The Great Stand

Jango told Faith about returning to Kansas in his early fifties to stand on a concrete porch outside an apartment. Jango brushed wrinkles from his robes to clear his mind before knocking. A woman peeked through window-blinds and, seeing Jango, opened the door. “Can I help you?”

“Please, thank you. I’m looking for my brother Jun.”

“Jun doesn’t get many guests.” She led Jango through hallways. “He never mentioned a brother.”

“I haven’t come to Kansas in a decade.”

“Your brother hasn’t left the apartment in about as long.” She stopped at a door with no room-number. “We let Jun rent the basement for cheap.”

Jango knocked but no answer came. He opened the basement door. It smelled like someone had lived there for years with little ventilation. “Jun?”

“Don’t turn on the lights.”

“Jun, oran dora!” Jango lifted his robes to step down the stairs. “I’m visiting from Sheridan! Why are you in the basement?”

“To control the lights.” Jun hunched over his desk aiming a spotlight at a pencil sketch. He was slightly over forty-five and more than slightly overweight. “Only visiting, hm? You’re returning to Sheridan, then. Why bother coming back?”

“The Virgils taught me the importance of family.”

“And soon you’ll return to Sheridan to learn more about family.” Jun wiped eraser crumbs onto the floor. “What a joke.”

Jango approached but Jun didn’t turn. “You’re wounding me, brother.”

“I hope so.” Jun glanced over his shoulder. “Your hair is gone.”

“Sheridanians shave at religious sites. Most monks are always bald.”

“You’re still a monk? You’re not a Virgil?” Jun brushed hair from his face. His mane was long and unwashed. “Mom and Dad weren’t happy when you left Kansas. Now you’re back after they’re dead, and you’re not even enlightened. How pathetic.”

“I’ve learned much from Sheridan. For many moons I danced with fledglings wearing only a bird-mask and feathers. I walked circles until my feet blistered, and sat chanting until my pelvis ached. Virgil Green pried my brain apart to show me the Biggest Bird.” Jun shook his head. Jango continued anyway. “With Virgil Green’s approval, I swam to the main island. It took twelve hours. For six hours I swore I would drown, and for the other six I was drowning. When I crawled onto shore a bird laid an egg in front of me and pierced the shell with its mate’s tail-feather. I drank the raw egg and it rejuvenated me. I hiked to the white-walled monastery in the manner of the birds, nude and sleeping in the road at night. At Virgil Blue’s monastery I earned this sky-blue robe. After years of study I decided to visit my brother, who surely missed me.”

“You never called, you never wrote.”

“I wrote as soon as I arrived at the monastery. I addressed my letter to our childhood home; you must have moved into this basement by then. Since I received no postage from you, I never learned your new address. You were difficult to find.” Jango sighed the matter away. “How’s your comic coming?”

“It’s not a comic, it’s a manga. Not that you’d care. You always mocked me for watching cartoons and reading comics.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Jango laced his fingers and let his sleeves cover his hands. “What was the cartoon we both liked? The anime, I mean? We watched it every Saturday in the nineteen-fifties. It was about combining dragon-robots.”

Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo. The Great Dragon’s Eternal Guardianship.” Jun at last turned to acknowledge Jango’s presence. “You know, that title’s mistranslated. They probably thought the first word was dairyuu” He wrote two characters on scratch-paper: a star and a moon in a hat beside a serpent. “The great dragon. But actually, it was daitatsu—” More characters: the same star and a foot stomping on a snake. “Initiating political action. Literally, to stand up. It’s a pun, because the word ‘dragon’ is sometimes pronounced tatsu. All of humanity fights as one, represented by the fully-combined dragon-robot.”

“This guy?” Jango retrieved, from his sleeves, a plastic figurine. Jun took it with trembling fingertips. “Virgil Blue received this on a pilgrimage to Japan.” Jun turned the figurine over and over. Each limb was a different color, combined with mechanical seams. “Under Virgil Blue’s bell-tower is a library of books from the past, present, and future. The Virgils annotate books as their relation to the Biggest Bird becomes understood. Among them is Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo’s original manga run. Virgil Blue traveled to Tokyo to meet the author and gain insight for annotations. The author, seeing that Virgil Blue owned the full series before the final issues were even conceived, understood the Virgil to be divine and gifted them the figurine.”

Jun set the mini giant robot on his desk and tested the articulation. In the show, each colored limb could separate into an independent fighting-machine. “Virgil Blue. Isn’t that the old monk with the cane like a cricket who stole you from the family?”

“Yes,” said Jango. “To be fair, I was thirty when I left for Sheridan. I had a house and a job.” His little brother turned away. Jango knew he shouldn’t press the matter. “When I saw the manga, I told Virgil Blue I watched the anime with my brother. They showed me the figurine and I was awestruck. Blue insisted I pass it to you. There are no coincidences.”

“Say I believe you.” Jun penciled arcs. “There’s an ancient library renting out Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo. Why? Why’s that manga so important?”

Jango chewed his tongue. “When Virgil Green described the Biggest Bird with paradoxes, I wondered how one vessel could hold contradictory aspects. Virgil Blue taught me that the Biggest Bird is the Mountain’s messiah, hence its rarer name, the Heart of the Mountain. To me, this was worse: the Mountain contains all things, so I didn’t care that it contained contradictions; the Biggest Bird, the Mountain’s messenger, should be lesser, not equally complex.

“But when I saw Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo in the library, I understood. The fully-combined dragon-robot isn’t piloted by all of humanity at once because disparate parts would bicker. Instead groups of nations each nominate a pilot so the fully-combined dragon-robot represents all Earth’s variety trimmed of fat and hungry for battle. In the same way, we cannot comprehend the Mountain, but we can comprehend its Heart. So the Mountain paints its contrast in the Biggest Bird.”

At first Jun doubtfully sucked his lips, but eventually he shook his head in reluctant acceptance. “I want to write my own manga inspired by Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo. I’m done writing the story and finalizing designs. Now I’m drawing the first issue.” Jun showed his older brother a sketch of a giant space-robot. Jango expected a stylized sci-fi mecha, but Jun’s robot had weirdly human proportions. Seams separated its arms and neck from its torso, but it had no legs. “In my story, the whole universe except the Milky Way was eaten by a monster called the Hurricane. These robots and their pilots are called Zephyrs, and they protect the galaxy.”

Jango rubbed his eyes to see detail. “The chest-pilot has a pony-tail.”

“That’s Princess Lucia. Everyone thinks she’s the Earth’s last hope, but she dies giving birth due to grievous injury in battle. Her daughter Lucille surpasses her, and takes the fight to the Hurricane.”

“I’m proud of you, Jun. Your art is quite distinguished.” Jango brushed his fingers over the dry ink. “You wrote it in Japanese?”

“Mom taught me,” said Jun. “When you left, our parents had one kid to carry their legacy. Mom taught me Japanese and Dad made me read him a Chinese newspaper before he gave up the ghost.”

“I’m afraid my Japanese is limited,” said Jango. “What’s the name of your manga?

LuLu’s Space-Time Acceleration. Transliterating to Japanese, LuLu is pronounced RuRu. Look at this kanji with the same pronunciation.” Jun showed him a cover he’d water-colored. One Ru looked like a winged woman holding a chainsaw. Instead of a second Ru, Jun had written a kanji meaning ‘the same kanji once more.’ It looked like a pointed flower blooming. “RuRu means continuous and unbroken to a meticulous extent. Only by exemplifying humanity’s every aspect can the Zephyrs triumph.”

“That’s a message from the heart, little brother.” Jango hugged Jun. Jun didn’t hug back, but Jango felt radiating affection.

“Tell me, big brother. What else is in Virgil Blue’s library?”

“Mostly books of philosophical and religious merit. That’s why the manga was such a surprise.”

“But is there more manga?

“Not that I know of,” said Jango, “but Virgil Blue says when I’m promoted to Virgil, I can read works from the future. If I find your manga, I’ll demand to annotate it.”

Jun sighed and took the drawings from Jango. “I don’t know if I ever want to publish LuLu’s. Maybe someday I’ll travel to Japan and pitch it to someone.”

“I hope you do. When you’ve finished the ending, please send the whole series to me, because it belongs in Virgil Blue’s library.”

So saying, Jango returned to Sheridan.

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