RETURN OF THE SPACE COWBOY: PART TWO



Tokyo was such a massive city. Nami felt like she could walk into every arcade in all the city’s nooks and crannies and still she wouldn’t have seen even a fraction of it.

With what little money they had, Arashi and Nami rarely left their district. Nami didn’t want to admit it to herself, but as she waited in her seat on the train to Minato, she knew that Arashi was the sole reason they could even afford to go in the first place.

She played with her hair as she sat between two large businessman.

The train was very crowded, and unfortunately for her, they traveled so infrequently that Nami was not at all used to it. She shifted from the discomfort of being so close to these square-shouldered men.

A few feet in front of her, Arashi stood silently. Hand on the train bar, he was almost like a statue in both expression and posture.

Like all Music Masters, Nami could clearly hear the sound of music coming from his headphones. Whatever Japanese rock he had playing, it never seemed like he ever actually enjoyed the music, and she could only wonder if he was just mentally preparing himself for any trials to come.

Craning her neck ever so slightly, Nami tried to distract herself with the cityscape behind her. Her brother insisted that she not listen to music on the train ride.

She relented, but it still annoyed her beyond words that he had so little faith in her self control.

In another twenty minutes, they would be at their destination. The bullet train moved so smoothly despite its high speed.

Meanwhile, Arashi seemed beyond confident that they would have the job and be on their way to America by the end of the day.

Nami leaned back as her mind drifted. From what she remembered, this had all started when Arashi had borrowed a significant amount of money from the Osaka-based Ensemble known as God Symphony. It’s all that had been keeping them afloat for the last few months. Now, God Symphony was expecting full repayment of said loan.

But there was a way out of their problem, and it was undeniably simple.

If they successfully captured one of the most dangerous Trackmasters in North America, then that would be enough to make all their problems disappear.

Simple, but certainly not easy.

Even Nami wasn’t so arrogant to think otherwise.


“Don’t say anything.”

She of course had initially balked at the notion, but Arashi insisted before they’d even gotten to the street corner.

“I mean that, Nami. Don’t say a single word.”

That had been Arashi’s single request of her once they had arrived at the Zero Beat Symphon in Minato. Situated underneath the prefecture headquarters of EMI Music itself, it represented Zero Beat’s largest powerbase in the entire country.

Once they’d made it inside the main foyer, the doormen seemed to instantly recognize who they were. And once they were accounted for, a young lady graciously welcomed them both, before leading them to an elevator that previously housed music stars and executives alike.

A plastic smile remained on their escort’s face as Arashi and Nami stood by.

With a quick motion, she pressed the elevator buttons in an odd, abstract formation. Once finished, their metallic surface glowed a faded teal, before the elevator itself descended with sudden speed.

Nami grabbed onto one of the hand holds nearby in reaction to the drop, but her brother seemed unaffected. He kept his perfect posture until the elevator finally came to a halt.

Slowly, it opened, and the lady leading them beckoned to be followed. Like most Symphons, the wall, floor and ceiling seemed to be made of a white and pristine surface, giving the place a sterile atmosphere.

It was a good five minute walk to the staging area for those waiting to meet with the resident Fourth Beat. Fortunately for the Nagataki siblings, the receptionist simply nodded at their escort once they arrived. Without words, the trio was allowed to pass.

Around the corner of the hall, they stopped in front of a large white door belonging to the office of the Fourth Beat. It easily stood out with its distinctly gold design of the initials “ZB” emblazoned on it.

“The interested party is here.” said their escort over a small intercom next to the door.

“Let them through.”

The voice on the other line was gravelly, but clearly feminine. It almost sounded like she didn’t want to let them in.

Nevertheless, the door shifted upward into the grand space ahead.

Seeing that her task was done, the lady who had been leading them bowed quickly out of respect, before making her way out of the hall in the other direction.

They looked at each other for a moment, as if about to enter some unknown oblivion. But despite any doubts, Nami and Arashi entered.

The room was enormous, and there were but two small white seats set up for their comfort. In front of them stood three towering amplifier speakers, each at least over fifteen feet high.

From what the Nagataki siblings could see, the entire atmosphere of the room mirrored that of a stage.

Spotlights shined on the seats they were expected to sit in, and the central tower was illuminated to the very top, where the Fourth Beat of Tokyo herself sat.

As the Nagataki siblings took their seats, Arashi shot one more look to remind Nami of his one expectation of her. This was a crucial time, and they couldn’t afford rashness on her part.

Unfortunately, there was little time for them think. Up above in a throne atop the speaker-tower, her hands worn from the years, the older Japanese woman addressed Arashi in a stern tone of voice.

“A pleasure to meet you. From what I understand, you’ve come to make an offer to Zero Beat.”

Despite her aura of intimidation, Arashi’s tone was as succinct as always.

“We’re here for Rob Prototype, of course. American Zero Beat has made it obvious they prefer him to be taken in by foreign Music Masters, so they can have deniability. We’re here to offer our services in his capture.”

Up above, the woman adjusted her glasses as she read over the file on both Nagataki siblings. It detailed their orphaned upbringing, Nami’s notoriety in the Akihabara arcade scene, and a job done for God Symphony done over a year ago.

There was little to be gleaned from it, so most of her judgment had to come from Arashi himself. He seemed confident, but that could all just be a front. It wouldn’t have been the first time, with all her experience.

“What makes you think you’re prepared to face a Trackmaster? Do you know anything about him? Do you know how dangerous he is?” she asked of him, her tone now demanding even from her perch up above.

“I’ve done some research.” Arashi explained, his own gaze unknown underneath his sunglasses.

“He’s been known to use a bass guitar for the last twenty years, so one would have to assume he’s probably Synkronized with it by now. If anything were to happen to it, it would be like losing a limb. From there, it would be a simple matter to bring him in.”

There was such calculated confidence in Arashi’s voice. The Fourth Beat skimmed over their file again.

Though she would never say it outright, this job had fallen to the Japan alone. No one seemed willing to take the job against Rob Prototype, especially the majority of European countries that Zero Beat had inquired to originally.

It seemed he was known in some capacity even across the ocean, and the only reason this request had come across her desk is simply because it had been passed on from country to country.

The Fourth Beat of Tokyo, in essence, had the final say if this job would go to the Nagataki siblings. And though her brother seemed prepared, she noticed the girl next to him had been completely still this whole time, eyes forward and almost unblinking.

“If I was to allow this to go forward, and give my authorization to send you overseas,” she began, and Nami had to restrain her face from cracking at the mere thought. “Then I would need to be completely sure that your skills suffice.”

Arashi stood up now, having been waiting to hear those words since they walked in.

“I’m prepared to do whatever is needed. Is a demonstration in order?”

If anything, the Fourth Beat certainly enjoyed his promptness.

“Yes.” she replied.

The Fourth Beat smiled though, her gaze now focused as she pointed a single, red nail at Nami.

“From her.”

She clasped her hands together as the spotlight focused on Nami. Nami looked right to Arashi once she realized what was going on. He nodded slightly with approval, and in an instant, her expression changed from the previous blank one to a much more excitable look.

“Alright, if that’s what it takes. So you guys have any dance pads around here or what?” she declared, sighing now that she was finally able to speak.

Nami’s question was ignored, however, as the other spotlight in the room now shifted from the Fourth Beat to the towering speaker-throne beside her. Slow, decisive steps could be heard as someone made their way down to face Nami.

Meanwhile, Arashi had already gotten to a safe distance as Nami herself stood up, confusion written all over her face.

A few more steps, and from a hidden side wall at the speaker-tower’s base, a clean cut Japanese teenager made his entrance.

Nami sized him up for a moment. He was wearing a high school uniform, had a long ponytail, and couldn’t have been much older than most of the aspirants who she often faced at Shori-Platinum.  She noted one detail in particular on him, a crescent-shaped scar just below his left eye.

The situation was clearly different, and her eyes moved quickly once she saw him wordlessly put headphones into both ears.

“Nami!” her brother called out, breaking the silence as he tossed her bright teal headphones. She slid them on quickly, hand already moving to her song of choice.

Unfortunately, the sound of his music entering the air was all she needed to hear to tell her she had been too slow. His song exploded into the air, forming itself like a theme of victory as he struck without mercy.


 

   


Her opponent practically dove forward with uncharacteristic speed, his body sheathed in crackling orange wisps of energy. He expected to give her a quick concussion and end the fight as fast as possible. At this speed, it would be almost impossible for her to dodge.

But for Nami Nagataki, his boost in speed meant almost nothing. He still moved like he was underwater.

As he came at her, she deftly leaned back far enough that his closed fist stopped just above the tip of her nose.

Pivoting in place, she then swept her leg out, all the momentum of movement focused in her blow.

As he fell down from the pain in his calf, Nami had already focused on her song. A smile crept on her face as the trance beat played loudly in the air.

She was already winning, and thus she couldn’t control the giddiness building up inside her.


   


Standing up straight, the Japanese girl raised one arm as her chosen song effect materialized around her.

They were the same blocky multicolored arrows that she had seen thousands of times from playing constant rhythm games.

Only now, they hovered around her like angry hornets, each arrow given a physical form and each one now the size of a small missile.

The Fourth Beat watched with anticipation. Her opponent’s previously confident expression remained however. He still had the speed advantage, as far he knew.

Focusing the orange energies in his legs, he dashed straight for her, arms spread out like a sumo wrestler. He intended to quickly overpower her and then dislodge her headphones.

But all Nami saw was a flurry of muddy movement that she could read as easily as basic hiragana.

It was over in an instant. The killer arrows from Naoki Maeda’s Hyper Eurobeat flew out at her command, each one skewering their mark before embedding themselves in the face of the speaker-tower.

Fortunately for her opponent, no blood would flow onto the pristine white floor tonight. In one precise strike, his headphone wire was cut, and he hung like a marionette from the wall, the arrows having pierced the gaps in his clothing to keep him restrained.

Nami grinned, the gap in her teeth showing in this one satisfying moment.

Up above, the Fourth Beat clapped slowly.

“Impressive. Deji is supposed to be one of our best and brightest.”

Deji said nothing as he attempted to pry himself free from the wall, only for Nami to deactivate her song effect a moment later. His clothes relaxed once the arrows dissipated, and he said not a word as he looked up at the now disappointed Fourth Beat.

“Well if he’s your best, then I’d hate to see you worst.” Nami retorted smugly, much to her brother’s annoyance. The Fourth Beat laughed lightly in response, however.

“I’ll be sure to review that at a later time, but let us focus on the now.”

Nami held her breath in excitement at the Fourth Beat’s next words, but as usual, her brother never seemed surprised at anything.

“Please see my receptionist once you leave. She has tickets ready for you for New York City. You’ll have access to the auxiliary account as well. I must say, this is somewhat of a shock.”

Nami was beside her brother again, his posture perfect as always.

She smiled wide though as he spoke as seriously as ever.

“I appreciate your faith in us. There’s one more thing though. It’s something I’d like to speak to you about alone.”

The Fourth Beat seemed to consider his words, but it was a short debate. She ushered to Nami.

“You heard your brother. We won’t be too long.”

For once, Arashi gave her a small, reassuring smile. Though she might have argued normally, Nami remembered his one request once before.

So, his sister simply nodded, leaving Arashi alone under the spotlight with the Fourth Beat and her humbled protege.

Once she was gone and the automatic door shut behind her, Arashi adjusted his sunglasses as he began his address.

“I don’t want monetary payment once we bring Rob Prototype in.”

The Fourth Beat leaned in, her interest piqued. “Oh really? And what might you want instead?”

Arashi’s voice seemed to echo throughout the whole place as he said one simple sentence.

“I want you, on behalf of Zero Beat itself, to give God Symphony a message.”

His eyes narrowed underneath his sunglasses. Nami could never hear these words, but they had to be said in some fashion nonetheless.

“My sister is off-limits.”


On the basest level, Colleen had trouble believing the reality in front of her.

For ten years, Robert Kay had been absent from their lives. He’d up and left to tour Europe for an indefinite amount of time, and chained Colleen to a life of supporting her brother.

By doing this, he’d ruined all chances she’d had of pursuing her dreams, and had remained emotionless as she shouted, cursed and pushed him for destroying her life, and more importantly, Michael’s.

Yet here was, standing in her apartment, with the same spare key he had originally had from ten years ago nestled in his hand.

“Please, Colleen. Lower your voice.” her uncle asked quietly, though this simple request seemed to enrage her further.

“You really have some nerve showing your face like this.” she said simply, before slapping him hard.

Rob didn’t even blink however, ignoring the red mark now aching on his right cheek.

“You didn’t even call us once. For all I knew, you could have been dead all these years.”

Rob tried his best to sound as apologetic as possible. “It’s complicated, Colleen. But it was for the best. I couldn’t have contacted you even if I wanted to.”

The pressure of the situation was beginning to dawn on Colleen now. Tears began to well in her eyes as she absorbed Rob’s words. It seemed all her built up stress and anger from the past ten years was coming out all at once.

“Complicated? Do you think that’s the word Michael would use? Complicated!? You left us! You left me!

Rob kept silent as she began to sob, her hands pounding at his chest. It didn’t hurt physically, but mentally, it took all of Rob’s power to not collapse internally. Finally, her pounding became more and more weakened, and once Rob realized this, he took the opportunity to embrace her as warmly as he could.

“I’ve got my own things to atone for. But I’m back now. And I want to make up for all the lost time.”

Colleen sniffled heavily, looking up at Rob with eyes demanding an answer. It always seemed the same with him though. His wide-brimmed cap always made it seem like you could never tell what he was thinking.

“And what happens if you go again? Are you ready to tell Michael that’ll you be leaving him, or are you still too afraid of how he’ll react?”

She unfurled from his hug, crossing her arms now as the tears seemed to subside.

Rob proceeded to take off his cap. He revealed his short buzzcut, dull brown eyes, and a promising smile that echoed his nephew’s.

“That’s not going to happen.”

There was but slight creaking as the nearby front door swung open. Rob and Colleen turned to one side in reaction to it.

It was two AM on yet another Friday night, and Michael Kay had only just returned from another of Kim’s training sessions.

Assuming Colleen was either at work or asleep, he’d planned on getting a bite from the fridge and drifting off to a peaceful sleep, where he might dream of music and Rob.

But now, only ten feet in front of him, stood his uncle. And this time, it was no mere dream.

He wasn’t wearing his cap, but he was wearing the same nice clothes, had the same look on his face, and slung over his shoulder was the same bass guitar from all those years ago.

Michael Kay’s body seemed to freeze up, his mouth agape. His mind struggled to process what was in front of him.

In response, Rob simply smiled, uttering but a few words.

“Hey Michael. How you been?”

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