MUTINY OF SHUTTLE X569

COMING SOON

FOLLOW-ME

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The first time that Shingo Koike appeared on a Japanese national TV news channel, nobody realized that it was the beginning of a brand-new way of entertaining people: it was the dawn of the Follow-Me show.

In 2030, Tokyo was the first city that adopted a global surveillance system, which was designed to monitor all automated vehicles and drive them through the city without any accidents. The system, named Kanshi, was a combination of traditional cameras, electromagnetic antennas and thermal sensors. With that kind of system, the police were able to see everything, anywhere, at any time. Thanks to the Kanshi, the crime rate dropped to almost zero percent. It was impossible for any criminals to hide; technically, it was impossible for anybody to hide anywhere.

The citizens expressed some concerns about the violation of privacy rights, which led to the creation of Pukanshi, an anti-Kanshi organization. At first, it was just a small group of people who gathered in front of the central police station every Friday morning. They were peaceful and simply asked for more privacy.

But things changed when the Yakuza mobster chiefs turned the Pukan into their personal tool for subverting the status quo. Global surveillance had forced the Yakuza to completely change their ‘business’ model; they had quit their illegal dealings and began to invest huge amounts of capital into the Pukan movement. In less than one year, it became a real political party with its own representatives and campaigns.

The Pukan Party asked for a reduction of the Kanshi pressure in certain neighborhoods, arguing that the antennas were harmful, especially for newborns and the elderly. They paid dozens of scientists to prove that prolonged exposure to electromagnetic fields were the main cause of brain malformations and leukemia.

The Japanese government published a counter-research in order to prove that the whole system was safe, but the Pukan Party spent a lot of money on spreading fake news, especially among people with lower levels of education. There was a very heated scientific debate between pro-Kanshi and anti-Kashi scientists that made citizens more confused. The Yakuza understood that if you can’t mystify science, you can always mystify the facts.

The government was stuck in a useless debate and decided to make some concessions to the Pukan Party. It approved a law that allowed the system to be shut down in specific areas, such as hospitals, primary schools and retirement houses. The Yakuza was winning its fight, and took advantage of that temporary victory to consolidate its power in all areas where the Kanshi was banned.

However, this victory was only temporary. In 2041, Shingo Koike defeated the Yakuza with a single act of bravery. He was a common white-collar employee, a sararīman, working late for his company, totally committed to his boss. He had no special skills and was on the path to karōshi, death by overwork, until he turned into a hero.

On July 21st, around 9.45pm, he was going to take the elevated train to get home; the same train and same route he always took. He slowly went upstairs, reached the platform, then waited for the train with his back bent like a twig, his arms rigid at his side, one hand gripping his suitcase. He was completely exhausted. Shingo was thinking about the fact that the next day would be yet another hard-working day. And so on, for the rest of his useless life.

He heard the sound of the train in the distance and stared at the rails. If I jump, I’ll be free, forever. But the other people who are going back home will be delayed. I can’t do that. I don’t want to ruin their day with my stupid death.

Shingo was so unselfish that he couldn’t help but think about others, even when planning his own death. The train was approaching when suddenly, at the end of the platform, he saw something – a young short guy, dressed in black, was running away. There was an old woman on her knees screaming and pointing at him. “Help me please! He stole my bag! Please, I need help!”

Shingo felt a strange electric charge jolt through his spine, and stood up as if he had been hit by an invisible and powerful energy. He dropped his suitcase and ran after the robber. His eyes turned red as if he was possessed by some kind of demon from the traditional Nō theatre. He literally jumped a whole ramp of stairs like a tiger, and ran so fast that he could feel his heart pumping blood like a steam engine. The robber was really quick and turned sharply into a narrow alley, but Shingo gained foot by foot, until he could finally touch the robber’s jacket. In a final effort, he launched himself at the robber and grabbed him by the legs like a rugby player. The robber fell down and smashed his head on the road, leaving him immediately unconscious.

Shingo stood up slowly and looked at the body lying still before him. “Oh no, I’ve killed him! What have I done? I’m a murderer!”

The flickering light of a lamppost was the only witness of their mad rush. Shingo moved the body close to the wall, then walked out of the alley to find help. In the distance, he saw the green and yellow sign of a convenience store.

He rushed into the store and found the shopkeeper restocking a fridge with soda. “Help me, please – I need your help! There’s a man lying on the street. I think he’s dead! Please, you need to help!”

The shopkeeper dropped the cans, ran to the phone and called the police. Shingo fell exhausted in front of the fridge; its whitish light was the last thing that he saw before passing out, while in the distance the sound of sirens grew louder and louder.

“Good morning, Koike-san. Can you hear me? I’m Dr. Kaneda.”

“Where...am...I?”

“Relax, Koike-san, you need to rest now. I’ll come back later to check your vitals.”

Shingo was in the Nakagawa hospital, the best cure that money can buy. He was still sedated after a having cardiac surgery the previous night. He ran so much that his heart just refused to pump any more blood through his veins. But he was lucky, Dr. Kaneda was the most skilled surgeon in the country.

“Where am I? Who are you?”

“He’s waking up!” shouted the nurse who had been monitoring him.

“Oh good, our hero is waking up. How are you, Koike-san?” Dr. Kaneda leaned over Shingo, adjusting his tiny glasses.

“I feel strange. My chest... it hurts!”

“Koike-san, that’s perfectly normal; you had a cardiovascular surgery a few hours ago. Now you are all fine, don’t worry.”

“Surgery? I don’t remember anything – but that man! Is he okay?”

“Are you talking about the robber?”

“Yes, is he okay?”

“Well, he’s dead. But it’s not your fault. It was an accident.”

“Oh no, I’ve killed him!”

“Koike-san, I know what happened last night. The whole nation knows that it’s not your fault.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Look at this.” The doctor grabbed the remote control and switched on the TV. “It’s everywhere.”

“Is that me?!” Shingo tried to get up, but he was still too weak.

All the TV channels had the same image: Shingo’s face and the title ‘sararīman hero’. Thanks to the Kanshi, everybody had seen his unbelievable act of altruism, despite his age. Everybody saw him jumping, running and catching the robber. The final part was hidden because there were no cameras in that alley, so the police never announced that the robber had been killed.

Shingo’s life had changed for good. One week later, Shingo was invited by Nippon Terebi, the most influential national channel, for a sixty-minute interview that was viewed by 85% of the population. Two weeks later, he signed a life-long contract to host a new daily TV program: the Follow-Me show. Every day, Shingo would pick the best clip from the Kanshi footage and share it with the public. In the beginning, there were just two categories: hero of the day and lucky citizen. But Follow-Me, known as FM, became so popular that people began to spend their days trying to be Shingo’s next choice. There were people all around the city doing crazy stuff just to be noticed; some of them even faked bank robberies or car chases.

For the Christmas special, two policemen bribed a homeless person to break into a house, just so they could arrest him and be the heroes of the day. People went crazy for FM and everybody wanted to be famous and rich like Shingo. Nippon Terebi signed a deal with the Tokyo local government to sponsor hundreds of flying cameras; people asked for more spectacular viewing points and the police department was happy to increase its control.

FM became the most popular TV show in global history. The format was sold to other countries and Nippon Terebi made billions of yen just from marketing and merchandising. Shingo was the hen that laid golden eggs. But hens, just like other animals, can die.

It happened in 2065, on the 24th anniversary of Shingo’s first episode of FM. That day, in the middle of the live night show, the heart of the sararīman hero simply stopped beating. It was the most appropriate way of dying: right in front of his audience. But the most lucrative TV show ever broadcasted couldn’t end like this. Nippon Terebi knew that Shingo was the soul of the show and that the people saw him as a model citizen– he was the next-door hero. That was how a TV show became a 24/7-streaming internet channel hosted by an AI avatar modelled after Shingo’s face. Shingo was going to live forever.

“Have you seen the last FM episode? It was crazy!”

“Yeah, jumping from the Nakatomi Plaza just to grab a pigeon was pretty dope, dude!”

It was 2165. All the kids were talking about FM; it was still the most popular channel online. A hundred years later and Shingo is still alive. Tokyo changed a lot during the last century – taller skyscrapers, faster cars, flying drones, AI and cyborgs all over the city, even FM had changed. New categories had been added: crazy clips, funny clips, action clips, and the anti-hero of the day. The spontaneous vibe of early FM was completely gone; the show had become more like a national sport, where people were sponsored to be the ‘Followed’. There were teams that fought each other to be the most popular of the day, and there were laws and regulations to protect them.

The Kanshi system now reached every single corner of the city, with brand new technologies such as echo-scanners and FPV retina scans. Tokyo became a huge battlefield where people fought for popularity. This massive social control led to the Yakuza (who were indeed still in business) hacking into the Kanshi system and hiring more politicians for the Pukanshi, in an effort to undermine FM and its dangerous social consequences. The Pukan party’s campaign focused on informing people that even though the crime ratio had never been so low, the number of deaths and injuries had skyrocketed during the last fifty years – this was the direct consequence of reckless actions by people who wanted to be famous for a day. The most recent victim was a twelve-year-old kid who tried to grab a pigeon while jumping from the top of one skyscraper to another. He was competing to be shown in the FM crazy clips. This was the second-most popular category, with more than fifty million active members.

The most popular category was the FM action clips, where members were allowed to fight each other using nothing but blades. Firearms were strictly forbidden. Thanks to FM, Japan rediscovered its old bladesmith tradition and Blademasters became very popular once more. The best swords were forged in Asakusa, along the Sumida river, where dozens of artisans produced the highest quality weapons a member could buy. If you had a sponsor, you could buy a katana produced by Naoki. He produced only two katanas per year and had a waiting list of nine years. Only the best could afford to purchase his wonderful weapons.

Naoki had a young apprentice named Akane. She was originally from Hokkaido but moved to Tokyo after the 2160 Dai Jishin, the worst earthquake of the century, which had killed her parents. She spent five months in a refugee shelter in the Kaminarimon temple, where she worked as a cleaner. That was where she met Naoki for the first time. Naoki had gone to the shrine to pray for his ancestors, and noticed a little kid sweeping the steps with so much energy and passion that he couldn’t help asking her name. Akane was a brilliant girl and wasn’t scared of the old man; she told him that he looked like her grandpa. Naoki was moved by her story and offered her a job as his apprentice. Akane accepted.

“Naoki-san, the oven is ready! I’ve adjusted the methane exhaustion to make sure it’s flowing correctly. You can start casting the iron bars if you want.” Akane went upstairs from the narrow squeaky wooden stairs.

“Be patient, Akane-san. The flames need to be warm enough to melt the iron. It’s not about temperature, it’s about timing.” Naoki was upstairs, drinking his tea. The room was lit by the full moon. They were working and living in the shop, which was a two-story building with a basement. On the ground floor, they stored all the equipment used for forging blades, while the upper floor had two tiny rooms, a bathroom and a small common area. The basement was used for storing the metal bars and other tools. The Blademaster was one of the richest men in Asakusa, but he still lived in a place that was worth less than one of his katanas.

Naoki took a last sip of his tea, then went downstairs. “Akane-san, the oven is perfect. You are a very talented blacksmith. Maybe one day, I will show you how to shape a blade, if you’re ready. I will die one day, and I need to make sure that my skills will be passed to another – just like my master did with me, and his master with him, and so on. Our secrets have been handed down through the centuries; the first master created swords for the great Oda Nobunaga and his clan.”

“Naoki-san, I would be honored to learn your skills.” Akane bowed respectfully, as if she was speaking with the Emperor.

“Stop bowing and help me with that katana. It’s ready to be delivered. Can you please take it to this address?” Naoki-san wrote something on a piece of paper, folded it and gave it to Akane.

“Sure Naoki-san. I will protect it as if it were my own life. Don’t worry!”

“I do not worry, Akane. I do trust you.”

Akane wrapped the katana in a thick black cloth and put it in its bag. “See you later, Naoki-san.” She put on her jacket and walked out of the shop.

“Goodbye, Akane, goodbye.”

Her e-bike was parked right next to the shop. In the 22nd century, bicycles were still the best way to travel around Tokyo.

Akane put on her holo-lens. “Holo, where is this address?” She looked at the paper and a map appeared on the upper-right corner of her field of view. “Oh damn, it’s on the other side of the city,” she thought. “Holo, shorter way, please.”

The map showed two paths – the shorter one passed close to an FM battlefield. “I choose the second path. Avoid any active battlefield and notify me if any warriors are in the area. Let’s go.” She switched on the e-bike and left for her mission.

Along the Sumida river, there was no sound but her bike. She crossed the Ryogoku bridge, heading towards Nagatachō, her final stop. Following the map on her holo-lens, she had to pass from Shin-Nihonbashi, crossing the Central Station, Chiyoda and then Nagatachō. The holo-lens didn’t show any warriors around, so she decided to detour via Ginza; she loved Ginza, and most of all she loved Hibiya park. It was where she first slept after she had left Hokkaido after the earthquake.

When she arrived, the place was quiet. She parked her e-bike next to the central fountain, which was reflecting the full moon; the water shone like melted iron. Akane sat on the edge of the fountain and looked into the water, staring at her reflection for a while. The air was calm and warm. Everything was perfect that night.

In the distance, she heard a strange noise coming, like a deep buzz. She turned her head and saw a flickering red and green light in the air. “Stupid FM camera, they are everywhere! I wonder why the holo-lens didn’t notify me that it was approaching. Maybe they need to be rebooted…” She moved towards her bike, then suddenly felt a strange force that held her in that position. She instinctively tried to free herself, but she was stuck. Akane didn’t realize that something was holding her bag.

“Hey kid, what the hell are you doing here? Don’t you know that this park is our base?”

“Yeah kid, who are you? Aren’t you afraid of going out all by yourself?”

Akane turned her head and realized that two tall men were holding her tightly.

“Ryo, I think she’s lost! Why don’t we help her get back home?”

“Yeah Kenji, let’s help her.”

Akane was paralyzed; one of the men was holding the katana bag. If anyone found out, it would be too humiliating for her. She couldn’t lose such a precious object.

“I’m not lost, thank you. I live in Nagatachō with my parents. Please let me go, they’ll be worried if I’m not back soon,” she said in a trembling voice.

“Don’t be scared, dear! We’ll take care of you. It could be very dangerous out here, for a kid like you. Just let us help you – right, Ryo?”

“Yeah Kenji, it could be very dangerous.”

Akane tried to escape from their grasp, but they were too strong for her. In a last effort to break herself free, she pushed so hard that the bag tore, letting the handle of the katana slip out from the cloth.

“Look at that, Kenji. She’s a kunoichi!” They both laughed loudly.

“Let’s see your weapon then.” Kenji felt a strange energy while handling the katana. He unsheathed it and the blade shone under the moonlight. “I can’t believe it. This is a gift from Hachiman!” he shouted at the moon, holding the katana above his head.

“Kenji, show me that blade. I want to try it!”

“Hands off, you fool! This is a masterpiece. You can’t even touch it. Look here, look at the kanji carved on the tsuba.” Kenji pointed his finger at a symbol. “It’s made by Naoki-san!”

“Are you sure? Do you know how much that’d be worth? We could sponsor our team for ten years!”

“Give it to me, it’s MINE!” Akane shouted so loud that a few crows flew out of a tree.

“She might be a kid, but she has a powerful voice. Let’s see if you can take it back.” Kenji was slicing the katana through the air in a figure of eight.

The girl realized that fighting was useless. She had to use another strategy. “You can take it, I don’t care, but please don’t hurt me and let me go.”

“That’s a wise thing to say. It’s better that you go home, you’re not worthy of carrying this weapon with you. Go home and play with your dolls.”

Akane returned to her e-bike, unlocked it and biked away from the park.

“That was too easy, Kenji. I didn’t have fun.”

“Who cares about fun? We’re gonna be so rich! The boss will be very happy to see what–”

Kenji finished his sentence with the sound of his forehead smashing to the ground. Akane hit him with the bike so hard that she and the katana both went flying a few feet away. She jumped up and grabbed the weapon with both hands.

“You damn kid! I’ll kill you!” Ryo pulled out a switchblade from his jacket. “I’ll rip your throat and chop your head off with your own katana!” He ran at her, screaming and waving the knife.

Akane wasn’t scared. She stood right in front of him, holding the katana with both hands in front of her heart. Ryo was about six feet away, but she was still standing there without moving a muscle. He approached her stretching out his right arm, trying to stab Akane in the stomach – but she turned backwards, using her left leg as a pivot, then slashed the katana down in a smooth circular movement. Ryo’s hand was still flying in front of him.

“YOU CUT OFF MY HAND!” Ryo was crying and screaming on his knees, holding his bloody stump.

“I think you need a hand, don’t you?” Akane kicked his hand away from him and walked back to her e-bike. She still had a mission to accomplish. The silence of the empty park was broken by Ryo’s crying while Akane biked away.

There were dozens of skyscrapers around that looked all the same. Akane wandered about for a while until she found her destination. “Here I am – Nagatachō ,417-550, Kaminari Building. Let’s do this.” She pressed the intercom button and waited for a response.

“Hello, who’s there?” a voice buzzed from the speaker.

“Good evening, my name is Nobiki Akane. Naoki-san sent me here with a package for Nobu-san. Could you please open the gate?”

“Of course. Lift number three, forty-fifth floor. The door is open.”

The iron gate opened. There was a huge, square court with eight lifts spread across the sides. The number three lift was just in front of her. She pushed the button and the door instantly opened.

She stepped out of the lift on the forty-fifth floor, then walked down the corridor until she reached an open door waiting for her. She stopped before the doorway and knocked. “Hello there, it’s Nobiki. I’ve got your package.”

The silence of the house was broken by heavy steps. It seemed like an elephant was approaching, making the floor tremble. He was Nobu Masamune, a former sumo fighter known as Kintaro, the golden boy. He never lost a single match, turning him into the most famous rikishi ever.

“Hello Nobiki-san. You’ve got something for me, haven’t you?” he said, reaching his head to peer over Akane’s shoulder.

“Yes, Nobu-san, this is your katana. Dōzo.” She bowed her head and handed him the sword with both hands.

“Oh, look at that. It’s amazing!” Nobu took the katana and carefully examined it while Akane was still bowing her head. “Wait, is this some kind of joke? Are you kidding me?” he shouted. “What’s that?” he said, pointing his big fat index finger on the tsuka ito. “Is that a blood stain? Oh yes, it is! I won’t ever accept a used katana! That’s so disrespectful. Take your damn katana and get the hell out of my house!”

Nobu slammed the door so hard that Akane felt air pressure deep inside her chest. She headed back to the lift without saying a word, but in her soul her terror grew bigger and bigger.

“I’ve dishonored Naoki-san. This katana is useless now and nobody will ever buy it. It’s all my fault! I’ve never detoured through Ginza before. It’s all my damn fault.” Her cheeks were tear-stained, she felt useless and depressed; she was going down along with the lift.

She biked back to the shop with a single image in her mind: the disappointed face of Naoki-san after she told him what happened.

Approaching the river, she even thought about throwing herself in the water and ending her useless life. But before committing suicide, she had to get back to the shop and explain what happened.

“I’m back, Naoki-san.” Akane’s voice was trembling with fear.

“Welcome back, Akane. Are you okay? You’re so pale!”

“Well, Naoki-san, I had a problem. I’m so sorry.” She burst into tears and showed him the katana.

“Oh dear, why are you crying so much? What happened with your delivery?”

“Naoki-san, I failed the mission. I’m not worthy of your compassion. I had a fight with two men who wanted to steal the katana. I fought and used the blade, so Nobu-san wouldn’t accept it, because it has been used. I’m so sorry, Naoki-san, it’s all my fault.” Akane sobbed, now covered with tears.

“You used the katana to protect yourself? You didn’t tell me you knew how to handle a sword!” His wrinkled old face was stretched by a huge smile, showing his perfect white teeth.

“Naoki-san, why are you smiling? Nobu-san refused to buy a second-hand katana! I’ve failed my mission.”

“Who cares about that fat kintaro? I’ve never liked that spoiled brat. I was a very old friend of his father, that’s the only reason why I agreed to forge him a blade. Today is a very happy day, the katana choose you to be its master.”

“It chose me? What are you talking about?”

“My dear Akane, each blade that is forged by fire contains a small part of Kagutsuchi’s energy. It remains silent until a real warrior handles it and fights for his or her life. I’m pretty sure that the katana is happier in your hands than in that kintaro’s fatty paws.”

“I can’t be its master, it’s too precious for me! I can’t accept it.”

“Akane, it’s too late now. It has chosen you. Where did you use the katana for the first time?”

“I was in Hibiya park.”

“That’s close to Hayabusachō, isn’t it?”

“Yes, why do you ask?” Akane still sobbed quietly, but her tears had stopped flowing.

“Your katana needs a name. The spirit inside it needs to be named after something that reminds you of your strength, speed and courage. Without a name, it will be a ronin, and it will curse whoever touches it. What do you think of Hayabusa, after the peregrine falcons?”

“Last time I saw one of those, I was still in Hokkaido. They are one of my favorite animals. I love that name!” Akane was crying again, but this time they were tears of joy.

“This is a very important day, Akane. From now on, you can’t leave Hayabusa alone. It will be your best friend.”

“SHE will be my best friend!” Akane pointed out, smiling.

“Yes, you are right, she will be. Well, it’s very late now and tomorrow we need to wake up early. Let’s go to bed.”

“Of course, Naoki-san. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight Akane – and Hayabusa.”

The light of the sun flooded her room. Akane was still sleeping on the futon, guarded by her new friend resting on a wooden stand.

“Akane, wake up!” called Naoki. “You’ve got visitors today.”

She was still asleep when two men rushed into her room.

“Good morning, Akane-san! It’s time to go. Go brush your teeth, then follow us – we’re in a hurry.”

“Come on, kid – today is your day. Let’s move on!”

Akane thought she was still dreaming and turned her back to them. “Yeah yeah, I’m coming.”

“Akane-san, I’m sorry but we MUST go now. We will be late for the morning show!”

One of the men leaned over and shook her shoulder, trying to wake her up. “We’ve got less than an hour, let’s go!”

She twisted her head and finally focused her eyes. The man had an FM badge pinned on his jacket.

“FM? Are you working for the Follow-Me show?” Akane sprung up from her futon like a grasshopper.

“If you don’t come with us now, we will be unemployed by the end of the day. Hurry up!”

Akane rushed into the bathroom and shouted, “I’ll see you downstairs in five minutes!”

When the car stopped in front of Nippon Terebi, there was a screaming crowd waiting for her. A dozen security agents were stopping the people from rushing at the car. There were so many people that it was impossible to open the car door.

One of the men said to the driver, “Let’s use the basement entrance, there’s a lift that goes straight to the studios.”

As soon as the car parked, the two men rushed out of the car and helped Akane to get out. They opened the door and she squeezed out of the car, grabbing Hayabusa. The four of them stepped into the lift that quickly closed its doors.

“Akane, you are the special guest of today’s Follow-Me show. You just have to answer a few questions, then you will be free to go. Don’t be nervous, just be yourself and everything will be all right. Do you understand?”

“Yes, be myself and answer questions, I can handle that.”

The door opened and a friendly woman rushed towards Akane. “Good morning, sweetheart! I’m Himiko and I will take care of your make-up. We don’t have much time, so please stand still and close your eyes.”

Himiko made her makeup rapidly, then brushed Akane’s short black hair and finished with a quick shot of hairspray in just two minutes. “Et voila! You are perfect, my dear. You are ready for the show.”

“Thank you so much, Himiko,” the tallest man said. Another man took Akane by the hand and led her along the corridor to the studio.

“Akane, do you see that door? Well, I’m not allowed to go any further, but now it’s your turn to shine.” He opened the door and pushed her inside, shutting the door right behind her back. In less than five minutes, Akane had been thrown from the backseat of a car into a dark room.

“Silence, please! The show will start in three, two, one...”

“Show? I’m not ready yet. Please tell me what to–” Akane was blinded by a spotlight.

“Ladies and gentlemen, today we are proud to have in our studio, the Follow-Me hero of the day: Nobiki Akane!” The voice came from a hidden speaker somewhere in the studio, which shifted from pitch black to bright white in less than a second. Akane was still trying to understand where she was when the camera pointed at her face.

“Akane-san, did you know that your fight last night was one of the most viewed episodes so far? Where did you learn how to fight like that?”

Akane was still dazed and couldn’t say a word. She was still trying to figure out where the strange voice was coming from.

“Akane-san, I guess you are a bit confused, it’s too much popularity in a single day! Let’s see your video first, then please give us some feedback.” The light faded out.

“You’re doing great kid, but please say something! Anything you want, we need to hear your voice.” Himiko was there brushing Akane’s hair while her video from last night was broadcasted. Somebody dragged a chair and pushed it behind her legs. She was literally forced to sit.

“Okay people, we are starting again in four, three, two, one...” The bright light and the interview continued.

“Could you please explain what happened last night? We would love to hear any details.”

Akane was recovering from the sudden light, and started talking slowly. “Well, I was in Hibiya park, heading to Nagatachō when two guys–”

“Thank you so much, Akane – but the question we really want you to answer is: are you going to join a team?” the ghost voice asked.

“Well, I don’t know, maybe...”

“That’s a scoop! She’s searching for a team! Please send us your requests and we will be happy to forward it to our hero. Thank you so much and we’ll see you tomorrow.” Lights off, the show was over. Akane wasn’t sure if she was still dreaming or not; everything was really strange.

The back door opened and Himiko grabbed the kid by the jacket to pull her out of the studio.

“You were great, you were born to do that!”

“But I didn’t say anything,” Akane hesitantly replied.

“Who cares about words? They want to see your actions!”

Later that day, Akane was escorted back to the shop where Naoki was sanding a blade.

“I’m back Naoki-san. You can take a break, I’ll help you with that blade now.”

“Welcome back, Akane. I saw your interview. It wasn’t very exciting, but I think that people love you, no matter what you say. Go upstairs and relax, I’ll take care of the blades from now on.”

“Naoki-san, I want to help you. I’m still your apprentice.” Akane replied with a sad smile.

“My dear, you have new friends now. I can feel that your mind isn’t going to stay focused on being my apprentice anymore. You need to live your life and show yourself how good you are. It’s time for you to live your dream.” The old man fell silent and went back to his sanding.

Akane knew that it was his way of saying goodbye. She went upstairs, then filled her backpack with some clothes and an old book of samurai stories. Maybe that was the last time she had the chance to see her room. She walked downstairs with a sense of melancholy, remembering all the times that she walked down those stairs to begin her daily routine with Naoki.

“Naoki-san, I thank you for your help. If you need anything, please call me and I’ll come here as quick as a thunder. Goodbye, master.” Akane bowed, shedding a few tears onto the floor.

“Good luck, Akane. Never forget to follow your heart. Never forget that.”

She never forgot. For the next 25 years, she fought each battle without forgetting her master. Akane became the Onna-bugeisha, the most famous Follow-Me hero ever. At the age of 35, she finally had to stop fighting because people wanted her to host the show. After 125 years, Shingo was finally replaced by another next-door hero: Akane, the warrior from Hokkaido.

When she died, she was buried next to her master, her loyal friend. Hayabusa, was displayed in the main hall of the Japanese National Museum; it was considered the most valuable katana ever created in all of Japanese history.

 

THE END

Lamees Alhassar