Shining Path


Chapter 9

As of the end of the Heisei Era, the Yotsuya Library advertised on its Web site that patrons were free to take books from the shelves and read them "without signing or making their names known in any manner, nor leaving any records of what books they have used," but they corrected that policy error during the Deconstruction. On 25-day 4-month Shoumei 19 it was unnecessary for Shoda Rurika to sign for books simply because the municipal noses had already followed her chemo-biometric scent all the way up from the subway station and the library AI knew perfectly well whom she was. As she sat in the library building's third-floor cafe doing her homework, the AI meticulously logged every book she accessed, which pages she looked at, and for how long. Not that that mattered. Even the copyright people didn't care, because the library had a site license. Ruri-chan was younger than most of the other customers but there was nothing else unusual about her behavior and she was doing nothing illegal or rude.

She claimed a booth near the back where she could look up and watch the other customers when she got bored, not that they were particularly exciting. They were mostly salarymen muttering into telephones, geeks lost in their own literary worlds, and the occasional teenage couple (probably geeks too) actually square enough to think this was a good dating spot. There were just one or two students like Rurika using the place as a cheap study hall. Ruri-chan unfolded her phone, checked her mail, and started opening source material and dictating fragments of text.

She was writing a report for American History on the life of Joseph Smith, Jr., starting in rural New York in the Bunsei Era. The historian Whitney Cross popularized the name "the Burned-over District" for that place and time, because the local peasants metaphorically caught fire with new religious and social movements even more frequently than Edo Castle caught fire with actual flames. In fact, much of the background material in Rurika's report was stolen from a recent translation of Cross's book. As well as Smith's movement, there were the Oneida Community with its Tantric sex magick; the Shakers with their rigorously undecorated furniture later so much prized by decorators; the ectoplasmic Spiritualists; the Millerites who later evolved into the Seventh-Day Adventists; the temperance-pledge people; and that crowd who thought women should be allowed to vote, just to name a few.

During that same Era but a little further South, Ezra Buckley and the tlonistas were earnestly attempting to recreate the universe and get rid of the One God, while feuding bitterly with the kyonistas who claimed to have succeeded in a similar effort three years earlier. Buckley would have been a better subject for biography than Smith, and indeed Ruri-chan had planned to write about him first, but she was discouraged by missing encyclopedia entries. Early on, she obtained permission from the school AI to switch to the better-documented figure. Either way, it was a fascinating, compelling, magical time in American history, with a great deal of continuing relevance to modern-day civilization worldwide, and most of it went right over Shoda Rurika's head. She was just writing a report to get a grade and she fully intended to forget every bit of it the instant she set down her stylus at the end of the final exam. The educational system had both succeeded and failed perfectly in her case.

So without thinking too hard about the context or the greater significance, Rurika consulted her references, made a list of verifiable names and dates, and set down the bare facts of the life of the Mormon prophet. Crystal-gazing for buried treasure in the hills of New York through most of the Bunsei Era. Receiving his revelation in the unknown language that Professor Charles Anthon may or may not have identified as "Reformed Egyptian." More crystal-gazing to translate it. Founding his church in Bunsei 13. That was the year an earthquake killed 280 people in Kyoto and Edo Castle burned down, causing the Shogunate to declare the Tenpou Era. Japanese castles in those days were made of paper and heated by charcoal, so they burned often. Smith's life continued. Exile from New York. Being run out of town in Pennsylvania. Tarring and feathering in Ohio. Imprisonment as an enemy combatant terrorist in Missouri. Escape to Illinois. The Nauvoo Endowment. That covered most of the Tenpou Era as far as Rurika was concerned.

By Tenpou 15, the year Edo Castle burned down again and the Tokugawa Shogunate declared the Kouka Era, Smith's fortunes had improved. He had become a Shogun himself, controlling a private army of 3,000 men at a time when the entire United States Army numbered only 8,500. Depending on how far one believes his critics, his wives at that point may have numbered thirty or more, some even younger than Ruri-chan herself, by way of a doctrinal principle called "sacred marriage."

Sacred marriage supposedly anticipated the hypothetical form of marriage to be practiced in the future Kingdom of Heaven, claiming that each Endowed male was entitled to enjoy as many teenage girls as he could lay hands on. Of course, Smith's followers held that to be a scandalous misrepresentation of their doctrine. It was more or less the same accusation that always ends up directed at religious leaders anyway, if they are not accused of seducing boys first, and smart people ignore it. But it went wholesale into Rurika's report.

Whitney Cross had decried the pseudo-Freudian amateurs who thought the spiritual innovations of the Burned-over District were all about sex. Shoda Rurika had a higher opinion of amateurs, and of sex, and she did not recognize that Cross's commentary was meant to be snide. She wrote uncritically about the Smith Shogunate's disastrous efforts to suppress newspaper coverage of the polygamy allegations, and the riots that led to the prophet's death in protective custody, just a few months before the end of the Era. She talked about the Endowment also, and the special underwear bearing Masonic symbols worn by recipients of that. She outlined the believers' opinion of the clothes' protective virtue.

"Mormons are like present-day schoolgirls in this respect."

Ruri-chan paused. It was a great sentence, just the kind her textbook would have contained if it were better written, but maybe the marking AI wouldn't agree. Better not to make it sound like history had anything to do with real people in the present-day world. Her last essay had come back with no less than five "unencyclopedic" templates on it because of that sort of thing, and even though nobody really cared because American History was an elective anyway, she was hoping to score better this time.

"Escape. Delete last sentence, hai. Dictate. Although the Temple Garments have been frequently mocked and parodied in the centuries since their introduction, comment cite this later end, they are not particularly different than the ceremonious clothing required by many other what?" The phone had drawn a little red box around the words "different than," and she didn't know why.

By the time she had read all the help on that one, Ruri-chan's coffee had gone cold, so in honor of the Mormons, she didn't finish it. She didn't want to read suggested substitutions for "ceremonious," either. She just closed up the phone, threw some coins on the table, and left the cafe.

Shoda Rurika's special underwear was not for protection. She wore ordinary foil-lined acrylic shorts and tops for that, with ferrite particles bonded into the fibers, guaranteed to block, absorb, or reflect 99.8 percent of radiation between terahertz and ultraviolet; and enough viscoelastics in the mix to defeat casual ultrasound. Standard girls' underwear was the color of a poorly-maintained sidewalk and it felt like sandpaper, but no self-respecting middle schooler would be found unconscious in an alley without it.

But every morning Rurika took a clean pair of cotton pantsu from the bottom of her underwear drawer and wore that under her foil grays. Nobody at home knew about the special pantsu because nobody made a habit of rummaging through Rurika's underwear drawer except the ginger joneko who rummaged through everything. The ginger received a ten percent cut in exchange for her silence to Mami and Kono-oniisan. That is, ten percent of gross – Rurika should have paid closer attention when they negotiated. Only the foil grays ever went through the laundry for the others to see.

The cotton pantsu did not have Masonic symbols on them. Rurika had experimented with a few different styles, including Serisyn, ribbons, and lace, but they only fetched slightly higher prices and were not worth it. Even the plain cotton pantsu were better-made than one might expect for garments meant to be worn only once each; and they felt a lot better on her skin than foil-lined ferrite acrylic.

Used pairs went into individual polypropylene bags, each with a bar code, a one-way seal, and a capsule of some kind of chemical granules. Those were activated metazeolite, but Ruri-chan didn't know how to read the characters on the label beyond "DO NOT EAT." She did know that she could break off the top of the capsule after sealing the bag and it would suck up all the oxygen and some of the nitrogen from the air inside, while buffering moisture to just the right level. It would keep the pantsu vacuum-packed and smelling freshly-used for up to four months.

Once every week or two, when she could avoid adult supervision, Rurika visited a curiosity shop downtown and traded in her bagged, dirty pantsu for new clean ones and cash. It wouldn't make anybody rich, but it covered enough small luxuries to keep Ruri-chan respectable among the girls at school. Nobody in her generation would have recognized the obsolete phrase "keeping up with the Yamadas," but they all understood the idea and its importance.

The lady who ran the curiosity shop affected a Chinese accent and qipao because customers, and contractors like Rurika, both expected that. She was actually Thai. After closing time, she and her sons would package the bags into boxes and ship them to the Wing's factory out in the hills, where a chemo-bio needlenose would do authentication and quality control and determine fair prices. Then industrial robots would add colorful polyethylene hangers to the tops of the bags to make them look like a proper retail product.

An AI would decide where to send each bag. Some went to vending machines in Akiba; some went on the rocket to America and nobody cared what happened there; and a lot would end up hanging from hooks in neighborhood curiosity shops like the one where Rurika made her deals. The AI was programmed to maximize profits based on historical and predicted sales, but also to send pantsu far from their original sources so that nobody would ever see Rurika and used underwear with her face on the label in the same curiosity shop. Such incidents were known to cause problems.

Rurika didn't trust the AI, and she was (unjustifiably) insecure about her own appearance with her unusual matching blue eyes and hair, so instead of letting Wing's use their standard label with her photo and a swatch of her uniform skirt plaid, she uploaded custom branding. She'd grabbed a template from the Net and paid a boy at school for the copyright to a photo of one of their schoolmates – a girl two years older, who was a Class Representative and looked like it. The photographer gave her a discount on the photo because he liked the idea of selling it to a girl. Accepting the discount probably hadn't been wise because now he had the wrong idea entirely, and it wouldn't be safe to explain to him that she'd only bought the photo for business. It wasn't that Rurika liked to look at photos of girls.

Miss Snooty Class Representative-sama did not get a cut of the transaction because the photo had been taken in a public place and the Berne Convention of 2017 applied. They didn't even have to, and they didn't, tell her. The same clauses of Berne 2017 were also why Rurika, all the other girls at school, and some of the boys, wore foil underwear in the first place.

On 2-day 5-month Shoumei 19, the last day before the long weekend, Rurika stopped on her way home from school to exchange another batch. She had handed in her Joseph Smith, Jr. report that morning, she was free of school entirely until Tuesday, and she wanted the cash for shopping and fun during the break. On her way out of the curiosity shop she paused in front of a display near the door, and picked up a brightly-colored steel can. She knew what it was; she had seen them on the shelf many times; but she'd never really looked closely before. Maybe she was trying to keep her mind alive. The picture on the front was of a blobby seru octopus with a smile on its cute little face, hand in hand (or at least hand in tentacle) with a young girl in a sailor suit. The girl had blue hair, which may have been why the can caught Rurika's eye. She turned it around in her hand and started reading the back. She had only a few seconds to look at the instructions, which were graphically detailed, before the lady who ran the shop noticed what she was doing and protested.

"No, no! Not for little girls! Put it back!"

Never mind that Ruri-chan was well over the minimum recommended age in the small print, never mind she had been selling her pantsu for more than a year, never mind the label was full of damn furigana spelling out the more difficult characters for the benefit of beginning-level readers, this was a nice decent curiosity shop and they wouldn't allow an innocent little girl to buy one of those. Well, never mind. She had only been looking – and unlike some people, she wasn't a perverted salaryman or a crusty old bat in a qipao who would have to pay for just pretending, anyway. Rurika sneered, put the can back on the display, and walked out.

She passed Kono-oniisan and Matoike Kumi on the sidewalk just outside the store, and it might have been difficult if they had recognized her and asked what she was doing in there. But Hirose Konosuke was the kind who would avert his eyes when he passed curiosity shops, despite or maybe because of the kind of movies he worked on, and his date did not know Rurika. So that was all right.