Sugita Isao cursed as he rounded the corner into the atrium of the Japanese Sword Museum and nearly ran into one of the security robots. He checked his data sleeve to make sure it was transmitting his position to the automated systems. Sometimes he wondered why they needed a human to work the night shift here at all.
Not that he wasn’t grateful for the employment. It was an absolutely brainless job, and sometimes he imagined he was playing a game on his sleeve. It wasn’t as interesting as MegaSteria, which let you make friends with fantastic creatures and go on walking adventures with them, but the museum’s security software very helpfully guided Isao on his foot patrols every night, even providing prompts to verify that doors were locked, alarms were set, and so on.
Isao yawned while avoiding another passing robot and tapped his sleeve to confirm that an emergency exit door was secured. As he approached the first-floor atrium, the power in the building went out.
This wasn’t an unusual occurrence in postwar Tokyo, so Isao simply stopped walking and logged the event on his sleeve. The Chinese kept promising to improve local infrastructure in the Ryogoku district, now that their drone border had been extended east across the Sumida River, but it hadn’t happened yet. Apparently other things were higher priority to them. Like manufacturing that huge display case for the museum’s new exhibit of Yasukunito.
Moving red lights caught Isao’s eye, and he looked up to see a pair of security robots approaching him. Each one had a ring of display lights circling the top of its conical body, which stood as tall as Isao’s chest. The lights normally lit up in a chase pattern orbiting each robot’s “head,” but both of these bots’ rings were fully lit up, flashing red.
The lead bot ran into Isao’s boot, bounced off, and then ran into him again. Isao backed out of its way and brought up the override controls on his sleeve. While he was looking for the STOP button, a third bot approached from his other side, its light ring also flashing red, and slammed into his shoulder.
“Stop it!” Isao shouted, moving away and running into two more bots that had clustered around him. “What? What is this?”
He frantically slapped at his sleeve controls as more robots gathered around him, the flashing of their red lights seeming more and more menacing. The bots didn’t have any external manipulators, just cameras and speakers to record mischievous activity and warn the perpetrators. But they did have very sturdy drive motors, and there were enough of them now that Isao was pinned against the wall, unable to move. He struggled to keep his arm free, giving up on the robot controls and now trying to call for help.
Just as Isao dialed his phone, every speaker in the museum’s PA system started blaring a very loud K-pop song. Isao didn’t recognize it, but the lyrics were Korean, and the beat sounded like something older. BTS, maybe?
“Help!” he shouted as he saw his phone call connecting. “I’m at the museum! The power’s out and the robots are malfunctioning!”
He kicked at the nearest robots, clearing a path away from the wall. The bots continued mobbing him, nearly knocking him off-balance as he ran for the nearest stairwell. These robots couldn’t climb stairs.
Just as Isao reached the door to the stairwell at the end of the hall, the lights came back on. Isao skidded to a halt and blinked against the brightness, turning to see the robots now dispersing. All their lights were back to normal as well.
The music was still going, though. Isao tried his sleeve controls, but he couldn’t turn off the sound system. He had a sudden surge of fear that someone was in the building and crept through the main hall toward the exit.
But Isao stopped at the entrance to the Yasukunito exhibit gallery and watched, jaw hanging open, as one of the security robots rolled through the room.
The entire central display case of historic swords was gone. As if it had never been there. Not even an outline of its rectangular footprint on the blank concrete floor.
“Impossible!” Isao exclaimed.
The robot turned, as if attracted by his voice, and ran over his foot on its way out of the gallery.
The sun was just rising over the edge of the Japanese Sword Museum building when Emma Higashi, standing in the parking lot, saw her partner approaching on foot. Emma hid what she had been doing on her data sleeve. She didn’t want Miyako to know too much about the progress of Emma’s unofficial investigation into Santiago’s assassination. For Miyako’s sake. At least one of them could keep her hands clean.
After staying up all night, Emma was very close...