Shining Path


Chapter 38

Some day, if he should be so lucky and if the neosteroids didn't catch up to him first, Miura Hitoshi's grandchildren would ask him where he was when the Sailor Suit Riots happened, and he would tell them he saw the first punch land. He would be wrong – minor fights had been breaking out in some parts of the city since early the previous evening, and the larger pattern went back months if not years. In fact, ever since the good old days. But there is no doubt that Miura Hitoshi was present at an important inflection point.

It was maybe 8:15 in the morning of 17-day 9-month Shoumei 19, and he was waiting for the bus, at a stop down among the warehouses, near the toxic part of the waterfront. It was a rough part of town, and not really a place for a boy his age to hang out unaccompanied if he didn't want to get picked up in one way or another, but he was still a 2-dan baritsu practitioner even if out of work for the moment, and he had his gentleman's walking stick and no reason to be afraid.

He had taken up Hearst-Smythe-sensei's offer and started interviewing at other schools. This place he was returning from was the fifth such other school he had tried, and the interview had been even worse than the previous four. The interviewer had barely been polite to him. She hadn't really watched his forms when he demonstrated those, he could tell. The decision was made against him before he even walked in the door. With no pay-check expected any time soon, even the few coins of bus fare to come out here felt like a big waste; and having skipped his first classes to come out here so early, just to prove he had the discipline to get out of bed, no longer seemed like such a good idea either.

The sky was full of big, dirty clouds, which were grumbling like old-time thunder gods that hadn't descended to consort with the peasant women in far too long. They were tense and irritable and just ready to smite somebody on any pretext. Miura Hitoshi felt much the same.

On his left a rumpled-looking salaryman slouched against the bus shelter, apparently not caring that some of the graffiti and other things on the glass were rubbing off onto his suit. He'd probably been up all night. A few paces off on his right, two human girls in sailor suits were sharing a pair of earbuds presumably picking up the ultrawideband RF from a music player hidden in one or the other's pocket. They were holding hands like a couple, but probably for no reason more exciting than to keep the signal path intact; it was a common enough practice of classmates who might be just friends. Hitoshi was distracted thinking about that and did not think to wonder why they were catching the bus here, even though it was a very strange place for them to be.

That's the point at which his grandchildren, if he were so lucky, would ask what he noticed about the girls and he'd probably say, almost nothing. He wouldn't have commented about the hand-holding, and certainly couldn't have remembered their skirt codes. He was not even much interested by human girls at the best of times anyway. He did remember seeing one of them bopping her head and lip-synching to the music, and he wondered what song and band it was. The other one looked at him and smiled, but it wasn't a cute smile and that was the first really strange thing he noticed: between her parted lips he saw white and inhumanly pointed teeth, just like a joneko's, though she was otherwise human and not wearing nekomimi drag. He smugly thought that the body mod would keep her out of any legitimate martial arts school.

The bus pulled up to the stop and Hitoshi hung back thinking to get on last like a gentleman, as the salaryman and the girls both made for the door. They met at the open door of the bus, and in a very matter-of-fact way, one of the girls let go her friend's hand, grabbed the salaryman by the lapels of his jacket, and brought her forehead up sharply under his chin with a sickening crunch. Crude technique, but it stunned him pretty well, and she didn't even seem to feel any pain herself.

Then the other one kicked him, hard, where no salaryman wants to be kicked, and as he groaned, sank to the pavement, and groped to retrieve the broken pieces of his phone, they began punching and kicking him some more, in more physically painful places.

Miura Hitoshi probably ought to have stopped to help – the salaryman, not the girls – as the obligation of a martial artist to counteract wrongdoing, but his brain was refusing to fully process the sight and he could not think through the best course of action. He just stepped around the three combatants, got onto the bus, and waved his hand under the nose as the doors closed behind him.

Hitoshi and a scruffy homeless guy were the only ones on the bus at this point, but as it followed its route into downtown, more girls like the ones he'd seen started getting on, usually two at each stop and then four at a couple stops and then right before downtown, where there was a connection from the subway, maybe twenty-five all at the same stop. Hitoshi squeezed into a seat at the very back, tried to look inconspicuous, and worried. He saw one girl who looked a lot like Ruri-chan, but it wasn't her and at least that was a relief. They didn't speak, even when pressed together intimately in the overloaded bus, and they ignored him.

When the bus crossed the invisible line into the business district and stopped in front of a tall office building, Hitoshi didn't see or hear any signal but they all seemed to know it was their stop. They poured out onto the sidewalk, which was crowded with office workers heading for their jobs, and they began systematically accosting passers-by. They mostly seemed to be aiming for men, but plenty of women got drawn into the fray as well.

Two or three girls would grab each victim, beat him until he lay still (which usually only took a few moments), and then grab the next. It looked like a dance or a martial-arts form, but it wasn't baritsu or anything else Hitoshi recognized.

The girls were quiet and disciplined. Everybody else, of course, started screaming and running. The bus waited a minute and a half with its doors open because this stop was a timing point and it had to depart at exactly 8:34, but even so nobody managed to get on. Hitoshi and the homeless guy watched out the back window as the bus pulled away. An empty circle was growing around the bus stop as everyone who could flee on foot did so, and the girls took care of whoever couldn't.

Two stops later he saw that the same thing was already in progress there, and the robot must have gotten some kind of emergency orders because the bus slowed down but did not stop or open its doors. They passed through an intersection where the lights were out of service, and looking out the window he could see that a block down on the left, the street was filled by a sailor-suited crowd. The bus kept moving. They were out in the suburbs before it finally stopped to let off its two passengers, and on the other side of the street they could see more sailor suits waiting to take the same bus route in the opposite direction, into the city to join the riots.

Miura Hitoshi and the homeless guy looked at each other, tried to exchange views on what the Hell was up with all that, discovered they spoke no languages in common, shrugged, and started walking. The old-time thunder gods exchanged grumbling for action, and began pouring heavy rain on them.