How exactly they got the God Phoenix back to Shadow Mountain, they'll never know. It had been one of those missions where they managed to once again defeat Gel Sadra and her mecha - a large-scale Charmander Pokemon, to be precise, and Jinpei had been suitably offended - and return each of them unscathed, but their beloved warship in a state that made them think of several bits and pieces strung together by twine.
Their God Phoenix, they felt at the time, resembled a six-year-old's handmade kite. They were, of course, no less proud of it, but they really did want to get home.
Fuel slowly leaking out of its tanks, Ryu had attempted to fly them home as quickly as possible. Ken had emptied his fighter plane's tanks as a donation, and Joe did the same. Which did not, and could not bother them because both their vehicles were in no shape to perform whatsoever.
In the end, the proud ship belly-flopped into the sea anyway, just barely within reach of Shadow Mountain's underwater docking bay.
Jinpei had said, as water seeped quietly into the bridge, "Y'know, if Gel Sadra knew about this, she'd call it even."
The others had replied, "Shut up."
They then proceeded to toss Jinpei down his chute to his Helico-buggy, the only vehicle unharmed, so that he could go ahead into the docking bay and get Hinotori to lend some assistance. Ken radioed ahead and gave the sentient computer very specific instructions that were to not be changed by the Swallow. Just in case.
The Network cables did their work, harnessing the God Phoenix and carefully pulling it into the docking bay. Ryu got the landing gear down and they made a perfect - if not artificial - touchdown.
Ken and Joe refueled their vehicles enough to pull them out of their thresholds and park them elsewhere so that they could start repairing them. Jun extracted her motorbike, and Jinpei left his buggy where it was.
Looking up at his injured darling, Ryu said, "My poor baby."
Ken shook his head. "This is not going to be fun."
They made for the shower rooms, first in full Birdstyle, to wash away the blood, sweat, soot and cordite, and then transforming into their street clothes, getting those soaked, too, before peeling them off one by sopping one and tossing them outside their stalls.
The Shadow Mountain shower rooms were convenient for them in a sense that, they could all still talk to each other - including Jun - without the awkwardness. Four shower stalls lined up in a row, and on the other side of the wall stood one more for Jun, in a virtually separate room with only a locked door between her and the boys.
Hinotori's voice came over the intercoms. "Take your time, people. There's plenty of hot water."
Five sighs rose from the steaming stalls.
"Hmm. Glad you appreciate that."
"This beats Crescent Coral, if only for the hot water," Jun piped up.
She heard Ken sigh a second time, and felt her heart skip a beat, as usual when she heard him sigh. "Shadow beats Crescent Coral any time. There aren't any engineers to harass us here."
"Ah. I was trying to remember why we took the longer option to come back here instead of heading back to Crescent Coral," said Ryu. He sniffed. "Poor baby."
"You know those guys are starting to keep score now," Joe intoned. "They're evaluating our performance just by checking out how much damage the ship's taken. And I'm getting sick of their wise-cracks."
"Yeah, like, "Hey, guess you guys didn't see that big missile comin' at'cha, huh?" Or, "Whoops, looks like you guys didn't notice that mountain on the right wing,"" Jinpei mimicked. "Jerks."
A small silence sat around for a bit, until, inevitably, Ryu asked if anyone was hungry.
Almost simultaneously, everyone shut off their showers and a synchronized rustling of towels was heard as they acknowledged Ryu's question.
In about ten minutes, their wet clothes sat in a hamper and they were dressed and ready to leave. Jun smelled of lavender, Jinpei of fruit, Ryu of soap; Joe managed to dab some aftershave, while Ken smelled like pine and forest fern. It was Ken who carried the hamper as they made their way to the transport module that would take them back to the Residence, their temporary home with Dr. Nambu.
"Whose turn is it to wash these?"
"Aren't they already washed, Ken-Aniki?"
Ken gave Jinpei a tired just-humor-me-or-you-can-do-them glare. "Anyone? My brain just died."
"Think it's mine," Ryu said. "Which means it's your turn to make dinner, Ken."
The Eagle blinked twice, and then said, "Wanna switch?"
With a big shrug, Ryu said, grinning widely, "Okay. That means I get to make lots of food."
"That's good, because I'm actually starving. I haven't been this hungry in ages," said Joe.
Jinpei stretched languidly as they got into the transport module. "Sounds perfect. Lots of food, then some chilling out, and then some sleep."
"Wait a minute, don't we have a very large ship to repair?"
Ken sank deeper into his seat. "Good grief, my brain really must have died. I can't believe I forgot about the God Phoenix."
"Not to mention your plane and my car."
"Joe, make that coffee of yours. We're going to need it."
"But Ken-Aniki, you're always crankier when you take coffee. That's why you don't drink it, remember?"
"Which do you want? Four people and the Network fixing up the ship or five people - one of them cranky - and the Network fixing up the ship?"
"...gee, he's already cranky..."
"I heard that, Jinpei."
Ryu sighed. "Reconstruction blues. Don'cha just love it?"
Reconstruction Blues (Pt. 2)
Ryu was the only member of the team who truly and completely appreciated seafood. No one could expect anything less from a down-to-earth fisherman's son. It took no time at all before the Residence's kitchen could have been mistaken for a decidedly expensive seafood restaurant by the bay.
Jinpei tended to the sweet-and-sour fish and stir-fried vegetables in their separate woks while Ryu watched over the grilling prawns. The rice boiled obediently in the rice cooker. Joe had long since finished brewing his special coffee for the team, and now sat at the counter on one of the barstools, a racing magazine in hand.
The kitchen door swung open and Jun strode in. "Hakase's not here, so we've got the whole place to ourselves."
"Cool!" Jinpei turned down the heat and made for the small stereo system in the kitchen corner. "What can I put on?"
"Put on that Bruce Gaitsch album," Joe called from behind the magazine. "Some quiet guitar is in order."
There was a 'clack-clack-clack' of the small CD rack next to the stereo before the piece of equipment hummed and began playing the first few gentle riffs of electric guitar. Jun took a quick look around and figured if anyone ever walked in here and saw them, no one would suspect them as five bird-suited people out to save the world, which was just fine.
"Dinner's almost ready, guys. Who wants to rescue Ken from the washing machine?"
"I'll get him, Ryu," said Jun as she opened the door to the basement and disappeared down the steps.
Jinpei grinned. "Of course she would."
From many steps below, a sister's voice said, "I heard that, Jinpei."
Joe snerked, Ryu grinned, and Jinpei mumbled something about how in hell she did that.
She found Ken sitting on the floor, curled against the dryer, in what seemed to be a very comfortable nap - one of those naps you know you'd feel bad if you had to wake someone from them. Watching him a while, she listed reasons why she'd like to share a bed with him. Firstly, he didn't snore; in fact, he hardly made a sound, and secondly, he didn't move much, either. The last reason, for now, was simply because he would be quite an attractive thing to wake up to.
Finally, her rumbling stomach no longer allowed her to let him sleep. She walked up to the bundle of Eagle on the floor and nudged his behind with her foot. "Hey, dinner's ready."
His eyes blinked open, still bleary. "Already?"
"Yep. C'mon up before Ryu eats your share. And what are you doing down there anyway?"
"'S warm here by the dryer."
Imagine a spring. Then take hold of two ends of it and stretch it in slow motion. That was Ken stretching after a nap.
Jun giggled as she watched him uncurl, uncoil, his long legs just going on and on and on. "Sometimes, I'm not sure if you're supposed to be a bird of prey or a cat."
He stood up, brushing down his jeans. "A cat would be nice. You don't do anything, people feed and pamper you, and you lie near warm places all day."
"Joe hates cats. He kicks them, you know."
She tried to stifle another giggle as she watched the wince of pain cross his face. "Oh." Then he shrugged, relaxed and nonchalantly. "Then I don't want to be a cat."
"So what do you want to be?"
There was a long, loud, rolling rumble, and suddenly the perfect, exemplary Eagle looked remarkably embarrassed. She tried just as remarkably to not laugh.
Then he answered her question: "Fed?"
And she laughed all the way upstairs, his laughter not far behind her.
"Okay, let's go over this," Ken said as his chopsticks dove for another helping of prawns. "If not for the sake of making sure we don't get bombed completely in the next mission, then for the sake of our pride."
Joe pulled out a folded sheet of paper from his back pocket. "I got the printout from Hinotori. She says the ship's heat shields have gotta be upped."
"What did that Charmander burn us up to?" asked Ryu between mouthfuls.
"Forty-five hundred degrees centigrade."
Everyone else whistled. Ryu said, "That's harsh." Then he added, after swallowing the last of his fish, "My poor baby."
Ken yawned. "So does she think we could upgrade, or just double the coating?"
"The plasma shields would need an electromagnetic generator first, Ken," Jun said. "We still haven't figured out how to fine tune that generator we've got in the workshop so that it doesn't interfere with our wristband frequencies."
"So we'll double it up for now and hope for the best."
"But Ken-Aniki, wouldn't doubling up the shields make the ship a little heavier?"
"Not enough to make a very big difference, I think," replied Jun.
Joe grinned. "We *could* pat ourselves on the back by putting in that extra fuel injector. No harm in a little extra fuel power."
"You mean, no harm in a little more speed," Ken accused with his chopsticks. "Fair enough."
Their only girl shook her head. "You can be so juvenile sometimes, Joe."
"Like the man said, no harm in a little more speed."
They laughed a little, tired but sincere, the domestic scene coupled with what they were talking about seeming slightly absurd. They did the dishes together, mostly, since Jinpei had skedaddled to find the TV guide. He came back with it, the kitchen door whooshing quietly with each shrinking swing.
"Okay, we got 'The X-Files' in about ten minutes -"
"Conspiracy episode or one-off?" Ken interrupted.
"Ehh..." Jinpei re-examined the guide. "Conspiracy."
The Eagle shook his head, grumbling.
"We got 'Baywatch' in fifteen minutes -"
Ken and Jun turned on Joe and Ryu and said, "Don't even go there."
"- and some old Jackie Chan flick in five."
And they burst to life, scrambling madly all of a sudden, rushing to the freezer for ice cream, the fridge for soda and beer and the cabinet for nachos and dip, their voices a mixture of:
"Hurry up, five minutes! Five minutes!"
"Which Jackie Chan movie is this one anyway?"
"Who cares? It's Jackie Chan!"
They barrelled into the den, teenagers in earnest, settling into the seats they'd designated to themselves since they were children.
Ryu settled in one of the big leather armchairs, Joe in the other leaning on one arm with his legs draped over the other in front of him. Jinpei flopped into the huge cushions on the floor, fluffing them up appropriately. Ken sat on one end of the leather sofa, with Jun next to him, her legs stretched out on the remainder of the piece of furniture.
They knew the movie by heart. They knew the dialogue by heart. They knew which appliances one of the world's greatest martial artists was about to use as a weapon or prop.
They watched it anyway, and they laughed their heads off anyway, leaving behind the war and the warship that required their attention, but secretly hoping that she would understand when they said, "Give us a little while."
Note 1: with reference to the Bird Rollers episode, I decided to update them to rollerblades, because, well, we don't really have rollerskates anymore. And at least, rollerblades look a little cooler. ^_^
Note 2: the whole preservation of pride thing. I know it may sound terribly similar to Joe's character in Lori McDonald's 'Blue Winged Eagle', so I acknowledge that there may be similarities, and I won't take complete credit for the idea. I must, however, thank Lori for inspiring that sentiment of pride. ^_^
Reconstruction Blues (Pt. 3)
"That was a cool movie!" Jinpei said at the end. "I've never seen that one before."
Ryu said, "Six times."
Jun looked away. "Damn. Four."
Joe folded his arms. "Hah. Nine."
Ken chuckled. "Thirteen."
At this, the team's second glared. "That's not possible. How could you have already seen 'Armor of God' thirteen times?"
"It's called having a brother five years older than you. I should show you guys Kikei's video collection."
As Jun stretched off the sofa, she glanced at the clock on the television. "Gee, is that the time already?"
"Mmm. I think we should start on the ship's repairs before something comes up."
"Right, Ken," they chorused as they moved back to the library where their individual transport tubes awaited them.
They began repairs almost as soon as they touched down. Ken and Jinpei - one with intimate knowledge of Hinotori's systems and the other with intimate knowledge of anything with a computer circuit - manned the Network cables while the other three did more manual work. The cables, as though with wills of their own, lifted, cut, welded and painted to repair most of the damage done to the God Phoenix, the Eagle Sharp and the Condor Machine, but the five humans tended to the smaller details themselves.
Three hours later, with Joe making their fifth pot of coffee, Jun polishing her bike, Jinpei still at the console manning the Network, Ryu somewhere within the ship's engine room and Ken suspended in mid-air by several cables, their bracelets chimed.
Each looked at the other in disbelief, then looked back at the God Phoenix, mostly repaired but still not battle-worthy, then back at each other.
Upside-down, hanging in the air, Ken said, "This is not funny."
"Ken-aniki, it's for real. It's not funny, but it's for real."
They scrambled back to the main screen just as Dr. Nambu appeared, looming down on them, the words, "Where were you?" just at the tip of his tongue.
"We're here, Hakase," Jun said quickly. "What's up?"
His brow was still creased, mildly suspicious of his young wards' activities, but he cleared his throat and began to speak.
"We've located another one of Gel Sadra's bases, Team. There seems to be heavy construction going on out there; we're guessing a mech's in the making."
"Do they know we know?"
"Not so far, Ryu. That's why I want you all out there as soon as possible. I'm sending the cooridnates to Hinotori now, and I want you to take out that base and the mech before they finish their work."
"But Hakase, the ship's -"
Jinpei was instantly thumped by Joe and removed from the console by Ken.
"- in perfect order," Joe finished.
The crease upon Dr. Nambu's forehead became more prominent. A frown soon followed when he saw that the child who was his late best friend's son turned up the innocence in his deep blue eyes and flashed *that* smile.
"Trust me," said the younger Washio boy.
The last time Ken had said something to that effect, the result was five elegantly BirdStyled teenagers on rollerblades. "Famous last words, Ken."
The Eagle tried not to 'eep'.
The good doctor decided to surrender to a greater will. "Do whatever you have to, then, as long as the base is in as many pieces as possible and you come back in one piece, and not the other way around. We estimate you have 48 hours before they find out we're on to them. Good luck and Godspeed, Team."
They saluted. "Roger." And their mentor vanished from the screen.
A minute passed before all five of them sat down on the floor. Ryu said, "Someone explain to me why that was necessary."
"Because," Joe began, "If Hakase knows that the God Phoenix is out of order, somehow, someway, the engineering crew is going to find out about it."
"They're already suspicious about our detour away from Crescent Coral after that last flight out," Ken added. "If they get wind that we're so badly bruised that we can't even fly out for this run, there'll be no end to it."
"Which leads us to the real problem," said the Swan. "How we're going to do this run to begin with."
They sat silently for a while, and when they looked up at the screen again, the coordinates were there, mapped out for them. The base was marked with a large red X, which was an uncharted, unnamed island about 15 miles off the coast of a larger though equally uncharted, equally unnamed island.
The quintet groaned, and Ken said, "This is so not funny."
Above them, Hinotori's image looked at them and smiled a knowing smile. "Ken, when was the last time you looked at our project construction log?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Long enough that I've forgotten we even kept a log?"
The sentient comptuer's knowing smile now resembled a bordering-on-evil grin. "Would you like to look at it now?"
They all stood up again as the screen flashed at them, showing them mechs and specs, and their eyes grew wider, their grins grew more and more adolescently evil.
And Jinpei said, "Dexter, eat your heart out."
to be continued...