Disclaimer: The characters in this story belong to Rumiko Takahashi, not I. Some characters are from my imagination, but not many. Do not use this story without my permission.
Adaptive Tomo Rises and Falls!
The next day was sunny and pleasant. With only so much time left until school started back up, the kids of Tomobiki were starting to return from their much-beloved summer vacations. Meanwhile, those who had stayed behind for whatever reason, destitution or having to save the entire human race from being burnt by the sun, started to reunite and meet up with their friends again to listen to their wonderful vacation stories while hiding their seething jealousy as much as possible.
Tomo, the new kid in town, took leave with his father in tow to scope out the town according to the route Ataru had showed him. Tomo dressed himself as casually as he could, reflecting his pleasing grin as much as he could. He wore simply bright pants and a green polo shirt, not standing out from any crowd except for his nearby company. His father, while already outstanding for not being Japanese, wore a loose Hawaiian shirt and knee-length shorts with geta sandals and had his long, scruffy hair done in a ponytail behind his head. Tomo could feel awkward stares as they passed through crowds of people in the market. They saw stand after stand that Tomo had noted the evening previous. The ramen shops, oden shops, taiyaki shops, takoyaki stands...other food places. The only places Ataru had pointed out were for food, so Tomo just went around and gathered as much information as he could on his own.
He and his father approached a man standing behind a stand that held inflated beach-balls of assorted color and pattern. Strangely, for such a warm and sunny day, the merchant was wearing a long coat, a wool cap and gloves as well as sunglasses and a white contagion mask.
"Ah, welcome!" he said, his voice unobstructed by the mask. "Even though it's not summer, you wouldn't want to be improperly prepared! Buy a beach-ball! Make it feel like the beach, even in your own backyard!"
"Wouldn't I need sand for that as well?" Tomo asked.
"Man, you're wearing a lot, brother" Henry said, observing the merchant's thick clothing. He leaned in and adjusted the frame of his tinted reading glasses. The merchant leaned likewise away.
"Uh, they're hardly a pittance!" the man said. "300 yen each!" Tomo's eyes glinted suddenly and he adjusted his glasses down the bridge of his nose.
"How about 450 for 2?" Tomo haggled. The merchant glanced his way and leaned over his stand in objection.
"Are you kidding?" he exclaimed. "Are you trying to bankrupt me?"
"Then, how about 500 for 2?" Tomo said, remaining adamant.
"300 is plenty-cheap for one!" the merchant demanded. "Don't break my back, kid! Come on!"
"I kinda like this one" Henry said. He picked up a purple ball with a single yellow stripe across the middle centered with a star and started spinning it on his finger. He tossed it up and started balancing it on his nose, attracting the glances of nearby shoppers. The merchant looked around and saw a quick crowd forming as Henry continued to fool around, kicking the ball from foot to foot and balancing it on his chest. He rolled it across his back, from shoulder to shoulder, with no difficulty at all.
"All this extra attention" Tomo began as he poked his glasses up "should be worth at least a 100 yen credit." The merchant gripped his wooden cart with tense fingers and sighed with defeat.
"You damn...warm-blood mammal...fine!" he declared. "I'll give you a discount." He held out his hand. Tomo gave him 450 yen, which the shopkeep looked at and accepted with a desperate, defeated sigh. Tomo took another ball, plain white and alternating colors along the creases, and tapped his dad's shoulder. They both walked off while Henry juggled the beach-balls and continued to make note of the market alley. The shopkeep lowered his mask and sighed out of his fanged, dry, lizard-like mouth. With his hat off his head was green and spiked ridges were rowed down past the collar of his long overcoat. Turns out he was an alien in human guise, and a reptilian one at that.
"Phew" he said, fanning his weary eyes and forehead. "Too cold to be naked, too hot with clothes on. It's tough being a lizard..." He equipped his cap and mask just in time for more customers to approach his stand with hopeful eyes. "Yes, browse if you like! Don't let summer sneak up on you unprepared!"
Tomo and his father continued down the route to the gates of the school. Henry got a good look at it and let his antics come to rest as he let his beach-balls rest on the ground.
"Looks like this'll be your new skool, Tomo" he said. "Be sure to make lots of friends as fast as possible so they can get you out of a jam, bro."
"If you say so" Tomo sighed. "Well, in any case, I'm sure Ataru would know plenty of people, since he's lived here for so long. I'm sure he wouldn't mind introducing me if I asked."
"Save that for last, bro" His father said. "Kids your age won't like a shy-guy for a friend. You've gotta be appealing." Tomo nodded. He'd find a way for that when the time came. As for the road back, Tomo decided to follow his father's way, mostly because he had mis-kicked a ball and they both got lost when he went to chase it. They wound up in the park, which seemed to be a center of activity as many young men and women were walking around enjoying the day.
"This looks promising" Henry said. He took out a notepad and pen from his shirt pocket and started off without Tomo.
"Hey, don't just wander off, dad" Tomo said. "At the very least, let's make sure to meet up somewhere in a while."
"Alright" Henry said. He pointed down, without turning anything but his wrist, and said "Here", leaving it to that.
"That's not specific enough" Tomo said. Tomo looked down the street at the various outside cafes and pointed to the nearest one. "I'll take a lap or two around the park and wait there. If you don't show up a half-hour from the second I sit down, I'll go home without you."
"You and your mother are so strict, brother" Henry whined. "Well, I can't argue with that. I've got locals to interview. Catch ya later!"Henry walked off waving and instantly confronted a young couple with a sincere question. Tomo nodded in silent approval of his father's determined work-ethic and went off on his own way. Henry kept himself aware, however. Once he had finished questioning the young couple he looked back and saw Tomo walking down the path with more and more trees coming between them the further he walked. Henry smiled and stowed his pad and pen away. He had been hungry since they walked through the market district, and the shops around the park looked even better than those in town! Henry made a dash into the closest ramen shop and disappeared...
Tomo took in the scenery like a deep drink to quench his thirst. The park was beautiful in the daytime. Sun beaming through the trees, a cool shade covering the walkways, a small pond with small birds resting near its surface, staring at the small fish that were swimming around in the water. People everywhere, all of them enjoying the day in their own way. Plenty of couples, too, walking with hands together or even with one resting an arm across the other's back. Plenty of single girls as well, walking in groups of friends and talking about their favorite event over their break and the perfect tans they got.
Then Tomo heard a very solid impact nearby and turned toward it. He saw, first, an angered girl stomping away from a scene and then he saw a rustling in the bushes. Tomo rushed over, somehow expecting something other than a person to pop up. He stepped back in surprise when, not just a person, but Ataru Moroboshi popped up and spat out a couple small leaves from his mouth. He stepped out of the brush and brushed himself down, flicking off twigs and pulling a small branch from his hair. Then he noticed Tomo and grinned.
"Hey, Tomo!" he greeted with a wide grin. "How's it going?"
"Uh, hi Ataru" Tomo replied. "Well, uh, it's going alright. What was that...about?" Ataru realized how quickly Tomo had managed to piece things together and giggled.
"Ah, just a circumstance" Ataru said.
"Of what?" Tomo asked.
"I'm just enjoying the day too much" Ataru said, still grinning gleefully. "I tend to do that from time to time, you know?"
"Well, what did you do?" Tomo asked. "I mean, that girl looked pretty pissed...and you were in a bush."
"Hehehe!" Ataru giggled, more like a high-pitched, well-practiced cackle that shocked Tomo out of his defenses. "Ah, forget about it! Just sit back and watch! I'll get this next one for sure!" Tomo watched Ataru as he ran off and encountered a passing girl. He held out a book and pen and leaned in close to her with his subduing, wide grin and bent his legs down. He seemed to be dancing in a way, shifting from one foot to the other, in perpetual movement. It was like he was being very slowly electrocuted and his body was responding with equally slow spasms of movement. Finally, Ataru seemed to face failure as the girl gave him a light fist to the head and walked away with her chin up. Ataru shuffled back and grinned up at Tomo.
"Hehehe!" Ataru laughed. "Get it now?" Tomo took a second to process what he'd just seen. It took a good bit of rushed thinking, but he finally figured it out.
"She shot you down" Tomo said. The words hit Ataru in their bluntness like a fallen iron ball to the head and he fell face-first to the ground.
"Pretty...much" he said with his teeth gritting dirt. Tomo helped him up and Ataru brushed himself off again.
"So you're hitting on girls?" Tomo said.
"Heh! Pretty much!" Ataru said, much more excited and happy. "I call it girl hunting, personally. It makes it seem a bit more exciting!"
"Well, that's a strange hobby" Tomo said. "What is your mark of success?" Ataru held up his little black book and opened it, revealing a name, address and phone-number with an X near the top-left corner.
"All I need" Ataru said "to set up a date is this. With only this, I can unlock the mysterious universe of any single single girl that I meet!"
"So you just want to date them all?" Tomo asked. "What about deep and meaningful relationships? Wouldn't you want one of those?"
"Maybe when I'm old" Ataru said. "I figure there must be a window of time in my life when I either can't girl hunt or simply won't be interested in the pure joy of it. At that time, I might get married, or at least have kids. Until then, and after that time, I do this for fun!"
"So you don't date them?" Tomo asked. "You just get their numbers to prove you can?" Ataru sneered at him.
"Of course I date them" Ataru said. "I can only have so much to do. When I've got nothing on my plate I pick a name and call them up!"
"Don't other guys do this?" Tomo asked.
"Not as well as I do!" Ataru said with a determined low to his voice. He spotted a fresh group of girls heading his way and turned with a wide, perverse grin to Tomo. "You wanna try it?" Tomo leaned away from Ataru on instinctive disgust and let his glasses slip down. The glare blocked his eyes from view until he pushed the frame back up. By then he had a determined look, a stiff chin and a straight posture. He nodded. Ataru jumped away and sped to the group of girls. He blocked their path and smiled them to a stop.
"Hey, girls!" he greeted. "How about we all go somewhere and get some tea, eh?"
"All of us?" a short-haired girl of the group asked. "Together?"
"Like some weird date?" the long-haired center-girl asked. Ataru held out his book.
"How about today?" Ataru pressed. "Or tomorrow? If you give me your names, and addresses and phone-numbers and possibly your measurements, I can set up a quick date for all four of us!" The center-girl slapped him. Her friend with curly hair followed up by slapping his other cheek. Then the more timid, short-haired girl quivered for a second at his reddened, perpetually grinning face and gave him a shrieking uppercut. Ataru fell down and the girls walked in a wide berth around him. Tomo saw everything and decided that doing that wouldn't work. Instead, he sent his mind to work and adjusted his glasses by the side of the lens frame. A glint sparked in his eyes and he briskly went up to the girls from their collective blind-side. He brushed his straight bangs to the side and gave his head a quick tilt so his hair would become slightly unkempt at the side.
"Excuse me" he began, catching all of their attention and defensive glares at once. He kept cool and stood straight, leaning back slightly with his hands in his pants pockets. "I couldn't help but see all that. I want to apologize for my friend's behavior." The leading girl with long hair turned straight around and stomped her feet to square herself up with him.
"That creep is your friend?" she lowed.
"Heh" Tomo smirked. His casualness continued to pour out in the apathy he expressed in his nonchalant shrug and echoed with sheer coolness. Out of the three girls, two of them remained adamant in their own stubborn haughtiness. However, the timid girl with short hair looked at Tomo with a slight sparkling in her eyes. Tomo noticed it but didn't move on it just then. "Well, what can I do about it. He's really a good guy, he's just an idiot."
"You bet he is" the curl-haired girl said. "Can you believe he asked for our measurements?"
"Ah, he tends to do that" Tomo admitted with a nervous smirk. "You see, the thing is he has no idea how to properly talk to girls. He's got no filter between what he thinks and what he says, it all just comes out at once."
"Well, you're his friend" the long-haired girl said. "Why don't you help him work it out, or something?" She and her friend turned around, but the short-haired girl lagged behind them. Tomo glanced back at Ataru, who was sitting up and rubbing his jaw on the ground, while keeping aware that the other girl was approaching him. He turned back without expression and looked straight into her eyes for a split-second. She seemed stunned somehow, and he knew he won.
"Um..." she began, "Listen, if you're free sometime, uh..." Tomo turned back to her fully and smiled.
"Sure" he said. She became instantly excited and scrambled to find something to write with. Tomo had a small notepad and a pen in his pocket, but he didn't want to use it. Instead the girl took out a photo, wrote on the back and circled something on the front before giving it to him.
"Call me sometime, okay?" she said. Tomo nodded and pocketed the photo without even looking at it. She ran off, looking back to wave at him, and he gave her a brief, static wave back. Once she caught up to her friends, Tomo straightened his hair and turned back to Ataru, ready to gloat.
"Since when did all the girls in this city start power-lifting?" Ataru asked as he rubbed his punched chin. "Man, that hurt. It's always the scared ones, too..." Tomo stopped behind Ataru with just loud enough of a gait to grab his attention. Ataru stood back up and faced Tomo, who held a photo of the three girls in bikinis with the short-haired girl's face circled. Then he turned it around. Her name, Mikoto, her number and her address, as well as three numbers labeled as 'B:XX-W:OO-H:XX' in the corner.
"Name, number, address" Tomo gloated "and, technically, measurements." He folded the photo and placed it neatly in his pocket with his notepad and pen. "So, does this mean I'm winning?" Ataru blinked to collect his mind, then glared with a competitive smirk and opened his book.
"We're just getting started, young one!" Ataru exclaimed. He held his book open in front of his face so that, after a moment of grim realization, Tomo could only see the sweat as it quickly crawled down past his jawline. Tomo stood fast with his arms crossed in arrogant victory and a cocky grin on his face.
Ataru refused to admit defeat. However, the more Tomo achieved ahead of him, the hungrier he seemed to get until there came a point where Ataru's mind outright abandoned girl-hunting in favor of getting food. He and Tomo left the park to get a bite at one of Ataru's usual standby ramen shops. As soon as Ataru walked in he was greeted by the owner with a friendly wave and was seated right next to the main kitchen.
"Didn't expect you to come without a girl, Moroboshi" he said. Ataru laughed it off.
"It's slim pickings out there" he said. "One beef, please. And for my friend, how about a bowl of shrimp?"
"Alrighty" the chef said. He went back to the kitchen to cook.
"You seem pretty well known, Ataru" Tomo mentioned.
"I am" Ataru said bluntly. "Don't forget it, because somehow, I tend to."
"My mother did mention that you're something of a local celebrity" Tomo said. "I know she plans to conduct a more formal interview, but could you tell me about that?"
"Well, one time" Ataru began "I led my entire grade at school, all the 2nd year classes that is, into leaving during lunch period to eat in town. All the teachers and the disciplinary committee came after us, and a huge, all-out war ensued. It was pure chaos! Eventually, neither side won, but the ban on eating out for lunch was repealed. After that, I became class president...no wait, I became president first. That's how I managed to rally everyone so easily. Man, I haven't thought about school in so long my memories of it are starting to fade..." Tomo was in minor shock. He cleared his throat and pushed his glasses up to straighten himself out.
"What's the worst trouble you've been in at school, Ataru?" Tomo asked.
"Um, define worst first" Ataru said, again stunning Tomo with white-shocked eyes. The owner returned and handed out the ramen bowls. Ataru rubbed his hands together with glee while Tomo shook himself out of shock again. Ataru tried prying his chopsticks apart but broke them unevenly, leaving the ends stuck together slightly. It was still manageable for him, being the master of discrete chopstick utility, so he began eating promptly. Tomo did the same, though usually his chopsticks split perfectly. When he separated them, he heard an uncommon snap and saw that the corner of the end wasn't torn off and was stuck to the other stick. Tomo awed at it for a second and began eating.
"This is great, brother! Send more my way!" an aloof and goofy voice called from the restaurant corner. Tomo looked back, his face full of noodles, and saw his father gorging himself on side-dishes with a huge bowl of ramen. Tomo sighed and gulped his noodles down.
I should have seen this coming he thought. He looked up at Ataru, who was eating faster than he even thought could be done, and decided not to drag him down by being slow. Tomo started eating as well, mimicking Ataru's well-practiced style and nearly matching his speed. However, being a novice, Tomo stopped at the first sign of choking and started eating normally. He's a good eater. And he isn't even fazed by getting punched-out by that girl earlier. Rather, those girls. He doesn't have any marks at all, not even comically bright-red slap marks on his cheeks, which I would have openly expected from those harsh hits he'd gotten. I guess Ataru's just a strong guy, though it doesn't show in the most flattering ways. As Ataru and Tomo finished their ramen, the owner came up to them and grinned. Tomo couldn't help but notice a nervousness to his expression.
"So will you be splitting the tab, Moroboshi?" the man asked. Ataru looked up from his empty bowl and sighed with satisfaction.
"That depends" he replied. "Are you actually keeping track of how many bowls I eat each day? Is there some grand total I'm going through as we speak or something?"
"Given that the average person eats three meals a day" the man began in a rehearsed, exasperated tone, "and that there are 365 days per year on average, an average 'Year's worth of Free Ramen' would round to roughly 1095 dinner-sized bowls." Ataru was grinning so hard he was emitting a high-pitched laugh. The owner sighed and turned his eyebrows up in despair. "Of course, Ataru Moroboshi, you're not an average man at all."
"I'm really not!" Ataru grinned. Tomo, sensing the tide of emotion, took out his wallet and laid down the exact change for his meal.
"I can't ride on my friend's coattails in style" Tomo said. "I'll pay for mine. Leave the free noodles for Ataru, as I'm sure you'll be needing them." The owner looked at Tomo's kind gesture, one he could have avoided simply by grinning with the jovial Ataru and working under the owner's depressing assumptions, and he smiled. He took the change with a nod and made a mental note to remember the boy's face. Ataru just quietly belched.
The boys left the shop, leaving Tomo's father behind to enjoy his outing, and started on their way home. Ataru led Tomo down a different path than before, one that didn't have the chance to intersect with obnoxious monks, and tried to keep his spirits down about his apparent victory.
"Listen Tomo" Ataru began "a true victory isn't just to single out one girl from a group. If you want to feel a true victory, you need to get all the numbers of all the girls in a single group at the same time for it to count."
"But I did that" Tomo said, holding up an envelope with three different names on the back. "You were unconscious when it happened." Ataru snatched it away, read the names, then took out his own book to record them. "Hey! I don't want you calling my girls, okay? I got their numbers fair and square!"
"Silly amateur" Ataru said, holding Tomo back with his leg. "There is no fair in the sport of girl-hunting! It's all in luck and skill, style and talent!"
"Ah, quit being a sore loser, Ataru!" Tomo said, trying to push Ataru's foot out of the way. He had nearly succeeded when, all of a sudden, he heard the rumble of thunder in the distance. "Sounds like rain?" Tomo said, quizzical as to how thunder could be made on a nearly cloudless day.
"No that's an engine" Ataru bluntly said. One scrawled note after he had said that something clicked in his mind. How he knew it was an engine sparked a great fear within his gut that wrenched him nearly to a sickening point. He dropped his book, his precious and essential tool, and looked up with a start to the sky. Again, thunder, but no clouds nearby. Even on the visible horizons there was no sign of dark clouds at all! To Ataru, that meant certain death. He picked up his book and threw it to Tomo.
"Take that and run!" Ataru shouted. He led the way, sprinting at the speed of a trained athlete, leaving Tomo too far behind to catch up. Tomo ran after him anyway, attempting to at least keep up, but lost him when he rounded a corner. Tomo tried cutting through the street between two houses and ran into Ataru, who tumbled them both to the ground. Ataru pushed himself up and heard the thunder grow dangerously loud. Once Tomo pushed himself up and adjusted his glasses he saw that a shadow had been cast across the ground, shading them both beneath a mysterious and ominous object in the sky. Tomo sniffed at the air.
"Do you smell ozone?" he asked. Ataru pushed him away and instinctively jumped in the other direction. As Tomo hit the ground he looked up and saw, with the deafening blast and blinding flash of light, a bolt of lighting striking Ataru from clear out of nowhere! Suddenly Tomo's mind swam with confusion. He looked on as Ataru twitched and convulsed under the powerful electrocution of a pure bolt of energy from the sky. Soon, the lightning dispersed and a searing, smoky screen was left in its place.
The shadow dispersed with a rumbling sound and finally, Tomo stood up. "Ataru!" he shouted. "I know this is stupid of me to ask, but are you alive?" He listened hard as he could past the steaming ground. It seemed more likely that Ataru was dead than anything, but still he heard the undeniable sound of feet marching on the paved ground. He ran forward for a step and peered through the smoke. There was Ataru, his body smoking and a trail of steam rising from his mouth, still twitching and making painful laughing sounds on the ground.
"Hmm?" hummed a curious female's voice. "Who're you?" Tomo was stunned. He felt compelled, suddenly, to run at top speed away. He turned slowly and looked to where the voice originated. As the veil of smoke cleared an otherworldly beauty stood before him, a celestial goddess taken a divine form. Metal tiger-stripe armor covered her legs, arms and head while a tiger-stripe bikini and midriff sling covered her otherwise bare and sensual skin. Tomo was stricken nearly blind at first sight with the green-haired, armor-plated, mystery-girl who appeared out of a cloud of smoke. Ataru stood up, catching Tomo's sight and his pure disbelief as he jumped back and pointed at him with a shaking mouth.
"Why did you do that?" Ataru asked the girl. She turned to him and was suddenly beaming was delight.
"I'm back, Darling!" she said.
"Ah!" Tomo stuttered, unable to clearly talk.
"What happened to nice Lum?" Ataru scathingly asked, still steaming (literally) over being blasted. "What happened to 'no more indiscriminate, unprovoked zapping' Lum, hmm?"
"Sorry, Darling" Lum apologized. "I was so excited to be home that I beamed down clear from low orbit! I just wanted to see you again so badly that I didn't want to wait to land."
"That impatience of yours always leads to trouble" Ataru chided. "Also, I'm in pain! Did you anticipate hurting me when you did that?"
"Oh, you're tough enough" she said, waving her hand. Tomo's nonsense stuttering became loud enough to hear over the bickering and both Ataru and Lum turned to him as he shakily stood up with his finger nervously pointing.
"A-a-Ataru" he started, "who is...that?"
"Oh, right" Ataru began. "I never told you, did I? This is Lum." That was it. As to why she was wearing armor or how she appeared in a bolt of lightning, Tomo still had no real idea.
"Darling, don't be rude like that" Lum chided. Ataru opened his mouth as if to say 'like how' in a most insulted way, but Lum turned to Tomo before he could talk. "I'm Darling's fiancee! Nice ta meet'cha!" That was nearly it for Tomo. He felt something pounding inside his skull that he could only assume was a stroke, but fought it off. He fought it off and gathered all of himself in a moment with a simple push of his glasses.
"Explain to me what I saw just now, if you'd please" Tomo said. "Miss Lum, is it? Just where did you come from? What was that explosion?"
"Well" Lum began, "I came from there." She pointed straight up. "I was off-planet on some business with my family. My daddy had just led a campaign to conquer a contested star-system over the Fukujin and was setting up trade-routes and finalizing a bunch of ceasefire treaties."
"I thought you left for family matters" Ataru said. "You didn't say it had anything to do with a war."
"Well it was a family matter" Lum said. "We're Invaders, after all!"
"Hmmhmm" Tomo laughed. "Hehehe. Hahaha! AAHAHAHAHA!" Ataru and Lum nervously looked back to Tomo, who had crossed his arms in defiance of the present facts. "Off-planet? Space-wars? Invaders? Don't try and fool me, you pyromaniac with strange, pretty hair! Just tell me what is going on and how you managed to pull a stunt most modern special-effects specialists can't!"
"Like I said!" Lum began. "I'm an alien! I came down on my ship!"
"Which only has violent methods of transportation" Ataru dryly added.
"No" Tomo denied. His fists clenched tightly at his sides. Then he aimed his arm up and pointed, heatedly, straight at Lum's face. "I can't believe you! I won't! THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS ALIENS!"
"Scuse me" said a Dappya-monster passing through the scene. He carried with him a purely alien plant with a mohawk of petals and a mouth full of sharp teeth planted in a hovering pot. The intrusion, while random, broke Tomo's stance and mind and he fell flat onto his back, legs and arms still frozen in position but face fully stuck in a tense, open-mouthed shock of disbelief. Ataru and Lum both moved closer, with Lum hovering over him.
"Now look what you did!" Ataru said. Lum glared at him and he glared ten-fold back until she sighed and lowered her head with a sigh of despair.
"I'll apologize when he wakes up..." Lum said. And that was what happened on the second day of Tomo's life in Tomobiki town.