By the time Maki emerges from the tent, the sky's gone pink again – this time, with the setting sun. Despite her alleged 'intimately involved' status in GSPB and Red7 mission, Blondie and Eyebrow Guy had managed to convey very little actual information about her new situation. For hours Blondie (okay, okay. Kitsurbami. Commander Eyebrows had said it enough for Maki to catch on to that one) had haltingly attempted to exposit on the mechanics of N.O. and what, exactly, had come out of Maki's head.

As far as the preteen could gather, there were a near-infinite number of 'channels,' not unlike radio channels, across which N.O. signals could run. Maki's collision with Red7 had dialed Maki into the unique channel of something called Atomsk (a name that made Haruha noticeably stiffen). The bird-monster was, quote, a 'prokareotic energy avianculous manifestation,' which Maki interpreted, as best she could, to mean that a little bit the energy from Atomsk had come through her channel and taken a monster's shape? Maybe? She was still far from clear on what Atomsk even was, or its connection to the rock she'd bumped her head on. The conversation had absolutely gone to shit when Blondi-Kitsurubami tried to get into the makeup of the monster – evidently it was a major source of distress for her and Eyebrow Guy that the thing had had mechanical parts. She'd said, flailing with paperwork while her boss's eyebrows danced across his face and slipped from sweat, at which point Maki quietly made her escape from the bureaucratic panic-attack and slipped out of the tent.

At the same time she realizes the sun's dipped so far that she can't see more than a foot in front of her, it occurs to Maki that she's been gone from home without speaking to Mayuri for the entire day.

She can still hear BlondesuruKitsurubami and Eyebrow Guy (to whom Kitsurublondibami only referred to as 'Commander,' a title Maki liked considerably less than 'Eyebrow Guy') spouting increasingly panicked, incomprehensible terminology, when Haruha quietly steps out of the tent. For a moment or two, they stand in silence, facing the sunset. Then, Maki says,

"Haruha, please take me home."

This ride is less spasmodic than the previous two, perhaps because, Maki speculates, Haruha is too tired to be insane. She certainly hasn't spoken since her monosyllabic agreement to take Maki home, and the younger girl finds herself wondering, yet again, what exactly is going on in the head of this woman who now won't bother to even make eye contact. Maki squeezes Haruha's waist tighter, not because she fears falling, but for warmth. The summer wind suddenly seems so cold.

Silently responding to Maki's directions, Haruha finally navigates to the Arikida's street, and stops in front of the house. Maki climbs off the scooter, awkwardly, new guitar still strapped to her back, and wonders just how she could possibly begin to explain to her older sister. Just as she gets off, Haruha speaks at last.

"I'm picking you up tomorrow at five am. Don't forget."

Maki shudders, imagining trying to process the bustling, obtusely technical meteor camp at such an early hour. She turns to the front walkway, intent on heading to bed immediately, when the porch light comes on and Mayuri Arikida opens the door.

It's like the beginning of a joke. A woman with two jobs stares at her little sister with a guitar and a sticker on her face, while a pink-haired woman sits frozen in the starting position on a yellow Vespa. The absurdity of the scene, coupled with a vague sense of being 'caught' for Haruha and a sharp sense of it for Maki, stills them where they stand (and sit). For minutes, the only sound is the Vespa's engine. An owl hoots, somewhere.

Mayuri manages, "Maki, who is this?"

Haruha, still staring straight ahead, responds,

"A cleaning lady."

And so a woman, a girl, and a space alien are sitting around a kitchen table.

Mayuri, in a champion effort to regain control of the absurd, has invited Haruha in for tea. Now the probationary officer is shoving cookies in her mouth in a manner that is, Maki thinks, far too comfortable for being in someone else's home.

"Is that even a thing, in Japan? Cookies with your tea?" Maki mumbles, heard by no one. Mayuri is too busy watching food travel from plate to Haruha's mouth. She says,

"So you're a…cleaning lady."

Haruha's mouth is full of tea and cookies, but she agrees without missing a beat. "'Myeah," she says, taking another gulp. There's not the slightest flicker of hesitation or guilt, and Maki begins to feel inklings of true suspicion about the nature of her mentor's character. Consummate liar.

Maki is far less experienced in deception, but much more committed to a cohesive story.

"She's my new music instructor!" Maki says, with too much conviction. She's even stood up to lean forward more on the table. The dishes rattle, and Haruha almost spills her tea in surprise. Maki's heart palpates as she prepares to navigate this new kind of minefield.

But the movement has thrust her into the light of the overhead lamp.

"Maki, what's that on your forehead-"

"Fashion statement!" Subtle, Maki. Subtle.

"O…kay," Mayuri lets it go, remembering the more pressing matter at hand.

"So, wait, I thought you said you were a cleaning lady…" she says, looking back to Haruha, with more confusion than suspicion. Maki cuts in before Haruha can speak.

"Part time!" Still too forceful. Maki falters, tries to remember herself.

"She, uh, is travelling. Through town." Maki feels herself fall in step with the lie.

"She's a travelling musician who works part time as a cleaning lady, to support herself while she gets her music career off the ground. I heard her performing on the street and," conviction returns- "I was inspired!"

Mayuri is staring up at her sister, stunned, and even Haruha is leaning back, lips parted, eyebrows raised. Maki barrels onward.

"I want to learn to play. She agreed to take me on as a student." The narrative stills in tense air. Mayuri recovers first.

"That's…great, Maki. Really!" her confused hesitation begins to warm towards true enthusiasm.

"It's wonderful to see you interested in something for a change." The preposition – 'for a change' – is not one of derision but genuine concern – for, indeed, this is the most Mayuri's little sister has said in days. But new concern creases the older Arikida's brow.

"Just, I'm not sure how we're going to be able to pay-"

"It's fine." Haruha cuts in suddenly, but calmly. She's strumming on Maki's guitar – when did she take it? – as if it were her own.

"She agreed to help me with cleaning to cover the cost."

"I…did." Maki says. It's almost more question that affirmation, but she hasn't quite lost her footing yet.

"I, um, so I'm going to be busy and not around much, this summer break," Maki says, winding down.

"So that's…yeah, they do have that in Japan," Mayuri verifies, surreptitiously closing the Wikipedia page on her phone's internet browser. She's bemused, but nodding slowly. Her gaze turns to Haruha, who, Maki realizes with a flash of panic, hardly appears a reputable sort of character to which one would entrust the care of one's little sister. Mayuri looks Haurha up and down, and says at last,

"Excuse me, I'm so sorry, but, I've forgotten introductions." Against (what Maki considers) all logic, Mayuri smiles.

"Mayuri Arikida," she says.

"Haruko Haruhara," Haruha replies.

Maki twitches.

See? I update! h a h a

This was kind of hard to write. Cheesy lying scenes always make me cringe when I read them, but hopefully I could make it a little bit funny for you. Next chapter gets back to action, don't worry.