Shining Path


Chapter 40

Kamioka Hanako lined up her dogs in the parking lot and tried to get them to stand still long enough to count. They were all busy enough with that not to notice when the bus driver fired up his engine, because it was a silent turbine, but they certainly noticed when he threw the bus into gear and drove off down the hill at high speed. Someone in the pink column panicked at that, maybe a drug freak-out over finally realizing they were committed, and Hanako had to calm them all down again – honestly, it was like herding cats – and speaking of which, just as she was quieting her own people, she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye, looked around, and realized there were a couple dozen joneko with them in the parking lot. Those wouldn't stand still for long, and there wasn't much else to do before unleashing the dogs anyway; she had a premonition that she was forgetting something important and making a terrible mistake, but she swallowed it down and sent the text message. It was 6:24 in the morning.

Just over the tops of the trees up the hill, they saw some puffs of smoke that quickly grew to clouds and settled down into the forest. The joneko had started firing smoke composition into the air above the Shining Path building, but it would be a few minutes yet before the smoke became thick enough to be useful. The smoke stuff was a cheap mixture of byproducts purchased from a Chinese factory that would normally make packaging for snack foods. It mostly consisted of crude terephthalic acid, mixed with flakes of metalized PET film; reasonably harmless to people and seru while blocking enough visible, IR, and terahertz radiation to give the cops and their robots something to think about.

Down in the parking lot, one of the Penguins produced a case-lot of Gothic Lolita lip glosses and handed them out, telling everyone to paint black counterchange patterns on their faces to defeat AI identification. It was her own initiative; she had seen it done in a movie once. Nice idea dethyo, but it quickly degenerated into gang signs and fake tattoos, with enough creative detail that they probably would help instead of hinder any computer watching the proceedings.

It felt like there should have been some big important moment when Hanako gave to order to start the attack, but there wasn't; she just said, "Okay, come on," and they started up the trail to the main building. Halfway there they started to notice the smoke screen, and by the time they reached the top, they could only see a few meters in any direction. When they hit the fence, with its covering of filmy RF shield, they had to spread out and search on either side until they found the gate.

They argued about whether to attempt opening the gate, or just cut down the posts to bring the whole fence collapsing down. Then someone tried the gate and discovered it was unlocked, and that settled the question for the moment. They streamed in – only to be met by a volley of painballs from the automated guns, which were working a lot better in the smoke than expected. Several of the leading girls took hits, fell, and lay writhing until the effects wore off. But at least the smoke had disabled the cameras well enough that the guns couldn't get a good lock and score multiple hits on any one target.

The attackers fell back, regrouped, and then sent joneko to climb the walls and disable the guns while the rest of Platoon Kitty milled around drawing fire until the operation was complete. Now they only had to deal with the cops, who would surely have raised some kind of alarm and would emerge from the building within a few minutes. They surrounded the school, took up positions next to the fire doors, and waited.

Kamioka Hanako led Platoon Penguin to the main entrance with only a little difficulty in the thick smoke, and tried to break in. The door was locked. Her high-tech vibrating glass bayonet went through the soft brass faceplate of the lock as if that were butter – and then stopped dead on the hardened steel parts inside, spraying powdered glass everywhere. In less than a minute it was worn down to a nub and she had to toss it away and commandeer someone else's weapon. But a few solid electric shocks applied to the chemo-bio nose controlling the lock, combined with some enthusiastic kicks and shoulder checks applied to the door itself, finally shook things up enough that they were able to get in. Someone started yelling, and the Penguins poured into the building through the main door just as the cops were pouring out through all the others.

Inside looked like the inside of any office building, let's say the Tsubasa Building downtown. The dogs weren't organized, but they didn't need to be. Everyone knew the basic plan: cut down wireless antennas, break security cameras, immobilize any staff members; and that was easy with nearly all the cops out in the yard. At this hour only a few employees other than cops were even in the building; normally teachers would arrive just before their classes, janitors wouldn't come around until the late evening, and escorts would only show up at all if there were students arriving or leaving. The road block would keep all those out.

This was a Tuesday, so the nurse was due to be on-site, and she had arrived early. She put up a good fight with baritsu, autoinjectors full of God-knew-what, and different items of medical restraint equipment that a school this size probably shouldn't have had in its infirmary at all. By the time they took her down, one girl was collapsed on the floor in a drug-induced coma, four more were bruised, and another would have been well-advised to consult a doctor carefully before ever becoming pregnant in the future. But they did take the nurse down, and dragged her trussed in her own bandages to the main office, where they were gathering the other employees.

In the yard surrounding the school, Platoon Kitty was not faring so well because of a basic planning mistake. They were armed with melee weapons, and the cops had painball rifles. A cop could take down a schoolgirl as soon as she got close enough for him to clearly see the "absolute zone" between the top of her stockings and bottom of her skirt, that being the largest vulnerable target. Even with the smoke screen, painball range was much greater than hand-massager range. However, the threat of attackers sneaking up behind did mean that the cops were pinned with their backs to the walls; and they only carried limited ammunition; and Platoon Kitty also had joneko, who were practically immune to painballs; so the contest was not completely unbalanced. At the very least, they were able to keep the cops busy – and someone on the inside had thought of running around jamming the fire doors shut, so even if Kitty fell, the cops would all have to find the main entrance in the smoke and funnel through that before they'd get back inside.

Before the cops could start that, Hanako and the Penguins had gained almost full control of the first floor. They were in good spirits. Several had taken trophies. Kobayashi Hitomi was wearing a pink nurse's cap and had reprogrammed her skirt to red and white candy stripes to go with it. Nakamura Keiko had swapped her "young lady's hand massager" for one of the cops' painball rifles because it looked badass and she'd always wanted one. Now she was desperately trying to figure out how to fire it without looking like she didn't already know.

Their leader left three in the office to guard the captives, and assembled the rest at the bottom of the stairs – right next to the only door they had not yet managed to open. It was almost certainly the door to the cops' control room, with one or two cops in there watching the events on video and wondering what to do. Someone said something about getting a desk from one of the offices to use as a battering ram.

But the Penguins had already disabled all the indoor cameras on the first floor, and the Kitties most of the outdoor painball guns. All the cops in that room could do would be to phone for help; unlock the door and face Platoon Penguin head-on; or break a window and face Platoon Kitty. Kamioka Hanako was not too worried about any of those possibilities, so she gave the order for two Penguins to wait at the door just in case, and led the rest up the stairs. She wanted to get to the students as quickly as possible. Nobody afterward would admit to being the one who pulled the fire alarm handle as they passed it on the way up.

Siks Fower Ait Level Five woke to the sound of the fire alarm. He had been dreaming, and it took him several seconds lying in his bunk with the noise drowning out all coherent thought, before he even remembered where he was. Then he started getting shocked through his wristband, and he remembered it all, but that didn't help him know what to do. Was it a fire drill? It sure sounded like one. He thought that for sure Tree Tree Wun Level Seven would show up to lead the circle outside, and he waited for that.

The door opened, but it wasn't Tree Tree Wun. There entered what Siks Fower Ait perceived as an all-girl heavy metal band. They certainly sounded like one, and they had tears of boiling pitch running down their cheeks like the Children of Zalgo. He naturally formed the only reasonable conclusion, given that he'd been from a Christian family before he came here and lost his salvation: he had died, in his sleep, and had been sent to Hell. He wet the bed.

Niner Oh Fower Level Six was made of sterner stuff, and didn't wait for instructions from his circle leader. He hopped out of his bunk, went to the door, felt it carefully to make sure there wasn't a fire on the other side, and feeling it cold, he cautiously opened it and looked outside. The emergency lighting in the hall had switched on with the fire alarm, so he got a clear view of the scene in the hall: women in foreign military uniform systematically opening the bedroom doors all down the hallway, obviously bent on mayhem. He didn't know who they were or what they were doing, but there wasn't time to wonder; the main thing was to protect his comrades. He slammed the door, started giving orders to his circle-mates, and in less than a minute they were pulling the mattresses off the bunks and pushing the frames against the door to barricade themselves in.

One other circle had enough quick thinkers in it to build a barricade in time, but the others were too surprised and disorganized to get that far. The AI was confused enough by this time that it was shocking everyone indiscriminately, and most of the students decided it was malfunctioning, and wasted precious seconds removing their wristbands. Only the Level Sevens and Eights had the self-control to defer to the machine's judgment and leave their bands on; and they, in turn, were distracted enough by the pain that they could not defend themselves effectively. Besides, the students were at best armed with pillows, and no match for the intruders.

Doors were banging open all up and down the halls, the fire alarm was going off at eardrum-piercing volume, and under that someone could be heard yelling something along the lines of "Come on come on get up get out it's over you're free come on get up–" but it could just as well have been the daily commodity prices or the Unicode private-use supplement table for all it meant anything to anybody. Kamioka Hanako and her pack of dogs hauled most of the students out of their beds into the hall, still in pajamas, and tried to shove them in the direction of the stairs. Most went more or less quietly; they didn't know what was happening, but they also didn't know what else to do.

And so when the cops finally got past Platoon Kitty and back into the building, they found themselves wading through nearly three quarters of the Shining Path student body. They weren't authorized to use force against students without permission from the AI; but the students were under no such limitation. Seven Fife Too Level Four found himself face to face with a cop he thought he recognized, the same one (not really, but this is what he thought) who had put him in the box for romantic encouragement of Ait Tree Too Level Two just a few days earlier. He threw a punch, and when he received no answering shock because he had removed his wristband a few minutes before, he threw another. Then the rules of engagement were off for the cops, and they fought back, but it was too late. Between Platoon Kitty on the outside, Platoon Penguin coming down the stairs, and the student body all around suddenly militant and aggressive, the cops did not stand a chance.

Kamioka Hanako was at the door of the storeroom, with two of her dogs, and they were distributing polyethylene zipper bags of students' confiscated personal effects to what she hoped were the correct owners. She tried to ask each student his or her name and match those to the names on the bags, but the bags were stored in AI hash sequence – neither by student number nor name – and a lot of students didn't remember their own names, especially at the higher Levels – and amid the general clamor it was hard to make sure people got their own things instead of someone else's. It would probably all be close enough anyway. One of the Penguins showed up and demanded attention, yelling through the crowd and gesticulating but it wasn't clear what she wanted. But it seemed like it might be important, so Kamioka Hanako followed her.

It was the cops' control room, which had been opened by now. Hanako took in the scene: a cop on the floor, face down, gaping neck wound with a couple vertebrae exposed, large pool of blood, Persian joneko crouched pawing at the body. Her circulatory system managed to overcome the propranolol briefly, spiking her blood pressure well into the stroke-inducing range, and she yelled, "Damn cats! I said no deaths!" The joneko didn't even look up.

Then the drugs took hold again and the human saw through her anger that the joneko had blood on her paws but not her mouth, and there was another human girl in the room too, standing nearby with a bloody hand massager, bayonet fixed on that and vacant grin fixed on her face. Okay, maybe the first impression was wrong. No time to point fingers. She grabbed the bloody weapon, dropped her own in the puddle of blood, barked "Clean up!" at the Persian, and ran out into the hall again. Only after she exited the room did she become even partly conscious of why she wanted her own fingerprints to be on everything the police might later determine to be a murder weapon. It was something about honor, and starfish, but there was no time to think further about that right now.

The hallway was knee-deep in students milling around, and they slowed Kamioka Hanako down for long enough that she remembered something else she'd seen in the control room, something very important that she'd seen in her imagination many times before. She turned around and pushed through the crowd back into the control room again. Even though less than a minute had elapsed, the Persian had already dragged the corpse to one side, found two mops and a bucket somewhere, and was supervising a Penguin and a male Shining Path student as they cleaned up the blood. She mewed questioningly at Hanako, but got no response. The human was intent on the thing she had seen: two 19-inch racks of computer equipment communicating with the rest of the building, and the world, through a patch panel full of cables.

Hanako went to the panel and started pulling out cables, then she thought better, stopped, and looked for a camera. There was one in the corner near the ceiling and she turned to it and screamed, "Hey, how many points is this worth, ma'am? Am I almost ready to graduate?" and then it occurred to her that there might not be a microphone anywhere nearby, and she scanned the room and saw a keyboard on a shelf sticking out of one of the racks. She took a half step toward it, but then remembered that she did not, like actually, know how to type, and time was precious and the machine did not really need to hear any of her gloating anyway. She went back to pulling out the patch cables. There was a power cable too, at the bottom leading to a socket in the wall, but she left that alone. She wanted the AI to damn well feel every one of its connections break, feel what it was like to lose everything the way Too Fower Tree had lost everything. Yeah, let Shining Path get a little taste of blindness and alone-ness and losing its cleverly simulated mind right before the end – and now she had run out of patch cables to remove.

She looked at the racks. She didn't know which module was which, nor what function any of them performed, but destroying them all, one at a time, ought to be enough. She blinked at the shining Wing-FabAI logo painted on an otherwise-blank panel in the middle of the left rack, and she wondered how to even start actually doing it. Her fantasies had never really gotten into the details. She hefted her weapon, but the battery obviously wouldn't last long enough to cut through all of those machine faceplates.

There was a sound from the door. Kamioka Hanako looked and saw a black and white joneko standing there, with teeth bared and a paw full of security screwdrivers. She fanned them out, then rolled them around and between her fingers, showing off her dexterity.

The black-and-white entered the room and shoved the human aside, not unkindly. She went to work with her screwdrivers. She undid the hidden catches on the right-hand equipment rack and pulled out a disk server's case, flipped its lid, and in a few seconds more she had removed a boxy object that Hanako knew just enough to identify as a jelly drive. Then the black-and-white started undoing the weird star-headed screws that held the drive's outer cover in place, one at a time.

Of course, Hanako thought. You could tear as many wires as you wanted from a computer, pull out the boards and throw them around the room, and some computer person would be able to just plug the components back together because they were meant to be indestructible. But if you managed to open up one of those components outside the clean room where it was born, well, then you could shed your fur into the soft delicate parts all of the forged magnesium and proprietary fasteners were protecting. Just like some people penetrate ferrite and viscoelastics.

Kamioka Hanako stood watching for almost a minute as the joneko worked busily away. She was torn between her desire to participate in destroying the computer, even if only in a small way, and the certain knowledge that she had no actual ability to help and would only slow the black-and-white down. She didn't come all this way just to watch some furry opportunist take charge; but if she'd sworn that the AI would die, and it did, then who really cared which comrade had the honor? It was hard, but her drugs helped her. She turned, and left the room.