From the top floor of Tadashiissei Tower, the plaza below looked like so many pixels arranged in seemingly random patterns. They spread out from the base of the building, following a set of infinitely elegant rules that unfolded in ever-increasing complexity. They stopped abruptly at the edges of the park, cut off mid-tile by a concrete sidewalk that surrounded the building. In the past, I had always imagined it as a wall Tadashiissei had built around its vision, to make room for others in the world that they had built. This time, it seemed more that Irokai had imposed it as a barrier to protect itself.
Much of the plaza itself was blocked by the rising swell of protesters. Most people gave the tower itself a wide berth, and a clear strip of tile ran from the front door of the tower to the edge of the sidewalk, but even that space had people crossing it on their way to or from the gathering. Judging by the movement of people crossing the concrete divide, though, more people were still arriving, coming in from every prefecture still online to give voice to their frustrations. My access panel confirmed that, since the protest had begun, most of the residents of Irokai were either at or on their way to make themselves known. A majority of the remainder were inside this building.
A voice behind me pulled my attention away from the scene below. “It is an impressive sight, isn’t it?”
I turned away from the window and bowed to the chairman of Tadashiissei. “Oh, hai, sir, as always.”
He returned the gesture, a deep bow from the waist, his hands held together in front of his chest. He remained bent for several seconds before rising again, gesturing to the glossy black boardroom table like the ones in the security offices. “Please, Mitsuko, sit.”
I hesitated a moment, then did so, cupping my paws together on the table as I bowed again. “Sir, with respect, by now Johnathan will be frantic in his search for me.”
The chairman held up one taloned hand and shook his head. “I have always appreciated your decorum, but please, this is not a time to stand on formality. You may call me Kūsō if you wish.”
I lifted my head, unable to repress my wry smile entirely. “If it would put you at ease, Kūsō, I would be glad to do so. How else may I be of service to you this morning?”
The irony of attempting to put the chairman of Tadashiissei at ease within the world that he had helped create was not lost on Kūsō; he smiled broadly in return, showing rows of needle-sharp teeth. “I have a number of questions for you, Mitsuko. It seems that your lover’s gathering has turned out to be popular.” I nodded, and he continued. “I’ve heard that even Imogen Franklin put in an appearance. Is that correct?”
I nodded again. “She directly challenged Rei Sasaki in support of Giri, yes.”
Kūsō stood quietly for a moment, stroking the white wisps of beard on his chin, then took a seat at the table opposite me. His fingers tapped rapidly across the surface, and soon several pages hovered in the air between us. The first said Why do you pay to live? in bold letters across the top, asked several other leading questions, and then displayed the date in one bottom corner and the Minshukakumei logo in the other. “Did John put this together?”
I considered how much to explain, but I could think of no reason not to tell him everything. The decisions were likely made at this point; it was my role to facilitate them. “It was a suggestion from Giri and our mutual… friend… Jules, that he take advantage of past visibility to spread his message. I opposed the idea, because of how the organization had sought to spread its message before. However, neither seemed convinced by the argument, and it does not seem to have hurt their popularity. This seems to confirm the suspicions of many within Hospitality, that our actions have created a wellspring of antipathy towards the company. Fortunately, that does not seem to have extended to Irokai itself.”
The chairman leaned back in his chair, steepling his talons. “Tell me about him. John.”
I took a deep breath. “Tadashiissei lost a brilliant developer when he presented his separation this morning.” I paused a moment, considering my words. “His visions are inspirational. His dedication is phenomenal. He may hesitate on which course of action to take, but once he has committed himself, he will see it through to its conclusion.”
“Interesting.” Kūsō tapped on the table, shuffling papers until he came to Johnathan’s—Minshukakumei’s—list of demands. “Do you believe he’s committed to this?”
I held my tongue, considering. I wanted to believe that he did, but I remembered all too well the times he had proclaimed that something had to change, only to return to old habits once he had to fight someone for his beliefs. He stopped advocating to have Jules’ account access restored once the company legal department began asking difficult questions. He abandoned his friendship with Adam rather than risk confrontation with one of his oldest friends. He gave into Hideaki’s design requests rather than defend his vision. In all honesty, I expected this, too, to be a temporary fight for him.
Thinking about his anger on the beach at Kigiku, though, overshadowed those memories. His eyes were filled with a fire that I could not recall having ever seen before. He stood with his back straight, his head held high. His words burned with barely-contained passion. A fresh shiver ran down my tail as I remembered John insisting upon his rights. I smiled to the chairman. “I do.”
Kūsō rose again, slowly walking around the table that dominated the boardroom. He stopped at the window, gazing down upon the crowd below. “This entire situation must be very difficult for you,” he offered.
I shook my head. “My responsibility as an employee of Tadashiissei has been to perform my duties to the best of my ability, Kūsō.” Then I smiled, rising from my seat to join him at the window. “In addition, my duty as a member of Irokai no Minshukakumei was always to further our cause by any means necessary. It has been difficult, hai, but I suspect that it will be over soon.”
At that, the chairman turned to face me, grinning broadly, but hints of sorrow held in his eyes. He looked back to the window, tapping the talons of his hands against the blue-white scales of his arms. “I used to think this would never happen. Now that it has, it’s hard to follow through.”
I smiled and rested a paw on Kūsō’s shoulder. “It is difficult for any parent to deal with a child that insists on independence.”
Kūsō opened his snout to speak, but then looked past me as the door to the boardroom opened. I followed the chairman’s gaze, facing the door as Rei stepped into the room. He bowed contritely at the waist, holding himself prostrate for several seconds. “I apologize for my tardiness, Kajō-sama. Word of the protest has reached the outside, and I was needed to reassure some of our department heads.”
The chairman nodded on response. “Do we know the source of the information leak?”
The tiger’s tailtip twitched. “At this point, I think it would be impossible to tell. All it would take is one person that opted to speak with the press. We’ve attempted to identify who it was in specific, but I lack the additional resources to both follow up on that and continue preparations.”
“Yes, preparations.” Kūsō looked from the head of Irokai Security back to to me, his eyes burning with a familiar light. “What is your status? How soon can we proceed?”
Rei rose, his back straight and his arms held stiffly at his sides. “I’ve conveyed the plan to everyone outside in my division, and the heads of Hospitality and Operations. We have some last-minute validations to perform, but I’m confident that we’ll be ready to begin in an hour.”
The chairman folded his arms across his chest, glancing to the clock. “That’s more of a delay than I’d like, but I would rather this go smoothly. How confident are you of that hour? Is that forty-five minutes or ninety?”
The tiger hesitated, then nodded sharply. “I’m confident that it’s sixty, Kajō-sama.”
Kūsō nodded, then took a seat at the head of the table, folding his arms. “Mitsuko, what do you think John’s response will be?”
I leaned back against the window, closing my eyes. “John purchased a licensed development environment some time ago from Tadashiissei, and he has continued to maintain it out of his personal salary separate from his professional work. In addition, one of the members of Minshukakumei, Jules, is on a custom induction rig specifically built for him from components slated for replacement but not actually broken. I suspect that John will retreat to there, then send Jules for help. They may try some kind of physical action.”
The chairman leaned back in his chair, then turned to Rei. “Identify the data center hosting John’s environment. Find four specialists that you trust in the area and have them waiting on-site for any arrivals. Get final confirmation from all departments involved, and then tell everyone to be ready to commence at—” He stopped, then looked at the clock. “Fourteen. You have sixty-seven minutes. Go.”
“Hai!” Rei bowed sharply, then rose and walked out of the boardroom, pulling the door closed behind him.
Once the head of Irokai Security had excused himself, I looked back to the chairman, crossing my arms. “He does not know, does he?”
Kūsō’s grin threatened to split his snout. He leaned back in his chair, putting his hinds on the boardroom table. “Know what, Fuki?” His thick blue-scaled tail thumped against the ground.
I shook my head and smiled wanly. “Never mind, Kūsō-kun. We all do what we must in this.”
“Indeed.” He stood, then bowed to me. “You have proven yourself invaluable to Tadashiissei, Mitsuko. May I leave the rest here in your control?”
I drew in a deep breath, but bowed in response. “Oh, hai,” I agreed. “I understand my instructions.”
With that, the chairman walked out the door, leaving me alone in the boardroom. I rose and walked to the window, gazing down to the protest below. I hope you will forgive me, John,. I opened my administrative access, flipping rapidly through menus until I came to the Hospitality access to the Voice of Irokai. Opening the menu, I drew in a deep breath, then spoke, all too aware that my words were being broadcast to everyone in the world. “Attention, please. Due to ongoing system instabilities, Tadashiissei has decided to perform a system rollback. At fourteen, we will be bringing Irokai offline, then restoring to a previous validated snapshot. All residents, please cancel all personal backups. All tourists within Irokai will be escorted out over the next half-hour. Thank you for your cooperation.”