"Jun," there followed a moment of breathless hesitation, "put it on my tab, will you?"
A pair of large green eyes turned to stare intently into the ninja team leader's own clear blue ones. Jun's hands curled into light fists and came to rest on her curving hips. "Ken, do you realize the size of your tab now?" She didn't give him a chance to answer. "You haven't deigned to pay for anything in months though half your meals have been on the house!" She leaned towards him menacingly. "I would appreciate seeing even a little bit of cash just every once in a while. I'm trying to run a business here!"
Ken grimaced under Jun's scowl and quickly wondered how in the world he was going to get out of this one. Jun looked to be in the mood to keep this going for a long time. "Well," he stumbled out, "plane parts are expensive and the mail courier business has been slow... A guy has to eat." He tried giving her his best destitute expression.
"Nope, sorry, that one won't work today. You're going to have to come up with something much better than that."
A gargled chuckle escaped from the stool next to Ken's. Joe had unsuccessfully been trying to keep quiet his growing amusement by stuffing his mouth full of bread.
"Don't you dare laugh, Asakura. You're as bad, if not worse, than he is!" Jun pointed a thumb in Ken's direction.
Joe tried to choke.
Ryu, sitting to Joe's left, tried to make himself look as small as possible hoping to be ignored. It didn't work.
"Between you, Ken, and Ryu, it's always a contest to see which one of you can get farthest in debt!" Jun raked all three with a hard stare, none of them stupid enough to dare move from their seats.
Jinpei, standing somewhere behind his sister, softly giggled at their discomfort, but kept his amusement under tightly pressed hands having no intention of getting dragged into this as well.
"I'm of a mind to stop this contest," she said. "As an incentive, I think I might just start taking an interest on what you owe on your tabs and have monthly installments taken out of your paychecks." She swept a stunning, highly smug smile at all three of them. "I'm sure hakase would agree to it. After all, he does own a percentage of the Snak J."
Three sets of jaws dropped in stunned amazement. Jinpei turned away to face the wall, a laughing fit threatening to give his presence away.
"But, Jun, you can't... We - uh - we..." Ken stuttered to a halt.
"If you never see the money, you won't spend it. I doubt you'll even miss it."
Three stricken faces continued staring at her. It was slowly dawning on them that Jun might just be serious after all. A muffled chortle whispered towards them from the back.
"Jun, reconsider this! If you push us too far, we might just have to find us another place to hang out." Joe tried to stare at her threateningly, hoping to get out of the horrid situation as badly as the other two.
Jun's smile turned nasty. "Feel free. But I doubt you'll find one single place that will -" She looked up at she spoke, the tell-tale bell on the door announcing a new customer. Her voice trailed to nothing as her startled eyes locked onto the person who'd come through the door.
Bright gray eyes met hers for a moment, the handsomely carved features beneath them smiling brightly before breaking contact. Jun's widening eyes followed the almost white hared figured as he moved down the aisle towards the booth farthest from the door.
"Neechan, do you want me to take care of him?" Jinpei was at her elbow, his head looking past her as he tried to catch a glimpse of the person her eyes seemed so interested in.
"Hm?" Jun blinked, breaking her stare, and looked down at her brother. "Uh, no, I'll take care of it. You stay here and make sure these three don't reach for any more food."
As if they no longer existed, Jun moved around the corner. Four pairs of eyes followed her as she went towards the booth, all perfectly aware that she'd totally dismissed them from her mind.
"Jinpei, do you know that guy?"
The youngest member of the scientific ninja team shook his head in confusion. "I've never seen him before, aniki. Have any of you guys?"
"No, but from the look on Jun's face, it sure looked like she had," Joe added.
"He is rather good looking..." Ryu was still looking in Jun's general direction. He tapped Ken on the shoulder as he noticed that he too was staring intently off the way she'd gone. "Maybe you've got some competition, Ken. She must have finally gotten tired of waiting for you to get the hint."
Ken threw his best friend a dirty look but said nothing. He resumed eating his dinner and didn't look down Jun's way again.
"Go - good evening, sir. Welcome to the Snak J. Is there something that I could get for you?" As he set down the small menu he'd picked up from the far end of the booth and looked up at her, Jun felt her pulse race at the familiar gray stare. Jun felt her hands grow moist as she caught a closer look at her newest customer.
As far as she could tell, he looked healthy, his cheeks showing more color than when they'd first met. His hair was cut shorter, and looked even lighter in color than before. And there he sat, looking relaxed, wearing a blue-gray silk shirt with the sleeves rolled up almost to the elbows. The first few buttons near the collar had been left open, a thick chain with an eagle shaped pendant over his smooth chest. White slacks slid smoothly down his long legs, white loafers cradling his feet. A light smile softly decorated his well remembered lips, even as Jun waited breathlessly for him to speak.
"I really would appreciate a good, hot cup of coffee."
Jun's mind screamed at her, all doubts that she might have had that she'd been mistaken shattered into nothing. This was Michael Frost! She had thought she'd never see him again and yet here he was, sitting in her own store.
"Miss, are you all right?" he asked.
Jun abruptly remembered to breathe and rapidly shook her head. "No, I'm fine. Sorry. One hot cup of coffee coming right up."
Jun left the table before Frost had a chance to say anything else. She clumsily dried her moist hands on her apron as she made her way quickly back up the aisle.
Four pairs of eyes followed her movements as she made it back to the counter, all noticing her flushed cheeks.
"An old friend of yours, Jun?" Ken studied her quietly even as she rattled a cup and saucer into a skewed tray.
"He asked you if that guy over there is a friend of yours." Joe thumbed his hand back in Frost's direction.
"Him? Oh, no, no, I've never seen him before." Without looking at any of them to see if they'd believed her, Jun quickly filled the cup with coffee, setting a small cup of milk as well as sugar on the tray. She picked the tray up and left.
As soon as she'd gone some way down the aisle, Ken reached out and maliciously kicked Joe in the shin.
"Ow! What was that for?"
"Second in commands should learn to mind their own business." Ken hissed the answer out of the side of his mouth, never deigning to look at Joe's annoyed face.
"Well, you did ask," Joe said rather smugly. "I was just making sure she heard you."
Ken gritted his teeth but let the matter drop.
"I don't think she told us the truth, do you?" Ryu leaned forward after hurriedly glancing down the aisle to make sure they wouldn't be overheard.
"It's none of our business!" Ken turned on Ryu, who just stared back at him in surprise.
"But, aniki -"
"But nothing, Jinpei. Jun is a grown woman, let her be." Ken turned his attention back to his cooled dinner.
Jun couldn't stop her hands from shaking as she moved to bring Frost his coffee. She knew she was being foolish, knew that she should have let Jinpei take care of him and left it at that. But he was here, at the Snak J! Never in her wildest dreams had she thought she'd ever see him again. She'd resigned herself long ago that she'd only have that one unexpected kiss to remember him by. But he was here!
"Your coffee, sir." Jun almost spilled the cup in her hurry to unload the tray.
"Thanks." He gave her a quick smile.
Jun finished unloading the tray and then held it before her like a shield. She bit her lip and started to turn away, but then hesitated. Before she realized what she was doing, she'd started to speak. "Excuse me, but aren't you..."
As Frost's penetrating gaze turned to give her their full attention, Jun's better judgement grabbed hold and silenced the rest of the question.
"Yes?" Frost's eyes held hers, locking Jun in place.
"It - it was nothing really. You just look an awful lot like someone I once knew." She held the tray that much tighter.
"Lucky man, whoever he was." His eyes still held on to hers.
Jun forcibly made herself look away, feeling suddenly dizzy. "I - I have to get back to the counter now. Please excuse me."
Jun almost ran from the booth, feeling like a fool. Her heart thumped within her breast as she was simultaneously hurt and relieved that he'd not seemed to have recognized her.
Again, four pairs of eyes watched her upon her return. They continued to watch her as she said nothing and only made a half hearted attempt at straightening out the counter area.
"Did you guys want anything else?" Jun looked at her friends, biting her lip as it suddenly occurred to her to wonder if they'd noticed anything.
"No thanks, we've had enough," Ken said. "Joe and I have to go anyway."
Ken threw Joe a withering glance.
Joe thrust up his hands into the air and gave up. "Okay, okay, we do."
As the two of them got up to go, Ken quickly reached into his billfold and left behind a twenty dollar bill.
Startled, Jun stared after them wondering what was wrong. "Nambu didn't call, did he?" Jun turned to look at Ryu and Jinpei.
The two only shook their heads no.
"Is something going on?"
Again the two didn't speak but only shook their heads in a negative reply.
Jun's brow furrowed, something about their answers not feeling right. She decided not to press them at the moment however. If it had been something to do with work or something truly worthwhile, she knew that Ryu and her brother wouldn't have allowed Ken and Joe to leave them behind.
As her gaze drifted back towards Frost's booth however, Jun forgot her current train of thought. Ignoring Jinpei and Ryu, she reached for one of the waiting coffee pots and came back around from behind the counter.
Hoping she wasn't being too pushy but unable to stay away, Jun returned to Frost's booth.
"More coffee, sir?" Jun tried to steel herself against the calm, self possessed look she knew would come, but still found butterflies pressing against her stomach when it did.
"No, thank you. I've had enough." He smiled at her. "It was very good coffee."
"Thank you." Jun could feel her cheeks growing warm again.
Frost's smile grew, brightening his face, his eyes already alight. He slid out of the booth to stand beside her. "Thank you very much for your hospitality." He reached down into his pocket and extracted a folded bill. He never took his eyes from her face. "Please accept this in appreciation. Perhaps we will meet again."
Frost slipped the bill into Jun's apron pocket before she could say a word. Flashing her one last and almost blinding smile, he turned from her and headed towards the shop's door.
Jun took an involuntary step after him, the sudden urge sweeping through her not to let him out of her life so easily again. Regrettably, she held herself back, knowing that it was not meant to be. Frost hadn't recognized her as the Swan, and that was how it should be. She couldn't risk her cover, no matter how lamentable that would be.
Slowly going back to the counter, Jun noticed both Ryu and Jinpei both staring out the shop's door in the direction Frost had taken. A small inexplicable chill made its way down her spine. "Jinpei, what are you doing?"
Her two team mates jumped back inside as far away from the door as they could, their guilt written all over their faces. "Oh, neechan, nothing. Really! Ryu and I, we, we were, we were just - uh - looking at some girls!"
Ryu quickly nodded his concurrence on their activities. "Girls. Yeah, that was it. Really!"
Jun didn't believe the lie for a second. If they'd really been looking at girls, she would have been the last person they would have admitted it to. "You do have other, better things you should be doing don't you, Jinpei?" She wasn't sure she liked the sudden relief she saw in his face at hearing the familiar question with its innately interwoven threat.
"Yes, neechan, you're absolutely right! I think I'll go do those things right now." Before Jun could change her mind or add anything more, Jinpei bolted towards the kitchen.
While she watched him, Ryu started sneaking back towards the front door. "I, err, just remembered that there's some stuff I should be doing too. I'll, uh, see you later!"
"Ryu, wait!" Jun found herself calling out to an empty doorway. What the heck was going on?
Thinking seriously about cornering Jinpei and extracting some answers, Jun placed the cooling coffee pot back in its holder. As she did so, she glanced back over her shoulder remembering the half emptied cup and the man that had been drinking from it moments before. Grabbing a tray to go retrieve the dishes, Jun recalled the pocketed payment and tip and reached into her pocket to get it.
She couldn't help but smile as she saw that Frost had left her a five dollar bill for just a cup of coffee. Somehow it seemed like him. As she unfolded the bill to put it in the cash register, Jun watched in surprise as a small folded piece of paper fell from within it to the floor.
With an odd prickling feeling rising on the back of her neck, Jun slowly bent to retrieve the paper. With her pulse racing inside her, she carefully unfolded it to see the note written inside.
I need your help. Please meet me at Weslin Park
at 12:30 tonight. Be careful, I think I'm
P.S. You are still as beautiful as ever
Jun read the note three times then folded it with meticulous care. She held it to her breast, her eyes closed and her breath heavily coming in and out of her parted lips.
He had known. He had known who she'd been all along! He'd recognized her even after all this time, though she knew that she hardly looked now as she had when they'd first met. It was incredible.
Jinpei puttered around in the kitchen for a while, wondering how long it would take his sister to forget about what he and Ryu had been doing. It was kind of exciting and perhaps even a little frightening to think that his sister might just have a boyfriend none of them knew anything about. The guy had looked handsome enough for it. But why didn't she want them to meet him? That was the one thing he couldn't figure out.
Eventually guessing that he'd waited long enough, Jinpei decided to risk it and ventured a cautious look out the kitchen door. Not seeing Jun in his immediate field of view, he slowly extricated himself from the doorway, keeping a careful eye for any sign of her.
Jinpei spotted Jun as his gaze traveled over the length of the shop's counter top towards the boothed area. Jun was standing with a tray at the far table - the one where the pale hared man had been sitting at earlier. And she also wasn't moving. Instead of doing her job and picking up the dirty dishes left there, she was just standing there her gaze flowing unseeing out the shop's large glass window.
Jinpei recognized that look. It was one he'd seen her wear only those few times some months ago over something he could never get her to talk about. Now more than ever, Jinpei wondered who exactly that gray eyed man had been.
Jun slowly turned at Jinpei's call, the last vestiges of her far away look retreating from her green eyes. Sending him a small smile, Jun quickly picked up the dishes in the booth and put them on the tray. With a last glance, she looked out the large window, and then joined her brother at the counter.
"I've finished all my chores, neechan. Is it okay if I go bug Ryu for a while?" Jinpei trailed closely after her even as she moved to go inspect the kitchen.
"I guess it'd be all right," she said. "It doesn't look like we're going to be all that busy tonight."
"All right! Thanks, neechan. See ya!" He turned to go.
He'd almost made it to the door when he heard the call. Though normally he would have been tempted to ignore it, always judging it best not to stick around too long so as not to give Jun time to come up with more work, he stopped and looked back at her, having noticed a strange subdued tone in her voice. "Yes, neechan?" He watched her with sudden concern as he saw that far away look return to her eyes.
"What do you think I look like?"
His brow furrowed at the strange question. "Like my sister of course. What else would you look like?"
Jun gave her brother a half-hearted dirty look before rephrasing her question. "What I meant was -- do you think I'm attractive? Maybe even beautiful?"
Jinpei stared at his sister, surprised, even as a look of uncertainty crossed her face. "I dunno, neechan. I guess so. I've always liked how you look." He frowned. "Why?"
Jun sighed softly. Jinpei wondered if he'd just gotten into some kind of trouble.
"No reason. I just wanted to know what you thought."
Jinpei continued staring at her as she turned away, still not sure what that had been all about. Would a boyfriend make his sister act like this? He was suddenly not all that sure that he should leave her. But since she'd given him permission, he couldn't come up with a good enough excuse to stay that wouldn't arouse her suspicions. Finally, he turned away, sending one last worried glance in her direction before leaving to go find Ryu.
"I'm telling you, I think there's something wrong with her."
Ryu looked doubtfully at his young friend as they returned with their drinks to Jinpei's buggy. "I think you might be overreacting. Jun would have told us if there was something wrong."
"She would, huh?" Jinpei threw Ryu a dubious glance. "What about the time she and Nambu went off to help that street gang, or the time she took off on her own to help out Loraine?"
"We've all done that," Ryu countered. "Besides, she's, she's the most sensible of us. She wouldn't run off to do something stupid." Ryu tried to give Jinpei a reassuring smile, but it faltered against his friend's worried expression.
"But she's really acting weird. That strange look I told you about before is back. And, and today, she asked me if I thought she was beautiful!"
Now Ryu's own brow obtained furrows of its own. "You think this has something to do with that guy this afternoon?"
Jinpei nodded. "I've never seen him before, but I would swear she knew him."
"Joe could be right though, it could just be a boyfriend."
"No way! I thought about this, I really have. If the guy was just a boyfriend, she would have introduced us wouldn't she, or at least she would have said something about him. But no, Ryu, she lied. We all know it."
Ryu stared at Jinpei's frowning profile and took a deep drought from his fountain drink. "So, what do you think we should do about it?"
Jinpei glanced quickly about the small convenience store's parking lot before looking back at Ryu. "I have a feeling that maybe the two of them will be meeting tonight. I - I wanna be there when they do."
Ryu looked down at his filled hands for a moment. "I, I don't know. If Jun found out somehow..." He let the dreadful thought go unfinished. They both realized the consequences only too well.
"You don't have to go," Jinpei said. "I'll do it on my own if I have to. But I'm telling you I'm positive something is up!"
Ryu broke away from Jinpei's intense stare and took another long draught from his drink. "No, I guess I'll go with you. But what about Ken and Joe, shouldn't we get them to help too?"
Jinpei immediately shook his head. "No, they wouldn't do it. They'd blame it all on my overactive imagination or something. You know how they are."
Ryu sipped at his drink.
"This is something for us more sensitive and experience types to handle."
Ryu nodded slowly. "Yeah."
Both of them took long contented draughts.
Ryu and Jinpei had already spent several hours staring at both the front and rear entries to the Snak J when the night began to pick up a teasing chill.
Jinpei was stretched out, his feet on the buggy's dashboard, his eyes partially closed. From where he lay, he had a clear view of the Snak J's living quarters, the garage, and the shop's back door.
Nothing had changed the entire time he'd been there, the place being very quiet. Between the cool night and the stifling boredom, Jinpei had been fighting a losing battle against sleep.
He snapped up straight, startled as his bracelet let off a loud beep. The bracelet beeped again, making him cringe as it sounded much too loud in the surrounding silence. Sitting up straight in his seat, he wiped away the sleep from his eyes and brought the bracelet towards his lips. "Jinpei here."
"Jinpei, I'm tired, I'm cold, and I'm hungry," Ryu whined. "I don't think anything is going to happen, can't I go home?"
Jinpei rolled his eyes in exasperation. "It's not that late yet, Ryu. And I've already promised to buy you dinner tomorrow if you'd stay till one. You don't have that much more to go."
There was a momentary pause on the other end. "All right. But for you sake, I hope you have a lot of money, ‘cause I have a feeling I'm going to be real hungry tomorrow."
Jinpei groaned, wondering if this was actually worthwhile. He was just about to tell Ryu to go ahead and go home when he heard the rev of his sister's motorcycle.
"Ryu, Ryu, this is it! Neechan's getting ready to go somewhere! Come around the building and I'll pick you up on the way out."
Not waiting for a reply, Jinpei quickly started up his buggy making sure to keep all the lights off. He backed up farther into the alley facing the one running behind the Snak J and waited tensely for Jun to appear. She wasn't going to keep him out of this one, no sir! He was going to find out what she was up to whether she liked it or not.
After Jun finally roared past, Jinpei waited several heartbeats and then took off after her. Hoping her less shielded engine would cover the noise from his, Jinpei kept her in sight as she rounded the main alley way and got off onto the street. As she turned right and moved on, Jinpei braked at the end of the alley glancing impatiently in the darkness for some sign of Ryu. "Come on you slowpoke, we're gonna lose her!"
Ryu darted out from a deep shadow off to the side and leapt gracelessly into the passenger side. The wheels squealed as Jinpei shifted to first and took off after his sister. Ryu tried to get comfortable in the cramped space even as Jinpei accelerated.
Traffic was sparse and Jinpei forced himself to ease off a bit as he finally got Jun in clear view. For a moment, he thought there was something different about her, but wasn't close enough to figure out what it was.
In what seemed like a short period of time, Jinpei felt an abrupt attack of panic as it became clear that Jun had reached her destination. She had slowed dramatically and pulled her bike into a darkened area of a parking lot beside a large park.
Not wanting to take the chance that she might spot them if they drove past, Jinpei turned sharply down the nearest street he could find and got them out of sight. As soon as they'd made the corner, Jinpei brought the buggy to a squealing stop and shut it down. Ryu, still reeling form the screeching turn, was thrust forward to slam his bulk unwillingly against the front dashboard.
"Jinpei, are you nuts? Are you trying to kill me?" he squealed.
"Shshshshshsh!" Jinpei turned on him. "What are you trying to do, get us caught?"
Ryu looked suddenly guilty.
"Come on, let's get going before we lose her out there!" Jinpei leapt out of the buggy leaving Ryu to follow on his own.
Cursing, Ryu worked hard to extricate himself from the buggy's small confines and go after his friend. As he banged his knees in his hurry to get out, Ryu mentally added a few more items to the meal he'd be having at Jinpei's expense tomorrow.
Rushing out from behind a telephone pole to conceal himself behind a large, corner mailbox, Jinpei glanced cautiously around trying to catch a glimpse of his wayward sister. Spotting a white blur move from the parking lot, Jinpei realized for the first time that Jun had at some point changed into uniform. Here was the proof that Jun was indeed trying to put one over on them. Tensing up, Jinpei got ready to dart across the street as soon as his sister was totally enveloped by the abundant trees in the park.
Glancing back to make sure Ryu was following, Jinpei took a deep breath and dashed across.
Jun felt more secure in her uniform, dropping into the comfortable persona of the science ninja as easily as she had changed her clothes. Ready now to deal with the tinge of danger implied in Frost's note, Jun moved into the park to search for him.
If someone was watching, she wanted to be as ready as possible while at the same time keeping her identity secret. It was obvious to her that Frost had already gone to considerable trouble to help her preserve it as well. If someone had been keeping an eye on his movements, they'd have little cause to suspect that he'd gone into the Snak J to contact a member of the Science Ninja Team.
Keeping her feather like cloak wrapped tightly about her, Jun moved swiftly towards the nearest clump of trees. With long practiced ease, she smoothly slipped her deadly yo-yo into her gloved hand while hiding her actions beneath the cloak.
Searching, she studied her surroundings trying to catch a clue as to Frost's whereabouts. Not finding anything obvious, she clung to the ample shadows and kept looking.
So far, her senses hadn't picked up signs of anyone, though she was only too aware that that didn't necessarily mean that no one was there. Making herself as small a target as possible, Jun rushed across the park's more open areas to enter the large pavilion at the center of the grounds.
The bright moon, which lit the night with soft incandescence, made the darkness of the interior of the pavilion seem almost like a solid mass of black as she approached. Though visibility throughout the park was poor even with the small amount of light, this was the best vantage point she'd been able to spot so far.
Merging with the pavilion's darkness, Jun stopped upon entering and swiftly moved to the side and down so she wouldn't make an easy target while her eyes adjusted. Jun glanced around, noting the empty picnic tables set about almost at random in the wide, open room. It didn't comfort her at all to realize that it would be only too easy for any number of people to be hiding in the deeper, blacker shadows.
Still not spotting a sign of anyone, she decided to take a risk as she carefully made her way deeper into the room. "Frost?"
A quiet sound landed behind her and Jun whirled around her yo-yo poised to attack whatever was there. At the last instant, she was able to stop herself from striking out, as she recognized the glinting smile she could faintly see coming from the shadow cloaked figure before her. "I could have killed you just now! Why didn't you warn me you were there?" The harsh whisper bolted from her before she could think to stop it.
All the figure did in response to her shocked anger was lift his cloaked shoulders in a shrug. "You didn't and that's what counts," Frost answered. "At the time, I wasn't all that certain of who you were... By the way, I love the uniform."
Jun momentarily glanced down at her open cloak and blushed even as she tried to glare at him. Though she'd never thought of it before, her uniform's skirt was a bit short. It was perfect for combat, but not so good for meeting handsome men in the dark.
Oh, why did he always do this to her? She saw Frost's easy smile grow wider and realized to her chagrin that he was only too aware of the effects his words were having on her. Trying to control her rising conflicting emotions, Jun turned away from him and regathered her cloak about herself. Her uniform had never seemed too short before, not in front of the others, not even in front of Ken. Why did his few words make it bother her so much all of a sudden?
Stiffening in surprise, Jun stood very still as Frost's hand tenderly caressed her shoulder before giving it a light squeeze.
"Thank you for coming. You don't know how much it means to me."
Jun suddenly felt herself growing warm all over. Hearing him say those words meant more to her than she would have ever thought they could. Turning slowly around, her eyes brown when seen through the visor, Jun's gaze locked with his and they stood looking into one another's eyes for sometime.
Slowly working herself up to it, Jun finally looked away. She felt light headed and dizzy, and a little afraid that he could make her feel that way. "How, how did you find me?" She glanced at him, avoiding his direct gaze.
Frost's pleasantly shaped mouth sparked into a smile. "It was quite easy really, since I knew what to look for."
Jun raised a brow in disbelief, but said nothing.
"Your beautiful face is much too distinct for me not to recognize it, regardless of the style of your clothes or the color of your hair. Though I must admit, I think I like the green better than the blond."
Jun could feel herself blushing and was only too glad for the partial concealment of the covering darkness. "If you knew all this time, why didn't you contact me sooner?"
"It wasn't possible, the danger too great," he said. "The threat that had forced me to leave you in the first place was still there."
Jun stared at him, confusion in her eyes. "Then why contact me now?"
His gray eyes locked again with her own. "Because... I need your help."
Jun noticed the slight hesitation in his answer but didn't know what to make of it. This time, Frost was the first to break eye contact and distractedly moved to sit at one of the tables, staring off to the side.
"After I left you that day, I maintained a very low profile and kept track of Dr. Rathbone and his daughter to make sure that Katse had forgotten about them in the midst of his latest defeat to you." He shrugged lightly, rearranging his cloak about his shoulders. "It was during that time that I spotted you waltzing into the hospital. I was rather pleasantly surprised..." He still made no move to look at her.
"After the second time you came, I was unable to resist the urge and followed you home."
Jun was taken aback by the fact that it had been so easy - that she'd given away her secret identity with barely any amount of effort on his part.
"After I became relatively certain that they would remain safe, I smuggled myself out of the country and started for home." Frost glanced at her for a moment and then looked away again. "I had a lot less trouble getting there than I'd expected. But then, no one suspected that I would be going there since Katse thought me buried back at the mountain base." He paused. "I'd been so looking forward to meeting with my father again, to let him know that I was free so there was no longer any reason for him to kowtow to Galactor's every whim."
His eyes flickered briefly towards her. "I guess that in our rushed and rather unorthodox introduction I never did get a chance to explain why I was a prisoner."
Jun said nothing, breathlessly awaiting for him to continue, ravenously curious and interested in spite of herself.
"I was a pawn of Galactor's, a political prisoner of sorts, a tool to keep my father and his fortune within easy reach of the organization's greed." Frost turned around and faced her fully. "You see, the Galactor organization and its faceless leaders have actually been around for much longer than you or your sponsors probably realize. My father's lands are rich, productive, and very isolated, a perfect staging place for one of their numerous long range projects." His eyes grew dark.
"When they first came to us, they introduced themselves as well meaning business men interested in making profits for themselves as well as for my father. As things progressed towards what was thought to be legitimate negotiations, the Galactor agents took me hostage and invaded our lands. Would you believe that they have used me as a hold over my father for almost half my lifetime?"
Jun's eyes were wide with shocked surprise though Frost's account had been delivered in a tone that belied the severity of his statement. Jun studied him, deeply feeling for him, but she couldn't read him, the darkness doing for his features now what his mask had done for him in the past.
It was a lot easier to understand after this how his freedom had made him so reluctant to take the risk that the ISO might take it from him again.
"I'd been allowed to talk to my father on occasion, though never in person or from anywhere he could have possibly arrange to have me retrieved. Each time I saw him, it was only too painfully clear how the strain of doing Galactor's bidding was eating away at him. I was a prisoner, and I never forgot it, for they never tired of reminding me. But my father... He, he was at home, where he had spent all of his life, still surrounded by all the things that he had ever loved, yet he was more bound by Galactor chains that I have ever been." His soft voice whispered at her from the dark twilight, his tone laced with deep, quiet hidden sorrow.
"Like I said, no one was expecting me, so though the place was guarded, I was still surprised by the ease with which I was able to get back home. I should have suspected something then, I suppose, but I didn't. I was just too filled with joy at finally being back!"
His gray eyes locked with hers, a flush of color staining his cheeks. "I wish I could truly convey to you what that felt like to me... For without you, it would have never been mine. But I can't." He smiled. "Trust me though, it was quite overpowering."
Jun tried to imagine what it might have been like for him. What it would feel like to return home after having been kept away all those years. How she would feel if she found her own parents alive and well. Jun tried to imagine the excited tinge in Frost's voice magnified a thousand times.
He didn't continue speaking though Jun had expected him to. He turned his face completely away from her, his dark enshrouded form hunched over the picnic table. After several moments of continued silence, Jun found her curiosity gaining the upper hand over her patience. "What happened then? Didn't you find your father?"
Jun heard Frost sigh deeply before he replied. "Yes, I finally found him, though not where I'd expected. His rooms had been changed and I found a stranger sleeping there. That in itself didn't surprise me, really, father's room was the best one in the place and Galactor leaders have never been known to live below the best possible means available.
"I searched the rest of our home, looking for him in all the old rooms I could remember. I even found my own room, left as it had been since I'd been taken. The only change I found inside was the addition of a large cot in the far corner.
"After a while though, I began to fear that perhaps Katse hadn't been fooled after all. That just maybe, he had anticipated my return and had taken steps to still keep my father and I apart."
Frost's voice lowered slowly until Jun was forced to come closer or miss what he would say. "Since I couldn't find him, I risked awakening my father's most trusted vassal, and a friend from my youth. At the time I wasn't sure he'd recognize me, but I shouldn't have worried on that account."
Jun could imagine the small grin she was sure had just flickered like a candle across Frost's face.
"He did however, tell me more than I had ever wanted to know..." Frost paused again, a premonition of doom clouding the air about him.
Jun found herself feeling an urge to suddenly reach out to him, but restrained herself as he began to speak again.
"Colten was quite shocked when he saw me. I think he almost had a heart attack on my account. I know my back still aches from that bear hug of his. I'm pretty sure he was happy to see me."
Despite the light tone, Jun noticed how Frost took an almost agonized breath before continuing.
"I asked him almost immediately to divulge the location of my father. After a hurried minute to get himself dressed, Colten showed me where he was.
"They hadn't even had the decency of marking his grave. If Colten hadn't pointed out the place to me, I would have never known it from the rest of the yard."
Jun stared at Frost's stiff back in shocked sorrow. Her eyes watered in pained sympathy, pushed on by the total lack of emotion in his voice.
"My father had been dead for over a year. The Galactor propaganda at home had declared that he'd died peacefully of old age during his sleep. Colten and some of the others had very concrete reasons for believing otherwise. You see, it seems that my father had finally had enough. He'd no longer been cooperating to the satisfaction of those in charge, and they merely decided he wasn't worth the trouble anymore.
"He'd died, been killed, and to that day I had never even suspected it. I would have never learned of it if those bastards could have helped it!"
Frost abruptly pushed himself away from the table and turned to glance sharply back at her. "I would have gone into a berserking rage if it hadn't been for Colten. Never had I wanted to take another's life until that day."
Staring at her intensely a moment longer, he suddenly smiled. The small angry lines that had been growing on his face smoothed themselves away. "I digress from why I asked you here. Please forgive me."
Jun found herself coming close, her hand landing lightly on his arm. Her heart skipped a beat as she couldn't help but notice how his eyes were glued to hers even before she spoke. "There's nothing to forgive. I - I'm glad that you feel you can tell me these things."
Jun hesitated for a moment as Frost stared even more intently at her. "What - what did you do then?"
"Well, I stuck around. Colten and some of the others did their best to keep me out of trouble and out of sight." He shrugged lightly and finally looked away. "Now that I'd finally returned, we started implementation of a plan Colten had been working on for some time for my father.
"In the end, it was all very easy. Galactor had assumed that without my father, my people's spirit was gone. So, since we knew exactly who were and were not Galactor sympathizers, we gathered those that weren't and used them to replace Galactors at the castle. Before anyone had become the wiser, the place had once more become ours." Frost shrugged.
"Since that time, we've spent our efforts feeding defective ammunition to the enemy, while making them think that things remain as they have always been. I'm sure it's caused them some trouble here and there." Frost grinned wickedly, his eyes sparkling. He removed Jun's hand from his arm and placed it gently between his own.
"But unfortunately, that won't last forever. Sooner or later they'll figure out what's going on and try to put a stop to it. Before that happens, however, I'd like to strike a blow to them, one that will do some good as well as help avenge my father for the years spent under their heel."
His eyes locked with hers again and stayed there. "And I've finally been able to find something that would do both."
Jun waited for him to go on.
"You see, I know that my family and I aren't the only ones that have been abused in this particular way. There are others. Too many have joined Galactor for one reason or another only to come to learn the hard way that once you join you can never leave, sometimes not even in death."
Frost's gray gaze moved from her eyes down to her white gloved hand. After a moment, he began to message her fingers. Not sure why he was doing such a thing, Jun tried to gently pull her hand away but he wouldn't let her go.
"Have you ever thought of what happens to the torn families left behind after the death and destruction following one of your raids?"
Jun stiffened, not happy with what she thought he might mean. Again she tried removing her hand from his grasp, this time pulling harder. Again, Frost wouldn't let her go.
"Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not trying to judge what you do. But truly, do you have any idea of what happens to them?"
Jun met his questioning gaze, not understanding why he was asking her this, and not at all sure she really wanted to know. "No, I don't."
"I didn't think so." Frost released her hand and deftly moved to sit on top of the table behind him.
Startled by his reply, all Jun could do was stare after him.
"No one ever leaves Galactor - be it their cannon fodder or their cannon fodder's family. If one member of a family joins, they all join. And then they're all relocated to a far off site where only Galactor holds sway. It's practical, if nothing else, for it wouldn't do to have your mecha stomping on the very city where some of their underlings' families live, would it?" His hardened eyes belied the seeming mirth covering his voice.
"Not all members of Galactor have families. If they did, their present stategies would tax all their resources to nothing," he said. "A large percentage is single and have no ties to worry about. Most of the support-staff though, the technicians, scientists, and the highly skilled labor all do have people tied to them. And every last one got dragged along with them when they joined.
"Having their families included in the contracts and relocate them serves other purposes than just assuring their safety, however. By pitching in the families in the deal, Galactor is able to insure two very valuable things. First, it makes sure that your employee will never leave you. Second, if something were to happen to the employee, his family wouldn't be able to go about and spread what they know. Better still they can now be called upon to fill in their loved one's gap in some way, since now they would be solely dependent on Galactor for their continued existence. Some use would be found for them so they could repay the organization."
A small chill made its way slowly down Jun's spine, for she was sure that the people's forced dependency made life for those involved a lot worse than Frost had so far intoned.
"What I'd like to do, what I need your help to do, is to give a chance to some of these families to be free of Galactor. I want to give them the chance to break the chains with the organization. I want to give them a chance to be free again." His eyes met Jun's as he finished, waiting to see what she would say.
"Do you know where these places are?" Jun was surprised at the emotion in her own voice.
Frost smiled lightly. "The location of these places is highly restricted information. But, due to some negligence some time ago, I do have an idea of where one of them might be. I was hoping that through you, I'd be able to narrow the field a little."
"Yes! I'm sure I could! Nambu Hakase has access to all of the ISO's information networks, and I'm sure once he hears about all this that he'd be happy to help. I know we'd all want to help on this." Jun found herself incredibly excited by the idea. To somehow strike a blow to Galactor in a way that would save lives without having to wait for the organization to have started taking them. To actually take the initiative for once and do something on their own rather than just respond to Galactor's newest threat.
The half whisper brought her up short. "What?"
"Swan, I'm taking a great risk just by being here. I'm sure that our munitions plant is already under suspicion and I'm pretty certain that I have been followed since I left there. I can't take the risk of revealing myself to the ISO. There are leaks everywhere and this is just too important for me to risk it needlessly." He stood up, his gaze never leaving hers. "Not only is there the chance that Galactor might inadvertently learn too early of my plan, but once indebted to the ISO, they wouldn't let me go."
Jun shook her head. "The ISO knows nothing about you. I kept you as vague as possible in my debriefings and Hakase didn't press the point. No one would have any idea that you were once the commander of a Galactor base."
"Wouldn't they?" Frost looked at her with disbelief. "If you were a resource concerned executive in the ISO, wouldn't you start questioning who the upstart was who was using up so many of the organizations' resources? Why it was all being done on his say so? Where and how did he come up with the information if it was true? Could he be a Galactor traitor or something else? What other useful information might he have gained that could be used? He could be a spy - this project a trap. He should be held until his trustworthiness is verified. No G-3, it's you or nothing." He stepped closer, his face open. "Will you help me?"
Jun turned away, trying to hide her indecision in the darkness about them.
Should she help him? Her options had seemed so clear just a moment before. But to help him, she'd have to keep secrets from her friends, her family, even possibly sneak sensitive information out of headquarters. Could she live with that? Were the benefits of what he proposed worth it?
"All right, I'll do it." She sensed him move to her side.
"Thank you. I know it's not easy for you, and I appreciate it." Frost placed his hand gently beneath Jun's chin and softly lifted it until he could stare clearly into her eyes. "Though if you truly feel that uncomfortable about doing it, don't. There are others ways I could get what I need."
Jun turned away, pulling her chin from his grasp, not quite sure if she was pleased or not that he was willing to let her go in this way. Not understanding his reasons, displeasure won. "I said I would help you and I meant it! Are you going to tell me what you need or not?"
Jun heard Frost softly chuckle behind her.
"Okay, okay. You win!"
Jun glanced back at him sharply, only to find Frost with a smile on his face and his hands in the air. She frowned at this, which only made his smile grow wider.
Abruptly he turned serious again. "If you can, please see if you can get some detailed photographs around these coordinates." Frost pulled out a piece of paper and handed it over to her. "Somewhere in that area is hidden one of Galactor's compounds. I'm hoping some satellite photographs will help me pin it down."
"I'll do what I can."
Frost moved closer nodding and put his hands lightly on Jun's shoulders. His eyes stared into her visored face. "I'm really glad I've gotten the chance to see you again."
With him so close, his eyes peering deeply into hers, Jun abruptly forgot about her displeasure and everything else. "I... I'm glad too."
"Has anyone ever told you what a vision you truly are?"
Jun forced her eyes to look away as a hot flush rose to her cheeks. She became only too aware of the two warm hands resting so easily on her shoulders. A light tingle of rising goose pimples coursed through her from there. "I - I really should be going... Jinpei will be coming home soon and will worry if I'm not there."
Jun tried to draw away a little and Frost let her. She pressed her lips together, hard, as the sudden burning memory of their first kiss rose unbidden to tease her in the darkness. Her shoulders felt cold where his hands had been, and she felt the sudden need to put them back again. Jun held herself back.
Frost placed his arms within the folds of his cloak, almost as if he had the same desire and was fighting against the temptation.
Jun shook her head, knowing it was only her imagination. "How should, how should I contact you once I've gotten the information?" She kept her eyes anywhere but looking directly at him.
"I will call you and let you know where to meet me. It's much too dangerous any other way." His eyes were veiled. "It might be a day or two, four at the most. I have no intention of endangering your cover or your life."
He turned away to go and suddenly Jun found herself wishing for him not to. "Is there really that much danger?"
Frost turned back to face her, and even though he hadn't gone far, he stood almost entirely enshrouded by darkness. "I've been followed ever since I left the vicinity of my lands." He shrugged. "Though I doubt they know me for who I really am, it has made obvious the fact that suspicions on our operations are higher than we'd hoped. I hadn't really tried to lose them until this evening. I believe I succeeded, but I don't want to underestimate them. Some of them are really very good."
For a moment, it occurred to Jun to wonder if perhaps Frost might be understating his situation for her benefit. "Please, be careful."
"Always, Beautiful One, always." He turned away and was swallowed by the night.
A mixture of unseparable feelings running chaotically through her, Jun waited in the tense silence for several minutes before making her own departure from the pavilion.
Reaching her cycle after painstakingly making sure that she was not being watched or followed, she checked it for any tampering and then got on. Chiding herself at the sudden bout of paranoia, she glanced about one last time and then started up the cycle to head on a roundabout way for home.
Ryu and Jinpei had spent some time prowling through the park trying to find where their errant team member had gone. Jinpei was fuming inside, knowing that if he didn't find his sister soon, he would be too late to get into whatever she was up to.
Already, he had glanced at and dismissed the far off pavilion in the center of the park. The location was too obvious and so it had gone to the bottom of his quickly thinning list. The clumped up areas of trees were his main concern, but there were so blasted many of them! To get through them faster, he would have split them between himself and Ryu, but he no longer trusted his somewhat unwilling partner to stick to business if left on his own.
Jinpei rushed on to the next set of shadow enshrouded trees, leaving Ryu to catch up at his own pace. He spotted a possible sign of movement along the area's edge. A sense of gratified victory filled his veins as he rushed to narrow in on what he'd seen. Soon his sister would have no choice but to let him in on her scheme. He ran faster as he could almost taste his reward.
"Ha! Gotcha!" He burst in from behind. "Let me in on this neechan or - uh - er..." Jinpei stuttered to a stop as he saw the shadowed figure before him snap around to face him. It wasn't his sister at all.
"Oh man, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you. I -" Jinpei froze as his eyes noted the moonlight glint off a large gun that was now pointed directly at his chest. For the first time, Jinpei noticed that the person he'd surprised was dressed in a dark coat, his face shadowed by a wide, dark brimmed hat.
With a rising eyebrow, Jinpei wondered at just what he had stumbled into and for the merest fraction of a moment, regretted having followed his sister out here. But wait, couldn't this guy be part of the reason his sister had come here in the first place?
"Okay, kid, what are you doing out here?"
"Gee, I'm sorry, mister. Me and my sister are playing hide-n-seek," He gave the man his best innocent voice. "I thought you were her." Jinpei couldn't tell if he was falling for it or not. He also hoped the guy wouldn't be smart enough to ask him why in the world he and his sister would be playing hide-n-seek at this time of night. "Hey, have you seen her around?" Jinpei took a seemingly innocent step forward. "Gee, is that a real gun?"
The man took a step back not letting him get close. "Get your hands up where I can see them."
Jinpei grimaced, realizing the guy knew what he was about. He was just wondering what ploy to try next when the decision was taken from him.
A loud sound built up in their direction just before large form burst out at them from the trees. The gunman turned away from Jinpei to meet the new threat head on.
"Oops!" Ryu came to a startled and abrupt stop finding a gun pointed towards his face.
"Yeah!" Jinpei took the offered opportunity and leapt up and kicked the distracted gunman in the face.
Both the man and his gun fell like wet sacks of grain to the ground.
"Thanks, Ryu, that was great! Just what I needed."
"What's going on? Who is this guy?" Ryu stared at his younger partner obviously confused.
Jinpei shrugged. "I don't know. But it'll be fun finding out, right?"
Moving the high caliber gun out of the gunman's reach, Jinpei knelt down and took the belt from the oversized coat and used it to tie the gunman's hands behind his back. Undoing the buttons on the coat, he opened it wide. Within, the gunman was dressed as darkly as without. Something red flashed momentarily in the moonlight from his chest as Jinpei rocked him to get at his back pockets. Jinpei looked over to see what it was, and found a familiar pin on the man's tie. He gasped in shocked surprise. "This guy's Galactor! Look at his tie pin! I told you neechan was trying to pull one over on us, didn't I?" There was a note of triumph to his voice.
Ryu frowned, for the first time worried, even as Jinpei went back to searching their captive. About five feet away, Ryu spotted a tripod unobtrusively sitting between a couple of low bushes at the tree line. Moving towards it, he never heard the low moan that escaped the Galactor's lips.
Jinpei stiffened, hearing the man groan beneath him. Glancing up at his face and seeing that his eyes were still closed, he decided to ignore it and keep on with what he was doing.
Jinpei looked up again, startled by the almost incoherent murmur.
Jinpei waited wide eyed, listening for more, the two normally unrelated words circling around in his head.
"Jin - Jinpei, I found her!"
The two words still on his mind, Jinpei left their captive and rushed to his friend's side.
He found Ryu leaning forward looking through a scope mounted on a tripod. Glancing at it, Jinpei whistled softly in appreciation as he realized it was a top of the line light intensifying scope. It was pointed directly at the pavilion he'd so far had decided to ignore. "There? She actually went there?"
Ryu moved aside to let him take a look through the scope. It made the view into the pavilion as clear as it would have been in full daylight.
"Ryu, there's somebody there with her!" Gatchaman... Defector... The two words still spun dizzily in his head as Jinpei moved the scope ever so slightly to get a better look. Ryu tapped him on the shoulder wanting to take a look at the stranger, but Jinpei didn't seem to get the hint.
"Ryu, see, I was right. She did come to meet that guy from the Snack J! But she's in her uniform. Why would she come to see him in that? Hey! Why is he holding her that way!"
"What? Let me see!"
Jinpei moved unthinkingly out of the way, too stunned by what he'd seen. The vision and the words merged into the spinning as he stared towards the far off pavilion. His face wrinkled with growing confusion even as Ryu hunkered down for a look.
"You're right, it is him! Wait a - darn, he's moved." Ryu's hand rose to mess with the scope. "I can't find him again. Jinpei, I think he's gone."
"Is neechan still there?" He was still staring off into the distance.
"Uh, yeah. She's not doing anything though. She's just standing there."
A subtle snap behind them made the two of them turn around. It took them both a moment to realize that the supposedly unconscious Galactor was gone.
"I thought you made sure he was out," Ryu said.
"I did make sure, okay? Is it my fault that nobody's acting like they're supposed to today?"
Ryu stared in open mouthed amazement at the unexpected vehemence in his young friend's voice even as Jinpei stomped off into the trees.
Jun awoke, sunlight flooding over her. A slight smile played on her lips as Frost's handsome image was the first thing that came to her groggy mind. She got up and glanced out the widow and suddenly frowned. What time was it? Her eyes darted to the clock by her bed side - it read 9:08am. She was late!
A flurry of motion, Jun rushed to get dressed.
Everything had worked out all right after her meeting with Frost last night. When she'd gotten home, Jinpei hadn't gotten back yet so she'd been saved the necessity of having to lie to him about where she'd been.
Jun rushed into the bathroom to brush her teeth wondering how many customers she'd missed out on that morning. Since Jinpei hadn't come in until after she'd returned, she knew he would sleep late into the morning - especially since it wasn't his turn to open up.
Stumbling down the hall as she tried to put on her shoes and run at the same time, Jun hurried down the stairs hoping to salvage what little was left of the morning.
As she dashed out of the stairwell towards the front door of the shop, Jun stopped in stunned surprise as she spotted several people sitting at the counter and a few others in nearby booths. All the shop's shutters were raised high, the morning sunshine pouring in to warm the place. The open sign had been flipped over on the front door.
Dumbfounded, Jun turned back around slowly and automatically returned the few greetings that were thrown her way by some of the regular customers at the counter. Not sure what was going on, she pushed open the door to the kitchen almost afraid of what she might find there.
Jun stopped halfway through the doorway and blinked not believing what she saw there. She watched in wonder as he brother scurried back and forth expertly keeping an eye on someone's cooking breakfast even as he loaded on more toast on the way to wash more dishes. Jun's brow furrowed slowly, as Jinpei finally came to notice her standing there and instantly stopped all he'd been doing to give her a very odd stare.
"Good morning, nee-san." His eyes didn't meet hers and he turned away to continue with all he'd been doing before.
Neesan? He never called her that. "Good morning, Jinpei... I'm sorry I overslept. I forgot to set my alarm."
"No problem." He didn't even glance at her, but continued with his work as if she weren't there.
Jun's frown grew. "Jinpei?"
"Hakase called this morning. He wants a meeting in his office around two."
Jun moved towards him but he moved away, breaking a couple of eggs over the grill.
"If you'll hold the fort for another couple of minutes, I'll call Kathy and see if she'll come in this afternoon."
"I already have. She'll be in before one."
"Oh." Jun stood absolutely still, her entire concentration focused on her brother. Though she wasn't sure, she couldn't stab away the feeling that Jinpei was somehow furious with her. "Are you mad at me? Did I forget something else, or are you just sore for having had to open up for me this morning?"
Jinpei said nothing.
"You could have just left it. Left me to learn my own lesson the hard way. I would have deserved it." Jun bit her lip. "It wasn't my intention to put you out."
"You didn't. All right?"
Jun could only stare as Jinpei screamed at her, something she'd never experience from him before. He was so angry. "Jinpei..." She could find no words to say as he abruptly dropped what he'd been doing and stormed out the door.
Jun stared the way he'd gone and was about to go rushing after him when the hiss and smell of burning eggs grabbed for her attention.
Taking care of the food as quickly as possible, Jun carried out the orders hoping that Jinpei was there. He wasn't.
Unable to get away since she was the only one there, Jun was forced to put the incident aside until Kathy arrived in the afternoon.
Less than ten minutes after Kathy had arrived, Jun excused herself and headed upstairs. With uncertainty knotting her stomach, her worry stirred by the fact she couldn't put together what had made her brother so upset, she moved to their living quarters.
Jun first checked Jinpei's room but he wasn't there. Room by room she searched the rest of the living area, though a part of her already knew she wouldn't find him.
He'd have to go to the meeting -- Hakase would have his hide if he didn't. She would catch up to him there. The decision made, Jun headed back downstairs to the garage. Her vehicle was the only one there. At some point, Jinpei must have sneaked past her to make his getaway. Wondering more than ever why he had done all that, Jun started up her cycle and headed off towards the ISO building.
Parking in the underground garage once she'd arrived, Jun rushed up the stairs to the lobby the time being close to two. Her worry for her brother had only increased and she felt a burning need to see him.
Opening the door to Nambu's office, Jun instantly noticed that the rest of the team was already there. She hesitated though, as she got the feeling that everything wasn't all right.
Nambu sat at his desk as expected, riffling busily through his endless mountain of paperwork as he waited for them all to arrive. Joe had taken his usual place against the wall, Ken sitting not too far from him leaning back in one of the comfortable chairs.
The anomaly didn't lay with any of them, but with the remaining two members of the team. Uncharacteristically, Ryu and Jinpei were sitting as far apart from one another as the room would allow. Ryu looked overtly subdued and seemed engrossed in a new hobby - staring intently at the carpeted floor. Jinpei looked as bubbly as normal, happily keeping a conversation going between him and Ken, but his eyes, as they'd momentarily moved to look at her as she'd come in, had been devoid of anything.
His stare had sent an inexplicable chill down Jun's spine. Never had she seen him look like that. Never had he behaved in this manner before. Something was terribly, terribly wrong and she had no idea what it was!
Jun felt several pairs of eyes turn to her as she inadvertently continued standing in the open doorway. Her eyes drifted towards Ken, as she forced herself to move, wondering if he might have any idea what this was all about.
"Thank you all for making it here." Nambu stood up from the desk and came around to talk to them. "I realize that this meeting was set up with rather short notice and may have proved inconvenient for some of you. Unfortunately, it was something that couldn't wait."
Joe humphed quietly from where he leaned against the wall; clearly giving his opinion on Nambu's statement. Everyone else ignored it. Jun was glad that at least one thing seemed to be going on about normal for the day.
"I've called you in because there have been reports of Galactor activity here in Utoland."
Jun noted with curiosity that Nambu's eyes had strayed momentarily in Jinpei's direction as he spoke.
"Things have been quiet for some time with no major offensives having been launched in several weeks. That Galactor operatives have been spotted here, at this time, may mean that they are getting ready to strike, possible at the city itself." Nambu pushed his rimless glasses further up the bridge of his nose. "I want all of you to keep your eyes open and remain on call. If we're to thwart whatever it is that they're up to before they go too far, the sooner we find out about it the better."
Ken piped up, voicing the question that had come up to most of their minds. "Any idea at all what they might be up to now?"
"No - at least, nothing truly conclusive so far. We do know they are here, but not what they're after. All available agents have been alerted and are even now looking for clues of what their present agenda might be. As soon as anything solid is confirmed you'll all be immediately informed." Nambu moved to return to his chair.
"This is all you called us in here for? Geez, what a waste!" Joe pushed himself away from the wall in disgust.
Nambu's stern gaze turned in his direction. "I realize this is somewhat unusual, but there is cause. Though we have nothing on which to substantiate the assumption, several people are of the belief that Galactor's present activities may revolve around you five. It's thought that the organization may be making a full fledged effort to try and figure out the civilian identities of the Gatchaman team. Once they have that information, it would be quite simple to get each of you alone and dispose of you."
Nambu now had the full attention of everyone in the room.
Ken stood up. "But Hakase, if they are looking for us, wouldn't it have been a mistake to have us come here for this meeting?"
"Normally that would be the case, except part of the reason for this meeting was to ascertain if any of you were already being followed." Nambu sat down. "Agents were sent to each of your locations and monitored you from remote stations to ascertain whether there was anyone following you or not. So far this doesn't seem to be the case." He leaned back in his chair, his gaze scanning their faces, his eyes cold.
"It's much easier to be alert and ready for a fight in a scenario that has already been established for you. It's quite another matter when someone decides to take a shot at you crossing the street on your way home from the market.
"Now that you've been alerted, you can keep your eyes open and enable us to either mislead their attempts to uncover your identities or possibly capture them while they're at it. Already a number of measures have been put into play to help with this." Nambu paused a moment.
"Anything that looks out of the ordinary is not to be ignored or acted upon by any of you independently. Continue your normal routines and check on each other. If something does show up, notify me immediately." Nambu straightened up in his chair and dismissed them all with a nod.
"But, hakase, who's seen Galactor? Why do they believe that this is what's going on?" Ken stared at Nambu, his bafflement plain for all to see.
"I'm sorry, but that is all I can say on the subject. Please leave, I have a lot of work to do." Nambu's gaze never left his papers as he lifted a pen and made notations on them.
Ken and Joe exchanged confused glances before deciding to head for the door.
Jun stood up, looking at Jinpei, only to have him shy away from her. She thought hard of trying to intercept him, when she again noticed Ryu's subdued attitude. Remembering that the two of them had been out together last night, Jun hung back and decided to try to speak with him instead.
"Ryu?" Jun bit her lip as he stopped at her querry but didn't look up at her. "Are you okay?" Her concern for him escalated as she noticed the dark lines hanging beneath his eyes.
Ryu made as if to go, but Jun stopped him by gently taking hold of his arm.
"Ryu, what's going on? This isn't like you. Did you and Jinpei have problems last night?" It momentarily occurred to her to wonder if possibly they'd been the ones who'd spotted the Galactors. If they had though, what would it have to do with the way they were acting?
"We, we had a falling out yesterday. A disagreement."
"You two have disagreements all the time. But you're acting as if you two were no longer friends." Even as she said it, Jun felt Ryu cringe under her touch. With a cold feeling in her heart, she knew she was on the right track. "Maybe I can help. Tell me what happened."
Jun saw his gaze rise but not to look at her. Following his line of sight, Jun noticed Jinpei staring back at them from down the hall, his young, angular face stern. Noticing her scrutiny, he instantly disappeared around the bend.
"It, it wasn't anything, Jun," Ryu said. "He and I just have a - a difference of opinion, that's all. It's, it's nothing to worry about."
Every part of her screamed that all that he'd said was not entirely true. Thinking of Jinpei's actions that morning, Jun decided to gamble on a hunch. "Ryu, does this argument have anything to do with me?"
Jun watched, fascinated despite herself, as feelings of guilt, horror, and surprise all filtered through Ryu's wide, expressive features.
"I - I gotta go. My, my thing is burning and I need to shut it off and I can't wait please I'll see you later bye!" His words ran together even as he pulled away.
Jun stared at him as he almost ran in his eagerness to get away from her question. She stared down the hallway for almost a minute after he'd gone, not really any closer to finding out what was going on other than it somehow had to do something with her. For a moment, she considered going back into Nambu's office and asking him what he knew about it. She dropped the idea almost as soon as it came to her, recalling the doctor's odd mood today and his hurry to get them all out. If Jinpei was somehow the cause for this impromptu meeting, Nambu hadn't said so and he wouldn't only if he had cause. But what on earth would Galactor have to do with her and Jinpei's problems with Ryu? Was she just making out more of this than was there?
The silent hallway revealed no answers to her. Jun knew only too well that there was only one person who could shed light on what was going on, and he obviously wasn't willing.
Sighing deeply and hoping that Jinpei would go home so she could try to find out anyway, Jun started off towards the far off elevator. She'd gone only a short distance when she remembered the promise of information that she'd made Frost last night.
Frost... Something else to worry about. Could the Galactor sightings then be connected with him?
Shaking her head, Jun changed her originally planned route and took the elevator to sub-level two rather than the lobby. Passing through several security stations, Jun came into a room filled with row after row of computer memory banks.
The whole purpose of this area before the conflict with Galactor began was for the processing and analyzing of continuous weather satellite information. After the first attack by the organization, the satellites and their data had been used for many more purposes than just the prediction of weather patterns.
All the information from the satellites, once it was analyzed and converted into its different categories were left in memory for a day and then condensed into various forms and stored in computer tapes and microfiche.
Though requesting the data from the computers would be easier, Jun regrettably continued on past the terminals available at the end of the room, knowing only too well that all access would be well documented.
Leaving the room, and its loud but barely noticed halon gas warning sign, Jun moved out into the hallway beyond the heavy metal door to the almost hidden microfiche library.
Never before having had a need to come here, Jun moved slowly down the aisles of filled shelves looking for a current set of microfiche. Finally finding the box she was looking for, Jun then searched for the set marked with the range containing the coordinates Frost had given her. She took them over to the reader by the door.
Scrolling through the pictures inside, Jun quickly found the area Frost was interested in. From the quick look she took of what they showed, there didn't seem to be much in the large forlorn area. Putting the machine on highest magnification, Jun had the reader make her hard copies of the grid. Just in case, she made copies of the area immediately surrounding Frost's coordinates as well.
Jun returned the microfiche to their proper box, and then she rolled the copies of the microfiche up and stuck them into one of the secret pockets in her pants.
As Jun signed out through the last guard station, she felt a strange sensation prickling at the back of her neck. Turning around, she caught the barest glimpse of a short, brown hared figure. "Jinpei?"
Jun ran after him, suddenly nervous at seeing him there. Had he been following her? But why would he do that? And if he had seen her looking at the microfiche, what had he made of it?
The figure she'd seen proved to be too elusive. Though she'd not gotten a really good look, her heart insisted it ‘d been her brother. Jun tried to raise him through the wrist communicator but Jinpei didn't return her call. It only made her feel even more uneasy than she had before.
There had to be something she could do about all this weirdness. It was just going too far! Dead certain she had to do something, yet still not entirely sure how she'd explain it all, Jun used her communicator again.
"Ken, it's Jun. I - I have a favor to ask of you."
"Sure, what do you need?"
Jun found herself hesitating, suddenly unsure if she should proceed with her half backed scheme. "I need for you to call everyone and have them meet for dinner at the Snack J - a small meeting, to discuss what Nambu spoke to us about this afternoon."
There was a long pause before Ken responded. "That's... not a bad idea... but I take it you've actually got some other agenda in mind?"
"Uh - yeah - um - Jinpei and Ryu have had some sort of falling out and I was hoping that if I could bring them together maybe I could get them to work things out." Come on Ken, believe it, believe it!
"Now that you mention it, I did notice that the two of the seemed out of sorts today. So, sure, I'll arrange a meeting. Besides, I don't think getting together and talking about this afternoon's meeting would hurt either."
"Thanks, I really appreciate this. Shall we meet around six?"
"No problem. I'll call the others right away. See you."
At least one thing seemed to be going her way. If she was lucky, she might be able to get to the root of Jinpei's problem before she was contacted by Frost.With a lighter step, Jun headed towards the building's garage.