The last time I stood on the skybridge between Everest and Nanakousei, I had the distinct impression of standing in space. The streetlights below glittered like stars and the moon shone in the sky above. The glass floor leeched the heat from my pads, and the wind outside made me shiver despite the warmth of the corridor. The illusion of being suspended in mid-air was almost perfect. Unfortunately, the matte black square that sharply split the transparent tunnel was an all-too-real reminder of where I stood. Glowing letters hung in front of it, apologizing for the inconvenience in English and Japanese. Aside from that, though, the walkway was all very much as I remembered it when I had summoned Mitsuko here.
I felt a flash of anger at the memory. It was hard not to draw a direct line from this place to the makeshift entry to Briar’s club and the events that occurred there. Had I not gone to someone else for help, I might never have had the chance to put a stop to the attacks on Irokai. I could have continued indefinitely, cleaning up the petty messes and complaining to my superiors. When the real assault happened, I could have simply ignored it all, followed my orders, and told myself that nothing more could be done. I could have simply done my job as I had before, willfully ignorant but happy.
I balled my paws into fists and jammed them into my coat pockets to try to stop my fingers from shaking. None of these ideas was true, but it was hard not to believe that it could have happened that way. I almost wished it had; I would have felt less disappointment. I wanted to say that Briar had more than offset the frustration, anger, and resentment I had felt towards both the company and myself. In truth, she made more of a difference than I could have thought possible. She, however, was but one bright point, and I had been in a very dark place for a very long time. I was glad for how things happened, to be sure, but not because of her. I was still unsure how comfortable I was with her. One night of pleasure after shared stresses was no reason to be interested in her, and her other interests made me nervous, to put it politely.
Really, I had been getting desperate for some time, and the orders I had received were only fueling my urgency. I had not wanted to be where I was, but I had seen no other way to go. Helping Briar and the others had meant defending my principles as well as protecting my home, and what, truly, had it cost me? I no longer worked for a company I disrespected in a position I did not enjoy. I had gotten the best possible outcome I could have reasonably expected, and far better than I could have received.
Neither of those lies gave me any comfort, either, while I sat alone in my apartment, staring out the window at the Murasaki skyline, wondering what to do with the rest of eternity. Back before all of this had happened, I asked myself in the past what I would do with myself, if Tadashiissei had not been in my future. Each time the question had arisen, I had pushed it aside. Now, I had no choice but to admit I had never answered the question. I knew that finding a job would become a necessity in the near future, but who would hire a security agent fired for negligence? After his public confrontation and dismissal, I doubted that Sasaki would be willing to give a positive reference.
A quiet voice spoke from behind me. “Perhaps formal reintroductions are in order; your family name was different, the last time we spoke.”
I shrugged. “It was my name at incept. I thought it more fitting than what I picked before.”
“Interesting,” Mitsuko replied. “Why did you change it back?”
I smirked and turned to face the raccoon, leaning back against the black warning sign. “Unimportant; it was no longer me.”
Mitsuko stood silently for several moments, considering my words. Her eyes remained half-lidded, masking her thoughts, but her tail twitched behind her in confusion. “I was not sure you would be here; you did not accept my invitation. I was not even sure that I had invited the right person.”
I took a deep breath then sighed, resignation returning to my expression. “I was not sure I would come. Still, here I am.” I had not wanted to respond, but I felt obliged to do so. It had not been a summons; I no longer worked for Tadashiissei and could not be ordered to attend. Yet, after making such a demand of her so long ago, I had never apologized. The least I could do was treat her request with the same urgency.
The raccoon nodded in response, then bowed slightly. “Please, allow me to explain my request. My lover, John, is facing suspension of his account over some financial discrepancies. He is organizing a protest at the Tadashiissei plaza for tomorrow morning starting at eight, local. He hopes to continue it until someone else within the company responds to his requests for help.”
I frowned. “I have little interest in further hurting my chances at gainful employment by participating in a protest against the company from which I was just fired.”
The corners of Mitsuko’s muzzle turned up in a faint smile. “With respect, Giri-san, you worked in Security, not Hospitality. More importantly, though, I have heard about your final exchange with Rei Sasaki from multiple sources. I suspect that attending a public rally in support of those actions would do more for your reputation than avoiding it.”
“Multiple sources?” I tilted my head to the side. I had Briar’s support, I knew, but she had said nothing of anyone else commenting on my actions, nor had she mentioned telling anyone else. “From whom?”
The raccoon’s smile broadened. “It is not important from whom I heard which detail; some of the names were certainly aliases unwilling to admit that they were members of the FutureShock.” She folded her paws together in front of her. “What I may say with certainty is that more than one person has publicly praised your actions. From all reports, you acted in a swift and decisive manner in response to a customer safety complaint, took creative steps to resolve a large problem, and that you were terminated without regard to any mitigating circumstances.” She paused to give her words some weight, then continued more softly. “I am asking you to lend your voice to a protest, not to publish security flaws.”
I folded my arms across my chest. It was hard not to feel a swelling of pride at her words, but it was not enough to overcome my frustration at myself, and at the whole situation. “It will not be much of a protest if only present and former employees of Tadashiissei are in attendance,” I replied.
The tip of Mitsuko’s tail hooked in amusement, and her eyes flashed with pride. “With some generous assistance from some mutual friends, we have generated a fair bit of interest in this rally. I suspect that a significant percentage of the resident populace and a fair number of tourists will be present to hear what we have to say, and to share their own stories. It would seem that there is a great deal of frustration with a large number of corporate policies: billing practices, terms of service, ownership of modifications, and so on. It would take only a reason for this disapproval to transform into dissent.”
I held still a few moments, considering my next words. “And you believe that your lover and his story can provide that tipping point?”
“Perhaps not,” she admitted. “His situation is… extreme, but he is not well-known in his community.” Then she looked into my eyes. “I do, however, believe that you and your controversial termination could.”
Her words stunned me. I slowly returned my paws to my pockets, shifting my weight against the wall. It was difficult to believe, but if her other words were true…. “Does anyone else within Tadashiissei know of the protest?”
Mitsuko shrugged. “I have seen no reason to inform anyone else in Hospitality of its coming. As to whether anyone else within the company knows, that I cannot say.”
I lowered my head, looking down through the glass floor to the streetlights below, watching them twinkle like stars. “I still do not understand why you think my situation will attract more attention than his. He is a dedicated and respected employee facing suspension.”
The tip of the raccoon’s tail hooked as she held up two fingers. “First, I agree that my mate’s situation is the more dire, but it is also the more… abstract.” She blushed, ducking her head in an apology to her absent lover. “Financial matters are difficult to explain and are easily lost in details. Not everyone can conceive of why suspension of his account is such a problem for him as a resident, and explaining it cannot easily be reduced to simple concepts.. Meanwhile, everyone should be quite capable of empathizing with someone who has lost a job for political reasons.”
I nodded on response to that. “And the second?”
Mitsuko’s ears rose. “As I said before, my mate is popular within a small segment of the populace and within the company proper, but in the larger community he is not so well-known. He is doing this in hopes to call attention to his situation, but he is not a public speaker. Others have volunteered to share their situations, but I fear that their problems may be overshadowed by their open emnity towards Tadashiissei itself. You are accustomed to dealing with the public, your plight is easily understood, and it seems you have a small but dedicated support group, some of whom have a great many friends across all sectors of Irokai.” She paused, then laced her fingers together once more. “Also, before the attacks on Irokai began, you did ask for our assistance, did you not?”
I lifted my head and tilted it to the side. “I did, yes, but that was in response to the rogue edits from Minshukakumei. This is a matter of corporate policy.”
“And yet, a direct connection could be drawn from one to the other, could it not?” She tilted her head to the side and smiled. “Had Tadashiissei responded to you when you first suggested there might be an issue, this matter might have been resolved by the time Johnathan moved. Had you not assembled such thorough notes on past attacks, Johnathan might have had far less information on which to work, preventing him from resolving nearly as many hacks. Had he not been so instrumental in the recovery effort, he would not have been forced to activate as many special functions, and thus his bank and Tadashiissei would never have come into conflict. Thus, without your engagement, we might not now be in this situation, having to organize this protest.”
The raccoon’s smile slid to a mischievous smirk. “You asked us for assistance, Giri. We are assisting you, exactly as you feared we might need.”
At that, my eyes went wide and my ears flattened against my head. “You are suggesting rebellion.”
Mitsuko’s expression returned to a careful neutrality. “I am suggesting protecting my lover. We have an open admission from Financial that the matter is not one for which Johnathan should be punished, and yet they insist that they are powerless to stop the suspension. As part of my duties as a member of Hospitality, I am authorized to use any administrative authority necessary to protect the well-being of residents and visitors to Irokai. If Tadashiissei cannot or will not correct this, I will be forced to do so.” Her golden eyes glinted. “If this happens, I fear there will be repercussions, which will lead to an escalation, and from there sides will quickly be chosen whether I wish them to be or not. I am asking you now, Chō Giri, whether you will help me avoid this unfortunate outcome.”
I stuffed my paws back into my pockets. This was a side of Mitsuko that I had never seen before, and some part of me wished never to do so again. Even having hinted at open warfare against Tadashiissei myself, I had never wanted the conflict; I only ever wanted the attacks to stop. Now, here was someone dropping more than hints, and she was offering a very narrow window of opportunity for me to act. My fingers closed around the flyer for the protest that Briar had sent me earlier in the evening, and I closed my eyes, nodding once. “Hai, I will attend.”