Chapter 1, "3.1416"

The Tokyo day was brutally hot, waves of heat rising in wavering curtains from the pavement. Parked across the street from the Anna Miller's in Meguro, the Idoru kept the tinted windows of the "Kitty Car" rolled up and the air-conditioner running. She watched the restaurant windows with passive intensity, glancing from time to time at her wristwatch. She tapped a finger on the steering wheel, a mannerism reminiscent of the switching of a lioness's tail as it crouches in the tall grass, watching a wary herd of zebras. She gave her watch one last glance, cut the engine and got out of the truck. Rather than approaching the street entrance to the restaurant, she walked to the nearest corner, turned down the street and then into a service alley.

Two doorways, about fifteen feet apart, led from the back of the restaurant into the dingy alleyway. The nearest doorway bore a placard that read "Deliveries." The Idoru passed it by, heading toward the doorway marked "Employees." As she reached for the doorknob, another placard caught her eye, about ten feet further down the alley. It read "Vengeance-crazed Ex-roommates." It was hung on a dumpster.

"Cute," the Idoru muttered. "Little witch knows me too well."

She stepped through the door, passed up a short hallway through a door marked "Women", and entered a long, narrow room. A double bank of lockers lined the wall to her left, while a low counter ran along the opposite wall, a mirror hanging above it. A couple of hairbrushes, a blow-dryer, and several cosmetic containers lay on the counter. A long bench occupied the space between the lockers and the counter. A closed door of the kind that swings in both directions sealed the far end of the room.

The Idoru passed quickly through the room toward the door, then faded aside as she heard footsteps approaching from the far side. The opening door concealed the Idoru from the young woman as she passed through. She was a small, slender woman, somewhat improbably endowed in the chest for her stature, wearing a waitress's uniform with a short-sleeved blouse and a dress with a low cut bodice.

<Back to wearing padding again, are we?> the Idoru commented. She spun around, her eyes wide.

Time froze as the two women stared at each other. This was Nanasawa Kimiko, member of the Darkly Cute Character Assassination Squad, code named "Pixie Mischief".* Then the Idoru lanced her right fist into the woman's face. Kimiko fell awkwardly back onto the bench and rolled off onto the floor, somehow staying on her feet. The Idoru followed up quickly with a left.

<Eeep!> cried Kimiko and jerked aside, wind-milling her arms in an effort to stay on her feet. One of her arms struck the Idoru, whose missed punch had pulled her off balance. The Idoru fell forward into a controlled roll, but came up hard against the bank of lockers. She turned quickly and advanced on Kimiko, who stumbled backward toward the door through which she had just entered, her hands held up in entreaty. The Idoru advanced cautiously, reminding herself not to be taken in by Kimiko's feigned awkwardness. For Pixie Mischief had mastered her own variation of the Drunken Fist style: the Klutzy Waitress. It made her a deceptively dangerous opponent.

<Can't we talk about this please Eri- aaaaaaiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeee!> She fell backward as the Idoru threw a kick, into and through the swinging door. The Idoru tried to follow at once, but was forced to dodge aside as the door swung back into the locker room. When she followed Kimiko into the kitchen, the other woman was already on the far side of the pantry.

A table lined with cream pies separated them. The pair looked at the table, then at each other. Kimiko smiled. <Let's have us a pie-fight.>

The outraged cook and his assistant, screaming imprecations, dove for cover as the combatants utilized the nearest weapons to hand. Pies flew through the air. Meringue spattered, whipped cream frothed. It's not a movie, so you can't see it, but believe me, the carnage was simply awful.

<Mommy?> A girl's voice called from the doorway to the women's locker room. <What's happening in here?>

Kimiko and the Idoru both faced the doorway, each hastily hiding a pie in one hand behind her back.

<Makoto, honey!> Kimiko said with unconvincing lightness. <Is school over already? Haha!>

The little girl in the doorway stared at the two women with big eyes, then around the kitchen at the broken dishes, fallen pans, and pie filling stuck to the walls and ceilings. <What are you doing, Mommy?>

<Oh, Mommy's just having a talk with an old friend, honey!>

The girl looked at the Idoru, who smiled and waved with her free hand. The Idoru noticed that the child had long earrings, almost identical to Ping's. <Hi there. You're a pretty little girl. How old are you?> she asked.

The little girl said nothing, but stared somberly at the Idoru.

<Makoto,> said Kimiko, <Mommy's friend asked you a question.>

<I'm 24,> said Makoto in a small voice.

The Idoru said teasingly, <Oh, you're making fun of me. You can't be 24; that's how old I am!>

Makoto looked at her wonderingly. <You're only 24 days old too?>

The Idoru blinked, opened her mouth, but Kimiko broke in at this point. <Now honey,> Kimiko said in a coaxing voice, <you go back in the locker room and sit for a while. Mommy and her friend have some Real Player Character things to talk about, OK?>

<Can I have some pie?>

<Maybe later, honey.>

<I like pie!>

<I said later. Now do what I told you.>

Makoto slowly turned and walked to the door, turned and looked over her shoulder. <Go on, now.> Kimiko said. <Mommy will be along in a little while.> The girl turned and pushed through the door.

Kimiko looked at the Idoru. <Want some coffee?>

The Idoru nodded and set her pie down on the table. <Sure.> Kimiko put her pie down as well and walked over to the coffee-maker. <Ah-ah,> said the Idoru, warningly. Kimiko looked back over her shoulder, an eyebrow raised. The Idoru cocked a thumb toward the cook hiding under the cutting table. <Let him pour it. I've seen what you can do with a coffee pot.>

Kimiko shrugged and backed off. <As you like,> she said. A minute later the two women were sitting in a booth in the restaurant, the covert object of attention of the horde of young fanboys who made up the restaurant's usual clientele.

<I guess you were expecting me,> the Idoru said, <judging from that little sign in the alleyway.>

Kimiko's mouth bent in a half-smile. <You could've followed the directions and saved me the trouble.>

<Really. We're confident, aren't we.>

Kimiko shrugged. <Dom got in touch after you woke up. And, of course, I heard about that little dust up at the Hikari no Umi.> She sipped at her coffee. < I suppose there's no chance you'd just accept an apology and go away.>

<You suppose correctly.>

<Not even for old-time's sake?>

<I wouldn't bring up the past, if I were you,> said the Idoru. <It's poor salesmanship.>

<Pretty please?> Kimiko said in a coy, little girl voice, fluttering her eyelashes.

The Idoru snorted.

<Well. No forgiveness?>

<Of course not.>

<Didn't think so. I'd rather not fight you with Makoto around, if you don't mind.>

<What's the story on her anyway?>

Kimiko shrugged. <Some special project of Dom's. I'm just supposed to look after her. No idea what it's about, but I've grown fond of her over the last few weeks.>

<Don't worry. We'll pick another time and place to meet.>



<I'll be there.>

They sipped their coffee silently for a few minutes.

<So what happened to you?> the Idoru said, finally. <After you helped trash my rep, you were supposed to take my place.>

<I did,> said Kimiko, <for a while. I got pretty hot, too. People thought I'd break your record for DVD sales.>

<So?>

Kimiko frowned down at the table, fidgeting with the handle of her coffee cup. <So I found out you were right, after all.>

<Wisdom come late,> the Idoru said. <But isn't this job a little public? Aren't you afraid you'll be recognized?>

Kimiko's lips stretched into a thin smile. <In this place? With all this padding I'm wearing? Believe me, the eyes of these fanboys never travel high enough to see my face.>

<Heh. You always were tricky, even as the innocent you used to be.>

Kimiko put her finger through the handle of her cup, slid it slowly back and forth, smearing the coffee ring. <So you see, I really am sorry about all that crap we did to you.>

<I'm sure.>





<Guess not,> said Kimiko, and flipped her half-full cup toward the Idoru's head.

The Idoru had been half-expecting something of the sort, and faded to the side, avoiding the projectile. Her left hand snaked forward, slid up the short sleeve of Kimiko's blouse and onto her shoulder. She yanked hard and spun, twirling Kimiko out of her seat and onto the floor between the booths and the gaping fanboys, to the sound of tearing and snapping.

<Well,> the Idoru said loudly. <What do you suppose this is?> She held aloft a heavily padded bra by one broken strap. Kimiko stood with her arms crossed over the suddenly slack front of her blouse.

There was a gasp from the fanboys, and several whispers of <She was presenting falsely!> <How dare she!> <I must change the data on our web-site immediately!> Kimiko's face went red with embarrassment, and that was all that was needed to spark fanboy recognition.

<Nanasawa-hime?> one of them breathed incredulously.

<It is! It is!> another said.

<Oh Kimi-rin! Why did you leave us?> a third sobbed falling to his knees before Kimiko.

Then there was a sudden, simultaneous convergence of fanboy worship, and a despairing cry. <Nooooooo!>

As the Idoru turned to leave, she was once again met with Makoto's somber gaze. She froze for a moment, at a loss for words. Then she shook her head.

<Well. I didn't want you to have to see that, but she forced my hand. And believe me, your mommy's only getting what she deserved.>

The little girl said nothing, only stared.

<When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, get yourself a Rei Ayanami module, or even a Bugs Bunny, and come after me. I'll be waiting.>

With that declaration, the Idoru left the restaurant and the growing mayhem behind her. As she pulled the "Kitty Car" away from the curb, she could hear the distant sounds of police sirens approaching.

*Ah, McFinnigan, where have ye gone, laddie?

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