This fic is a sequel to a Christmas story I wrote with Springie two years ago called 'The Bird Who Stole Christmas'. It’s not necessary to read that fic first, but you’ll get more of the continuity references if you do.
1. Chapter 1 by TransmuteJun
2. Chapter 2 by TransmuteJun
3. Chapter 3 by TransmuteJun
4. Chapter 4 by TransmuteJun
5. Chapter 5 by TransmuteJun
6. Chapter 6 by TransmuteJun
7. Chapter 7 by TransmuteJun
8. Chapter 8 by TransmuteJun
9. Chapter 9 by TransmuteJun
10. Epilogue by TransmuteJun
Joe rubbed a worn towel over his head as he walked through the ISO Locker Room. He hadn’t been able to wait to get back home to clean up. Besides which, the hot water at the trailer had been turned off, and these shower stalls were much bigger. The Condor needed to wash away the stress and tension of this day.
It had been a long mission fighting off Katse’s latest mecha. Unlike a lot of Galactor’s robot creations, this one had been well-planned and therefore more difficult to destroy. The entire Science Ninja Team had had to sneak aboard dressed as goons, and plant explosives while simultaneously recovering stolen ISO data on the Mantle Plan.
The only good news was that Joe was finally back and able to relax. If he was lucky, Berg Katse wouldn’t be able to cobble together another mecha for a few days, and Joe could have some time to himself, to relax in blessed solitude.
But a bright red envelope protruding from his locker told Joe that there was something he had forgotten until just now.
It was Christmas Eve.
How could it be Christmas again already? It seemed like only last week that Joe had had to endure that horrible dinner at Jun’s…
The Swan had taken some kind of cooking lessons, but what she had actually learned there, Joe could only guess. Jun’s roast Christmas turkey had transformed into a giant turkey mecha, and the resulting battle had covered everyone with burnt cranberry sauce and feathers, not to mention the near-destruction of the Snack J.
It was not a Christmas that Joe cared to repeat.
It was therefore with some degree of trepidation that Joe opened the envelope. His trembling fingers took far too long to pull back the red paper flap and draw out the small card inside.
“Got your invitation, huh, Joe?”
The Condor nearly jumped sky high as Ryu’s voice practically shouted close to his ear. The towel he had slung loosely around his hips began to slide, and Joe grabbed at it with one hand, the other still holding the offending envelope.
“What does it look like?” he growled.
“Thanks goodness we don’t have to go to Jun’s this year!” Ryu commented as he dug through his locker in search of a razor.
“We don’t?” The Condor’s face bore a giant grin. “So what’s this all about, then?” He waved the red envelope around.
“Nambu wants to take us out to dinner.” came the Owl’s muffled voice. “Finally, a Christmas with some decent food!”
“About time!” piped Jinpei, who was just coming out of the shower himself. “After that disaster last year…”
“Don’t remind me!” moaned Ryu. “That horrible oily cranberry sauce!”
“If we’re going out to dinner, then it should be fine.” Jinpei said. “I’m not letting Onechan get anywhere near the kitchen!”
“Do you think we have to go?” Joe asked.
“Dr. Nambu has requested that we all go.” came the Eagle’s voice.
Everyone turned to look at Ken, who was wearing his ‘command’ face. Joe had no idea where the Eagle had come from, but that didn’t stop the Condor from trying to weasel out of this whole thing.
“‘Request’ and ‘order’ are two different things.” Joe pointed out. “I’m just going to…”
“Joe, you are ordered to go.”
“You can’t order me to go to dinner, Ken! This isn’t a mission!”
“Fair enough. Would you like Hakase to mediate this dispute?”
“Damn you, Ken!”
“They destroyed Ultimagon?” Berg Katse screeched. “The Science Ninja Team blew up my unstoppable mecha? The one I spent months designing? It was perfect! It had no flaws…”
The purple-masked man sank into his favorite armchair, burying his masked face in his red-gloved hands. How had this happened? He had put all of his considerable intelligence into designing the one mecha that the Science Ninja Team could not destroy, and yet somehow, they had managed to do so. The Galactor Leader still didn’t have the final report. Once he had heard the security alarms going off he had gotten the hell out of there in his escape pod.
Sosai had not been pleased. But then, when was Sosai ever pleased? Even tonight, on Christmas Eve, when the Galactor Leader was exhausted, the alien entity would not let Berg Katse rest. Leader X was demanding that a new mecha be launched immediately.
The problem was, Berg Katse didn’t have another mecha.
The Galactor Leader stared morosely into the fire that was burning merrily in his fireplace. In an attempt to be festive, one of the goons had hung a wreath on the mantle. Even as Berg Katse watched, flames licked up from the fireplace, quickly turning the wreath into ash.
This was his problem! He was surrounded by incompetence! Why, if it weren’t for…
“Monsieur Katse, are you ready for your dinnair?”
“Jacques!” Katse sat up in his armchair, looking up at the handsome Frenchman. Come to think of it, it had been a year ago tonight that he had first met Jacques. The French chef had been found screaming in the night, ranting about giant killer turkeys to anyone who would listen. At first, Katse had suspected Jacques of being an ISO spy, but he had quickly come to realize that this was not the case. And when the chef had offered to prepare a Christmas dinner… well, it was the first decent meal Berg Katse could ever remember having.
He had eaten well ever since. He paid Jacques a fortune, and the man kept the Galactor Leader supplied with the most exquisite dishes. If he weren’t on the run from the Science Ninja Team so much, Katse would have put on a significant amount of weight.
“You had time to make me dinner?” Katse asked, surprised. “I thought we were going out…”
“Oui, Monsieur.” Jacques nodded. “Zat is what I meant. Are you ready to leave?”
“Yes.” Katse smiled. Weeks ago, Jacques had asked for permission to cook at a special Utoland function. And when Berg Katse had heard that this dinner party was at a performance of the Nutcracker, he had become very excited. He loved the ballet. Why, when he had been a small girl, he had taken ballet classes at Madame Pompidou’s Academy…
Ah, the sweet childhood memories. Katse could still recall the fluffy pink tutu she had worn, as she had danced and pirouetted before everyone. They had loved her flying blonde curls and rosy cheeks. She had wanted to make a career out of dance.
And then, Sosai had forced his change early, to prevent him from dancing any longer. Sosai did not feel that ballet was a proper activity for a future Galactor Leader.
But tonight… tonight Berg Katse would enjoy the ballet. Sosai be damned, Berg Katse was going to forget about the Science Ninja Team and just enjoy Christmas for once. He turned to a smiling Jacques.
“I just need to get dressed.”
Joe leaned against the boring beige wall of the non-descript lobby of the International Science Organization. Someone had gotten it into their head to put up a Christmas tree, but clearly the ISO holiday decoration budget was a mere pittance. Joe had never seen a more pathetic tree. It was barely a meter high, and had but two spindly branches sticking out. Based on the puddle of needles on the floor below, those weren’t going to last long, either. Some misguided soul had placed a single red ornament on the tree, nearly bending it over in half with its weight.
For a moment, Joe felt like the tree: bent over with the weight of Christmas. He just wanted to rest in solitude in his trailer. Even his Crescent Coral Base quarters would do.
Just as long as he had nothing to do with the seasonal holidays.
The ding of an elevator announced Dr. Nambu’s arrival in the lobby. The doors opened to reveal the nattily dressed Doctor. In honor of the festive occasion, he had traded in his usual brown vest for one made of a bright red plaid. A matching bow tie completed the ensemble.
“I’m glad to see you here, Joe.” Nambu greeted the Condor.
“I’m the only one.” Joe grumbled. “Everyone else is late.” At least, he hoped they were late. He didn’t want to be going out to dinner on Christmas Eve alone with Dr. Nambu.
“They’re not late.” Nambu replied. “They’re just picking up…”
“Dr. Nambu, your limousine is here.” the Doorman announced.
“Thank you, Fred.” the Doctor replied. He turned to Joe. “Shall we proceed?”
“Yeah…” Joe mumbled, stuffing his hands into his pockets. The Condor followed Nambu out of the lobby and to the waiting limousine. The Chauffer got out of the car and opened the rear door to the vehicle, allowing the two men to enter.
Joe sat down inside of the car, doing his best not to look up at any of the other people who were already inside. He was therefore completely taken aback when two arms grabbed him from the side and attempted to hug him.
“Little Joey! How good to see you!”
“Granny Nambu…” Joe moaned, looking up to see the other four members of the Science Ninja Team smirking at him. Dr. Nambu was giving instructions to the Chauffer, and hadn’t noticed the Condor’s expression.
“You’ve gotten so tall and handsome!” Granny declared. “I’m sure you have a little girlfriend now, don’t you? Why, I remember when you used to run around my house naked. You had the cutest little tushy!”
Jun failed in her attempt to stifle a giggle. Jinpei pulled faces. Ryu and Ken were doing their best to look serious, but utterly failing.
“Nice to see you too, Granny.” Joe said woodenly.
“So what is your little girlfriend’s name?” Granny asked. “Are you going to bring her to meet me? I’d love to get to know the future Mrs. Asakura…”
“What?” Joe sat straight upright so fast he banged his head on the roof of the limousine.
“Married?” he sputtered, rubbing his forehead. “Granny, I don’t have a girlfriend!”
“You don’t?” Granny appeared shocked. “But you’re so handsome! Don’t you like girls, Joey?”
Dr. Nambu turned around to find the rest of the limousine’s occupants laughing hysterically. The Doctor decided that it was time to intervene.
“None of the children are involved in serious relationships.” Nambu informed Granny. “They are too occupied with their work for me.”
“Oh, there’s always time.” Granny smiled wistfully. “What about that nice boy who helped Jun cook dinner last year? Jacques…? Oh my, wasn’t he delicious?” She turned to a red-faced Swan.
“Are you still seeing him, Dear?”
“N.. no…” Jun stammered. “I haven’t seen Jacques since last Christmas.”
“But you do like boys, don’t you Jun?” Granny insisted.
“Yes. Of course!” Jun nodded emphatically. She glanced over at Ken.
“Then I guess you have something in common with Joey!” Granny pointed out. “Too bad. Such a waste of a cute little tushy…”
“Granny, why don’t I tell everyone where we are going?” Dr. Nambu interrupted his grandmother’s reminiscing.
“Yes, I am so excited!” Granny replied, her eyes sparkling.
“Where are we going, Hakase?” Jinpei asked. The boy was so excited he was practically bouncing on the seat.
“It was Granny’s choice.” Nambu answered. “We are going to Utoland Hall, for a special Christmas Eve dinner theatre performance of the Nutcracker.”
Joe rolled his eyes. Ballet wasn’t exactly his style. He could see Ken, Ryu, and Jinpei blanching as well. Jun appeared to be the only one of the five ninjas who was excited by this suggestion.
“But you haven’t told them the best part!” Granny cried, gleefully clapping her hands together.
“What’s that?” Jinpei asked suspiciously.
“The music for this performance of the Nutcracker will be performed by my favorite artist!” Granny sighed. “Kozaburo, it was so nice of you to get tickets for me.”
“For all of us.” Dr. Nambu replied, just as the limousine stopped. “We are all going to enjoy a lovely Christmas Eve, here at Utoland Hall.”
The Doctor stepped out of the open door, then offered his arm to Granny, escorting her out of the vehicle.
“You don’t suppose any Galactor goons might show up?” Ryu asked hopefully. “Just to give us an ‘intermission’?”
“It would certainly give a whole new meaning to the term ‘Nutcracker’.” Joe grinned, flexing his fingers suggestively.
“I think the ballet will be lovely!” Jun huffed. “It’s about time you boys all witnessed a little culture, for a change.”
“Your sister is right, Jinpei.” Ken lectured. “We’re going to attend the ballet, and we are going to enjoy it.” There was a threatening undertone to the Eagle’s words, despite the fact that Ken did not raise his voice.
“Is that mistletoe up there?” the Condor pointed innocently at the ceiling of the limousine.
“Where?” The expression of fear on Ken’s face instantly made Joe feel better. Jun’s eyes darted around hopefully, while Jinpei and Ryu attempted vainly to smother their laughter.
Dr. Nambu stuck his head inside of the car and glared sternly at the five young ninjas.
“I understand that this may not have been your first choice of Christmas Eve activity.” the Doctor intoned. “But Granny Nambu is ninety-five years old. She may not be with us for another Christmas. You will all do this for her.” Yet the expression on Nambu’s face clearly stated that he was the one who would take offense if anyone got out of line.
Joe sighed. At least he didn’t have to eat Jun’s cooking.
The five ninjas emerged from the limousine, and immediately Joe heard Jun moaning about her clothes. All around them was a sea of elegantly dressed Utolandians, clearly excited about their night at the Christmas Eve ballet dinner theatre. Five teenagers in t-shirts and jeans didn’t quite fit into the ambiance.
Dr. Nambu walked up to Granny, offering her his arm and escorting her inside, the others meekly following the two Nambus. Jun went first, dragging Ken along after her. Ryu followed Ken, while Jinpei and Joe lagged behind. Enough of a space opened up that other ballet patrons began cutting in front of the two ninjas.
The Swallow was just going through the turnstile when a tall man who bore a striking resemblance to Lucius Malfoy stopped his advance by placing his silver cane in Jinpei’s path as he cut in front of the boy.
“There is no charity tonight.” the blonde man sneered. “No begging, street urchin!”
“We aren’t begging!” Joe defended Jinpei hotly. “We are going inside to see the ballet!”
“You?” the man sneered. He was very tall, and his features had an aristocratic quality. He swept his long blonde hair around haughtily. “I cannot believe that dirty scum such as yourselves…”
“Is there a problem?”
The man turned around to see Dr. Nambu’s stern face glaring at him. The man’s glossy pink lips trembled slightly, and then broke out into a wide smile.
“Dr. Nambu of the ISO!” he said in an obsequious manner. “I had no idea that you were going to attend the Utoland Ballet this evening. How wonderful to see you here!”
“I’m afraid I cannot say the same, Mr…?”
“Bergstrom.” the man introduced himself with a flourishing bow. He was clearly well-practiced at the maneuver. “Karle Bergstrom.”
“Mr. Bergstrom, I would appreciate it if you would allow my children to enter the Hall.” Dr. Nambu replied, clearly unimpressed by this display.
“Your children?” Mr. Bergstrom exclaimed. “Oh my, what a case of… mistaken identity…” His eyes darted back and forth, quickly taking in the angry faces of Joe and Jinpei, as well as Jun, Ken and Ryu, already past the turnstiles. Granny Nambu was giving Mr. Bergstrom a rheumy-eyed stare of admiration.
“I heartily apologize for any offense.” he smiled again, even wider this time.
Joe was immediately suspicious. There was something about this man that was familiar…
“Let’s go.” Dr. Nambu said quietly, ushering Joe and Jinpei past the turnstiles. The two ninjas quickly followed their foster father inside the Hall.
“What a handsome man…” Granny’s voice floated back to them. Joe shook his head in disgust.
The Condor forced himself to dismiss any thoughts of Mr. Bergstrom from his mind. He had enough to worry about tonight. After all, he still had a ballet to get through.
Berg Katse laughed to himself. Oh, this was a stroke of luck! Discovering that Dr. Nambu was attending this same performance of the Nutcracker! Now he could not only enjoy the ballet, but also follow Sosai’s orders.
Yes, he had just the thing in mind. It was time to resort to ‘Plan B’…
“Your seat, Sir.” said the Usher.
“Thank you.” Katse swept by the spotty-faced youth and into the private box Jacques had arranged for him. It seemed that being Head Caterer at the most exclusive dinner party in Utoland had its benefits.
The Galactor Leader settled down, placing his silver cane by his side, and pulling out a small pair of silver-engraved opera glasses. On the main floor, he spotted a large table for seven, housing Dr. Nambu, his five unkempt children, and an elderly lady.
It was the children who interested Katse the most. Five children… one a younger boy, one a female, and one of the males somewhat heavy. And their shirts were labeled with numbers one through five.
Could it actually be…?
For the briefest of moments, he thrilled to the possibilities. If the Science Ninja Team truly were sitting right here, under his nose… but then he woke up from his fantasy with a cold splash of reality.
This was too obvious. A man as sophisticated as Nambu was must have purposely chosen the physical characteristics of the Science Ninja Team to mimic those of his children. It was the perfect cover: offering his own children up as decoys, to let the real Science Ninja Team move around unhindered.
That must be it.
However, if Dr. Nambu were in danger, the Science Ninja Team would respond and come to his aid. And that was something Berg Katse could easily accomplish, this night.
Surreptitiously, he picked up his silver cane, pressing a button on the top and speaking softly into the intricate carvings that decorated the staff.
“Katse to Base, I have instructions…”
“Oh, I’m so glad that you all could be here!” Granny smiled widely, her dentures slipping only slightly as she did so. “I know you will all enjoy this wonderful show!”
“We will, Granny.” said Ken, his scowl daring anyone at the table to answer differently.
“Where’s the food?” Ryu asked, looking around for their waiter.
“Yeah!” added Jinpei, who was already grabbing for a breadstick from the basket placed on the middle of the table. “I’m hungry!”
“Jinpei, mind your manners!” scolded Jun, as she slapped the boy lightly on the hand.
Joe simply slouched back in his chair, trying to see if he could he could catch up on some much-needed rest. Hopefully, the show would be dark enough that his nap wouldn’t be noticed by Ken or Dr. Nambu.
“So, Granny, you never told us who is performing the music tonight.” Jun said.
“I didn’t?” Granny asked, confused. “I thought I did. Liberace is my favorite musician…”
“Liberace?” Ken had been taking a sip of water, and he nearly spat it out in shock. Jun began pounding the Eagle vigorously on the back as he gasped and sputtered. “We’re going to watch a ballet with music performed by Liberace?”
“Yes.” sighed Granny happily. “Isn’t he wonderful? What a hunk of man! I wonder if he’s married…?”
A fit of coughing and choking broke out around the table. It was Dr. Nambu who was first able to respond this statement.
“Uh, Granny, I don’t think that Liberace…” he shook his head, searching for words. “I don’t think he likes girls.”
“You mean, he’s like Joey?”
Now it was the Condor’s turn to spit out his mouthful of water.
“I am not like Liberace!” Joe growled.
“Of course not, Joey.” Granny said soothingly. “You’re much younger than he is. But I really don’t think that Liberace is…”
“Look on the good side!” Ryu suggested. “I’m pretty sure he’s not married!”
“Liberace…” Ken still had a stunned expression on his face. “Isn’t he dead?”
“Don’t tell Granny.” Nambu whispered. “It’s an impersonator.”
“I’m sure it will be a great show.” Jun said diplomatically, but the Swan wore a doubtful expression.
“Who’s Liberace?” Jinpei asked.
“Be glad you don’t know.” Joe snorted.
“He’s about to find out.” Ryu noted, as the lights began to dim.
Sure enough, a spotlight lit up the stage, and a flamboyantly dressed man emerged, to the enthusiastic applause of the audience. His fur-trimmed satin cape flowed behind him as he crossed over to the massive grand piano that adorned the side of the stage. The man sat down at the fanciful instrument, his fingers prancing and flowing across the keys.
“He plays okay,” Jinpei whispered, “but that outfit reminds me of a Galactor Mecha Captain!”
“Shhh!” Jun reprimanded the Swallow.
A waiter arrived with their salads, and Joe turned his attention to their food.
Berg Katse sighed with pleasure. Liberace was a wonderful musician, and this impersonator was as good as the real thing. The dancers pirouetted and leapt across the stage, performing the classic Christmas ballet, to the Galactor Leader’s intense delight.
The title character of the Nutcracker appeared onstage, and Katse was entranced at the sight. What a wonderful idea for a mecha design! He would have to write that one down. Why, the arm chop alone would be a potent weapon against the enemies of Galactor. HE activated his cane again, whispering quick instructions to his men. Miraculously, they confirm that they had what he required. Katse leaned back in his chair contentedly.
As always, Jacques’ food was fabulous. Cooking for a few hundred people was far less work than preparing a meal for thousands of Galactor troops, as he now did on a regular basis.
Katse spooned soupe a l’oignon gratinee into his mouth, satisfied that this was, so far, the best Christmas he had ever had.
Only one thing was lacking to make it absolutely perfect.
Toward the end of the Nutcracker performance, his silver cane beeped softly, and Katse answered the hail.
“Everything is ready, Sire.”
“Excellent.” the Galactor Leader smirked, ending the transmission.
That sole thing missing tonight was about to be achieved. The Science Ninja Team would never know what had happened, until it was far too late.
Joe groaned under cover of the loud, flamboyant piano music. The ballet was as boring as he had anticipated. Surprisingly, the food was excellent. At least this exercise in musical torture had one thing going for it. Jun hadn’t been able to ruin this year’s Christmas dinner, after all.
The arrival of the Nutcracker onstage had the Condor sitting up in his seat. The hideous monstrosity suddenly came to life and began dancing, and Joe was uncomfortably reminded of the many Galactor mecha that had at first appeared to be harmless statues, before transforming into instruments of destruction.
And speaking of instruments, that Liberace guy hadn’t stopped even once for a break! The Galactor Captain wannabe was a piano-playing madman, and his flamboyant costume brought to mind the bizarre androgynous nature of Berg Katse.
The music came to a roaring crescendo, and suddenly, everyone was standing on their feet, applauding and cheering. Dr. Nambu was helping Granny rise, and Jun was dragging a drowsy Ken to a stand. Jinpei and Ryu were still seated, shoveling their desserts into their mouths. Joe quickly decided that if they could get away with it, he was going to remain seated as well.
Liberace came to the front of the stage, bowing and blowing kisses in an effeminate manner, his fur-trimmed cape fluttering as he bobbed up and down, soaking up the adulation of Utoland high society. Joe did his best to ignore the stomach-turning sight and concentrate on his chocolate mousse. Wryly, he noticed Ryu and Jinpei switching plates with an oblivious Ken and Jun, enjoying their desserts as well.
After perhaps five minutes of cheers and adulation, Liberace flopped his wrists, palms down, in an effeminate gesture that indicated that everyone should sit. The house lights came on, and a microphone was brought out for the musician.
“Thank you, everyone, for attending this special performance of Liberace’s Nutcracker!” he announced in a high-pitched voice, to another wave of cheers and applause.
“I’d thank you if it was over.” Joe rolled his eyes. Jinpei snickered at the remark, but Dr. Nambu glared at the Condor.
“Before we depart, there is one last item to attend to.” Liberace went on, oblivious to the Condor’s sarcasm. “We have a drawing, with a prize donated by our wonderful Head Chef for tonight’s event.”
Another spotlight appeared at the side of the stage, and a man in a white apron and a matching puffy white hat stepped out. Joe actually applauded this time. The food had truly been the best part of the entire night.
But the Condor’s hands froze in midair as he got a good look at the man’s face.
“Jacques!” Jun gasped.
“Where did he come from?” Ken growled jealously.
“Oh, my! It’s your handsome boyfriend, Junie!” giggled Granny in a girlish fashion.
“I knew Onechan didn’t cook anything good last year!” Jinpei cried. “That one decent appetizer we had was his all along!”
“Shut up, Jinpei!” Jun said, smacking the Swallow in the back of his head.
Jacques came up to the center of the stage, holding a garishly decorated white sculpture. A large black hat sat atop the misshapen object’s massive head.
“Our Head Chef Jacques has kindly donated a one-of-a-kind, handcrafted, Frosty the Snowman Cookie Jar!” announced Liberace.
“And best of all,” said Jacques into the microphone, “zis jar ees filled with my delicious Snowball Cookies! Eet ees a secret family recipe handed down through zee generations.”
“If he’s responsible for the dinner we had tonight, those must be some cookies!” Ryu grinned, rubbing his stomach.
“You’re still hungry, after that huge dinner?” Ken asked, amazed.
“Not to mention those two desserts he had!” Jinpei laughed.
“Two desserts?” Ken looked down at his plate, confused, only to notice that his bowl of chocolate mousse was decidedly empty. “Wait a minute...”
But the Eagle’s words were drowned out by a drum roll. Liberace was holding the large Frosty in his arms, while Jacques was rifling through a velvet bag that had been presented to him. The chef pulled out his hand with a flourish, holding a small card. He squinted slightly, reading the card, and then bent over to the microphone.
“And zee winner ees… Table 5!” he announced.
“That’s our table!” Granny practically jumped out of her seat. She was amazingly spry for a lady of ninety-five years. Dr. Nambu scrambled to follow her as she moved as fast as she could up a set of stairs and onto the stage.
Liberace came out to hug Granny, and the older lady was completely floored. She turned a bright shade of red, embracing the musician and then reaching around to squeeze his tushy. Liberace, not the least bit taken aback by the situation, simply extricated himself from Granny’s hold and picked up the Frosty cookie jar, handing it over to Dr. Nambu. Strangely, Jacques was nowhere to be found, as it seemed that the Head Chef had suddenly had urgent business elsewhere.
“Congratulations to our winners!” Liberace announced into the microphone, just as Granny’s voice was picked up by the sound system.
“Mr. Liberace, I don’t suppose you’re single...?”
An hour later, the group finally arrived at the Snack J. Joe had been eager to return home, but Granny had insisted that she had one more surprise for all of them. Unfortunately, Dr. Nambu had been all too willing to honor her request.
“I have a special treat for all of you!” Granny smiled brightly. “You were all so kind to take me out tonight, and so I had a something wonderful prepared for you. Kozaburo was nice enough to help me out with this project.”
“You didn’t mention that there was anything after the ballet.” Jinpei accused the Doctor sourly.
“That’s because it was a surprise.” Nambu replied smoothly.
The limousine pulled up to the Snack J, and everyone got out. Jun unlocked the door, and once they had entered they were surprised to see that a digital projector and large screen had been set up inside the restaurant. The scraggly Christmas tree Joe recalled from the lobby of the ISO Building had been relocated to atop the Snack J’s bar. It still did not have any decoration, save for the one shiny red ornament nearly bending it in half.
“Everyone, sit down! Make yourselves comfy!” Granny declared, as if this were her home, and not Jun’s.
Joe begrudgingly sat down, scooting toward the back of one of the Snack J’s booths. He couldn’t imagine what kind of presentation was about to be given, but certainly anything that would excite Granny would be of little interest to him.
At least he could eat.
Dr. Nambu brought in the large snowman cookie jar and placed it on the booth table where the Condor was already seated. Immediately the five ninjas gathered around, in search of further dessert.
“How do you open this thing?” complained Jinpei as he poked and prodded the ceramic figurine.
“Maybe you can take off the hat?” Jun asked.
“Try the flower he’s wearing.” suggested Ken.
“Naw…” Ryu grinned. “It’s right here…” The Owl stuck his hand into the snowman’s large mouth, pulling it out a second later, filled with small white cookies.
“These are delicious!” Ryu declared, popping a cookie into his mouth. Jinpei immediately grabbed for his own handful, followed by Jun, Joe and Ken.
The cookie practically melted on Joe’s tongue; a layer of powdered sugar blending perfectly with the light, buttery shortbread beneath, The Condor found himself grabbing more and more of the desserts, while Nambu and Granny fiddled with the projector.
“We’re ready!” Granny declared, turning to face everyone. “Kozaburo, get the lights!”
“What is this, Granny?” Ken asked politely, between mouthfuls of cookie.
“Kozaburo was kind enough to have all of my old photographs put on this do-hickey.” Granny gestured at the projector.
“I had them digitized, Granny.” the Doctor attempted to clarify.
“Fridge’s size? No, mine is large enough, thank you.” Granny appeared to be confused. “But I’m looking forward to seeing my old photographs on this big screen here.”
“That sounds… great.” Jun tried her best to sound interested, but her comment fell flat. She quickly stuffed another cookie into her mouth, and Granny didn’t seem to notice the general lack of enthusiasm.
“Let’s get started, Kozaburo!” she urged the Doctor.
“Yes, Granny.” Nambu replied dutifully.
Darkness enveloped the entire room, and Joe slouched in the corner of the booth. He planned on sleeping through this little session of Granny’s ‘entertainment’.
“We’ll begin with pictures of my honeymoon.” Granny sighed. “Here I am with Forsythe at Utoland’s largest Dairy Farm! Oh, it was quite the romantic spot in those days. How I remember our visit. Forsythe bought me their biggest bottle of ‘Eau du Bovine’ perfume…”
Joe’s eyes closed, and he let the monotonous drone of Granny’s voice lull him to sleep.
The Condor was awakened by a shout of laughter. He sat up, blinking blearily at the large screen in front of him. The image on display was of a young man with longish hair, dressed in tattered jeans and a worn t-shirt with a peace symbol on it. The man’s facial hair was out of control, creating a scraggly mess halfway down to his chest. A pair of John Lennon-style spectacles perched precariously on the man’s nose. He was holding up a sign that bore the strange message of ‘No Nukes! Free love!’
Joe leaned forward and squinted.
“Hakase?” he shouted in disbelief, followed by a howl of amusement.
“Wasn’t Kozaburo handsome in high school?” Granny sighed, oblivious to the hoots and hollers surrounding her.
“Way to go, Hakase!” cheered Jinpei.
“I think you need to grow out your beard again, Dr. Nambu.” Ryu chuckled.
“A peace sign?” Joe laughed. “No nukes? Now I’ve lost all respect for you, Hakase!”
“It certainly is different from your usual appearance.” Ken observed. The Eagle was doing his best not to laugh as Dr. Nambu pulled at his collar and turned a deep shade of red.
“Oh, and look at Kozaburo and his rollerskates!” Granny exclaimed, as the next image appeared. This was followed by pictures of a young Dr. Nambu in a John Travolta disco suit, and a slightly older Nambu wearing a pink jacket and matching neck scarf.
“Wow, Hakase, you look like a pimp!” Jinpei declared.
“Reminds me of that guy who used to be called Prince…” Jun mused.
“What were you on, Hakase?” Ryu laughed.
Fresh howls of laughter broke out around the room, and suddenly Joe discovered that he was actually having a good time. On Christmas Eve.
But the good time quickly turned sour when Granny began showing her pictures of her favorite grandson’s young family.
“Look, Ken, here’s our first Christmas together.” Granny sighed. “It was just after you came to live with Kozaburo, before any of the other children.”
Joe’s eyes goggled. A four year old Ken was sitting on Granny’s lap, holding a pale pink stuffed bunny with a giant satin bow on its head.
“What the hell is that?” the Condor exclaimed.
“I think it goes so well with your pretty blue eyes.” Jinpei needled the Eagle in a high, girlish voice.
“It reminds me of that pink bunny suit that Granny made for you last Christmas, Jinpei.” Jun said sweetly.
“Whatever happened to that suit?” Granny asked innocently. “Maybe you could go upstairs and put it on right now, Jinpei?”
“Uh, I outgrew it!” the Swallow answered quickly. “It doesn’t fit anymore.”
“That’s too bad.” Ken said quietly. “I guess we’ll have to get a tailor to enlarge it for you, Jinpei.”
“Not necessary!” squeaked the Swallow, understanding the Eagle’s implicit threat. “Let’s go on to the next slide, Granny!”
Joe had a sinking feeling about the next picture, and unfortunately he turned out to be right.
The following image showed a very young Condor with his thumb in his mouth and a worn blue blanket clutched in his fist. Joe remembered it well. He had called the blanket ‘Bubbie’, and had carried it everywhere with him. It had been one of the few items Dr. Nambu had been able to salvage from his parents’ meager belongings.
“I had forgotten about that ratty old thing!” Ken exclaimed.
But right now, Joe didn’t relish sharing this memory with his teammates. Instead, he wished he could sink into the floor while the others laughed so hard that they nearly cried.
“Taste good, little Joey?”
“I always knew he had an oral fixation!”
“Awwww…. what a cutie-wooty!”
“I wonder what Berg Katse would pay to see this…?”
The Swallow found his collar suddenly gripped tightly in the Condor’s fist, preventing him from finishing his statement. A handful of feather shuriken were waved in his face.
“How would you like these stuffed where the sun won’t shine?” Joe growled.
“Soft and fluffy feathers… and he likes to chew on them!” Ryu laughed, oblivious to Jinpei’s plight as he filled his mouth full of snowball cookies. In short order, both the Owl and the Swallow were sporting fresh bruises around their right eyes. Jun did her best to stifle her giggles, while Ken smirked quietly, forgoing a reprimand for his second in command.
“And look at my Junie!” cooed Granny. “I remember how she played with this dolly in secret, but she was kind enough to let me take a picture…” The image on the display was now of a young Swan tucking a doll into bed. Joe peered closer.
“Wait a minute… that’s not…!”
“Oh, I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Jun, how could you?”
“A Red Impulse action figure?”
“It was the only doll I had, okay?” Jun huffed. “Hakase gave it to me!”
Jun appeared to be close to tears, and Ken looked around uncomfortably. Joe rolled his eyes, kicking the clueless Eagle in the shins, hard. Ken yelped in surprise, but amazingly took the hint, putting his arm awkwardly around the distressed Swan’s shoulders.
“I guess Onechan’s always had a thing for Washio men!” Jinpei grinned.
“Remember what I said about those shuriken?” Joe reminded the Swallow menacingly. The boy’s mouth quickly snapped shut.
“And look at little Jinpei!” Granny giggled at the next image. “He was always the messy eater!”
‘Messy eater’ was an understatement. In the image, Jinpei was completely covered with pureed peas, and his face was displaying a similar shade of green, clearly indicating the toddler’s dislike for his meal.
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you that vegetables are good for you, Jinpei?”
“Green is your color! Perhaps you should have been the Owl!”
“Or a goon!”
“At least he’s not purple!”
“Hey, I was just a kid!” Jinpei protested self-righteously.
“You still are, Runt.” Joe reminded the Swallow.
“And my last picture is of Ryu.” Granny said fondly. “I remember this little costume so well. He was wearing it the day he jumped from my roof, proclaiming he could fly…”
‘Costume’ was a good term for the strange collection of items in which the young Owl had garbed himself. He wore no shirt or pants, only a pair of dingy cotton briefs, paired with a long, lacy cape, and a similar scrap of cloth positioned precariously on his head.
“That was my best lace tablecloth.” Granny sighed regretfully. “And the doily I used for my favorite teapot! I was never able to use them again after the incident where you fell off the roof, Ryu. They couldn’t get the bloodstains out, even at the best dry cleaners in Utoland.”
“Damn, Ryu, you look like…” Joe couldn’t find the appropriate words.
“A granny version of Captain Underpants?” Jinpei suggested.
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“Hey! That tablecloth had good aerodynamics!” Ryu noted through a mouthful of cookie crumbs.
“So good that you fell off of the roof!” Ken pointed out.
“I think it’s cute.” gushed Jun.
“This coming from a girl who had a Red Impulse dolly!”
The ribbing continued for another few minutes before Dr. Nambu turned off the projector and switched the lights back on.
“And now, I have something for each of you!” Granny declared, moving over to the rickety tree on the bar. Joe shuddered in horror as he realized that a stack of presents lay next to the bedraggled plant.
“In honor of having my pictures restored, I have a special gift for all of my grandchildren.” Granny said, passing garishly wrapped boxes to Dr. Nambu, Ryu, Joe, Ken, and Jun. Jinpei looked around for a moment, as if he were going to protest his exclusion from this exchange, but then the Swallow evidently figured out that he was probably better off this way.
Ryu opened his box, then reached inside to pull out a tangle of brown-spotted lace.
“My… my cape?” he asked, astonished. “You kept it, Granny?”
“I thought you’d like to have it, Ryu.” Granny smiled. The Owl held up the rotting tablecloth, staring at it with a mixture of shock and horror.
“Yeah… thanks…” he murmured, dutifully going over to Granny’s seat and kissing her on her wrinkled cheek.
Ken and Jun opened their boxes at roughly the same time, each of them gingerly putting their hands inside to reluctantly pull out their gifts.
Ken was holding up a pink stuffed bunny, in surprisingly good condition, despite the torn and matted satin bow on its head that had clearly been chewed upon many times. In Jun’s hand was a Red Impulse action figure.
The Swan looked over at the pink bunny, and then back at the Red Impulse toy.
“Want to trade?” she shrugged.
In a flash, the White Shadow had grabbed the action figure, and was holding it between his fingers in a possessive manner. The pink bunny had been unceremoniously dumped into the Swan’s lap.
“Thank you, Granny!” the two ninjas chorused in unison.
“Joey, why haven’t you opened up your present yet?” Granny asked.
“Uh, I already did.” Joe lied. “Thanks, Granny!” He forced a grin onto his face.
“It doesn’t look opened to me.” Jinpei said, pointing at the box. It was underneath the table where Joe had stashed it. The Condor glared angrily at the Swallow. He had a good idea of what was in the box, and he definitely did not want to open it in front of everyone.
“Payback’s a bitch, Joe.” Jinpei whispered smugly, as he pointed at his black eye. As quickly as his namesake, the Swallow dove underneath the table and came up with Joe’s gift, waving it in his hands.
“Let’s see what it is!” the youngest ninja suggested, gleefully ripping at the wrapping paper.
“Let me.” Joe growled warningly, literally tearing the box out of the boy’s hands. The Condor opened the gift to find exactly what he had been both simultaneously dreading, and secretly hoping for.
Being careful not to display any emotion in front of the others, the Condor reached his hand into the box and drew forth his beloved blanket. He had always wondered where Bubbie had gone, presuming that it had been thrown out many years ago.
But now, here it was, in his hands.
Bubbie had a musty smell, but the feel of it was the same as Joe remembered. He was actually very grateful to have Bubbie back, but not for the manner in which the precious blanket had been returned to him.
“Thanks.” Joe said in a forced tone, tossing the blanket back into the box, and then placing it between himself and the wall, far from Jinpei’s grasping hands.
“You’re welcome, Joey.” Granny said, and for a brief instant, the Condor wondered if Granny actually understood what this item truly meant to him.
Dr. Nambu opened his gift next, which turned out to be his old white polyester disco suit.
“Looking good, Hakase!” Ryu needled the Doctor.
“Try it on!” Jinpei suggested, but the Swallow was immediately distracted as Granny Nambu addressed him.
“And now, something for you, Jinpei.” Granny grinned widely, her wrinkled face beaming at the Swallow. “Of course, I wasn’t able to give you your jar of pureed peas, but I did get you something else. Kozaburo reminded me that you are a young man now, and that you deserved something more suitable for your age.”
Granny walked slowly over to the bar, then pulled out a red and green striped envelope from underneath the scraggly tree, before returning and passing the gift over to Jinpei.
The Swallow looked around anxiously, only to find his four teammates staring gleefully at him, waiting eagerly for Jinpei to open his present. With trembling hands and the kind of care he might take in defusing a bomb, the Swallow accepted the envelope and nervously tore it open. Two small slips of cardboard fell out.
“Tickets?” the Swallow asked, confused.
“To see Liberace!” Granny replied excitedly. “You’re going to escort me to see him when he does his Valentine’s Show at Utoland Hall in February!”
“But… what if I have plans for Valentine’s Day?” Jinpei blurted.
“Oh my!” Granny exclaimed, startled. It was clear that the old lady had not been expecting this response.
“Do you have a girlfriend, Jinpei?” she asked politely.
“Uh…” the Swallow gulped nervously, pulling at his collar and glancing over at Dr. Nambu.
“Oh no!” the Condor said in a sickeningly sweet voice, giving the Swallow a vicious smile. “Jinpei would never have a girlfriend without Dr. Nambu’s permission. Especially not one named Maria…”
“Yeah…” Jinpei nodded in forced agreement. “Right!”
“Then you will be able to go with me!” Granny clapped her hands in childlike glee. “You’re going to love Liberace’s Valentine’s Show, Jinpei!”
“Sounds like you’ve got yourself a hot Valentine’s date now, Jinpei!” Ryu snickered.
“Great.” mumbled the Swallow, glaring daggers at the Condor and the Owl. “Thanks, Granny.”
“And that’s not all!” Granny exclaimed happily. “I have more gifts for each of you!”
Six faces fell to the floor as Granny reached down into the voluminous bag at her feet. She passed out a series of boxes. Joe figured that whatever was inside couldn’t make this evening any worse.
But of course, he was wrong.
“Liberace music and fruitcakes for all!” Granny laughed happily. “I know each of you will enjoy listening to his wonderful Christmas music all year long. In fact, we could listen to it right now, as we eat fruitcake!”
At that moment, Joe thought to himself that he would prefer to spend Christmas with Berg Katse himself, rather than do what Granny suggested, A quick look around the table told him that he wasn’t the only one who felt this way. The members of the Science Ninja Team had had more than enough Liberace for a lifetime, and Granny’s fruitcake was known to be lethal. Joe recalled how it had destroyed the turkey mecha that had invaded their Christmas dinner the previous year.
“Put on the music!” Granny encouraged Dr. Nambu. “We can listen to it right now!”
“Well, I’m not sure that Jun has an 8-track player.” Dr. Nambu replied, holding up the technologically outdated Liberace cassette. The Doctor’s face was expressionless, but his eyes were pleading with the Swan to agree to his statement.
“You’re right, Hakase!” Jun said quickly. “I’m afraid that I haven’t kept up with that technology!”
“Oh.” Granny said, her face clearly displaying her disappointment. “No Liberace?”
“That’s okay, Granny.” Jun said reassuringly. “I’ll get out my guitar and play something while the rest of you enjoy your fruitcake.” The Swan smiled brilliantly as she got up from the table.
The Condor had to hand it to the Swan. She had saved herself from intense gastro-intestinal misery and sent Liberace packing, all in one smooth move. He just wished that he could have avoided the fruitcake as well.
Jun picked up her guitar from the corner of the room and sat on a stool atop the small stage. Her delicate fingers strummed the strings on the instrument, and the jazzy strains of ‘O Christmas Tree’ could be heard around the room.
“Thank you, Jun.” Granny smiled. “This is nice. And for the rest of us: fruitcake!” Granny reached into her bag, drawing forth six fruitcakes wrapped in transparent, red-tinged cellophane, passing them around the table and handing one to Dr. Nambu.
The four remaining ninjas stared at the fruitcakes as if they were ticking timebombs delivered straight from Galactor Headquarters. In fact, Joe suspected that given the choice, they all would have preferred that option.
“Aren’t you going to open them?”
“We don’t want to eat them all at once.” the Doctor said smoothly. “We like to save them and eat them slowly over the months following the Holidays.” Joe was impressed at how smoothly the lie rolled off of Nambu’s tongue. Come to think of it, if the Condor hadn’t known better, he might have thought that the Doctor was telling the truth.
Joe suddenly began to wonder about the Science Ninja Team’s briefings…
“Well, then let’s just open only one of them.” Granny said. “We can use Jun’s since we are at her home, and since she is so kindly playing for us.”
“Eat all you like!” the Swan smiled generously from her stool as she continued to play her guitar.
“Thank you, Jun.” Granny replied. She had Jinpei retrieve a knife and forks and plates from underneath the bar, then cut thick slices for everyone. Joe felt his gorge rising in his throat as he looked at the dark brown slab in front of him. The chunks of candied fruit inside glowed mockingly at him, as if they were planning on wrecking some day-glo vengeance with his insides.
The Condor didn’t doubt that such a thing was possible. He had never actually tasted Granny’s fruitcake, but the last time he had gotten close enough to smell it, he had gone running for the bathroom, and had barely made it on time.
He was almost that close now.
“This looks… delicious…” Dr. Nambu smiled weakly. If even the Doctor’s apparently considerable talents at lying were being stretched to the breaking point, none of the rest of them had a chance.
“Aren’t you going to try some?” Granny asked, tears in her eyes. “Anyone?”
Joe felt terrible, both because of the noxious substance in front of him, and because of Granny’s distress. But it was clear which emotion was going to win out. There was no way in Hell he could stomach the stuff on his plate. He would rather drink battery acid. He only prayed that Galactor never got wind of this, else he knew what kind of torture he would be in for, should his enemies ever capture him.
All eyes turned to the one person who might be able to respond to Granny. The one person who held duty and responsibility above all, even his own personal safety.
“I will, Granny.” Ken replied, but there was a slight catch in his voice. With excruciating slowness, he picked up the fork and moved it downward toward the inedible lump of brown sludge that was masquerading as a holiday dessert. Carefully, the Eagle pushed the fork through the slice, his fingers trembling as he did so. Joe found himself grateful on this occasion that it was Ken, and not he, who had to uphold the honor of the Science Ninja Team.
Sluggishly, Ken pulled the fork away, taking with it a tiny, brown lump of Granny’s toxic recipe, inching it toward his lips as a man would approach the gallows from which he was to be hung, suspending it a bare inch from his lips.
Even the Swan had stopped playing her music now, as everyone stared, unable to turn their eyes away from the distressing, yet strangely compelling, sight of the White Shadow voluntarily ingesting a substance that could quite possibly kill him instantly.
Ken’s mouth opened ever so slightly, and the silver tines of the fork pushed between the Eagle’s lips, the brown lump finding its way inside.
Joe let out a long breath that he hadn’t even known he was holding, the slight rush of air passing over his hand and sending a chill down his spine.
It wasn’t over, yet.
“Granny!” Ken coughed and choked, and the deleterious concoction surged forth, landing with a splat on the Swallow’s arm.
“Get it off of me!” howled Jinpei, brushing frantically at his skin. “It burns!”
Ryu rushed to assist the Swallow, using his crumbling blood-spotted lace ‘cape’ to wipe ineffectively at the venomous sludge.
“Water!” the Eagle croaked, and suddenly Jun was at Ken’s side, offering a glass to his mouth. He gulped frantically at the clear, cool liquid, his fire-red face gradually returning to its usual near-white pallor.
“What’s wrong, Ken?” Granny asked frantically, wringing her hands together in her distress.
“What did you put in that, Granny?” asked Nambu seriously. Joe could sense that the Doctor was having a difficult time holding back his anger as he questioned his grandmother.
“Just a little rum!” Granny answered her favorite grandson, staring up at Nambu with large, watery eyes. “You made such a point of explaining to me how the children were older now, and deserved to be treated like adults! So I decided that this year I could add the rum to my recipe…”
“How…?” Ken’s voice was strained, rasping in his throat as the syllables struggled to form themselves against his ravaged esophagus. “How… much… rum?”
“Just a bottle.” Granny shrugged. “One per cake. Or was that two bottles per cake?”
“Two bottles?” Dr. Nambu’s eyebrows rose so high that they practically disappeared into his hairline. “Granny, that must have cost a fortune to buy…”
“Oh, no!” Granny pooh-poohed. “It was on sale. $1.99 a gallon jug at Wool-mart.”
“A gallon?” Joe spat, just as Ken collapsed onto the table. Clearly Wool-mart rum was not up to the Eagle’s strict digestibility standards.
“It’s getting late.” Dr. Nambu said, not even glancing at his watch. “Thank you so much for spending the evening with us, Granny. We all had a wonderful time. I’ll have the limousine take you home, now.”
“Thank you, Kozaburo.” Granny smiled, letting her grandson lead her to the door. “Goodnight everyone!”
“Goodnight, Granny!” everyone replied half-heartedly, except Ken, who was still gasping for air. The two Nambus departed into the Christmas night.
“Oh…” Ken moaned. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“You’re going to be sick?” the Swallow rounded angrily on the prone Eagle. “You spat it onto me! I’ll be lucky if I can move my arm in the morning!”
Everyone turned to glare at Jinpei, who immediately shrank back as far as possible into the leatherette-covered seat.
After a few more glasses of water, Ken ran off to the bathroom, a solicitous Jun assisting him in his distress.
Shortly after the two ninjas had left, a banging sound startled Joe, Ryu, and Jinpei. They raised their heads to see what was going on, realizing that the noise was coming from outside.
Someone was knocking on the door.
“We’re closed!” shouted Joe. The only person he could guess who could legitimately be outside the door was Dr. Nambu, and the Condor knew that even if the Doctor were to return to the Snack J, he had his own key to Jun’s restaurant.
But the knocking continued, as if the person outside hadn’t heard the Condor’s words. If anything, the banging began to take on an impatient tone. Joe grunted in frustration; annoyed that the person at the door was still going at it.
“That racket is giving me a headache!” Jinpei whined.
“I’ll make them leave.” Joe promised, pushing his way out of the booth and over to the door. He yanked it open, glaring out into the dark night.
“I said we’re clo…”
No one was there.
At least, no person was there. A small deer stood outside of the Snack J.
“Well, finally!” the deer said, and for once, Joe could think of nothing at all to say in response to someone else’s sarcastic comment.
The deer walked inside, then looked back at the door, whose bottom exterior half was now covered with scratches and dents.
“Sorry.” the deer apologized. “Hooves are not really made for knocking.” He held up his right front leg and looked at it ruefully.
After a moment, the deer’s head pricked up, and he looked around, his gaze finally coming to rest upon Ryu. He trotted over to the Owl, a skeptical expression on his face… if a deer could be said to be capable of a skeptical expression.
“You?” he asked quietly, before placing his nose into one of Ryu’s hands.
“It is you!” he exclaimed, then he looked up at the confused ninja.
“Owl, I have come to request your assistance.” he said formally.
“Huh?” Ryu’s face was a mask of shock. “Me?”
“Yes.” replied the deer. “You are the Owl. You helped me once before, and now I am asking for your help again.”
“I helped you?” the Owl repeated, clearly not recalling any talking deer in his past.
“On Katse’s Jungle Island!” Joe blurted out, the memory surfacing. “The one with the Killer Bananas!”
“Killer Bananas…” Ryu said quietly, then he looked at the deer carefully. “You had a hurt leg. But you weren’t talking, then…”
“No.” agreed the deer. “That was when I still believed that Berg Katse was going to keep his empty promises. But now I understand that he is only out to deceive me. He wants to take over the planet, and I’m afraid that more of us will be hurt if he is not stopped. I recalled your kindness to me, Owl, and I was hoping that you would assist me once again.”
“But, how did you know that Ryu was the Owl?” Jinpei asked curiously.
“His scent.” the deer shrugged.
Joe stared. He had never seen a deer shrug before.
“I followed it all the way here.” the deer added.
“Followed… from Katse’s Island?” Ryu exclaimed. The deer nodded.
“How did you get across the ocean?” Joe asked suspiciously.
“You flew?” Ryu’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.
“Wouldn’t that attract an awful lot of attention?” Jinpei was curious.
“Not tonight.” the deer rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of…”
“Wait a minute!” Jinpei was suddenly jumping up and down with excitement. “Are you saying that you’re one of Santa’s reindeer?”
“No.” the deer replied calmly. “But they do provide sufficient distraction and a good cover story. Me, I’m just a misfit.”
“A misfit?” Ryu asked.
“I wasn’t built properly.” the deer sighed. “I’m too small, and I’m incapable of growing larger. That’s why I was on Katse’s Jungle Island to begin with. He didn’t want to use me to take over anything, so I got sent there instead.”
“Wait a minute…” Joe was astonished. “Built? You’re a mecha?”
The Owl and the Swallow were just as shocked as the Condor.
“What else?” the deer shrugged again. “Wait… you thought I was real?” He began to laugh.
“But on the Island, when you were hurt… there was blood.” Ryu recalled.
“So?” the deer replied in a slightly condescending tone. “I was supposed to seem like a real animal. I have a thick layer of flesh and blood over tritanium reinforced steel. Sheesh, didn’t you guys ever see Terminator?”
“A mecha with blood…” Jinpei muttered.
“Nothing on that island was real.” the deer pointed out. “It was entirely manufactured by Berg Katse.”
“You mean, when I didn’t attack Katse’s Mammoth mecha, because of those deer…” Joe whispered angrily.
“Yep.” the deer nodded. “They were mecha too. Although I’m glad you let them get out of the way. They don’t deserve to be destroyed any more than you do.”
“But they work for Katse!” Jinpei protested.
“Not exactly.” the deer shook his head. “We had an agreement with Katse, that he would let us live peacefully if he ‘borrowed’ a few of us to use against you.”
“Us?” Ryu asked,
“The Science Ninja Team.” the deer said, clearly exasperated. “Don’t you guys know anything? Whom else would Katse use mecha against?”
“So you’re saying that all the mecha we’ve destroyed have been… sentient?” Joe could hardly believe he was even thinking about this, much less asking the question. But then, he was holding a conversation with a deer.
Perhaps he had been the one to ingest Granny’s fruitcake, and he was suffering from strange hallucinations.
“Not sentient.” the deer disagreed. “Some of Katse’s large mecha, the ones he uses to attack you, he designs himself. Those ones are just hunks of metal. The ones he takes from us… he destroys their minds, before he uses them. He obliterates all conscious thought completely. Sometimes he even replaces their higher functions with a simple artificial intelligence that incorporates a destructive personality. Like about a year ago, there was Gobbler, a mecha Turkey…”
“I remember.” Ryu wasn’t the only one who groaned.
“So who is this ‘we’?” Joe questioned.
“Those of us from...” the deer never got to finish his sentence as his eyes fell on the snowman cookie jar still sitting on the table.
“Frosty!” he cried.
“Huh?” Jinpei appeared confused.
“It’s just a cookie jar.” Ryu explained. “We won it at the Nutcracker this evening. And the cookies are delicious! I think there’s even one left too. Want it?” The Owl stuck his hand into the cookie jar’s mouth and began rooting around inside.
“The last…? No!” the deer cried out, just as Ryu’s hand emerged, holding the small white cookie.
The snowman jar began to tremble, vibrating so violently that it moved across the table and then fell off of the edge, to land on the floor. But rather than breaking, the ceramic jar simply continued to roll around on the ground, shaking and rattling with a nerve-wracking intensity.
And it was growing.
“Not again!” groaned Joe, recalling the Turkey mecha that had disrupted their dinner on Christmas Eve the previous year.
“Shouldn’t you guys be transforming or something?” the deer asked sarcastically.
“Uh, yeah.” Jinpei muttered, shamefaced. “Bird… Go!”
Within moments, the Swallow stood in full Birdstyle, the Condor and the Owl close behind. By this time the snowman was so large it was breaking through the ceiling of the Snack J.
And it was still expanding its size.
“What’s going on?” shouted Jun as she emerged from the bathroom to the sound of her restaurant being destroyed. The Swan gasped as she beheld the former cookie jar crashing through the roof of the Snack J. Jun called out for the Eagle and then transformed into her own Birdstyle.
Gatchaman, the White Shadow himself (with a greenish cast to his face) stumbled forth into the restaurant a few seconds later. By this time, the snowman was at least twenty meters high, and the Snack J was a disaster zone.
“Damn it! Not the roof again!” the Swan complained angrily. “I just got it fixed last January!”
“What is that thing?” Ken croaked, unable to stand upright long enough to properly look at the mecha.
“It’s the snowman cookie jar!” Jinpei shouted. “It got mad when Ryu tried to eat the last cookie!”
“Actually, it’s Frosty.” the deer interrupted. “His mind was wiped and replaced with a inferior artificial intelligence.”
The Eagle stared at the talking deer, shaking his head in disbelief.
“That’s the last time I ever even think about eating any of Granny’s fruitcake!” he moaned.
Frosty looked down at the Science Ninjas assembled below him, his smiling, rotund face somehow managing to appear menacing as he contemplated them. Without warning, his foot lifted into the air then moved down rapidly, approaching them with increasing speed.
“It’s the Staypuff Marshmallow Man!” Ken screamed in horror, throwing himself out of harm’s way.
“Aniki, it’s Frosty!” yelled Jinpei as he rolled out from underneath the snowman’s massive foot. “Remember the song?”
“I’ve always liked that one.” Ryu grinned as he threw himself against the snowman’s foot in an offensive maneuver.
“Yo-Yo Strike!” came a shout from the other side of the foot, while Joe decided that it was time to pull out his cablegun.
A soft ‘boom’ and a cloud of smoke came from behind Frosty’s boot, and the snowman howled in rage.
“You’ve only made him angry, Swan!” the deer shouted. “Go for the hat!”
“The hat?” Jinpei was confused.
“Don’t you remember the song? The hat!” the deer practically screamed.
“I’m on it!” Joe cried, launching his cablegun and using it to pull himself up to Frosty’s knee. The Swan saw what he was doing and followed with her Yo-Yo, while Jinpei and Ryu came up behind her, using the Owl’s cablegun.
Gatchaman initiated a spectacular series of martial arts maneuvers. Unfortunately, none of them came anywhere close to Frosty.
“I’ll get you Staypuff! No Rice Krispies for your marshmallow today!” Ken cried.
The Eagle’s meaningless shouts were drowned out by the sound of maniacal laughter coming from the mouth of the snowman.
“Want… some… cookies….?” Frosty boomed.
Immediately, a shower of white spheres came out of Frosty’s mouth. Joe and Jun were able to dodge the hail of cookies, but Ryu and Jinpei were hit, resulting in a series of white, powdery explosions that engulfed them completely.
“Jinpei!” screamed the Swan in horror.
“I’m okay, Onechan!” came a muffled voice. Two white figures emerged from the area of the explosion.
“It’s sugar!” the Owl cried joyfully. “Now, where did I put my emergency sugar bag? I’m sure it could use a refill…”
“I think you left it in the Queen Ant mecha!” Jinpei hissed angrily. “We’re a little busy here, Ryu!”
“We have to reach the hat!” Joe shouted down to Jun.
“I’ll try!” the Swan replied, passing the Condor and throwing out her Yo-Yo. The red and yellow disc struck the bottom of Frosty’s hat, and there was a small explosion.
“Aaaaaaarrrrrrrgggggghhhhhhh!” cried Frosty, stumbling slightly. But when the smoke cleared, the area of damage was small in comparison to the size of the snowman’s top hat.
“It’s not strong enough!” Jun reported. “This could take all night! We need something more powerful!”
“Something that really packs a blast…” Joe muttered. He looked down at the crumbling remnants of the Snack J, and an idea came to his mind, even as the angry snowman began grabbing for the Condor.
“Ken!” Joe shouted at the dazed Eagle. “The fruitcake! Throw up the fruitcake!”
“Throw away the fruitcake!” Gatchaman cried. “Great idea, Joe!” Immediately, the White Shadow ran to the table where Granny’s fruitcakes still lay. He grabbed them all up, and one by one tossed them up and over his shoulder.
The Swallow flew out into the air, grabbing the noxious baked goods and gliding back down to Frosty’s knee.
“Pass them along, Ryu!” he cried, throwing them up one at a time to the Owl, who was now located at Frosty’s midsection. The Owl threw the fruitcakes to the Condor on Frosty’s arm, who passed them on to the Swan.
Standing on Frosty’s shoulder, Jun caught the first fruitcake, and threw it at the snowman’s hat. Just before it impacted, she tossed her Yo-Yo into the brightly wrapped cellophane package, and set off her charge.
The resulting explosion was at least ten times greater than the Swan’s Yo-Yo alone. Jun had to scramble for cover as flaming chunks of ceramic wreckage and a rain of powdered sugar hurtled in her direction.
But it wasn’t enough.
“More fruitcakes!” she screamed, and the Condor obligingly threw up another. A third one arrived just as the second one detonated, and the attack began anew. By the time all six fruitcakes had been sent up (Dr. Nambu had conveniently ‘forgotten’ to take his home) Frosty’s head was a massive, smoking crater, with only one large chunk of hat remaining.
“You don’t even have a snowball’s chance in Hell, Frosty!” Joe cried, as the Swan detonated the final fruitcake over the former cookie jar’s head.
The final section of the hat exploded, and there was a sharp cry from Frosty’s mouth. The mecha began to shake violently, tossing the ninjas to and fro.
“Time to go!” Joe ordered, and everyone jumped off, gliding back down to the floor of the Snack J. Jun grabbed Ken as she landed, and the pair threw themselves into the corner of the restaurant. Ryu, Jinpei, and the deer took cover in the opposite corner. Joe dove quickly behind the bar.
The sound of metal stress filled the air, and without further warning the mecha exploded, raining down flaming chunks of metal, ceramic pottery, and of course, powdered sugar.
“It’s caramelizing!” moaned Ryu hungrily, and the Owl leapt up, running out into the disastrous mess of a restaurant to stuff gobs of molten hot sugar into his mouth.
“How do you do that through your visor?” Jinpei asked curiously. The Swallow picked up a handful of the sugar and sniffed at it, before touching his tongue to the mixture.
“Not bad.” he shrugged.
Joe emerged cautiously from behind the bar, staring wide-eyed at the crumbling remnants of the Snack J, the smoking pieces of snowman mecha, and a hungry Ryu who was greedily stuffing molten sugar into his mouth as fast as he could.
“Where are Jun and Ken?” the Condor asked, looking around.
The corner of the Snack J, where the Swan and the Eagle had taken cover, was now a pile of rubble. A light layer of powdered sugar was beginning to settle upon the crumbling chunks of cement and twisted metal that littered the area.
“Onechan!” Jinpei cried out, rushing over to the pile and digging as fast as he could. Joe and Ryu quickly joined him. A muffled sound was heard inside the rubble.
“What happened…?” came the Eagle’s voice. “Where…?”
“You’re safe, Ken.” Jun’s voice replied.
“Who are you… a Christmas Angel?” the Eagle’s voice whispered so softly that Joe barely heard it.
“No, I’m the Christmas Queen.”
“Yes. Now, don’t you have a kiss for the Christmas Queen?”
Jinpei rolled his eyes as he worked, while Ryu simply smiled and shrugged.
“Look at it this way: at least we know they’re okay.” Joe grinned.
“Depends on your point of view.” Ryu replied. “Ken might not think so tomorrow…”
The Owl pulled off the last chunk of rubble, revealing a disheveled, helmetless Swan and Eagle making out for all they were worth.
“Get a room!” Jinpei laughed.
An embarrassed, yet triumphant, Jun pulled away from Ken, staggering to her feet as she carefully replaced her helmet.
“Maybe I should have kept just a little of that fruitcake…” she mused.
“What…?” Ken was clearly doing his best to find his sanity as he put his helmet back on and pulled himself out of the rubble. The Eagle shook his head, his eyes clearing to some degree.
“What the hell just happened here?” he demanded, looking over at Joe for a report.
“Well, while you were engaged in your fruitcake-induced hallucinations, the snowman cookie jar transformed into Frosty the Galactor mecha.” Joe began. “After it attempted to squish us with its massive foot, were able to destroy it by exploding Granny’s fruitcakes on its hat. After that, the whole thing blew apart and we all took cover. Then you started sucking face with Jun…”
“I think that’s enough.” Ken waved his hand tiredly. “But explain one more thing to me.”
“What is this?” The Eagle pointed at the deer.
“I think the word you are looking for is who.” the deer corrected politely. “My name is Rudolph. I am pleased to meet you, Gatchaman.”
Ken’s eyes grew wide.
“You’re talking!” he exclaimed fearfully.
“Didn’t we already go through this?” Rudolph sighed.
“Hey, I thought you said you weren’t one of Santa’s reindeer!” Jinpei accused Rudolph.
“I’m not.” Rudolph shrugged. “What, do you think Kris Kringle copyrighted the name? And you should see my nose…”
“Why are you here, Rudolph?” asked Ken, who was still clearly confused, but apparently somewhat less frightened by the idea of a talking deer than he had been a moment earlier.
“Finally, someone who gets right to the heart of the matter!” Rudolph grinned. “Let me explain.”
“I’m all ears.” Ryu said.
“Actually, you’re all sugar right now.” Jinpei sniffed. “How much of that stuff did you eat?” Ryu shrugged.
“Anyway,” Rudolph painfully attempted to ignore the Owl’s and the Swallow’s conversation and return to what he had originally been trying to say. “I come from the Isle of Misfit Mecha.”
“You mentioned something about being a misfit before.” Joe recalled.
“Yes. All of the mecha on the Isle are misfits. We were all built with at least one flaw.” Rudolph explained. “For a long time we lived in peace and harmony, but then one day Berg Katse discovered us. He said he had been drawn to the Isle because of its crescent shape… Anyhow, I gather we weren’t the island he had been searching for.”
“Thank goodness!” Jinpei commented.
“Not for us.” Rudolph said dryly, staring hard at the Swallow before continuing. “Katse was amazed by the mecha he saw living on our Isle. He wanted to make a treaty with us.”
“And did you?” the Swan asked.
“Yes.” Rudolph replied. “We didn’t see any other choice. We had all heard stories of Galactor, and knew that we didn’t have too many options. In any case, the more gullible among us… myself included… actually believed Katse when he said that he was only going to ‘borrow’ a few of us, and leave the rest of us in peace.”
“Katse got mecha from your island?” Ken exclaimed in horror.
“Too many.” Rudolph shook his head sadly. “There was the Mole mecha who couldn’t be in the sun, the Lava Giant mecha who was drawn to water, the Square Bowling Ball mecha who couldn’t roll, the Mummy mecha who would only move to music… and the list goes on.”
“But… we fought all of those mecha!” Jinpei protested.
“Yes, that was why Katse wanted them!” Rudolph rolled his eyes. “He began calling us his ‘Plan B’. If his real mecha didn’t work right, he would just come and take one of us, wipe our personalities, and use us for his own ends. Eventually, he decided to move many of us to his Jungle Island, which he was setting up as a trap for you all.”
“So that’s how he keeps coming up with new mecha so quickly!” Joe exclaimed, pounding his fist into his other hand.
“I heard about how you had destroyed the Ghost Island Mecha Factory.” Rudolph continued. “And I don’t want the same thing to happen to the Isle of Misfit Mecha. I understand now that Katse will never leave us alone. He’ll just keep taking we mecha until there are none of us left. I am asking for your help to protect our Isle, and make it so that Katse can never steal our mecha again!”
“Of course we’ll help.” Jun said soothingly.
“I just have one question.” Ryu said.
“What’s that?” Rudolph said curiously.
“Why are you a misfit? I don’t see anything wrong with you.”
“I already told you!” Rudolph sighed. “I’m too small! Do you really think anyone would be threatened by someone my size?”
“But you’re so cute…” Jun crooned.
“That’s not exactly the primary quality Berg Katse is looking for in his mecha.” the deer pointed out.
“Well for what it’s worth, I like you.” Ryu smiled.
“And you’ve certainly brought us some valuable information.” Ken added. “We’d be glad to help you defend the Isle of Misfit Mecha against Galactor.”
The other ninjas murmured their agreement.
“Well then, I guess I came to the right place after all.” Rudolph said. “Even if it is a bit messy… to think I was worried about scuffing the door…”
“They destroyed the Frosty mecha?” Berg Katse was outraged. “Already?”
“We have received word that a giant snowman exploded in the middle of downtown Utoland, Sire.” the goon reported.
“And what about Dr. Nambu? Was he hurt?” Katse asked angrily.
“No, Sire.” the goon backed away as a vicious glint came into Katse’s eye. “Our ISO ‘personnel’ have informed us that Dr. Nambu is currently spending Christmas with his Grandmother. The Doctor reported in to his office just a few minutes ago.”
“Damn him and that pathetic Science Ninja Team!” Katse howled. The Galactor Leader slammed down the glass of wine he was holding, the ruby liquid sloshing out and over his hand. The frightened goon ran away, afraid for his safety if he were to remain with the purple-masked madman.
“Plan B, gone!” Katse moaned. “And Sosai is still demanding results! I have to do something…”
But Berg Katse had one trick left up his sleeve. He pressed a button on his communications station, his voice echoing throughout Cross Karokorum.
“Prepare for departure! We launch for the Isle of Misfit Mecha in five minutes!”
The God Phoenix flew over the cold waters of the northern Atlantic.
“Where exactly did you say this place was again?” Ryu asked.
“Just keep flying north!” Rudolph urged. “We’re almost there.”
Joe moved to check the readouts at his station, his arm bumping against the console as he did so, thanks to a quick swerve of the God Phoenix. The Condor cursed as something prickly fell into his lap.
“What was that all about?” Joe asked angrily.
“Iceberg came up from out of nowhere!” Ryu explained, his face concentrating on piloting the warship.
“Just make sure we don’t end up like the Titanic!” Jinpei quipped.
“My tree!” Jun exclaimed, running over to Joe and rescuing the scraggly plant from his lap. “You’re breaking my tree, Joe!”
“It’s already broken. “ Joe snapped. “Why did you have to bring that stupid thing anyway? It’s the worst excuse for a Christmas tree I’ve ever seen!”
“Just because you’re a real Scrooge doesn’t mean that you have to ruin my tree!” Jun huffed. “I’m the one who has had her home destroyed two years in a row now, and I’m still trying to keep up some Christmas Spirit.”
“Actually, all of the ‘Christmas spirits’ were used to make Granny’s fruitcake!” the Swallow laughed.
“No wonder they exploded so well!” Ryu grinned.
“Just fly the damned ship already!” Joe grumbled. He turned away as Jun took the tree to the back of the Bridge, setting it up next to where Rudolph was standing.
As soon as everyone’s attention was away from him, Joe’s hand crept under his wings, to check on Bubbie. He had managed to grab the blanket before they had left the Snack J (miraculously, it had survived the demise of Frosty) and stashed it away. He had spent so many years without Bubbie, and he wasn’t about to let it get lost again now!
“I think I see something!” Ken declared, squinting at the viewscreen through a thin fog that filled the area. “Is that it?”
“Yes.” Rudolph agreed. “We should be coming into range now.”
“It’s so big!” Jinpei exclaimed.
“I guess mechas need a lot of space.” Joe noted sourly.
“What’s that moving over there?” Jun asked, peering into the fog.
Even as the ninjas stared at the Isle, a large hulking shape rose up, and it began approaching them in the Christmas Eve darkness.
“Is that mecha coming out to say hello?” Ryu asked Rudolph uncertainly.
“Let me see. Oh, it’s Nutty!” Rudolph exclaimed. “Yes, I think he’s just…”
The deer’s words were cut off as a barrage of projectiles hit the side of the God Phoenix. The warship tumbled through the air, the Owl struggling to regain control.
“I think that was… a macadamia?” Jun reported from her station.
“I think those spiky ones were chestnuts!” Jinpei added.
“And there were some almonds…” Ryu licked his lips hungrily.
“Wait a minute, what kind of mecha shoots nuts?” Joe demanded of Rudolph.
“A Nutcracker mecha.” Rudolph replied. “But this isn’t Nutty’s normal behavior. I’m afraid…”
The deer’s fears were realized as the sneering image of Berg Katse appeared on the main viewscreen.
“Well, Science Ninja Team, have you come to play?” the Galactor Leader laughed. “You won’t stand up to Nutgathra!”
“Nut-ga-what?” Joe laughed harshly. “The only nut around here is you Katse, if you think that we’re going to be defeated by that hunk of junk!”
“Hey, Nutty is one of my best friends!” Rudolph took offense to the Condor’s words.
“Was one of your best friends.” Jinpei corrected. “I think he’s gone to the Dark Side, now.”
Sure enough, Nutgathra’s eyes gleamed red, and his mouth opened again.
“Evasive maneuvers, Ryu!” Ken ordered, as more nut projectiles shot out at the God Phoenix.
“You’ll never defeat Nutgathra!” Katse cackled. “Merry Christmas from me to you, Science Ninja Team!” The Galactor Leader’s image disappeared from the viewscreen.
“We have to destroy it!” shouted Joe. “I’m going to shoot some Bird Missiles!”
“Joe, you know we need Dr. Nambu’s permission to shoot Bird Missiles!” Ken lectured.
“So call him!” Joe argued.
“He’s spending Christmas with Granny!” Ken replied. “Don’t you think that’s stressful enough?”
“Good point.” muttered the Condor.
“We’re going to infiltrate the mecha and blow it up from the inside.” Ken ordered. “You can work out your aggressions on some goons, Joe.”
“It’ll do.” the Condor growled.
“Jun, Joe, Jinpei, you’re with me. Rudolph and Ryu, stay on board and wait for my signal.” Ken instructed.
“At least this time I get some company.” Ryu grinned.
The four ninjas crept through the hallways of the Nutcracker mecha, keeping to the shadows and searching for the best place to plant their explosives.
“Based on the layout of this thing, I’d guess that the main Power Core is about twenty meters below us.” Ken commented.
“So how do we go down?” Jinpei asked.
Everyone swiveled their heads around, only to find a sea of green-uniformed Galactor troops behind them, fronted by Berg Katse himself. A long line of standard-issue Galactor rifles was pointed at the four ninjas.
“Shoot them!” Katse screeched.
“Finally, a chance to stretch my muscles!” grinned the Condor, a vicious light in his eyes.
(to the tune of ‘Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer’)
Giorgio the grumpy Condor
Had a very shiny gun
And if Galactors saw him
They would always turn and run
The goons were fleeing, screaming in terror at the sight of the deadly Condor flying through the air, a lethal hail of feather shuriken preceding him. This was the most fun the Condor had had all day, and he wasn’t about to let anything stop him now.
Besides, this was just about the best Christmas present he could ever have.
All of the other ninjas
Loved to laugh and kick and maim
They would defeat Galactors
While Katse would run off in shame
Ken, Jun, and Jinpei weren’t ones to be left out. They too quickly joined the fight. After all, there were plenty of Galactors for everyone. The sea of goons fell before the combat expertise of the four ninjas, and soon the floor was littered with dead green-uniformed bodies, the corridor spattered with blood.
“Red and green; how festive!” the Condor grinned viciously.
“You won’t get away with this, Science Ninja Team!” Katse laughed maniacally, pressing a heretofore hidden wall panel and jumping through a hastily opened door. As usual, Gatchaman was an instant too late to respond, and the door shut in Ken’s face as he attempted to pursue the Galactor Leader.
On that foggy Christmas Eve
A mecha came to play
Explosives placed inside just right
Blew Nutgathra out of sight
“Down here!” Jun called, pointing at a chute embedded in the floor. “It looks like it leads to the Power Core!”
“Then let’s go!” Jinpei grinned, throwing himself feet first down the chute. The Swan followed, the Eagle and the Condor coming in behind them. As Jun had predicted, the chute took them about twenty meters down, not too far from the main Power Core. The few goons they encountered in the area were easily dispatched by the Eagle and the Condor, while the Swan and the Swallow judiciously placed a generous amount of explosives on the exterior of the Core, wiring in a timer.
“Thirty seconds, Gentlemen!” the Swan announced, neatly brushing the explosive residue from her pristine white gloves.
“Plenty of time.” the Condor laughed, yanking open an emergency escape hatch on an exterior wall of the mecha. One by one, the four ninjas leapt out of the doomed Nutgathra. The mecha exploded with a satisfying boom behind them, even as the Eagle contacted the Owl for a pickup in the God Phoenix.
There was only one problem.
The fog that had been surrounding the Isle had thickened, and the ninjas were unable to see more than a few feet in front of them.
“Where the hell is Ryu?” Jinpei shouted as they glided down toward whatever lay below them. They had no idea if they were above the ocean waters, over the Isle, or about to crash headlong into the God Phoenix itself.
From seemingly out of nowhere, a red light appeared, off to their left.
“What is that?” Jinpei asked.
“I’m not sure.” Ken shrugged. “But whatever it is, it’s either safety, or Galactor.”
“Either way, we should head in that direction.” the Condor finished the Eagle’s thought.
The four ninjas moved toward the light, which cut through the foggy night extremely well. After a few moments, the surrounding greyness dissipated to reveal Rudolph standing on the hull of the God Phoenix, under the protective clear dome. An intensely bright red light shone forth from his nose, guiding the wayward ninjas back to their warship.
“Wow!” Jinpei goggled as he landed. “Rudolph, that’s some shiner!”
“I told you that you wouldn’t believe my nose.” the deer sniffed.
But all the misfits worried
That Katse would come back and thieve
A sacrifice from Joe the Condor
Would keep the island safe and free!
The God Phoenix landed on the Isle of Misfit Mecha, in a clearing surrounded by dark green pines and covered with a light dusting of snow. Rudolph was the first to the elevation platform, and the moment the clear dome had retracted, the deer leapt off of the warship and down to the ground, where he was immediately surrounded by a sea of small creatures. There were animals and mechanical objects, fanciful shapes, as well as things that none of the ninjas had ever encountered before, and they were all joyously moving toward Rudolph.
“My friends, I have returned!” Rudolph cried out happily. “Thanks to the Science Ninja Team!”
The creatures cheered loudly, overwhelming the five ninjas with their approval. One of them pushed forth to the front: a fuzzy, pink bunny that reminded Joe of the bedraggled toy Ken had received as a gift from Granny only a few hours before.
“I am pleased to see that you are home, Rudolph.” the bunny said. “Does this mean that Berg Katse will no longer come to our Isle and steal our citizens?”
“We haven’t quite figured that one out yet.” Ken admitted sheepishly.
“We were hoping that you mecha might have some ideas.” added Jun.
“How come you’re all so small?” Jinpei asked curiously. “I thought you were all supposed to be mecha?”
“Haven’t you learned anything young man?” the bunny sighed regretfully. “We can all grow. Well, everyone except Rudolph. That’s why Katse wants to use us: he can slip us in somewhere when we’re small, and then we grow to become something more menacing.”
“Like the turkey… or the snowman…” Joe mused.
“So all of you can grow into massive mecha of destruction?” Ryu gaped.
“We don’t want to destroy, Ryu.” Rudolph corrected the Owl. “We want to be left in peace.”
“So how can we keep Katse away from the Isle?” Joe asked, getting back to business.
“We have been researching this very thing.” the pink bunny replied.
“What have you come up with, Snoopy?” Rudolph asked.
“Snoopy?” Jinpei whispered in disbelief.
“We need to surround the Island with a shield that Berg Katse cannot penetrate.” Snoopy replied, ignoring the Swallow’s comment. Snoopy’s pink ears bobbed as he spoke excitedly. “Something through which Galactor cannot pass, because it does not know of, or understand, its power.”
“And what power is that?” Jinpei asked curiously.
“The power that you feel around you in the air tonight.” Snoopy said solemnly. “The power of Christmas Spirit.”
“Christmas Spirit?” Joe snorted. “You mean, we came all the way here because you thought we had Christmas Spirit? I think you guys are looking at the wrong ninjas.”
“Speak for yourself, Joe!” Jun humphed, pulling herself up to her full five feet eight inches and attempting to stare down the six foot one inch Condor. “I have plenty of Christmas Spirit!”
The Swan stalked off, then leapt into the air and back onto the hull of the nearby God Phoenix.
“Onechan is right!” Jinpei declared. “I love Christmas too! Santa, and presents…”
“And Christmas cookies!” Ryu added.
“I think you’re the only one without any Christmas Spirit, Joe.” Ken said reprovingly.
Joe looked around at the circle of misfit mecha and his fellow teammates, all of whom were staring at him accusingly.
“Bah, humbug!” the Condor grumbled. “What’s Christmas all about, anyway? Granny’s fruitcake, horrible gifts to endure, Liberace… Who needs it?”
“Here’s some Christmas Spirit!” Jun called out. Everyone turned to see the Swan gliding down to the ground, the pathetic, shedding Christmas tree in her arms. Joe was amazed that the thing still had any needles on it at all.
“We can put it right here!” Jun announced, walking toward the middle of the clearing. The misfit mecha all stared in awe and wonder.
“A Christmas tree!” they whispered in excited, hushed tones. “A real Christmas tree!”
“We are honored to receive your gift, Swan Jun.” said Rudolph.
“We’ve never seen a real Christmas tree before.” added Snoopy.
“With all of the beautiful pine trees you have here?” Jun asked, surprised.
“We do not have any decorations.” Snoopy replied, staring longingly at the one shiny red ornament on the fragile tree.
“Decorations are easy.” smiled Jun, as she placed the tree down on a bare patch of ground. “I’ll show you how to make them, and we can all decorate this Christmas tree together.”
“Decorations can be made out of anything!” the Swan declared. “What do you have available?”
“Just what comes from the Isle.” Snoopy replied, gesturing around the clearing.
“What’s on those bushes over there?” Jinpei asked, moving over to see. The Swallow came back with a handful of small, red objects in his glove.
“Berries!” he announced.
“And I see pine nuts over there.” Ken added.
“And here’s some dried corn!” Ryu shouted.
Soon the Swan was supervising the construction of numerous decorations: popcorn strings, berry garlands, and pine nut ornaments. Ken donated a few of his feather shuriken (he never used them anyway), and Rudolph had removed his nose, placing it carefully inside of a pair of willow branches that the Swan had woven together to form a star shape for the top of the tree.
While everyone else worked, the Condor leaned back against the hull of the God Phoenix, watching the progress of the misfit mecha with a touch of sadness. Deep down, Joe wanted to be a part of this… to contribute. But the cynic in him wasn’t entirely certain how to go about achieving that particular feat.
At last, the decorations were complete, and the excitement… the Christmas Spirit… in the air was almost palpable. Smiling brightly, Jun picked up a red berry garland and placed it onto the spindly branches.
An appreciative murmur fell over the crowd of misfit mecha.
The Swan adjusted the garland, admiring her handiwork, but the moment she released the tree from her grasp, it began to sag dangerously, falling over onto its side and nearly snapping in two.
“Oh!” exclaimed Jun sadly. “I guess this poor little thing has been through so much stress tonight…”
“Ahhh...” a wave of regret washed over the misfit mecha, and their disappointment was almost tangible. “No tree…”
“If only we could get it to stand up again.” Jinpei sniffed, while Jun bit her lower lip in frustration.
“I know how you feel, Jinpei.” said Ken, placing a comforting hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Maybe it just needs some structural reinforcement…?” Ryu suggested, but the Owl’s tone implied that he was grasping at straws.
“Structural reinforcement…” whispered Joe, looking at the bedraggled tree. A lightbulb went off in his head, and he stood up straight, unconsciously moving away from the God Phoenix and toward the tree. When he arrived at the scraggly plant, the Condor bent down, reaching out with one hand to hold the trunk straight, and with the other he reached underneath his wings.
Joe hesitated for a second, and then made his decision. He pulled out a worn, shapeless blue cloth.
Carefully, Joe held up the fragile tree, gently but firmly wrapping the blanket around the plant’s base, reinforcing the trunk and giving the additional needed support.
“There!” grinned Joe, stepping back. As the word left his lips, a bright flash illuminated the dark night sky around them, almost looking like a bowl that had been placed upside down over the Island.
“The shield…” whispered Snoopy. “It’s there…”
“Condor Joe,” said Rudolph, stepping forward, “you have shown the most Christmas Spirit of all. You have given away something that you treasure, for the benefit of others, so that we may be safe from Berg Katse and his mecha-stealing ways.”
Joe looked around in shock. They had to be wrong. Him? Christmas Spirit? He was the last person to have any…
But as the sea of misfit mecha bowed down to the Condor, expressing their thanks, something awoke in Joe’s heart. A feeling that he had sometimes seen in others, yet never before in himself, overcame him.
Embarrassed by his emotional sentiment, the Condor wiped surreptitiously at his eye, and then turned toward Jun, speaking brusquely.
“Do you think we could get this damn tree decorated, already?”
Berg Katse looked back at the Isle of Misfit Mecha regretfully, staring at the sparkling shield of Christmas Spirit being woven into the fabric of the Isle, creating a barrier that would last forever, and that neither Berg Katse nor anyone else within the Galactor organization would ever be able to breach.
Even as he watched, he could see the circle of misfit mecha joining hands with the five Science Ninjas, their voices raised in song as the music to ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ drifted along on the ocean breeze.
“Loo loo loo, loo loo loo loo…” floated across the now clear night sky, strengthening the shield of Christmas Spirit even further.
“Ah well.” sighed Berg Katse. “There goes Plan B.” The Galactor Leader looked around the small interior of his Devilstar escape pod.
“At least I was able to get the two of you.” he said, looking down at the two misfit mecha who accompanied him.
“Sosai will be so angry that I have failed him again…” Katse murmured, “but I know that you can put him into a better mood.”
Carefully, Berg Katse picked up a small blue bird with an overly large cranium. The creature’s head was twice as big as its body, and it was barely able to totter across the floor of the Devilstar pod to the Galactor Leader.
“Yes, Sosai will be very pleased with you.” Katse said thoughtfully, stroking the bird’s feathers as he held it in his lap. The chreature twirped throatily, clearly enjoying the attention.
“What about me?” asked the other misfit mecha plaintively. “What’s going to happen to me?”
This mecha was covered with a thick, white fur, but his face, hands and feet were hairless, displaying flesh of a deep blue hue.
“You?” Katse smiled at the creature. “Well, my little abominable snowman, I’m going to take you to the Himalayas.”
“The Himalayas?” the yeti brightened.
“Yes.” Katse said soothingly. “You’ll be able to play in the snow and protect my new base. Won’t that be fun?”
“It will!” the creature clapped his hands together in delight, but then suddenly his face fell.
“Wait…” he said suspiciously. “There aren’t any dentists in the Himalayas, are there?”
“Dentists?” Katse was surprised. “No, no dentists.” He shook his head.
“Good.” the small yeti replied. “Just make sure none show up.” He crossed his arms defiantly, glaring at the Galactor Leader.
Berg Katse smiled, stroking the deformed bird in his lap, and secretly planning what he would do with the abominable snowman. Its attitude was too non-conformist, and its memory and personality would have to be wiped. But then, what else did he expect from a misfit mecha?
At least, if he hadn’t defeated the Science Ninja Team, he had something with which to placate Sosai, and a new mecha to use against his enemies.
And of course, there was a new year just around the corner.
The End… or is it?