Shining Path


Chapter 42

It is 9:12.

The original smoke screen is almost completely gone now, perceptible only to heightened joneko senses. There is nonetheless plenty of smoke in the air, because the humanoid queen who calls herself Kamioka Hanako has raided the stockpile of students' confiscated personal effects, and found a cigarette lighter. Mew, she has applied the cigarette lighter to all the loose papers she could find and some of the office furniture on the first floor, and a column of dark gray smoke is coming from one of the broken windows on that level and slowly rising to pool against the thermal inversion a hundred meters above.

The column of dark gray smoke smells bad, like burning seru flesh, because the paper and furniture are made of similar materials to seru. It is the closest that one can do to burning the fireproof building, and the humanoid queen responsible says to a passing member of Platoon Penguin that she hopes her Daddy will be satisfied by it. The other one does not understand, and ignores the comment.

Three fence posts have been cut down to make an escape route, but only a few of the ones who were Shining Path students have used it and followed their own run plans into the woods. An organic kitten identifying himself as Tuwelf Tuwelf Level Seven, almost a joneko name already, has seen it in the best interest of his circle to devise a safer option. He apparently believes that this morning's events are an educational exercise somewhat like a fire drill; that the school management actually remain in control of the situation and all his fellow students remain sincerely committed to following the Shining Path; and that he will earn points by showing leadership. Mew, he is mentally ill, but his idea is a good one. His idea is to hotwire the vehicles in the parking lot and use those to depart the scene.

When it is apparent that no humanoid here knows how to hotwire a chemo-biometric vehicle ignition lock, mew, and of course these ones do not ask joneko for help, that one has another idea: to threaten the captured school employees with violence to obtain their scents. Mew, that idea is delicious too, if hard to reconcile with the kitten's apparent desire to cooperate with school management. Perhaps he knows, or thinks he knows, something about his Level Seven duties that he does not reveal. At this time about half of the ones who were students have already left, packed as many as will fit in each car and van. It is not clear where they think they are going; mew, and although there were promises of coming back to pick up the rest, it is foolish to expect fulfillment of such.

Of the remaining ones who were students, some seem intent on joining the attackers in destroying as much infrastructure as possible; but there really remains very little to do in that line. Some attempt to earn honor through violence against the captive teachers, cops, and other employees – but for the most part, discipline has been maintained and the prisoners who have survived to this point are more or less safe. Most students of Level Six and above are under guard themselves, but a few have taken the path of the one Tuwelf Tuwelf Level Seven in doing their best to make the situation safer. They give first aid to those who need it, listening to but not fully trusting the instructions of the nurse, since that one's cooperation may be suspect. Mew, some former students use their new freedom to find private spaces and enjoy pleasures long held back from them – mostly in pairs, but not only boy-girl pairs.

Over near the break in the fence, a humanoid kitten – the only seru humanoid visible – seems unlikely to become half of such a couple. He is arguing with a young organic queen whose skirt identifies her as Niner Siks Wun, Level Five. That is, the kitten is trying to argue, while the queen calmly but firmly puts him off. There is a brief lull in the other noise and pointed ears can just catch a few of their words.

"Please, you've got to remember me–"

"I'm sorry, sir."

Joneko passing the pair can discern the young queen's scent – three-dimensional and animal. That one is sexually active but otherwise in poor health. She has been through a lot in the last few weeks. However, other ones have been through worse in the last few minutes; and Niner Siks Wun has a blissful, distant stare on her face despite the destruction all around her.

Fourteenth Queen has had the chance to read some news reports and speak on the phone to her daughters downtown. Fourteenth Queen knows that right now most of the heavier police hardware, helicopters and force-projection trucks, is ambushed in or above the woods, midway between the city and the Shining Path Academy, unable to easily move in any direction. Only a few cruisers made it through the roadblock and are now approaching at the highest speed they can safely take the mountain roads.

Down in the city, the authorities are probably calling out the traffic cops and military reserves by now, but mew, several surprises remain in store for those ones. Fourteenth Queen is pleased with the progress of both sides of her plan. Her ally is not seeing the bigger picture, and seems less pleased. The joneko asks that one what is wrong. Did she not get what she wanted, mew? Is it just that the drugs are wearing off?

"It's all gone wrong, Fourteenth Queen. I've killed people now. And I've killed cops. It's okay for you, you and your people can just run off into the woods – all joneko look alike – but the humans aren't going to just let me do that. And the insurance will probably fix this place up and nothing will really change."

The joneko leader asks the humanoid leader what her tattoo means.

"That doesn't matter anymore."

They both watch the line of flashing lights snake up the mountainside toward them. The sirens still are not quite audible yet, at least not to the humanoid. Overhead an airship emerges from the clouds – too low to be network, it is probably police or media – but only the joneko notices that. She asks who will wear the number "four."

"Nobody, I guess. It's death – we've failed. I've failed. Now I guess I turn myself in, take as much of the blame as I can. I know stuff, I can say it was a yakuza thing and cut a deal – let them make an 'example' of me, and maybe the others go free. My life was over anyway, it ended three years ago. This is the honorable thing to do."

Fourteenth Queen asks the humanoid whether she wants honor, or to win.

Third Bitch chooses her path – and her daughters follow, shining.