A 'G-Force: Alternate' Fanfic by Alisha 'Ace' Ema edited by Wendy Dinsmore
The small Cessna glided smoothly over the sea, approaching a solitary rocky island. He banked in; time to get some attention.
A voice cracked the silence in his headset. "Pilot, you are approaching private land. Identify yourself or we'll be forced to take action."
He rolled his eyes. "Father, cut the crap. You know it's me. Let me in."
There was a grunt from the other end; it could have solidified into a form of profanity, but the snapping and crackling coming from the headset drowned it out.
The rocky island seemed to sink slightly, before rising out of the water; merely the tip of the iceberg, it seemed. Waves rose and fell, the calm of the water's surface violently disturbed as the rest of the island came into view. What had been a little rocky island was now a massive mountain with a docking runway opened to the Cessna.
Gently, he banked in again, into a landing maneuver, setting down neatly on the runway without so much as a bounce.
Momentarily smiling, he thought to himself, Almost as good as you are, Baby Brother.
Kikei Shimada pulled off his headset and his flight goggles. Glancing at a small mirror on the console, he brushed his dark hair back with his hand, just to get the stray locks out of the way. His blue eyes flashed.
He opened the cockpit and pulled himself out before leaping to the floor. Kikei and Ken shared unmistakable similarities: the dark hair, the deep blue eyes, the knowing smile, the almost uncanny grace. But Kikei was tall - much taller than Ken - and well-muscled, his broad shoulders adding to his height. His features were also sharper and more chiseled, his hair long in the front, falling gracefully over his eyes, but short in the back.
As he straightened his jacket, he saw a man dressed in red coming towards him. His brow creased slightly.
"You can take off your ridiculous shades, Father," he told the man lightly. "I'm not my baby brother."
Kentaro removed them. "Baby brother? You regard him as a child still?"
Kikei now walked towards him. "No. But at least I knew he was a child at one time."
His father snorted haughtily. "Are you going to start that again, Kikei?"
"I'm not here to argue, Father. But if you get on my nerves, you can be sure I won't leave it hanging." He looked around the base, not willing to admit that he was impressed. "Is there someplace where we can talk privately?"
"My office." Kentaro led Kikei to the elevator, and they descended.
Kikei sat down across the workdesk. "You know I don't drink coffee."
Kentaro laughed slightly. "So how does a police officer like you stay awake on the job?"
"Detective, Father," he corrected coldly. "I have been for the past two years." Fetching himself a glass of water, he added, "And some of us don't need caffeine to work well."
Kentaro lay back in his seat. "Everything I do is wrong to you, isn't it, Kikei?"
Kikei paused, and allowing a snide smile, he answered, "Don't tempt me."
"You have your mother's wit, I see. And her looks."
Sitting back down with his glass, Kikei retorted, "And I'm glad Ken inherited none of your attributes."
Kentaro took a breath. "How far does your resentment for me go, Kikei?"
He swallowed a sip. "Farther than you can imagine."
"Then why did you come to see me?"
"Because I want to protect Ken. That's all."
"From what? His own father?"
Kikei nearly laughed. "He hasn't got a father. He never had one. I was given the privilege to know you for twelve years. Ken was far too young to even remember he had you."
Kentaro was momentarily taken aback. You can be a vicious little bastard, can't you? Kentaro thought.There's some family resemblance after all.
Kikei saw his pain in that. He held back the initial resentment for the time being. "But in other words, yes, I'm trying to protect him from you."
"Why?" he questioned, feeling extremely uncomfortable all of a sudden.
"I've had... premonitions, Father," Kikei answered as he lay back in his chair. "For the past week now. For Ken's sake I want you to stay away from him. At least until I -"
He stopped short when he heard Kentaro laugh. The older man swayed in his seat.
"Father, I'm serious. I'm -"
"Premonitions?" his father interrupted. "Premonitions? You trying to tell me you're psychic, son?"
Kikei sighed. I knew this was going to be hard, he told himself.
"It's a trait of the Shimada clan; you know that," he spoke. "I inherited Mother's foresight, and I never questioned her then, I don't question myself now."
Kentaro was still trying to grasp the absurdity of the situation. "And what exactly does your... 'premonition' show you?"
"You killed Ken."
The simple words struck him as though they were solid, physical objects. Kikei's unchanging expression made it all the more unsettling.
Just for the sake of it, he repeated, punctuating each word, "You. Killed. Ken."
Kentaro fell far back. Gathering himself again, now with his temper rising, he said, "Kikei, your resentment for me is so strong that just to keep me away from Ken you insist that I may kill him?"
"I don't lie, Father," he argued. "I hate being lied to by nature, and I doubt you like it very much yourself." He sat up again, arms resting on the table. "Just stay away from Ken. It won't last. I'll know when it'll be safe again. It's just -"
"Spare me this stupidity, Kikei!"
Kikei nearly fell off the chair. He knew there would be no avoiding an argument now.
"Father, listen to me! As long as you're near Ken now he is in danger. Now I don't care what he means to you, but he means everything to me, and I don't want to see him hurt. Especially not by you."
"If you didn't want to see him hurt then maybe you should have talked him out of joining G-Force!"
"That's entirely different!" Kikei fired back. "Don't you dare change the subject!"
Now Kentaro was standing at his seat. "Do you have any idea how many times that boy has risked his life on the job? He's living through a war, Kikei!"
"He's been living one since he was a child! Everything was a battle for him, don't you understand? But he may lose this one if you come anywhere near him!"
"You can't keep me away from my own son!"
Kikei stood. "If anything happens to him because of you, you'll lose both your sons!"
Kentaro fell silent. Kikei was burning still.
"If Ken dies because of you, I will hate you for as long as I live, and I will never forgive you."
In his silence, Kentaro's thoughts rang clear. Kikei, you're so protective of him, you love him so much. You dedicate so much to him... I believe it's beyond human comprehension. I admire and respect that in you. I could never be like you.
Calming down some, Kikei sat back down. "Just... promise me you'll stay away from him until I say."
Slowly, Kentaro sat down, too. He said nothing.
"Promise me," he repeated, almost pleading.
And finally he nodded. "All right. If it makes you happy."
Satisfied, Kikei quieted. Then he pulled a CD from his jacket. "Here. I thought you might like to see this." He placed it on the table gently, hardly making a sound.
Checking his watch, he felt it was time to leave. "I have to go, Father. I'm flying out to Utoland City. I'd hate to be late."
Tired of arguing, he nodded. "Fine. I'll take you back up."
As he escorted Kikei back to his plane, he asked, "How old are you now, Kikei?"
Kikei sighed. He could forget... "Twenty-six."
"Hmm. That would make Ken... seventeen?"
"Eighteen," his son corrected. "We turned on the same day."
Kentaro struggled to remember the date.
"January 31st, Father."
"Ah." He saw the apparent disappointment in Kikei's face. "I'm sorry, Kikei. It's just -"
"I know," he cut off. "Work. I know."
Kikei walked on ahead, pulling on his gloves. Kentaro stood back and watched. Suddenly he felt compelled...
"I love you, son."
Kikei breathed deeply. Shaking his head, he replied softly, almost regretfully, "Forgive me, Father, if I don't feel the same."
Kentaro sighed. Forgiven..
The plane turned, and took off into the sky. As the little plane vanished, swallowed up by the clouds, Kentaro had time to think about things again, all the things Kikei had said.
"He hasn't got a father. He never had one."
"I was given the privilege to know you for 12 years."
"If Ken dies because of you, I will hate you for as long as I live, and I will never forgive you."
"Forgive me, Father, if I don't feel the same."
Kentaro sighed again deeply. I'm sorry, Kikei. I never was much of a father to the both of you.
He descended back to his office, and went straight to his chair, sitting down and sipping his coffee. He looked at the workdesk and saw the CD Kikei had left him.
"I thought you might like to see this."
Suddenly the disc was in his hands. He tampered and toyed with it for a few moments before actually taking the disc out of its case and slipping it into the console behind him.
Could be interesting.
The screen activated, and a date appeared: April 14 2048.
The beach beneath the Residence. Sand flying in the sky to the cries of "I got it! I got it!".
A beach soccer game.
Kentaro first saw a tall, burly teenager, built like a sumo wrestler. He had on Hawaiian-style shorts and a well-worn vest. He was kicking up more sand than actually getting at the soccer ball.
This must be Ryu.
A scrawny little boy, probably no more than ten. Goofy-looking but quick on his feet, he was running ahead, hoping someone would kick the ball to him. He tripped right over his own feet, a miscalculation. And somehow his red shorts came down.
He laughed right out loud. "Jinpei, you are hilarious."
Now a tall, sandy-brown-haired young man appeared. His handsome face laughing, his steel-blue eyes glinting. He was in control of the ball for the moment. He ran right over the fallen Jinpei, sending sand flying into his shorts.
Joe just won't leave that poor kid alone, Kentaro smiled.
A burst of green-raven hair. Her laughter, her sparkling green eyes. She was running after Joe, but he turned and kicked the ball in the other direction. She hit the brakes, lost her balance and fell...
Right into someone's arms, abruptly. He fell over, taking her with him, his dark hair mussed and sandy. Rolling together, laughing happily. There was a sparkle in his deep blue eyes as he gathered himself and her with him. He brushed the sand off his blue shorts and straightened the short-sleeved white shirt that hung open about his shoulders.
Kentaro gaped. Ken.
Joe took the ball to the water. Ken tackled him, sending both splashing into the water. Jun dived along with them. Jinpei figured that was a good way to get the sand out of his shorts. The four were splashing around until Ryu jumped in cannonball-style. They took cover. Ken was thrown right off his feet.
He could not believe how grown-up he had suddenly become. How happy he seemed. He was with people he loved, for certain, but they were comrades in battle... and here they were, playing in the water, without a care in the world?
Kentaro understood the hidden meaning in the video. Kikei wanted to tell him in a less subtle way, lest it would make it seem as though he would've liked to have his father back. No, he resented him far too much.
Through the video, he saw the members of G-Force. The last time he saw them together, they were shedding blood together, carrying
out their ever-important mission as if that was all they lived for. For the time being they were mercenaries of sorts, special agents.
But then here they were in the video, playing and enjoying themselves and each other. Running around in the sand and sea, splashing and screaming and laughing. In a perfect little universe of their own. They were spending actual time together, having fun away from work.
These kids had time for work and time for play.
They made that time.
Something he had failed to even think about.
"Kikei, you are so brutal," he spoke. "A piece of subtlety saying, 'You could have done this for us'. Once again you point out to me a mistake in my life."
He turned his attention back to the video. It was a later part of the day, it seemed. They were still at the beach but in front of a bonfire. Jun had her guitar with her. She was challenging the boys to remember old song lyrics.
"Try... 'Fool's Game'. Richard Marx," she said.
Three of the boys fell over. "Jun, you nuts? That one is ancient history!" Joe complained.
Ken spoke up. "What do you want from it, Jun?"
She strummed a couple of chords. "The chorus, at least."
"Umm... play a few bars before."
She played; she probably knew every song from the past forty-five years thanks to her extremely extensive CD collection.
Ken seemed to think very hard, before he sang in perfect key, a soft voice:
"You will always be the one I dream about... And I know my heart won't beat the same again... You will always be the shadow of a doubt... Now I go crazy wondering what it might have been...."
Jinpei fell over again. "Impossible, Aniki!"
Kentaro turned it off.
Hearing Ken's voice, his laugh, watching him smile and play, only reminded him of his mistake. More so since the boy looked exactly like his late wife, Sayuri. Kikei was right; Ken had inherited all of his mother's attributes, including her good looks. Even her voice quality.
And suddenly Kentaro wished he could hear her sing again.
He took the disc out of the console. "Damn you, Kikei..." he whispered. Then he snickered, almost to himself.
"You're almost as cold as your old man."
"Kikei, if I understand what you're trying to tell me correctly..."
Kikei sighed. "Hakase, you knew my mother. Her foresight... she..."
Dr. Nambu quieted him. He had noticed how weary Kikei appeared; he had flown straight to Utoland City from the Red Impulse base non-stop. He had to be exhausted.
"You're tired, Kikei," he told him. "I hope you brought an extra change of clothes with you."
He nodded. "You want me to spend the night?"
He stood from his seat, asking Kikei to follow him out of his office. "I'm not going to let you fly back to Seclusion in your state, even if it is only a short flight."
Kikei walked down to the lounge of the Residence with him, stopping at the large picture window as he did. "Listen, Hakase, I don't want to trouble you."
"There is a spare bedroom on the second floor," he insisted. "And besides, Kikei, your brother is due back from assignment with the others very soon. I'm sure he'll be glad to see you."
He thought it over. True; he had not seen Ken for nearly two months now, even the last time was a brief and empty visit. And he wasn't due back at the precinct for the next two days, so...
"Sure," he said, smiling. "Why not?"
As Kikei left to tend to his spare room, Dr. Nambu thought again about what Kikei had told him. Yes, Sayuri's foresight had been infallible. Yes, the trait did run through the Shimada line, though Ken had yet to develop this trait. But to foresee something like this....
He sat down on the soft sofa as he ran over his thoughts one more time. Kentaro could not kill his own son, he told himself. He could never.
Looking back to the stairs where Kikei had gone up, he had to also consider Kikei's trust and concern for his brother.
But I have to at least think about Kikei. God only knows if he is right.
He shook his head, unbelieving.
But how could he be right? There is no way, no reason...
Dr. Nambu looked back to the stairs, where Kikei stood. "Yes, Kikei?"
Kikei seemed to sigh again - whether it was out of fatigue or frustration, it was hard to tell - before saying, "I know you're finding it hard to believe. I know you think my father could never kill neither me nor Ken. I know you believe in him. I also know you believe in me. It's probably confusing you. But I know you'll make the right choice, and despite everything I said, I'll go with whatever you decide."
And then he went back upstairs again to take a hot shower before resting in for the night.
Dr. Nambu removed his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose before replacing them.
"Kikei," he said quietly. "The fact that you know and sense all that already tips the scale of my decision." He heard the gates slide open as two cars, a jeep and a motorcycle drove into the compound. The wards had returned.
"But he couldn't possibly..."
Oh dear god, no... not again....
Stop it, please... don't, not again....
A voice screaming. Blood. A limp body falling.
The classic red jacket taking on a different, darker shade.
Deep blue eyes reflecting mortal pain.
Please, not again... nononononono...
He heard that voice again, the one that screamed. But now it spoke his name.
"Kikei... Niisan, wake up."
He stirred, the dream slowly evaporating. His eyes opened. He was greeted by an identical pair of eyes by his bed.
Ken smiled. "Hey."
He pulled himself up on the bed and turned on the bedside lamp. For a little while he wondered where he was; he remembered that he was in the spare bedroom at the Residence. Turning to the side of the bed, where Ken knelt, his mind flashed back to the dream, and seeing him there, he felt something come over him...
In one quick motion Ken was suddenly caught in Kikei's embrace. Ken wasn't sure what was going on, but he hugged him back. "Okay, 'Kei. I missed you, too," he said, flustered.
Kikei pulled back. "Sorry. Weird reaction," he apologized, not about to let Ken know about what he saw. It was too much... too many times already; it was becoming unbearable.
"When did you get here?"
He snapped out of it, hearing his baby brother's voice. "I got here before you came back," he replied. "I fell asleep after I took a shower. When I got up you were already sleeping. I didn't want to wake you, so I went back to bed."
Ken seemed to sigh heavily; he was still tired. "Yeah, well, being captain of G-Force isn't a nine-to-five job. It's more like a two-to-five-day job."
"And this one was?"
"Five." He collapsed to the floor, his head leaning back on the bed. "Five, long, exhausting days sitting in an exhausted super aircraft with four equally exhausted team-mates."
He chuckled quietly, amused by the description. "And I suppose they're all asleep?"
"I had to carry Jun to her bed. And I think from there I got so tired Joe had to take me to mine. Ryu had Jinpei over his shoulder."
Kikei blinked. "Joe carried you to your bed?"
Ken sat up quickly and threw a punch to Kikei's shoulder. "No, doofus. He just shoved me onto my bed, and made sure I didn't land on the floor instead."
"Oh." No matter how big Ken got, he still loved to tease him to the point of insanity, solely because he was still younger than him. "So if you're so tired, what are you doing up?"
He looked down to where Ken sat: his eyes were closed, and he was breathing deeply. But he spoke. "I'm not sure... I... knew you were here.... felt you... I got up... thought I was sleepwalking.... then I found you here... you were dreaming..." And he drifted away again, for good this time. He was fast asleep.
A smile broke across Kikei's face. Wow. He really is tired.
Slowly he crawled out of bed, not wanting to jar it too much and wake his brother instead. He pulled an extra comforter from the top shelf of the closet and took it back to the bed. Rearranging Ken's slender, tired body into a more comfortable position, he wrapped him in the thick comforter and laid him down on the floor, tucking one of his pillows under his head. Making sure he was good and warm, the big brother in him started to stroke his dark hair. Ken hardly moved.
Kikei sighed, a worried look on his face again. Ken, if anything were to happen to you... anything... Why in the world did I allow you to take on this insane job?... So many things could happen to you.... so many ways I could lose you...
But the reasons behind all that were beyond his own reckoning, his own understanding. Kikei knew he had no control over it, and that he was to leave it alone. It would upset the balance of many unseen, unknown events....
He went back under his own covers, settling in again, and once more glancing down on the most important thing in his life, he turned out the light.
Pulling his topcoat closer, Dr. Nambu continued to walk down the empty night street until he came to Chandler's. Probably the only bar left open in all of Utoland City at this time of night.
He stepped in and removed his topcoat, hanging it on the nearby rack. Scanning the bar, he saw a man in a white suit and dark sunglasses sitting in a booth by himself. Nambu proceeded towards the man, sliding into the seat across him.
"I never realized the benefits of wearing sunglasses at this time of night, Kentaro. Would you like to relay them to me?"
Kentaro removed the sunglasses and put them away in his pocket. "I think you've been taking care of my two sons for too long," he replied. "Their sarcasm is rubbing off on you."
"In any case, Kentaro, what is all this about? You call me in the middle of the night and ask me to meet you here. Just be glad the kids are far too tired to notice and follow me out here."
Kentaro fell silent. Nambu flagged down the bartender and ordered a scotch.
"I never knew you drank, Nambu."
"When I get into strange situations like these, I think I may need it." Nambu glared down at his long-time friend. "So?"
"Did Kikei come to see you lately?"
Nambu gave a small nod. "He's sleeping in the spare room as we speak. He came here immediately after he met up with you."
"And do you believe the malarkey he said about his... his... 'premonitions'?"
Kentaro's unbelieving nature could one day be his greatest downfall, aside from his quick temper. "I'm giving them some thought, Kentaro. I have to be fair to Kikei. All he wants to do is protect Ken. You have to understand, Ken is all he has left."
Kentaro relaxed in his seat, watching Nambu stir his scotch. Images from the video Kikei had left him swirled around in his mind.
"I suppose I brought this on myself," he said. "I made the choice, now I'm paying for it. It's gotten so bad now that Kikei doesn't consider me his father anymore, and Ken doesn't even know I'm alive."
Nambu downed half his scotch. "You could have fixed that by coming back when Sayuri was sick," he said bitterly.
This one didn't surprise Kentaro the slightest. He knew Nambu loved Sayuri almost as much as he did, maybe more; who knows? Between the two best friends, Kentaro had been the luckier one; Sayuri had loved him more. Nambu was a fond acquaintance and trusted friend; Kentaro was a lover, and then husband.
"But I couldn't. You know that."
"It's hard - even for a former agent like myself - to accept 'finally getting hold of the information we need' as an excuse to not show up at her funeral," he shot back. "That was all Kikei needed to instill a distinct resentment for you. And he has lied to Ken about you all this time just to protect him."
One sting to the soul after another. From Kikei, now Nambu. He would expect the same from Ken, although the topic may differ somewhat.
"So Ken still believes I'm dead," he offered.
The scotch had disappeared now. "Yes. And he turned out just fine. Things may have been different if you had been around. Maybe worse."
Kentaro wanted that sharp comment to be the last of its kind. A change of topic would be a good idea before the reflecting pain became a little too much to take in one shot.
"What are you going to do about Kikei's... 'premonition'?"
"For now, I'll do as it says," he answered. "I'll keep you away from Ken, until I can no longer avoid it."
The answer stunned him.
Nambu got out of his seat, leaving a tip as he did. "I was familiar with Sayuri's premonitions; she was hardly ever wrong. And she was a descendant of the Shimada clan, like her two sons. You are a Shimada strictly by name, not by descendancy. Maybe that's why you can't even consider Kikei's foresight."
"You... believe him?"
"It's not that I believe in his premonition. I believe in his love for his brother. That was what tipped the scale," Nambu responded.
Seeing the obvious hurt on Kentaro's face, Nambu found himself feeling sorry for him, somehow wishing that things could have been different. As he left, he added, "But considering the conflicts we've been having with the Galactor Organization, I doubt I can keep you away from the G-Force team for very long. I suppose this would undoubtedly involve Ken, so I won't be able to do much about the premonition then."
Kentaro let a sour laugh escape him. "Hmph. So now I'm practically asking for something to happen just to prove Kikei wrong."
Nambu shook his head. "Instead of denying your children, maybe you should try accepting them," he said, his tone fierce. "I know you love Kikei and Ken, but sometimes the way you are just makes it hard to see."
With that he took his topcoat, slipped in on and left the bar, walking out onto the empty street again, heading for his car.
Kentaro watched him leave, and in his solitude in the bar, he heard himself whisper, "But I do love them, Nambu. No matter how hard it is to see. I just can't leave what has been my life for so long."
His fist came crashing down on the table, rattling Nambu's empty glass. "My duty has turned into my life. I can't abandon my mission, my cause. Understand that, Nambu. If you can."
Dr. Nambu parked his car just behind Ken's black Sebring. He turned off the engine and sat there in the dark for a good long while.
He really couldn't blame Kentaro for feeling the way he did. He couldn't blame Kikei for the exact same thing. And stuck in the middle of the whole fiasco - whether he knew it or not - was Ken, who hadn't the slightest clue that there even was a fiasco to begin with.
It would be wrong to say that he didn't want to protect Ken, too. Sayuri had made him promise to do just that. And he wasn't one to break promises. But by thrusting Ken into the responsibility he has now he has already put the boy's life in uncertain danger. Even if the boy could dispose of three dozen Galactors in one sitting without so much as a smudge on his BirdStyle.
Kikei's premonition was something he could not ignore no matter what logic told him. A Shimada's premonition should be heeded at the very least. So he had to keep Kentaro away to the best of his abilities, painful as it was. Nothing seemed easy anymore.
But Kikei has to be wrong! he thought, banging his fist on the wheel. There is no way Kentaro could possibly harm his own son! Then he thought about the physical abuse Ken had previously received from the captain of the Red Impulse squadron, the several occasions where Kentaro had not only hurt his body, but his ego as well.
He shrugged hopelessly. "Maybe not without reason, anyway," he reminded himself. Still, it seemed too... unreasonable? Insane?
I should talk to Kikei about this.
Quietly he made his way up the stairs, down the corridor and up the next flight of stairs to the spare rooms. He turned to Kikei's room, and gently knocked on the door as he opened it.
His actions stopped mid-way when he saw - curled up on the floor in a thick comforter - Ken, in a deep slumber he couldn't possibly escape from until morning. And upon the bed was Kikei, bundled up and curled in an almost identical position, with his hand dangling from the side of the bed, just far enough to rest on his younger brother's shoulder. As though he was afraid someone would snatch him away in the middle of the night.
Nambu sighed deeply, so deeply he was afraid he might awaken one of the two siblings, or both. But none roused.
How could I deny that?
Slowly he closed the door, and turned the knob far so that it would not click when it closed. He then returned to his room; watching the Shimadas sleep made him drowsy, too.
Kikei glanced at the clock on the wall. It was eight-fifteen in the morning. If Ken didn't get out of the house soon, he would be late for the second shift at Archangel Air. Tardiness wasn't exactly exemplary if you were the owner of the business.
Jun, bringing out three types of juice and several glasses on a tray, turned her sight upwards and yelled, "Ken, if you don't hurry up you're gonna be -"
A door slammed. Footsteps thundered. Ken hopped down the stairs as he tried to put on one boot, then the other, keys in his mouth, backpack hanging from one shoulder. He reached the bottom of the stairs, nearly tipping himself over. He caught hold of a nearby table to keep himself from falling.
Joe had to laugh. "You're graceful in the morning, Ken," he said. "Funny how that doesn't happen on assignment."
Ken ran to the dining table, pouring himself a glass of green apple juice with one hand while the other buttoned his shirt. "Funny. Remember, Joe. Some of us actually work for a living."
"Hey, I resent that."
"But Aniki's right, Joe," Jinpei chimed in. "You only gotta win one race and you're set for a month."
"Shows how much you know, rookie," Joe snapped. "Whatever I win's gotta go to repairs, maintenance, the pit crew, transportation, fuel... you think I'm left with a whole lot after that?"
Jinpei stood in his seat indignantly. "Yeah, but Aniki's actually gotta divide what the airfield earns into 15 parts for the rest of the Archangel crew. That doesn't leave him with much, either, y'know."
Ken sighed. "Thanks for reminding me of my ever-prosperous business, Jinpei. I'll do without it tomorrow, though, thank you very much." As he drank his juice, Jun attentively tended to his misshapen collar.
"There," she told him, satisfied. "Lookin' good."
He smiled. Cuffed her on the chin. "You always do, lucky you." Grabbing his things, he suddenly remembered one thing missing. "Anyone seen 'Lucky Red'?"
Ryu tossed him the bright scarlet jacket. "Here ya go."
As he watched Ken slip into it, Kikei felt the visions from last night - and all the nights before - come back to him. His temples began to throb.
... scarlet turning deep crimson... blood flowing....
He looked up, blinked a couple of times. He saw Ken's face. Concern, distress, worry... he could see all those emotions without having him say a word. "I'm fine."
A different look now. Ken wasn't talking. Just looking. Now the lines on his face, his eyes, the slightly raised eyebrow, the folded arms, asked if he was sure.
Kikei nodded. "Really." Quickly changing the subject, he said, "You're going to be late."
Ken checked his watch. Eight-thirty. He threw one more glance as he walked to the door: "Take care of yourself, have a good flight back, call me if you need me" and an entire assortment of other concerns.
Jinpei had been watching the unique spectacle for a while. "How'd you guys do that?"
Kikei stared at him for a second. He felt like annoying him a little.
Jinpei slammed his head onto the table. "No, no, no... anything but that. Explain it to me!"
"Some things, Jinpei -" he answered as he glanced at the door again, "- just can't be explained."
Kikei began to pack his things and make his bed. He picked up Ken's comforter from the floor and folded it, fitting it back in its place in the closet. Great, he scolded himself. More quality time spent with your baby brother. Sleeping and worrying about visions. Wonderful.
He slammed the closet door shut. Well, you won't get another chance like this. Wasted again.
But then again, he didn't have to leave until later in the afternoon. He could still spend some time... no, he didn't want to bother Ken at work. Not a good idea.
What could he do to kill a few extra hours? Given the break they've earned, the others would already have plans of their own. He could take a look around; he hadn't been at the Residence for a while now, or...
Looking down to the floor, he knew Ken's room was directly beneath his. Before he could even begin to think about what he was doing, he had already found himself just outside the door, hand turning the knob.
He slipped inside and closed the door. Exploring the room with his sight, he was impressed by the neatness of the room. The laptop - momentarily closed - sat on the desk surrounded by files and stacks of papers. Books lined the shelves; half of them, he knew, were his private journals. Sketchbooks remained unseen in one other corner of the shelves. The window was kept open, as he habitually did even back at home. Photographs were neatly displayed on one table in the corner of the room. The smell of his cologne, 'Flight', still lingered thinly in the air.
This room screams 'Ken', he thought. His essence was so strong, even with the room empty. His enemies would be intimidated just by the sheer presence of him he had left behind.
He shook his head, smiled. I'd hate to imagine what Joe's room would feel like.
Walking to the center of the room, he now saw the old photograph in the worn frame: Ken, his mother and himself. Ken couldn't have been any more than ten. Taking the frame into his hands, he glowed at the memory of the three of them.
And his vision changed abruptly. Beyond control.
... no, not a waking dream... not now...
Blood. Scarlet turning crimson. The voice screaming again. Pain. Deep blue pools sinking into darkness. Falling, falling, dying...
Kikei could not take any more. He sank to the floor, the frame falling from his grasp.
Downstairs, the phone rang. Jun picked it up. "Residence. Jun speaking."
"Jun, where's Kikei?"
Ken. "Ken? Umm... I think he's still upstairs."
"Let me talk to him. Now."
She was annoyed by his tone. "You could've done that just now before you left. Why didn't you just -"
"Just let me talk to him," he insisted, his tone now more concerned than impatient. "Please."
She could feel the emotion coming through the phone, realizing that she shouldn't have snapped at him. "Hang on."
Going up to the spare bedroom, she didn't find Kikei. She figured he was doing what she wished she had the guts to do : snooping in Ken's room.
Back down the stairs she went, knocking on Ken's door. "Kikei. Ken's on the phone. He wants to talk to you."
Kikei stirred, hearing her voice. He'd better respond; the last thing he needed was for her to see him sprawled on the floor, semi-conscious. "Right. Got it."
He strained to reach the phone on Ken's bedside table. Catching it, he beeped it on.
"You lied, 'Kei."
He sighed. "So I'm not fine. I will be, Ken."
"There's something you're not telling me."
"There's nothing I'm not telling you."
"I... I felt you just now, 'Kei," he said, his voice growing higher. "Something's wrong."
"There is nothing wrong," he firmed. "Believe me."
Those were two words Ken could never fight with, not coming from Kikei.
"Believe me," he repeated.
A long breath on the other end. "If there's anything, you know where to reach me."
He could almost see the disappointment on Ken's face as he hung up.
They had all been sleeping a few nights later, long after Kikei had flown back to Seclusion, when their bracelets sang their familiar chime.
Joe practically fell out of bed. Groaning, he splashed an entire bottle of mineral water down his face, soaking his clothes, before changing and driving out to the rendezvous point.
Jun dragged Jinpei out of bed, down the stairs and threw him into his jeep.
Ryu scrambled out of bed, tripping over everything in sight before reaching the trap-door that led to where the Phoenix rested.
Ken was so startled by the call that he turned wrong on the bed and it sprang right back into the wall, fitting back into the space it's meant to be kept in, taking him with it. He used every single known piece of profanity in every language he knew. All of it muffled by the mattress in the wall. He kicked, scrambled and pushed until the bed came down to the floor again, thumping loudly. Quickly he got out of it and kicked it hard. "Stupid bed! Freaking trigger-happy sonofa..."
His bracelet chimed again. He had to get to the rendezvous point in 15 minutes.
His head still hurt, his shoulders stiff. Dressing slowly, he ran out to his hangar and got his Cessna started.
"This had better be good..."
The G-Force team aboard the Phoenix were half-asleep by the time they reached Crescent Coral and dived into the sea, into the Phoenix docking bay. They alighted, changed back out of Bird Style and trudged into Dr. Nambu's office, where he waited for them without appearing the slightest bit tired. It was unfair.
"Considering my bed tried to murder me again tonight, Hakase, this had better be good," Ken voiced sleepily.
Joe yawned. "Why don't you ever get that thing fixed?"
"Because I can't afford to yet." Ken frowned, folding his arms. "Hell. You live in a trailer. What do you know?"
Joe yawned again. "Just be lucky that I'm way too sleepy to deal with you right now."
Dr. Nambu cleared his throat, silencing all of them. And waking Jinpei.
"Although it feels a lot earlier than it is, I had to call the five of you in," he explained, a slight apologetic tone to his voice. "I just received an important call, one that could change a lot of things for the ISO."
The five sat down on 'their' couch in the office, listening intently. The soft leather couch was the one piece of comfort the otherwise sparse office offered them. It was large enough to fit seven, so it fit the five of them comfortably enough. Unless Ryu shifted.
"The government of Emerine has decided to takes sides with the ISO and the United Nations after twenty-five years of neutrality," he began. "This decision was brought on after the ISO offered to help rebuild their broken Meisis Dam, which is an important hydraulic power generator for the nation's capital. In their appreciation, they've decided to join us, with the intention of helping other nations as we have helped them."
"Is this official, Hakase?" Jun asked.
"Not yet. In two days time, with all the agreements and treaties signed, then it will be official."
Jinpei grumbled. "Aww... sounds like another escort-bodyguard mission."
Ken kicked him. "Shush, Jinpei."
Dr. Nambu sighed. "I'd hate to say this, team, but yes, it is a vigilance mission."
Five voices groaned. "What now?" Joe blurted out.
"I need all of you to be on guard on the day of the signing in. Unfortunately, there is one problem."
Ryu shifted, causing Ken to get squished on the other end. "What's that?"
"Other than the fact that you're squashing me?" Ken gasped.
He shifted back; Ken got his space. "Thank you."
"The Emerine representative is not keen on mass security," he answered. "There is nothing he hates more than armed personal escorts following his every step."
Ken snapped back into leader mode, his sleepiness long faded. "But without tight security, the Galactor Organization will have a field day trying to get to him."
"Right," Joe agreed. "Once they find that out, they'll stop at nothing to assassinate him."
"And that will break all ties between Emerine and the ISO as well as the United Nations," Jun added. "He's got to have some kind of security around him."
Jinpei groaned impatiently. "Aw, c'mon guys, how'd you even know they want this guy? What's Emerine got to offer the ISO anyway?"
"Plenty, Jinpei," Dr. Nambu addressed firmly. "They have the highest technology in energy conservation, that is they don't use nuclear energy, but natural resources."
"Like the hydraulic dam?" Ryu inserted.
"Yes. That and much more. Any contribution of theirs would be precious to us. Which is why their joining us is very important."
Jun was slightly distressed now. "Hakase, when you said he didn't like any kind of security at all, does that include G-Force?"
Ken breathed deeply. This was a bit too strange for his taste. "So what do you suggest we do then? He needs protection, which we can give, but he doesn't want it? How can we secure him?"
Dr. Nambu sat back down behind his desk. "I know all of you, at least Ken, Joe and Jun, own firearms, handguns, correct?"
"Yes, Hakase," they responded.
"And I know you three can handle them expertly, am I right?"
They hesitated at first. Doubt crept quietly upon their faces.
"That's a stupid question to ask me," Joe replied smugly.
"I can shoot nine out of ten bottles at fifty feet," Jun answered.
"Umm... I can shoot down my boomerang in high wind."
Dr. Nambu smiled. "Then the exceptions are only Ryu and Jinpei, then. You three will do."
Ken's lips parted to say something, but nothing came out. He turned to Joe and Jun, but both were as clueless as he was.
"Your firearms are convenient enough to store away in your jackets. You're well-trained, and your youthful appearances will secure your identities as ordinary teenagers."
Ken held a hand up; stop a second. "Are you saying you want us to protect this man as... us?"
He nodded. "As Ken Shimada, Joe Asakura and Jun. Not the Eagle, the Condor and the Swan. Even if the need comes that I have to introduce the three of you, you will appear as my wards as you always have."
Jinpei stood to protest. "But Hakase, we've never done an external assignment before."
"Yeah," Ryu agreed. "How do we know we'll be safe without the protection of our BirdStyles?"
Joe shrugged it off. "We'll be fine. 'Sides, it's me, Shimada here and Jun. You guys will be perfectly safe."
"That's not the point, Joe," Ken told him.
"As I said, you three are well-trained. All of you are," Dr. Nambu interjected. "I trust that you'll be able to pull this assignment off as you have any other."
The boys smiled, at the faith their Hakase had in them.
Jun seemed to have tightened, not having have said anything. Ken noticed, but said nothing. He threw her a glance, one that she saw. She read his expression; literally, "I'll talk to you after this."
She nodded, slightly surprised by the fact that she had done exactly what Kikei had always been able to do: read Ken.
"I think this is going on well enough," Dr. Nambu said, smiling. "Ken, Joe, Jun, I want the three of you to report in at my office in the ISO building for a quick briefing tomorrow. I want to make sure you three are well and ready. Jinpei, Ryu, you may come along. For now, you may all return to your quarters and get some rest."
They filed out, Ken staying close to Jun.
There were only three rooms for them on Crescent Coral, so they had to share. Jun, as the only female, got a room to herself. Ryu and Jinpei shared the end room, Ken and Joe the front room.
But Ken and Jun did not enter their rooms. Joe had turned in almost as soon as he undressed. There was no questioning Ryu and Jinpei, for certain. Instead of turning in, the remaining two went up to one of the tower windows, where they had the perfect uninterrupted view of the ocean life surrounding them.
They both settled in one of the window seats, a soft cushiony affair fitting right against the curving window, just big enough for the two to stretch their long legs out facing each other.
"You knew something was bothering me," she began.
He smiled. "Pure talent." Leaning back against the window, he sighed as he continued, "Don't make me explain. It's just... pure talent."
Her eyes were downcast now. Any trace of earlier smiles was gone.
He reached for her hand. "Was it something Hakase said?"
She nodded, but was silent. For the briefest moment he swore he saw tears in her eyes. That bothered him.
"What was it that upset you so much?" he asked gently, trying to recollect everything that Hakase had said, searching his memory for the words that might have upset her. But he could not place them.
She said nothing still. She was afraid that if she started to talk, she'd end up crying, and she didn't want that to happen in front of Ken.
He lifted her chin up with his hand, making her look straight at him. "C'mon, kiddo. You can tell me. If it's anything embarrassing I swear I'll never repeat it."
His concern for her was overwhelming. She figured it should be rewarded. She answered just below a whisper, "Your names."
"The way he said your names." And a single teardrop did escape down her cheek.
Ken rewound the conversation. Names? Our names?
Ken Shimada, Joe Asakura and Jun.
Ohhhh.... no.... He and Joe had last names. She was just Jun. And nothing more.
"Jun," he said, holding her by the shoulders. "That's nothing. I mean, it's not your fault you don't know your last name."
"Or if I even have one," she added bitterly, sadly. Now she couldn't hold them back. More tears came down, but without so much as a sob.
His hand reached up to her, wiping away her tears for her. "Shhh. Listen, Jun. You were too young to even remember what your parents looked like when they disappeared, much less have any recollection of their names. Your birth certificate was destroyed in a fire, with many others. It'll be a long time before retracing those lost records could even be considered."
She cried a little harder; now her whole body shook. "It... it's like... n-not knowing who you really a-are. Like I h-have no i-identity... I'm j-just Jun."
"No you're not," he protested. More than anything, he hated to see her cry; it broke his heart. He pulled her into his arms, comforting her.
"You'll never be just Jun," he told her as he held her. "You're our Jun. Our one and only Jun. The best month of the year. Bringer of summer." He pulled her back so that he could get a good look at her. "Jun, we don't need to know your last name to know who you are. You're our Jun, green-raven hair, green-gray eyes, about so-high, shaped like so, has the sweetest voice and the most endearing smile. Who needs a last name to know that?"
She smiled. Her tears had all gone. For a second, she giggled.
Ken smiled back. "See? I don't need to know your past to know you; fact is, I don't care. Who cares where you come from? I don't, and I love you anyways."
She laughed now. "I guess."
"You're our Jun, Jun. That's all that matters." Changing his tone slightly, he added, "But if there's ever a chance we could find out what your last name is, we'll find it, and we'll put it up in the sky for everyone to see, okay?"
She hugged him, appreciating everything he had done for her. "Okay," she whispered. Then she kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Thank you, Ken."
And now he laughed. "Anything for the best girl I know. What else are best friends for?"
Jun pulled away from him, and cuffed him on the chin. "And you're the best guy I know."
And a while later, they walked sleepily back to their quarters and bid each other goodnight, even if it was already four-thirty in the morning.
The newcomer found nothing suspicious about his surroundings. None of it mattered. He continued to wait in the spacious hall, allowing his mind to wander about, to his next hit, to how much he was going to be paid, to his new client. He had had many interesting clients in the past; guns for hire normally did.
But none of them could compare to this one.
A masked soldier dressed in green entered the room, calling for his attention.
"Katse-sama will see you now, assassin."
He got up and moved towards the door. A malicious grin on his face, he snarled, "The name, my good man, is Carrion."
Dr. Nambu nodded at the telecommunications screen as he sipped his morning coffee. "I assigned Ken, Jun and Joe on external weapons-guard for Mr. Kessel from Emerine."
Kentaro shook his head on the other end. "No, no, I heard you the first time, Nambu. But external weapons-guard? Outside of G-Force?"
"Kessel hates mass security and despises bodyguards. Having three teenagers accompanying him - especially these three - would make him none the wiser as to who they are."
"But weapons-guard... Ken knows how to shoot?"
"If you can recall where the boy grew up to begin with after -"
"Yes, I know. Seclusion." He sighed, bewildered at the fact of his son being a marksman of any sort. "Good enough to save his hide, I suppose."
Dr. Nambu glared at him; the heat was almost tangible on Kentaro's end of the transmission. "Ken and Kikei may fiercely surprise you, Kentaro. There are lots of things you cannot imagine them doing, yet they do them as if it were natural."
"In any case, I'd like your permission for my crew to join in on the weapons-guard. My men are better and more experienced marksmen, which I'm sure will put you at ease since you are risking the lives of your three wards by putting them on external duty."
He was momentarily surprised at Kentaro's perception of his feelings towards the subject. The fact that he was going to endanger them by giving them external duty did not occur to him until after the decision had been made, and he indeed was looking for either a way out of it, or a way to back it up.
"In any case also, your perception has yet to deter," he said, smiling as he did. "You still amaze me, Kentaro. I mean that."
"So, do you accept?" he asked grinning as if he'd won something.
Nambu was about to say 'yes' when he caught that grin. "Wait a minute. You're still trying to prove Kikei wrong about his premonition, aren't you?"
Kentaro laughed heartily. "Your perception is still as sharp as mine, old friend." Recapturing the seriousness of the situation, he continued, "No, Nambu. That was not a part of the plan. The thought just occurred to me."
"Really," Nambu replied icily.
"I'm serious," he affirmed. "Besides, it is a good idea to have the Red Impulse squad as back up for G-Force. And if it'll make you feel any better, I'll keep a good distance away from Ken, far enough to be unable to harm a hair on him."
That did sort of console him, but not very much.
"There is still one problem, Kentaro, in case you have forgotten."
Nambu sighed deeply, sensing one predicament after another unfolding before him in a matter of minutes.
"Ken despises you."
Dr. Nambu knew he was in for this. He knew; he just tried to block it out. "Ken, external weapons-guard means you'll be out of BirdStyle, and that would make you, Joe and Jun forty percent more vulnerable. I'd like to not only secure the Emerine representative, but the three of you as well."
"Already 7 months on duty, and only now you're beginning to doubt us?" he asked bitterly, hurt.
"I'm not doubting you, any of you," he replied as gently as he could. "I just feel that as my wards, I'd like to protect you as well, more so since you don't have the usual protection of your BirdStyles. A bit of back-up will help. Really."
Joe gave a snort. "And I suppose the bullet-proof vests you're making us wear aren't going to be enough?"
Nambu sighed. "They won't protect you from head-shots, Joe." And that silenced him.
Ken plunked himself back down onto the sofa, between Joe and Jun. It seemed pointless to argue. "Fine. Whatever. I'll just remind you that I have no special fondness for the Red Impulse squad, especially Kentaro."
"Aw, Aniki, it's not gonna be so bad," Jinpei told him, trying to ease the anger inside his 'big brother' as the five of them walked to leave the ISO building together. "You're gonna be in charge of the positioning anyways, so you can put the Red Impulse captain as far away from you as you like."
Joe had to disagree. "Fat hope. I'll bet as always he's gonna just ignore everything Ken says and just enjoy rubbing his face in the dirt."
Ken rolled his eyes. "Thank you, Joe," he growled.
Jinpei elbowed Joe, Jun thumped the back of his head.
"Oh, forget it, Joe," Ken answered.
Ryu looked on. Ken had changed since G-Force had been in active duty. He had set such high standards for himself, always pushing himself to the limit, ignoring what was physically impossible. Red Impulse more often than not threatened his leadership capabilities, challenged him, intimidated him. They made Ken push harder, further all the time, setting higher standards each time. Ryu wasn't even sure why, but all Ken seemed to want was to prove his worth, that he could do it, whatever it was.
"Heck, don't strain yourself over 'em, Ken," he said brightly, patting Ken on the back reassuringly. "Someday you'll show those bastards that you're the best, that we're the best, and then they'll have to shut up and leave with their tails tucked between their legs."
It never ceased to astonish Ken, the way Ryu seemed to deduce everything he thought and felt. From the first time they met, from the time they really talked that one night on the beach when personal conflicts were thick. He smiled. "Yeah. Someday."
Jinpei, who was leading the way, stopped dead in his steps. "Not soon enough, Aniki."
He looked up, and there was the captain of Red Impulse stepping out of the elevator. The smile vanished.
Joe groaned. "Whoopee."
Jun grabbed hold of Ken's upper arm, a signal to calm down and hold steady. The more he tensed, the harder she squeezed. "Breathe, Ken," she whispered. "Just breathe, close your eyes, and maybe he'll go away."
"Jun, that may work for the boogeyman, but this is Kentaro we're talking about here," he whispered back. "No amount of breathing is gonna make him go away."
By then Kentaro had approached the five huddled close together, and very politely, though slightly cynically, with a tip of his white hat, he said, "Hello, G-Force."
"Hi," they replied as one, flatly. Joe only grunted something similar to 'hi'.
He smiled. "Leaving already?"
"Just going back to Shadow Mountain," Jinpei answered. "We're gonna go through tomorrow's security layout. Aniki's going to fix the positioning."
All four fought the urge to strangle Jinpei for that.
Kentaro snickered, amused. "No, 'Aniki' is not going to fix the positioning. If anyone knows how to do a security layout, it's me."
Jun felt every muscle in Ken's body harden, and none of them missed the lightning-like flash that came into his eyes. Jun let go of his arm, taking a step back. Ryu didn't like the set expression on his captain's face; neither did Joe.
Through tightly-gritted teeth, Ken replied to the statement. "Hakase has already instructed me to do the layout for tomorrow's security and escort, so if anything, you can just sit back, and let me do my job."
"It would be your job if it weren't an external assignment."
Jinpei took one look at Ken's clenched fist and bolted out of his way, hiding behind Ryu for safety.
"So just because I'm out of BirdStyle it means I'm not capable of doing my job this time around?" he asked calmly, yet his blue eyes were fiery ice.
Kentaro poked his finger at Ken's chest. "Forty percent more vulnerable." Then he tapped hard on his rib, just enough to discomfort him.
Ryu was pretty sure that would do the trick. "Any time now..."
"Get your hand off me, Kentaro."
He grinned. "Why? Does it hurt? Forty percent more vulnerable, you understand."
Far away in the back of his mind, Ken had counted to ten, and was now trying to make it to twenty, at least. Maybe thirty.
"No, it just irritates me, that's all." In a flash he caught hold of Kentaro's wrist and held it away from his chest, his grip firm.
"I suggest you let me go, Ken."
His grip only tightened. "Why? Does it hurt?"
He shook his head. "Oh, no. Not me, anyway," he replied, a sickeningly light tone to it. Suddenly his hand clamped over Ken's wrist and without very much effort he whipped the lightweight Ken off his balance, thrusting him against the wall, his shoulder hitting it hard.
Now it was Joe's temper that was building. "You...."
As Ken nursed his aching shoulder, Kentaro strode off towards Dr. Nambu's office, saying, "I'll contact you once the layout has been finalized, Ken. I'll be looking forward to tomorrow."
Once out of hearing range, Joe shot back, "Bastard!"
Jun hurried over to Ken's side, checking him out. "You okay?"
He avoided looking at her, his cheeks quickly warming, changing color. "Other than a bruised shoulder and an ego to match, yes, I'm fine."
"Man, that's cold," Ryu grumbled. "He always picks on us."
"'Specially Aniki," Jinpei griped, coming closer to Ken's side to offer a little but much needed support. "Like he ever did anything to him."
Joe closed in as well. "Bruising your ego is my job, Ken," he said as a form of comfort. "And unfortunately, he's doing a much better job of it."
Ken's gaze dropped to his shoes. "Yeah, well, I'm gonna head back to Shadow Mountain and do the layout anyway," he told them, a disappointed tone. "At least I'll know I did my job.
"That makes five of us, Ken," Ryu returned. "Five."
For a microsecond, there was a shadow of a smile. But it didn't last.
Ken sat alone in the main chamber of Shadow Mountain, G-Force's secret base of operations away from the ISO. Designed and engineered by his mother and Nambu, the base provided the team with all they needed, sometimes more than the ISO could.
Pushing his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose to shield his eyes from the glare, he continued staring at the main screen, checking over the security layout and the route from the airport to the ISO building. When he felt it was necessary, his finger clicked on the mouse as he moved it to a spot on the layout; when he felt it wasn't, his hand sat stiffly on the table, waiting for further instructions from his tired brain.
Hinotori, the sentient computer core of Shadow Mountain, appeared as a computer-generated image in one corner of the screen, smiling with Sayuri's smile and expression, speaking in Sayuri's voice and character. "Did you know your adrenaline flow has been high since you got in here?" she asked in her usual riddle-like manner. "Who threw a can of gasoline into your fireplace?"
"I don't want to talk about it," he replied. "It'll only work me up even more, and I need some rest after this."
She gazed down at him, wishing she had arms to cuddle him. In a softer tone, she asked, "Did you also know you have a bruise the size of Hong Kong on your left shoulder?"
"And one the size of Texas on my ego," he threw in sourly. He continued working, analyzing the layout over and over again, making sure he had worked out every single detail.
Sensing his apparent anger and restlessness, she did what she could to comfort him : at her command, scores of vine-like fiber-optic nerves that were the working force of Shadow Mountain slithered towards the main console where he sat, and gently wrapped themselves around him, as though to embrace him.
Ken sighed and closed his eyes, knowing that he was tired, and rested in the cyber-embrace as two nerves reached up and pulled off his glasses, and another two brushed his hair back. He looked over the layout one more time, and finally gave the order to send it to Dr. Nambu's office.
"At least I know I did my job," he breathed, ignoring the fact that Kentaro would have most likely laid down all his propositions and his rules.
"We know, too, Ken."
He turned; Jun had appeared behind him. The fiber-optic nerves darted back to their origins, leaving him.
Mildly surprised, he smiled at her, glad to see a friendly face. "Hello, Jun."
"How's the shoulder?"
He tried flexing the shoulder. "The bruise doesn't bother me, but the muscle still aches."
She smiled. "I thought so. That's why I brought the heat pack with me." She pulled out a small cushion-like object from her bag, waving it at him.
"Are you sure you're not hiding a pair of wings and a halo in that bag, too?" he asked, teasing. Falling back into the seat, he wondered what good deed was it he had done for the day that brought this blessing around.
Walking towards him, she placed one of the connector cuffs around her wrist, identifying and granting her Hinotori's services. "A power nerve, please, Hinotori."
One eager fiber-optic nerve zoomed towards her and sank itself into the heat pack, instantly warming it up. "Here, slip this under your shirt where it hurts."
He took it from her, and undoing the top button of his shirt, he slipped it in and set it on the aching muscle. Sighing, he rested on it, letting it do the healing. "Thank you."
Shrugging, she replied, "Thank Hinotori. She's the one who warmed the pack up for you."
Hinotori grinned, then vanished from the screen.
"Where'd she go?"
Ken sank deeper into the heat pack, loving every second of its healing. "Taking a break, I guess. Like I should've long ago."
She sat in the seat next to his, whirling around so she could face him. "You were doing the layout?" she said in a tone that didn't make it sound like a question.
"I was doing my job," he answered wearily. "I don't care what that sonofabitch Kentaro says. He's not my boss, I have nothing to do with him."
"He's just an overblown, egotistical sadist," she said, just as angry about the day's incident as anyone else. "Ignore him, Ken. He's just trying to prove that he's the better man for the job, and he's not."
He looked at her; a real look since his embarrassment earlier that day. He hadn't been able to since because he felt so stupid.
"I just thought I'd tell you, Ken -" she began, "- that he is never going to change our minds about you. He can embarrass you, hurt you, and make you look like a complete idiot, but you're still our captain. You'll always be, even with whatever flaws he sees in you. Whatever little things you're missing only makes you Ken Shimada. If you didn't have those flaws, we'd have to call you God."
Listening to her voice, her words, warmed him even quicker than the heat pack. Somewhere deep inside him he felt he didn't deserve all that she said, but he smiled nonetheless, accepting the comfort she offered him.
He reached into his shirt and pulled out the heat pack, tossing it aside. "I don't think I'll be needing that anymore." Buttoning up the top of his shirt again, he said meaningfully, "Thanks. I really needed to hear that." Then he reached over and hugged her.
She eagerly hugged him back. "Anything for the best guy I know."
"And you're the best girl I know."
And soon they were walking back to their transport tubes together, both elated, but for entirely different reasons.
Skalaney and Caine stood for five full minutes in front of Kikei's desk at the precinct. He didn't acknowledge; he probably didn't even notice.
Peter Caine reached over and tapped him on the shoulder. Kikei nearly shot out of the chair.
"You got too much on your mind, pal," Peter told him.
Kikei smiled briefly. "Just thinking, Pete. Nothing big."
"The problem is, Shimada, you've been like this all week," Mary Skalaney told him. "It's not like you to be so preoccupied."
"Well, not here anyways," Peter noted.
Mary shoved him. "Shut up."
Now Kikei laughed, completely at ease with his two best friends. He and Peter had been friends for something next to forever, and Peter known Ken since he was a skinny little waif with an attitude. Mary had been working at Seclusion's 101st Precinct for as long as they have, and more often than not she got assigned with Kikei and Peter on every case.
"Really, guys. I'm fine. The third Musketeer is always fine."
Peter gave him a look; he was of Shaolin descendant, and did inherit a quality or two, but Kikei didn't flinch.
"I said I'm fine," he insisted. "I was just thinking about my kid brother."
"I thought your brother's eighteen years old," Mary jumped in.
Peter turned his gaze skywards. "He is. Shimada here still treats him like a child, that's all."
Kikei stood up. "I do not!"
"Just kidding, 'Kei. Just kidding," he said defensively. Smiling sheepishly, he moved away from Kikei's desk, taking Mary with him, saying, "Skalaney and I are going on patrol in Chinatown. We'll see you later."
Calmer, Kikei nodded. "If you see your father, send him my regards."
They both waved, then vanished out the door.
Kikei flopped back into his chair, feeling exceptionally drained. It had become harder and harder to sleep at night, with all the visions that he saw. It was hard to even look at a photo of Ken, because the image always changed in his eyes, reverting back to the nightmares of many nights gone by.
Please dear God, protect my younger brother. He is all I have left in this world, and he is all the world has. Keep him under Your Shield, dear God, and keep him safe. This is all Your humble servant asks of You....
"And you are certain you can eliminate the representative from Emerine without failure?"
Carrion bowed low, as though to someone of much greater stature. "Yes, Katse-sama. For you, I will not fail."
The shadowy figure snickered, as if mocking the man's loyalty. "You must be careful, because you are dealing with the ISO. Nambu, to be exact. And although I've received no word of G-Force's involvement in this, I'd rather you still stay very alert and be wary. Especially of Nambu's five young brats."
"A bunch of kids won't stand in my way, Katse-sama."
Suddenly the shadow leapt. The next thing he knew, a hand had cracked across his face and he was flat on the floor with a split lip.
"Fool! Idiot!" the shadow yelled. "You do not underestimate your enemies! Nambu's wards are always close by, and that alone calls for caution!"
The shadow moved back, heading towards his chamber. "If you fail, you will be eliminated; if not by me, then perhaps G-Force would do it for me."
Carrion bowed again. "Yes, Katse-sama. Forgive me."
But he was gone.
Running. Red material wavering. Then white, then red, then white... a cape? A jacket?
Sound of a gun loading. Turn. Someone aiming. Light brown hair, steel blue eyes.
A fired shot. A scream. Whose? Falling to the ground.
Motionless. Faces. Flowing dark hair, deep blue eyes... a woman.
Blink. Look again. A young man.
Blink. Once more. A teenager.
Fire. Pain. Something deep inside, buried in flesh, between bone.
Blades. Stabs. More pain.
Clothing being torn away. Again, a waver of red. White? Red? Which, dammit?
Blood. Changing shades of red. Fade to black.
Flash of light. Bodily intrusion. Unbearable pain.
Slipping away. Unceasing pain, over and over and over again...
Further and further away... four familiar figures.
Reach... so far away...
.... no, stop the pain... stop it....
Silent scream. No one hears.
... too...much... stop, please....
Wave after wave of agony... it won't stop....
..... help...me.... STOP.....!
Ken shot up on the bed, nearly catapulting himself out of it. Quickly he clamped his hand over his mouth, trying not to scream and wake the others. Not enough. His even teeth sank into his fist, still fighting the compulsion to scream his heart out. Rocking gently back and forth, knees against his chest, hugging tight. Skin crawling, heart about ready to explode, mind racing in confusion.
He sat there for a long time, darkness all around him, the wind whispering through his open window.
Dear sweet Lord, what was that?
What was happening? That dream... what was it? He knew he saw Joe, about to shoot someone, but who? Whose scream was it? He recognized his mother in the dream, then Kikei, then - was he sure? - himself. What was all that pain, the clothes being ripped away, the intrusion?
No... he didn't want to think about what it may have been... it couldn't have been...
The four figures... Joe, Jun, Jinpei and Ryu? Can't, too blurry... hard to tell.
Someone was dying... or had died... who?
He bit harder. No, please... could it have been me? Was it me? Oh god...
Why did he see those images? Why did he feel that pain? Why was he so scared? Why - for god's sake - was he actually crying?
He felt the moisture on his cheeks as though for the first time. It frightened him; he was crying over a dream?
Choking down a sob, he slowly pulled his fist away from his mouth; the hand was bleeding. He had bitten down hard, harder than he thought.
Now his whole body trembled.
"It wasn't me..." he whispered hoarsely to himself, feeling the tears coming down still. "It couldn't have been me... please...."
He couldn't understand it. Why was he feeling this way?
Focus, focus, focus, focus.... He repeated that word times over, hoping to regain his composure.
And suddenly, he was sitting on his bed, but a red and white cape clung to his shoulders, his hands warmed by blue gloves, his body by the white uniform with the fiery red emblem.
Ken leapt out the window, commanding flight, and gliding away from the room, away from the Residence, he sought solace.
Kentaro had driven a long way to Seclusion. He wasn't sure of what he hoped to find, but after leaving his car and walking for nearly an hour, he found himself at the cemetery.
He sighed heavily. Now that I'm here, can I find her?
He walked on, looking from one stone slate to the next. None of them were her. Walking further on, he came to the edge of the cemetery which hung close to a ledge, overlooking the sea.
Of course, he thought. How could I forget her taste in scenery?
He walked on along the ridge, until his eyes came to rest on a lone grave, with a spot seemingly reserved on both sides of it. It stood underneath the shade of a huge tree, its leafy branches shielding it well.
He bent down and stared hard.
January 31 1995 - September 30 2041
And he dropped to his knees and cried.
Ran his hands along the cold stone, tracing the engraving with his fingers, touching the earth she was now a part of.
"Sayuri... if I could do it all again... I would..." he told the silent grave. "So many mistakes, so many I can't even begin to amend. I've lost you physically, my love, and now I have lost both our sons spiritually. Kikei despises me, Ken doesn't even know I'm alive. I'm paying dearly for my sins... I know I deserve this..."
He pulled out a single white rose from his lapel and placed it on the grave, remembering how much she loved white roses. And how Kikei preferred red. And how Ken had a strange taste for the orange ones with the red edges....
"And I know you'll hate me for saying this, but I have to continue making these mistakes, committing sin after sin... for the sake of my cause.... I have nothing else to go for... please forgive me, Sayuri.... Forgive me..."
Brushing the dirt off his suit and the tears from his eyes, he walked away from the grave, now and again stealing glances at it
until he was so far away he could no longer see it.
Dr. Nambu could not find enough comfort to put himself to sleep. He had turned in late, and now he was up before dawn. For the first time in a long time, he was awake before the wards were. And for some reason he missed dragging them out of bed.
Wait, I still do that, he mused. Only for different purposes.
No, back then it was for training. He would call Joe, Jun, Jinpei and Ryu repeatedly until they hauled themselves like life-sized weights down the stairs. Ken would already have been up; the crazy kid rose at five-thirty as a habit and he hadn't even begun training, wasn't even selected for the team then! It was not long after that Ken began to rise at that time for the same purpose as the other four; no adaptation required.
Now Nambu woke them up whenever the world called for them. It didn't matter what the time was; they just had to get up and go. Which was why ever since G-Force became active, if he ever caught them sleeping in the afternoon or right through meals, he left them alone. Any way he looked at it, they were still teenagers, as normal as they possibly could be.
He walked down the corridor past their rooms, but stopped short at Ken's door. There was a draft coming from underneath. Cold air.
Don't tell me he's got his window open again...
Tapping on the door a few times, he then opened it and stepped inside.
He had not expected to not only find the window wide open, but also to find Ken still - or was it back? - in bed, in BirdStyle.
Why is he... There was no plausible answer, not for the moment.
The cape served as a good enough blanket, as soft and as warm as down. His helm lay on the floor; it was near impossible to sleep comfortably with it on. The tangled dark hair was a striking contrast to the pure white of the uniform, both of which for a second scented of... lakewater and pine?
Where would he go, and why? he wondered as he pulled the comforter up to his shoulders, covering him. He did so slowly, gently; Ken could kill an assailant in his sleep if he knew who it was, but for now he didn't move a muscle.
He then moved to the window, about to close it, until he heard a faint, tired voice.
"Don't close the window, Hakase."
He whipped right around, facing the bed. Ken was still there, snug under the covers, but he was partially awake now. His eyes were half-open, and he still sounded sleepy, but he spoke nonetheless.
"Ken, there's a draft in the room. If it were winter, you'd probably be dead by now."
He buried his head deeper into his pillow. "Leave it the way it is."
No point in arguing with a sleeping teenager.
Dr. Nambu left the window as it was, and quietly made his way out of the room, deciding to question the boy later in the day, when he was more awake than next to dead.
Kikei felt his body burn with fever. Several times already he had attempted to get out of bed, but he hadn't the strength to.
This is what I get for having nightmares for the past three weeks?
Tokiko walked into his room with a basin of warm water and a small towel. "Hey, tiger. How goes?"
"Not the way I planned my day, that's for sure," he replied weakly. "I feel like someone just tossed me into hell and hauled me back up with a harpoon."
Tokiko, one of the Angel Elders of Shimada Guard - an official guardian of the children housed there - dipped the towel into the basin, wrung it and placed it on his forehead, hoping that it would help break the fever. Smoothing his blanket down, she asked, "What brought this on?"
She giggled. "You probably overworked yourself again. You and Ken have always been that way; work yourselves sick."
Obviously, she doesn't believe me, he thought. Nevermind.
The fever dulled his sight, his senses.... it worried him. Tired him. He didn't want to think right now. He just wanted to
In a few minutes, he indeed was sleeping.
And for the first time in three weeks, he didn't dream.