*....* denote thoughts/italics
Characters from Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman are copyrighted to Tatsunoko Productions.
Joshua Viney is inspired by, very simply, his existence.
The theme song to Gatchaman: Legends is
Saltwater by Chicane.
Many thanks to all involved in the creative process of this arc.
Intent only on the sound of his hand slapping the top of his foot as he kicked up, Ken was barely aware that he had an audience. He counted off, one through one hundred, then stopped the exercise. His feet together, he stretched his arms out to his sides, the up over his head, his palms met, and he brought them back down in front of him, bowing to the empty courtyard.
Hands then braced on his knees as he caught his breath again and relaxed the muscles in his legs, he smiled at how much he adored the training he did here at the temple. Some of it was not far off from what Hakase was making them learn, but he reveled in that the training at the temple had nothing to do with winning an oncoming war or possibly taking human life. And he had to admit, he was a bit of a show-off. He would certainly rather perform than fight, and this was exactly what Sifu Yang-Xin was teaching him.
Not that what Hakase and the teachers he got them weren't teaching him anything useful. Like right now, despite the silence of the courtyard, he could hear soft sounds of shuffling feet that were not supposed to be there.
He whipped around quickly, his stance guarded, arms up and ready to block or strike, but there was no one there. The footsteps moved, and now mingled with the rippling sounds of water from the fountain in the back courtyard. Silently, Ken, too, made rapid footsteps there.
There was a shadow crouching behind the fountain.
When Ken would grow older, he would not be so naÔve, so trusting. He would be a little more jaded, a little more cautious, and always have a tanto hidden upon his back. But at ten years old, he was exactly what a ten-year-old was supposed to be: a ten-year-old.
"Hello?" he called, taking careful steps towards the small shadow. "It's okay, you can come out. I won't hurt you."
The ki he sensed was unique. He was still a long way from being able to read ki like Himura-sensei, but he felt enough to know that the other person in that courtyard with him was remarkably, and perhaps even painfully, shy. So shy that it seemed preferable to hide than to come out and explain.
Ken tried a different approach. "I'm here by myself... well, Sifu's gone out to do some errands so it wouldn't matter if you want to stay. You don't have to come out." He sat himself down on a step, rubbing down his legs from his drills. "I needed a sit-down anyway."
Some time passed. The ache in his legs faded some, but not entirely. Hopefully, the big Japanese-style tub they had in Hakase's mansion would have heated water by the time he got home. He heard the small shadow settle down as well, sitting instead of crouching. Eventually, a small voice emerged from behind the pitter-patter of the fountain.
"What's a `sifu'?"
Ken looked up, smiling a little. "It's Cantonese for `master' or `teacher'. In Mandarin it would be `shr fu'."
"You're learning kung-fu?"
"No. Sifu's teaching me to perform."
"It didn't look like much."
Ken shrugged, knowing it for a fact. "Yeah. But Sifu says I'm a little too young to learn anything complex yet." *Ha, if only he knew what I'm learning when I'm not training here*, he thought. "So he puts me through drills to build up my abilities. He said maybe next year, he'll teach me a form."
"Have you been learning for a long time?"
"Only three months." He flexed his toes, then his fingers, trying to remember now what drills he had left to do, and how much trouble he was going to get into for stopping to talk to this shadow. "Are you going to come out yet?"
A head peeped around the side of the fountain. Big, curious hazel eyes looked back at him, still unsure. When Ken nodded at him, he finally drew himself up to his feet and shuffled forward.
He was no bigger than Ken, possibly no older. His dark blonde hair was short, his skin a different kind of pale from Ken's own à a Westerner, as Ken had guessed from the boy's English accent. He looked a little tired, more than a little bedraggled, and Ken was not quite sure what he would do if it turned out this boy was a runaway.
"My name's Ken."
His feet shuffling, though he stood in place, the boy returned, "I'm Josh."
The two boys stood in front of each other for a while, until, with a heavy sigh, the boy named Josh said, "Could I possibly trouble you for a glass of water?"
Ken smiled. "Sure."
They sat on the steps in front of the fountain, each sipping his own glass of water. Josh seemed a little more settled now; his ki was not as guarded as it was when he first encountered Ken. It seemed like the best time.
"Josh, how did you get all the way out here on your own?"
He had the grace to flush. His right hand came up, trying to decide if it was going to comb his hair back or shield his face. "I, uh, kinda, well, ran."
*Oh boy*. "From what?"
"I... well, I..." He sighed. "I don't really know. We kinda moved here a few weeks ago, and..."
"It's okay. I get it," Ken said, meaning it, recalling the trouble Joe had put him, his mother and Hakase through when *he* did the same thing not long after arriving from BC Island. "Your family's probably really worried about you."
He sniffled, and his voice came out a little strangled. "You, you think?"
"How long since you ran away?"
"I-I left the house late last, last night, when everyone was a- asleep."
*Long enough for a mother to panic*, Ken surmised, thinking a few years above his age. "They're probably looking for you right now."
Trembling, he could only nod back.
"I need your last name."
Josh took huge gulping breaths before he managed, "V-Vi... Viney." He seemed to grow paler.
"Stay right here."
Keeping his eyes on the boy, Ken fished his palmtop from his backpack. It was already connected to Shadow Mountain's network, so he didn't worry that he didn't have a phone line to dial out from. He typed a message, examining it when he was done.
Please check for a mother last name Viney searching for
runaway son named Josh.
He's here with me at the temple. Please hurry. He doesn't
look so good.
Perhaps saying that a *family* named Viney was looking for their son would have been more appropriate, but never having known his father, his mother was all, and it was the reason why Ken sent the message to his mother's pager exactly as it was written.
He was too tired to eat anything. His skin was warm to the touch, but he kept insisting he was cold. Drinking seemed to take effort, and Ken could not find any more blankets even as he rummaged through the entire temple.
Only a few weeks... the climate change was probably a small shock to the system, more so if the boy had been out in the open or who-knew- where overnight and throughout the day. Winter was just ending, the chill still hung in the air, and Josh's jacket had not been a very heavy one. Ken was far more used to it.
He'd moved Josh to one of the small rooms where he laid out a futon for him. He slept for now, but Ken still needed to keep him warm. He was starting to panic, when he heard his mother's voice.
"Ken! Ken-chan, where are you?" There were two sets of footsteps.
Ken bolted for the front courtyard. "'Kaasan, I'm here." Sayuri Washio ran up to her son and drew him into her arms; behind her, a small English woman caught up, looking worried and on the verge of tears. "He's inside. I think he's running a fever. He's sleeping," he bubbled non-stop.
Sayuri nodded, and led the woman into the temple. His work done at last, Ken sank down to the floor, relieved, and meditated for a few minutes before he started his next set of drills, which he suddenly remembered now that Josh was taken care of.
A few days later, Ken found himself lying on his back, his tailbone aching, and his world just about ready to turn itself right-side-up again with Sifu tsk-tsking in the background.
"You forgot. Your leg must kick up, no put power in arms. Leg first, arm after. I teaching you this that day, you forgot already?"
"No, Sifu," he groaned as he pulled himself up. He was used to this now; he'd done six forward flips in a row, and only stumbled on the last one, but Sifu told him off as though all six were poorly executed. Turning to face Sifu, he put his palms together and bowed, moving towards the starting mark again.
Halfway through his first flip, he was interrupted by the arrival of his mother, and Josh, with his own mother in tow. He immediately failed to reorient his legs and fell flat to the floor.
Sifu had time to tsk him again, before going to greet Sayuri and her companions. Josh eventually broke away from the adults to walk up to Ken.
"That looked painful," he said, dropping to his haunches next to Ken.
"It *was* painful," Ken said, sitting up. "What are you doing here?"
Josh shrugged, then sat down. "I think your mum talked to my mum about having me train here with you. Something about you being the first other human being I've actually talked to since moving here. And that maybe this sort of training would be good for me."
Ken could not help but smile. "It would be good for you, if you like falling down a lot."
He shrugged again. "I think I can do that."
For years later, the two boys would train together. They learned, among other things, that Josh's birthday was two days before Ken's, but Ken was a year older; that they both loved martial arts movies; that they both had a brother and a sister though not in the same order; that they loved competing against each other and getting each other into trouble.
They grew up, Ken long-legged and graceful, Josh broad-shouldered and powerful. There were times when one excelled where the other did not. Ken would spend next to forever perfecting a technique, while Josh would whiz through it and ultimately get it wrong altogether. Every now and again, Sifu would teach them fighting techniques, which Ken purposefully played down, which earned him more than a few bruises from Josh's attacks. In turn, not being as acrobatic as Ken, Josh earned his lumps from falling as ungracefully as possible. Josh matched Ken's ability almost naturally, *too* naturally, such that when Sayuri and her son first began to notice it they decided to try and keep Nambu from ever meeting or even finding out about Josh, for the sake of keeping him away from the wars. It seemed like the best thing to do.
One bright spring day, seventeen-year-old Josh raced up the temple steps, backpack in tow, ready for another session. They were doing more forms today, and Sifu was very pleased that he was so in tune with Ken that they executed the moves at the same time, with the same rhythm, the same grace and power. He'd been pleased with them both ever since they started placing in martial arts performance tournaments. Now that they were older, Josh often brought up the subject of going for fight tournaments à surely they would be good enough for those, good enough to win, even à but Ken never took to the idea, and never really explained why. All he would say was, "Remember when I didn't mean to break three of your ribs but did anyway."
Josh was stubborn. He would ask again.
Ken was not there. He was never late.
Josh waited. He warmed up first, making circuits around the temple. He went through some drills quietly on his own. He went through some older forms on his own.
Ken did not turn up.
Feeling a cold weight somewhere inside him, Josh checked his pager. There were no messages.
He waited some more. He waited till the sun went down and his brother Daniel came to pick him up.
Ken never appeared.
And when Josh got home, it was all over the news, that a new war had begun, but that a special task force called the Kagaku Ninjatai was there to help end it.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Josh wondered which devastated city it was that he saw on the news, and if Ken had any reason to be there. Finding none, he went to bed, at ease that Ken couldn't possibly be dead, couldn't possibly be anywhere near the destruction and carnage he saw on the news.
But Ken still never turned up at the temple. He tried looking for him, except that it only just occurred to him that he didn't quite know where Ken lived, and Ken's pager had been disconnected.
Still, he waited, wondered, trained because he knew he needed and wanted to.
But for as long as the wars went on, Josh trained alone.