Part 3: Brilliant Flight
For the rest of that rainy day, the people of the tenement house monitored the news.
There was only one TV set and one radio in the whole tenement, and they were located at opposite ends of the building. The TV was in the White family's unit while the radio was in Onando's, and both devices were turned on at the same time for hours on end. This would not happen under normal circumstances, due to electric bills being so expensive, but this was not a normal day.
The reporters spoke of the rainy weather and the damages done by the typhoon, but what everyone was really hoping to hear about was a sighting of the three lost Monomakia that Melan had mentioned during lunch. By the time night fell nothing had been said about them. Perhaps that was a mixed blessing.
As Melan moved about the house that day, the White children were never far behind. Gen was completely enthralled by the Gun-Swordsman and ambushed him with questions at every turn. Moto was more timid than her brother, but no less curious about the alien visitor. Jun tried to keep them from pestering him too much, but he found that he didn't mind their company. It was nice to meet new humans that were not completely terrified of him.
Soon it was time for dinner. It wasn't until Melan was halfway through his twenty-third helping of rice that he noticed something was off with Marin. While he had been busy eating, she had just sat there quietly and let her meal grow cold in front of her. When he asked why she wasn't eating she looked up from her plate as if she'd forgotten he was sitting right next to her. Then she smiled back rather weakly and said she wasn't very hungry. He did not find her answer convincing, but decided not to push the issue.
When dinner was over, Melan went to the roof of the tenement house and looked at the sky. Due to the late autumn season the sun had set earlier than usual. The rain had stopped falling and the clouds were beginning to break up. The moon was not visible, being in its darkest phase. The temperature was cool but not cold. The conditions were perfect for his test flight.
Aside from a few sounds from other houses, the neighborhood was quiet. Then he heard a noise very close by. He looked and saw that someone had joined him on the roof.
Marin was standing only a short distance away. She was dressed in a raincoat and rubber boots. "I thought you might be up here."
Melan frowned. "What are you doing, Marin? A fall from this height could seriously injure you."
As she took a few steps closer, she held her arms straight out to her sides for balance. "I won't fall. I just want to talk."
He watched her movements carefully. He didn't like it when she took unnecessary risks like this, especially for his sake, but he was fully prepared to lunge forward and catch her if he had to. "What was it you wanted to talk about?"
When she was within three feet of him she stood still and tucked her hands into her coat pockets. The air was colder to her than it was to him, and her hair was dancing in the chilly breeze. "I want to come with you."
He had anticipated these words in one form or another and already had an answer. "I'm on a mission to capture a very dangerous fugitive Monomakia. You would get hurt if you came with me."
Marin smiled dryly. "I knew you'd say that. But that's not what I meant."
Melan blinked in surprise at this.
"Don't get me wrong," she continued. "I really want to help you. But there's just no way I can do that." She looked up at the dark sky, deep in thought. Her expression became more somber. "The only time I was ever really helpful to you was when I had Cosmos. Now that it's gone, I'd only slow you down."
Melan did not know how to respond. Was this what had been bothering her earlier? These were certainly not the kind of words he had been expecting her to say. They didn't sound like the younger Marin at all. "But … what did you mean when you said that you wanted to come with me?"
She gazed quietly at the sky a bit longer then took a deep breath and spoke. "I want to join you on your test flight." She turned toward him, her hair and coat fluttering around her in the gentle wind and her green eyes filled sincere hope. "Please, Melan? Is it okay for me to fly with you tonight?"
For a moment he stood there in silence. This was a side of Marin he hadn't seen very often. Instead of making a big fuss and insisting on joining his mission, she seemed content with the idea of just being near him. Maybe this was a product of maturity, or maybe it was a result of his extended absence from her life. Either way, Melan found himself smiling about it as he answered her question. "I suppose there's no harm in that."
As soon as he said those words, Marin dropped all pretense of maturity and squealed like a schoolgirl. "Hurray!" she sang happily. "Flying, flying, flying with Melan!"
Then she flung her arms around his waist. The hug caught him off guard, but he quickly composed himself again. "Please turn around so I can hold you, Marin."
She did as he said, still giddy with excitement. He stretched his sinewy cables out and wrapped them securely around her waist. As he lifted her up and held her against himself, he noticed several new things about her body. Since she was taller he didn't need to lift her quite as high as before. She was also heavier, but not so much that it would be a problem. Most conspicuously, though, she was more soft and curvy than she used to be.
Then he snapped his wings open. With a noise like a jet fighter taking off, they launched from the tenement house roof and straight up into the air. For her this was a bit too high, too fast. She gasped and instinctively squeezed her eyes shut, gripping his cables tightly.
He reduced his speed in response. "Are you afraid, Marin?"
She turned her head to pout at him. "Just … take it easy, okay? I haven't done this in a long time…"
He nodded, leveled out and surged forward. Even at a lower speed they were still moving very fast. However, she had soon adjusted and felt comfortable enough to open her eyes. She looked at the world below, where the wet streets shone like mirrors and the lights looked like blurry streaks.
"Amazing…" she murmured aloud. She turned her head to look back at him, this time with a smile on her face. "Melan, you're really amazing!"
Melan couldn't help smiling back. The way Marin was acting now was so much like the young girl she once was. This was just like the old days, when she would ask to fly off with him just for the fun of it. Before he met her, flying had been just another way of getting from one place to another. Now it was a delight.
Since she was no longer afraid, he decided to attempt some more daring aerobatics. He began by pulling further upward. Once they were high enough he arched backward and down, completing a perfect loop. She squealed and laughed, definitely a positive reaction. As he performed a second loop, she shut her eyes and lifted her arms like wings, relishing the feeling of the wind blowing in her hair and against her face.
Then something cold and wet splashed on her forehead. Confused, Marin opened her eyes. The night sky had filled itself with thick clouds and soon dozens of raindrops were stinging her face. She yelped in pain and tried to block them with her arms. Melan heard her distraught noises and saw the rainfall was quickly becoming heavier. He had flown them too far from the house, though, so he needed to find shelter elsewhere.
Sweeping closer to the ground, Melan spotted a large concrete bridge crossing a canal. There was a ledge under it that looked wide enough to stand on and the water was low. It wasn't the best shelter but it would have to do for now. He reduced his speed and gradually descended until they were under the bridge. Once his tripod feet clacked lightly on the ledge, he set her down and retracted his cables back into his torso.
"Ah-haaa…" Marin groaned, wiping her wet face on her coat sleeve. "Why did it have to start raining again?"
Melan folded his wings shut and watched the rainfall develop into a steady downpour. "I think it's only a brief cloudburst. It won't last long, but we should wait here until it passes."
She started mentally cursing Mother Nature for ruining her fun. In response, a gust of wind blew under the bridge and swept up her wet coat and hair. She shrieked and wrapped her arms tightly around herself, teeth chattering and knees knocking. "Gah! Cold, cold, cold!"
Extending his cables once more, Melan reached out to the shivering Marin. Hearing movement behind her she started to turn, only to be seized around the waist by the sinewy cables and pulled face first into his rock-solid torso. Luckily her hands moved up fast enough to save her nose from being bruised.
"Melan! Wh-What are you…" She stopped, noticing how much warmer his body was growing. With a sigh of contentment she rubbed her cheek against his chest. "Ah-haaa …That's nice…"
"My body temperature can be adjusted automatically." He made this statement out of habit, though it was partly to remind her in case she had forgotten.
"Mmm…" She moved her arms around his waist in a hug. Flying had been fun, but what she had missed even more than that was just being close to him. "You used to hold me like this when I was cold." Then she giggled softly. "I was so short you had to lift me off the ground."
Melan was also remembering those days. He also noted something was different about this hug. The one she had given him previously had been one of innocent joy, but this second one felt totally unlike it, both physically and emotionally. Even as he thought of it he couldn't find words to describe it.
The two of them stayed there in each other's embrace unaware of any time that might have passed. Neither of them knew how long they stayed under the bridge holding each other like that and neither of them really cared. When they were together nothing else seemed to matter.
Then it struck Melan that this was the first time he had been truly alone with Marin in ages. There were many things he wanted to say to her, but he couldn't decide where to start. Finally he settled on something he had been thinking of earlier that day.
"Marin," he said, tilting his head downward to look at her. "Today at lunch, Gen said you told stories of someone called the Blue Swordsman. His description sounded like me. Could you explain that?"
"Oh…" She gave an awkward chuckle. "Yeah, I've been telling the kids stories about you since they were both really little."
He became curious. "What kind of stories?"
Marin tipped her head up to look back at him. "All of them. Well, most of them, anyway. They're just little kids, so I had to leave out the really scary parts. But every story was from the time we were together." Then she smiled. "And you know what? When I told those stories, it was almost like you were here again." She rested her head on his chest and her arms tightened around his waist. "So I kept telling stories. Not just to entertain the kids, but to sort of bring you back."
Melan stared down at the top of her head as he pondered her words. He had often worried that Marin's memories of him would fade over time and eventually disappear. Now it seemed those fears were unfounded. Not only did she still remember him, but she had done all in her power to do so.
Then his mind drifted to another subject that had been mentioned at lunch. Moto had asked Marin if he was her boyfriend. She had stammered back a flustered reply against asking such personal things at the table, but it was not a direct answer. He was still not completely sure of what a boyfriend was, but she had called him by that title ten years ago. From what he could tell it had to do with a special kind of bond between two people and particularly strong feelings of affection. Could that mean her old feelings for him were also as strong as her memories?
Before he had the chance to ask her anything on the subject, a very nasal, feline voice broke the silence under the bridge. "Aww! What a romantic sight! If only I had a camera!"
Startled, Marin broke from the embrace and spun around to see where the voice had come from. A strange creature stood balancing itself on one of the bridge's support structures like a tightrope walker. It was about the size and shape of a cat, only with longer ears, greener fur, and a ponytail standing straight up on the back of its head. With a toothy grin, the creature twirled around on one skinny foot like a miniature ballet dancer. "Lo-loooon!"
Marin stammered and pointed a shaky finger. "L-L-Lolo! What are you doing here?"
The furry creature stopped spinning and struck another ridiculous pose. Now his whole body was wiggling around as if his bones were made of jelly. "That's the question of the ages, isn't it? Why are we here? Where are we going? What is the meaning of life?"
Melan was slightly annoyed by the unwelcome intrusion but he didn't so much as bat an eye at the creature's bizarre performance. "Chairman of the Life Improvement Committee."
"Howdy doo, Melan Blue!" Lolo sang. "Sorry to check in so late!" He began swinging upside down from the bridge by his ankles and flashed Marin a playful grin. "Thanks for looking after the big lug for me, babe. Bad weather always screws up Reghen's signal."
Marin arched an eyebrow when Lolo called her 'babe'. That was something new, yet it was also very typical of him. He was always joking around even when a monster was destroying half of Tokyo, so she could never really be sure whether or not he was serious.
"Lolo, did you know Melan was here all this time?" she asked, hoping that if she acted serious he would do the same.
No such luck. Lolo folded his arms behind his head and swayed back and forth. "I just knew he was on Earth, but I had a hunch he'd end up with you again. He just can't stay away, ya know?" Lolo then swung himself completely off the bridge, did a flip in midair, and landed on top of Melan's head in a crouch. "So, how's your new mission going in the Funny World, big guy?"
Melan replied in a very businesslike manner, like a soldier delivering a status report to his superior officer. "I was injured in battle and separated from Pyon and Eryun during a typhoon. The fugitive was lost as well. I have not been able to detect any of them since Marin found and restored me to my current health."
Lolo frowned. "Hmm. That's not good." He moved from Melan's head to his shoulder and finally adopted a serious pose. He was now sitting cross-legged with his arms folded, but his tail was twisting and untwisting itself as if it had a mind of its own. "Things aren't going well on my end, either. Even without the typhoon causing interference, we can't get a strong signal from any of 'em. All we know for sure is that they're somewhere in this city. So you two better start looking!"
Marin and Melan frowned. They both knew how much death and destruction Pyon and Eryun had caused on Earth ten years ago. Circumstances had been different then, but other people would not recognize that. The public would see them as dangerous alien monsters, the same way they had seen Melan. Should anyone else encounter the other two Gun-Swordsmen, there was no telling how much chaos would result.
Then the last thing Lolo had said suddenly registered in Marin's mind. "Wait a minute." she said with some confused blinking. "Lolo, are you saying you want me to help Melan?"
Lolo grinned, dropping the serious act completely. "Sure, why not?" Then he turned upside-down and lifted himself into a handstand. "You two make such beautiful music together!"
Melan looked very sternly at the little upside-down creature on his shoulder. "Chairman, you and I both know how powerful the fugitive Monomakia is. If Marin becomes involved and there is another battle, she will not survive."
"Point," Lolo said, raising one finger while still upside-down. "But still Marin has powers similar to the Creis, so she's the only human who can detect the presence of a Monomakia. And, since the fugitive's signal is so weak, he's either seriously injured or in his ampoule form. If you guys can find him before somebody else does, Marin won't be in any danger."
Marin also became stern. "You're sure about this, Lolo? Are you really being serious here?"
"Honey, I couldn't be more serious unless I was dead." Suddenly his upside-down body began to flicker with static like a hologram. "Whoops! Looks like I'm out of time for now." He righted himself and saluted to them, grinning hugely. "Happy hunting, you crazy lovebirds!"
After Lolo's projection vanished, Marin and Melan stood under the bridge in silence, attempting to make sense of what had just happened. Eventually they noticed the sounds of rain were not as loud.
"Oh, the storm's letting up." Marin remarked, not knowing what else to say.
Melan looked out at the rain and nodded. "We should go back to the house and rest now. Both of us will need our strength for the task ahead."
She looked up at him, eyes shimmering with hope. "Then …Then you're really going to let me help?"
He did not look back at her, his face still an unreadable mask and no trace of emotion in his voice. "I must obey the Chairman's orders. If he thinks it will help my mission, I will do as he says."
"Oh…" She felt her heart sink a little. "Of course. Your mission's the important thing."
He sensed the hint of melancholy in her voice immediately and looked directly at her. This time there was warmth in his eyes. "Marin, it's true that my mission is important. But there is no one else I would rather accomplish it with then you."
She felt better instantly and beamed. Then she clenched one fist with determination and thrust it in the air. "Okay! It's settled! We'll start our mission together!"
Melan smiled at her enthusiasm. She really was the same Marin after all these years. He stretched forth his cables to pick her up again. Still unfamiliar with the changes in her anatomy, he adjusted the pads at the ends in order to hold her better.
Suddenly Marin screamed and started flailing crazily. "Ah-haaa! Melan! Don't touch my boobs!"