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Family Matters by KT1972
Family Matters by KT1972
Summary: Written for the Gatchamania 2013 gift exchange from a prompt suggested by ElectricWhite.

The prompt was: A surprise revelation is made about Jinpei’s parents.

This is what I came up with.....
Categories: Gatchaman Characters: Jinpei, Joe Asakura, Jun, Ken Washio, Original Character, Ryu Nakanishi
Genre: Angst, Character Study, Hurt/Comfort
Story Warnings: Adult Situations, Mild Language, Mild Sexual References, Torture, Violence
Timeframe: Other
Universe: Alternate Universe
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 11 Completed: Yes Word count: 21781 Read: 3101 Published: 01/12/2014 Updated: 01/12/2014

1. Chapter 1 by KT1972

2. Chapter 2 by KT1972

3. Chapter 3 by KT1972

4. Chapter 4 by KT1972

5. Chapter 5 by KT1972

6. Chapter 6 by KT1972

7. Chapter 7 by KT1972

8. Chapter 8 by KT1972

9. Chapter 9 by KT1972

10. Chapter 10 by KT1972

11. Epilogue by KT1972

Chapter 1 by KT1972
Jun viewed the serious looking man with suspicion as he took a seat in one of the booths. Nudging Ken, she discreetly gestured towards him.

“What do you think he wants?” she whispered to her commander, as he turned to see who she was talking about.

If the stranger felt out of place in a teen diner, he tried not to show it, although he couldn’t have been more conspicuous if he had walked in wearing the green uniform of the regular Galactor goons. None of her customers wore a suit and tie.

“How am I supposed to know?” Ken replied, “Why don’t you go across and ask him?”

“But he looks sort of official, he could be from the health department, or the tax office.”

“Come on Jun, you haven’t got anything to worry about,” Ken admonished, “just go over and take his order, he probably just wants a coffee.”

“Well there are plenty of other places he could go which would be more suitable to his status.”

“Are you really going to turn away a paying customer, just because he’s dressed wrong?”

“No, of course not.” Jun sighed as she found her order pad, and went over. Ken watched with interest as, after a few seconds, she took the seat opposite and they were engaged in conversation for a short while, culminating with Jun accepting his business card before they got to their feet and shook hands.

“So what did he want?” Ken asked her when she returned to the bar.

“I’m not sure, but I have to arrange a meeting between Nambu, Jinpei and him, as soon as possible.”

“He wouldn’t tell you why?”

“Client confidentiality and all that, that’s all he was prepared to tell me, anyway.” She stared at the card in her hand, “He’s a private investigator, specializing in searching for missing people.”

“Who’s missing?”

“No idea, but I’d better let Nambu know as soon as possible.”


888888


The meeting was set for the following week at Nambu’s summer house. Presently, the four of them sat around the desk in Nambu’s office. Jun was included so she could relate how she found Jinpei, but unfortunately, Nambu soon established that Jinpei wasn’t the boy the P.I. was hired to find.

“My apologies for getting your hopes up like that, Jinpei, but you do understand I have to check out every lead I find.”

“Yeah, I understand, Mr. Landau.”

“And I’m sorry too.” Nambu added, “It would have been wonderful for him to finally have some background on his family.”

“There’s no reason why I can’t try to find out something for you.” Tamir Landau was not one to let an opportunity like this pass. “Tell me everything you know, and I’ll see if I can find something for you.”

“You will?” Jinpei looked excited and hopeful.

“Well, we’ve already told you just about everything we can,” Jun insisted, “And besides, don’t you have this case to finish first?”

“To be honest, this case is pretty much wrapped up anyway, I’m only looking for surviving children, my partner is searching for any that might have…. Well, you really were my last hope.”

“Come on, Hakase, say you’ll let him, please” the boy was practically bouncing off the walls in his excitement, but Nambu had serious misgivings.

“I had the top lawyers seek out any background information they could find about you and Jun before I took you in. They came up with nothing. I can’t see how anything would have changed in the intervening years.”

“But you didn’t want them to find anything though, because if you had, I wouldn’t have been able to stay with you, and I would have had to go back to any family I had and….”

“Enough, Jinpei.” Even Jun started to get nervous at what the Swallow might reveal. “It really is up to Hakase, and if he’s saying ‘no’ then there isn’t anything else we can do.”

“Jun, could you take Mr. Landau to the lounge, please, I would like to discuss this with Jinpei in private.”

“Yes Hakase.”

Jun directed the PI out of the office. Nambu waited until the door was firmly closed behind them before he continued. “Look, Jinpei, I understand the need you have to find information on your family, it’s only natural, but I really don’t think you want a professional busybody like him going through your history.”

“But why not?”

“Think about it. He is trained to leave no stone unturned to get the information you want, it could really make things awkward for us.”

“He won’t need to find out about the team though.”

“No, but he could still discover you all, and what if he’s not who he says he is, um, have you considered he could be working for Galactor, and this is just his ruse to uncover the identities of the Science Ninja Team?”

“Oh, you think everyone’s a Galactor spy.”

“Yes, it’s part of my job. Don’t you think there’s something even remotely suspicious about him turning up out of the blue like that? And why should he suddenly want to drop an existing case to take on yours?”

“Gee, I dunno, the money perhaps?”

“Don’t be facetious, and I’m sure his client, if he exists, will be paying him plenty to find this missing nephew, don’t you?”

“But what if he is legitimate and he could find my family?”

“Maybe he is, I could be wrong about him,” Nambu conceded, “but I have all the information the orphanage had on you, and it is how Jun said. She found you, wandering alone around the Jupiter Mountains and took you back with her to the orphanage. The staff tried everything they could to get your parents to come forward and claim you, but after months of searching, they came up with nothing. They even put out a worldwide appeal for them. That’s how you and Jun came to my attention. A small boy managing to survive such difficult terrain alone, it was certainly impressive. I knew you had to have something about you that I wanted for the team.”

Jinpei sat, his shoulders slumped, and head down, “well, that’s good to know, but it doesn’t answer any of the questions I have though.”

“What questions, Jinpei?”

“Like, who do I look like? Or do I behave more like my mom or my dad? That sort of thing.”

“I can’t see how knowing who your parents are would answer those kind of questions though. Details like that are unlikely to be recorded anywhere, unless they were people of some importance.”

“Oh, maybe they were.” Jinpei perked up again, “they could be royalty from some undiscovered island, or president of a major company and be rich beyond my wildest dreams…”

“Enough of that, Jinpei. Now, we’ll go and see the PI off the premises, then I want Ken and Joe to go check him out. Make sure he hasn’t uncovered anything we wouldn’t want him to know.” The doctor rose from his seat and headed towards the door. Jinpei followed dutifully, shoulders hunched and head bowed.

The rest of the team were in the lounge when they arrived, and all eyes turned to them as Jinpei slumped into the closest chair. Nambu ignored him as he approached the investigator.

“My apologies Mr. Landau, but we will not be requiring your services.”

“I see. Well I must say I’m disappointed, Doctor Nambu, it sounds like it would be a challenging case indeed.” Landau got to his feet and shook the Doctor’s hand. “And it’s been a pleasure to meet these fine young people too. Maybe someday, you’ll reconsider?”

“I doubt it, Ryu, would you escort Mr. Landau to his car please?” As the Owl complied, Jun went over to comfort the dismayed Swallow.

“Can you explain why, Hakase?” Ken asked, seeming confused by Nambu’s attitude, “what harm would it do if Jinpei could find out who his parents were?”

“I don’t want civilians poking around, stumbling on who you are. Have any of you checked for links to Galactor?”

“Yes, Hakase, I did, over the weekend. He’s kosher.” Jun told him. “Don’t you think I’d have informed you if I’d found anything suspicious?”

Nambu didn’t reply immediately, instead he turned to leave the room.

“What if we searched for them ourselves then?” Jun tried again.

“You don’t have time for that,” the doctor snapped. “You wouldn’t know the first place to start anyway.”

“Oh?” Jun disentangled herself from Jinpei. “I think I could easily hack into the P.I.’s database, we could work out his methods from his existing files.”

“Can I remind you all that Jinpei has already had one disastrous attempt to ‘find himself’ and I’d rather not have a repeat performance. Now I have work to do, and I’ve been held up enough for one day. I don’t want to hear any more about all this nonsense. I think you need to step up your training schedules.”

“That’s bull, Hakase,” Joe jumped in, “I want to know why you are coming up with all these excuses. You know more than you’re letting on.”

“There’s nothing to know.” Nambu fumed, “I’ve already told Jinpei everything.” With that he made his exit, leaving the four of them bemused at his attitude.

“Well, that was weird.” Joe commented, as Ryu returned to the room.

“What’s weird?”

“I can understand Hakase refusing to let a stranger poke around our history, but to stop us finding out ourselves… it’s just odd.”

“You think he’s hiding something, Joe?”

“Perhaps he has good reason,” Ken speculated. “What if he knows that Jinpei wouldn’t like what he discovers about his parents? I mean, he eventually told me about my father, and look how that went. He could just be trying to protect Jinpei from being hurt.”

“I don’t care about that, even just a birthday would be something.” Jinpei sniffed, “do you think we could do it, Onechan?”

“Well, it’s not going to be easy, there must be millions of other boys born around the same time as you, but we could give it a go. Are the rest of you willing to help?”

Ken and Ryu agreed without hesitation, but Joe was a bit more reluctant.

“I’m sure Hakase could tell us everything. I’m more interested in why he won’t.”

“Well, if we could go to him with the answers, then he would have to admit what he knows.” Ken suggested.

Joe considered this for a while. “Ok, so what’s the plan then Jun? Where do we start?”

“Well, I’m going to hack into the P.I.’s computer, try and find out how he goes about tracking down missing people, then we’ll come up with an action plan based on what I discover.”

“Hakase told me there was a huge media campaign to find my parents when Jun first found me.” Jinpei added, “He said that’s how we came to his attention. There might be some clues there if we can find the original reports.”

“Well there’s something we could be getting on with while Jun’s busy. Do you have a timeframe for us to start from?”

Jun counted back “I guess from summer, about 8 years ago?”
“Nambu did say the campaign went on for months, and it went worldwide, so we’ll have to come across something about it.” Jinpei added quickly.

“Ok, I’ve got something” Jun stared at her screen intently, reading off Landau’s records. “It looks like he starts at the records office from the missing person’s town or city of birth. Live male births from the relevant year, and check for corresponding deaths too, for elimination purposes. So if we start from the Jupiter Mountain region and work out from there…. It wasn’t too heavily populated either so that shouldn’t be too difficult, it will be when we have to hit the big cities that our work will be cut out for us.”

“So we’ll have a list of the names and a date of birth for every 10 year old boy in the area, so how will we start to discover which one is Jinpei?”

“We’ll have more than just names, we will have parents names and addresses from where they lived when they were born. Joe, you can look for school records for the children, Ken, would you search medical records? Ryu, Could you find out if any of the parents survive please? I suspect the parents we’re looking for will already be dead, so any living parents could possibly be eliminated.”

“What do I do Onechan?”

“You can co ordinate our results. Where it comes to school records, you want the names that don’t have any, and medical records that stop from about two years old without explanation, ok?”

“Gotcha, Onechan. Everybody send your information to my e mail account, ok.”

“Sure, squirt, we’ve got it.” Joe smirked from behind his laptop monitor. “Someone send him something quickly please, and keep him quiet so we can get on uninterrupted”

“I’m on to it.” Jun complied, sending an e mail to Jinpei containing a list of over a hundred names, all of boys around Jinpei’s age. Delighted, Jinpei added them all to a spreadsheet.

The work kept them occupied for most of the evening, taking breaks every hour or so for food, or simply to stretch their legs and rest their eyes. It was getting on for the early hours when Jun decided to call it a night.

“Come on Jinpei, I know how important this is for you, but we have to give it a rest sometime,” she told the younger boy when he protested. “We have covered three major cities already, and we can always take it up again tomorrow.”

“She’s right, squirt,” Joe agreed, “anyway, let’s see what you’ve got so far.” He took over the Swallow’s computer and scrolled back through pages of data, looking for the one name that had no other back-up information with it.

“There are quite a few names here,” he mused aloud.

“Yeah, but I’ve still got loads I haven’t added yet.” Joe looked at him, the boy was shattered.

“Get off to bed, I’ll finish this lot for you.”

“Thanks, Joe, this is much harder than I’d expected it to be.” Jinpei stifled a yawn, then rubbed his eyes, “Night everyone,” he muttered as he left the room.

“Night, kiddo,” Ryu responded as he shut his own computer down. “Mind if I call it a night too?”

“No, go ahead, the rest of you might as well too. I’ll just get on with this and be off myself.”

“Can I just see how far he’s progressed?” Jun glanced at the screen, “Good lord, it’s going to take him forever at the rate he’s going.”

“Yeah, from what I can tell, he’s inputting all the data manually. No wonder he’s getting so far behind.”

“And as tired as he is, we can’t be sure it’s all correct either… Let me see if I can write a program that will add it all automatically.”

“Knock yourself out.” Joe vacated the chair, and moved across to allow Jun to take over. She instantly got to work, and in a matter of minutes had all the information uploading into Jinpei’s original spreadsheet. “Jun, that’s brilliant! How did you manage to write the program so fast though?”

“Easy, it was already written, I just had to run it.”

“You would have thought the little squirt would have figured that out for himself.”

“Well sometimes you can’t see the obvious when it’s staring you in the face.” Jun smiled then yawned herself. “Well, it’s shaved a few hours off our work tonight; can I ask you to shut it down?”

“Wait a sec, I think we’ve got a result.” Joe had scrolled through, and highlighted the one name that had no data corresponding to it. “Look at this!”

Jun barely glanced at the screen. “Ok, but it’s not conclusive yet, can you let Jinpei discover it himself tomorrow? We wouldn’t want to steal his thunder, you know.”

Sighing, Joe shut down, “Well it’s good to know everything we’ve done tonight hasn’t been in vain.”
Chapter 2 by KT1972
Jinpei was bouncing the following morning, and only Nambu’s presence at the breakfast table prevented him from diving straight into the program. Instead he dutifully took his place with the rest of the team as they tucked into their meal.

“So what are everyone’s plans for today?” he cheerfully asked the normally animated team.

“Oh, the usual, I guess,” Joe answered for everyone, “unless Galactor have other plans for us, of course.”

The rest of the meal continued in silence, although all it did was arouse Nambu’s suspicions.

“What is it with you all today?”

“What do you mean, Hakase?” Jun asked.

“Well I’ve never known you all to just sit and eat like this. Is something going on that I need to know? I noticed you were all on the computers late last night.”

“If you must know, we’re trying to find some information on Jinpei’s parents.” Ken finally admitted, to the others surprise. “I don’t think it’s fair that he should be the only one to have no idea of who he really is.”

Jun glanced across at him, but said nothing. She had told them all so often that her parents were dead, she almost believed it herself.

“Is that what you all think?” As the other’s agreed, Nambu just sighed. “If I ordered you to stop, I suppose you would disregard it anyway?”

“Too right.”

“Ok.” Nambu got to his feet, his own breakfast unfinished, “Give me fifteen minutes, Jinpei, then come to my office. The rest of you, training is cancelled for today, so I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Can Jun come too?” Jinpei began, but Nambu seemed to ignore him and left the room without another word.

“I knew it!” Joe crowed “I knew he had to know more than he was letting on.”

“Ok, and in the meantime, we get started on those programs again.” Ken suggested. “There’s a possibility he could still try to fob Jinpei off.”

“Oh, by the way, Jinpei,” Joe added, “Jun’s running a program that will input data automatically, it should save you hours of work.”

“Neat, can I go and see?”

“Might as well, it’ll pass the time while you wait for Nambu.” Joe winked at Jun, as Jinpei rushed to his computer terminal and booted up.

It didn’t take long. He quickly found the name Joe had spotted the night before.

“Hikaru Himura,” he read to the rest of the group. “Could that be me?”

“Well, we would need to investigate further, but it’s certainly a good starting point.” Ken agreed.

“Shall we wait until we hear what Nambu has to say first?” Ryu suggested, “I mean it would be pointless to put in all that work, if Hakase just confirms it willingly.”

“Or if it’s wrong, we’ll have wasted a lot of time following a wild goose chase.” Ken concurred.

“Hikaru Himura.” Jinpei repeated the name over and over, “Wait a minute, isn’t that the name of the boy Mr. Landau was looking for?”

“It certainly sounds similar, you know, he might have been on to something after all.” Jun patted his shoulder in support. “Come on, let’s see what Hakase has to say for himself.”


888888


The Swan and the Swallow sat facing their mentor across his oversized oak desk. Jinpei clung to Jun’s hand tightly, the nervousness clear across his features.

Nambu himself looked similarly anxious, and shuffled round the sheets of paper he had in front of him.

“Well?” Jun prompted, “Are you going to keep him waiting all day?”

“No, no,” Nambu stuttered, his normally calm composure suddenly deserting him. “This isn’t easy for me either, as I’m sure you’ll understand as I go on.”

Jun and Jinpei glanced at each other, confused, but Nambu pushed a photograph across the table. “Mai Himura.” He said as Jinpei picked up the image. “This is the only photograph I have, it was taken on her 21st birthday.

“My mother?” he snatched up the picture and stared at it for a long while. The face in the picture was smiling, straight brown hair framed her fair skin and the eyes were a deep brown. “She looks a bit like you, onechan.”

“There is a resemblance.” Nambu agreed, but we’ll come to that later, “first of all, I should explain one or two things first.”

“Go on, Hakase,” Jun prompted, taking a curious glance at the picture.

“Right, of course.” The doctor seemed to take a moment to compose himself. “When I first started working for the I.S.O., I used to give lectures at the local university campus. Mai was one of my students, one of the keener students, I might add. She was always asking for extra tuition, even though I didn’t consider it necessary. Anyway, during a private tutorial she told me she wanted to have a party for her uni friends to celebrate her 21st, but her parents would only allow it if a responsible adult was present to chaperone her. She wanted me to be that responsible adult.”

“Why you though? There must have been plenty of others she could have asked.”

“Well, I was in a position of responsibility, but not that much older than the students themselves, I was only in my late 20’s myself, young enough to not put too much of a dampener on things, and at that time, I only had Ken in my care. In retrospect, I was stupid to agree” Nambu paused to get a drink of water, taking a long gulp before he continued. “Well, I don’t think I need to spell out what happened on the night, but we began seeing each other in secret for about a month, before our affair came to light. I was hauled over the coals, and quietly resigned, and her parents took out a restraining order to keep me away from their daughter.”

“Are you saying YOU’RE Jinpei’s father?” Jun looked shocked, but Jinpei just sat back in his seat, not quite believing what he had just been told.

Nambu rose from his chair and walked across to the window, staring out at the bay. “I had every intention of telling you when the war was over, and the Science Ninja Team was disbanded. I was worried the rest of you would think I was showing him preferential treatment.”

“Not to mention if Galactor were to find out, then he would be their main target, instead of Ken.” Jun added, hoping to soften the blow of Nambu’s keeping yet another devastating secret for so long.

“Indeed, but that wasn’t my main priority when you both came to join us here.”

“Hakase,” Jinpei’s voice was so quiet, they weren’t sure he had actually spoke, but Nambu turned in response. “How did I end up wandering the Jupiter Mountains alone? Or is all that made up too?”

“No, that is true. After I left the university, I continued with my work here, and eventually put the whole sorry business behind me. Galactor was making its presence felt, Joe joined the household and we were beginning to formulate the foundations of what would become the S.N.T. About two years after I’d last seen Mai, I got a call from her out of the blue. She sounded scared and distressed, and wasn’t really making a lot of sense. The gist of her call was that she had left home, and wanted me to find her, and our son. Well that was the first I knew of any child, and I’d raced to the location she’d given me as quickly as I could.” He paused there to have another drink and there was a distinct tremor in his voice as he recalled what happened next.

“Finding the village she had called from was easy, finding her exact location was considerably more difficult. It took me a long while, but I eventually found her in an abandoned hut. She had attempted to kill herself. Well I couldn’t leave her like that, and waited with her until the police and ambulance arrived, trying to keep her talking. She told me her parents had kept her like a prisoner, forcing her to keep the child as penance for her wicked behavior and for the shame she had brought to the family. She begged me not to let the child go back to her parents; they apparently beat him for any supposed misdemeanor of hers. I tried to get her to tell me more about you, but she either couldn’t or wouldn’t, so when the police asked me for information, I couldn’t really tell them anything. I didn’t know your name, or what you looked like, just that you were a boy around two years old. Not much to go on, but it didn’t matter. Within an hour, the police had a report of a small boy turning up at the nearby orphanage. It couldn’t be a coincidence.”

Jinpei crept off his seat and went over, “what about my mother?”

“Oh, she survived the suicide attempt. She got counseling, and signed away her parental responsibility of you once your paternity was confirmed. After that, it was merely formality. I applied for a residential order and changed your name to Jinpei, in case the grandparents tried to track you down. It was still long enough for you to become attached to Jun while you were there though. The first time I saw you, you wouldn’t leave her side. According to the social workers initial assessment, you couldn’t speak, and there was evidence of non accidental injuries, although who inflicted them would have been difficult to prove. It was Jun who coaxed you out of your shell, teaching you the very basics the average two year old should be doing, so rather than have you go through any separation anxiety, I applied for residency of her too. In hindsight, I suspect it was her resemblance to Mai that drew you to her.”

“Do you suppose it was my grandparents that hired Mr. Landau then?”

“It’s possible, I know Mai was an only child, she certainly didn’t have any brothers, although why they would want to seek you out after all this time is a mystery to me. The only other one who would possibly want to find you is Mai herself, but I would think she would contact me directly.”

“Not necessarily though, she could be worried that you would turn her away.” Jun said, “I mean it has been over 8 years, how would she know how you’d react if she got back in touch?”

“I want to meet her.” Jinpei decided, taking Nambu completely by surprise with the determination in his voice. “Can you fix it up for me?”

“Jinpei, I don’t even know if she’s still alive, never mind if she’d be willing to meet you.”

“Well you can try. Phone Mr. Landau and ask him for her number.”

“He wouldn’t give it to me though, those kinds of details are kept confidential. The best I could do is to ask him to pass on our number and hope she gets in touch.”

“Ring him though, please Hakase, and arrange to meet up?”

“I’ll try, but I’m not going to make any promises, ok.” Nambu sat back at his desk and called the number on the P.I.’s business card. Jinpei waited with bated breath, only to feel deflated when the doctor left what sounded like a voicemail message. “Well, that’s all I can do for now, but if they get back to me, I’ll let you know immediately.”

“Come on Jinpei, we’ll go open the J, it will help pass the time while you’re waiting.”

“Ok, onechan, can you just give us a minute please?”

Jun looked between the two of them, “yeah, just come in when you’re ready, we won’t be too busy straight away anyhow.” She left the room, gently closing the door behind her. Out in the corridor, Jun leant against the wall and took a deep breath. Of all the secrets Nambu had kept from them over the years, this had to be the biggest. If the fact that he was Jinpei’s father wasn’t massive enough, then the possibility that Jinpei’s mother was also alive, and bore a striking resemblance to her too, was completely overwhelming. She couldn’t begin to imagine how their young teammate was taking it.

Once alone, father and son sat staring across the desk, as if seeing each other for the first time, an uneasy silence hanging between them.

“It feels weird.” Jinpei spoke at last, “am I supposed to call you otosan now?”

“I won’t insist on it, if it makes you uncomfortable.”

“Thank you, Hakase.”

“Was there something else?” When Jinpei just shrugged, Nambu went around the desk and knelt in front of the young lad. “Look, I can’t begin to understand what you are going through. I’ve had years to adjust to it. It doesn’t have to change anything if you don’t want it to. I’m not going to treat you any differently, because from my point of view, nothing has changed.”

“Why couldn’t you have told me before though? Yesterday, while the P.I. was here?”

“Having a stranger present when you hear something like that wouldn’t be a good idea, although I could have had a quiet word with him before he left, but it had took me by surprise too. The only people who knew your given name were your birth family, and I knew as soon as Mr. Landau said it, that you were going to find out the truth. I needed to prepare myself.”

“Prepare yourself? How?”

“I wasn’t ready to tell you. I wanted time to figure out how I was going to break it to you. I had no idea how you would take the news, I mean it is quite a bombshell after all. I wanted to be prepared for every possible reaction, but I must say, you’re taking it better than I’d anticipated. I guess it’s still sinking in”

Now Jinpei couldn’t stop tears from streaming down his face. Nambu found his long buried paternal instinct rising and held his son, muttering what he hoped were words of comfort while the boy sobbed in his arms, something Jinpei would have found unimaginable even an hour earlier.
“So you really are my dad then?” he sniffed eventually, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.

“Yes, I am. If you want more proof, we can have a DNA test done today.”

“Will you do that for me then? How long will it take?”

“A couple of hours, perhaps, all you have to do is provide a cheek swab, and I’ll do the same.”
Chapter 3 by KT1972
Jun found Joe alone in their study. He was at one of the computers, staring intently at the screen. He barely acknowledged Jun as she took a seat.

“Where are the others?” she asked, just to break the silence more than anything.

“Ken’s on deliveries and Ryu’s at the harbor.”

“Not practicing today then?”

“Racetrack doesn’t open ‘til 10, I’m just passing time here, checking out this Hikaru Himura that cropped up. You know, it really does look promising.”

“No need now. Hakase confessed to everything.”

“Oh, right,” Joe was about to continue with what he was doing, then her words struck home. “Wait he confessed? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Use your head, he’s Jinpei’s father.” Jun began to recite the story as she had heard it in Nambu’s office. Joe listened in stunned silence. “I felt a bit awkward listening in, so I’ve left them to it, gave them some quality time together,” she finished at last.

“Well who’d have thought it… he would be the last person I’d suspect. And with a student too.”Joe’s demeanor was full of mirth at the thought of the strict disciplinarian having a checkered past.

“It’s nothing to joke about Joe.” Jun admonished.

“You’re telling me, we all know how Nambu loves his secrets.” He sat back in his chair, “if that little squirt was a pain before, he’s going to be impossible now he knows he’s the boss’ son.”

“And that’s precisely why Hakase has kept it concealed all this time. He said himself he didn’t want it to look like Jinpei was getting preferential treatment.

“He’s got a point there. It would be easy to think he’d only got his place on the team because of his relationship to Nambu.”

“Do you think Nambu would do that?”

“Sure he would, how else could you explain how Jinpei is so much younger than the rest of us? Do we have a name for his mother then?”

“Yeah, it’s Mai Himura.”

“But that’s who I was looking up.” Joe exclaimed, “I thought I was on to something. Want to know something interesting?”

“What’s that then?”

“Just look who she works for.” He turned the monitor around so she could see. Joe was on Mai’s social network page.

“Tamir Landau!” Jun smiled. “Does it say in what capacity?”

“Nope, she could be a secretary, or business partner, her posts don’t give us any real clues either, where she mentions work, it’s just the usual ‘had the worst day ever….’ sort of thing.”

“Could it be relevant?”

Joe shrugged, noncommittally, “I suppose not, I’ve already eliminated any connection to Galactor, although I guess it explains why he came to track Jinpei down though.”

“Is he on the site too?”

“Yeah, but I think his settings are private. I can get some info, but nothing we don’t already know. No posts though.”

“I could hack into it?”

“Worth a try, it’s preferable to sending him a request at this stage.”

Jun set to work, and within a minute had what she was looking for. “See that?”

“Can’t say much at the moment, but I think I’m on the verge of making a special lady’s dream come true…” Joe read. “Posted yesterday, not long after he’d left here.” When Jun clicked on the responses, he continued:

“Oh R U proposing? Heart, heart, heart.”

“Ah, that would be telling, wink”

“bout time u made an honest woman ov her, grin”

“alas, her heart belongs to another, sad face. seriously folks, I’m just doing a favor as her leaving gift… it’s just gone better than I’d hoped.”


More comments followed, but nothing of interest to the two of them.

“What do you make of that then?” Jun looked at him, curiosity written all over her face.

“Could be referring to Jinpei, I suppose.” Joe agreed. “Finally locating a long lost child would be a dream come true for most mothers.”

“So he knew he had the right boy then. Oh, by the way, I don’t suppose you could cover Jinpei’s shifts at the J today? I think he’s going to need some time to come to terms with all this.”

“And so the nightmare begins”


888888


Jinpei watched the testing process every step of the way. At first, the laboratory staff objected to his presence, but when Nambu overruled her, asking politely to indulge the lad ‘just this once’ she complied with his seemingly odd requests. Each sample was to be tested from scratch, and not just have their previous results pulled from their files.

Jinpei had also insisted a third sample should be tested and compared with both specimens. That was something the scientist understood, and submitted a sample of her own, then proceeded to talk Jinpei through each step of the process, as he took all the information in, totally fascinated. Only when the results came through did the truth of the situation dawn on her.

“What does it say?” Jinpei looked eagerly over her shoulder, but all he saw was rows of numbers accompanying incomprehensible words.

“Well,” she looked nervously across at Nambu, who simply nodded for her to continue. “It’s revealing that you’re Nambu Hakase’s son.”

“Are you sure?”

“Look right here, it’s telling me there’s a 99.3% probability, if you compare that to my results you can clearly see it’s indisputable.” She turned to Nambu, “should I add these results to your files, sir?”

“I’ll do that, just send them to me via e mail.”

“Yes sir, and would you like a printout?” She asked Jinpei, sending the documents to the printer in anticipation of a positive response. “Is there anything else?”

“Umm, would you test my mother’s DNA too, if I got a sample?”

“Sure.” She smiled, getting him a fresh swab pack, “Have you met your mother then?”

“Not yet, but I hope to soon.”

“Oh, well I wish you luck,” she presented him with the swab and printouts. “I hope it all goes well for you.”

Jinpei had the biggest grin on his face. “Me too, thank you.”

“And I’ll thank you too.” Nambu stepped forward to shake her hand, “and it goes without saying that what you’ve discovered today won’t become this lunchtime’s canteen gossip.”

“Yes sir, but it will become common knowledge sooner or later.”

“I know, just not yet, understand?”

“I won’t say a word until I hear it on the grapevine.”


888888


After a couple of days without any news from his mother, Jinpei started to get impatient.

“Why won’t she call?” he asked Nambu for the umpteenth time since the doctor had left his message. “I thought she wanted to meet up.”

“I really don’t know, Jinpei,” Nambu would tell him time after time. “I might be good at a lot of things, but mindreading isn’t one of them.”

The team had come to terms with the revelation by now, and soon debunked Joe’s theory of any special treatment Jinpei might have had. As Ken was quick to comment when hearing the news, Jinpei had proved himself worthy of his place on the team many times over, regardless of Nambu’s motives for including him. Ryu sympathized with Joe, but as he pointed out, there couldn’t be anything left for Nambu to hide, a sentiment that Joe seriously doubted.

“Phone her again, please.”

“Ok, but this will be the last time, understand? I’m going to put the onus on her to make the next move, then we’ll know if she really is interested in a reconciliation.”

Nambu put the phone on speaker, and then called Landau’s number. He wanted to be sure Jinpei knew exactly how both sides of the conversation went. The phone was picked up after a couple of rings, and a female voice spoke.

“Tamir Landau’s office, how can I help?”

“Kozaburo Nambu here, who am I speaking to please?” Nambu had seen Jinpei’s eyes brighten and knew exactly what he was thinking.

“My apologies Mr. Nambu, my name is Chou, I’m Mr. Landau’s personal assistant. So what can I do for you today?” The look of disappointment that replaced the hope on Jinpei’s face confirmed his suspicions.

“I was wondering if you could connect me to Mr. Landau please.”

“I’m sorry, he’s out of the office at the moment, if you can give me a contact number, I’ll see he gets back to you as soon as he returns.”

Nambu rattled off a couple of numbers, then waited while she repeated them back to him.

“And could you please give me your reason for calling?”

“Hikaru Himura.” There was a pause from the other end of the line, quickly followed by the sound of paper being shuffled about.

“Can you please hold for a minute, Mr. Nambu? I’m just going to contact Mr. Landau on his cell.” The tinny sound of greensleeves came down the line, and Nambu lent back in his chair, his arms crossed in front of his chest.

“You thought that secretary was your mother, didn’t you.”

“Well, Joe told me she works for him.”

“How would Joe know that?”

“Social network site. He looked her up.”

“Social network? Can you find it for me?”

“Yeah, it’s easy, you don’t even have to hack in.” Jinpei went around to Nambu’s side of the desk and brought up the relevant page. “See, everything she posts is on here, and if you click here, you find all the information she shares with her friends, although it’s pretty basic.” He clicked, and Mai’s info page came up. “It says she’s female, is single, lives here in Utoland and works for Tamir Landau.”

“I see.” Nambu began scrolling through the woman’s profile, until the tinny muzak stopped, and Chou returned to the phone.

“Mr. Nambu?”

“Speaking.”

“Mr. Landau will be calling you himself in about 5 minutes. Will that be convenient?”

“That will be fine, thank you.” Nambu ended the call, then went through the various pages of the social networking site. It gave him a better insight into the woman his former lover had become, and helped them both prepare for the inevitable moment when they would all meet up again.
Chapter 4 by KT1972
Jinpei was getting nervous. He hadn’t expected to though. When Landau had returned Nambu’s call, Jinpei had insisted the reunion should be as soon as possible, and in the intervening hours, he’d been like a bear with a sore head, unable to relax, constantly asking anyone who dared to be in his company for their advice and opinions. Did they think she looked nice? What should he ask her? What would they do if it was one of them?

The others were happy for him of course, but, for them at least, it was beginning to wear a bit thin. Only Ken had been in anything like a similar situation, but his experience couldn’t give the younger boy any comfort. He would never have admitted it, but he was almost envious of the fact Jinpei had the opportunity to build a parental relationship that had been denied to him.

Now Jinpei sat in a small diner, not dissimilar to the J with a different color scheme. Nambu sat opposite, looking his usual calm and composed self, and Jinpei felt uneasy. What if he didn’t like her? What if she didn’t like him? The last thing he wanted was for this to go badly, and no amount of reassurance from his father could make this any easier for him.

“How much longer is she going to be?” he grumbled, “She should be here by now.”

“She’ll be here, I doubt she would go through all the effort of tracking you down, to just forget to meet up. Besides, she’s only 5 minutes late.”

“But what if something’s happened to her, and she can’t make it? What if she’s been in an accident, or has been kidnapped by Galactor?”

“If there was an accident, then we’ll hear about it on the news, and I’m sure you’ll be there to rescue her from Galactor’s clutches.”

“Too right...” His imagination fired up, he began to relate how he intended to track them down, and single handedly snatch her from Katse’s latest evil plot. He was just about to get to the heroic part of his fantasy when Nambu shushed him.

“There’s Landau now.” Jinpei got to his feet and turned to look in the direction Nambu indicated. The P.I. was stood near the restrooms, impatiently glancing at his watch. Jinpei waved in his direction, and made to go over, but Nambu‘s hand on his arm prevented him from leaving their booth.

“Wait for them to come to us…”

“But I can’t wait any longer.”

“She’s probably just as anxious about this as you are, she perhaps wants a moment to compose herself.”

“Oh, ok.” He stayed put, his eyes glued to the ladies bathroom door. Eventually it was opened, and he got his first glimpse of the woman who had given him life.

Nambu spotted her too, and held Jinpei back as Landau directed her to their table. The doctor got to his feet and the two men shook hands in greeting, before Landau took his leave. Nambu acknowledged Mai politely, before introducing her to Jinpei.

She seemed shorter than he imagined, and thin without being skinny. She wore a smart suit, which disappointed him in a way. He had always thought his mother would look more like a TV stereotype, with the floral dress and apron. She smelt of perfume too, not cake and cookies as he’d hoped.

“Hikaru? Are you really my little Hikaru?” she gushed excitedly, “I don’t believe it, after all this time I finally get to see you again! My how you’ve grown.”

“Um… yeah… I guess so.” Jinpei was seldom so lost for words. “But my name is Jinpei.”

“Jinpei, yes, Tamir did tell me, I will try to remember it.”

“Thank you.” He lapsed back into silence, not quite sure what to do or say in this situation. Mai took a seat next to him.

“So, I want to know all about you, how are you doing at school? Do you have many friends? What things do you enjoy doing?”

“How about I leave you two to get to know each other.” Nambu jumped in, “I’m sure you don’t want me hanging around.”

“Do you have to… um… otosan?”

“I won’t be far away, I’ll just move to a different table.” Nambu wanted say how happy Jinpei had made him, but this wasn’t the time.

“Oh, your father is right.” Mai told him, then began to scrabble through her purse. “Before you go, Kozaburo, take my number, then there’ll be no excuse not to keep in touch.”

Nambu took the business card she offered him and slipped it into his pocket, unread.

“And it is good to see you too, you haven’t changed a bit,” she added, “We should meet and catch up again soon.”

“Let’s see how this goes first,” he told her, noncommittally.

“Yes, I understand.” She smiled, “I hope you don’t let what happened before cloud your judgment of me now, I’m not that person anymore.”

“No, neither am I.” Nambu turned, and chose a table some distance away where he could read the daily paper in peace.

“Okasan?” Jinpei was desperate to bring her attention back to him.

“Oh, Hikaru, I’m sorry, but it’s been so long since I saw your father…..”

“It’s Jinpei.”

“Look, let’s start again. So where do you go to school?”


88888


Despite the rocky start, the reunion was very successful, and many other visits followed. He grew close to his mother and always returned to the J full of stories of how their day went, but Jinpei was careful not to reveal his part on the Science Ninja Team to her.

Days out became overnight stays, which extended to weekends. Nambu would listen to his activities with a certain amount of sadness, while trying to maintain an air of happiness for him. Since he’d revealed his true relationship with his son, he had begun to enjoy their new status. At home, he’d become ‘otosan’, yet professional detachment prevailed during training and missions and he was ‘hakase’ once again. Still, he felt the father and son times becoming secondary as Jinpei spent more time with his mother.

If proof was needed, the confirmation came through the mail one Monday morning.

The team sat around the breakfast table. Jinpei was still full of beans, and chatting incessantly of his last weekend at his mother’s. Nambu had already heard chapter and verse, so settled with his coffee and went through his post. Most was the usual utility bills and circulars, but there was something that grabbed his attention before he’d opened the envelope.

Pushing the rest to one side, he pulled out a bundle of papers and stared at the top sheet incredulously. “What the hell..?” he exclaimed, startling the others around the table. Their chattering stopped as they all turned to see him march out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

“I’ll go.” Ken got up and followed Nambu to his office, tapping on the door cautiously. “Hakase?” he asked as he put his head around the door. “Is there anything I can help with?”

“She wants custody, Ken.” Nambu got straight to the point, knowing that’s what he was going to ask.

“She can’t be.”

“Here, see for yourself.” He handed over the letter accompanying the court papers. “Her solicitor is recommending I hand him over voluntarily, otherwise she’s fully prepared to take me to court.”

“On what grounds?”

Nambu shifted through all the legal jargon and finding the page he was looking for, he read out the list of accusations. “Denying him a conventional education, underdeveloped social skills, forcing him to work in a diner, and regularly arriving for visits with unexplained suspicious injuries. Put like that, it’s pretty damning stuff.”

“It’s all bullshit though. Ok, his childhood might be unique, but that doesn’t make it bad.”

“Doesn’t it?” Nambu glared at the commander. “Everything on that list is true, I can’t fight it.”

“Sure you can, he’s had tutors for his education, he’s one of the liveliest and chattiest boys I know, and he’s always worked at the diner to help Jun. As for the injuries, he picked them up during missions, that can’t be helped.”

“You would see it like that though Ken, you’ve had the same upbringing. You all have. The tutors I hired have only given you the most basic education; the curriculum the schools follow is much wider than reading, writing and math. Socially, he should be mixing with children of his own age by now, yet he doesn’t have any friends, children are not expected to work at all, and as for the injuries, I can’t use the SNT as a defense, since he’s not supposed to be part of it, from a legal point of view.”

“You can’t just let him go though.”

“I know I can’t, I don’t want to.” Nambu wiped an errant tear from his eye, “These past months have been great. Finally being able to be a father to him…well… I didn’t think it would be any different to how it used to be. If you’d have asked me a year ago I’d have said I was like a father anyway, but…”

“I think I know what you mean, Hakase.” Ken told him. “Remember when I discovered Red Impulse was my dad? At first I was trying to stop him going up in the missile because I believed it was my duty to stop the Van Allen belt, but as soon as Jun shouted who he really was, I just didn’t want him to die. He was my father, and I loved him.”

“You would have died instead though Ken.”

“Yes, but I would have gone knowing I’d spent my last living moments with my father, and hopefully making him proud of me.”

“He was proud of you Ken. I know he came across as hard and uncaring, but he wanted you to be the best you possibly could. He knew what was at stake however and he understood you didn’t have the time to make those fundamental mistakes everyone has to make in order to learn and grow.”

“Is that what you want for Jinpei too?”

“Of course, and I’m sure Mai believes she’s acting in the boy’s best interest by taking this action, but she doesn’t fully understand what’s at stake by doing so.”

“Then there’s your answer. If she really has Jinpei’s best interest at heart, then she wouldn’t want him removed from the security you provide to become an easy target for Galactor now, would she?”

“No, of course you’re right.” Nambu smiled, then chuckled to himself, “If I could appeal to her maternal instinct, point out that by removing him would be putting them both in potential danger, then I’m sure she would reconsider.” He searched for the card with her number. “Thank you Ken, go join the others and I’ll be with you all soon.”
Chapter 5 by KT1972
It had been Jinpei’s idea. No one had liked it, but Nambu had felt it was worth the risk. Joe simply considered it yet another way of the Swallow using his relationship with his father to get preferential treatment, and wasn’t shy in saying so.

Nevertheless, orders were orders, and without a better plan to stop Mai from going through the courts to try and win custody, even he grudgingly complied.

“Okasan!” Jinpei was waiting by the door as she arrived at Nambu’s villa, and rushed to hug her before she had chance to step inside. Nambu came from his office and also welcomed her warmly.

“Can we get you anything?” he asked, taking her coat.

“Come on, I’ll show you to your room.” Jinpei grabbed her hand and practically dragged her towards the stairs.

“Hey squirt, you better take this with you.” Joe held up Mai’s overnight bag. “Can I go now Hakase? I’ve already missed an hour’s practice.”

“Don’t forget you’re helping in the J tonight…” the Swallow called as the Condor disappeared out the door again. “That’s Joe by the way; he hates being called away from the track.” He explained to Mai, as they resumed ascending the stairs.

“Oh, I hope my being here isn’t putting anyone out too much?”

“Nah, Joe’s always grumpy. He’s got a race this weekend and wants to get as much practice in as he can. He does as he’s told most of the time. I don’t know why he’s moaning though, he’s got the cushiest job out of all of us.”

Mai laughed, and they chatted as Mai settled into the guest bedroom, then he gave her a tour of the house, before taking her to Nambu’s office, where he was waiting for them both.

“Coffee?” he asked, pouring two mugs full without waiting for a response. Handing one to Mai, he indicated for her to sit down.

“Do I get a cup too, otosan?”

“You need to be heading to the J.”

“Aww, but...”

“I’ll bring your mother later, so she can see you at work.” Nambu insisted, “Jun wants all of you there tonight, and I need to talk to your mother alone.”

“But if you’re going to be talking about me, I should be here to know what you’re saying?”

“Nice try, Jinpei, now go.” The doctor attempted to hide his smile as the boy turned and left the room.

Mai watched him leave with a sense of sadness. “You really adore him, don’t you?” she said as the door closed behind him.

“Of course.”

“So, I think I can guess, but I have to ask anyway, why did you invite me here?”
“I wanted you to see how his life really is, and to ask you why?”

“Why what?”

“Where do I start?” Nambu sat back in his chair. “Why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant? Why didn’t you ask for child support when he was born? Why did you call me when you tried committing suicide? Why now, after 8 years, did you decide to get back in touch? And finally, what the hell makes you think I’ll let you have custody of him now?”

“I guess I deserve that.” She admitted. “The quick answer to the first few questions, I think you know was my parents. I became a huge disappointment to them, and they let me know it too. I didn’t want to break up, but they told me you would be arrested if I even tried to get in touch with you. They blamed you for my disgrace. When I called you from the Jupiter Mountains, I was at my lowest ebb. I was running away with Hikaru, but once I’d got as far away as I could, it occurred to me I had no way to support us. No home, no job, nothing. I called you because I hoped you would help, you were the only one I could trust. I didn’t know you weren’t aware of Hikaru’s existence though.”

She stopped, obviously pained by the memory. Nambu said nothing.

“I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, but was treated for it. Of course I had to return to my parent’s house, and they made me sign over my parental rights to Hikaru, but at least my life got a bit easier after that. I was able to go out to work, for example, although my parents were never satisfied with anything I did. They had had high hopes for me, I should have had a well paid career, in medicine or something and there I was taking anything I could get for minimum wages.”

“Anyway, my father died about three years ago, and my mother last year. Once I’d got all their affairs sorted out, I quit my job working for Tamir, but then hired him to track you down. All I really wanted was to get back in touch again, and hopefully have some kind of relationship with my son. As for applying for custody, well, you have to admit, his lifestyle is rather unconventional, to say the least.”

“There’s a good reason for that.”

“Oh?”

“Tell me how much you know about Galactor.” It didn’t take her long. She heard only what had been reported about them in the media, a mere fraction of what they were capable of. “Well, In a nutshell, I am head of the team employed to track Galactors movements, and to stop whatever they are up to. I and my team of scientists are pretty high on Galactor’s most wanted list, not to mention the SNT themselves. Our unconventional lifestyle, as you put it, is designed to keep my family safe.”

“But how…?”

“The SNT do much more than fight the mecha, but that tends to be all the media report, because that’s all the media find out about. They also do search and rescue. Royalty, presidents, many of our top scientists has families of their own, and when Galactor discover their identities, they become targets for kidnapping and blackmail, well, those that they can’t easily bribe at least.”

“Have your family been kidnapped before then?”

“Yes,” he confessed ruefully. “I can minimize the risk, I can’t eliminate it altogether. We were fortunate in that case, Galactor really didn’t know who they had. They believed Jun and Jinpei were members of the SNT in civilian form, so of course when all five members turn up to their rescue, they knew they had the wrong kids, only they believed then that they were just two random kids they had pulled off the street. If they had discovered they had two of my children, I’m sure the outcome would have been much different.”

“So how would keeping Jinpei out of school minimize the risk of him being kidnapped, if you say he’s been captured already?”

“The school bus for starters. I have to assume there’s someone watching this place at all times. Now, I really don’t know if they are or not, I don’t know how much they have uncovered about our domestic arrangements, but if they know I live here and see the school bus turn up every morning, then they just have to pick up the bus and they have their target.”

“Oh, they wouldn’t take a whole bus full of children though?”

“They would. The rest of the children are dispensable.”

“Couldn’t someone drive them to school?”

“Have you seen the traffic around the vicinity of any school during the school run? Joe is perhaps one of the most skillful drivers in the world, but even he wouldn’t be able to escape from the school run if he thought they were being followed.”

“And then of course they would have two of your children.”

“Three, Jun is still school age too.” Nambu watched her closely. “Then there’s the possibility they could attack the school building itself, putting hundreds of children and staff in jeopardy. Do you think you would be able to provide suitable security measures if he were to live with you permanently? Bearing in mind you would be making yourself a target for them too.”

“Me?” Mai looked alarmed, “How would I be making myself a target? I don’t have anything to do with the ISO.”

“Believe it or not, Galactor have a strong sense of family values, they view a family unit as an extension of the individual, so if for example, you joined Galactor, then as soon as you signed the consent form, you would be condemning your whole family to their tyranny. Spouses, siblings and children too. If you were suspected of betraying them, they would assassinate the same.”

“So, since you’re a target for Galactor, then Jinpei is too, and so am I by default?”

“Jinpei always will be. I’d hope you could be kept out of their radar, but only if you drop your claim over him.” Seeing the alarmed expression on her face, he went to his cabinet and poured out a shot of brandy. “You look as if you need this,” he told her, handing her the glass. She took it gratefully, swallowing it all in one mouthful, grimacing at the bitter taste.

“So how do you manage to keep them all safe?” she handed the glass back, and Nambu quickly poured another, this time adding water.

“Well, as well as living here, they all have their own accommodation close to their workplaces. If they don’t have predictable movements, they’re harder to track down and abduct. Jun and Jinpei share an apartment above the diner they run between them. As well as that, they are all competent in the martial arts and weapons training, so if anything should happen while they’re away from here, then they can defend themselves.”

“You don’t hire any security?”

“Why should I? They are their own security, and besides, if I put someone in to watch over them, it would alert anyone tailing them that they are a legitimate target.” He perched on the edge of the desk, crossing one foot over the other, “It really isn’t as bad as it sounds though. They are normal kids, we just have to be a bit more vigilant than most.”

“You mention the Science Ninja Team a lot,” Mai commented casually as she sipped her second drink. “Do you work with them?”

“I really can’t talk about it, but I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to say yes.”
“So you know their secret identities then.”

“I’m not going to tell you who they are.”

Mai laughed, “Well you can’t blame a girl for trying. Oh don’t look so serious, Kozaburo, I’m only curious, everybody on the planet is eager to know their secret identities.” She put her empty glass on the desk, “so, are we going to this diner then?”

“We? I don’t go; I keep well out of their business.”

“Didn’t you tell Jinpei earlier that you would take me?”

“I will, but I’ll just drop you off, I won’t be staying. It’s only for you to see what Jinpei does each day after all.”

“So what will you do instead then?”

“Come back here and work.” Nambu shrugged “you know me, I’m never off duty.”

“Well it seems to me that you could do with a night off. Why don’t you join me?”

“I really don’t think I should…”

“Oh Kozaburo, what could possibly happen?”

“I’d give you a list if it wasn’t classified information.”

“Yeah, I thought you’d say something like that.” She got to her feet. “Would it be all right if I went to freshen up a bit?”

“Of course, I’ll finish up here then call Joe to collect us.”

“Us! I like that.” She giggled as she left the room.
Chapter 6 by KT1972
She had taken nearly an hour to get ready. Joe was waiting with Nambu in his office when she finally appeared, both of their jaws dropped. She had changed out of the white blouse and slacks she had arrived in, and now wore a strappy red top, and black pencil skirt that stopped just above the knee.

“That’s a bit much for the diner, don’t you think?” Nambu commented dryly, although the expression he wore told a different story.

“Not enough,” was Joe’s response.

Mai chose to ignore the barb, instead she focused on Nambu. “Oh, Kozaburo, I thought you were getting ready too.”

He looked down at his own outfit, “I am ready though.”

“You are a walking advert for the ISO, let me sort you out.” She pulled off his jacket, quickly followed by the vest and tie. Stepping back she studied him closely, “nearly there.” To finish his makeover, she proceeded to unfasten the top two shirt buttons. “There! So what do you think?” She asked, turning to Joe.

“Are you on a date?” Joe was more surprised by the doctor’s lack of objection, than the remarkable transformation Mai’s simple actions had produced.

“Well, Jinpei was right about you. So how do you feel then Kozaburo?”

“Naked,” was all Nambu could think of to say.

“Not yet, you’re not.” She smiled and patted his arm playfully, “are we going then?”

“Definitely.” Joe held the door open for her, but put a hand on Nambu’s shoulder before he could follow. “You know she’s trying to seduce you?” he spoke quietly so Mai couldn’t overhear.

“That’s certainly how it looks.”

“And you’re ok with that?”

“Joe, I’m still human, at least I was at my last medical.”

“Have you thought about how this is going to come across to Jinpei though? He’s going to see you walking in the J, looking every inch the loved up couple…”

Nambu saw his point, “We’ll try not to get his hopes up.”

Twenty minutes later, Joe pulled up outside the J. Jun had booked a band for the evening, and the place was filling up fast. Jinpei still spotted them as they walked in though.

“Okasan, you came!” he vaulted over the bar, pushing his way through the rapidly growing crowd. “Otosan? You’re here too?”

“Yes, your mother here talked me into it.”

“You look different somehow.” He tapped his chin, his brow creasing as he tried to think of the change that had occurred, but eventually he shrugged, “never mind, we’ve saved you a table.” He found a path through to the edge of the dancefloor, to a small table where Ken sat alone, watching intently at the band setting up in the corner. Jinpei nudged his arm, and turning his head, he got to his feet when he saw their VIP guests.

Nambu introduced them both, and Mai’s eyes widened in surprise. “You’re Ken?”

The Eagle simply nodded, embarrassed by her reaction. “You certainly have grown into a fine looking young man. The last time I saw you, you were smaller than Jinpei is now.”

“I remember now,” Ken admitted shyly. Ever since the revelation that Nambu was Jinpei’s father, he’d been scratching his head, wondering who this girlfriend had been. There had been a few women coming and going, but the only ones he could remember clearly were the household staff. Now he had a face to the name, the memory returned.

Nambu was taking him to see his mother in hospital when he’d spotted Mai at the bus stop and pulled over to offer her a lift. She’d turned to look at him in the back seat and said “hello”, and they had spent much of the brief journey chatting. At what stage of the relationship it was, Ken had no idea. All he’d learnt about her at the time was that she was taking Nambu’s class, studying something science-y.

As Mai took her seat, Ken was struck by her uncanny resemblance to Jun. Sure, her eyes and hair were a different color, and she had a slightly darker skin tone, but the shape of her face and features were almost identical. She was far too young to be Jun’s mother though, but it wasn’t improbable that they could share a common ancestry somewhere along the line. Cousin struck him as the most plausible answer.

“Are you going to stand there all night, Ken?” Nambu broke through his contemplation.

“Sorry. Of course, what can I get for you both?” he took their drinks order, then passed it over to Ryu to deliver, so he had the opportunity to meet Mai too. Jun was too busy throughout the night to be able to say hello, but Mai seemed to be having too much fun to really notice.

Nambu found her enthusiasm rubbing off on him. As the band began, he found it really too loud to talk, and had to move closer to her to be able to say anything. To anyone observing, it certainly gave the effect of intimacy between the two of them, and Jinpei for one was thrilled to see both his parents so close.

Joe wasn’t so happy about the situation. He could clearly see the impression Jinpei was having, and couldn’t bear to see the kid’s hopes being shattered when his mother returned to her own home the following day.

When he saw the ‘happy couple’ get up to dance, it was too much, and he called to Jun that he intended to take his break. He stood outside, taking a deep lungful of the cool fresh air. Ignoring Nambu’s earlier order of keeping their weapons out of sight for the duration of Mai’s visit, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a shuriken and chewed the end. He soon put it away when Ken decided to join him.

“What’s eating you then?” Ken asked his second, cheerfully, “it’s been a good night so far.”

“Good for whom?”

“Well business actually, what were you thinking?”

“Those two lovebirds.”

“Oh? How come?”

“Can’t you see? It’s a recipe for disaster, and Jinpei’s in there lapping it up. You know I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t talking about planning their wedding over breakfast tomorrow.”

“That’s a bit farfetched, don’t you think? What exactly are they doing wrong anyway?” When Joe didn’t respond, Ken continued. “Do you want to know what I think?”

“Go on.”

“I think you’re watching them, and it’s triggered some memory of your own parents behaving in a similar fashion, and you don’t want them to go the same way.”

“Trust you to be ok with it.”

“Sure I am, and why not? Doesn’t he deserve some female companionship?”

“Well, when you put it that way…”

“I’ll tell you something that is bothering me about this whole set up though.”

“Let me guess, her resemblance to Jun?”

“What do you make of that?”

“Not much, if I’m honest. A lot of people have doppelgangers that are totally unrelated to them.”

“Still, I’d like to run a DNA comparison on them both.”

“You can’t do that though? How the hell are you going to pull it off?”

“Maybe not Jun and Mai, but if Mai is related to Jun, then Jun would be related to Jinpei, and both their DNA profiles are on record already.” Ken’s brain was now fired up “So, if we assume that Mai and Jun are cousins, then what percentage DNA would Jun share with Jinpei?”

“12.5 I think, now shush a minute, ok.” Joe was suddenly on alert.

“What’s up?”

“Look.” Ken turned in the direction Joe indicated. Sure enough, there were two Galactor’s footsoldiers coming up the path, both seemingly the worse for wear.

“Ca can you believe it? This place is open f f for once,” the first one slurred to his comrade.

“There’s music, can you hear music?”

“Aww, they playing the soppy stuff, no good places have soppy stuff.” Instead of going through the door, they staggered to the window and peered inside. “Hey l l look who’s in there!”

“Who sss it?”

Ken and Joe watched carefully, as the goons tried to get the attention of someone already inside. Joe’s teeth were audibly grinding as Ken kept his hand on Joe’s shoulder.

“We can’t reveal ourselves.” Ken had to remind him, “Just keep an eye on them, and if they start anything, then we take them out, got it?”

“Nambu’s in there though.” Joe muttered through gritted teeth.

“Yeah? How likely are they to recognize him? Besides, they’re already three sheets to the wind, they’re probably seeing double already.”

Finally getting their buddy’s attention, the goons staggered inside, Eagle and Condor hot on their heels. A few patrons decided to leave on the sight of the latecomers, freeing up a few tables. The first goon took advantage and sat down, while number two, the more sober of the pair tried to order drinks.

“What the fuck, are you refusing to serve a paying customer?”

“No sir,” Ryu tried to hold his own temper, “We are not licensed to serve alcohol.”

“My money’s just as good as everyone else’s. All we want is a couple of drinks, what the fuck is so hard to understand?”

By now, goon one was getting bored, and was making his way towards the dance floor, “hey musicman, when you gonna play some decent shit?” he hollered, sending more of the customers heading for the door. Nambu ushered Mai to one of the now vacant booths, and kept low.

“I think we should get out of here too,” she told him nervously.

“Just sit tight, we’ll be ok.”

“I don’t like this, Kozaburo.”

“Stay calm, and don’t draw attention to yourself.” She continued to watch, as goon one attempted to snatch a guitar from one of the performers, but to Mai’s horror, Jinpei got between them.

“I think you should leave now,” the Swallow said in the most commanding voice he could muster.

The goon stared down at him, and burst out laughing. “You think you could make me leave this shithole, small fry?” he turned round to seek his companion. “Hey can you hear this, this little kiddy thinks he can make me leave.”

By now, the band and the last remaining customers had made themselves scarce. Jinpei stood his ground, as he was joined by Joe and Ken. Goon two, seeing the commotion his friend was causing, quickly drew his gun, only to have it chopped out of his hand by an irate Jun, and turned against him. He got the message and called for the other.

“Come on man; let’s find somewhere else, eh?”

“Not ‘til this fucking shrimp gets what’s coming.” He took a wild swing, but Jinpei instantly kicked out, striking him in the midriff. The goon staggered back, landing awkwardly on one of the tables and rolling onto the floor. Ken picked him up, hoisted him over his shoulder and carried him outside, dumping him unceremoniously on the sidewalk. Ryu frogmarched the other after him, sending him sprawling into the night.

“Is everyone ok?” Nambu called, as he emerged with Mai from the booth he’d taken refuge in.

“Yeah, just a couple of drunks, nothing we can’t handle. Probably been booted out from whatever bar they’d come from.”

“But they were in Galactor uniform.” Mai exclaimed.

“I know,” Jun sighed, “Nothing clears this place faster than that.”

“But weren’t you worried they were going to kidnap you or something?”

“We weren’t being targeted, if that’s what you mean,” Nambu attempted to reassure her, “they just wandered in off the street, there could have been a dozen of their cohorts in here, but unless they’re in uniform we’d never know.”

“That’s right, if they’d just ordered a drink and sat down, we wouldn’t have thought anything of it.” Jun confirmed. “I can’t afford to turn custom away, no matter what I might think of their lifestyle choices.”

“You must be Jun then?” Mai asked the young woman. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Likewise.”

“Anyone for coffee?” Jinpei suddenly appeared from the kitchen, carrying a jug in one hand, and a tray of mugs balancing precariously in his other. “Okasan, did you see the way I handled that goon?”

“I saw it,” Mai confirmed, still unsure as to how she felt about the whole thing. On one hand she was nervous of her child facing up to someone who was considered dangerous, on the other, she felt proud her son had the confidence and capability to stand up to them and get the upper hand in the situation. “I thought you did great, Jinpei.”

“Yeah, I did, didn’t I!” He put the tray on the bar; placing the jug next to it and proceeded to recreate the incident, step by step.

“Save it for the dojo, kid.” Ken and Ryu returned and gravitated to the beverage. “Well, they’ve gone at least, doubt they’ll be back in a hurry.” They distributed the drinks around; Mai took hers gratefully, and took a sip immediately, the hot liquid cooling her shattered nerves.

“Don’t be too sure.” Joe sneered, “They’re like rats, if you see one or two, then you can be damn sure there’ll be a hundred more hiding in the sewers.”

“Oh, that’s so reassuring, Joe.” Jun commented dryly.

“It wasn’t meant to be reassuring, I’m stating a fact. There’s nothing to stop them coming back with reinforcements.”

“Joe has a point.” Nambu agreed. “I think we should drink up, and Joe can take us home.”

“I need to stay, count up the takings…”

“I’ll help Jun with the clearing up, then.”

“Yeah, I’ll give you a hand with that, Ken.” Ryu offered, understanding instantly where they were coming from.

Nambu considered this for a moment, then nodded, satisfied that the three of them would be able to handle any more trouble if it came their way.
Chapter 7 by KT1972
They sat in silence on Nambu’s sofa, closer than they’d been for years, but an insurmountable chasm between them. Joe had dropped them back at the villa, then he had gone straight back to the J. Jinpei had spent a rare evening with them as a whole family unit, something which would have seemed impossible only a few months earlier. For him, it was his wildest dream come true, but eventually decided he’d wore himself out and took himself off to bed.

Nambu barely took his eyes off her though. He thought back through the years, how an innocent car ride had spelt the end for them. Innocent, since Ken had been in the car at the time, so their behavior had been professional, indeed, she had spent much of the five minute journey chatting with Ken, but she was seen getting out of his vehicle, and his head of department became suspicious.

It had only been a matter of time before they got the proof they needed.

“I didn’t want to break up, you know.”

“I’m sorry?” he pulled himself together enough to pay attention to what she’d said. The sound of her prurient voice still sent chills down his spine, and he fought hard to keep his emotions in check.

“I hoped, that once all the furor had died down, that we might have been able to continue meeting up.”

Nambu went over to his cabinet and poured them both a drink.

“I’m sorry, but it’s like there’s an elephant in the room,” she explained as he handed her a glass.

“I’d waited a month, then tried to contact you,” he took a long gulp of whiskey, “only to be told you didn’t want anything to do with me.” He refilled his glass, Mai declined another top up, she’d barely touched hers.

“My parents said you were only using me, that I was easy, well their language was much stronger than that, but I was fooling myself if I imagined you might possibly be in love with me.”

“I was risking my career for you; didn’t that give you a clue?”

“We spent six consecutive weekends together, didn’t that give you one?”

“I wasn’t counting,” he admitted shamefully, “if I’d only done the math, if I’d known…”

“I’d come to tell you, well tell you I suspected I was pregnant, I wasn’t concentrating though, I thought someone was following me, but I was too preoccupied… then when I saw you, the words just wouldn’t come.”

That day was burned into his memory. She had walked into his office, and he could tell from the expression on her face that something was wrong, so he’d gone over and held her. It might not have been much, but it was compromising enough for the department head when he’d walked in and caught them. Instead of stepping apart, his instinct was to hold her closer. It was the end of his teaching career and their ill-fated relationship.

And until recently, it was the last time he saw her.

“You never married then?”

The non sequitur took Nambu by surprise. “No, never really had the time, and with five kids to bring up, I didn’t have the energy either.”

“Married to the job, I suppose.”

“Eventually, I guess. What about you?”

“There were a couple of short term boyfriends, but I never met anyone special though.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Oh, don’t be, I’m not. My parents set me up with both of them, because they were ‘suitable husband material’. One was a lawyer, and that lasted all of two months, the other a gynecologist. He did a little better.”

Nambu’s phone interrupted their conversation, and he was obliged to check his message. Reading the text, he smiled, then returned it to his pocket.

“Was that work?”

“No, just Jun letting me know she’s staying at the diner. It probably means the others will be back soon though.”

Sure enough, as he spoke, they heard the sound of Joe’s car pulling up the drive.

“Well, I’ll get off to bed then, I’m sure you’re gonna want to talk about tonight’s events.”

“Well, ok. And thank you by the way.”

“What for?”

“Well, for persuading me to go out tonight, reminding me it’s ok to live a little once in a while.”

“Oh, it was nothing, really.” She finished her drink, then got to her feet. Nambu took her glass, putting it on the coffee table. “I’m glad we had this talk too, I hated the way things ended between us.”

“Me too, but at least we’ve had this chance to build some bridges.”

“Yeah,” Mai smiled. “Oh, come here.” She opened her arms and wrapped them around his neck, pulling him close, her head resting against his chest. Almost instinctively, he wound his around her, tightening the embrace and stirring long buried emotions.

“Oh, Hakase, can I have a…..” Joe stopped suddenly and turned away.

“Well there’s one memory I didn’t want to relive.” Mai smiled, “I’ll just go, shall I? Goodnight then.”

“I’m sorry,” Joe muttered. “I didn’t think…”

“Did you want something Joe?” Nambu poured another shot of whiskey.

“Um… well it’s kind of about Mai, actually. Ken’s got a real bee in his bonnet about the likeness between her and Jun, he’s convinced there has to be some blood tie between them.”

“Right, I’ll speak to Ken in the morning.” He swallowed his drink. “Was that all?”
“Yeah, pretty much, it was all quiet at the J.”

“Ok.” Nambu sat down. “I’ll see you at breakfast then.”

Joe left, closing the door behind him. He’d barely taken a few steps when the sound of breaking glass hit his ears. Ken poked his head out from the study next door.
“What the hell was that?” The Eagle asked, sounding alarmed. Joe shrugged and turned around, returning to the lounge. Ken was right behind him.

“Hakase?” he asked, “What just happened?”

The doctor remained in the chair, his head resting in his hands. On the floor against the opposite wall, the glass he’d been drinking from lay shattered. The Condor began picking up the shards, while Ken went over to their mentor.

“Nambu hakase?” The doctor didn’t respond, not even an acknowledgement of his presence. “Joe, how much has he had to drink?”

“How should I know?” Joe dumped the broken pieces into the waste basket. “I did kinda interrupt them a few minutes ago though.”

“Interrupt them?”

“Yeah, you know.”

“First chance of a bit of nooky in over a decade, and you ruin the moment, no wonder he’s pissed then.”

“I am here you know.” Nambu muttered.

“Good job too, boss.” Ken smiled. “So what’s brought this on?”

Nambu stared into the face of his eldest boy, wondering how in hell he was supposed to talk about it. Talking to them about puberty and safe sex was one thing, but talking to them about his own… Well that was a different matter entirely.

“Well there’s one memory I didn’t want to relive,” Joe repeated the last words Mai had spoken before she’d left, “is that significant?” he filled a plastic cup of water and handed it to the doctor, “I’m guessing it’s not the first time you’ve been walked in on.”

“Busted, eh?” it took Ken merely seconds to figure it out, “it doesn’t have to be like that now though.” but Nambu just put his head back into his free hand.

“No, no, no, we can’t, I can’t. You don’t understand.”

“Why the hell not?”

“How long do you think I could get away without telling her I’m sending our ten year old son into frontline combat against some of the most vicious, murdering bastards Galactor can produce?” Nambu crushed the still full water cup in his hand, the contents splashing the three of them. “And how do you think she will put up with it? She was scared stiff in the diner tonight with two drunken goons, and that was merely a barroom brawl, by all accounts.”

“He’s got a point there,” Joe conceded, “A lot of people get freaked out just at the sight of their uniform.” Joe thought over the evening’s events, “maybe one of us should have transformed into birdstyle, it might have offered some reassurance?”

“Or it might have convinced the goons to start killing, one of them did pull out his gun,” Ken pointed out, “it was better to err on the side of caution since there wasn’t any justification for the SNT to be involved.”

“This isn’t helping with the problem at hand.” Joe brought the subject back to topic. Ken scratched his head, at a total loss for what to say. Nambu staggered to his feet, to be caught deftly by the two younger men.

“It’s not just Mai, any woman I chose would be the same. Mai is just the woman in question.”

“Do you love her?” It was bold of Ken to ask, but fundamentally necessary. This behavior was just so uncharacteristic of their mentor that it began to occur to him that maybe the alcohol was affecting his mind. He began to wonder if he’d overstepped the mark when both Joe and Nambu glared at him.

“I want to be able to.” Nambu shook his head sadly. “I’ll see you two in the morning.”

“Yeah, I know the feeling.” Ken whispered to Joe, as they left the doctor to his thoughts.
Chapter 8 by KT1972
Breakfast was its usual lively affair, with the team sat around the table, discussing events from the day before. Nambu helped himself to coffee, then took his usual place at the head of the table.

“How are you feeling today, Hakase?” Joe asked. There was sincerity in his voice, but the enquiry was met with a sullen grunt.

“Why are you asking, Joe?” Jinpei’s curiosity was aroused, “otosan, is something wrong?”

Nambu glanced up from the mug he’d been staring into, an unexpected smile suddenly crossing his face. “I’m fine, son, there’s nothing to worry about.”

Ken followed the doctor’s line of sight, and sure enough, Mai was coming through. He cleared his plate, making a space for her at the table.

Mai greeted everyone, kissing the top of Jinpei’s head and ruffled his already messy hair, before sitting down. Nambu watched her closely, as she made polite conversation with the team, still blissfully unaware of just who she was talking to.

He let his mind wander back through the years. Letting her into his flat late on Friday evenings, as soon as Ken had gone to sleep, tasting those lips, spending the nights together, feeling her warm naked body pressed against his … how thankful he was that Ken didn’t wake up through the night. Then the mad morning scramble as she hurried out before Ken awoke again.

“Is that ok with you, otosan?”

Nambu pinched the bridge of his nose, he hadn’t heard a word of anything they had been discussing. “Run that by me again.”

“Mai wants to go to see Joe qualify for tomorrow’s race, I thought we might all go.” Ken summarized for his benefit.

“I don’t see why not,” he answered without thinking, “Oh, Ken, I want a word with you, my office please.”

“You are really not handling this very well, Hakase.” Ken stated once they arrived.

“It’s times like this I miss having your father around.” Nambu made a beeline for his drinks cabinet, but Ken beat him to it and held his hand against the door.

“It’s barely eight am, a bit early for that, don’t you think?”

Nambu sighed, “I suppose so.”

“Is that what you called me in here for? Just so you could have the hair of the dog?”

“No, I wanted to ask you about something Joe mentioned to me last night.”

“Joe?”

“He was saying you seem obsessed about the likeness between Mai and Jun?”

“I just wondered if they might be related, I’d hardly call it an obsession.”

“So what is your theory then?”

“I’m curious that’s all, perhaps they might be cousins.”

“I see. Cousins share only about an eighth of their DNA, are you proposing cross matching to find about one sixteenth? Wouldn’t it be easier to just ask?”

“I guessed Mai might have said something already if she’d had any idea.”

“Well, I’ll admit all your DNA profiles are on record, but it has never occurred to me to compare results.”

“Shall I get on with that then?”

“No, I’ll do it. Take Mai with you to the dojo, let her watch you go through your martial arts training. Just remember to be in your gis today.”

“Yes Hakase.”

Ken left him to it, and Nambu gave it some consideration. The more he thought about it, the more it made sense.

Before he took Jun in, the only life she had known was at the orphanage, but someone must have given birth to her, and every baby must have a father, even if they don’t hang around to support the mother. It would only need one parent to have a sibling for Jun to have a cousin out there somewhere. If Mai and Jun were cousins, that would make Jun and Jinpei cousins once removed.

Now his curiosity got the better of him, and it took only minutes to find the information he was looking for.


888888


Jun and Jinpei were sparring when Nambu entered the dojo, the other three stood around the edge, shouting encouragement to the pair in the centre of the room. He took a chair close to where Mai was sat, trying to avoid having her in his direct line of sight. The situation was going to be tricky enough without his mind wandering too.

“They are good, aren’t they.” Mai was only making conversation.

“About the best I can make them,” he agreed. “Have you seen Joe and Ken sparring yet? They can keep it up for hours if they wanted.”

“Not yet,” she wasn’t sure if he was joking or not, “they’ve been going through their katas, they are the first pair up.”

The bout ended with Jun getting the better of Jinpei, and after bowing to his opponent, Jinpei came over to them, sitting between them both, sulking.

“Sorry, okasan, I wanted to win, but I got distracted.”

“You should know better than that, Jinpei.” Nambu scolded. If this had been their full training regime, he knew he would have come down on the boy much harder, but that wasn’t appropriate now.

“I’m going up against Ryu next, after aniki and Joe.” He told them both proudly.

That was Nambu’s cue to act. Getting to his feet, he took Mai by the arm and led her outside. Confused, Mai asked what the problem was. He came straight to the point.

“Would you be willing to give us a sample of DNA?”

“Do you doubt that I’m Jinpei’s mother?”

“No, I’ve no qualm about that,” he assured her earnestly, “but it would be useful, if you ever did get caught in the middle of a mecha battle, and anything was to happen, we would be able to confirm your identity ourselves, for Jinpei’s benefit, of course.” He paused to let that sink in, “but I do have another reason for asking.”

“Oh?”

“I was hoping, with your permission, to cross match your profile against Jun’s.”

“Well, I know we might look similar, but that doesn’t mean….”

“No, of course not, DNA is much more than eye and hair color though. I cross matched Jun and Jinpei’s DNA profiles this morning and the results were confusing to say the least.”

“Confusing? How?” Nambu expected her to be curious but Mai seemed more alarmed.

“Come to my office, and I’ll try to explain.”

She followed as he led the way, a knot of fear tightening in the pit of her stomach.

“I was looking for cousin, initially,” he began to explain when they were finally sat in the quiet of his study, “but the link between them not only existed, but was much closer than that.” He brought up the data he was looking for on his computer.

“Why are you doing this Kozaburo?” her voice cracked and she was close to tears.

“Jun’s never known her family. As far as she’s concerned, her parents are dead. I suppose it is easier for her to believe that, than the probability that she had been abandoned on the orphanage doorstep.” There was nothing accusatory in his tone, just a plane statement of fact, nevertheless it hit her hard. “I’ve eliminated the possibility of them being grandparent and grandchild, but aunt and nephew seemed plausible, which would make Jun your sister… but that’s not the case either, is it?” he glanced across the desk.

She sat with her knees pulled up to her chest, sobbing into the crook of her arm. “Stop it, please, that’s enough.”

Minimizing the open window, Nambu came around the desk. “It’s ok, no one’s going to judge you here.” He held her tightly until the crying subsided, softly kissing the top of her head. “Now, do you want to tell me the whole story?”

“I can’t, she’ll never forgive me if she knew the whole story.”

“Don’t misjudge her; she’s an incredibly forgiving young woman.”

“You don’t understand though, I was just 15.”

“I know, this time I did the math.” He tipped her chin so she was looking directly at him and he wiped an errant tear from her cheek. “You are in probably the safest place in the world at the moment. No one is going to let you be hurt anymore.”

“Do you promise?”

“Of course I do. Knowing what I do about you already, I’ve practically worked it out for myself anyway, but I’d prefer to hear it from you.”

“Ok.” She took a deep breath. “I’d been dating a boy from one of my classes at high school for perhaps three or four months when he started to put the pressure on me to sleep with him. At first I refused, I wasn’t ready for anything like that, but he kept on about it, saying things like ‘if I loved him, then I would’, or ‘if I didn’t then he would go find someone who would’. He promised it would be our secret, he even went so far as to say he’d already had several girls in our class, but I’d never heard anyone talking about them, had I. Eventually he wore me down and we did.”

“Of course, the following week it was all around school, he’d told everyone I was ‘easy’ and was supposed to have done everything to him. I was ostracized by my friends, and all the boys wanted to try their luck too. I couldn’t deny anything he’d said because I had the evidence growing inside me, but I tried to keep it hidden, I didn’t even tell my parents.”

“The first they knew about it was when I gave birth to her at home in the bath. I’d locked myself in, and dad broke the door down when he heard me screaming, saw what was going on, and forced the boy’s name out of me, then he left, and mom helped with the delivery. When dad returned, he was going to drown her in the bathwater, but mom stopped him. Instead she was wrapped in a towel, I was dressed and we took her to the orphanage. He left mom and me in the car, while he took the baby inside and that was the last I knew of her.”

“What happened to the boy, my father?” Jun stepped into the room, the firm tone of her voice divulging such a maelstrom of emotions, even Nambu had difficulty deciphering them all. She was closely followed by Jinpei, who ran up to Mai and threw his arms around her.

“Nothing‘s been confirmed yet.” Nambu replied with a stern manner.

“The hell it hasn’t,” Joe snarled. The other three crowded the door, each in various states of emotion.

“How much of that did you hear?”

“All of it, now what happened to my father?” The expression on her face told them she meant business.

“Well, my dad beat him up pretty badly, but he boasted about it at school anyway, the boys’ hero worshipped him from then on.”

“And now?”

“The last I heard, it was reported in the press that he’d been sent down for raping several women over a number of years.”

“No surprises there then,” Nambu muttered. “Jinpei, do you still have that sample pack you picked up at the lab?”

“Sure.” He disentangled himself from his mother while he fished about in his pocket, “Here, hold these for a minute,” he said, passing her his bolos while he dug deeper. “Got it.” He passed the pack to Nambu, who then opened it for Mai to give her sample.

“You’ve got nothing to fear now, Mai,” Ken told her as she passed the swab back to Nambu. “The Science Ninja Team has got your back.”

“Why would they bother themselves with me?”

“Ken!” The doctor warned him with a frown. “I can’t authorize this.”

“Well, if you won’t tell her, Hakase, we will.” Jinpei’s use of the title told them all he was serious, and he joined the others.

Closing his eyes, Nambu shielded Mai’s face from the flash of brilliance as Ken gave the command and the team transformed into birdstyle. Mai pulled away, blinking as her eyes recovered from the afterburn, then turned to look where the five of them were standing now in full uniform. Mai’s eyes grew wide as she took in the sight.

“All of you?”

“Yes ma’am,” Ken said, “G1 The Eagle at your service.”

“Ok, you’ve made your point, now transform back.” Nambu ordered irately. This time they all complied, and Nambu covered Mai’s eyes yet again as they flashed back into their civilian attire.

Mai stood carefully and walked over to her two children. “Look at you both,” she said in wonderment, “you found each other and stuck together. I’d only ever imagined finding Jinpei, I had a name for him, I never had the chance to give you a name though.”

“So, what’s this guy’s name then?” Ken asked, sitting at Nambu‘s computer.

“Guy?”

“You know, the sperm donor. I’ll try and trace him”

“Why would you want to do that? I’ve told you what he’s like.” Ken raised his brow at her, so she gave him the name he wanted. He tapped furiously away at the keyboard.

“Eureka,” he called after a couple of minutes, “sentenced to a minimum twenty years for the raping of seven women over a ten year period, was taken in the last Galactor bust out less than a week ago.”

“He’s probably still alive then.” Jun went over and looked over Ken’s shoulder. “Is that his mugshot?”

“Yup.” He copied it, and superimposed the Galactor goon mask over the top. “That’s what you’re looking for.”

Jun printed off several copies of both pictures, then showed Mai the full face shot. “Is this him?”

Mai simply nodded her confirmation, so Jun distributed the copies around the rest of the team. “When you find him, leave him to me, understand? I’m going to have fun making his last moments absolutely miserable.”

Only Ken noticed the slight shake in her hands as she handed one to him. She was holding her feelings in, and it wasn’t going to end well for somebody.

“We still haven’t confirmed Mai is your mother yet.”

“Simply a formality now, Hakase, but just one more thing before we do.” She turned back to Mai, and put a friendly hand on her shoulder. “Before now, I always thought if I found you alive, that I would hate you. How could anyone leave a tiny baby in such a way? If I hadn’t been found when I was I might have starved or frozen to death, I still had the umbilical attached, and that nearly became infected too. The staff at the orphanage wouldn’t let me go up for adoption, just in case someone returned for me, and it was a bloody miracle Nambu turned up when he did. They only let me go with him because he had the resources to look for you, only I told him not to bother, I believed by then that you must be dead.”

“Now I know everything, I’m not angry. Not with you anyway. You’re as much a victim in this as I am, and I think I’ve had the better deal from it.” She pulled the older woman into a hug, holding her there for a good few seconds before releasing her. “I’ve seen how close you’ve become with Jinpei over such a short time, I hope, one day, we’ll be like that too.”

“Me too,” Mai whispered. “You know, you terrify me, but I’m glad you’re on my side.”

“You’re completely safe now,” Jun reassured her before turning to Nambu, “Ok, are we ready?”

“Well I can still take you,” Joe confirmed, “But I’ll have to go straight to the track if I’m going to make the qualifiers.”

“We’re probably going to miss it then, but we’ll be at the race
Chapter 9 by KT1972
Before long, the four of them waited in Nambu’s office in the ISO tower. On their arrival, they had taken Mai’s swab to the laboratory, and as before, Jinpei had insisted on a negative test to be performed too. Instead of hanging around though, they gave Mai a tour of their own floors in the building, showing her their sleeping quarters, recreation room and the training and medical facilities. Jinpei insisted on giving his mom a demonstration of the God Phoenix simulator, in which she observed him piloting the great warship from the comfort of the exterior monitor.

It had passed the time, but now the moment was here, and they were starting to feel anxious for the results. Even though they were expecting it, the shrill ring of the phone still made them jump. Nambu picked up the receiver.

“Yes, send them to my printer, thank you.”

The printer whirred into life, coughing out first the negative result, quickly followed by Jinpei’s. Nambu handed him the sheet, and the boy whooped with joy when he read the 99.2% result. The doctor then handed Jun her printout, but she took it with a more cautious attitude, reading each line with the utmost of care.

“Come on, onechan, what does it say?” Jinpei could barely contain himself.

Jun looked at him, then across at Mai, “99.6%!” she exclaimed, delighted with her result. As the three of them huddled into a group hug, Nambu gave them their moment and took the opportunity to make a quick call to his security team.

“Nambu here,” he spoke quickly and quietly, “I’ve had word of a Galactor prison breakout in the past week, be prepared for an impending attack, Science Ninja Team will be on standby.”

Replacing the phone’s handset, he walked over to the happy family group, and tapped Mai on the shoulder. “Mind if I cut in for a moment,” he asked casually.

“I don’t mind if you do,” Mai smiled as she broke away from the huddle.

“Good, because I’ve waited long enough.” He ran a hand through her hair, gently nudging her closer to him as he leant forward for a soft lingering kiss. She responded cautiously at first, then as her confidence grew, the embrace deepened.

Watching with amazement, Jinpei tapped his sister on the arm, “does this mean they have to get married now?”

“Don’t be silly, Jinpei,” Jun scolded, but the youngster could tell by the tone of her voice that she didn’t mean it.

“And here we go again.” Joe groaned strolling into the room, closely followed by Ryu and Ken, “You know, you really should get a lock for your door.”

“First thing in the morning.” Nambu responded as his phone rang again.

“So, how did it go?” Ken enquired, while Nambu took the call.

“As if you need to ask,” Jinpei bounded over waving the sheets of printout. “Two positive results.”

“Fantastic!” Ken exclaimed, giving them both a hug. “And Mai, welcome to the madhouse… I mean family.”

“Brilliant news,” Joe agreed, “so you two really are brother and sister then.”

“Yeah, I couldn’t be happier for you all.” Ryu added.

“So how did you get on in qualifying Joe?” Jun remembered at last.

“Second position.” He scowled, “Could have been pole if I’d had enough time to warm up my tires first.”

“But that’s ok, Joe, you can still win from there.” Jinpei tried, and failed, to show him the bright side.

“Team.” Nambu called to the room, and suddenly it was all business. “I’ve just had security on the phone, confirming the prison break out last week was Galactor, and as a result, they are anticipating an attack sometime early next week.”

“You called it in?” Ken looked surprised.

“Yes, as you all know, I am obliged to do so.” Nambu shifted through his desk drawer, looking for something in particular. “As from now, consider yourself on standby.”

“Well at least I’ll get tomorrow’s race out of the way.”

“I’ll clear my mailing schedule.”

“Make whatever preparations you need, we don’t usually have this much warning.”

“Roger,” the five chorused in unison. The team were dismissed, and Joe took Nambu and Mai back to the villa, while the rest went on to do whatever they had to do.

888888


Eventually, the five of them accumulated at the J. Jinpei was stocktaking, while Jun went through the books. Ken was the first to turn up. Seeing the two of them busy, he helped himself to a drink, and waited for someone to finish their work. Jun completed what she was doing just as Joe and Ryu walked in.

“Hey, look what I’ve picked up for us.” Joe seemed jubilant as he pulled a couple of bottles from a paper bag.

“We’re not supposed to be drinking though, we’re on standby remember.” Ken was always the first to state the obvious.

“Yeah, I know, this is alcohol free sparkling wine though, the closest thing to champagne I can legally buy.”

“Are we celebrating then?” Ryu asked him in surprise.

“Well why not?” Ken shrugged, “it isn’t every day Jun discovers her estranged mother.”

“Ok then, I just thought it would be appropriate if they were here too, y’know.”

“Nah, we’ll celebrate with them later, maybe, I thought we could give them some space to become better acquainted, so to speak.”

”But they’re already acquainted though,” Jinpei but in, as he emerged from the stockroom.

“Reacquainted then,” Joe grinned. “So what do we make of what she said today?”

“I believe her.” Jun said quickly. “It’s a common story that I’ve read in a few magazine advice pages. They always advise submitters not to go through with it, if the boy really loves the girl, then he’d be prepared to wait.”

“So what if it’s too late and they’ve already got themselves knocked up?”

“Oh, usually to tell someone, an adult they can trust, followed by the addresses and phone numbers of places they can get help.”

“Do you realize, Jun, if they get married, then Nambu will be your dad?”

“What’s wrong with that?” Jinpei piped up, “he’s a great dad too.”

“Just wanting to get off the topic of teenagers and babies, that’s all.” Joe muttered.

“Hey, if they do get married, will they have another baby?”

“I think it’s way too soon to be thinking of that sort of thing, Jinpei.” Ken took a sip of his fake champagne. “Besides, things might not work out for them.”

“So, we’re not going back to the villa tonight then?” Jun clarified, tapping a message into her phone.

“Well at least I’m not going to walk in on them again.” Joe was grinning to himself as he sent his own message to Nambu.

When Jun’s phone bleeped with Nambu’s response, she read it out to the others. “Ok, see you all at breakfast. Tell Joe thanks. What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, I just told him he would find an unopened box of condoms in the drawer of Ken’s bedside table.”

Two minutes later, Joe’s phone bleeped, “Didn’t want to take Ken’s last one, found yours instead, hope you don’t mind” he read, “The bloody cheek if it.”

”There are two things that surprise me.” Ryu had sat quietly until now. “The first thing is that Hakase seems much more… normal just recently, and the second is Jun, why don’t you want to spend time with your mother now you’ve been reconciled?”

“Yeah,” Ken and the others agreed, “you do seem to be taking this all rather calmly. I’d have thought you’d be jumping for joy or something.”

Jun shrugged, “plenty of time for that. Honestly, I don’t know how to feel about it all, it’s not as if they were happily married and I was the daughter they were longing for. I’m more interested in finding the sperm donor though. It’s a good name for him don’t you think? I’ve certainly no intention of calling him dad; I’d prefer to have Hakase for that.”

“You know what you plan to do when you find him?” Ken asked her, curiously.

“Oh yes.” A wicked grin crossed her face as she swung her yo-yo around.

“Wouldn’t want to be in his shoes then.”
Chapter 10 by KT1972
Mai decided to return home after Sunday’s race. Before she left, the team made sure she had all their personal cell numbers, and an assurance that if she needed them, they would be there.

Their call came on Tuesday. A giant Stick Insect mecha was targeting a major power station on the outskirts of Utoland, designed to cut the energy supplies to thousands of homes in the city. A simple task from the team’s point of view, but considering Jun had her own personal mission, one that was destined to take longer than usual.

They had agreed between them, hand to hand combat only, until they found the sperm donor, then they could use their weapons and explosives.

It ended with disappointment. He wasn’t on that mecha. The crew was a skeleton crew of less than a dozen, only there to pilot the craft and fire missiles.

All in all it was an anticlimax for them. They completed their mission with hardly a shot being fired, then set the mecha on auto pilot to crash into a deserted mountain range before returning to the God Phoenix.

As Joe commented on the journey back to the Crescent Coral base, it was one he could have managed single handed with his eyes shut.

Ken felt uneasy about the whole thing. “It certainly feels like a wild goose chase,” he’d felt compelled to agree. “Almost like a diversionary tactic.”

“Well if that’s the diversion, then where’s the real thing going down?”

“I don’t know, I’ll contact hakase, and see if they’ve picked anything else up.” He brought Nambu up on the monitor, and explained the situation.

“It’s all quiet here now team.” The doctor confirmed. “Head back to base.”

“Eta two minutes.”

“Wait,” Jun called to Ryu, just as he was about to dive into the ocean. “I’ve just tried to call mom, I’m getting the number unavailable message.”

“But how would they have discovered her already?”

“The goons in the J? Or if not those two in particular, then it could be one of the other customers in there that night. Let’s face it, any one of them could work for Galactor and we wouldn’t know it.”

“Right, get there quickly.”

“I’m not going to have anywhere to land though Ken,” Ryu commented, “with it being a residential area and all.”

”I’m sorry, you’ll have to stay with the ship then. Just be ready to pick us up again.” Ken got Nambu on the monitor again. “Hakase, we’re going to check up on Mai, something doesn’t sit right and we’ve got a bad feeling about it.”

“Negative, return to base commander.”

“What?!”

“You heard me, I said return to Crescent Coral base.”

“Ok.” He cut the connection, then turned to the others. “Something is definitely wrong here.”

“What do you want to do, Ken?”

“Get to our vehicles everyone, Ryu, you take the God Phoenix back to base and ensure Nambu’s ok. I can’t see him refusing permission to check out our suspicions, especially where Mai’s concerned.”

“Roger, commander.” Ryu circled around Mai’s neighborhood as the rest of them got their individual transport. Ken joined Jun on her cycle, since a missing third tailfin might look conspicuous to anyone in the know. They landed a short distance away, then sneaked up to the rear of the property. Sure enough, two goons were stood around, guarding the back door. A couple of Joe’s feathers solved that problem, and cautiously, they entered the property, finding themselves in a ransacked kitchen.

“Jun, Jinpei, you search this floor, Joe, take the loft, I’ll search the second floor.”

“There’s a basement too.”

“Ok, search there too”

“G5 to G1” Ryu’s voice came over the wristband.

“What is it G5?”

“Nambu’s not here.”

“Of course he’s there; he wouldn’t leave his office while we’re on a mission.” Ken tried calling him. “G1 to Nambu, come in.”

Nothing but a quiet hiss of static reached their ears. “G1 to Nambu, are you there hakase?”

“G4 to Nambu hakase?” The others could hear the distress in Jinpei’s voice as he desperately tried to get some response from his father, yet when he continued to get the same static feedback, he stared up at Jun, the panic was written all over his small features.

“Hold it together, Jinpei, we’ll find them.” Jun attempted to comfort the boy as he looked around, dismayed to see the rest of the first floor in similar disarray as the kitchen.

“Let’s get on with this, they could be here.” Joe led the way up the stairs, his gun at the ready. Ken followed, checking the rear, birdrang in hand.

Jun and Jinpei began searching the various rooms on the first floor, but it wasn’t long before the unmistakable sound of gunshot hit their ears. “Keep looking here,” Jun spoke quietly, “they’ll call us if they need backup.”

The boy nodded, trying hard to hold back tears as he imagined the countless different scenarios Galactor’s goons could be putting his newly discovered parents through.

“What’s that noise?” he asked suddenly. A lull in the gunfire from the upper floor made sounds of a scuffle clearly audible. “Basement, come on.” He showed her the way, knowing which opening led to the staircase going down into the foundations of the simple domestic structure. Jun stood to one side of the frame as Jinpei used the door to shield himself in case they were instantly fired upon.

A second round of gunshots resumed from the top storey, and the Swan nodded silently to the Swallow, his cue to open the door.

Maintaining their cover, Jinpei complied, and as expected a flurry of bullets welcomed their arrival, swiftly followed by the goons’ footsteps on the staircase. Simultaneously, the two ninjas sent their weapons ahead of them, Jinpei’s bolos wrapping around the neck of the first, sending him tumbling into his comrades behind. Jun’s yo-yo spun around the feet of another tripping him up and knocking him flat on his back.

Turning on the light, Jun quickly assessed the situation. Having never been there before, she was surprised to see how tidy and spacious it was, and how many places there were to hide, behind stacks of boxes and old furniture. Cautiously they glided to the bottom, landing in a crouch on the ground.

Sure enough, Nambu and Mai were tied to a couple of old dining chairs by their arms and legs, their mouths covered by black masking tape dug out from a nearby packing box. Mai sat with her head resting on Nambu’s shoulder, their eyes tightly shut from the sudden glare from the bulb. Two goons stood guarding the pair of them, their guns initially trained on them both, but at the sight of G3 and G4, they changed their targets and began firing indiscriminately.

Shielded by their wings they held their ground until the magazines emptied, then Jun’s yo-yo wrapped around the pair’s necks, slicing through the skin like cheese wire.

Jun gave a small smile of satisfaction of the green clad foot soldiers lying prostrate at the captives’ feet. Jinpei ran over, pulling the tape from around his parents’ mouths, and they spat out the bits of cloth gagging them both.

A single shot rang out, reverberating around the room, and hitting Jinpei in his exposed right arm.

“Oww,” he cried out, clutching the injury and trying to stem the flow of blood pouring from the wound. “That hurt!”

“It’s… him.” Mai gasped to them between mouthfuls of air.

“Him?” Jun looked towards the source of the shot.

“HIM!” her mother emphasized the word further so Jun could get the message. “I… recognized… his voice.” Jun nodded, finally understanding.

A second shot fired, but this time the Swallow protected the three of them with his wings. “Come out of there, you pathetic coward!” he screamed at nowhere, unable to untie the binds securing the adults to their seats. “Let’s see what a big man you really are.”

As the bright pink and olive green clad figure emerged from behind a disused wardrobe, his gun aimed directly at her. Jun calmly stepped over to him. Ripping the mask from his face, she removed her own helmet and glared into matching green eyes. In seconds she had the weapon knocked from his hand and skidding to the other side of the room.

“I’d love to say it’s a pleasure to meet you, but honestly, it really isn’t.” she turned to the others in the room, “are you sure you want to watch this? It isn’t going to be pretty.” Keeping him pinned to the wall, she gave Jinpei enough time to scrabble about, finding a knife to cut the string and release his parents. As they scrambled over the pile of prone bodies at the foot of the stairs and raced up to the first floor, Jun spun her so called father around and similarly fastened him to a chair.

Above them, Jinpei ferried Nambu and Mai into the hallway, before collapsing against the door, looking pale and faint. Nambu checked Mai over. She was physically shaking, and understandably frightened, but free from any major injuries.

“Hakase.” Jinpei called, just as Ken and Joe emerged from the second level, casually brushing glass and debris from their capes.

Joe immediately checked on Jinpei’s arm. Borrowing the birdrang from Ken, he cut the fabric to get a clearer look, then asked Mai for her medical kit. Ken found it, and Joe deftly dressed his wound, just as a bloodcurdling scream came from below them.

“What the hell?” Ken looked questionably at the doctor, but he just shook his head in response.

“Leave her to it,” he instructed.

“Sperm donor.” Jinpei clarified for their benefit as more yells of agony reached their ears. “I think she’s doing a bit of a number on him.”

“You don’t say,” the Condor muttered as he finished dressing the Swallow’s arm. “From what it sounds like, I certainly don’t want to be in his shoes.” Addressing the Swallow now, he said, “You’ll live, but it still wants checking out properly.” Joe lifted him back onto his feet, and he gravitated to his mom and dad, throwing his arms around them both and hugging them tight.

Another yell and curiosity got the better of him. Joe opened the door and stepped onto the stairs. He spent only a moment assessing the situation, before he reemerged, balking. “She used to be such a nice girl too.”

Ken couldn’t help but wonder what could gain such a reaction from the normally unflappable Condor, and despite Joe’s protest, went to see for himself. Watching from the step, he suddenly cried out, “Fucking hell, Jun, that’s enough!” before leaping down to her side.

The guy on the chair was begging her to stop. Ken could tell from the misshaped limbs that she had broken many of his bones, but nothing compared to the sight of blood gushing from the gaping hole left from where his genitals used to be.

“No more please…” he pleaded.

“You don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, so why should I?” Jun was saying, her voice unnaturally calm under the circumstances.

“You are evil.”

“Like father, like daughter eh? I guess it’s in my genes.” A roundhouse kick landed on his cheek and the bone shattered on impact.

“Stop it now G3!” Ken ordered immediately. “I know you feel justified, but this is really going too far.”

“I don’t think so, commander.”

Taking her shoulders he looked her straight in the eye. “You’re better than this though, you have your humanity and compassion. If you continue you’ll be just like him, cold and ruthless.” He stepped between them, checking the man’s injuries. “He’s going to be dead in minutes, I think it’s time to do the decent thing.” Picking up one of the dead goon’s weapons, he checked it for ammo, then handed it to her before untying the guy from his tethers. Silently, he stepped behind her.

She raised the gun, aiming directly between his eyes, and fired a single shot. As the body slumped to the floor, she threw the gun away and fell into Ken’s arms, sobbing uncontrollably, all the anger, shock and distress she had been holding onto over the past months finally spilling out.

Calmly he led her away, only pausing to collect her helmet from the floor.
Epilogue by KT1972
It came as no surprise to anyone that Mai refused to go back to her house. She agreed to move into the villa with Nambu and the team, and the doctor let her have her own bedroom, although it was a badly kept secret that she often shared Nambu’s bed. Jinpei was naturally delighted, and Jun was pleased not to be the only female in the household any longer.

Mai recovered from her ordeal, and their lives returned to some kind of normality. Nambu was able to use his influence to get her a secretarial job in another department within the ISO. They all knew she would be as safe as possible working there.

It was a rare evening, several months later, when all the team had chosen to stay home that night. Nambu perched on the arm of Mai’s chair.

Clearing his throat to get their attention he spoke to them all, “This is something I’d bought for Mai some years ago. I’d planned to give it to her after she’d graduated, but since that didn’t happen, it was just locked away and forgotten.” He pulled out the tiny box from his jacket pocket. “I remembered it last night, after the boys had gone off to bed, and found it. For a long time, I wondered why I hadn’t given it to her sooner, but eventually it occurred to me. If I had, then there wouldn’t have been any cause for Mai to take Jinpei to the Jupiter Mountains, and he would never have found Jun. I think we can all agree, our lives would have been much worse off if that was the case.”

The group murmured with agreement, as Jun blushed with embarrassment.

“Well, I think it’s now a case of better late than never.” Nambu continued, chuckling, “And I hope after all this time, it’s going to fit.” He opened the box, displaying the cluster of diamonds on the white gold mount.

“Mai, I’ve waited a long, long time to ask you… will you marry me?”
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