Part 1: Dark Blue Discovery
It was late at night when Marin heard the voice.
Hearing voices in her dreams was not unusual. However, this was a voice that she had not heard for years, and it came so strongly that it jolted her out of a deep sleep. She sat bolt upright in her futon, her pulse and her breathing much quicker than before.
Outside her room a terrific storm was raging. Actually, it wasn't just a storm. It was a typhoon, one that would go down in recorded history as the largest and most intense tropical cyclone ever. It was called Super Typhoon Tip, and right now it was fully living up to its name. The sky was pitch-black and rain was pouring down in sheets, hammering on the tin roof of the tenement house. Howling winds tore at the walls and windows. Lightning flashed and thunder growled like an angry beast. Yet Marin continued to sit there in her futon, blocking out the noises from outside, and hoping against all hope that the voice would come back.
It did. She had not imagined it. It was real, and somehow deep down in her gut, she knew where it was coming from. At that moment, she had the distinct impression that she should leave her warm, safe futon behind and find the source of that voice somewhere out in that storm.
There was no time to change her clothes, so Marin put a raincoat on over her hand-me-down pajamas. She crept down the stairs to the entryway where her rubber boots were and slipped her feet into them. As soon as she opened the front door she was attacked with stinging raindrops and savage winds. Undaunted, she shut the door firmly behind her and began to walk, shielding her face with one hand and holding her hood in place with the other.
Marin crossed the wooden footbridge over the canal, which was now filled with a torrent of muddy waters. There were streams filling the gutters and lake-sized puddles in the street beyond. The old coat kept the water off but did nothing to keep the cold air out, and the insides of her boots were soon soaked. Above her the thunder and lightning continued raging away.
She wasn't sure how long she walked, but before she knew it Marin was standing before the torii gate of the Nezu Shrine. There was no longer a voice guiding her, but something else, some force she couldn't identify. Her feet were moving by themselves now, taking her over the slippery stone path, across the empty grounds, up a flight of stairs, and under even more torii arches. She passed all the ancient buildings of the shrine complex, her boots sloshing with every step, until she came right to the edge of the river.
Like the canal by her house the river was flooded and moving quickly, black as the sky and angry as the storm. Yes, this was where she was supposed to come, and she was supposed to find something here. She watched the dark waters rushing by, straining to hear the voice again, but it was silent. Where it had gone she did not know, but she knew she had heard it before, a very long time ago when she was very young.
Marin stood on the soggy riverbank squinting at the river through the dark rain. After a while, there was a flash of lightning bright enough to finally show her what she was supposed to see. There was a large shape some feet away, caught on something that prevented it from washing downstream with the rest of the flotsam and jetsam. At first glance it looked like a pile of rocks, but it was bobbing up and down in a way that was impossible for a pile of rocks to do. As she looked at it longer she recognized the vague outline of a human form, or at least something that was very close to human.
With a sharp intake of breath Marin charged into the murky river and almost got swept away by the powerful current. Luckily her boots stuck fast in the mud, allowing her to wade closer to the mystery figure until she was up to her knees in filthy water. Sure enough it was a man floating face down and tangled in weeds near the shoreline.
In the darkness she couldn't make out clear details, but she knew instinctively that this was not a human man's body. Cracked metal wings were on his back and his limp arms were a battered gun on the left and a broken sword on the right. What really got her attention, though, was a small ribbon tied around the base of the sword. It was dirty and tattered, but even with the darkness and the rain blurring her vision she could tell that it was red.
Marin immediately tackled the weeds binding the motionless creature and tore up as many as she could with her shaky hands. Her heart was pounding so loudly that she couldn't even hear her own frantic breathing. When the weeds were loose she began to pull the large body to shore, fueled by adrenaline and desperate hope. Her burden was heavy and difficult to drag up the slippery banks, yet somehow she made it out. Then she heaved both of the creature's damaged weapon-arms over her shoulders and started trudging to the nearest shrine building.
By the time Marin got under the building's roof she was out of breath, she was soaked to the skin, and her tangled hair was dripping in her eyes. She wanted to collapse on the floor, fall asleep and never wake up, but her flood victim was too important to leave. With the little strength she had left she carefully lowered him to the ground and turned him on his back.
Now Marin could see his him clearly and what a terrible state his heavy body was in. He'd obviously been through some terrible battle. His deep blue armor was cracked in places and totally shattered in others. There were numerous injuries on his face, limbs and torso, all leaking a violet fluid that smelled exactly like blood. Worst of all, he wasn't breathing. She touched his pale face with her hands and felt no warmth. She tried shouting and slapping him to wake him up, but it was useless. She pressed her ear to his chest and listened. His heart was beating, but very weakly.
Her thoughts began to race. What should she do now? If only she could call an ambulance, or Jun, or even the weird shrine keeper. But there wasn't enough time to wait for help to come. His heart could stop beating any minute. She had to get him breathing again, and there was only one way to do that.
Inhaling deeply, Marin pulled his cold lips open with her fingers and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Jun had explained the procedure to her many times before. This was her first time actually doing it, though, and she was unsure if she was doing it properly. Nonetheless, again and again, she passed warm breath into him and prayed for a miracle.
Suddenly he gasped loudly and began coughing, and Marin was so relieved she could barely keep herself from throwing her arms around his neck and squeezing all his air out again. Instead she raised his head to help him breathe more comfortable. He was choking up all the muddy water he had swallowed, and there was purple blood coming up with it. Soon his coughing slowed and eventually stopped, and the only sound left was his heavy, ragged breathing.
Fearing he might slip back into unconsciousness again, she worked up the courage to speak. Her trembling voice was no louder than a whisper. "Melan…"
His breath hitched for an instant. Then his eyes slowly opened. His irises were crimson as they stared blearily at her face. He squinted and blinked a few times, trying to clear his foggy vision. Despite his exhaustion he attempted to speak. His voice came out sounding choked, raspy and very tired. "Ma…ri…n…?"
A lump swelled up in her throat and tears stung her eyes, but she would not let them spoil this moment. She smiled back at him through her dripping bangs. "Yes… It's me, Marin Asagi…"
He continued to stare at her, no longer blinking. Confusion was changing into shock. "Im…Impossible…" he said, more to himself than to her. "I must be dreaming…or dead…"
"No, Melan. This is real …You're alive…" The tears continued to sting her eyes until they were burning. Finally she couldn't hold it in anymore. With a high-pitched wail she dropped her sodden head against his chest and wept.
Melan was too weak and exhausted to even lift an arm around her sobbing, shivering form. All he could do was listen to her muffled cries. No, there was one other thing he could do. He could speak. "Marin…" he murmured wearily. "Marin …"
The sound of his voice saying her name seemed to calm her. Soon her crying had stopped but she was still sniffling a bit. She could feel his heart beating steadily against her cheek, proving that he was indeed alive and real. "It's real…" she muttered. "It's impossible, but it's real … You're really here…" She smiled and gave a weak chuckle. "I feel like…like I'm the one dreaming now…"
Melan started to believe this was not a dream. The pain in his body was all too real. "Marin…I…can't move…"
Her smiled disappeared in a flash. "Oh …Can't you go back to your ampoule to heal?"
"No." He would have given her a more detailed explanation, but he simply didn't have the energy. Besides, if this really wasn't a dream she would already know the reason why.
Marin pushed her soggy bangs away from her eyes with a thoughtful frown. "In that case, I'd better take you home. We can take better care of you there." She looked outside where the rain and wind were still raging wildly. "For now, we'd better rest here until the storm lets up."
Melan did not disagree with her. Resting seemed like a brilliant idea and he was already starting to doze off. "Thank you, Marin."
She looked at him and blinked. "Huh?"
His eyelids were closing, but he managed to smile as his voice trailed off. "You saved my life…Thank you…"
A rush of heat shot through Marin's damp body and stained her cheeks. By the time she was capable of speech again Melan was fast asleep and breathing calmly. For a while she just sat there and watched him. He looked both stern and serene at once, and she worried that if she looked away from him he'd disappear.
A chill breeze reminded her that she was soaked down to her underwear and her boots were now freezing swimming pools. Then she thought that Melan must be cold, too. So she lifted his head in her arms and cradled it in her lap, then leaned back against the stone altar and closed her eyes.
"Good night, Melan." Marin whispered. "Welcome home."
A small finger poked his cheek. It tickled a bit, but not enough to bother him. Then that same small finger was peeling down his lower right eyelid.
Startled, Melan sat bolt upright and lifted his sword arm to defend himself. To his confusion there were two small children standing near him. One was a boy and the other was a girl. They both had the same dark hair and light skin. They also both had the same look of fear on their faces.
The boy exclaimed something in English. Then he started bowing and apologizing in Japanese. At the same time the girl, who appeared to be younger, was on the verge of tears and trying to cling to the boy's arm.
Melan quickly dropped his sword. "No, wait." he said, hoping to calm them down. "Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you."
The boy stopped bowing and looked hesitantly back at him. "You won't?"
Melan shook his head. "No."
A big smile appeared on the boy's face. Then he bowed again, this time in a gesture of greeting. "It's really nice to meet you, Melan-san. I'm Gen, and this is my little sister Moto." The girl did not smile but she copied her brother's greeting anyway.
Melan stared at the two young children. He had not expected them to accept his words so quickly. To most humans he looked like a monster, especially to small children. There was also something else unusual about them. Even though he was sure he had never met them before, their biological information seemed strangely familiar.
"Where am I?" he said at last.
"This is Auntie Marin's room." Gen said helpfully. "She's down in the kitchen helping with lunch, but she said she was gonna come check on you soon. She was real scared 'cause you were all bloody an' stuff. It was cool!"
As he spoke, Melan's memories started to return. The last thing he remembered before waking up here was being in a cold, dark place and hearing Marin's voice. So it really wasn't a dream. She really had saved his life and brought him back to her house.
Melan then started to take in his surroundings. He was sitting in a futon that was too small for him and his body was covered by a patched up duvet that was also too small for him. The room was indeed Marin's bedroom in the tenement house, but there was something different about it. It was still very tidy, but the tatami mats and timbers looked more worn and used than he remembered, and in one corner there was a low table with a strange metal contraption that had not been there before.
He then looked down to check his injuries. All of the wounds not hidden by the duvet were covered in bandages and both of his weapon-arms were fully regenerated. He felt no pain in his legs or wings, either. His healing process was proceeding much quicker than he had expected. Perhaps that was due to Marin and her family tending to him.
A floorboard creaked. Melan turned his head. While he had been preoccupied, Gen had been watching him with wide, fascinated eyes and inching closer until he was now face to face with him. "Melan-san, did the typhoon make you crash your spaceship?"
Melan replied with a look of complete blankness. Before he could ask what a spaceship was, the boy asked him several more excited questions in rapid succession.
"Is your blood purple 'cause you eat lots of eggplants? Does your gun shoot lasers like the ones on TV? Can you chop a tree in half with your sword?"
Remaining safely behind her brother's back, Moto whined and tugged on the sleeve of his baggy sweater. "Nii-chan, let's go. Auntie Marin said to leave the robot spaceman alone."
The two children then started bickering. Melan just sat there and watched without the slightest idea of what to do about it. Just when the argument was starting to get loud, the door to the room slid open. A young woman with reddish brown hair and green eyes was standing there. She wore a secondhand sweater and skirt and carried a medical kit under one arm.
Melan recognized her biological information immediately, yet she looked like a stranger. His vision had been poor on the night she saved him and it had been too dark for him to identify much besides her voice, but there was no one else it could possibly be.
Marin was now tall enough that the top of her head would have been closer to his chest than his stomach if he were standing. Her bright green eyes were not framed by glasses and her long auburn hair was not bound up in a ponytail. Her hand-me-down clothing was not loose or baggy anywhere. This was not the young adolescent Marin he remembered. This was a fully grown adult Marin.
As soon as they saw her, the children started accusing each other of waking Melan up. Marin let out an exasperated sigh. She had clearly dealt with this sort of thing before and was not in the mood for any of it. She placed her free hand on her hip and did her best to frown sternly down at the children, but she sounded more tired than angry as she scolded them. "Okay, you two, that's enough! Go downstairs and wash up right now."
After the children trudged sullenly out of the room she shut the door behind them. Then she turned to where Melan was sitting in his futon. Time seemed to stop the moment their eyes met.
Her face lit up with just barely contained excitement. "Melan."
He sat there like a statue, still not quite believing what he was seeing. "Marin?"
"I'm so glad to see you awake!" she said brightly. "You were asleep for three days! For a while we thought you weren't going to make it, but you're looking much better today!"
She quickly crossed the floor and knelt beside his futon. Placing the medical kit in her lap she pulled the duvet off of his legs. As she started to remove the bandages there, she went on chattering as if everything was perfectly normal. The whole time he just sat there and stared as if she had just fallen out of the sky.
"I hope the kids didn't bother you. I kept telling them not to come in here but they're just too curious sometimes. They're Mike and Jun's kids, by the way. They were married about a year after you left. Now they're expecting another baby! Mike keeps hoping for a kid who looks like him, but so far they look more Japanese than American. I wonder why that is? Grandpa Shuta said it was something about dominant genes, but it all went over my head."
Soon there was only one bandage left on his right arm. Once she went to work on it, Marin slowly went silent as her eyes drifted to the dirty ribbon tied to the base of his sword. Almost without thinking, she smoothed its frayed edges wistfully. When she looked back up again, she finally noticed that Melan was looking straight at her.
Suddenly nervous, she quickly pulled her hand away and aimed her gaze at her knees. "S-sorry…" she stuttered. "I was just…I …I shouldn't have touched it…"
He watched her fumble with her skirt a bit longer. Then he raised his arm so the ribbon was directly in her line of sight.
She glanced up at him through her bangs then made a half-hearted attempt at a smile. "Well…It does look like it's starting to come loose." As her hands moved to adjust the ribbon's knot, she attempted to make casual conversation to ease the tense atmosphere. "Actually, I'm surprised you still have this old thing. I thought you might have lost it by now. It's been ten years, after all."
There was very long, heavy silence then. When she looked up again, his face was even more stunned than it had been when she had first walked into the room. He stared at her a moment longer. Then he looked out the window. The sky was gray and a light drizzle was falling. There was no sound but the light rain pattering on the tin roof above and in the streets outside. "Ten years…"
The gravity of his tone caused a very important fact to dawn on her. Time moved a lot faster here on Earth than it did on Brigadoon. She felt her mouth go dry. "Melan….How long has it been for you?"
He kept gazing out the window in silence. Just when she thought he hadn't heard her, he spoke again. "One month."
Marin blinked several times in surprise. Her eyes drifted to rest on her knees and her formerly cheerful voice became sober. "Oh…" she said. She made another weak attempt at a smile. "You must be pretty surprised to see me this way, huh?"
Melan did not have words for an answer. He had definitely been surprised to see her this way, but now he wasn't sure how he felt. All of this strangeness was starting to make sense yet he could still scarcely believe it. The single month Melan had been home on Brigadoon had been the longest month of his life. He had often looked up at the sky and wondered what was happening on Earth without him, and what it would be like if he returned. Now that he had his wish, it was not at all what he had expected.
Since the conversation had died, she went to work removing the last bandage on his arm. He continued to stare out the window. A clock on the dresser ticked. Voices talked downstairs. More rain fell outside. A neighbor's dog barked somewhere.
Eventually, Marin cleared her throat and spoke. "Well, that's the last of the bandages." she said, trying to be cheerful again. "You should be well enough to move around now."
The wooden floorboards creaked as Melan slowly lifted his large body from the futon and steadily rose to his feet. His joints made mechanical hissing noises as he flexed the weapons that were his forearms. Then Marin rose from the floor, clutching the medical kit with one hand and a bundle of dirty bandages with the other. He looked at her and was again reminded that she was not a child any longer.
Now that they were both standing up straight, the top of her head did indeed come closer to his chest than his stomach. When she looked back at him their eyes met. Again it seemed as if time had stopped and the rest of the world no longer existed. It was just the two of them standing face to face for the first time in ten years, neither one quite sure what to do next.
Suddenly three female voices that sounded exactly the same were calling from downstairs. "Marin-chan, it's time for lunch!"
Surprised and flustered, she called back a reply. "Okay, I'm coming!" She scratched the back of her head and gave him an awkward smile. "Ah-haaa …The Momoi Aunties."
Before Melan could say anything back, there was a loud gurgling noise from his stomach.
Marin stared for a moment. Then she burst out laughing.