Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2017, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XLI: The Call of Blood
Continued from the previous excerpt
13 Fifthmonth 554JR
4 February 2356CE
Kure, Old Nippon, Terra
The shop looked a century old, tucked between an apartment tower and food market which were probably older. Nihonjin didn't need to crowd together anymore but perhaps they had been programmed to by centuries of overpopulation and limited resources.
It was, at least, orderly, as Japanese dwellings or businesses usually were. It also seemed quite complete, with no evidence of restrictions on the right to bear arms, which millions had fought and died to preserve for centuries. Among many other types, there was a rack of about twenty surplus MkLIX plasma rifles, and a trio of current MkLX; the underslung grenade launcher attachment hadn't changed for decades and a pair of those were on separate display. A stack of at least thirty M437 pistols, in government armory refurbishment boxes, took up a corner near the proprietor's desk, while one whole wall showed a quite good selection of other models, and a closed glass case held about a dozen decorated pieces. The entry wall held four different models of personal missile launchers, guided or unguided. Another wall was dedicated to blades of every kind, more than half being katana and wakizashi of Japanese pattern. Odds and ends, militaria and memorabilia, filled nooks and spaces. Some appeared to be Imperial Terran.
Omiko went to the side of an elderly man behind a desk. He rose, bowed and straightened in unison with the young woman, introducing himself as “Hiro Motoyama, proprietor of this establishment.” He spoke English - no, American, with little accent. On the wall behind his desk was a plaque bearing the insignia of a Petty Officer 2nd Class in the Space Patrol, and the logo of DD303 JRS Yukikaze-V. DD387, Yukikaze-VI, had been among the NIHF ships saluting Aurora's arrival at New Israel. This man was evidently Jeffoujin himself. “Please, stay a while,” he continued. “I rarely get visitors - or customers for that matter,” he added with a bit of a sad smile. “My granddaughter here often goes out in search of them. Arigatou, Omiko-chan,” he said, resting a hand on her shoulder. He pressed a key on his desk 'puter and a slot opened in the wall the shop shared with the food market. A small 'bot emerged, delivering a prepared snack platter with several servings of fruit juices. The center of the shop had comfortable chairs and couches, even a pair of Eyani benches, and served as a lounge. The 'bot placed the snacks and drinks on a table there. “The people around here still haven't realized they are free. Most still think weapons are only for those in authority.” His expression changed to distaste at this.
Jenny Blain, the ship enthusiast, had been examining his service plaque. “Yukikaze-V was decommissioned over eighty Republic years ago,” she noted. Like Yamato, the smaller ship's name was one to conjure with in Japanese history. The Terran and New Israel Home Fleets swapped the honor of claiming her. “You've been here ever since?”
The man nodded. “I met my wife here during shore leave in my youth,” he said with a genuine smile. “It was love at first sight. She owns the market next door.” While he spoke, he was looking over his potential customers as they browsed. Most were wearing Aurora's logo. The old man's eyes widened as he made the connection. As Solomon turned in his direction, he snapped to attention and saluted. “Captain Danner! It is an honor to have you and your distinguished Family in my humble store!”
Embarrassed, Danner returned the salute with respect. “Please, as you were, PO. You've served our nation no less than I.”
“We both know that is not true, sir,” he said as he relaxed- a little. “Ah, the heroic dreams of my youth... you have lived them.” He held up a hand and shook his head slightly. “I know, you have seen horrors. I do not envy you those, and I am thankful I did not suffer them in my own service. But the adventure... I cannot deny a little envy for that.” He bowed again, with a smile, and stood by his desk with his granddaughter, ready to answer questions about his wares.
The Family browsed a while, examining one piece or another. Sarah picked out a pair of Eyani short-spears. “What can you tell me about these?” she asked.
“Ah.” Hiro came out from his desk and took one of the pair in his hands. “These, my granddaughter and I made together. The shafts are from prunus serrulata, the Japanese cherry tree. She did the inlay and finishing. The blades I forged from tamahagane, the same steel used in the traditional katana, though I admit my skills are inadequate to make a proper sword. Despite their decorations, they are very strong. I would wager my own life on them.”
“They're beautiful,” the Eyani female said, examining the detail and the forging patterns. “I'll take them,” she added, replacing their sheaths and slipping them into her Harness, not bothering to ask the price. Prize money had come in from Brown's Flotilla. Brown, and several of his named lieutenants, also carried bounties, dead-or-alive, from twelve worlds in five nations. The Family wouldn't need paying work for the next year or two. Their pockets and pouches carried over four kilograms of silver, gold, platinum and rhodium between them, with about half a ton in the vault Daisuke had set up alongside the missile magazine, and accounts with banks throughout Known Space. Hiro produced an archaic paper pad and pencil and began tallying the purchases.
“You must be Taniyama-san,” Hiro observed, bowing yet again, but in the New Israel style, straightening immediately and not requiring a bow in return. “Your face is known to us, from reports of your ship's actions last year. You are a celebrity among the Nihonjin. ...I see you are a practitioner of kenjutsu.”
Daisuke suddenly regretted wearing his father's wakizashi undisguised. “...Yes,” he answered.
“Please forgive me,” Hiro said, “if I have upset you. I dabble in the art myself, but you....” The media had got hold of combat video of the boarding actions. There were many hostage situations during the clearing of the surrendered ships, and Daisuke had used his plain gray longsword repeatedly. “You are a kensei.” This was the ancient term for “sword-saint”, a warrior supremely skilled with Japanese blades.
Daisuke shuddered in revulsion at this. “I am not,” he stated with a little heat, and Hiro took a step back. “My actions were... the butchering of animals,” he said, softening his tone. He placed a hand on the older man's shoulder, indicating he took no offense. “I have... almost never faced an opponent truly skilled with a sword. What you have seen was only the...” He stopped, began again: “I have rarely drawn a blade in anger. I will accept the title of kenshi, but not kensei. Please spread that word when you have opportunity.”
“I will, Taniyama-san,” the old man ensured. “Please, forgive my curiosity- I am an enthusiast, and so few people here share my interest. Is that a Mitsuhira blade?”
Next time, Daisuke thought, I will mask the scabbard and hilt. “Yes,” he answered after a pause. “I acquired it many years ago in a game of chance.” Which, depending on the viewing angle, was true. “I cannot say where it came from.” Which was not the same as saying he could not say.
“They are so rare! In all my years I have encountered only four others.” The old man's eyes pleaded.
Relenting, Daisuke removed the sheathed wakizashi from his belt and presented it to Hiro, who accepted it with both hands and a bow. “Arigatou gozaimasu,” he said. Shifting his hands, he grasped the hilt as though to draw. “May I?” he asked. Daisuke nodded his permission and Hiro drew the gleaming black cermet blade, sighing in pleasure at its beauty. Turning the weapon to and fro, he examined its details as the shop's lighting played over it.
Suddenly the old man gasped in shock, staggering backward, collapsing in one of the chairs. “Ojiisan!” Omiko exclaimed, rushing to his side.
Hiro held the short sword before him, staring at the blade where it met the hilt. Omiko followed his gaze and gave a short cry of her own. “Fukanou!”
Solomon Danner pressed a key on his wrist 'puter and, kilometers away at Hiroshima Spaceport, Aurora began warming up Two and Three Boats. He then relaxed his right arm, near the butt of his M437 plasma pistol. He believed Daisuke's innocence and would shoot his way to the Frontier with him if he had to.
Omiko had brought a glass of water for her grandfather who, finally, spoke. “Please forgive me, my friends. And allow me to explain.
“Taniyama-san, we have met before. Many years ago, your parents brought you to Terra as an infant, for a family reunion. We are related, you and I. My wife is a distant member of your clan.” Hiro sheathed the wakizashi and held it out to Daisuke, who returned it to his belt.
“The maker's mark,” he stated. Daisuke Mitsuhira, from whom Takeo Nakayama had taken part of his new name, had created a matched daisho for the Nakayama family, whose bank had given him his first business loan. They were the second and third blades he had made with his new cermet discovery. He had marked them, on the habaki, with two mon: His own as maker, and the Nakayama's as owner. They were the only two swords so marked in the universe. It was a detail Takeo, now Daisuke, had forgotten. He had certainly not expected to encounter anyone who would understand what he saw.
Hiro nodded. “Such a small thing, to carry so much meaning, to answer so many questions.” His eyes lit upon Solomon's hand, near his pistol, and he grinned. “Fear not, my friends. I know your brother is innocent.”
“It was... yes, you would be forty-two Terran years old now. So about thirty-six years ago.” Hiro had instructed his granddaughter to close the shop and darken the storefront windows. Now all of them gathered in the central lounge to hear Motoyama's tale.
“My wife... she has always been very proud of being related to the Nakayamas. She never asked for or took anything from them; she made her own way in life. She asked me to accompany her to the reunion in Tokyo.
“That is the only time I met you... Takeo. But I met your parents that day as well. Your mother, such a kind angel, as beautiful as my own wife. Your father... a man to be respected, certainly.
“Your brother was there as well. I think, even then... I could see what he would become.
“Many years passed. Twice more I met your parents, and... your brother, on business trips. He was intended to be the heir.
“I know that changed. It was never spoken of officially, but my wife heard of it through her relatives. Your father had recognized the inevitable and chosen you instead.
“Kazuo had reached his majority, done his term of military service, earned his Citizenship, as you had. Kure had become a shipyard again, at least for components or smaller vessels which could make planetfall, and the Nakayama family were investors here. For many years I was a manager at the yards - this shop is my retirement. We all followed news of your family closely.
“It was terrible, that awful day when we heard the news from New Israel. We knew what the evidence showed, the recordings - but many in the city had met your brother. No one here believed you were guilty. All believed it was you who had been killed along with your parents. All here believed what I now know to be true.
“All of Kure mourned your family for thirty days. Some, much longer.
“It was... about two months later, when a man entered this shop. He seemed familiar but I could not place him. He brought with him a sword, a Mitsuhira katana. It was in a simple wooden shirasaya, ill-fitting, and he contracted me to create a replacement. I took measurements - he refused to leave the blade with me. I began the work, informing him I would need the blade for proper fitting at the end. He paid half, in platinum, and left.
“He returned two weeks later and I realized he had always worn a glove on his right hand. It was soon plain that it was artificial. Looking closer, I could see faint scars around his face, not yet healed.
“Finally, as I used the blade to finish fitting the new saya, I saw on the habaki the same marks as on yours.
“Everything was plain then. It could only have been your brother, Kazuo, and only he could be guilty of that horrible crime.
“I was terrified. Would he kill me, too, as a witness? I controlled my reaction, even smiled at the monster as I worked to sheath his stolen prize. I cannot make a proper sword, but I make a quality saya. He was sastified, paid the balance, and left.
“I closed the shop and stayed here with my own family, all of us armed with plasma rifles, for three days. He never returned.
“All these years...” Tears began to roll down the old man's cheeks. “We had thought you dead, Nakayama-sama. There is a memorial plaque in your name, and your parents', in a temple nearby.”
Omiko provided tissues, using one herself, and her grandfather continued. “I told my family what I knew, swearing them to secrecy. Omiko was very young then, and had not been present, but I told her the story later, when she could understand and keep the secret. You see now,” he said, trying to smile, “why I was so shocked by what I saw.”
“What are the odds?” Ralph asked. “Years later, on a different planet, you walk into what seems to be the only weapon shop in town and....” He shook his head in disbelief.
“Motoyama-san.” Daisuke bowed deeply and asked, “Do you have any idea what became of my brother? Where he might have gone?”
“Iie, Nakayama-sama,” he answered. “He let slip no word of his plans. But I remember the face he wore that day.” Hiro rose from his seat and returned to his desk. Reaching into a trouser pocket, he retrieved an old-style mechanical key, and unlocked a bottom drawer. “For years I woke shaking to visions of that face. To this day I keep a pistol beneath my pillow, though I seldom remember why.” Hiro took from the drawer a sheet of paper - a hand-drawn portrait. “After he left, I discovered he had somehow disabled the shop's cameras during his visits. During those three days of waiting, I drew this.” He handed the paper to Daisuke... to Takeo.
Daisuke accepted the paper as Hiro had received the wakizashi, with both hands and a deep bow. “Motoyama-san,” he said, “you have been of service to me and to my family, to both my families, though few will ever recognize it. I am in your debt.”
Hiro returned the bow. “It is I who feel a debt, Nakayama-sama. At last, at long last, I feel part of that debt has been discharged, and some small amount of justice has been done. There is one more thing,” he added. “The design of the scabbard.”
Hiro returned to his desk and from the same drawer took another sheet of paper. “It was black- like his eyes, like his heart. He had already changed the tsuka to match. Inlaid in synthetic ruby was a new mon - this.” He presented the second sheet to Daisuke. The design was a stylized rose in full bloom.
Daisuke bowed again. “Arigatou gozaimasu, Motoyama-san. For so many years, I had lost all hope of justice. With these gifts, perhaps someday I may balance the scales.”
Continued in the next excerpt....