Shining Path


Chapter 7

The law office of Shimada Takashi shared a building with a couple of animation workshops, a laundry service, and the above-ground portion of a capsule hotel. Almost all of the building was in the Quarter, but the border cut across the Northeast corner in a funny way and the door to the law office was on that corner, so that Shimada's official address was technically not in the Quarter. He paid a little bit less tax as a result.

Shimada's main practice was of entertainment law, negotiating contracts between studios and the trusts that held rights for seru performers, and his location was more or less perfect for that. It was less than perfect if he had a mind to go out for lunch. The nearest restaurants serving food suitable for humans were several minutes' brisk walk away, far enough for it to be an obstacle to a middle-aged and sedentary human male.

Nevertheless, on 11-day 5-month Shoumei 18, he ventured out into the Spring sunlight to visit an American-style cafe for lunch. Having enjoyed the meal thoroughly and the walk back a little less so, he made his way back through the corridor and the front office, ignoring the secretary passed out behind the desk, and waved his hand under the chemo-bio nose on the inner door. The lock whirred and clicked, Shimada entered his own office, and he sat down and opened up the contract he'd been working on. The afternoon Sun slanted across the street outside his window, making an appealing pattern of light and shade against the hideous Early-Keika facade of the building across the street, which was a pachinko parlor with a graphics software company upstairs. In a dingy crawlspace under a convenience store a few blocks away, a little calico woke up with a need that could not wait.

In the outer office, Shimada's legal secretary, office manager, proofreader, receptionist, and occasional nurse and bodyguard snored peacefully. Her feet were planted wide apart on the floor, with the chair reclined back as far as it would go and her arms hanging loose on either side. She was allowed to sleep on the job because she could and would wake up in one thirtieth of a second if any situation arose requiring her attention; and also because Shimada Takashi would have been terrified to tell her not to. Right now she was dreaming of something small and helpless that squeaked when she stuck her claws into it.

The secretary did not have a name he could pronounce, of course, but the lawyer insisted that he had to be able to call her something, so he had made up the name "Takada" out of characters from his own, and she grudgingly allowed him to use it. It seemed he got a thrill from being able to say "Miss Takada, please step into my office," into the intercom every so often. Fine; we all have to be able to live up to our image of ourselves in at least some small way.

The joneko whom the silly humanoid called Miss Takada had a gray mackerel tabby coat and deep green eyes. She was older than she cared to think about, and looked it. Today she was wearing her usual work outfit – a knee-length gray woolen skirt just a little darker than her own gray parts; the obligatory joneko tool belt; and unfashionable wire-rimmed glasses held on by a purple cord. The pattern of black markings above her eyes gave her a permanent stern glare, even while she slept. Except for being two meters tall and covered in fur, she could have been any humanoid's maiden aunt the reference librarian. The end of her tail curled this way and that on the floor as her dream-victim squirmed in agony.

While the gray tabby slept, the humanoid, alone in his own office, poked through the contract clause by clause and the shadows on the building across the street marched gradually across the scene. The calico slunk out of her crawlspace and padded along the street on all fours, not even bothering to put on her tool belt. She had arrived in Tokyo on a slow train from Kanchouzawa two days before. It was her first time in the big city, and she liked it a lot. They didn't have buildings like these where she came from; and they didn't have men like these where she came from.

She had given no thought yet to any housing more suitable than the crawlspace nor any gainful employment at all, and right now she had something much more exciting to think about. She sniffed every lamp standard and scanned the buildings and the passing crowd looking for a good spot, yowling and mewing softly. She stopped right in front of Shimada's window, where he couldn't avoid seeing, at the mouth of an alley beside the pachinko parlor.

The last members of the lunch crowd were on their way back to their offices, mostly serious young men, both seru and organic, sweating in black suits. Some were drunk or pretending to be, because of lunching with clients and the alcohol consumption entailed by that. Few would be drunk by choice at this hour; but the calico didn't care about the reasons if it made them cooperative.

She wasted little time picking and choosing, but stopped a passing young seru salaryman with a plaintive mew, a wink, and a flick of her hips and tail. She enticed him to follow her into the alley, and did what was needful. He walked out of the alley two and a half minutes later looking slightly the worse for wear, and continued down the sidewalk, weaving a little. The calico emerged a few seconds after that, completely unsatisfied. Shimada Takashi had glanced up from his contract during the last moments of the transaction and hadn't immediately understood what he was seeing; but he watched as the calico selected her second partner, an older human gentleman rather resembling Shimada himself.

This one was less willing, but he had no real ability to resist. He was dragged protesting into the alley. The calico had to use her claws to keep him under control, then her fangs, and her tongue. She remained occupied with him rather longer than the first had required, and Shimada Takashi watched from his office with steadily mounting revulsion. He could not look away.

The young calico finished her business, her victim collapsed sobbing half-undressed on the dirty floor of the alley, and she returned to the sidewalk to solicit a third man without looking to see if the second was able to leave. She didn't even seem to care whether he had survived.

Shimada picked up the wired receiver of his old-fashioned intercom and said, "Miss Takada, there's a – well, it seems that, uh – look, just step into my office."

In the outer office, the gray tabby jumped straight up in the air at the sound of the intercom buzzer, landed on all fours and spun around in a full circle looking for threats even before her boss got through the first words of the request. Seeing no immediate danger she relaxed, stood like a humanoid, took a deep breath, straightened her skirt, and entered the inner office in her usual silent and dignified way. She mewed softly to keep Shimada from being startled, since he was facing the window. He glancing over his shoulder, and gestured irritably at the scene outside.

"Look at that. Just look at that!"

She looked. The Early-Keika pachinko parlor was indeed hideously ugly, but the humanoid had seen it thousands of times before without commenting, so presumably that was not what he meant. There was no sneaking away from it: he must be referring to the calico. The calico had dragged two more salarymen into the alley and was doing what a good girl doesn't. The very best girls, such ladies as Miss Takada, do not even talk or think about that. Some comment seemed to be expected, however, so the gray tabby carefully speculated that perhaps the calico had recently arrived from somewhere out in the woods, and had not yet learned how to behave in a city.

"Born in a barn, yes! I don't expect to see – well, men should be allowed to expect safety in this neighborhood, ne? Why do you people – oh, I mean not all joneko, of course, my dear, but why would anyone do a thing like that anyway?"

The gray tabby did not suppose that the male really expected a literal answer to his question, and he would not have understood the truth anyway. She settled for a low, noncommittal growl.

"Please, go – go just deal with it, Miss Takada. Move her along with a broom or something. Teach her some manners."

The secretary hesitated. She was quite sure that the local surveillance AIs had already picked up what was in progress across the street, and they would have issued a call-out to the robocops. She and her boss need not actually do anything; the police would see to it all. But at this time of day most of the robocops would be off-shift, and they would treat it as a low-priority incident anyway, on the theory that the men were behaving in such a way as to invite it. There might be twenty or thirty minutes before a pair of officers made it out here, and five or ten more before they removed the calico, and Mr. Shimada evidently could not wait that long. And he had said "please." She growled again, mildly annoyed. This was not really part of her job description, but she could not refuse.

The gray tabby mewed, turned, and left. She stopped in the corridor on her way out, unlocked the cleaning robot's closet, and kicked the machine inside until it relinquished its broom. Thus armed, Miss Takada walked out onto the sunlit street.

The little calico was just starting to get comfortable. These Tokyo men were generally stringy and weak compared to the ones back home in Iwate Prefecture, but at least they were plentiful, mew. She wanted to taste them all. The calico's concentration on her business was so deep that the gray tabby had to hiss several times, and poke her vigorously with the end of the broom, before she took notice. The tabby queen wondered if she should have brought a bucket of cold water instead.

The calico released her partner (who took the opportunity to escape), turned on the newcomer, and spread her lips wide, showing her teeth in what a humanoid might have taken for a smile – but the other joneko did not misunderstand. The calico said that she was busy, and that the gray tabby had better be prepared to explain the interruption. The gray tabby was.

Inside his office, Shimada Takashi watched his secretary deal with the intruder. He couldn't hear the actual words through the sapphire and aerogel, and they were probably not in his language anyway, but he knew that his employee was politely but firmly informing their visitor that the sidewalk in front of the office was subject to city regulations and ordinances regarding acceptable behavior, and that as such they required and insisted that she govern her conduct accordingly, or move along and vacate. It was fortunate, he thought, that he could count on Miss Takada to deal with such situations in a professional and dignified manner.

On the other side of the window, the queen told the kitten that she could either go turn her tricks on some other street, or have all six breasts severed with a rusty paper knife and forcefully inserted one by one below her tail in a professional and dignified manner with the aid of the broom handle to see if she liked it.

The calico flexed her claws, but affected friendliness. She had smelled the alley carefully before and thought it was available, but it was certainly possible that this one might actually be in the wrong, intruding on some city joneko's territory. It would be inadvisable to start shaking things up in the city when she had only just arrived. Besides, she was in no way satiated yet. She had no wish to waste time with a fight at this moment; but simply backing down and leaving to go elsewhere was of course out of the question.

She commented to the gray tabby that it was a lovely day, and there were plenty of men on the street. This afternoon it was practically raining men, mew. There was no cause for conflict among joneko, nor for wasting attention on prissy humanoid attitudes. One should not be square about this matter, nor lose touch with one's own nature; to live in frustration was idiocy, mew. If the gray tabby wished to join her, surely they could both use the alley without interference. She pointed out a fat bald seru businessman approaching. He looked soft and juicy; perhaps this one and the gray tabby could share him, in friendship? The gray tabby said that regrettably, that would not be possible. The calico said that she insisted.

The gray tabby queen removed her paper knife – not actually rusty – from the holster on her belt and offered to demonstrate its use. The calico kitten offered to have a go with the tabby's master and render him suitably tender for an octopus eater to chew.

Mr. Shimada's complacency was somewhat disrupted when he saw Miss Takada drop her knife, broom, and prissy humanoid attitude, and lunge at the younger joneko's throat. He had not been expecting anything of the kind, and was briefly disappointed at his employee's failure to maintain dignity and professionalism. He wondered what had provoked such an outburst, since things had seemed to be going so well theretofore.

The momentum of the leap carried both joneko into the darkness at the back of the alley, and Shimada couldn't see exactly what happened there, but it was fast and nasty, and he heard screams and yowls even through the sound-deadening aerogel of the window. After less than a minute the calico ran out of the alley and went crying down the street. The gray tabby queen emerged slowly, trying to salvage some shreds of her earlier professional dignity. She was favoring her left rear leg, her skirt was slit in a way that would have looked quite risqué on a humanoid, and there were notches, new and oozing pinkish fluid, on her ears. Shimada Takashi did not know enough to recognize it, but some of those notches went all the way through the t dimension and would be permanent reminders of this fight. But another joneko was the loser in the fight, and this one, the gray tabby queen whose master called her Miss Takada, was the winner, and maybe that was worth remembering permanently.

She walked heavily back into the building, pulled open the cleaning closet and threw in the broom. It would be up to the cleaning robot, or the contractors who operated it, to figure out how to reattach that; the gray tabby had already done her share of troubleshooting for the day. Entering the outer office, she saw that Shimada Takashi was standing waiting in the open doorway of his own office, waiting to greet her.

The joneko queen told the lawyer, with just a hint of smugness, that there was one calico kitten, at least, who would not be making trouble on this street again soon.

"Quite so." He seemed about to say something else, but held it inside; the only other thing he said was "Thank you, Miss Takada."

The joneko flicked one of her damaged ears, but said nothing, and the humanoid turned and closed the door of the inner office, presumably going back to his important work. Not exactly a royal welcome for the gray tabby queen, but maybe it was enough.

In the outer office, Miss Takada sat down and leaned forward onto her desk, resting her head on her arms as if to sleep that way; but her eyes remained open. She thought about kittens and men and dignity and professionalism. Then, she straightened up and opened a drawer of the desk. She took out a slim plastic thing like a makeup compact. She flipped it open. Instead of a mirror, the upper half contained a slip of paper printed with excruciatingly boring instructions, warnings, and legal disclaimers, which she had already memorized. The lower half featured a grid of small holes. There were seven columns of eight holes each, and the rightmost four were empty. The fifth column was empty except for a blob of soft pastel-blue plastic in the bottom-most hole. The sixth column contained eight more identical blue blobs. The last column was full of plastic blobs too, but they were white except for two pink ones at the bottom.

She clawed out the solitary plastic blob from the bottom of the fifth column, and held it out under the green shade of her desk lamp. A human might have thought it looked like a piece of candy, but one who tried to eat it would find it tasted horrible. The mixture of organic solvents, PVC oligomers, and thiirane derivatives of nekostroxide in the capsules would be moderately toxic to a human anyway. Miss Takada was not human.

Today was Friday. If she swallowed this blue capsule after work, and two more per day thereafter according to the instructions, then she would start the white ones on Wednesday, and take the pink ones morning and evening on Saturday, a week from tomorrow. That day was circled on her desk calendar. The same Saturday was also circled on the wall calendar in her studio apartment, and in the cabinet below the wall calendar she had some art books; an eight-pack of steel cans each labeled with a picture of an octopus hand-in-tentacle with a girl in a sailor suit; and next month's prescription ready to start on Sunday.

Miss Takada stared fascinated at the capsule as she turned it this way and that in the light of the lamp. It had a slightly iridescent sheen to it, microscopic imperfections in the surface breaking up the light as a human's fingernails do when viewed close up on a sunny day. Then Miss Takada flicked the capsule into the wastebasket. The clamshell package containing the others followed. She didn't even bother to snap it shut. She hopped up on the end of her desk, facing the inner door to Shimada Takashi's office, with her right leg dangling over the edge and her left knee raised to her mouth. She licked her knee, rubbed one of her hands over the back of her head, and looked at the door for a while.

She sat down in the swivel chair again, removed a tiny bottle from another desk drawer, and struggled for a moment with the tightly-stuck lid. It was far past its use-by date, and the contents were thick and sticky, nearly dried out – she made a mental note to buy a fresh bottle, later – but there was just enough liquid remaining for her to paint all her claws signal red before discarding the bottle. Then she took a nap.