Shining Path


Chapter 8

Kamioka Hanako lay where she had fallen until long after the van from Shining Path had passed out of sight. She was in an open area to one side of the narrow street, in a space formed by cutting a section out of a building to accommodate a pile of garbage bags, a vandalized kibble dispenser, and some other random bits of city machinery. In fact she was lying on top of some of the garbage from a burst bag. At least it was soft, and her uniform was already dirty and out of battery power, ruined anyway. She just lay breathing the thick city air until she realized, rather suddenly, that she could stand up.

During her time on the Shining Path – just two or three hours ago, but it felt much further away than that – Hanako had been a good girl, for the most part, and she had never made a plan to run before. She needed to do it now, though, before some of those horrors the cop had been talking about could catch up to her. Disinherited she would need to find a job somewhere, and that would mean finding something to sell that she could afford to give up without destroying herself. Not much came to mind.

She actually thought of Shoda Rurika's business, for a moment – but that's illegal for human girls, so it would be complicated. Any curiosity shop she walked into without a proper introduction would naturally assume she must be working for the police. After making the right approaches she might get a pretty good price, if she were ten years younger of course, just because she was human, and supply and demand applied; but even so nobody could live for long just on that. And she wasn't ten years younger, and she had no merchandise to sell right now and would have to work out some kind of deal to get some on consignment or whatever – which in turn would come with a price of its own. Even without that twisted cop's fantasy in the back of her mind, Hanako could imagine the downward spiral all too well.

But Kamioka Hanako was the descendant of warlords and crime lords, and the pride and the fury of her ancestors was written in every base pair of every chromosome in every cell of her abused body. The obedience, drugs, and biocontrol could never quite rub that out, not in someone who hadn't even started the program until age 19 and had never attained Level Five. The Shining Path had never really been designed for someone like her.

She was not religious even before her arrest, let alone now, but she steadied herself against the wall and muttered a prayer to her ancestors, skipping over the generation that had betrayed her, and then she squared her shoulders and walked out along the street. She had the beginnings of a plan. She was running.

If it were just a matter of doing something disgusting and immoral, like killing somebody, then there wouldn't even be a problem; the Shining Path AI had helped her past that in its Level Four tutoring. But her problem was money. Her money had been stolen away by a clause in a document, and the Kamioka ancestors whispered in her head ideas about what they did for problems with documents in her family. She went looking for a lawyer.

Most people on the streets of the Quarter avoided her and she them. It was still only late afternoon. Daytime workers would be going home soon, though she had no way of knowing just what time it was. Not many humans on the streets yet. Any who were probably assumed she was an undercover agent and wanted nothing to do with her. A seru beggar, actually dressed much like Hanako though if possible even more shabbily, asked her for money, and on impulse she gave the girl the rest of the nicotine gum. Never mind it wouldn't work on a seru, maybe she could sell or swap it. The beggar seemed grateful, anyway. Hanako felt the tiniest glimmer of pleasure that broke as she was, she could still afford to do something like that.

Navigation here was not easy. She knew she was in the Quarter, that much was easy to tell by the people, and the street numbers were clearly marked on signs once she got out of the back service streets. But she had only ever visited a few times before, and only late at night, with Daddy on some of his business trips ("Just like Take Your Daughter to Work Day!" he had joked). The place looked different by day and and probably had changed a lot in even a few years. Then again, it was not as if she really knew where she was going anyway.

She couldn't count the sidewalks she walked on, nor the turns she made and their directions, and she didn't seem to notice that the crowd was getting thicker as the after-work rush began, but there came a moment when she did notice something change. It felt like a heavy blanket being lifted; it felt like a thickness in the air suddenly draining away; it felt like an annoying background sound fading out even though she had not noticed it while it was present. This change was not as great as the feeling of relief when the van carried her away from the Academy, but it was the same kind of change. Kamioka Hanako looked around her, and realized that she had left the Seru Quarter. She looked back, and saw the boundary – even though it was not marked in any official way, and she could not have said exactly what she saw that let her know the boundary was there.

Furthermore, just a little bit ahead of her she saw a sign – one of those big ones for a professional-services complex, listing a dozen different business names in small print. One of the names was "Shimada Legal Services." Hanako hurried, almost ran, to the door, down the hallway inside, and burst into the office.

A gray tabby joneko, behind a large old-fashioned desk, set down a volume of romance manga and stared at the humanoid queen. The joneko's eyes glowed in the dimly-lit room. They almost perfectly matched the green of her desk lamp. Her claws were signal red. The lamplight made it hard to see much else, but in the gloom all around, Kamioka Hanako barely discerned several filing cabinets, imitation wood paneling, a moldy old flower arrangement on a small table to one side, and so on. The secretary inquired politely whether Hanako had an appointment – but made it clear she knew perfectly well that Hanako did not.

"Please, I need a lawyer!"

The gray tabby expressed doubt as to whether a lawyer needed Hanako.

"It's an emergency! I'll do anything for help!"

This was an important branching point in Kamioka Hanako's life, though neither she nor anybody else recognized it exactly as such at the time: the gray tabby began to sneer, opened her mouth to hiss that neither this one nor Shimada Legal Services needed "anything" a dirty, overgrown schoolgirl could provide – and then stopped. The joneko had smelled something that triggered a reflexive response. Without knowing why, she couldn't bring herself to just send the humanoid away.

Miss Takada sat back in her chair, her eyes half-closed, smelling and thinking. She wondered what was special about the humanoid queen, why this one did not just dismiss her with a snarky comment, as this one normally would. What was this one smelling? Then it came in a wave: there was genuine panic, there was fear, some of it gratifyingly directed at the gray tabby herself, and those things were not so unusual among visitors to the lawyer's office, but the humanoid's scent also contained other notes, rare for her species. Kamioka Hanako smelled like a lost kitten, one genuinely needing to be taken in, and Miss Takada would never be so cold-hearted that she could ignore that. She flicked her ears, mewed, and reached for the intercom.

Shimada Takashi was not, at first, any more enthusiastic about this prospective client than Miss Takada had been – but he generally trusted the joneko's judgment of character and was willing to listen at least briefly to anyone she did not immediately kick out of the office. Hanako did not make him wait long.

"Please, sir, I need advice but I don't–"

"Sit down, child, and catch your breath."

"–but I don't have any money, and – and–" and the day's events caught up to her at last and Kamioka Hanako began to sob.

"Sit down, please! Sit!" Shimada wondered if he should call Miss Takada back in, who might be able to handle this better than he could. He hated it when clients cried because he was never sure what to do. He stood, behind his desk, and tried holding out a handkerchief, as one might hold out food to a dangerous and only partially tame animal (a joneko, even), but the girl ignored it. He returned the handkerchief to his pocket, and sat down himself.

"No money, won't be able to pay you, probably won't ever have any money at all, just dropped out of school, lost my inheritance–" Hanako blubbered.

When it seemed like it might be safe to do so, Shimada said "I do normally offer a free initial consultation, you know. Most lawyers will do that. You don't need to worry about money immediately. Perhaps you could tell me what's wrong first. You might have some options you don't know about."

She shuddered, swallowed, at peered across the desk at him. "Really? But I can't promise to ever have any money–"

"I did say that's all right. If it becomes a problem I'll let you know before you're under any obligation."

"Oh. Well, okay..." she said, still sniffling.

"Okay?" He tried to smile properly and put her at ease.

"Okay." She smiled back, just a little.

Shimada Takashi straightened his glasses (non-prescription and medically unnecessary, but clients expected him to wear glasses), discreetly checked with his fingertips that his toupee was straight, picked up a yellow legal pad, and gestured with the stylus to save and clear the writing that currently filled half the pad's surface. Sitting behind his expansive desk with the pad held up at a precise angle, jaw straight, he looked the very image of the reassuring, competent legal professional.

"Very good. Now, first things first. Your name?"

"Too – ah, Kamioka Hanako (Too Fower Tree), Level Zero, no points, sir."

He stared at her over the top of his legal pad. "I don't know what that means."

"Uh, just Kamioka Hanako, sir."

"Very well, Miss Kamioka. By the way, it's not necessary to call me 'sir.' 'Mr. Shimada' will be sufficient."

"Yes, sir." He let it pass.

"I heard you say something about an inheritance. Is your problem something to do with a dispute over someone's will?"

"Yes. My father's."

"I must warn you that wills and disputes over them, and something that lawyers call 'probate,' that's not really the kind of law I normally practice. It may be that you'll need to talk to some other lawyer instead of me. But at least you can tell me about your situation and then maybe I can recommend someone for you to talk to. All right?"

"Oh. Oh, yes, I see. Okay. Yes."

"Good. Now, you say there's an issue about your father's will. Is your father still alive?"

"No, sir. Daddy died three years ago."

Shimada made a note on the pad, and said, "I'm sorry."

"I'm not, sir."

The lawyer frowned. "That is not a good thing to say, Miss Kamioka."

"I apologize, sir."

"Never mind. Is your mother alive?"

"No sir. She died when I was in kindergarten."

"I'm sorry."

"Yes, sir."

"Have you any living family?"

"Sir, my father has, uh, had, another family, you know, not actually related by blood but–"

"Stop right there, please." He had been afraid of something like this. "Miss Kamioka, there is something else very important I must tell you. I am a lawyer; it is my job to practice the law, and I have certain duties and obligations as a result of that job. Do you understand what I mean by this? Just say 'yes' or 'no.'"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Now, I have to be careful about how I say this, but: even though I am on your side as your advocate – yes, even if we haven't signed a contract yet and even if you haven't hired me with money – there are things I cannot do for you. In particular, I cannot advise you to break the law or if I know you plan to break the law. If you were to tell me that you are breaking the law, or if you talked to me about breaking the law, even just hypothetically, in a way that caused me to think maybe you had already done something against the law, well, it would mean that I might have some duties to do something about that. Do you understand what I mean by this? Just say 'yes' or 'no.'"

"Yes, sir."

"So. You must think carefully about what you say to me if you want me to be able to help you. And you should be aware that although I have no reason not to help you, and as far as I know you haven't done anything wrong and you deserve to be properly represented, it remains that I am no friend of gangs or yakuza. I've seen too much of how those people operate for me to smile and wink at that kind of thing. Maybe you should know that I'm not afraid of them either and my clients don't have to be. So when I ask you about your family I only mean people who are real genuine relatives of yours. Someone who maybe did business with your father, maybe criminal business, that's not your family."

"Yes sir. I don't have any real family left, sir."

"I see. Well, I'm sorry, again."

"Yes, sir."

"Now, can you tell me, just briefly, what's the problem?"

"Well, since I'm the only remaining member of my family, I should have gotten Daddy's estate when he died, right?"

"That's what most fathers would want in such a case. Did yours?"

"No! He – he wrote in his will that I – oh!–" and she seemed about ready to sob again, caught her breath, clutched at her right wrist for no visible reason, then took a deep breath and said, "I want you, or my lawyer, to tell me how to overturn the will. It's not fair!"

"Hmm." That had raised many more questions than it answered, but it was obviously a deeply emotional subject for the young woman and Shimada guessed he might be better off just reading the document than questioning her about her understanding of the document and risking another episode of tears. "Do you have a copy of your father's will?"

"No, sir."

"Really? Well, I'm not sure there is much advice I can give you about a document I haven't even seen, Miss–"

"Oh, but isn't there, I don't know, some kind of register database of everybody's wills, sir?"

The lawyer hesitated – it costs money to use that database and at the moment it looked like he probably would not be taking the girl's case anyway – but of course that was silly, the fee involved wasn't worth his time to think about, and just part of the cost of doing business.

"Very well. I assume your chemo-biometrics are up to date?"

"Uh, what?"

"I shall need your scent to unlock the database." He also had access to cracking services, for clients who did not technically have permission for the documents they needed, but there was no call to admit to that.

Shimada Takashi's nose was an old-fashioned portable one, with a packed glass column inside instead of a microarray. He kept it in a case covered in polyvinyl chloride imprinted to look like leather. It took a minute and a half for the column to warm up, another thirty seconds for it to analyze Kamioka Hanako's scent, and then two more minutes for it to authenticate to the municipal database, get a security token, and upload that to the desktop, all through the slow RF link. Hanako tried to hold her GSR steady, but she sweated a bit through those four minutes, which probably helped the machine get a better sample anyway.

The machine loaded Kamioka Yoshihiro's last will and testament onto Shimada's legal pad. He skimmed through it. It certainly looked legitimate and ordinary – probably written just by ticking off boxes on a form and letting the text generator do its job – and the lawyer said so.

"Please read the part saying where the money goes, sir."

"It says your father left, let's see, some charitable donations, a few specific art pieces to named friends, everything else to your mother if she were still alive, and then 'the whole of the remainder in a trust as described below for the benefit of my daughter Kamioka Hanako until she reaches twenty-one (21) years of age, and thereafter to revert to her sole possession and in the event that she predeceases me' – but that obviously isn't relevant now – 'to her estate the sum of one (1)' – and so on. I'll have to go through the definition of the trust carefully, but it sounds straightforward. The trustees will hold onto the money until you're of age, and then it becomes yours. How old are you now?"

"Twenty-two. Uh, I think. Sir."

"You 'think' you're twenty-two? What is your birthdate?'

"It's 18-day 1-month Keika 8, sir. I've been – away – at school for the last I guess three years. Um, is this still the Shoumei Era?"

"Today is 14-day 5-month Shoumei 18. You are twenty-two years of age. It concerns me that you didn't know this, Miss Kamioka. But in such a case, the trust should already have dissolved. Didn't it?"

"But I didn't graduate, sir."


"I'm really sorry, sir."

"Your educational ambitions are of no interest to me, Miss Kamioka. If you dropped out of high school and you regret it, there are plenty of good adult-learning courses in this city – and it sounds like you can easily afford the tuition. Your father would no doubt be pleased to have you use your inheritance that way."