Joe Asakura had no idea what he was in for. Ever since he was a child and had been fortunate enough, though also strangely enough, to have received the help of a secret benefactor. He never stopped wondering what all of it was supposed to come to.
First, he gets a letter from the benefactor to come to Utoland City. When he does arrive, he meets three other kids who were under the same sponsorship. Then he meets the benefactor himself: the prestigious Dr. Kozaburo Nambu.
What does he want with me? he wondered. What about these other three? Why us? Why am I stuck with them?
He never got the answers. Now he was sitting in the lounge of Dr. Nambu's home, aptly called the 'Residence', with three other strangers, at a complete loss.
He brushed a hand back through his light brown hair. Jun, the girl next to him, appeared just as confused as he was. She was a lovely-looking thing, though, dark-haired and pretty-eyed. The kid next to her was a bit of a sight, too, if scrawny suited you fine. The big guy was a whole other story; big meant big.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting." Dr. Nambu appeared almost from out of nowhere.
"I don't think you owe us an apology; you owe us some answers," Joe said sternly.
Dr. Nambu sighed. He had heard of the boy's reputation. "It will come. For now, the four of you will have to understand that the reason why you were selected is extremely important, and that you stay together is just as crucial."
"We don't even know each other!" he barked back fiercely. "We have nothing in common!"
"You will soon enough."
Joe sat back down. Still no answers. He grew more frustrated.
Jun had a different aspect of approach. "Dr. Nambu, do you live here a-"
Suddenly there was a rush of footsteps from upstairs, a door slamming closed, footsteps coming down the stairs so fast they couldn't even see who it was. Then a voice came form the blur. "I'm going out. Bye!"
The front door opened, closed, then opened again. Now they could see.
Stepping back into the house was another teenager, about Joe's age, tall, wiry, dark-haired, bespectacled. Pushing the boy back in was a middle-aged woman, more angry than anything.
"No, you're not going out, boy!" the woman barked. "You have the gutters to clean up there."
The boy turned to face her. "How come they get to call you the housekeeper when I'm the one who's turning circus-acrobat on the roof?"
"Ken," Dr. Nambu called.
The boy hushed. "Yes, Hakase." Then he went back upstairs, changed into a set of old clothes and headed for the basement to gather what he needed.
The housekeeper strode into the kitchen proudly, but was halted by her employer. "Don't push him, Tante Marie. He does have a temper."
"Yes, Hakase." And she vanished.
Jun swallowed a minute, then said, "As I was saying, do you live here alone?"
"Obviously not," he replied, sighing deeply. "That was the head of household, Tante Marie. For as long as you're staying here, she will be in charge - domestically."
"And the other one?" Ryu, the big guy asked.
"That was my foster son, Ken. He's about your age, Joe." He turned back to where Ken had disappeared. "Ken."
Ken came out of the basement. "Yes, Hakase?"
"Before you start climbing to the roof, can you escort your friends here to their rooms?"
He corrected his glasses. "Okay."
As he led them upstairs, he heard Joe say, "Like I'm going to be taking orders from a housekeeper. Do I look like I need to be taken care of?"
Ken laughed. "You must be Joe."
"How do you know?"
He didn't answer his question. "And Jun, Jinpei and Ryu. Did I forget anyone?"
"No," Jun answered. "But how do you-"
He shrugged. "I just do. And I know why you're here. What you're chosen for. What all this is about." He showed them their rooms, and before he could explain further...
"KEN!! THE ROOF! NOW!"
Ken heaved a sigh. "Later. Have to climb the roof now."
"But you know why-"
And he disappeared down the stairs.
They went into their rooms, and as Joe collapsed on the bed, he said aloud, "Doesn't anyone have answers around here?"
Then he heard a 'thump' on the roof and saw a bucket being hoisted up.
He thought of the bespectacled kid who knew.
Who is he?
It was lunchtime and the boy was nowhere near the dinner table. The four strangers ate in an awkward silence, still unsure and confused.
"So," Joe began, breaking the silence. "Where were you guys from?"
Ryu wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "I came from a fishing village down south. Not much to tell."
"Onechan and I came together," little Jinpei announced proudly. "Been together since I could remember."
Jun smiled winsomely. "Not exactly. I.. guess I sort of.. 'found' him."
Joe stared in disbelief. "You 'found' him?"
"It's a long story, Joe..."
It was then they heard a bucket of water fall to the ground, and a curse from the roof.
They looked outside and saw where the bucket now lay, the rope still attached to it.
And then a blur coming down from the roof. Straight down.
The boy corrected his glasses again, and placed the bucket upright once more, filling it up with water. Then he left it there.
The next thing they knew, the bucket was once more being hoisted up to the roof.
"He couldn't have climbed the ladder that fast," Jun noted.
"Who cares how he went up?" Joe retorted. "I want to know how he came down in the first place."
Jinpei looked up. "Probably jumped."
"Yeah, right," Ryu said. "He must be at least twenty feet up."
"Let's check it out." Joe led the other three outside where they saw, standing in the gutters, the kid who knew. He was struggling with the brush, trying to clean out whatever the winter had left in there. The bucket they had seen sat behind him. His clothes looked worse than before, the faded jeans a pale, wet grey and the white T-shirt no longer as white as it had been earlier.
There was only one thing wrong with the picture.
Ken seemed to know they were below him. He looked down, smiled and waved. "Hi!"
Joe couldn't help but keep looking for a ladder. "How'd you get up there?"
"I did say I had to 'climb' the roof..."
Again, before Ken could explain how or what or why or when, Tante Marie's voice boomed through the roof, a loud call. "Ken!! Phone!!"
He dropped whatever he was doing and made his way to the edge of the roof. "Coming!"
Then he jumped. Clean off the roof.
"Ken....!" Jun gasped.
He caught hold of a jutting tree branch, balanced his weight and flipped right over, landed neatly on the grass below him. Again, he corrected his glasses and excused himself, disappearing into the house.
The four young newcomers stood in perfect shock. "Did you see what that little bastard did?" Joe asked.
"I think he jumped off the roof, then caught the tree branch there and then -"
"Shut up, Ryu."
In a few minutes Ken reappeared and without a word he began to climb the very same tree again, scrambling up faster than anything they had ever seen. From the farthest branch, he leapt back onto the roof, and casually went back to work.
Joe wanted to ask a good question. If only he knew which.
"So, where'd you grow up, Ken?"
He seemed to freeze for a few moments, as though thinking about it.
"You know a place called Seclusion somewhere up north?"
Joe nodded. "That explains everything."
Ken had cleaned up and was spending time by himself near the edge of the cliff just outside the Residence once the others had taken their break. He had nothing with him, but he was preoccupied as it was, with things purely unseen by the rest of them.
"Hey," Joe called.
He turned. Smiled. "Hey, yourself."
There was a brief silence as the other sat down to join him on the grass.
"So, what is it about Seclusion?" Jun asked. "Joe said that it 'explains everything.'"
"Seclusion..." he sighed. "Home of street acrobats, free-fall artists and born and bred assassins. If you're a good kid, you could end up a damn good cop or maybe even as far as a Federal Agent." His smile faded. "If you're lucky enough to get out of there."
Jinpei nestled closer. "Why'd you leave?"
"Do you think I wanted to?" he returned. "I didn't. Hakase dragged me up here. Trying to get me into college."
Joe knew they were treading on sensitive ground. He could almost sense Ken's discomfort at all the questions about him. "So how come you know so much about why we're here?"
Ken eased back to his self-confident form. "That's an entirely different thing. That's only because I've been hanging around the project so long I practically know it by heart," he replied, getting off the ground.
"But how come you know so much?" Ryu questioned. "You're not one of us, are you?"
"Me?" he laughed. "Oh, no, not me. Never. Hakase would drop dead first before letting me be a part of it." His tone turned bitter for a moment. "Which is why I envy you guys."
"You mentioned a project," Jun noted. "What project?"
"The one you're all a part of."
They stood silent.
"It's called the G-Force Project."