sawgrassIt was near dark and I was racing toward the old dojo where my uncle lived and taught Japanese swordsmanship. I was a young man in my fourth year at the deep space training academy at JAXA. I was headed to the dojo because I had received word that my uncle was going to be arrested. A special operations patrol had already landed to collect him.

My breath came in ragged gasps. I leapt over a barrier to the side of the footpath and cut through the tall grass that separated an ancient nature preserve from the land that my uncle’s family had owned for centuries.

Eamon, another JAXA Academy cadet, was trailing behind me by ten or twelve paces. Razor-sharp fen-sedge sawgrass blades brushed past the sleeves of my uniform. Through the thicket, I saw lights in the distance. The whole property was lit up. I leaped over a small brook and pushed through a denser mass of grass. The rooftop of my uncle’s dojo appeared just over the tips of the blades. I pushed aside the tall grass with some effort. The sawgrass was unrelenting. My hands were cut to ribbons. Some of the blades sliced into my neck and face. As we neared the edge of the grass field, I heard shouting from the lawn of the dojo. I shoved forward. Eamon had fallen behind. I could hear him complaining about the sharp cuts from the dense grass. I ignored him.

As I neared the edge of the preserve, I burst from the grass field and quickly came to a stop on the lawn in front of the old dojo. My uncle was on his knees, surrounded by a dozen patrolmen carrying stunner rifles. A huge tandem-rotor patrol copter sat on the lawn. It was an extended-cargo model, long and wide, meant for rescue – or capture. The great silver body of the copter sat on a series of three segmented legs. The forelegs dug deep into the rock garden, destroying the peaceful design. Lights from the copter lit the grounds around the dojo in crimson and amber. The quiet swoosh of the duo-fan propellers swirled the grasses and kicked up dust around the armed patrolmen on the lawn.

The patrolmen stood in a tight ring around my uncle, arms at ready. I heard garbled radio chatter coming from a number of them. A few shouted questions at my uncle, as they prodded him with their rifles and the toes of their boots. My uncle tried to calm them. They shouted and shoved him around, making a game of his captivity. They accused him of harboring an illegal armory of dangerous weapons and of teaching deadly secrets to his students. They claimed that his knowledge and his dojo belonged to the state. None of this was true.

Uncle was in his evening robe, un-armed and calm. His hands above his head, he shook his head at them and spoke firmly.

“You are here because I refused to train those who are professional criminals,” I heard him say. “I have done nothing wrong. These are not police matters. Your actions are illegally guided by the gokudō.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, old man,” shouted one of the senior patrolmen.

“Yes you do,” my uncle replied defiantly. “The Yakuza have many names. You know them all.”

The rifle butt came swiftly down and connected with my uncle’s jaw with an audible crack. He fell to the ground on his side.

I shouted as I began my approach. “This dojo is the property of sensei Setsuo Akihiko Musashi. He is a law-abiding citizen. You are here illegally!”

Two of the patrol officers rushed forward, stunner rifles held high. I raised my hands so quickly that ribbons of blood from the cuts on my palms spattered them both.

Setsuo rolled on to his back and waved at me to stand down. Eamon grabbed my shoulder. I shrugged it off.

One of the officers stepped forward. His stunner rifle was only inches from my chest. He and the other officers were tall, armored. I was a young man then, but highly-trained, strong and quick. If I had to, I could take all of them to the ground, armed only with a stick of wood.

I was about to take a step forward. Eamon reached out again and held me in place.

“No, Maxim.” Eamon said. “Leave this alone.”

“What do you have there, Hotaka?” called out one of the senior patrolman standing over my uncle.

“A kid,” he replied with a sneer. “A kid wearing an Academy uniform with JAXA and IDSA emblems.”

“Uh, oh,” added the senior patrolman. “Future of the space program right here in front of us.”

The other patrolmen around my uncle chuckled. I felt my blood boil.

The patrolman they called Hotaka stepped into my space and looked me over. “He’s going to fly to the stars and solve all the world’s problems,” he shouted back to his amused patrol. “Aren’t you, cadet?”

I stood my ground.

“Must take a lot of courage to pilot one of those crazy new ships to the ends of space,” Hotaka said.

I stood silent, taking slow, deep breaths, feeling my heart beat in my chest.

“Or maybe just a lot of misguided faith and natural stupidity. Eh, cadet?”

My fists clenched tighter. My fingertips dug into the cuts on my palms. My fists and forearms ached.

Hotaka leaned in toward me – even closer. I carefully eyed the barrel of the stunner he carried. It was well within reach.

He followed my eyes and gave me a knowing smirk.

“That uniform is hard to come by, kid. Be a shame to have a run in with the authorities and see all you’ve worked for – gone in seconds. Wouldn’t it, kid?”

Eamon put his hand on my shoulder again. “Let it be, Maxim,” he said. “Let them do what they have to do.”

Without taking my eyes off Hotaka and the barrel of his stunner, I turned my head toward Eamon. “These authorities take their marching orders from the Supreme Godfather of the Yamaguchi.”

Hotaka replied to that with a sneer.

“I don’t know anything about them, Maxim,” Eamon replied. “You’re a cadet in the Academy. You’ll be a fourth-year student leader in a few weeks. You graduate in the spring. Your career with JAXA is almost set in stone. None of this should matter to you anymore. Don’t blow this thing.”

I knew Eamon didn’t get it. He wasn’t Japanese. He came from a wealthy family in Ireland.

“You’d better listen to Jingai there,” said the patrolman, pointing at Eamon.

I knew that Eamon understood the insult but he remained composed and shook his head at me.

“Besides,” Hotaka started. “If you two borrowed a personnel transport from the Academy and flew it all the way out here, I’m pretty sure they won’t look kindly on that trespass.”

Eamon gave me a grave look.

“I sure would hate to have to write that report and transmit it to the security commander at the Academy.”

Hotaka was grinning wide. I stared back at him and thought him through. He was a low-level grunt in any capacity. He was having his fun. He would meet his bitter end someday.

“What you’re doing is wrong,” I said calmly. “But you’re not even a criminal of purpose.”

Hotaka was instantly enraged. “You think you know what the Supreme Godfather wants?” he shouted. “What makes you think that the kumicho cares anything about your uncle’s family line or this miserable old school?”

I steadied myself, took a deep breath, and let it out.

“You are nothing to him, cadet.” Hotaka spat.

I looked at my uncle. The patrolmen had pulled him up to his knees again and were securing his hands behind his back. Blood ran from the corner of his mouth. He didn’t speak. His jaw was broken.

In all my years of training under my uncle Setsuo, I had never seen the man powerless in any situation. He was a master of martial arts. His very presence was a weapon. He could defeat a room full of opponents with a wooden sword carved from an oar.

I couldn’t believe what was happening – and I didn’t know how to react.

Uncle Setsuo looked up at me. His eyes were soft, sad maybe. I felt pain in my chest welling up and pushing its way into my throat.

“What’s it going to be, kid?” the patrolman asked.

Eamon looked at me. I looked at my uncle. I stared down at my uniform. I felt the weight of countless years of study and preparation on my shoulders. Over the years, uncle Setsuo pushed me to excel in every human capacity. Eamon was right. If I stood my ground and took issue with the authorities, my time at the Academy would end before I could make it back to the barracks. All would be lost.

The patrolmen pushed my uncle toward the open prisoner bay of the copter.

I lowered my fists and stepped back. Eamon threw an arm across my shoulders.

Hotaka smiled and spoke into his radio as he turned to walk away. “We’re done here. Move out.”

My uncle, the man who worked so diligently to teach a haafu like me what it truly meant to be Japanese – and to live each day with honor, was seated and locked down for lift-off.  He was in the hands of patrolman on the payroll of professional criminals. I stood there and just watched.

As they lifted from the ground, uncle Setsuo looked at me one last time. His eyes narrowed.

Was it understanding or disappointment?

I stood there in the cool night air. My uncle was in custody. His future – and the future of the dojo – was now uncertain.

I looked away. The sawgrass cuts on my hands and face stung, burned. The roar of the copter disappeared into the night and I was left with only the noise of the crickets buzzing loudly. I was more confused and angry than I had ever been before. It made my head hurt.

The noise from the crickets grew louder. I reached up to rub my temples but my arms wouldn’t move. The sound swelled even louder. It was a terrible noise, like the echo of an awful, piercing scream. The lights around the dojo faded and I was consumed by the blackness around me. The noise grew louder still. My whole body grew heavy. The noise was unbearable. My skull was splitting apart.

I woke with an unbelievable headache and a terrible ringing in my ears.

[Communication Relay:  10AUG2086 Alexander Island, Antarctica]