Joe took a seat near Ryu “Why so glum big fella?” he enquired casually.
“You slept with her too, didn’t ya?”
“Sure, so?” Ryu got off the bench, walking a few steps away, as for Joe the penny dropped. “Oh, you liked her, is that it?”
“I thought she liked me too.” The Owl sniffed.
“I very nearly killed her too.” the Condor admitted ruefully. “Look, if I can track her down, you think you could start again?”
“You think she’d want to? After all, we were just another ‘mission’ to her.” Ryu ran his fingers through his unruly hair. “How do you do it, Joe?”
“Sleep with them all so casually, it’s like you don’t care.”
“I did care once, you know what happened.”
“You mean Lucy?”
“Yeah. I had it all mapped out. We would beat Galactor, spend a year or two just having fun, before settling down. Marriage, kids, the works.” Joe sighed, and Ryu turned back to look at him, saw the loss he still felt in his eyes. “It’s hard, you know, when you think you’ve got it all, and then it’s snatched away. Every girl since then gets compared to her, and none of them measure up. Suddenly you’re back at the beginning and wishing you weren’t because now you know what you want, and it’s just not there anymore.”
“So can you get her number for me?”
“I’ll have a go. Who knows, she might be your Lucy.”
#55 – Winter
The sound of bare branches scratching the top of his trailer was enough to wake the dead. Cursing under his breath, Joe sat up, suddenly shivering as the chill hit his bare skin, and glanced behind the curtain.
He didn’t need the weather forecast to tell him everything he needed to know, and he hid back under the warmth of his quilt.
“F**king winter!” he groaned.
His shoulders hung and head drooped.
When he thought of everything he had done for the citizens of this town, hell, of this planet, he wondered why he’d bothered.
They didn’t appreciate it. If they did, they would treat him with more respect. He killed goons for a living for god’s sake, and they treat him like.... like that!
He kicked a loose stone along the pathway, the rattle of it rolling over the pavement barely satisfying his frustration at the powers that be.
“I am not a kid” he yelled at no one in particular. “Stop treating me like one.”
#57 – Pain
“Joe, Joe, come quickly”
“What the hell do you want Jinpei?”
“It’s Jun, it sounds like she’s in pain.”
“What? Where’s Ken?”
“I can’t find him, that’s why I’m getting you.”
“All right, where is she?”
“Her room? So what did you see?”
“I didn’t go in, I was just about to go in, and I heard her groaning, like she had a stomach ache or something, so I went to find Ken, and when I couldn’t I came to find you.”
Joe followed the frantic boy. Stopping by Jun’s door, he listened carefully.
“Can you hear her? Will she be ok?”
Joe just grinned. “She’s fine, shall we say Ken’s there, and he’s sorting her out.”
#58 – Wager
“Hey Ryu, wanna wager?”
Joe took the stool next to his teammate, “I’ll bet you 50 that Jun blushes at the first thing Jinpei asks when she comes in here.”
“Umm, I don’t know,” He glances across at the youngster, dutifully cleaning the bar. “Oh, he’s behaving today, I’ll take it.”
Shaking on the deal, Joe ordered their drinks to pass the time, and within 15 minutes, Jun entered, freshly showered. Jinpei spotted her first.
“Hey, onechan,” he called happily, “did Ken sort you out ok, then?”
Ken took his seat at the perfectly laid table. The feeling that Jun had taken extra effort over their meal and her appearance wasn’t totally lost on him, he just wondered what he had forgotten.
“So what’s the occasion?” he ventured at last.
“Valentines, silly.” Jun smiled graciously, serving up Lobster Thermidor, “I thought we should have something special.”
“Well, yeah, this is special all right, I’m sorry I’ve totally forgotten.”
Jun tried not to look disappointed, instead she giggled at him as he tucked into his meal, “never mind, you can make it up to me later....” She took a mouthful herself as she tried not to laugh at his suddenly panicked expression, “we could exploit some of your ‘hidden talents’”
#60- Square One
“Here, big guy, I’ve got something for you.”
“What’s this then?” Ryu took the proffered sheet of paper.
“Her phone number, I told you I’d track her down for you.”
“You mean....” The Owl carefully unfolded the sheet, staring at the row of digits written on it. “You found her for me?”
“A promise is a promise.”
“But after everything that happened before, I mean what if she thinks.... I mean are you sure she’s not expecting you to call?”
“No way, she’s not my type, and I told her as much. Trust me ok, she’s anxious for you to get in touch.” Joe rested a hand on the other’s shoulder. “Look, call her. Tell her you want to wipe the slate clean... go back to square one, if you like.”
“Like another first date?” Ryu beamed.
“Sure.” Joe simply shrugged, “Why the hell not.” He patted the other guy’s shoulder. “So what are you waiting for? Go get her!”
#61 – Wall
10 green goons, lined up against the wall,
10 green goons, lined up against the wall,
If Joe aims a shuriken, one is bound to fall,
Then there’s 9 green goons lined up against the wall....
What was it about her that caught his eye?
She wasn’t anything special to look at, yet she had that something, a presence that he found impossible to ignore.
Seeming casual, he strolled over, outwardly looking cool and collected, but inside, his heart thumping against his ribs. As he approached, he caught her eye, their gazes locked together for one eternal moment, as if reading each other’s thoughts.
He held out his hand, and as she took it he pulled her towards him, wrapping his arm around her waist and pressing her body against him as their lips united.
The earth dissolved from beneath his feet, their surroundings melted into non existence, the two of them melting into a single unity, two halves that had become whole.
Reluctantly he pulled away, an expression on her delicate features looking questioningly at him. His answer is a smile, the sides of his mouth turning up at the edges as he leads her away, through the maze of corridors to his private chamber.
There was no mistaking his intention, no confusing her willingness to join him, as they hurried to the bed, each removing the clothing that barred them access to the other’s body. He wanted to savour the moment, and he would... soon. His urgency was too great to delay as he entered her swiftly and smoothly, a fusion of hearts and bodies, finding their mutual rhythm as if they had been lovers for years.
She was his now... and forever.
#63 – Fly on the Wall
“What are you messing about with now, Jinpei?”
“You’ll see, or maybe I hope you won’t.” The boy answered.
“You’re not dissecting bugs I hope.”
“Actually, I’m reassembling one.”
“Huh?” Jun was totally confused.
“Um, yeah, you might want to leave the room for this, onechan, I don’t think you’ll like it much.”
Jun didn’t need telling twice, and she vanished into the kitchen. Satisfied, Jinpei opened the program on his laptop and tapped the relevant keys, and the tiny critter sprung into life. Giggling to himself he sent it buzzing after his sister, watching the result from the relative safety of the dining area.
It wasn’t perfect, the picture was fuzzy to say the least, and the sound distorted, but he saw her coming forward with the swat clear enough and he yelped in dismay as the screen went blank.
“Onechan, whadda you do that for?” he cried running through.
“I can’t have insects in the kitchen, Jinpei, we’ll be shut down.”
“It wasn’t real though, it was my tracking device, to find Galactor’s hidden bases. It was really good too.” Dejected, he collected as many of the bits as he could, sweeping them off the counter and into his hand to show Jun how it worked. “I called it ‘a fly on the wall’.”
#64 – Picture Prompt - Undercover Mission
“Damnit Joe, all those explosives and Katse STILL manages to escape!”
#65 – Madness
“What the hell were you thinking?”
“Yes sir, I’m sorry sir.”
“Do you have any idea what you did though? Taking a woman up to your quarters without the relevant clearance checks could have put the whole organisation in jeopardy.”
“I’m sorry. I guess when I saw her waiting in the foyer, I kinda got carried away.”
“You should have reigned in your hormones, at least until you got back to your place. Why do you think you have your own accommodation?”
“I know. It won’t happen again.”
Nambu looked at him carefully. The apology was genuine. He had simply got caught up in the heat of the moment and let a moment of madness overrule his head. For him at least it was out of character.
“Ok. This time we were fortunate, she is a regular citizen, next time we might not be so lucky.”
#66 – Bunny
“So what’s Jun up to then?”
“Just getting into costume,” Jinpei told him, bringing through a tray of cakes. “She’s throwing an Easter party for the children from the local orphanage.”
“Costume? She’s not expecting us to dress up too, is she?” Joe took a sip from the drink Jinpei served him.
“Nah, it’s only while she hands out the chocolate eggs, but if you want to volunteer, I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.”
“I’ll pass thanks, but at least she’s not cooking.”
“What was that about my cooking Joe?” Jun’s voice behind him made him jump.
“Umm, nothing....” Joe turned to face her, taking in the bunny ears, painted nose and whiskers, and finally the pink leotard. Jun turned around to show off the little bobtail she had stitched to her bottom. “I thought this was a kid’s party though.
“Is something wrong?” Jun panicked for a second.
“No, it’s very nice,” he reassured her “if you’re auditioning for playboy.”
#67 – Bracket
“More maths homework, Jinpei?”
“Yeah, every time I hand this work in, it keeps being marked wrong. I can’t figure it out, it seems right to me.”
“Let’s have a look then.” Jun took the paper and glanced at the questions, and the Swallow’s incorrect answers. “Oh I see what you’ve done....the formula goes ‘brackets first, then multiply....”
“Hey Ken, wanna see this?”
“What have you got there?”
“I’m not sure, it might be significant though.”
Ken scanned the web page with increasing interest, “Good grief, how did you find that?” he asked in disbelief.
“I dunno really, just did a random internet search, and it came up on top of the list.”
“Ok, get it downloaded, and e-mail it straight to Nambu, see if he thinks it’s worthy of investigation.”
“Consider it done, commander!”
The whole team had been called in to scour the internet, looking to find that one small clue which would provide the breakthrough they needed. Jun’s earlier discovery had only proved their hunch was correct, not only was Galactor still operational, but they were recruiting again.
“Has anyone ever wondered why all Galactor’s secret bases are underground?” Jinpei mused to no one in particular.
“No, Squirt, why don’t you enlighten us?” Joe quipped as the others tried not to laugh. To anybody else, a secret base was pretty much self explanatory.
“It’s so they don’t show up on Google Earth,” the Swallow beamed.
#70 – Picture Prompt - Happy Tears
All Jun did these days was sit moping by the window, stand behind the bar daydreaming, or rant and rave to no one and everyone about the unfairness of it all.
“Why did Ken have to go, Joe could have done the job just as well?”
Jinpei snickered behind her, “And we all know why you’d prefer Joe to go instead, onechan,” he grinned, making smooching sounds, “Besides if Joe had gone, he’d be killing them all on sight!”
“But he’s been gone sooo long, and without his communicator either, how would we know if he needed us?”
“Well we know what he needs you for,” Joe took his usual seat at the counter. “Besides, if he had got his communicator, all your ‘secret messages’ to him would soon blow his cover.”
“No I wouldn’t,” Jun huffed indignantly, “at least we’d know he’s safe.”
“Why wouldn’t he be safe? As long as they think he’s one of them, he won’t be in any danger, and besides, this is Ken we’re talking about. In case you haven’t noticed, he can look after himself.”
Jun slammed Joe’s drink on the bar, splashing some onto the counter. Then throwing her cloth over to Jinpei, she snapped, “Watch this place,” before storming out.
Outside, Jun kick-started her motorcycle and pulled out into the traffic. She hated her teammates for being so mean to her. What was wrong about worrying about someone she cared about when she hadn’t heard from them in ages? Lost in these thoughts, she rode almost instinctively to Ken’s airstrip, almost colliding with another car coming from the opposite direction. Cursing at her own stupidity, she turned off the main road and headed towards Ken’s home, thinking if they couldn’t be together, then she could at least feel closer to him.
She had barely cut the engine, and dug out his spare keys when a familiar voice startled her.
“Boy, are you a sight for sore eyes!”
“Ken!” she cried, running over and wrapping her arms around him, the tears in her eyes finally spilling out, “I’m so glad to see you.”
“Me too,” Ken held her tightly, his own eyes filling up, “I hope those are happy tears.”
Jun smiled, “They are now.”
#71 – Burn
Jun woke up happier than she had for a long time, with Ken’s arm draped over her. Turning over, she raised her hand to brush a strand of hair off his face, then, startled, pulled her hand back as she inadvertently touched his skin. Alarmed, she sat up quickly.
“Ken?” she called, panic clear in her voice. “Ken, wake up for me.”
“Hmm,” Ken just murmured, and proceeded to go back to sleep.
“Come on Ken, I need you to wake up.” She felt his face again, his skin so hot it burnt her. She ran to the bathroom and soaked as many towels as she could find, desperate to find anything to reduce the fever, while simultaneously calling Nambu for medical assistance on her bracelet.
“What’s up Jun?” Joe interjected.
“Ken’s sick, he needs help.”
“I’m on my way, try not to worry.”
“No Joe.” Nambu sounded firm over the comm., “Whatever is wrong with Ken, we don’t want you exposed to it too. Jun, I want you to come in with Ken, if you would.”
“Do you know what’s wrong then?”
“Not until we examine him again.” Nambu told her. “But if you’re with him now, then you might also be infected.”
“Again?” Jun couldn’t believe her ears, “you mean you’ve examined him already?”
“Yesterday, after his debriefing....got a clean bill of health by all accounts. Whatever this is, it doesn’t show up in routine tests.”
#72 – Shop
Jun could hardly contain her relief when she saw Nambu through the glass. All week she had been stuck in quarantine, with only the medical team to talk to while they took her temperature and blood pressure, and nothing but an old TV set for entertainment. She was fine, she felt as healthy as she had ever been, so why was it so necessary for them to come in covered from head to toe with anti-infection suits every time.
Well, by the looks of things, her mentor hadn’t come empty handed, and that cheered her up no end. She waited impatiently while he suited up, then practically bowled him over when he finally entered the room.
“So, how are you Jun?” he asked her, placing the flowers and magazines on the foot of her bed, and a laptop on the side unit.
“I’ve never felt better, I’m just so bored being here on my own.”
“I quite understand. The guys sent these for you, hopefully they’ll help a bit.” He indicated the gifts he’d brought.”
“Tell them thanks, will you, and I’m missing them loads. So, how is Ken?”
“Stable, but that’s about all I know.”
“So you’ve still no idea what’s wrong with him then?”
“I’m afraid not.” Nambu looked serious for a moment. “Anyway, sorry to talk shop, but there is something you could be doing for us.”
“Oh?” she was suddenly attentive. “What do you want me to do?”
“I’ve brought the computer so you can find the names of anyone who Ken was working with during his mission, and then try and find out if any of them have reported to hospital or medical centres with similar symptoms. E-mail me with anything you come up with.”
“So you suspect this is all Galactor’s doing then?”
#73 – Trek
Joe put down the file and rubbed his eyes.
“How many times do I have to read this thing?” he snapped irritably.
“Until we find something.”
“We don’t know what we’re looking for though.”
“Clues.” Ryu said simply, swapping his file for the one Joe had just finished. “Anything that could tell us what might have made Ken sick.”
“Got something from Jun here,” Jinpei piped up from his laptop, “So far four other recruits have been admitted to various hospitals with symptoms identical to Ken’s.”
“So the clues have to be in these reports somewhere.” Joe returned to the paperwork with renewed vigour. Ken was nothing if not meticulous with filling out reports, and this report was longer than most. He summarised the final days for the others;
“Day 59, The 20 remaining candidates were ordered to participate in a 50 mile trek, Ken held back so as not to arouse suspicion of his identity, and came in 11th place, thinking it was sufficient to get him through to the next round. Unfortunately, they wanted the top 5, and he was fed and watered before being allowed to rest. He was told on day 60 that he had failed and was free to return home.”
“You think it’s significant?” Ryu asked, as Jinpei closed his computer and came across to the desk.
“He could have been scratched or bitten by something, and reacted severely to it.”
“Perhaps,” Ryu agreed, “his medical record did show minor scratches on his arms and legs, but they wasn’t considered important.”
“Do we know the route they took? We could try to retrace it and see what we can find?” Jinpei suggested hopefully.
“Starting point and destination,” Joe glanced at the file again. “I guess even Ken couldn’t hold all that information in his memory at once.”
“Or hadn’t considered it relevant enough to include it.” Ryu supposed. “Either way we have to wait for him to wake up to ask him.”
He sat up, slowly allowing his mind to clear and his memory to gradually return.
Things were still fuzzy, yet everything he remembered didn’t quite gel with the reality he was presented with.
Sure, it looked like his room, but something was wrong, something missing, and he couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
#75 – Picture Prompt – Clobbering time
The last thing Joe expected to see was another car pulling out of the turn-off leading to Ken’s airstrip. Instantly, he changed his mind about collecting Ken’s mail, and chose instead to follow the other vehicle.
Calling Ryu to go and check Ken’s place, he allowed the other driver out, then proceeded in the same direction.
“What’s going on, Joe?” the Owl wanted to know.
“I don’t know yet, but if my suspicions are correct, it might just be clobbering time.”
#76 – Yellow
Joe couldn’t miss the hub of activity around the small motel the driver pulled up in front of. Yellow tape cordoned off one of the apartments and two police officers stood guard by the door.
Joe parked up a short distance away, and observed with interest, as the guy left his own car and walked over to the nearest cop, apparently wanting access to the restricted area. Not surprisingly, he was turned away and Joe was waiting for him as he returned.
“Who are you and what do you want?” the guy asked him irritably.
“Funny, I was going to ask you the same thing.”
“None of your business.” The man snapped back at him.
“So what were you doing at the airstrip then?”
The stranger stopped in his tracks and looked directly at Joe.
“Are you Ken?” He asked with something akin to hope in his voice.
“No,” Joe said simply. “I’m his brother.”
“Oh.” The guy turned away, obviously disappointed, and proceeded to get into his vehicle. “I was hoping Ken could help us.”
“Look, tell me what’s going on here, and how you think Ken might help, maybe we could help each other.”
#77 – Points
Not since Jun’s capture by the jigokillers had Jinpei been so worried about a teammate. He took his role in this mission seriously, pouring over maps and charts, plotting any possible routes between what he knew to be the starting point, and the final destination.
Since he knew Ken had taken his time, he concluded he could eliminate the more direct paths, which narrowed down the options considerably, but it still left quite a few which had to be explored. These he marked out, highlighting any places he thought Ken might have encountered strange or unfamiliar plants or insects.
He became so engrossed in what he was doing, that the hands which covered his eyes took him completely by surprise.
“What the ....” he jumped up, ready to attack whoever it was, then stopped and grinned.
“Well, did you miss me?” Jun stood there, her hands on her hips.
Jinpei couldn’t help himself, and wrapped his arms around her in a huge bear hug, before pushing himself away.
“It was great not to have you bossing me around."
“Oh that’s nice,” she retorted, “and I was just about to offer my help with what you’re doing too, but if you don’t need me here, I’ll just go and....”
“No... no it’s ok, you can stay... if you want.”
#79 – Tattoo
“Do I have ‘idiot’ tattooed across my forehead or something?” Joe tried to convince the guy he wasn’t buying his story.
“It’s true, I promise you.”
“Yeah, but you work for Galactor though, I wouldn’t trust you as far as I could throw you.”
“Not me, I wouldn’t have anything to do with them.” He was almost pleading with Joe now. “It was my brother who joined them.”
“But now he’s dead, right?”
“Yes, by their hand too.”
“Tell me everything again, and this time get it right.”
#80 – Boom
Nambu summoned the active teammates, waiting patiently while they lined up in front of his desk, with Joe assuming command in Ken’s absence.
“Team,” the doctor addressed them sternly, “first of all, apologies to Jinpei, for all the hard work he did plotting the routes Ken may have taken during his hike, in light of new evidence, it seems to have been unnecessary.”
He paused as Jinpei whined, “But that took me forever, and you’re telling me it was a waste of time?” Jinpei huffed and crossed his arms indignantly.
“I’m sorry, Jinpei, but it was still a legitimate hypothesis, and you did very well on it too.” Jun put a reassuring hand on her adopted brother’s shoulder.
“Go on Hakase, what have you found out?” Ryu asked.
“Well, it appears that Galactor have been having a real boom in numbers recently. It seems their internet ad campaign has been really successful to say the least.”
“So why was Ken unsuccessful then?”
“It seems there are thousands of these ‘training camps’ all over the world, but although all the applicants are thoroughly tested, the majority of them are failing, not because they haven’t completed the tasks, but because of their marital status.”
The four ninjas looked between themselves, totally confused by this.
“When Ken completed his application, he put his marital status as single. That is no good for Galactor, since they can’t decide if he will reproduce or not.”
Suddenly Joe understood. “They want married people so they have their spouses and children too.”
“Heterosexual married men or women yes. Similarly, same sex couples are little use to them.”
“I get that, Hakase,” Jun considered for a moment, “And it obviously explains why Ken wasn’t selected, but it doesn’t determine why he became so sick after he returned home.”
“Well” Joe spoke up, “I might have an answer to that.”
#80a – Betrayal
Nambu looked at the worried young man sitting across from him at the table. “We can keep you safe, but you have to trust us.”
“But I haven’t done anything wrong, why have I been brought here?” the guy protested, “You can’t keep me locked up like this.”
“You’re not a prisoner here, you can leave any time you want, I would just be very careful if you choose to go.”
“W...w...what are you talking about?”
“Galactor don’t take betrayal lightly. If they suspect you’ve been talking to us, you will be suffering the same demise as your brother.”
The man visibly paled. “But I don’t belong to Galactor, I wouldn’t have anything to do with them.”
“So you keep saying, but what makes you so sure they were responsible for your brother’s death?” Nambu sat back, folding his arms. “Now tell me everything you know, and then maybe we will be able to prevent anyone else suffering your brother’s fate.”
“And you promise you will protect me?”
“We will protect you and your family,” Nambu assured him.
“Ok.” He took a deep breath, “A couple of months back, my brother spotted this website, wanting recruits for ‘A major organisation’. He was really excited about getting a place on their training course, and each week or so would call us to say how well he was getting on.” He paused for a minute, to gather his thoughts. “Well, a few days ago I got a call from him, telling me he was unsuccessful in getting a place in the company, and would be returning home the following day. Of course he didn’t turn up, instead, I got this text,” he stopped long enough to dig his mobile phone out of his pocket, then open the message he’d received, handing it to the doctor.
Nambu read the brief message with interest. “Not well, checked into motel, need help.” It seemed to confirm what he was hearing.
“And you instantly know which motel he was talking about?”
“Well, yeah, we would always arrange to meet girls there when we were teenagers, this is the first time either of us ever booked a room though,” he said by way of explanation. “Anyway, I go around there, see his car parked outside, and let myself in.” Now he stopped, and Nambu clearly saw the distress on his face as he recalled to memory the condition he found his brother in.
The doctor went to the cooler in the corner of the room, bringing him a cup of chilled water, and he took it gratefully.
“Continue in your own time,” Nambu told him, kindly. “Take as long as you need.”
#81 – Enemies
Nambu waited patiently while the man took a long deep gulp of water. When he had replaced the cup, Nambu leant slightly forward in his chair.
“So, what condition was your brother in when you found him?” he asked, trying to prompt the guy into talking.
“O..on the b.. bed,” the guy stuttered now, stumbling over the words. “I was obviously t...too late to do anything for him. I saw him... laid there and had to run to be sick in the bathroom, then I called the police.”
“So how did you know he was dead?” Nambu persisted.
The man stared at him, a look of utter disbelief on his face. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, did you check for a pulse? Was he breathing? Had cold skin?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you anyway.”
“When it comes to our enemies, I wouldn’t put anything past them,” Nambu reassured him. “I have had years of experience of Galactor’s atrocities.”
“Well this is extreme to say the least.”
“He was on the bed. After I finished vomiting, I’d called the police, and eventually went over to him. His eyes were open, staring blankly at the ceiling, but his face was bright red, the skin burned when I touched it.”
“Yeah, very hot. And I don’t mean like a fever either.”
“Yeah.” He stopped again, and reached for his cup. Nambu noticed the shaking hand as he lifted the drink to his lips. “His whole stomach was missing.”
“I know this is distressing for you, but I need more information.”
“Missing, just gone.”
“Like a gunshot wound?”
“No, I don’t think so, there wasn’t any blood, just a gap where his stomach and chest should have been. Like he had been eaten from the inside out, if that makes any sense.”
“Do you believe that’s what happened?”
“Hell, I don’t know, I didn’t see any alien creature bursting out, if that’s what you’re getting at.” He rose angrily from his chair and started pacing the small room. “Look all I know is what I’ve just told you. It doesn’t make sense, I mean, he’s never done anything to hurt anyone. He was a popular guy, got on with anyone and everyone. I don’t know who would want to do...that... to him.”
“Galactor doesn’t need a reason for choosing their victims, as long as they get the result they’re after.” Nambu rose to his feet. “Ok, I think we’re done here. I’ll send someone to support you, and I’ll start my own investigations.”
#82 – Confusion
Jun sat and watched him, just lying there in nothing but a pair of briefs, while she was wrapped up in full winter garb. Despite the freezing cold of his medical room, Ken’s body temperature was still reading above normal, yet to everyone’s relief he was still alive. Jun supposed it was the best they could hope for at this time.
Nambu’s entry barely registered on her conscience, and only when he placed a hand on her shoulder did she acknowledge his presence.
“How is he?”
“No change, Hakase.” She looked forlornly at her mentor, “Do you have any idea what’s wrong yet?”
“I can’t honestly say I do,” he told her sadly, “but on a more positive note, I can say for certain that your being with him when he took ill has saved his life.”
This was little comfort to the Swan, as a team of medics entered and surrounded the Eagle’s bed, preparing to wheel him off to surgery.
“What’s going on Hakase?” she asked as amid all the bustle and confusion, she was ushered out of the room, while the surgical team debated the safest way to move him without risking his temperature rising to dangerous levels.
“They need to examine him again.” Nambu explained quickly, “We believe he may be carrying some kind of parasite.”
“Can’t you just x-ray him or something?” Jun asked in alarm, “Why go straight to surgery?”
“We can’t be sure this parasite is totally organic, and I don’t want to take a chance in an MRI scanner for that reason. Up to now, all the samples we have taken have appeared to be normal, so now we need to take more drastic measures.” His attempt to calm her down was failing miserably, “Besides, this way, if we do find something, we can remove it immediately for examination.”
#83 – Mess
The team hung around impatiently, waiting for some news of Ken’s surgery. Nobody dared speak, even Jinpei maintained a dignified silence.
Time dragged for the anxious team, and it felt like an eternity before Nambu found them.
“It still doesn’t make any sense.” The doctor muttered, frustrated.
“Can you tell us anything?”
“Ken’s still in surgery, and we’re hopeful things are going to work out.” The team couldn’t have felt more relieved to hear that. “On the other hand, we are hearing of more casualties. Where they can get to a hospital, they seem to be surviving at least. Nobody has yet found a way to treat them, never mind a cure. Anyone who spent their following day alone after returning from Galactor’s camp, well... 24 hours seems to be the longest they survive.”
“It’s a real mess.” Jinpei piped up.
“It’s looking that way.” Nambu agreed. “Unfortunately, I may have to send another one of you back in undercover.”
“I’ll go.” Joe volunteered quickly.
“Not this time, Joe. Ryu, you’re in a relationship, right?”
#84 – Lost
“What do you mean, you’re joining Galactor? Have you lost your mind?” Ryu suspected she would be upset, what he hadn’t anticipated was the full extent of her fury. “You know what they’re capable of, right?”
He knew exactly what they were capable of, better than she did; only he couldn’t spell it out to her.
“Don’t tell her you’re going undercover,” Nambu’s words floated through his memory, “all she needs to know is that you’ve found the recruitment campaign website, and you are going to try out.”
He was beginning to regret taking on this particular mission. Joe was still willing to go, even have Jun pose as his girlfriend, but Nambu overruled them both. A genuine relationship would be preferable, the emotions involved would be accurate, and Ryu would be able to keep in touch with her, without the risk of him being traced to the Science Ninja Team.
“Just tell me why, Ryu. I thought you hated Galactor, so why are you suddenly going to join them?”
He shut his eyes tightly, trying to remember what he had been briefed to say, yet the words wouldn’t come as instructed.
“The pay is excellent, and we need the money if we’re gonna set up a home together,” he said eventually.
“Set up home?” she looked at him, a multitude of expressions crossing her face with that one short statement. “You’re leaving me for months on end, to join that murdering...gang of thugs and you think I’m just gonna hang around for you, so we can set up home together?”
“I’m not leaving you altogether; we can still keep in touch.”
“You’re not listening to me Ryu. I’m not going to wait for you. Why would I?” Suddenly, it dawned on him what she was saying. “I don’t want to be dating someone who even associates with Galactor, never mind a full paid member of their rank and file. If you go, then we’re finished.”
#85 – Pain
Jun was holding Ken’s hand as he came out of anaesthetic.
As his eyes gradually opened, she could see he was still in tremendous pain from his operation, but she was grateful to see him at last out of imminent danger. He didn’t try to speak, but squeezed her hand in response to her questions, before Nambu entered and shooed her out.
“He needs his rest,” the doctor insisted, “We don’t want him getting over excited now.”
“No, Hakase.” She brushed some hair out of Ken’s eyes, then gave him a brief kiss on the brow. “I’ll come back soon, I promise.”
A ghost of a smile flickered across Ken’s face, and he drifted back to sleep. Jun left the room, to see Joe and Jinpei looking concerned in the corridor.
“So? How is he?” The impatient Swallow wanted to know.
Jun could hardly disguise the relief on her face. “I think he’s going to be all right,” she told them both, as Joe steered her to the nearest chair. Jun sat down, grateful for his support.
“So, how long before he can come back? When is he going to lead the team again?”
Joe silenced Jinpei with a glare as Nambu emerged, “I wouldn’t celebrate too soon, team, he isn’t out of the woods yet.”
#86 – The Lion’s Den
Ryu stood in line as instructed, along with the other dozen or so new recruits, all waiting patiently as their turn to check in to what would become their home for however long they would be there for. To Ryu, it was like waiting to enter the lion’s den.
When his turn came, he approached the desk with some trepidation.
“Name?” The guy behind the desk looked normal enough, dressed in a regular shirt and tie. Ryu panicked for a minute, trying to remember the fake identity he had registered under.
“Come on, you know your name don’t you?”
“Umm... Anderson, Anthony Anderson.”
“Anderson... Anderson...” The clerk checked him off the list. “And will your partner be joining you at some point?”
“Um, well,” Ryu floundered. He understood it was important for the mission that he was in a relationship, but he hadn’t expected this. “Does it matter?”
“Well, we can’t issue you with family accommodation if you’re going to be here alone. It wouldn’t be fair.”
Must be the first time anyone from Galactor considered what was fair, Ryu thought.
“So will your girlfriend be joining you?”
“Um, actually, we broke up, she didn’t want me coming here.”
“I’ll take that as a no then.” The clerk ticked another box, “you chose us over your personal life? That’s very commendable.”
“Actually, I’m hoping we’ll get back together, if I’m successful here of course,” Ryu added quickly.
“Nevertheless.” The guy crossed out relationship under marital status, replacing it with single.
Nambu stormed into the laboratory, his face like thunder. “So what is so important that you had to pull me out of a meeting with Director Anderson?” he fumed.
Dr Slater beckoned him over, “can you take a look at this, sir,” she asked pushing her microscope towards him.
“What is this?” Nambu peered through the lenses, a quizzical expression crossing his features, “it looks like some kind of beetle.”
“Possibly, but not a species we can identify. We removed them from Ken’s body when we operated, and they are still being examined.”
“They? How many did you find?”
“Dozens.” She checked her clipboard, “they seem to be part organic, part mechanical. We think it’s the mechanical sections that generate the incredible body heat, that appear to help the organic parts to reproduce and incubate the young.”
Nambu stood back from the microscope and popped out the slide. The thing was so tiny he could barely see anything more than a black dot through his glasses. “Is this one of the hatchlings then?”
“I don’t believe so, sir, that is one of the biggest ones we found. What’s more, we can’t be absolutely sure we’ve got them all.”
#88 – Battered
Jun was happy to see Ken alert when she paid him her regular daily visit.
“How are you feeling,” she asked as she gave him a quick peck.
“Not bad, still a bit battered and bruised, but on the mend I think.”
“That’s great, hey I’ve got something for you, hope you like it.” She put the large white box on his tray.
“Oh?” Ken couldn’t help grinning, then tried to keep the smile in place when he saw the rather large cake she had brought. “Did you make this?”
“Not this time,” Jun chuckled, seeing the relief on his face. “I didn’t want you going back into intensive care again.”
Ryu looked at the uniform in dismay. It wasn’t the first time he had worn the horrid green costume, but to think he would actually have to pretend to willingly join the organisation it represented made his blood run cold.
Grimacing, he pulled on the fabric, struggling to get them around his ample frame.
“Oy, Anderson, what’s taking you so long?”
“I’ll be out in a minute,” Ryu yelled back. “I’m having a bit of trouble with these pants. They’re a bit tight around the crotch...”
#90 – Consumed
“Anderson, you have a phone call.”
“Me?” Ryu looked stunned as he rose from his bunk.
“Yeah, your girlfriend, apparently.”
“No kidding.” Ryu beamed as he followed his instructor to his office, then picked up the receiver. “Hey sweetheart, how’s it going?”
“Ryu?” her voice sounded nervous on the other end of the line. “You have to listen to me carefully, it might save your life.”
“Go on.” Ryu tried to keep some kind of pleasantness in his tone, but she wasn’t making it easy for him.
“First of all, this is not a reconciliatory call, we’re not getting back together. I just want to make that clear.”
“I understand.” Any pretence of keeping his voice sounding jolly had now gone as he continued to listen, his disappointment soon turning to alarm as she continued.
“Joe has told me to contact you, and pretend our relationship is still ongoing, and I’m prepared to do that after what he’s told me, whatever else I might think of you, I don’t want to see you go through this.” She sighed audibly, and he could almost feel the fear in her voice. “Galactor are getting tiny bugs inside the failed recruits, but nobody knows how. What happens, these bugs heat up the body to incubate the larvae, practically cooking it from the inside, then the corpse is consumed....” her voice cracked as she sobbed down the line. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this. I thought I could but it’s too hard.”
The phone went dead. “Hello, are you still there?” Ryu panicked as he called her name, “come on, answer me.”
“So Anderson, or is it Ryu?” Ryu turned to see his instructor blocking the door, a gun focused on him. “Now who are you? Why are you using a false name?” he took a step forward, “but most important of all, how is your ‘girlfriend’ getting all that information?”
#91 – Wrath
Joe watched her face in alarm as she desperately attempted to reconnect the call.
“Ryu put the phone down on you?” he asked, bewildered.
“I don’t think so, we were just cut off.”
“Damn,” Joe cursed, “he’s in trouble now. I should have guessed the call would be monitored.”
“Is that what happened? What do you think they will do to him?”
Joe looked at her, then decided it would be better not to answer. “Thanks for your help, but I’d better get going now.”
He rushed out before she could say any more. He was going to have to face Nambu’s wrath when he reported these latest developments, and for Ryu’s sake, time was of the essence.
#92 – Scruff
“What were you thinking, Joe?”
Joe stared at Nambu defiantly from his spot against the wall. “Ryu needed to be warned. At least now he knows what to look out for and take appropriate measures.”
“And in the meantime, you have potentially jeopardised a civilian’s life. Didn’t you just tell me they were listening in to the conversation? How long do you think it will take them to trace the address the call was made from?”
“I’ll get back there, get her out...”
“So putting the onus on Jun and Jinpei to get Ryu out of the camp? The team is already short two members, I need all of you to get down there and shut that place down.”
Joe turned to leave the room. “Sorry, Hakase, I’m not leaving her defenceless and vulnerable, I’ve put her in danger, and it’s up to me to keep her safe.”
The unmistakable signs of a break in left Joe feeling cold inside as he pulled his car up outside her home. He found her tied to a chair, two green clad goons looming menacingly over her.
Joe moved fast. Grabbing the first by the scruff of the neck, he slammed the unsuspecting guy against the wall, before delivering a severe blow to the second goons jaw, leaving both of them momentarily dazed.
“Get to my car quickly,” he whispered to the terrified woman as he deftly untied her binds. She nodded, complying the instant she was freed.
Joe paused for an instant, instinctively reaching into his pocket for his shuriken when another voice from behind him stopped him in his tracks.
Inwardly, Joe groaned. He should have realised this had all been too easy.
#93 – Anonymous
The anonymous form of the troop leader chuckled from behind his gaudy insect mask as a crowd of goons surrounded him.
“I knew, if I stayed hidden long enough, the source of the information would show themselves.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Joe bluffed. “I saw the door smashed open, and came to help.”
“How chivalrous of you, I’m sure, but somehow I don’t believe you.” He stepped menacingly towards Joe, “I figured the I.S.O. had to be behind it somehow, and look who we have! Nambu’s personal chauffeur if I’m not mistaken.”
“Yeah, you are.” Joe kept his hands behind his back, discreetly pressing the face of his bracelet. Not that he could expect anyone to answer. “If the I.S.O. were involved, wouldn’t the Science Ninja Team be here instead?”
The captain laughed. “And why would Nambu send his prize fighters to defend someone like her? She’s a nobody really, of no significance whatsoever. I’m surprised you’re here really, unless you know something we don’t.”
“Nope.” Joe looked around, weighing up the odds. He figured he could take quite a few out before they got the better of him, but then, she would be at their mercy and he would have revealed himself.
He wasn’t pondering for long. Before Joe had a chance to decide on a course of action, the Galactors were startled by a bright shining object flying swiftly through the air.
#94 – Rogue
“So, it looks like we have a rogue in our midst.”
Ryu sat shackled to his chair as his instructor stood towering over him.
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on here,” he dithered, “I’ve got no idea where Connie got her information from.” That at least was true, although he had his suspicions.
“Ah yes. Connie Flanagan. We know all about her. What we can’t understand is her connection to the I.S.O. She certainly isn’t employed by them.”
“No, she works in a...”
“We know all that!” The instructor yelled into his face, causing him to flinch away. “Now, since she isn’t part of the I.S.O, but she obviously has connections with them, then where else do we look, Anthony Anderson, or should I call you Ryu?”
“My name is Anthony....”
“Drop the act. I believe you are the I.S.O. agent, sent undercover to sniff out what Galactor is up to. Are you expecting Nambu’s dream team to swoop in at any time? Pull you out as they bomb us to smithereens?”
“N...no... Of course not.”
“So you’ll be going down with the rest of us then? Somehow I can’t see that happening. They look after their own, that much I do know.”
“I’m just a regular guy, I don’t know anyone from the I.S.O.” Ryu’s desperation was clear on his face and he began to wish he had let Joe take this mission instead. Right now he would have given anything to trade places with the Condor.
#95 – Stripped
The door behind them opened suddenly, startling the two occupants of the cell. Both pairs of eyes turned to see who was making this unexpected intrusion.
“What’s going on here?”
“Katse sama!” the instructor dropped to his knees instantly at the sight of the Galactor leader.
“What is this recruit doing in here... he should be on his hike. And shouldn’t you be at your post? Release him and get back to work before you are stripped of your rank and on the next mecha out of here.”
“But sire,” he blustered, “I believe he is spying for the I.S.O.”
“A spy, eh?” Katse seemed to consider this for a minute. “Right leave it with me; I’ll deal with him personally.”
“Yes sire.” he rose to his feet, glad he was finally off the hook, and made to leave the room.
“One more thing...” Katse held out his open hand. “The key to his shackles. Do you think I’m going to interrogate him here?”
“Sire?” He was going to add more, but thought better of it, and unfastened Ryu’s binds, then turned and hurriedly left, leaving the prisoner to the mercy of his master.
Katse waited until the coast was clear, then to Ryu’s relief, unmasked himself.
“Ken” The Owl cried out in relief, “so glad to see you’re ok, buddy.”
“Yeah, glad to be back,” Ken grinned, “now let’s get out of here ourselves.”
#96 – Spook
There was no difficulty overpowering the goons with Jun and Jinpei for backup. As the last one fell, Jun looked around.
“I told her to go out to the car and wait.”
“She’s not there though.” Jinpei stared through the window, “You think those goons spooked her so she’s done a runner?”
“Or they’ve taken her while we were distracted.” Jun looked thoughtful for a minute, “What do Galactor want with her anyway?”
“I told her what Galactor were up to, so she could warn Ryu.”
“Not exactly your smartest move, Joe.”
Joe groaned. “Don’t remind me, I’ve already had an earful from Hakase about it. We have to find her; I don’t want to see her getting hurt.”
“We have to go help Ryu now though, those are our orders, and we’re not to transform into birdstyle until we’re all together.” Jinpei told him, rooting around the goons, searching for a Galactor uniform to fit him, “anyway, it’s just one girl, why’s she so important?”
“If she has run away, then she will be safe for a while,” Jun pointed out, as she hurriedly put a green outfit on over her civvies, “but Ken and Ryu could still be in danger. They have to be our priority.”
“Ken’s out?” it was enough to make the Condor follow suit as he sought out a goon roughly the same height and build as himself.
“Well we couldn’t be in two places at once, and since he already knows the layout of the camp, it seemed logical he should go there. Come on now, we’re wasting time.”
#97 – Doppelganger
“HOW CAN I BE THERE, WHEN I’M OBVIOUSLY HERE?” Katse screamed at his subordinate through the comm. link.
“But sire, I spoke to you myself, you took personal control of the prisoner when I told you I suspected him of being a member of the I.S.O.”
“YOU IMBECILE. Did you not think to contact my office? Make sure he really was who he said he was? Who the hell made you site leader anyway?”
“Umm, you did sire.”
“Ok, I really am coming down there now! Find this doppelganger and hold him until I get there... No, on second thoughts, I’ll send my sister, then you won’t get the two of us mixed up. The last thing I want is for you to lock me up and let the imposter walk free.”
“Consider it done, Sire”
“I’ll believe that when I see it.”
#98 - Sideline
“How come they sent you?” Ryu asked his commander.
“Um, well, Joe got sidetracked into rescuing your girlfriend, then needed rescuing himself as Katse’s finest made their appearance. Jun and Jinpei are dealing with them first, then hopefully they’ll join us here.”
“Are you sure you’re ok to be here? The last time I saw you, you were still in a coma.”
“Yeah, as long as I don’t get into any physical confrontations.”
“Hence the sideline into fancy dress then.”
“Well you’ve got to admit it’s effective.” Ken slipped back into character as they approached another guarded door, just to be bowed through unchallenged.
“So what is this place?” Ryu asked looking around the room they had just entered.
“If I’m correct, this should be the production line.”
#99 - Joint
Ken and Ryu looked around the deserted room in dismay.
“They’ve cleared out, there’s nothing left.” Ken could have wept with frustration. “I was so sure this is where it was.”
“I guess word got out that there was an imposter in their midst.” Ryu began searching around for anything they could have missed. “I mean they had plenty of time while I was being interrogated.”
“So where could they have gone to?”
“Where indeed!” The woman’s voice behind them took them by surprise. Turning round they saw Katse in her female form blocking their exit, three goons behind her all had their weapons pointing in their direction. “Now who are you and what makes you think you can get away with impersonating my brother?” She strode purposely towards them, pulling off Ken’s mask as soon as she was within reach. “And you,” she pointed at Ryu, “You’ll never make the ranks if you can’t tell an imposter when you see one!”
Ryu thought fast, pulling his weapon from its holster he pointed it at Ken. “Well he won’t get away now Ma’am,” he said with confidence.
“Good.” Katse turned to the goons guarding her back, “You! Take him away. Make sure he doesn’t leave this place alive. Now I have work to do, don’t give me any cause to return.”
“Yes ma’am” the tallest goon saluted as she past. Katse paused and checked him out. “You look competent enough, follow me.”
Once she was out of the way, the taller of the remaining two goons stepped up. “I’ve been waiting long enough to do this...”
Nervously, Ryu pointed his gun at him, as Ken took a defensive stance, but the goon just grinned. To their surprise, instead of attacking, he grabbed Ken’s costume and planted a long kiss on his mouth.
“Jun?” Ken released the breath he wasn’t aware he was holding. “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a joint like this?”
#100 - Hundred
“Happy to see me commander?” Jun grinned.
“Hell yes,” he answered, cupping her face and planting another kiss on her lips.
“Hey, you two, this isn’t the time or the place to be making out, we’ve got to stop them.” Jinpei uncovered his face and indicated where Joe and Katse had just gone.
Replacing their masks, they began to run down the corridor, not stopping until they came to a junction.
“Sorry, I need to rest,” Ken gasped, leaning against the wall, his pulse racing at a hundred beats per minute, “I think this is just too much, too soon.”
“Ken, what’s wrong?” Jun rushed to his side in a flash.
“I don’t know,” his breath began to slow a bit as he rested, “I think you three should go on without me though, try to catch Joe up if you can.”
“But we can’t leave you on your own like this, aniki.”
“You’ll have to. I’ll have to get out of this get-up anyway. Now the real Katse’s on the site, I won’t get away with it for long, it will be better if you’re not with me.”
“But you’re not well, you need help...” Jun looked around desperate for someone to come to their aid.
“Jun, I don’t need that fact advertising... we don’t have long to get this place shut down. Now please concentrate on the mission and get going. That’s an order!” he saw the worry on their faces and capitulated a little, “if I need you I’ll call, promise.”
Reluctantly the three of them left him to it and went chasing after Joe.
Ken took a minute to get his breath back, then picked a lock to the nearest empty office and let himself in. Finding the nearest chair, he fell into it, pulling off the Katse costume he was still dressed in as quickly as he could manage before sitting back and closing his eyes.
They found Joe standing dutifully by Katse’s side. Sometime while they were away, he’d changed back into his male form, making the three of them wonder if the Condor had managed to catch him in the act.
They were in a laboratory, and the scientists were demonstrating something to them both that seemed to make the Galactor leader extremely pleased.
“Fine gifts indeed,” he was chuckling as he moved along the line. “Excellent, and you say they’re undetectable?”
“Not until they hatch m’lord.” He was told in no uncertain terms. “We have had 100% success so far.” Katse was led to another workbench, “and here’s where we are producing the antidote.”
“Antidote! Who authorised an antidote?”
“You did yourself sire, you insisted, just in case you ingested one yourself.” The scientist looked alarmed. He had heard of Katse’s legendary short temper, but never expected to be on the receiving end of it. “It was barely an hour ago, you must remember.”
Joe turned his face, trying to hide the smirk spreading across his face, spotting the others in the process. Where’s Ken? He signed.
Jun shook her head, hoping he’d understand.
He seemed to get the message, and as the others moved in, he held up three fingers to initiate the countdown...
#103 - Fears
On Joe’s signal, the four of them leapt as one, transforming into birdstyle mid-air. Swooping down, they each targeted the Galactor occupants, with Joe’s boot connecting with Katse’s jaw before the leader had opportunity to scream for reinforcements. The few novices that responded to the commotion were quickly dispatched with a few of Joe’s feathers.
Jinpei snatched up the vials of antidote, and with Ryu rushed back to where they had last seen Ken, while Jun busied herself planting explosives around the laboratory.
“Timer set for 5 minutes,” she told Joe as soon as she’d finished the wiring.
The distraction was enough for Katse to deliver his own blow to Joe’s midriff, as he made a quick getaway. Joe made to go after him, but Jun called him back.
“We have to find Ken, he needs help.”
“Damn it,” Joe cursed, watching the retreating figure elude him once again. “Ok, where is he?”
Jun led the way to where they had last seen their commander, only to find Jinpei and Ryu wandering around aimlessly scratching their heads.
“I know this was where we left him, can’t imagine where he could have got to.”
“Well, considering the condition he’s in, he’s hardly going to sit around here.” Jun tried a few of the doors leading off the corridor, until she found one that opened.
For a split second she thought her worst fears had come true when she found an unconscious Ken slumped in a chair, the now all too familiar heat radiating from him. With a cry of alarm she rushed to kneel beside him, seeking the strongest pulse point, and then audibly sighed when she found one, beating solidly.
Joe pulled Ken’s arm around his shoulder, and hoisted him to his feet.
“How long have we got, Jun?”
“Two and a half minutes.”
“Jinpei, get that window open, Ryu help us out with him, Jun, keep your eyes open for company.”
“But shouldn’t we give him this?” Jinpei held out the glass tube, filled with some mucus type fluid.
“We can’t right now, I wouldn’t know if it’s safe to ingest or not. We need to get back to the ISO and let them analyse it first.”
With the Owl’s help, they carried the dead weight of the Eagle to the window. Joe climbed out first, finding purchase upon the narrow ledge. He fired his cable gun towards the branches of a sturdy looking tree some distance away, before pulling Ken out to join him. Once Ryu was all set, gripping Ken with his right arm and Joe’s gun with his left hand, Joe retracted the cable, sending the trio soaring into the air and out of harm’s way. Jun and Jinpei were merely seconds behind them, repeating the process with the Swan’s yo-yo.
They landed just as the explosives detonated.
Covering their commander with their wings, they held their breath as the explosion washed over them. Once it passed, Joe looked around, just in time to see a Devilstar craft fleeing in the opposite direction.
“Shit, he got away again!” Joe cursed, “I could have had him this time.”
“There’ll be other opportunities,” Jun checked Ken over, a look of concern crossing her face. “But right now we have to get Ken back.”
At least this time, Jun had hope.
They knew they could keep him alive, they knew he wasn’t infectious, so she could stay with him, and they had the start of the antidote, which they had been working on tirelessly, day and night since the team had delivered it to them, to get the formula right.
The only thing Jun didn’t have, something she desperately wanted, was solitude, so she could talk to Ken; say what she really wanted to say, what might actually bring him out of this coma. The medical team were keeping a constant watch on him, as she was herself. Every quarter of an hour someone would enter, check his vital signs, and then scribble the results onto a chart. Once they left, another would enter usually to add more gloop to his IV line, then hang around to make sure there were no adverse effects, an antidote to the antidote on hand, just in case. Sometimes they would chat to her, but not often. She wasn’t sure if they approved of her constant presence or not.
At least the random visits from the other team mates, and their tidings from the outside world, cheered her, if only temporarily.
She sighed. The best she could do was to keep holding his hand, and chatter about inane things, and the longer she stayed there, the less there was to chat about. She often found herself repeating the same stories time and time again.
She was just recounting the one about Jinpei and the Christmas pudding for what seemed like the hundredth time when the door bursting open startled her.
“What the hell?” Jun moved closer to the prone figure on the bed, ready to defend him with her life if necessary. “Is that you messing about Jinpei?”
“Sorry, Onechan,” the cheeky grin of the Swallow peered around the huge cardboard box he was carrying, “but if you won’t come home for Christmas, then we’ll just have to bring Christmas here.”
“Christmas? What on Earth for?”
“It’s Christmas morning, Jun.” Joe and Ryu were right behind the young boy. “You’ve been here a week already.”
“Really?” Jun slumped back into her chair; she really wasn’t in the mood for celebrating.
“So how’s the old boy doing?” Joe picked up the chart at the foot of Ken’s bed, scanning the data quickly.
“No change.” She was busy trying to ignore the hustle and bustle around her as Jinpei set everything up.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Joe held out the records. “Says here his temperature has been steadily dropping over the last 48 hours.”
Jun practically snatched them out of his hands, but she was so tired, the numbers and words just blurred into each other. She figured she would take Joe’s word for it, and smiled.
“That’s great news, but I won’t be completely satisfied until he’s fully recovered.”
Joe looked at her suspiciously. “They’ve also been gradually increasing the dose of the antidote, so it shows it’s working effectively.”
“Isn’t that brilliant, onechan?” Jinpei had finished unpacking all the Christmas goodies. “He’ll be well again in no time.” He held out the first of her gifts. “I’ve bought you this, hope you like it.”
Jun took the crudely wrapped parcel. It was almost perfectly square and squashy too. Jinpei kept watching her expectantly, so she pulled the brightly coloured paper away. Inside was a plain white cushion, about 30cm square.
“Turn it over...” Jinpei instructed.
Jun smiled when she saw the picture printed on the other side. It was of her and Ken, taken while they were sat together at the local park during a rare moment of peace. She remembered that day clearly, and sadly, it hadn’t stayed peaceful for long....
“It’s lovely, Jinpei, thank you.” She gave him a hug, “so did you remember to bring the gifts I’ve bought for you?”
“Of course we did!” that was their cue to share all the gifts among themselves. All Ken’s were stacked neatly on his lunch table, with a tiny Christmas tree placed next to it.
“I’m sorry, onechan, but there isn’t anything here from Ken....”
“Well when has he had chance to buy anything....” Ryu told him.
“That’s ok.” Jun placed the cushion next to Ken’s head and laid her head upon it, holding on to Ken’s hand. “The best gift he could give me right now would be to wake up....”
“Come on.” Joe put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, “she’s exhausted, let her rest for a while.” They packed up their own presents and quietly filed out of the door. Jun sighed as she let her eyes close.
She was fast asleep before she could feel Ken’s hand closing around hers.
Jinpei and the Christmas pudding.
He had followed the recipe to the letter, up to a point. All that steaming was getting on his nerves though, and after having to let it stand for days and days, he’d had enough and got impatient with it.
Surely all this hanging around isn’t really necessary though, he thought, skipping to the bottom of the page....
Warm up the brandy, pour over the pudding and light, he read. “Ok, I can do that.”
Whistling to himself, he put some brandy into a small pan, and let it warm up on a low heat, before pouring it over the spherical dessert.
Finding the lighter at the back of the junk drawer, he touched the flame cautiously to the alcohol....
“What ya doing there, squirt?”
To Joe’s amusement, Jinpei yelled and jerked forward, the pudding caught alight as he knocked the plate and it flew up into the air, hit the ceiling and dropped straight back into the Swallow’s hands.
It would have been the perfect catch, if it hadn’t been flaming hot.
Jinpei yelled again, passing it quickly from hand to hand, before finally letting it drop to the floor where it shattered into a hundred pieces. But at least the flame burnt itself out.
“Joe, you bastard, it took me ages to make that!” he raged. “At least you can help me clean up.”
Joe practically doubled up with laughter at the sight.
“You know, you are supposed to wait until you’re ready to eat it before you light it, don’t you?” he smirked as he left the younger teammate in the middle of the sticky, gooey mess all over the floor...
#105 – Second Chance
Nambu waited until they’d finished welcoming Ken back to the team. He was as happy as the rest of them to see him back to full health, and although he still had to get back to his former levels of fitness, that wasn’t going to be a problem.
He cleared his throat loudly, indicating he was ready to begin. Hearing this, the team dutifully lined up, according to rank.
“First of all, I would also like to welcome Ken back to the team. I’m sure you all agree he made a tremendous sacrifice to get us the information we needed to stop Galactor in their tracks.”
There was unanimous agreement from the other four at this sentiment, but Ken just bowed his head, almost embarrassed.
“Secondly, I want to congratulate you all on the success of the mission. You will be pleased to know the training camp you infiltrated was put completely out of commission, and the locations of all the other known camps have been distributed to the relevant UN forces. The formula for the antidote to these bugs has also been distributed, and is currently being mass produced in order to administer to thousands of victims who have been unfortunate to ingest these creatures.”
“Hakase,” Joe spoke for them all, “do you know why Katse was using these bugs then?”
“We believe they were designed to slowly decimate the general population, in the hope that eventually every government around the world would eventually submit to Galactor’s rule. I don’t know for sure, but it is suspected that there was another method to stop the creatures once Katse had complete control over the Earth.”
“Well that would explain why he didn’t require an antidote producing then.” Ken surmised for them.
“Exactly, Ken,” Nambu agreed, “Unfortunately, during the course of the investigation, many civilians had been infected, so this was proving to be an effective method of bringing the country to its knees. Without Ken managing to trick them into producing an antidote in the first place, and Jinpei getting the formula to us, I think we’d still be scratching our heads, trying to work out how to stop the menace.”
Jinpei puffed out his chest with pride, but Jun quickly stopped him from coming out with one of his “Mighty Swallow” speeches. “Was there anything else then hakase?” she asked, before he could get into his stride.
“I don’t think so,” Nambu checked his reports. “Unless you have anything to add?”
“I was wondering if there was any news about Connie.” Jun glanced across at Ryu as she spoke; the pink tinge coming to his cheeks hadn’t gone unnoticed.
“Well,” Ryu spoke up nervously, “she did get in touch, she’s ok, and when I explained I was working undercover for the ISO, she understood why I had to go off like I did.”
“Oh?” all eyes turned to him now and his face turned redder than ever.
“Yeah... um... we got talking, but I didn’t tell her about the team or anything or what I did, but she’s agreed to give us a second chance and we’re going out next week.”
The others cheered at this and broke rank to gather around him, slapping him on the back and offering their congratulations.
“So,” Nambu cleared his throat again, bringing the room back to order, “that seems to wrap everything up nicely.” The doctor smiled around the room, “and on that note, I will give you all some well deserved time off to enjoy tonight’s celebrations. Team dismissed.”
“Roger,” the five of them saluted in unison, before turning to leave, all chattering happily among themselves.
“Oh, before you go,” Nambu stopped them in their tracks, “let me be the first to wish you all a happy and successful New Year.”