Jinpei shivered, trying to pull the blanket tighter around him, but for some reason he couldn't get a good grip. Grumbling, he hoped onee-chan or one of the guys hadn't pranked him. It was too cold for stealing covers.
Then the stench hit him. Gagging, he sat up, staring as he realized a lack of covers was the least of his troubles. What the hell was he doing in this run-down place? His bed was a pile of rags, and in the dim light he could see other small forms huddled here and there.
Was he on a mission? He raised his wrist to check in, but found himself staring at the bare skin he found instead of his bracelet. K'so, this just got better and better. His clothes were wrong, too. Instead of stripped pants and a numbered shirt, he was dressed in torn jeans and two layers of shirts that had seen better days.
How long had he been missing? Sure that his siblings were looking for him, Jinpei stood and crept from the room. No one stirred as he made his way outside, where he found the overcast day as dreary as the boarded-up building.
In better light, he saw that he didn't even have a tan line where his bracelet should be. A chill swept through him, but he assured himself it was just the crappy day, and probably a cold breeze. After looking up and down the street, he decided the busier part of town was to the right, so he headed that way. The sooner he figured out where he was and why he was here, the better.
At least he could see he was headed toward a better part of town. As he walked, the run-down buildings gave way to nice paint jobs and fancy awnings. There were more people, too, and they were dressed nicer. It was almost like he'd left a world of black and white and stumbled into one with color.
Keeping an eye out for onee-chan and his brothers, he kept moving. So far nothing sparked a memory. The town was pretty generic, its people off in their own little worlds, not even noticing him dressed practically in rags as they shopped and went on with their lives.
After an hour of searching, he was just plain getting depressed. That and hungry. With no money in his pockets and no leads, he plunked onto a bench, pondering his next move. He realized after a bit that he was sitting in front of a movie theater. Curious, he got up and went to look at the posters. Maybe he could sneak in and catch a show.
As he worked down the line of promo posters, he shuddered, finding the first three to be plastered with pastel colors and lovey-dovey couples. Yuck. Then he saw the next one and let out a shocked squeak, falling on his ass.
Staring at him, large as life, was aniki's bright blue eyes. Their fearless leader had adopted a tough guy pose and roguish grin, the poster proclaiming in huge type that Ken Washio was the star of "Never Say Never." From the explosions in the poster's background, the film looked promising, but even if it looked mushy and kissy Jinpei would have snuck in anyway just to figure out what the hell was going on.
Being a descendant of the Iga Ninja, he had no trouble sneaking in. Trying to ignore the tantalizing smell of popcorn, he found the right theater and slunk into a seat. The movie had already started, and he quickly found himself gawking at his aniki on the big screen, totally pulling off the whole action hero bit.
Of course, fight scenes wouldn't be hard for Gatchaman, but aniki's fighting style was different here. There was no birdstyle or cape, and his moves were a lot showier. Jinpei supposed that's what they wanted for the movies. He could see, though, that while the other actors were kind of faking it, aniki really knew what he was doing.
Just as he was really getting into the movie, aniki rescued some bikini-clad babe. Knowing his big brother, Jinpei grinned, totally expecting his trademark shy stammering or total cluelessness.
"Ace," she breathed, chest heaving, "I didn't think you'd come. Not after the way I betrayed you."
"I knew you didn't mean it," he said, sliding a hand around her waist and pulling her close. "They have your family, don't they?"
Jinpei was glad he didn't have a drink or food. He was pretty sure he would have choked at the way steam was practically rising between the two of them.
"How could I possibly repay you?" She bit her lip, twisting coyly.
"I can think of a few ways." Aniki lifted the buxom actress, flashing a grin every bit as roguish as the one on the poster, and carried her off.
Girls all around Jinpei started swooning. One of them grumbled, "I can't believe he's dating that singer. What does he see in her?"
A guy next to the girl said, "Legs that go for miles? Those amazing eyes?"
Jinpei heard someone get smacked. He'd seen — and heard — enough. Now he really needed to know what was going on. Quietly, he slipped from the theater, pondering where he might find out more.
Was he stuck in some kind of Galactor trick? Were they trying to get him to confirm everyone's identities?
Rubbing his empty wrist, he realized that if Galactor had him, he was in big trouble if they knew they had the Swallow. So were the others. Still, his only clue now was that somehow the Eagle was a movie action hero and he was dating some musician.
He needed a TV, or a newspaper. Or … Jinpei grinned, spotting an Internet cafe. Even better. With no money, he was forced to lurk and wait for someone to leave before their paid time was up. Then he took their seat, immediately searching for information on that movie and its actors, trying not to make it obvious that he was focusing on Ken Washio.
It didn't take long for his jaw to drop again. There, staring at him from a huge picture on an entertainment gossip site, was aniki with his arm around onee-chan's small waist. Jinpei would know that black hair with its green glint anywhere, even if he'd never imagined his sister dressed in black leather trimmed with green and glinting with silver accents.
And all that makeup! At least they looked … happy?
He checked her name. Jun. Just Jun. Web searches on her revealed articles about her growing up in an orphanage, and that a portion of all of her music sales went to an orphans' foundation. No mention of finding a little brother anywhere.
Eyes stinging with tears, he dug more into Ken Washio. Articles talked about him losing his father in some war, his mother to some awful, wasting sickness, and then his foster father …
Jinpei couldn't breathe. The article talked about Dr. Nambu taking in aniki and Joe-aniki, both orphaned. Then he died a couple of years later in some lab accident. Losing three parents, the article claimed, was the reason aniki had been in and out of drug rehab for years. His foster brother Joe, it said, had problems with alcohol.
The time ran out on his terminal. Jinpei was forced to stand back and wait for someone else to leave early. Could Galactor really know this much? He rubbed his arms, cold, and realized everyone else was taking off their coats.
Hakase was dead. That was bad enough, but knowing Jun had never found her little brother had Jinpei's hands shaking. He didn't dare let himself think, making himself focus on finding more computer time, and jumping at the chance when he spotted it.
Rather than looking for himself, he turned to Joe-aniki. For the first time since he entered the cafe, the search results had him busting out laughing, and it took him a moment to realize no one noticed. A chill ran through him as he reached out, waving his hand in front of someone's face.
Swallowing thickly, Jinpei went back to his reading. This couldn't be right. Another search took him to actual footage, and he snagged someone's headphones, jaw dropping again as he watched the mighty Condor play "Dirk," a hunky — if slightly cheesy — Latin trouble-maker on the soap opera "As The Word Burns."
So the Eagle was an action star and the Condor was a soap opera star? Despite everything, Jinpei started giggling again. Once he figured out what in the hell was going on, he was going to milk this information for all it was worth. Too bad he didn't have a memory stick on him. He'd love to save the results of all these searches.
Now there were only two people left. Biting his lip, he wondered if he dared search for Ryu by name. If this was a trap, Galactor might be waiting for him to offer that little tidbit.
Not wanting to risk giving any information, Jinpei tried searching on things Ryu might have done. He finally hit pay-dirt by searching on Sumo wrestling. There was Ryu, larger than ever, wearing a massive grin to go with his massive championship belt.
Jinpei smiled. He looked so happy. Most of them looked happy, really, aside from all the rehab stuff. And he'd always known aniki and onee-chan belonged together. There was no surprise they'd found each other even without Hakase's help.
But that left only one person. Unable to face looking for himself just yet, Jinpei searched on Galactor. He was surprised to find them mentioned as a minor crime organization, who'd started to rise and become a real threat until a terrible accident took out their entire leadership.
An accident took out both Hakase and Katse? Maybe there was some justice in the universe. That left Jinpei with just himself, though. Wincing, he started by searching on his orphanage and the Iga ninja. He'd almost given up until he spotted onee-chan's name.
Apparently in some interview, she talked about going to his orphanage, but that she had to put off her original visit because she came down with some awful flu. Instead, she went there weeks later. Jinpei realized with another awful chill that she'd found him in the woods and saved his life.
But she wasn't there in time. He must have …
Shaking, Jinpei stood. There was only one way to be sure. He let out a scream, running around the cafe.
No one reacted. Wherever he was, in this place onee-chan never found him. Dead. He was dead, just a ghost.
Was he trapped here? Feeling numb, he shambled out of the cafe, going back to the movie theater. He wandered until he found a music store, and set up the stereo system to play his onee-chan's latest album. Feeling less alone, he curled up in a corner, eventually drifting off to sleep.
Someone was shaking his shoulder. Jinpei jerked, finding himself staring right into his sister's amused gaze.
"Sleepy-head, you should get up. We were planning to see a movie today, right?"
"Onee-chan!" Jinpei shrieked with joy, wrapping his arms tightly around her.
She let out a squeak and fell onto the bed. Laughing, she hugged him back. "You're happy to be awake? Are you all right? Did you fall and hit your head or something?"
Looking around, he saw that everything was how he'd left it. That meant …
He grinned, so relieved that he hadn't lost his family, he was almost dizzy. "I had the craziest dream."
Jinpei gleefully told her all about it.
Jinpei couldn't stop smiling. He and onee-chan were having a blast. He'd made a decadent breakfast, and now they were dancing around the Snack J, pretending they were rock stars.
The door opened and Ken and Joe arrived, and the moment Jinpei saw them, he started snickering. That started his sister giggling. Soon the both of them were laughing, barely able to stand.
His big brothers stared down at them, then gave each other long-suffering looks.
"Do we want to know?" Joe-aniki grumbled, watching them suspiciously.
"Probably not," said Ken, looking them over. "Hey, are we going to the movies or what?"
Jinpei had almost pulled himself together. Then his onee-chan spoke.
"Sure thing, Ace …"
That did it. Jinpei fell over, rolling on the floor and laughing so hard his sides hurt. His sister joined him, giggling crazily.
Joe threw his hands in the air. "Forget it. If they're not coming, we get to see an action flick. Let's go."
"Sure Dirk … or a soap opera …" Jun managed to get out before she completely lost it.
For once Jinpei didn't mind that his three aniki left the two of them behind. As far as he was concerned, this day was for him and his onee-chan. That was, if the two of them could stop laughing and pick themselves up off the floor.
And all thanks to a crappy dream.