Late July 2013
The next thing Mariko remembered was standing in front of a severe black door.
It was the kind of door that led to secret chambers and clandestine government operations. She could tell it was heavy just by how it looked—glossy, impenetrable, most likely made of solid metal or stone. The shadows made it hard to tell. Mariko looked around and couldn’t see anywhere else to go. She figured there was nothing else to do but knock.
Knock, knock, knock.
The door opened slightly, and a pair of vaguely familiar eyes peered through the crack. They lit up immediately after recognizing who it was. She’d been waiting for Mariko Shinoda for years.
The door flung wide open, and Mariko found herself pulled into an enthusiastic bear hug.
“Mariko! You’re finally here!”
“Ma … Maimai?!”
Sure enough, it was Mai Oshima, formerly of AKB48. But what was she doing here? What was this place?
“Come in, come in!” She ushered Mariko into a dimly lit room, about the size of an underground café. At one end she could see a bar with a typical array of drinks and wineglasses. Several expensive-looking tables and chairs were spread out around the center of the room, while leather-upholstered booths filled out one side. Candles provided extra light at some of the tables, but the whole place was still bathed in a deep golden-brown aura. The ambiance was, in one word, classy. In another word, secretive. It was as if Mariko had been transported to another world.
“Where am I?” she asked. “Am I dead? Is this the afterlife?”
Maimai cackled loudly. “No, you’re not dead! This is … well … Welcome to the AKB48 Eternal Graduation Party.”