Shining Path


Chapter 39

R. Jefferson Miyaki, age 52, had grandparents from Okinawa, with all that implies. He retired early from the Air Force in the post-Deconstruction downsizing, before he got his job with WCI as chief of the Tsubasa Building security team. He still thought of himself as an eagle, even if his bureaucrat bosses kept his wings clipped. He had an office on the sixth floor of the Tsubasa Building, but he preferred to spend most of his time in a makeshift command center on the fourth. It was one of three mechanical floors (along with numbers 13 and 33), so the elevator didn't stop there, and you had to go up to the fifth and then walk down on the stairs. Very few humans ever did that, so apart from the cleaning robots, Mr. Miyaki usually had the whole floor to himself.

He had claimed a room with a transparent wall that looked down into the multi-level open space of the main lobby, and he would perch up there in the dark from seven every morning until whenever he felt like going home, which was usually around eight at night. He watched the people and seru like mice below and listened to the WCI Security radio channel. Occasionally he would go on the radio himself to give orders, and if necessary he could go back to his office and use the computer to do more complicated things, but Jefferson Miyaki had well-trained subordinates who could usually handle any situation themselves. Even if he was technically a civilian now (and that was only a technicality, as far as he was concerned), his job remained very much like fighting a war: long stretches of boredom with nothing to do, punctuated by breaks of balls-out panic. It was those interruptions that kept him employed, and indeed, they were what he lived for.

Miyaki did not know that the joneko royal complex was located on the fourth basement level of this very building – where even the service elevators didn't stop, supposedly for numerological reasons. The joneko had claimed some space for their own purposes much as he had done; but they had also kept it hidden from building security, whereas Jefferson Miyaki was building security.

The morning of 17-day started uneventfully, but then, they all do. Miyaki sat in his aerie listening to the radio chatter, and swirling and occasionally sipping from a large bulbous glass of what looked, and almost tasted, like red wine. It was actually an alcohol-free synthetic, because he was in uniform.

Around 7:45 he saw something that did not belong in a well-secured office building. Half a dozen office ladies had just arrived early, in a group, presenting what were presumably perfectly valid chemo-bio scents to the nose at the door, and there was nothing wrong with that, but then a gray and white joneko slipped in right behind them, before the safety-conscious machine would close the door. She was wearing, of all things, polyvinyl chloride boots and a three-cornered hat like some pirate from an anime series. The office ladies probably were not even aware of that one's existence, but Mr. Miyaki watched carefully as the gray-and-white stalked around the lobby. She looked like she was securing it, just as one of his own guards might.

When she seemed to be satisfied, she went and did something to the door computer – which was not under WCI Security's direct control, and he had complained about that to the bureaucrats many times before now, and this was exactly why – and the door opened to admit 22 more joneko from the street outside. They took up positions all around the lobby, sitting alert all in the same pose, mostly near the front main and side emergency doors. It was not easy to read the body language from three floors above, but Jefferson Miyaki had sharp eyes and a keen brain, and he recognized that this group was as disciplined as joneko ever get. They sure looked like they were waiting for something. He spotted thin spray canisters on their tool belts, much like the ones some of his own officers carried, and correctly guessed that those were weapons.

If someone had asked Miyaki what he thought of joneko in general, he might have spoken favorably of their predatory instinct, which he respected; but there were limits to his respect for any seru, or even humans that he thought of as beneath him. He certainly did not spend any time thinking about just why a group of joneko might be in the lobby of his building, apparently preparing seriously to hold their position. He did not speculate about what they might be defending, or from what. If someone told him a story about rival factions disagreeing on the strategy for facing a common enemy, and one faction hoping to both protect shared assets against unpredictable allies, and seize power while another faction was otherwise occupied, then he might have been interested in the tactical aspects. But he would have dismissed the civilian, political narrative; and nobody ever did tell him the story anyway.

Jefferson Miyaki only saw a group of intruders. He counted them, evaluated their deployment, and he reached for the button that would patch his radio into the lobby public address speakers. He ordered the crowd to disperse, and when they did not even flick their ears to the source of the sound, he wondered if they understood his language.

But then the radio crackled, and someone broke into the channel. None of the ones below could be seen using radio equipment, but whoever was breaking in claimed credibly to speak for them, and the mere fact of being able to break into the secured channel was a demonstration of more than ordinary skill.

Speaking through their representative, the joneko claimed to be ancient, mew; they claimed their presence was justified, mew mew; they even claimed to be acting in the best interests of WCI Security, which was a bit of a puzzler. Would he not accept kindly help? No, they had to go, and he didn't even reply to the voice on the radio.

He thought of the human security detail, who at this point should be standing by in their ready room on the first basement level. But he didn't want to dignify the intruders with such treatment; and he hesitated to use the radio, given that it had just been compromised. Instead he sent a couple of text messages to the maintenance computer. He trusted his phone to be rather more secure.

Half a dozen cleaning robots descended on wires at the back of the lobby, spun up their rotary brooms, and began advancing on the feline crowd with their primitive voice synths buzzing "Move along! Scat, scram! Skidoo!"

Mr. Miyaki watched with interest from high above the lobby. Setting up that stored trigger, a couple years ago, had required not only delicate negotiations with the cleaning-robot contractors, but also some tricky computer programming. He was pleased to see that it was still in the system and worked just as planned. All 23 Justified Ancients of Mewmew exited the building and vanished into the crowd on the street. But in the interest of remaining well-prepared for the unexpected, Miyaki phoned down to the security patrol to come up from the basement and stand watch in the lobby for a while. If nothing else, their presence might deter any joneko who might entertain thoughts of sneaking back into the building.

Jefferson Miyaki would soon regret his decision to kick out the JAMs, as the fifty or so humanoid girls they had been holding back saw the opening and occupied the lobby almost immediately after the last joneko exited. They sacked the robot receptionist – literally, pulling an aramid bag over its torso. The robot struggled until it blew out its motors and was still. The security detail got off the elevator in time to see that, and acting without direct orders on their standing rules of engagement, they rushed forward to defend client property.

Suzuki was first to reach the group of girls because he was the only security guard not wearing high heels. One of the intruders seized his necktie and said something that he in his neosteroid-altered battle madness interpreted as what he would call "flirty." He had no chance to respond, because she immediately set about strangling him with the tie. His last thought before the lights went out was the realization that being choked by a hot chick, like they say in the public service announcements, really worked after all, but wasn't worth it. When Mayumi and Tomoko made it to the front line a few seconds behind him, they did a little better because they were less distracted by the girls. Fujimoto Mayumi actually knocked one down with her baton before they overwhelmed her; but it didn't take long before all three guards were on the floor, restrained in their own handcuffs, and the intruders were on their way to the elevator stack.

Hamada Chihiro, the team leader and only guard carrying a firearm, should have helped the others defend themselves. Instead she held her drawn weapon unsafely in her left hand and fumbled with the right at the control buttons on the waistband of her smart-fiber WCI Security miniskirt. The light-blue fabric shimmered and went plaid, and she fired two warning shots at the polycarbonate "glass" ceiling of the lobby before joining in the screaming rush to the elevators, to take back what was hers.

Years of daily calisthenics had kept Jefferson Miyaki in action hero condition despite his age. He was off his perch and headed for the stairwell even as Hamada Chihiro's superplastic bullets splashed harmlessly on the lobby ceiling. He only spared a fraction of a thought at the back of his mind to wonder what the Hell had gotten into Hamada-kun; at this point, that wasn't really important. Long before the elevators full of intruders could reach their destinations, he was in his office issuing commands through the computer. The elevators would stop between floors, those inside should be delayed at least twenty minutes, and everyone else would have to use the stairs.

Mr. Miyaki's first thought was to just get rid of the elevators full of girls, somehow, with as little disturbance to his clients throughout the building as possible. But they were already the second wave of terrorists, counting the joneko as the first – and if there were two waves, there could be any number. He checked the outside security cameras and saw hints of a third wave forming in the crowd of fighting commuters and schoolgirls. He was forced and delighted to conclude that the Tsubasa Building would soon be under full-scale siege. He issued the order to close the elevator-shaft blast doors at the 13th and 33rd floors; not the fourth, because some of the intruders were already above that level and he didn't want to impede his own movement.

The blast doors were a legacy of post-Deconstruction architecture, when people started to really think rationally about terrorism. Just by closing them, Mr. Miyaki had separated the building into three independent zones all isolated from each other and each with its own utilities. His clients above the 33rd, or between there and the 13th, might be inconvenienced by being unable to leave, but they could continue doing business more or less as usual, even if all Hell broke loose down below. Short of a kaiju attack collapsing the entire building, of course.

But what about persons trapped below the 13th, with the intruders ready to burst out like anime space aliens at any moment, and more forming ranks outside? He weighed his options. The lower floors were only lightly populated at this hour. Most of them were full of chain restaurants and such, that wouldn't open until later. There were elevated walkways to other buildings at the third and fifth floors, and those are notoriously hard to secure, with members of the general public wandering in and out all the time for stupid reasons. It was a miracle none of the girls had come in that way yet, and only a matter of time before they tried it. No, he couldn't defend the lower floors properly while keeping the legitimate tenants in business.

Nothing for it; even though he knew there would be Hell to pay with the bean counters for the interruption of business, Miyaki gave the command for a fire drill on floors one through twelve. The fire doors on the walkways would close and lock; everyone would head for the lobby; the loyal members of the security detail would be out of their handcuffs by then and could keep an eye on the civilians; and he could hunt down the intruders personally, once all the innocents were out of the way. After that he could think about getting everyone settled in for a longer-term siege.

Mr. Miyaki chuckled and fingered his weapon. It was loaded, illegally, with real lead bullets.