I didn't say anything at first. I gazed upon the flawlessly raked gravel. Meditated a little on the boulders and the moss living on them. Briefly contemplated life and the universe and the product of six times seven. Mostly I just stared like a sun-sick miner who'd been stuck on Mercury too long. “You've been hacked,” I said. The absurdity had worn off by then and I felt up to tackling it.
“That is the only logical conclusion,” Amida said. “There is a lapse in my memory of one hundred ninety-two minutes and forty-seven seconds.” He unfolded from his meditation pose and stood. His body was still perfect and he still had the same aura of golden sunlight about him, but the whole situation ruined the image. The concern on those flawless features of his did the most damage. He didn't seem very divine right then.
“Aren't self-aware programs impervious to that sort of thing?”
“You are self-aware, yet I breached your protective kami and your own mind in order to initiate this simulation.”
“But I'm not a buddha.”
Rose-colored lips twitched into a slight smile. “You understand.”
“Part of the buddha-nature is encryption.”
“The buddha-nature is encryption.” And transparency, and nothing at all, I'm sure. He might have been correcting me and he might have been confirming. Who knows. I hopped down off my boulder. The gravel crunched under my feet. My earlier footprints were gone, the stones smoothed again by Amida's Pure Land immersion algorithms.
“So then,” I said, “Someone hacked you, a buddha. The buddha, as far as a lot of people are concerned. Biggest and most complex. A self-aware encryption and data transfer protocol. I didn't think that was even possible, Amida-buddy.”
“For you, it is not.”
“Even with the boss' words?”
Amida folded his hands. Seconds passed by like quiet little monks off to morning prayer. “No. I predate the current iteration of dataspace. The shogun's passwords would cause me some difficulty due to a handful of modern program modules, but I would be able to overcome them.”
“And if I were a top-grade hacker?”
“In certainty, another buddha of equal or greater complexity.”
The sun was warm. Not uncomfortably warm, but warm enough that I was sweating a little. I yanked off my hat and wiped away the sweat on my forehead. “Which doesn't exist,” I said. “Not of human make, at any rate.”
Amida inclined his head just a little.
“There aren't any little green men out there, Amida-buddy. Unless you're holding out on us.”
“I am not.”
“Then who could theoretically hack you?”
“Satou Itsuki-sensei is familiar enough with my base code. The potential exists that he may have left a back door in my original program.”
“Is there a back door?”
Sapphire eyes closed and rose lips pressed together. Amida said nothing.
“Is that a yes?”
“There is no back door of which I am aware, Investigator.”
I really wanted a smoke right then. I fidgeted with my hat instead. Turned it about, examined the brim. Amida's story was so out there that I was just as likely to find my answers tucked into the hatband as anywhere else.
“One last thing-- When I was trying to contact you, none of the protocols I used worked. Why is that?”
“Jiriki, Investigator.” Amida clasped his hands into a half-familiar gesture. A kami would have told me what it was, but I couldn't manage to call up any sort of dataspace programs. Funny, that. Stuck in the Pure Land and not a kami to be seen. “You cannot come to the Pure Land through self-power. Only tariki, the power of another, can save you.”
“I wasn't looking for salvation.”
I cocked an eyebrow.
“All men seek after salvation in time.”
The Pure Land washed away, the perfect pixels fading into otherworldly obscurity.
I used to be good at waiting. Back when I was one of Alexander's boys in fatigues, waiting was all we did. There was a bit of action every now and then. A little bit, but not much. When it comes down to it, waiting is a soldier's primary skill.
These days, I'm not so good at it. I'm spoiled. I've got the heft to cut through just about any line I like, and the Shogun's words to back it up. Problem is, on a world like Susanou, there's no infrastructure for travel. No lines to cut. No suborbitals to commandeer. There was Alexandria's monorail with its perpetual four or five passengers, and not much else. Certainly nothing that ran out into the woods and to Amida's temple.
I sat in the back of the armored car-slash-police cruiser and brooded. We'd knocked out about an hour of the trip and with two more to go, I had plenty of time for my brooding. Amida's story hadn't made me happy. No pat answers and a pair of leads that made me feel more than a little ill.
I took off my hat and pressed my temple up against the window. Not quite like a cold glass of alcohol, but it'd do. I spun off two search kami and let them do their thing. I expected some decent hits on Itsuki Satou and just about nothing on alien buddhas. Maybe some crackpot conspiracy sites, if anything.
Search results spilled out in the air into front of me. Not my new searches. Hits on the geisha that I'd been to exhausted to go over the night before and forgotten about this morning. Not that there was much of interest. Some personal data. Her name, Hestia Kawamori; her place and date of birth, Thrace City, Seven-Eighteen-Fifty-eight, which made her a solid decade younger than me. Measurements. Blood type. Geisha's union documents and training certificates. She'd had lots of musical training. First rank shakuhachi and flute, first rank shamisen, second rank koto. Big yawn. Nothing explained the funny little look last night, except maybe my overwhelming sex appeal.
Yeah. I wouldn't put any bets on that one.
I fiddled with my smokes. The package was empty. Spirited away by Amida, maybe. More likely that I'd finished and not noticed, I guess, but it was a nice idea. The noble buddha helping my unwilling soul towards enlightenment. I leaned forward and said, “You kids smoke?”
Thornhill grunted. Lambert produced a pack and aimed the open end at me over his shoulder. I plucked one out and lit up. It wasn't much better than Hestia's offering, but it had nicotine. All that matters in the end. “Thanks.”
“Ieie,” Lambert muttered. He was clearly channeling Thornhill for enthusiasm.
The cruiser hit a pothole and I leaned back. One of the search kami came back, waving its metaphorical arms and hollering for attention.
Satou Itsuki-sensei, creator of the nembutsu, architect of Dainichi, father to the buddhas and one of the very few immortal mugen, was on Susanou and had been on Susanou for nearly a month. “Huh.”
Thornhill flicked his eyes towards the rear view mirror. I shooed him off. Or tried to, anyways. The eyes in the mirror narrowed and said, “We share information with you.”
“Yup.” I didn't point out that they had to, legally. I didn't point out that I could have found any information they had stored away. I wanted to, but I was a good little boy.
“You,” said Thornhill, “are not an easy man to help.”
“I never asked for help.”
Lambert made a noise. That was all. Neither one of them said anything until we hit the city limits. Fine by me. I didn't want to talk about it. Didn't trust them enough, even if I did. I'm a suspicious bastard, in case you hadn't figured it out.
Thornhill dropped me off in front of the hotel. My request. The trip out to the boondocks had eaten up most of the day. I was hungry and tired and wanted a chance to clear my head. Get caught up on the sleep I hadn't had the night before. Tackle this all tomorrow morning. Bright eyed, bushy tailed, all that jazz.
The hotel was a lot like the city. Bigger than it needed to be and mostly empty. I'd seen maybe five other guests during the last day, and not a one of them was the guy who stepped into the elevator with me at the lobby.
There were a lot of funny things about the man. He was sweating a lot. Obviously nervous. Very nervous. His hands clenched and unclenched, keeping time with his breath. Rapid and shallow and not very effective. Funniest thing of all were the kami hanging around him. Privacy models that made his face indistinct and would leave his voice vague.
I wasn't entirely surprised when I felt the gun poke into the small of my back. It was smooth and rounded and most probably a pulse thrower. I stuck my hands up and sighed.
“You're in over your head.” The voice as I heard it was modulated and inhuman. A kami stripped the effects out and fed the guy's real voice through. It shook.
The gun dug in a little deeper. “Lay off the Rankin thing.”
I laughed. I tried not to, but I couldn't help it. “You've gotta be kidding me. Who do you think I am? Some local PI?”
“Knock it off. You're not in a good spot for smartass cracks.”
“I think I probably am, but hey. It's the first time anyone's tried to send me a message like this in a long time. I might just be out of practice. So let's hear it.” I pulled up a rear view window and watched as the kami worked to counter the privacy screening. The guy blinked and the gun slipped a little bit. “Rankin. The dead monk. Lay off. Get out of here.”
“You heard me.” There was a short, high pitched whine. The pulse gun's equivalent of a hammer cocking back.
I wasn't all that worried about the gun. My coat would wick off most of the pulse. I stood there and watched the indicator on the elevator count off floors and waited for him to act. “Well? This is getting a little old, kid.”
Yeah. The coat absorbed the blast. The wicks woven into the fabric carried off the energy and discharged it safely into the air. Just the way they were supposed to work. Burned like all of Enma's hells. I didn't go down, though, and the guy clearly thought I would. He froze for a heartbeat when I didn't crumble. Long enough; I dropped my hands fast. Drove the edge of my right hand into his crotch. Whatever wetware he had in his head must've been good about blocking pain. It was a solid blow and he should have at least flinched. Hell, I would've been on the floor, whimpering like a little kid. He didn't whimper and he sure as hell didn't go down.
Right. Plan B. I felt my buddy bringing the pulse gun up. He'd obviously got smart and was looking for a target that wouldn't be hiding any armor, like the back of my neck. I threw my weight backwards and drove him against the elevator wall. The pulse gun was pinned between my shoulder blades and his chest. He could still pull the trigger, but my coat would soak up the blast. I'm not sure he could say the same about his shirt.
There was a soft chime. The elevator door slid open. As luck would have it, one of the other half-dozen guests in the hotel was waiting for the lift.
She didn't join us. Funny, that. We even gave it a rest for a second so she could get herself situated. The elevator sealed up again and when she didn't get on, we went back to trying to beat the hell out of each other.
I drove my elbow into the guy's face. Something crunched. Wetware and pain-blocking kami or no, the guy stiffened. I got my hands around his arm, threw my weight forward and made damn sure he came with me. An extra tug and he went over my shoulder and onto the floor, face up. Blood poured from his nose. He tried to bring the pulse gun to bear, but his arm was shaky. I kicked the thing out of his hand and then kicked him a couple of times to get my point across. It wasn't exactly polite, but it worked. He stopped struggling.
Warnings popped up in dataspace and on the hardscreens in the walls. The Hoteru no Susanou had a zero-tolerance policy on violence. Kami were contacting authorities even now, stand down, cease and desist, assume the position, blah blah. I soothed it by uploading my ID to the hotel dataspace. The real one, with all the permissions and authentication codes and authority that Alexander and the bakufu could issue.
“So,” I said, crouching down next to my him, “Can we try this again? The talk, I mean. I don't really need to work you over again. Not unless you really want me to.”
He said something. I couldn't make heads or tails of it. Neither could any of my kami. It was possible that I had kicked him a little too hard one time too many. There was a soft whistle in his breath.
I asked a kami to establish a link with the fellow's wetware. His eyes darted around. Panic. The kami I sent wasn't being too gentle about bringing down his firewall kami. Recent experience told me that it wasn't a pleasant feeling at all.
“Hey. Listen to me.” I smacked him just hard enough to get him to focus. “I'm just checkin' your vitals, kid. Calm down. I don't have the hardware with me to strip mine your head. So... How about this. You talk. You give me a nice, solid hit on what's going on here, and I won't have a kami index your brain cells. Wakatta?”
Silence. His lips didn't even twitch, but his eyes stopped jerking around and settled on mine.
“Good deal,” I said. “There's no reason any of this has to be....”
I rocked back on my heels. His eyes weren't calm, they were empty. He had nirvana eyes. I checked the back of his head for a nembutsu. I didn't find one and I wasn't all that surprised about it. The nembutsu took time. The on-board kami was careful about what it did. This, though. Whatever was going on in his head, it was quick. It didn't need to take its time. It wasn't intended to preserve a mind inside Amida. It was meant to erase a mind.
Well done, Ellison. Nicely played. You were busy being a smart ass while black market software fed the guy's brain through a shredder.
I heard a faint pop and smelled burning meat. His eyes lost what little bit of life they still had and the fragile connection with his wetware vanished. I felt his jugular for a pulse that I knew wouldn't be there.
I turned down the body. The guy didn't carry much in the way of interesting stuff on him. Not outside of his skin, anyways. Whatever had just torched his brain was definitely interesting. Not exactly the kind of thing I could get my hands on just then.
I got the gun from the corner of the elevator and gave it a once over. Pretty standard piece of equipment. A mark five DuPont-Beretta pulse gun. Nothing custom. Nothing illegal. The safety was a perfectly legit kami that locked and unlocked on command just the way it was supposed to. It would've even closed up shop for the night if I had asked it to. That'll make you feel stupid for letting someone shoot you in the back.
I stared into the kid's vacant eyes and pined for a smoke.
An idea stirred in my head. I didn't like it. It was an ugly little idea and it didn't do much to make me feel very safe. It didn't have anything to do with the kid, really, but I was thinking it all the same. I sat alone in an elevator with a fresh corpse. There were no sirens outside. There were no sirens outside because I had told the hotel not to call the cops. The hotel didn't call the cops because I had a dataspace certificate that said I was allowed to do pretty much whatever the hell I wanted to do. I was trusted. More importantly, the certificate was trusted because top-level encryption made it unalterable. It was encrypted by the best encryption and data handling software that existed, just like every other government document in existence. It was encrypted by Amida.