Beautiful World 06: Premonition

The skybridge connecting the thirtieth floors of the Nanakousei and Everest Research buildings was glass below as well as above, cool beneath my bare pads as I stepped out into open space. Overhead, the sky hung low from the broadcast towers that topped Murasaki Prefecture’s spires. From here, the moon seemed to stare down at the city beneath it, its lurid gaze just as taken by the flashing lights and flickering signs as those surrounded by them, far below.

My gaze briefly followed the moon’s, down through the floor to the sea of lights that ebbed and flowed below me. A moment of vertigo ran over me, making me shiver, but as soon as I felt it, it was gone, quashed by the same part of my mind that had let me interpose countless times before when one visitor or another had inadvertantly risked self-integrity while part of my group. The sense was the same every time, an instant of sick giddiness just before my training took hold of me and suppressed it. Staring down at the glittering expanse, I wondered what it would be like to live outside, where that sensation could be had at any time, for mor e than a few brief seconds.

Once the vertigo passed, I walked out onto the bridge, cinching my kimono around me as proof against the chill in the air. The service request that had woken me gave me only a location and a sense of urgency, but nothing else. I’d taken only enough time to make sure Johnathan was still asleep and then to meet the basic needs of decency before leaving. I had actually considered referring it to my shift-replacement; I had little enough time to spend with Johnathan as it was, at least until he moved to Irokai. However, the request had been by name. I might have been on vacation, but a priority call of this nature simply could not be ignored.

Halfway across the skybridge stood a fox, tall and thin, his red-furred ears standing straight above his head. The split hem of his black longcoat shifted slightly with every move of his white-tipped tail, but aside from that he stood still as a statue; even his bare hinds remained fixed in place against the transparent floor in defiance of the cold. His gaze remained level, his narrow muzzle as blank as the wall in front of him. In the reflection of the glass, his large violet eyes met mine. He nodded once, and the sense of urgency dissipated.

As the request faded to a background impulse, I queried the local dataspace about my host. It took only a few glances through my menus, and then I had as many questions as answers. The first name that came to me was Giri, but the family name gave me pause, a string of characters that could have been static. Quietly, I wondered why he had changed it, but it would have been rude to ask before a proper introduction. Attached to the name was a link to his public employee record. I followed the reference, and Giri’s title and station were mine: security lead, Ouseito Ward, Murasaki Prefecture. I ignored the web of contacts and reports that followed; what mattered was the mindset of the person that had summoned me, and knowing his role in Irokai would help me understand that. It was little enough with which to work, but it was more than I had before the summons.

Giri remained still through my investigations, but as I studied his personnel records, a stream of fresh static, much like his family name, begin to flow out of him. A request for key exchange followed a few moments later, a few meaningful droplets masked in an empty sea. Even as he waited for acknowledgement, the steady pace of nonsense continued, though his violet eyes remained fixed on the view, acting as though he were silent.

I smiled as graciously as any hostess would to a sullen guest and stood next to him on the bridge, paws resting on a railing near the wall. I did my best to catch his gaze in the reflection off of the glass, but all I could do was study his eyes as they stared into the distance. “It is a beautiful night, is it not?” I spoke the words lightly, hoping that some geniality might set my summoner at ease. The privacy request hung unanswered, a subliminal nagging just out of normal sight.

His silence stretched out into seconds, but then the digital babbling faded out and the security request disappeared with it. The fox didn’t turn to look at me, but instead raised one paw, waving it to encompass the view of the stars. “Check the local edit history,” he said quietly, ignoring the question I had asked. His tail twitched as he spoke, expressing irritation that he kept from his voice.

The frown that I felt never reached my muzzle, though my own banded tail flicked once in response to his own. “Perhaps introductions are in order,” I replied with a smile, turning away from Giri’s reflection to face the fox directly. “My name is Ikanobari Mitsuko.” I half-bowed at the waist, extending the most courteous greeting I could without dipping into unnecessary formality.

Again, the fox paused, waiting for several seconds before responding with a bow of his own. “Giri,” he said in the same soft tone as before. He held the position for a moment, then rose.

I followed his motions, smiling again as I looked into his eyes. “You have no family name?”

At that, one corner of his muzzle rose into a smirk. He parted his jaws, and a burst of static and dissonant beeps and trills escaped it, making my fur bristle. “You asked,” he said after the noise abated.

I rubbed at one ear with a paw. “Oh, hai,” I admitted with a rueful smile. “Why did you change it?”

Giri shrugged. “It is a hash of my codebase at incept. I thought it was more fitting than what they named me.”

“Oh?” I tilted my head to the side, filing away that bit of information. “What was it before?”

The fox shook his head. “Unimportant; it was not me.”

The exchange, eccentric at the mildest, made me hesitate. I could find little in the brief exchange that invited further conversation, and in a few sentences, Giri had managed to put me on guard. Rather than push that line of discussion any further, I fell back to my training. I clasped my paws together at my waist and inclined forward slightly. “How may I help you this evening?”

Giri scowled at the question, then turned back to the window, motioning again towards the window. “Please review the local edit history.” He transmitted a set of coordinates along with his words, indicating a section of the sky out beyond the buildings.

Now I frowned. “My administrative access is limited,” I said as politely as I could, keeping my eyes on the side of the fox’s muzzle, ignoring the direction of his gaze.

The fox’s own expression soured at my words. “You work in Tadashiissei’s Hospitality Division; I know what access you have.” He sighed, ints of petulance in his voice. “I am asking you to review the local edit history, not randomly delete a building.”

I held back a sigh of frustration, and turned from Giri back towards the window. Obviously he had no interest in letting this go. As glad as I was for the system interface and as easily as I relied on some of what it allowed me to do, I disliked having to tap into my administrative access; it always felt like cheating. It took only a few moments of silence, and then I began paging back through logs of the indicated region.

It wasn’t hard to find what Giri wanted me to see. Just over two hours ago, someone had replaced a section of the heavens visible to almost the entirety of the Prefecture. I called up the display engine and passed the captured edits through it, and the constellations became letters. I spoke aloud the English words written in twinkling motes of light: “Why do you pay to live?” A series of Japanese kanji floated in comet trails beneath: Irokai no Minshukakumei.

I turned from the window back to the fox that stood beside me, cocking my head to the side. “Democratic Revolution of Irokai? What is—”

Giri held out one paw, forestalling the question. “I do not know. If I did, this would be resolved by now.” His other paw went to his waist, and a traditional katana shimmered into place within an ornate sheath beneath his fingers. “What I do know is that this is not the first breach of this sort. To date, I have backup logs of seventeen such incidents in the last calendar year, and their frequency has been increasing.” A fresh stream of encrypted data began to pour out from him, followed a few moments later by a new request for key exchange. “Please review these revision logs,” he said quietly.

This time, I accepted his offer with a nod, and the nonsense resolved into sets of log files and database entries showing both original and altered content. None of them contained a source or owner. I compared the records before and after; in most, innocuous text had been replaced with more slogans. In some, Tadashiissei’s logo had been replaced by one that looked like the symbol of Irokai, but its colors were inverted. The only constant across them all was the same kanji that I had seen emblazoned across the sky.

I frowned and released my specialty access, then adjusted my kimono and folded my arms across my chest. “Any incident such as this surely would have attracted some sort of attention by now, by the media if not Tadashiissei.”

The fox’s expression remained implacable, but pride and anger flickered in Giri’s eyes. “Irokai Security is both efficient and proactive. I have also brought every such assault I have encountered to the attention of my superiors, and every time I have been told that appropriate actions will be taken and that anyone violating Irokai’s codebase or harming its residents will meet with stiff punishment.”

I waited a few moments, then prompted Giri gently. “They have not caught the perpetrators?”

One of Giri’s ears twitched. “The security logs have been rotated and sent to external storage.”

I let his words—both what he did and did not say—sink slowly into my thoughts. The implication of his statement was clear: no-one working for Tadashiissei had responded to his reports. I tugged my kimono more tightly around me, shifting from one hind to another against the cold glass. “Does anyone else know about this?”

Giri shrugged. “I have made efforts to make Security aware of the situation, and many have expressed concern. As to whether anyone outside of Security knows or cares….” He left the rest of that thought unspoken.

I tugged my kimono more tightly around me. “Why did you ask for me, then? I work in Hospitality, not Security.”

The security agent smiled tightly in response, holding up two fingers. “Two reasons. The first is that Hospitality specialists have access to any level of emergency administrative authority deemed necessary in order to protect the well-being and happiness of residents and visitors to Irokai. My access is much broader, but requires specific permission from my management.”

I nodded once. “And the other reason?”

He hesitated, then turned to face the sky once more. “Your lover, Johnathan Dart. He has development-level access, does he not?”

I tilted my head, tail twitching in response. “He does, yes, but why—”

Giri again stopped me with an outstretched paw. “I have made every attempt to notify my superiors, both within and outside of my management, of the seriousness of this situation. These changes have either no name attached or else obviously fraudulent ones. I have been unable to identify a source for any of the attacks. Every last one of these should have started a full-scale audit both of internal and external security. So far, it has led to nothing. I can only assume, therefore, that upper management within Tadashiissei is aware of events and does not care. I therefore cannot continue to trust internal responses as adequate.”

His eyes narrowed as he spoke, his voice becoming hard. “Your lover is not yet a part of Tadashiissei. If it becomes necessary to take action without their approval, we may need his assistance.”

My eyes widened. “You are suggesting rebellion.”

Giri shook his head, his paw once more at his waist, fingers curling about the hilt of his sword. “I am protecting my home. My primary role, both as an employee of Tadashiissei and as a resident of Irokai, is to safeguard both this place and the people who live here. If Tadashiissei will not take action, then I must act on their behalf. To do less would be dereliction of my duties.” He turned back to face me. “If these attacks continue as they have, we may soon find ourselves fighting to protect everything we value. What I need to know from you, Ikanobari Mitsuko, is whether you will help defend Irokai or not.”

I looked down to the blade at Giri’s waist, then back into the fox’s eyes; they glinted like polished amethyst, cold and hard. I wanted to doubt his analysis. I wanted to question his conclusions. I even briefly considered a flat denial, but everything was too well-considered, too well-argued. Given what he had seen and heard, his explanation seemed consistent with all of the facts at his disposal. As I had no alternatives to offer, it made his position a difficult one to deny.

Hai,” I said quietly, nodding once in response. “I will help.”