relegated to Platoon Kitty and strongly encouraged to believe they could be most helpful by remaining outdoors. There were no further organizational subdivisions, and if there were to be any leaders except herself, those would be whoever could make the others listen in the heat of the moment.

The plan was simple. They'd cover the school with smoke to interfere with the automated defenses and any external reinforcements that might show up by air. The joneko had assured Hanako that no support would arrive by land, and (except for the vague unease which had prompted her to sell her stocks) she imagined all it meant was that they would be blocking the road. With the place isolated and smoked in, they'd cut down part of the fence, and by that time most if not all of the on-site cops would be outside the building in a state of confusion. Kitty would deal with them there; Penguin would enter the buildings, evacuate all the students and any remaining staff, and then put the place beyond use.

After that, it was not really clear what was supposed to happen. Most of the students, it was assumed, would simply vanish into the woods as soon as they got outside the building and saw the fence down. Students would have run plans of their own as a matter of course; they just needed the chance to use them. Anybody at a high enough level to have lost their plans (that is, Level Five or above) could be counted as a staff member and immobilized long enough to let the others escape. Then the attackers would vanish too, leaving a big mess and a mystery for the police to solve – and the parents of the missing students could be expected to abort the police investigation before it got anywhere, rather than risking too much detail getting into the media.

Hanako had stonily insisted that none of the human Shining Path staff – not even the cops – were to be killed or seriously harmed except in strictest self-defense, and she extracted promises to that effect from each of her dogs, individually. Students, no matter how thoroughly educated, were the victims and to be protected at all cost. The computer was going down, but that would be all. Plenty of others in the group, though, entertained fantasies of how "self-defense" might stretch to be retroactive for events in the past, or even of quietly looking the other way when newly-freed students did what came naturally.

Only a few had thought seriously about their own futures, personally, after this event. Someone had a chat with a joneko, who had addressed her from the branches of a tree on the Kamioka estate late one night after one of the meetings, and that resulted in almost half of Platoon Kitty buying tickets to Sapporo and making plans of their own for what would follow the raid. They didn't consider it necessary to mention their plans to Ms. Kamioka, who already had enough on her mind, nor to any of the totally scary bitches on Platoon Penguin. The lines were already drawn.

The pack of dogs remained quiet as the bus carried them from the mansion down into the outskirts of the city, then back out into the green belt on the way to Shining Path. No doubt some of them were remembering their own late-night rides to this same destination, the nights none of them could forget when the cops, or officially the "escorts," showed up to take them away from themselves. At least this time they weren't handcuffed.

As the bus entered the green belt again it had to follow a winding, lonely stretch of road in among dense trees. These trees were both legally and spiritually protected, and they knew it. Some were hundreds of years old and circled by the straw ropes that marked them as homes of kami. Plenty of things out here that had never heard of human civilization, never mind that it was only by the whim of human civilization they could still survive at all.

In the darkest part of the woods they had to pass over a series of small bridges as the road crossed several times a narrow but deep and fast river. The driver saw a flicker of purple light up ahead and groaned. He'd hoped that these clients were old enough this wouldn't happen, but evidently the uniforms were all it took. Well, there would be extra pay in it from his agency, but on the whole, he'd rather be spared the annoyance. Part of the job, though. He slowed the bus, watching carefully, and stopped it when the headlights illuminated a glistening slimy pile that covered the road ahead.

Kamioka Hanako was sitting right behind the driver, and she only had time to say "Hey, what's the big–" before something strong and flexible ripped the door open and the answer became obvious. Several windows banged down a moment later, and within seconds, the interior of the bus resembled one of those cans they sell in the curiosity shops. The usual estimating rule of the WOMT Studios casting department was one octopus, or four fifths of a squid, for every two women; that allows an extra appendage for restraint. By that measure, the bus must have encountered about 24 giant octopodes, or 19 squid.

The driver held on to the armrests of his seat as the bus shook around him, and he hoped it wouldn't flip over. He could hear shrieks and screams from the back of the bus – and the occasional gasp of pleasure, because there's one girl like that in every busload – but he kept his eyes resolutely forward. It really wasn't any of his business, and better not to get involved.

Someone almost immediately thought of the weapons. Those were grabbed from the overhead luggage racks and deployed to great effect. It only took a couple of good shocks to make each arm or tentacle go limp, and then it was easy to just gather it up and haul it out the window. Within a few minutes the doors and windows were closed again, and when it seemed safe, the driver got out and kicked the huge central bodies that blocked the road, until they quivered, shuddered, and hauled themselves on still-shaky arms back into the water. He did get a faceful of ink from one, but it would wash off. Then the bus got back underway. Everyone was covered in slime, but still fully clothed. Most of the assaults had only occurred in the bus driver's overheated imagination. All told, the Shining Path Alumnae had lost about half an hour – but they had gained precious experience using their weapons, and the morale boost of having faced a combat situation together was priceless. On balance the interruption was almost certainly a net gain.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, except for a tense moment when they found that the road had been commandeered for an illegal street race, and they had to take another route. It meant another twenty-minute delay before they passed under the simple arch with the sign saying "Shining Path Academy" and the motto in some foreign language nobody bothered to write down or translate.

Hirose Konosuke was the only one who noticed this at first, and he didn't say anything, but as the pack was milling around in the parking lot trying to get organized, Kamioka Hanako addressed the bus driver. She told him he could leave – actually, she didn't phrase it as an option.

"Right you are, ma'am. When do you want me to come back and pick you all up?"

She actually hadn't thought of that at all. She sputtered for a moment or two, eventually settled on 7pm, said so, and he said "Right you are" again and got into the bus.