The Galactor commander, himself dressed like a mutant mole, addressed a viewscreen. “Lord Berg Katse, everything is going as planned. Do you think the Science Team Ninja will show, sire?”
“Dude, what’s with this guy?” a goon seated at a control panel whispered to his neighbor, “I’ve never heard him get the Science Ninja Team’s name right.”
“Either he’s got some weird sort of dyslexia,” his neighbor answered, “or that mask’s keeping him from getting enough oxygen.”
“Maybe his brain’s too small.” another goon added, “I mean, there’s just no way a normal-sized head could fit into the top of that costume.”
The commander bowed low before the fading image of Katse.
The night sky glowed red over the burning city.
“Sorry I’m late, Ken. Go ahead, I’m ready to link up.” Condor Joe had just driven into one of the more heavily damaged areas of the city. He caught a glimpse of a dog in the classic road kill position and thought nothing of it.
But then he saw the puppy.
The puppy, yipping at and nudging his dead mother, easily registered a 12 on the Mabui Cuteness scale. Even the Condor is just a magpie in front of shiny objects when a critter sends out that kind of adorable vibe. Joe stopped the car and watched as the puppy continued trying to revive his mother.
The sounds of distant explosions and crumbling buildings pulled Joe back to his mission. He raced off to meet the God Phoenix.
Maybe he felt a bond with the little dog, since Galactor had made them both orphans. Or perhaps Joe had an overwhelming desire to hear Katse someday say, “I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids and their stupid dog!” At any rate, just as the God Phoenix was about to lift the G-2 mecha into itself, Joe spun the steering wheel and went back toward the puppy.
“Joe, what the hell – ?!” Ken’s voice screeched fom Joe’s bracelet.
“I’m going to save that dog. Don’t worry about me.”
“Joe, come back!” Jun pleaded, “It’s too dangerous!” There was no denying that Jun was always deeply concerned for her friends. However, she had another motivator: the chances of her having a decent love triangle get blown to hell if Joe was hurt badly enough. (True, it was possible that Ryu might due in a pinch. But, honestly, could you ever see him actually doing that?)
The giant mole mech moved toward the young dog. The puppy stopped trying to harass his mother back to life and positioned himself to defend her. His Mabui rating shot up to 19 as he let out the most menacing barks and growls his iddle voice would allow. (Yes, I said “iddle”. Hey, nobody’s immune to that much of a cuteness-jump!)
A goon seated at a control panel leaned a little toward his neighbor. “The guys in Engineering got a pool going.” he whispered, “You in?”
“What’s it for?”
“To see how many times the commander screws up the Science Ninja Team’s name.”
“There’s G-2 from the Team Science Ninja,” the mole commander bellowed wile pointing at the main viewscreen, “KILL HIM!”
By this time Joe was running down the middle of a shattered street. Lasers fired. Joe was hit squarely in the back. He didn’t slow down; the same laser that has sliced through commuter trains and skyscrapers had no noticeable effect on a human being.
In one swift move, the Condor snatched up the puppy and dove out of the way just as a giant metallic foot squished the corpse of the mother dog. The mole monster ground the canine remains into the earth.
“Now that’s just mean!” Ryu cried at what he just saw. His fingers danced over the God Phoenix’s controls, causing the airship to circle the mole mecha’s head like a pesky fly.
The mole commander let out a laugh. “We’ll teach you! Swat down the God Phoenix!”
The mecha lurched and shook like an epileptic Chihuahua as it tried to destroy the city, kill Joe, and knock down the God Phoenix simultaneously. (Galactor just doesn’t have a strong reputation for multitasking.)
Joe continued to sprint down the middle of the street as Galactor’s crosseyed marksmen continued to fire in his general direction. But then dumb luck stepped in – a missile exploded just behind the Condor.
Ken, Jun, Jinpei, and Ryu stared in disbelief at the image of Joe lying prone on crumbling concrete. They didn’t even notice that the Galactor machine had vanished.
“Take her down, Ryu.” Ken strained a bit to keep control of his voice. Ryu quietly did as he was told.
The mole mecha leapt up from beneath the earth as though it was a dolphin leaping out of the water. The God Phoenix lurched out of the way, just avoiding a collision.
“BOO!” the commander shouted, “Did I scare you, Ninja Science Team?”
“Uh, boss,” the goon immediately in front of the viewscreen said, “the sun’s coming up.”
“Damn. This thing’s useless in the daylight. Take us underground. You lucked out this time, Team Ninja Science!”
A goon sitting at a control panel leaned a little toward his neighbor. “Does this thing really have some sort of weakness in the daylight?”
“Nah,” his neighbor answered, “he’s just afraid of having a run-in with Billy the Exterminator.”
Each member of the Science Ninja Team is highly trained. Therefore, it was second nature for the uninjured members to stand around Joe in one of the “epic movie hero death scene” positions instead of rushing to get medical assistance to him.
The puppy vigorously licked Joe’s back; the Galactor laser blast had given the Condor’s wings a strangely addictive chicken flavor.
The sight of the puppy having such a good time got to be too much for Jinpei. He picked up a nearby stick and charged toward the pup. “Damn dog!” the Swallow shouted, “it’s all your fault!”
Ken grabbed Jinpei’s arm before the boy could swing the stick.
“Ken, what the hell – ?!”
“The puppy’s not to blame for anything.” Ken’s voice was gentle and calm as he spoke to Jinpei, “And, anyway, you’re forgetting the Fifth Special Rule of Cuteness.”
“If you whack a puppy, Fate will whack you back harder.”
Jinpei dropped the stick. Ken released his arm.
The Eagle turned his attention to the small dog. “I think I know why Joe saved this puppy.” Ken said as he picked up the pup. He knew he was saying something to the rest of the team, but he had no idea what it was because his attention was held by the puppy’s eyes. Tears began to well up in Ken’s eyes as tragic scenes filled his mind.
First he saw a beach kissed by the morning sun. But there was no other beauty there as an angry young puppy snatched up his father’s gun, ready to shoot the assassin who had just killed his parents. Next, Ken saw Joe barking at and nudging the body of his dead mother. . . .
“What do we do about the puppy?” Jinpei asked as he and the rest of the Science Ninja Team started carrying Joe to the God Phoenix.
“Leave it.” Ken answered.
“Save it, please.” Joe managed to say in the few seconds he was awake.
Ken held the puppy in his lap as the God Phoenix made its way back to ISO headquarters. And, during that time, he sobbed his way through three industrial-sized boxes of tissues.
If this wasn’t the worst day in Dr. Kozaburou Nambu’s life, it was easily within spitting distance. Joe, whom he had watched grow from an angry boy to a furious young man, was lying in a hospital bed. A small metal fragment was pressing against Joe’s brain, but there was no surgery that could remove it without killing him. In front of him were four young people pleading for Dr. Nambu to do something – anything – to save their dear friend.
Now, someone without Dr. Nambu’s incredible scientific background might think he would devote his abilities and ISO resources to finding a way to remove that piece of metal from Joe head. However, Dr. Nambu knew that the Oroka Paradigm would kick in, killing Joe and sending a gigantic pack of seven-foot-tall Chihuahuas marauding across the Sonoran countryside.
But there was one, desperate option. Dr. Nambu took a deep breath before saying, “We could try using the centrifuge from the Space Research Center to dislodge the fragment from his brain . . .”
Joe, head bandaged and eyes covered, was strapped into the centrifuge. The other members of the Science Ninja Team stood just a couple of inched away from the device; they wanted to be sure Joe knew they were supporting him, in case he suddenly woke up and had the ability to see through the blindfold.
Dr. Nambu sat at a control panel a short distance away. To his left was a technician. Nambu gave a signal, the tech pulled a lever, and the centrifuge started to spin.
“Increase the speed sixfold.”
The tech obliged.
“Now go up to tenfold.”
“But sir, that could puree the guy!” the tech cried.
“I want ludicrous speed NOW, damn it!”
“Um, yes sir.” the tech sheepishly replied. He then muttered under his breath, “Geez, lay off the energy drinks!”
A weird silence filled the centrifuge chamber. Four young people stood before Dr. Nambu, and all were devastated. They had to come to grips with the fact that Joe was sure to die. Could they ever go on with their lives without ever seeing the brooding, pensive Condor Joe again? How could they function as a team? Should they each pick through his things for a keepsake or two, or should they just sell all his stuff and divide the cash equally?
A janitor ran in. “Somebody from ISO HQ called. The mole tank’s attacking the city again.”
“Mole tank?” The others in the room asked in perfect unison.
“That’s what they called the thing stomping the city.” The janitor replied. With that, he left.
“I don’t care what they call it.” Jinpei said as he sat down in protest, “I’m not leaving Joe!”
“I don’t want to leave Joe, either.” Jun added, “He could die while we’re gone!”
Ken started toward the door. “I’m going.” he said, “I have to, don’t you see? We’re the heroes.” He struggled to keep his voice from cracking. “If there’s just one brick left unstomped, it’s our job to defend it to the very end. If we didn’t do our job, Joe will just wait for us in the afterlife. And once we got there, he’d spend the rest of eternity kicking our asses.”
The 105th Monster Mecha Fodder Division was valiantly fulfilling its purpose of dying pointlessly. For each jet fighter that was hit by a laser, five more exploded spontaneously. Each time a missile hit a tank, ten more tanks vaporized for no apparent reason. The mole tank commander held his sides as he laughtd at the spectacle. Then he saw the God Phoenix’s image growing in the viewscreen.
“Ah, there you are, Ninja Team Science! Prepare to die!” (Several goons quietly cursed their luck; the commander had just exceeded the number they had chosen for the pool.)
“Well, it was nice knowing you guys,” Ryu said as the mole mecha grew bigger in the viewscreen, “but we don’t stand a chance.”
“Are you kidding me?!” Ken shouted as he jumped up from his seat, “Of course we have a chance! We’re the good guys!”
I swear, Ryu thought, if he pulls out a set of pom poms and starts turning cartwheels . . .
“But Aniki,” Jinpei whined, “we can’t do anything without G-2! We can’t fire Bird Missiles. We can’t use Firebird Technique. Hell, we can’t even fart at them!”
“He’s right.” Jun concurred, ”We’re useless without Joe.”
The Galactor mecha fired lasers, shot missiles, and simply swiped at the God Phoenix with its massive metal claws. Ryu made the God Phoenix dodge each attack effortlessly.
The mole commander’s voice crackled over the God Phoenix’s sound system. “Are you scared, Team Ninja Team Science? It’s time to say your prayers!”
“Are you sure you’ve got the right number?” Ryu replied, “This is the Science Ninja Team.”
Ken ignored what Ryu said and aimed his flash of anger in the general direction of the mole tank. “DAMN IT, WE WILL NOT LOSE!”
The God Phoenix continued to dodge the mole mecha’s attacks. Unfortunately, Galactor’s crosseyed marksmen started lucking out again – several laser blasts just touched the starboard wing, and a couple of missiles exploded near the engines. The ship shook and lurched violently.
Just then Jun noticed something on the small monitor at her station. “Ken, look at this!” As soon as he got there, Ken had to keep an enormous smile from spreading across his face; the screen showed G-2 racing to catch up.
“Science Ninja Team, Joe has gone missing!” Dr. Nambu’s face appeared on a small monitor above the main viewscreen. “If he’s still alive, I’m sure he’ll head your way!”
“How’d he get past the guards, Hakase?” Jinpei asked.
“He yelled , ‘Look, Godzilla!’ and then slipped out of the building when they ran to a window to see.”
“They’re as fucking stupid as Galactor goons!” Jinpei cried. Dr. Nambu muttered something under his breath as he ended the communication.
Joe staggered onto the bridge and collapsed. He wore his civilian clothes and the head bandage from the centrifuge. Ken and Jun barely had enough time to catch him.
“Ken, he’s going to die at this rate!” Jun was on the verge of tears.
“Don’t worry about me.” Joe struggled to say, “Just destroy the mole tank with the Firebird Technique.”
“No, Joe, you’d just become Kentucky Fried Condor if I did that.”
Somewhere very far from the Science Ninja Team, members of the London Symphony Orchestra instinctively picked up their instruments and began playing music for an epic death scene.
“Look, that fragment’s not coming out.” the Condor said bravely, “I know I’m going to die. I don’t want it to be wasted.”
“Oh Joe.” Ken whispered. An impossibly large tear ran down his cheek and splashed Joe’s face.
“SON OF A BITCH!” Joe shrieked in pain. More tears came, forcing him to sputter and cough violently.
“Ken, will you get a grip?!” Jun snapped, “You’re practically waterboarding him!”
“Ken, the mole tank seems to have disappeared!” Ryu called. Ken dramatically strode over to the pilot, leaving Jun to struggle with easing Joe the rest of the way down to the floor before she dropped him.
“Try looking at a lower altitude, Ryu.”
As the God Phoenix drew closer to the ground, a giant metallic claw broke through the earth and snatched the airship.
“Well, we’re dead.” Ryu said with a frightening calmness, “It’s gonna crush us.”
“No way!” Ken barked. He grabbed a lever Ryu was struggling with and added his strength to getting the thing to move. The God Phoenix strained to break free.
“Now, Science Ninja Team,” the mole tank commander crowed, “see that you’re no match for Galactor!”
“Uh oh.” a goon gasped, “That can’t be good.”
“What’s wrong?” his neighbor asked.
“The commander got the name right!”
“Our only option is to fire Bird Missiles.” Ryu declared.
“But we’re too close!” Jinpei replied.
“What happens if Joe can’t withstand the explosive force?” Ken asked to nobody in particular.
In spite of Jun’s best efforts to keep him still, Joe managed to crawl to his favorite spot on the God Phoenix. As he muttered, “For God’s sake, Ken, grow a pair,” Joe pressed the red button.
The mole tank became so much metallic confetti.
The God Phoenix spun like a demented drill bit. And while his teammates were thrown to the sides of the cockpit, Ken managed to stay perfectly upright. He pushed a lever forward, stabilizing the God Phoenix.
He turned to check the status of the rest of the team and let out a startled cry when he saw Jun kneeling beside Joe’s still body. Ken started to move toward them when a “ping” sound came from near his boot. He bent down, picked up a piece of metal, and examined it.
The metal piece was about half the size of his palm. It was slightly twisted near the edges and incredibly pristine; there was no dirt, no blood, no bits of bandaging or tissue of any type. It took a minute or two before he let out a gasp of realization.
“Joe, that tiny metal fragment pressed against your brain – it came out!”
“The shockwave must’ve knocked that bastard out!” Jinpei let out several whoops of joy as he danced around his seat. Jun, in the meantime, struggled to get Joe into more of a seated position.
Tears welled up in Ken’s eyes. The thought of Joe scampering about with a cold, wet nose was almost too much to contain.
“But what about the puppy?” Joe struggled to say. But that didn’t matter to Ken; he was resisting the urge to scratch Joe behind the ears.
“The puppy is just fine.” Dr. Nambu’s image came onto the monitor above the main viewscreen. He held the puppy in camera range as proof. “Now that the fragment’s out, I can take care of Joe’s other wounds.
“Science Ninja Team,” Dr. Nambu continued, “I hope this encounter with the mole tank has taught you that your true strength lies within you all acting as one.”
“Hakase,” Ryu said, “I’ve got a few problems with the way this ‘lesson’ was presented. . .”
Ken heard nothing of the exchange between Dr. Nambu and Ryu; his tear-filled eyes were locked on the puppy. . . the sweet iddle puppy-wuppy. . . .
“FOR GOD’S SAKE, KEN, SNAP OUT OF IT!” It was hard to say if it was the tone in Dr. Nambu’s voice or the fact that Jinpei had given him a solid kick to both shins that made Ken snap back to reality.
“Wha – ?”
“I want you to report for medical testing as soon as you get here!”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“You seem to be suffering an acute allergic reaction to cuteness.”