Shining Path


Chapter 4

Shouwa 19 was the year that Ichinoe Collegiate finally integrated. They didn't want to do it. The board was forced into the decision by new tax rules handed down from the recently-elected Social Conservative Government. Matoike Ichiro showed up at a couple of board meetings to object, and he was tolerated even though he had no actual right to be there, because almost half the board agreed with him anyway. It was better to have an irate parent be the one stating the case, to maintain plausible deniability should the anti-integration position become less popular later.

But the decision was a foregone conclusion; there just were not enough concerned fathers willing to fork over additional tuition fees to buy out the government's so-called "social improvement levy"; the school couldn't afford not to integrate. The board tried to console themselves, and Mr. Matoike, with a series of new policies thoughtfully designed to make the process as expensive and humiliating as possible for any animators who might dare attempting to enroll their creations, but when classes began on 4-day 4-month, eleven seru were on the register, fully three percent of the school's student body. And worst of all, though of course he did not find out about this until much later, Matoike Ichiro's daughter Kumi appointed herself as missionary to befriend every one of the eleven.

She started small, literally, approaching the new seru first-years. They were confused and vulnerable as any first-year students would be, on top of the added stigma that they looked and talked funny by their human classmates' standards, so it was easy to gain their trust with a little kindness. She loaned out her handkerchiefs; shared her lunch treats; pointed out the way to the nurse's office, the cafeteria, the girls' restrooms – and gave helpful advice on which one of those to avoid if you didn't want to face the half-dozen twelfth-grade nekomimi who gathered there to smoke catnip every lunch hour because they thought it was cool, never mind that it would have no effect on their human brains, if any.

Matoike Kumi had not won any popularity contests among her human classmates in her previous two years at Ichinoe Collegiate, but once she had the confidence of the little brothers and sisters she was well-placed to play the big shot and pursue friendship with the older seru students. A week into the school year the lunch-table groups solidified. The ten seru (one first-year was sickly and seldom attended school, making one wonder why they'd bothered to enroll her) were relegated to a couple of tables in the Southeast corner; and Kumi had her place at one of those tables, as the only human.

She took her uniform skirt down to the chemistry lab and convinced a nerd to soak it in a concoction of cellulose acetate and dichloromethane. That clogged the buttons on the smart-fiber controller, for which there would be Hell to pay with her parents later, but it gave the fabric the true animated look. The transformed garment flipped and slithered around her bottom as she walked, impossibly short, yet by the laws of seru physics, it invariably concealed her underwear from even the most exploitative camera angles. She was pleasantly conscious that it turned more than a few guys' heads.

It was entirely natural, then, that when Nomura Aimi and Watanabe Rika (Ai-chan and Rii-chan, to their human friend) said on 15-day that they were going to the mall after school – the seru mall, in the Quarter – Matoike Kumi invited herself along. Like most people who are good-hearted and a little stupid, she took it for granted that she was welcome anywhere.

The three girls picked their way daintily through the mushed-up imitation sakura that lined the sidewalks of the Quarter, from the subway station past the SDL mission, past the two cops at the door, and into the mall. The air was slippery with siloxanes and toluene. It had the smell that someone old enough to remember new cars would have associated with those. Matoike Kumi was not, but the smell excited her anyway. Her companions didn't even notice it – their thoughts and their talk were of clothing, television, and of course boys. Aimi led the way through two clothing stores, a shaved-ice kiosk, and another establishment that had pretentions of street culture but was really another clothing store. None of them bought anything except the shaved ice; they didn't have money for it. Rika wanted to spar for a while in the gym, but Kumi and Aimi were non-members and it would be totally boring to waste time signing up, or to split the group; so that could wait for another day.

At the corner of the food court, just outside the cleaning robots' alcove, somebody said "Hey now dog."; and Watanabe Rika cursed quietly, but loudly enough for the others to hear, and said "It's Ken'ichirou." Her ex.

Yanagi Ken'ichirou was a tall thin phthalate boy who squirmed slowly to keep his clothing in order even when standing in one place. He was a bit drunk at the moment, surrounded by a group of his loyal friends, and they were a rough crowd. He was cute; that was about all one could say for him. Ken-kun did not represent one of Rika's better experiments in her ongoing pursuit of romantic satisfaction. She'd only dated him for a couple of weeks during the vacation anyway, but some people totally would not let a thing like that drop after it was over.

"Hey now it's little Rii-chan" (and the lady so addressed bit back a snarl at the familiarity) "out for a little fun in the evening now have you found a new dog yet dog?"

"Good evening. Yanagi-san."

"Oh, so cold now dog you need to warm up we can help you with that–"

One of the 722s giggled. "Yeah."

"I'm warm enough, thank you."

"Somebody owes me something – hey now you recruiting to replace now maybe pay me back dog for what you take away?"

Ken'ichirou turned to examine first Aimi and then Kumi from heels to head. Kumi could almost feel his stare traveling up the curves of her body – oddly, the phthalate boy seemed not to have even noticed yet that she was human – but of course, that was an unworthy thought, there was no reason he should notice anything.

"Yeah now, that's it, I like." He half-closed his large eyes and continued to wiggle as if dancing to music only he could hear. "Somebody oh-oh-owes me something," he crooned. Maybe that statement meant more to him and to Rika than it did to the others.

"Like Hell I owe you anything! I'm out of here. Privileged jerk." Rika spun around and marched into the gym, forgetting her friends in her anger. The AI scanned her skirt, recognized her membership, and buzzed her through. She was out of their sight within moments.

"Hey how rude now I wonder what crawled up her pantsu," the tall boy said. "Hey how about you honey have any loving for Ken'ichirou dog?"

"I have to go," said Matoike Kumi.

"Hey maybe we get to know each other better."

"No, I have to go."

"Now I wasn't asking you a question dog."

Kumi looked and realized that Ai-chan had already gone too, and the rest of Ken'ichirou's group had systematically moved to surround her. She was standing alone in the middle of five seru boys and three seru girls, none of whom she knew, and they all looked hostile.

"Hey now what a one like you doing here in the Quarter anyway, you're a far-from-home girl maybe a slumming dog maybe want to see some fun you can't buy in a mall now–"

One of the girls behind her grabbed both of Kumi's wrists and bent them to cross behind her back. The girl had a grip like a zip-tie. A short boy, with greenish skin and pointed ears, knelt beside Kumi to lift her skirt and examine her legs and underwear. Matoike Kumi started to think about kicking him in the face, but he grabbed her ankle and lifted it up as if shoeing a horse. She couldn't move without losing her balance. The boy slid the long fingers of his other hand up her calf.

"Just a little bit of hair, real organic hair – hey now Ken you ever have an organic girl?"

One of the 722s said, "I don't like her," and as if to confirm it, came up and pushed her face too close to Kumi's, glaring ferociously. The nonpolar-solvent smell of her cosmetics was overpowering. "Hey you bitch look at me, bitch" – grabbing the human by the chin and turning her head so they were nose to nose – "think you can come down here like your Daddy owns the place and make trouble for me and my sisters giving the guys ideas and spending all that organic money you never had to do anything for – think I'm your poodle or something – think you ought to learn what it's like–" She let go of Kumi, turned on her heel and said to Ken'ichirou "I say you teach her what it's like, dethyo. Little bitch."

The tall seru boy chuckled. "Hey now let's not be too nasty – too soon."