Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Underarm with the knife!”

Every instructor I have ever had said that. It’s not strictly true, but it’s a good start. When it comes right down to it, you stick the knife through any gap available, switching grip as necessary. You need to be quick to do the switch, but after a few hundred years it becomes second nature.

I come back to the moment to find Corporal Stevens flying through the air and Sergeant-Major Kejiro looking at me intently. I must have lost the plot and used an old move for getting rid of irritating knifemen quickly. I straighten up shakily by over-correcting my suit and finish in a very non-combative stance, pointing at Stevens.

“How?” I ask plaintively.

Kejiro relaxes a bit as the other recruits laugh at me. Drill resumes and I spend the rest of the session being very average. After the post-session diagnostics and stripdown I take a long run.

This planet is like rural Lincolnshire; level with far horizons across rolling farmland, broken by copses where plants resembling dog-daisies nestle under wind-biased trees. There is nothing moving. With our sentry gun regime, the lack of visible activity is easily understood. We could be inadvertently conditioning a new generation of stealth predators to trouble the local farmers and hare equivalents, all in the name of security.

Returning several sprinted kilometres later I head for the showers, having left enough time for the other recruits to move on. Coming out of them I find Kejiro waiting. I had been too good at being not very good for the rest of the session, it seems. He casually asks me: “When did you study with Abuta?”

“Just before the dojo-“ I pause. He had asked me in formal Japanese. Oh, I was having an off day today.

Kejiro swings himself to stand square in front of me before performing a deep bow. He straightens up but keeps his head down, gaze below mine. Of all the places to meet a believer.

I say the words again: “Look up, warrior soul. I am nought but a ghost passing on the wind.”

He does so, his features suffused with wonder and question: “Kalpa-sama?”

“Yes. But I shall be gone soon, out to battle amongst the stars. Can you hold true?”

He looks about carefully before dropping to his knees and making the shin bow to me, with not a teapot in sight.

“I can, soke. But may I ask, how came you here?”

He deserved that, at least.

“From Thermopylae to Fuji to Mars to here, I have followed the centuried trail of the one who told me to come and find my kin when I was ready. I am slowly going home. Rise.”

He stands, a tentative smile on his face. Then he turns to one side and gestures with his far hand: “Would you take tea? My grandfather sends it from Akihabara. Then I would ask a favor.”

Here it comes. It always does.

“I would like to take Ikebana to the stars, hakase. It is said that you studied Ikenobo?”

Astounding. I expected the lost five kata of the Nine Dragons, or maybe the nerve touches of the Linguakai. But this? Hundreds of light-years from Kyoto a man is asking me to teach him the purest art of flower arranging. I am humbled again. This time, I bow to him.

“It would be a pleasure. Lets have that tea and discuss the fundamentals.”

 

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