Many thanks to ChrisW for beta'ing
“I want you to know I hold you totally responsible for this fiasco.”
“Yes Hakase,” Ken gulped nervously. “But sir…”
“Enough,” The Doctor banged his fist on the desk. “I don’t want any excuses, I want to know exactly what happened, and no skipping over the facts.”
Several hours earlier…
“Ken, mecha dead ahead, preparing to fire.” Joe uncovered the button to release the bird missiles.
“Wait, we still have data to recover, we go in first.” Ken held his second’s arm preventing him from hitting the detonator.
“What the hell for? There’s nothing there that we haven’t seen hundreds of times already.”
“We don’t know that… now hold your fire. Jun, Jinpei, come with me, Joe wait for my command before you shoot.”
The Condor simply huffed but returned to his seat, just as Ryu suddenly lurched the ship to the left, sending the unseated members stumbling.
“What’s up Ryu?” Ken asked.
“They’ve begun firing, taking evasive action.”
“Get as close as possible.” Ken returned to his seat, as the others buckled in. “We need to find a way in, but try to avoid getting hit.”
“Oh, like that never occurred to me…” Ryu complied nonetheless, swerving to avoid another blast of fire. “Somehow these guys are more accurate than usual, these shots are close.”
“Commander, found an entry point, portside of the creature’s head,” Jinpei called out.
“Ok team, ready?”
“Whenever you are.”
“Waiting for your command.”
Ryu maneuvered the God Phoenix over the cockroach -shaped craft, and hovered until the firing ceased. The Eagle, Swan and Swallow exited through the dome and landed smoothly on the head of the mechanical monster. Ordering the two of them to keep out of the way, Ken edged cautiously to the side of the craft where Jinpei had found the entrance. Climbing down, he pried the door open and made his way inside, finding himself in a cavernous space, which appeared to be devoid of any people or instruments of any kind.
“What ya got Commander?” Jinpei’s voice came over the bracelet.
“Nothing.” Ken sounded puzzled. “The thing is empty.”
“Wha?” It was obvious that no one believed him, and Jun and Jinpei were there in an instant. “There can’t be nothing….” They stopped in surprise as they took in their surroundings.
“I thought I told you to stay put?” Ken demanded.
“How can a mecha this size be totally empty?” Ignoring Ken’s comment, Jinpei strolled into the centre of the bridge, then ducked as a beam of light came from the wall, striking his bracelet and knocking him out of birdstyle when he instinctively raised his hands to cover his head. The bracelet landed by his feet, now totally useless.
Under further barrage of laser fire he scrambled back to the others, Jun sheltering him with her wings as he cradled his injured hand. Ken threw his boomerang around the wide area, noting how many lasers shot at it from various points in the wall.
“Motion sensors,” he concluded, catching and then quickly dropping the burning hot blade. “Ok, we’re not going to get much more from here, back to the God Phoenix, and we’ll get your hand seen to.” Carrying Jinpei between them, they leapt back to the waiting ship, still dodging the blasts from the mecha.
Ryu hovered in front of the enemy vehicle, while Joe fired missiles, but each one was effortlessly shot from the sky before it even made contact. No matter how many or how fast Joe fired, they were all blasted away by the automatic weapons. Joe persistently continued, until there were no more bombs in the missile bay.
“Damnit,” he cursed, “Now what are we meant to do?” He turned to face the others. “If we move, we’re goners, but we can’t stay here, the fuel supply won’t allow it.” Joe stared at the Swallow, clenching his fist and trying to rein in his temper. Jinpei cowered under the glare.
“D’ya think their ship might go first if they think there’s no one here?”
“I doubt it Jinpei, as long as they know we’re here, they’ll wait as long as it takes.”
“We should have bombed it while we were still on board.” The youngest teammate sulked, flinching while Jun tended the burns across his hand.
“Will you keep still?” Jun scolded him.
“Well we shoulda.”
“Shoulda, woulda, coulda.” Joe grouched, “You didn’t and that’s the end of it.”
“We can go back.”
“No.” Ken was definite about it. “We’ll wait and see if it will fly off. Ryu, can you find somewhere to land?”
“Not without becoming its target again.”
“Understood, Ryu, just get us on the ground.”
“How about we go out in our G machines, and draw the fire away from the God Phoenix, while Ryu lands this thing.” Joe suggested.
Ken gave this idea some thought. “It may work, but Jinpei stays here while he’s out of birdstyle. Joe, you take his buggy.”
“What’s wrong with taking the G-2?”
“Because that’s only effective on land, we need the flying vehicles.”
“I can still go, Aniki.”
“No, if you get shot down, you’re unprotected in your civvies.”
“I’ll take the G-4, if it’s not considered manly enough for the Condor,” Jun offered. “My Cycle isn’t exactly appropriate either.”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t,” Joe told them. “I just wanted to know why Ken didn’t want me in my car. The G-4 is better than being stuck here with the squirt constantly bugging me.”
“Enough squabbling,” Finally Ken made up his mind. “Joe, take the G-4, I’ll be in my aircraft and we draw fire. Ryu, let us know when you’ve landed, and we’ll join you on the ground.”
Minutes later, the Eagle and Condor took to the air, doing their best to dodge and weave their way through the persistent firing from the enemy aircraft. The God Phoenix took its share of hits as Ryu tried to avoid detection, but nothing major was damaged. Finally, the Owl was far enough out of range to set the craft down onto solid ground, with Ken’s jet not too far behind. Joe in the Helicobuggy wasn’t so fortunate.
The craft was clumsy and hard to steer, at least in his opinion. It took a lot of concentration to dodge the burning rays of light as they came his way. He was relieved to hear Ken’s voice over the communicator, instructing him to return to the God Phoenix. The sooner he got out of this poor excuse of a machine, the better. It would be a long time before he willingly operated this thing again.
Silently cursing Jinpei and his buggy, Joe turned and headed back towards the God Phoenix. With Ken already docked, all the guns were aimed at him. He became frustrated with the lack of control he had. Compared to his car, this thing was as sluggish as hell, with next to no maneuverability. The only benefit to this thing was its ability to fly, drive and be submerged. Right now he wished there was a body of water to submerge into, if it would shield him from attack, since the barrage of lasers was unrelenting. Now that he was the only target the sensors could detect, he was struck from every angle, buffering him around. Despite his best efforts, Joe couldn’t keep it up, and struggled to keep the craft upright as the boosters were shot clean off and it plummeted to the ground.
From the bridge of the God Phoenix, the other four watched with increasing degrees of shock as they witnessed the buggy crash onto the ground, no sign of Joe and whether he managed to escape. Jinpei threw his arms around Jun, sobbing into her wings that it should have been him.
“We’d better go get him.” Ryu said at last.
“Do you think it’s safe yet? I mean will the mecha start shooting again as soon as we go out there?” Jun attempted to call Joe over her bracelet, but he didn’t respond.
“Possibly,” Ken considered for a moment. “I’ll go.”
“Wait Ken,” Ryu called him to the front of the craft, “it’s going away. I think it’s decided it’s won and is going back to where it came from.”
Joe attempted to open his eyes. The unexpected brightness of the room stung, and he immediately closed them again. He lay still, using the remaining senses to figure out he was in the med bay.
Crescent coral base?
He opened his eyes again, gradually allowing them to adjust to the brilliance of the room until he could finally look around. Not that there was much to see.
“Joe?” Jun’s voice cut through the noise of the various machines around him. “How are you feeling?”
How should he know? He had just regained consciousness, he hadn’t even started to think about why he was there. His mouth was too dry to respond, so he attempted to lick his lips to communicate his need for water. Jun seemed to understand this, and filled a beaker, adding a straw to make sipping it easier. Joe drank deeply, glad of the soothing liquid against his rough throat. Finally satisfied, he spat the straw out, and lay back on the pillow.
“What happened, Jun?” he asked at last.
“How are you feeling?” Jun repeated her earlier question, totally ignoring his for the time being.
“Ok, I think,” he flexed each of his muscles in turn. “Nothing broken, at least.”
“Good. Nambu wants us in his office as soon as you’re fit to walk.”
“So what happened?”
“It will all be explained in the debrief.” She provided some support as Joe climbed off the bed. “Ken’s gonna be taking the rap for this, I hope you know.”
“Why? What did he do?”
“Are you sure you’re fit enough?” Joe didn’t answer. Instead he followed her to Nambu’s office.
Nambu stared at the team, something akin to disgust across his face. “Now Ken,” he began, “As commander, I want you to tell me why you are not ultimately responsible for the damage to expensive equipment, injury to two of your teammates and you still return without any data.”
“I can’t sir.” Ken answered. “I have to take full responsibility.”
“No Hakase,” Jinpei piped up suddenly. “I did it, it’s my fault that Joe got hurt.”
“Oh?” Nambu looked at the youngest team member. “Explain yourself then Jinpei.”
“W…well,” he stuttered, as suddenly all eyes were fixed on him. “When onechan and aniki and I went into the mecha, and I got my bracelet shot off, and I fell out of birdstyle, I should have been more careful and not let it happen. I didn’t even pick the bracelet up after it fell off and I shoulda. I should have known that stuff like that can happen, and I forgot.” Pausing to take a breath, he looked around the room, still everyone stared at him waiting for more. “If I hadn’t have been so careless, then I would have been in the helicobuggy instead of Joe, and I can drive it better.”
“Right, the issue with the bracelet, I will hold you responsible for. That was totally unacceptable. Still, whose decision was it for you and Jun to go into the mecha with Ken?” Nambu asked him.
“Well, aniki’s, and he told us to wait, but I ignored him.”
“Jinpei, your honesty is commendable, but nevertheless, Ken is ultimately responsible for the consequences of the decisions he takes. Still, if you’re accepting some responsibility, then you shall be confined to base for the duration of this next mission and remember in future, that you will always follow orders from your commanding officer.”
The doctor read the report on his desk, “Ken also had the opportunity to plant explosives or a tracking device, while inside the mecha, yet didn’t, left his teammate alone while under fire, and a valuable piece of I.S.O. equipment is now potentially in Galactor’s hands.” Nambu studied the report further, and Ken suspected he was trying to seek out any more misdemeanors he might have committed.
“Any of us could have done that though, sir.” Jun spoke up in her commander’s defense.
“Hakase, maybe that could be turned to our advantage though?” Ken was desperate to redeem himself.
“Go on, Ken.”
“Would it be possible for Jinpei’s bracelet to be a tracking device?” He suggested hopefully. “Assuming the mecha returned to the base it was constructed in, we could find it and destroy the base at the same time.”
“Wouldn’t that bring the bracelet to Galactor’s attention?” Joe wondered. “Assuming it hasn’t already been found.”
“It was in pretty poor condition though. It wouldn’t be any use to them.”
“I don’t know, but it’s worth a try.” Nambu considered it for a moment. “I’ll speak to the engineering department and see if they can come up with something. You’re all dismissed for now. Oh, and Jinpei, stay around one of the others, when I call them in, you’ll need to be with them too.”
The team had been hanging around the J for what seemed like eternity. Every time the news came on the TV or over the radio, a chill would go through them, in case the mecha had begun attacking residential areas of the city. It seemed Galactor was laying low. For now at least.
Joe was beginning to get impatient, knowing the thing was still out there, but feeling powerless to do anything about it, his restlessness rubbing off onto the others.
“Oh for pities sake Joe, will you sit down?” Ken insisted, irritably.
“I will when that thing has been blown to smithereens. I should have been shooting the thing from my car. It would never have sensed the bullets before they hit. For the record, I say the shrimp is to blame for all this too. If I’m going to be killed in action, I’d prefer it to be at the hands of the enemy, not down to an incompetent teammate.”
“I’m not a shrimp….” Jinpei protested, “And I’m taking responsibility for it, aren’t I?”
“Wow, grounded for one mission, that’s some punishment. You’ve practically got away with nearly getting me killed. Besides, you should know it all comes back to Ken in the end….if you would just learn to obey orders then things would have been much different.”
“Jinpei could have kept quiet about what he did, and left Ken to take the rap….” Jun felt obliged to try and defend Jinpei’s actions. “Like you’ve never made any mistakes before.”
“Hindsight is wonderful, Joe. It’s a shame none of us has been blessed….” Ken was interrupted by the chiming on his bracelet. The whole team listened in, eager to know what was happening.
“Commander,” They all heard Nambu’s voice clearly in the silent diner. “Gather the team and get here as quickly as possible. The cockroach is on the move.”
“The team is here, Hakase. Be there in five.” Ken looked at the expectant faces around him. “So what are you waiting for? Get a move on.”
They made it to Nambu’s office in record time, each of them lined up in front of his desk, looking curiously at the miniature versions of Ken’s jet and Jinpei’s buggy, wondering what the Doctor had in mind for them. Next to them were three bracelets. Jinpei, the only one not in birdstyle, went to pick one up.
“Not just yet, Jinpei,” Nambu startled him suddenly emerging from the anteroom. “They’re not quite what they seem.”
“So what are they, Hakase?” Ken asked for them all.
“These,” the doctor picked one up and handed it to Joe, “are replacement bracelets. Once you get into the God Phoenix, Joe and Jun will wear these instead of their original ones.”
“Why? And is it just Joe and Jun having the replica bracelets?”
“Yes Ken, you must seem to be in your G-1.The theory is that the sensors in the cockroach mecha are detecting the metal in the bracelets’ components, which would explain why Jinpei was only shot once, but the buggy, and Ken’s boomerang were shot repeatedly. These have had their metal parts replaced with plastic or glass. It will sustain their birdstyle, but you won’t be able to communicate through them, I’m afraid.” Nambu handed the second one to Jun. “This last one is a regular one to replace Jinpei’s that got shot off.” The Swallow grabbed it, and put it on immediately, transmuting to birdstyle at once.
“No, Jinpei, you’re to stay here, as you were told.”
“Well you did say it was your fault, so this is your punishment.” Joe smirked at him. An irritated Swallow kicked the leg of the desk, and flumped onto the sofa, arms crossed and scowling indignantly.
“Not just that,” Nambu stepped in, “your buggy has not been completely repaired yet. The damage was more substantial than we originally thought.”
“So what’s the plan then?” Ken was anxious to get things off the ground, he was also as curious as the others to the purpose of the miniature vehicles on the desk.
“Right.” The doctor removed his glasses, polished them, then replaced them on to his nose. “These are your decoys, operated by remote control, they are to make any Galactor agent watching think that the G1 and G4 are attacking them from the outside. Their size is to make them appear much further away than they actually are and they are designed to draw the fire away from you so Joe and Jun can enter the craft and plant their explosives. Hopefully, the new bracelets will prevent them both from being targeted while they’re inside.”
“Awww,” Jinpei moaned, “that’s not fair. I’d be brilliant at flying them too.”
“Actually, there is a role for you, and it’s from here.” Jinpei looked at their mentor, suddenly full of his own importance, while he was given his instructions. He had to look out for Joe and Jun leaving the mecha over the monitors, and call the others in the God Phoenix to pick them up. It wasn’t much, but it gave him a purpose for missing out on the fun, and less like the punishment he knew it was. He sprawled out over the sofa, settling in for a long and boring day.
Finally, the briefing was over, the four teammates ran to board their ship, and they were off to beat the mecha.
As soon as the Galactor craft came into view, Ryu landed the God Phoenix on an area of desert well away from any civilization, and took one of the mini buggy’s remotes. Ken took the other controlling his replica jet, and the two of them flew the miniature vehicles around the mecha, drawing it closer. The ploy seemed to work, the machine fired upon the toys as it edged nearer, and soon enough, Joe and Jun were able to sneak into it undetected.
Unfortunately, this time, the mecha wasn’t unoccupied, and a horde of goons lay in wait. Unable to call the others for backup, the two wasted no time fighting off the enemy troops with whatever was available, using their weapons to maximum effect, until there was no more left standing. Barely pausing to catch her breath, Jun began planting explosives all around the interior, while Joe kept looking for any sign of life from the pile of bodies surrounding them.
At last Jun was satisfied, signaling Joe to get ready to leave. She aimed her Yo-yo at the furthest bomb, detonating it as they leapt from the craft, the blast that followed thrusting them further away than they had anticipated.
Watching from the relative safety of the God Phoenix, Ken and Ryu dropped the remotes once they saw the craft explode, and waited with bated breath for Jinpei’s signal that their teammates escaped ok. It seemed like ages before anything came over their bracelets as they watched the pieces of Galactor warcraft falling from the sky onto the barren land below.
Unable to bear the wait any longer, Ken ordered Ryu to fly over the area where the explosion occurred, hoping to spot them from the air, while simultaneously calling Jinpei.
“Did you see them? Which direction did they fall?” Ken couldn’t hide the panic in his voice. “Jinpei, come in damn it.”
“Sorry, aniki, the explosion was too sudden, there’s no sign of them from our viewpoint.”
“Well there’s nowhere for them to hide down there, they have to be around somewhere.” He’d had enough and raced to his jet, setting off to scout for any sign of their missing teammates, while doing his best to ignore a frantic Jinpei, who kept yelling over the communicators how this wasn’t his fault this time.
“Ok, Jinpei, no one’s gonna blame you for this.” Ryu’s voice coming over the communicator seemed to placate the boy slightly, but both men could understand the frustration the lad felt, being so far away and unable to do anything to help.
Between the two pilots, they covered the area where the burning debris fell, hoping to spot the tell-tale flash of blue or white of the Condor and Swan. Ken cursed their fake bracelets more than once. None of this searching would have been necessary if they had just had their regular bracelets and could have called for assistance. Still, he refused to give up, and he circled around for the umpteenth time, scouring the land below, determined to find them before it got dark.
Eventually he tired himself out and landed his plane a safe distance from the fire, then climbed out of the cockpit to stretch his legs. He wondered aimlessly for a few moments, still watching for any sign of Joe or Jun.
“Found anything yet, Ken?” Ryu asked from his bracelet. Ken supposed Ryu thought he’d landed because he’d discovered them.
“Not yet, sorry.” He sighed exasperatedly, “I hate being unable to communicate with those two. They can’t send out as much as a birdscramble, but it would let us know they were alive at least.”
“Roger that, will keep searching this side.”
“JUUUUNNNN!” he yelled in utter frustration, “JOOOOEEEEE!”
Suddenly, he shut up and listened.
“Joe? Jun?” he called hopefully. “Where are you?”
“Ryu? I thought I heard something, can you get here.”
“On my way.” The roar of the God Phoenix’s engines halted his search for a brief moment, but once Ryu had shut down the engine, he shouted for them again. Ryu soon joined him, and together they listened for any sound that might direct them.
“Did you hear that, Ryu?”
Ryu was already running off towards what he thought was the source of the sound. He suddenly dropped to his knees and began digging furiously in the sand. Ken didn’t waste any time joining him, and it wasn’t too long before the blue wings of the Condor were uncovered. Ryu pulled him out of the dune, while Ken continued to seek Jun.
“You ok, buddy?” Ryu asked once he’d cleared Joe’s face of sand. A quick once over showed a few superficial cuts and bruises, but otherwise he seemed unharmed. Ryu went back to help get Jun from her predicament, and between them, they soon had her freed too.
Supporting each other, they managed to board the God Phoenix, and once Ken had docked his jet, it was homeward bound for them all. He returned to his seat on the bridge thankful everyone was safe again, and hoping Jinpei had learnt a valuable lesson in following instructions.