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Himalaya Hell by Ennien
Himalaya Hell by Ennien
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coventry@unlgrad1.unl.edu (Kathleen Coventry)


Himalaya Hell (or Berg Katze Goes Skiing) A Gatchaman Fanfic by Ennien Ashbrook



The bed rocked slightly from the movement above, and ragged breathing was punctuated by short, sharp cries.  Berg Katze jolted awake, still twitching in the aftermath of the dream.  A dream of warm, pale flesh and cold, green eyes.

She was gone, had been for some time, though her scent still clung to the pillow he clutched -- rich, opulent, earthy with musk, a contrast to the sharper, spicier scent which clung to his own.  He remembered complementing her on her perfume, the first time he had smelled it.  He still marvelled that she never wore any.

He rose, muscles still twitching.  He was relieved she was gone; he wouldn't know what to say to her sardonic smile.

So very different, yet so much the same, he thought.  In public, her words were rarely heard, but biting when spoken.  Around headquarters, it was rumoured that she could not speak, for fear of lacerating her lips with her razor-sharp tongue.   They joked about it, wondering how many men she had ummanned, scything away their manhood as she scythed away their words.

In private, alone with him, she was much more animate, life coming to the cold, green eyes, the tongue more active, though no less eloquent.  Or sharp.

He sighed, wishing he could tell her how he felt.  She was so cold, so indifferent to the world, yet so alive in a way he had never encountered.  Others were vivacious; she *pulsed*.  He was attracted to that pulse, as he had never been attracted to anybody before.  In nightly contact with her skin, he could feel that pulse, that life surging through her, drawing him into it, along the currents of her existance.  He wanted to drown in that current, to unite with it, her, in a single song of what must surely be ecstacy.

But she had made it clear she wanted no lover, when she took him to her bed.  She desired no sex, and in truth, he had been relieved.  To a mutant who had lived a life of rape, prostitution and abuse, a relationship totally lacking in sex was a dream come true.  Never had he even thought that a man and a woman (or a woman and a woman, depending on circumstance or whim) could lie naked in each other's arms, and *not* be sexual; certainly he had never experienced it.

It addicted him like spiritual Ice.  The moment he had tasted it he wanted more; no nightmares, he woke rested, he felt comforted, he felt.. cared for.  Protective sometimes, for she sometimes burrowed into his chest (or between her breasts; Change made no difference to Kai), whimpering in her sleep.  Or sometimes, he was just a living furnace for her to cuddle up to, she who was always chilled.

 When he woke in the night, she was there.  When he felt alone, he could reach for her.  When he was afraid, there were arms about his shoulders, a breast beneath his cheek, fingers to stroke his hair and soft whispers to reassure him. When he Changed, when the pain engulfed him, there were hands to massage him, feet running to bring drugs or painkillers or soothing teas.. And there were eyes full of pain and concern, breaking his heart so that he felt he would fall on his knees before her, begging her to love him.

One word could change all that.  Would she send him from her bed, if he told her how he felt?  Would she cast him from her life altogether?  Or would she turn her cold, fishlike gaze to him, smile her mocking, sardonic smile, and rend his heart with her razor-sharp tongue? Or would she want him?  Sometimes he wondered if she felt the way he did, but then he wondered if he were just wishing, imagining things that weren't there.  No, what they had was far too precious to him to risk losing.  Not for sex.  Not for anything.

He dressed, piling his hair on top of his head, pulling the hated mask over.   When he was sure he was secure, he left the scented chambers, intent on continuing his tour of the installation.

This base was one of Katze's favorites:  Even more remote than Cross Karakoram, it was accessable only by helicopter.  Too steep and snowy for vehicles, all operations were carried out by ski, skate, snowshoe and other human-powered snow transportation.  It was more of a surveillance base than anything else, of enormous importance to Galactor.  It sat nestled high in the mountains at a magnetic flux, which brought them frequencies of all kinds and allowed them to monitor nearly every country's transmissions.

Except for today, Katze mused as he looked out of the windows. Snow cascaded from the grey skies, and the men were muttering about scrambled transmissions.  Snow, and a geomagnetic storm -- the flies in this otherwise perfect Himalayan ointment.  Oh well, Katze thought, a perfect day for THX-1138.

A fair-sized detachment of men was assigned here, because of the lack of vehicular technology and the strategic importance of the base. However, they weren't all needed at once, and seldom knew just *when* they'd be called upon, so boredom set in frequently.  Being perfectly ordinary humans, they set about turning their training into games -- thus skiing, ice-skating, hockey, snowboarding and other snow sports were commonly practiced.  As was laser tag.

The laser tag room (more like warehouse) was anonymous:  You chose an ID number, dressed in private cubicles, and no one could see beyond the encompassing helmet.  Thus, privates got to shoot at officers, no one knowing who was shooting or being shot; no favours were given, only your skill determined who got on the best scores list.

THX-1138 had held the top spot for some time, until very recently being knocked down to number two, by G-2.  He thought he knew who G-2 was.

First though, the installation.  He wanted to see the equipment used to track the geomagnetism that surrounded the base.  That site, he was told, was up the mountain a ways, but some supplies were being sent up in a few minutes, by dogsled.  Would Katze-sama like to wait?

Yes, Katze-sama would wait.  He liked dog-sleds, they were so quaint.  That was why he liked it up here -- he felt like a child at Disneyland, surrounded by all of the fantasies of winter.  Ride in a dogsled, bundled in warm rugs, while the dogs bayed joyously and the driver cried them on?  Yes!

He couldn't see much with the snow, but what he saw was magical. Ice fog hid the mountains, shrouding their waists in mist.  The trees bowed under their white mantles, their shadows oddly green.  The curdled grey skies brooded silently, watching the team of dogs plowing through the drifts.  The soft "shhhh" of the runners, punctuated by the thump of the driver's foot, the running feet of the dogs, their panting; these were the only sounds to be heard.  Katze could not keep the smile off his face.

The rumble sounded like distant thunder.  Thunder?  Here? Katze's face took on a puzzled frown as the sled pulled to a stop.  He looked up at the driver, "What was that?"

The driver was silent, listening.  "I don't know," he said in a puzzled tone.  They looked back towards the main base.

The sonic boom put the dogs to fright as the jet streaked overhead.  "HOLY FLYING FUCK!" Katze shrieked, "How'd they get here??"

The driver was desperately trying to control the lurching sled, trying to heel the dogs.  How had Gatchaman found the base??  Wait.. the magnetic fluxes in this area allowed this base to monitor transmissions they normally wouldn't be able to access:  Could one of their own transmissions have gone awry?  A geomagnetic storm could do more than interrupt their work...

The dogs howled in fright as the G-1 came back for another pass. Spotted Katze?  Undoubtedly.  Then he was flung out of the sled, rolling down a slope -- the dogs had broken over an outcropping, sending the driver, the sled, and its contents flying.

He rolled to a stop and listened.  Dead silence.  Then he heard shouts, and glimpsed the Condor, climbing up the ridge.  Katze looked about him, desperately.  Something was out of place.

The shadow of a tree was moving, resolving itself into a skiier. Garbed entirely in thunder grey, balanced on one leg, using it as a runner while pushing with the other leg, she raced down the track at a phenominal speed.  Gradually she poled to a stop, looking at him.

She was never there, unless you really needed her.  "Kai!" Katze exclaimed, "Am I ever glad to see you!"

"Cat-sama?  What are you doing out here, covered in snow? What's going on, the radio's acting funn.. Uh oh!"  She had glimpsed G-2, "Get in the pulk!"

"The what?"

"The sled, dump the equipment and get in!"

He did as he was told, dumping off the tangle of wires and components out of the small sled attached by a pole and harness to her back.  He pulled the metallic "space blanket" over him just in time.

The Condor, after much effort of floundering through the deep snow, had reached the track.  There was a skiier on the track, bent over and adjusting a binding.  A blanket with the Galactor symbol covered the sled behind her.  He came up to her.

"Alright, Galactor!  Where's Berg Katze, we know he fell this *awk!*"  He went down, stunned.  Kai had brought her ski pole up into his throat.

"Condor?" came a female voice, "Condor, have you found anything?"

He was struggling to rise.  Katze, peeking out from beneath the blanket, choked down his laughter as Kai swept up one foot and laid it the other way on the track, whacking the Condor's face seemingly by accident.  The second foot followed and he was out for the count.  She struggled to get the pulk turned about as well, Katze's gloved hands becoming visible as he tried to help.

"I need your help," Kai grunted, trying to get started.  Katze pushed and she got some momentum.  The voice of the Swan was nearing, and Katze thought he could hear an engine as well.  He lay flat on the pulk, one leg drawn up beneath him, hands on the edge, the other leg kicking out in rhythm with Kai's strides.

"Break!" she called back.  What?  She jumped, landing on her left leg, her right foot sweeping back and out.  The sled lurched forward as she picked up speed with the new stride.

He could definately hear an engine, and looked back.

"Kai!!  It's G-3!  She's got chains!!"

"Fuck!  She'll chew up the track!"

"Is that all you can think about???"

"Hey, you don't have to ski the damned thing!  A mulched track is dangerous."

"SHE'S dangerous, Kai, and she's gaining on us."

"Alright already!  Keep your shorts on!"

She poled harder.   Katze watched the muscles of her calves bulge and strain, visible even through the heavy wool socks.

"Kai!!"

"I'm just about there!  Fuck!  Alright, hang on and work with me, I'm going to telemark.."

"What??" then his heart dropped into his stomach as the ground fell away.  He thrust out his leg, throwing up snow, braking the curve to match the trajectory Kai was taking.  He looked back.

"Kai, she's coming after us."

"Damn, I was hoping this would be too steep for her."

"Kai..."

That engine sounds awfully close, Kai thought, and looked back.

It was.  She was right behind them, less than a meter away. Katze fumbled open the buckle on his belt, found what he was after. Swiss Army knife.  He thumbed open a blade, then crouched.

Kai telemarked another turn, and the motorcycle swung close. Katze lashed out, the knife gripped like a dagger.  The blade plunged into the tire and he pulled away, the pulk swinging out.

The tire blew out.

Katze laughed his insane laugh, even as the force of the blast swung the pulk almost past Kai.

"That should take care of her!" he crowed.  Kai grunted, trying to stabilize herself and her burden.

The G-3 was sliding, but its rider was not idle.  Gradually Katze's face fell as the second bladder in the tire filled with air, restablizing the cycle.

"Aow maaaaaaaaan!" Katze whined, "It didn't work!"

"What?  How's that possible??"

"It refilled!  And I broke my knife on it too," he pouted.

"Fuck your knife!"

"Thank you, no."

Kai said nothing, struggling to keep control.  Her bindings were loosening and her heels were slipping off.  The G-3 gained momentum.

"Kai, she's gaining on us again!"

"Unless that motorcycle's really light, she'll have to take wider turns than I do," came Kai's voice.

"She's not taking turns at all, Kai."

"WHAT??" and Kai looked back.  Sure enough, the G-3 wasn't doing any turns, she was just sliding sideways down the mountain, throwing up a curtain of snow.

A curtain of snow, Kai thought.  That means she can't see very well.. "Hang on, I'm going to tuck," she called back to Katze, "Get your legs out and aim for that tree."

Then she plunged down the mountain at a dizzying speed.  Katze wondered if capture by Gatchaman wouldn't be preferable to the sight of a looming redwood tree approaching at light speed.

The pulk impacted.  Katze's feet hit the tree trunk, absorbed the shock, then he sprung off against it.  The pulk landed squarely on the narrow second trail, miraculously intact and still in rhythm with Kai.

Cautiously Katze peeked over the edge of the pulk.  There was a narrow strip of snow, maybe two inches wide, between him and oblivion. After that, the ground just.. vanished.  He peered over the edge of a steep ravine, trees protruding from the near-vertical slope.

"How far is it to the bottom?" he asked.

"Too."

"Two what?"

"Too far."

She was grunting with effort, still riding her left leg as a runner, still striking powerfully with her right.  She was tiring, Katze realized.  It occured to him to wonder how long she had been skiing before he hit the scene.  Then, the burr of a motorcycle engine cut across his thoughts.

"FUCK!!" Kai screamed, "There's no where to go!"

"Go down the ravine!"

"I can't go down the ravine, it's too steep, I'll never make it!"

"GO!"

"We'll break our necks!"

"*GO*!!"

"I'm going, I'm going!" and she turned down the slope.  She tried to telemark, nearly kneeling in the snow, more sliding than skiing.  Katze risked a look back and saw that the G-3 had been foiled. He also saw that the ground was following them.  Oh shit...

The pulk was sliding faster than Kai.  "Unhook it!" he shouted at her, nearly beside her.

"I can't!  You have to!"  He climbed up the pole, finding the catch, freeing it.  The pulk slid free, away from the floundering woman.

Then the edge caught under Kai's heel, throwing her down.  The snow caught up, flinging him out of the pulk and drowning him in snow.

"Kai!!" he cried, reaching for her.  He caught her hand, held it.

"KATZE!!!!!"

He was ripped away.

        *               *               *               *


The blackness lifted and he opened his eyes.  All was still. Snow fluttered softly down, already a light blanket lay on his stiff body.  He shifted, and felt his perch sway softly beneath him. Everything was sore, and he was scratched in places.  He looked up at the sky, realised that he was seeing it without the distortion of lenses.

"Kai?" he called softly.  "Cirean?"

"Yo."  Her voice sounded like it was right below him.

"Are you alright?"

"You want the truth or a lie?"

He thought about this.  "The truth."

"I think I've torn a few ligaments, I hurt like hell, I'm going to sprout a shiner and there's a branch in my back."

"So move it."

"*IN* my back."

"..oh.."

"How 'bout you?"

"Mostly just bruises and pulls.  I lost my mask, Kai.  Or most of it, anyways.  Cape's gone too."

"Still got the belt?"

"Yes."

"Ducky."

They sat silent for a while.  The snow drifted down.

"That outfit of yours is awfully conspicuous."

"I know."

"Why d'you wear it?"

Silence.

"Sosai, huh?"

"Yep."

"Ah."

"I've got a stealth suit in the belt."

"A useful accesory."

"Don't think I can get into it right now, though."

"Wouldn't recommend it."

"We're in a tree, right?"

"An observant man, you are."

"And you're a lippy bitch," he snapped.

"This wasn't *my* idea!"

"Oh, fuck off..."

She muttered something he couldn't make out.  He thought about taking her to task for disrespect for the Galactor Leader, but figured she'd just leave him in the tree for Gatchaman to find.

"My radio's toast," he said, upon inspection.

"So's mine."

"It's got all snow in it."

"Bad for the circuitry."

"It wasn't working anyways."

"Nope."

"Yours neither?"

"It was in the pulk."

"Which is gone."

"Well, actually it was dumped to get you in there."

"Well that was stupid, don't you think?"

"Would you rather I'd've left you there??"

"Well you could have taken the bloody radio.."

"I wasn't exactly thinking about radios at the time, now was I??"

"Just what were you thinking of??"

"Saving your bloody purple ass!"

"Watch your mouth!"

"Fuck you!"

"You wish!"

"I didn't see you coming up with any bright ideas.."

"Oh, like I had time!"

"If you'd stayed in the lodge like you were supposed to.."

"I was *supposed* to be touring the installation!"

"SHUT UP AND LET ME THINK!" they cried in unison.

They lay in silence, listening to the echo of the shout bounce around the mountains.

"I don't think we'll be leaving for a while."

"Fine by me.  I've got a nice view."

Huh?  He craned his head down, looking for her.  She was about a meter below him, cradled as he was, by a bough of evergreens.  She smiled serenely up at him.

"Lovely moon," she commented.  He glared at her.

The snow drifted down.  He brushed at it.

"Don't brush it off," Kai said.

"Why not?"

"It's insulative.  Traps air, keeps your heat in.  Your impact, like mine, knocked all the snow off of the branch, so there's nothing to sap your heat.  With a blanket of snow, you'll be better off, hypothermia-wise.  Uncomfortable, but safer."

True, he remembered.  That was the principle behind snow caves as well.  He lay back and watched the curdled clouds.

"Kai?"

"Yep."

"Do you see that?"

"Yep."

"Is that what I think it is?"

"Yep."

"We may not have a choice about staying here.."

"Yep."

"I think we'd better jump."

"Yep."

He looked down.  It was difficult to judge the distance of their fall, but Kai's perch was a good twenty-five feet above the surface of the snow.  How much farther they'd fall down the ravine was anybody's guess.

He noticed her unbinding her ski, "Why are you doing that?"

She tossed the ski, "The other one's down there already.  So's the pulk.  So're the poles, for that matter."

And then, so was Kai.  Casting a last glance at the descending G-4, Katze was out of his tree and into oblivion.

In the G-4, Jinpei's eye was caught by a fleeting shadow.  Then, he spotted the streak of purple.  His eyebrows jumped, and he gunned the jets on the G-4, hastening its descent.

        *               *               *               *


Having burrowed deeply into the snow, Katze pulled on the black stealth suit, bundling his hair up beneath the hood.  He had spotted one of Kai's skis and burrowed under the snow to retrieve it, dodging the sights of the G-4.  Now, he stood in the shadow of a tree, holding his breath and watching as the G-4 rolled past, less than a foot away.  He froze, his heart pounding, seeing the Swallow's face peering about through the ports.   He rolled past.  At a boulder, he stopped, then gunned on the jets and lifted off, intent on making another pass.  Katze watched him float away.

When he was safely away, the boulder sat up, nearly giving Katze another heart attack.  Kai looked around, pulling ski, poles and pulk into view.  Katze ran towards her, limping, extending the other ski.

"Hurry!" he whispered.  The G-4 was back on the snow, crawling towards them.  Kai said nothing, but pulled on her gear.

"Why are you limping?" she asked as she got under way.

"Twisted an ankle on landing.  It's pretty swollen," he could feel the pressure against the leather of his boot, "Get your momentum, then I'll jump in," he said, running along beside her as best he could. She merely nodded.

Again, a flicker of movement caught Jinpei's eye and this time he saw something.. something big.. something grey..  A yeti?  Tales of creatures haunting the Himalayas crowded into his thoughts.. Yes, a yeti, casting a long, black shadow.  But it was gone, vanished into thin air.  He looked around fearfully, wondering what other tales might reveal themselves as truth..  Yetis, abominimabubble snowmen..  What other creatures lurked in the grey shadows?

Grey?  Then why was the.. thing's.. shadow black?  And limping..

Aniki's going to shoot me, Jinpei thought.

        *               *               *               *


They had arrived back at the base, which was chaotic.  People were running and shouting, and no one seemed to know what was going on. They ducked through the outdoor entrance to the laser tag room.  Kai shoved Katze into one of the changing-stalls, hissing at him to pull on the gear with its concealing helmet.

Smart girl, he thought, pulling it on.  He was glad she was on his personal escort.  He stepped out, his ankle sending a warning shot of pain up his leg.  It would support him, he decided, but he shouldn't push it.

Kai was out, talking to one of the other people in laser tag gear.

"..out looking for Berg Katze-sama," the man was saying, "And everybody else is out looking for them.  We're all on stand-by alert, so we turned off the music."

"I know, I just came through it.  I managed to contact my superior, so he knows where I am.  But I'm beat, I need to relax."

"Don't blame you.  Just keep an ear out for the alarms -- we cranked the volume on them."

"Any idea *why* they're here?"

"Seems they heard Katze-sama was on the move, then picked up a stray transmission.  They were also looking for hidden bases.  Killed two birds with one stone."

"Heh.. Wish we could.." Kai finished.  The man walked off to join his teammates.

Typical Galactors, Katze thought.  Nothing stops a good game of laser tag.  He looked about the black-lit room, the infra-red sensors in the helmet feeding him information about distances, heights, locations in the labyrinth.  He looked at Kai.

She reached out and touched him lightly on the shoulder.

"You're 'it'."

        *               *               *               *


THX-1138 was hampered by his twisted ankle, but was still doing well.  He had amassed twenty shots, while taking only three himself.  He was stalking what he thought was Kai when the wall blew out beside him.

The alarm blared as the Science Ninja Team poured through the wall, the Swan reeling in the remains of her yo-yo bomb.  Katze lay stunned where he had been thrown; he had impacted with something, and now pain rippled like fire up and down his side.  It hurt to breathe -- something happened to a rib?

Oh swell, he thought, overhearing the Swallow describing Katze's limp.  He played 'possum while the Eagle knelt over him, feeling for a pulse.

"This one's *gak*"

This one's alive and kicking, in the most literal sense, Katze thought.  He fired another kick into the Eagle's chest, then sprang out of the wreckage and bolted down the maze.

"He's limping!  It's Katze!" he heard the Swallow shout. Bloody hell, didn't anybody else have a twisted ankle??  Why'd it have to be him...  He ducked under a bridge and watched the Condor sprint past.  Good..  Now, let's see what I've got..

He pulled open the components compartment of the laser pistol. Needs a few adjustments..  He felt around under the jumpsuit, found the belt buckle and sprang it open.  Lessee, batteries, crystals -- crystals? -- didn't know I had those.. Swiss army knife, minus one blade..  The Eagle barreled past.  Hmm, where are those marbles I was going to bounce off his head one day?   He felt around in his pockets. No marbles.  Lost 'em.  Damn.  One more adjustment.. There we go!

Katze turned to the wall beside him and fired the pistol.  He smiled in satisfaction at the smoke curling up from the hole, the high infra reading given by the helmet.  Now he had a weapon!

The Swan sprang past and his hand lashed out.  Screaming, she fell, nearly hamstrung by the blade in Katze's hand.  He leaped out of hiding, laughing insanely.

"Katze!!" the Condor screamed at him from one of the bridges in the maze, "I'll kill you for that!"

"All's fair in love and war!" Katze hollared back.  The Condor sprang, wings spread wide.  Katze bolted, using a cantering run to spare his injured leg.

Wrong turn, he realized.  Dead end.  The Condor stepped menacingly towards him, backing him against the wall.  Katze raised the pistol.

The Condor laughed, "Do you think I'm a fool, Katze?  That's a laser pistol, not a *real* weapon."

"Really?" Katze said innocently.  The gun fired, opening a gash in the Condor's shoulder and slicing off a chunk of his helmet, "Guess again."  Laughing, Katze sprang at the Condor, using his head as a vaulting point.

"ow..ow..ow..ow.." Katze panted as he ran.  He added a pulled thigh muscle to his list of injuries.  Shouldn't have vaulted the Condor, at least not like that...  Still hurt to breathe..

Then the Swallow crashed into him on his bad side and Katze saw stars.  He crashed into the wall, barely able to breathe.  Pain enveloped him, numbing his lungs.

The stars cleared and he became aware of the Condor, the Eagle and the Swallow standing over him, staring down at him.  He'd lost the pistol, he realized.  And they were going to unmask him..

"It's all over, Katze," the Condor growled, and reached for him.

<crackle>

Crackle?

<fzzt> <pop> <snrrrrzzt>

They all looked up.

She stood tall and proud on the bridge above them, sparks coruscating over her outstretched arm.  She laughed -- Katze's laugh!

<**BRACKT**>

The blast blew them apart, crushing Katze painfully against the wall, sending the Ninjas flying.  An oscillating whine shrieked higher and higher..

That sounds like a neutrino beam, Katze thought through the haze of pain.

"You stupid fools!" cried the figure on the bridge, "You idiots! How does it feel to be so fooled, that you mistake one of my flunkies for me, Ninja Team?"

The Science Ninjas stared at the laughing woman on the bridge.  It was Katze's voice, all right..  That was definately Katze's laugh.  The woman smiled sardonically, bringing her flaming hand up, the coruscating sparks casting eery shadows of blue and green over her angular face. Then she flung her arm out again.

<**BRACKT**> <screeeeeeeeeeee>

The Eagle hurled his boomerang.  It struck the woman's neck, opening a gash.  Blood flowed.

<**BRACKT**> <screeeeeeeeeeee>

The blast barely missed the dodging Eagle, searing his thigh and igniting his cape.  The Swallow flung his bola, but the mad-eyed woman was wary:  The bola was incinerated in her hand.

<**BRACKT**> <screeeeeeeeeeee>

The Ninja Team scattered, the Eagle's cape burning incandescently.  The woman jumped down, hurling another fiery bolt from her hands.  Katze crawled, pain numbing him, into a cavern to hide.

<**BRACKT**> <screeeeeeeeeeee>

The Condor flung himself at her legs, bringing her down, "Katze, you bastard!"

"Poor Condor," the woman with Katze's voice said softly, "You're the biggest fool of all..."  She gazed at him tenderly, raising her hand to stroke his cheek.  Her fingertips glowed..

<**BRACKT**> <screeeeeeeeeeee>

<**BRACKT**> <screeeeeeeeeeee>

He leaped away just in time, and the searing heat of the beam's passage flushed his face.  He tried to shoot, but the woman dodged too quickly.

<**BRACKT**> <screeeeeeeeeeee>

<**BRACKT**> <screeeeeeeeeeee>

<**BRACKT**> <screeeeeeeeeeee>

The Ninja Team had gathered their fallen member, and were fleeing.  The woman started after them, then crashed to the floor.

"Go after them!" Katze shouted hoarsely

"I can't!" Kai gasped.

"That's an order!"

"I can't, I can't get up."  She gathered her left leg under her, got up, but came crashing down when she put down her right foot.  Her voice was tight with pain, and Katze realized that she was sobbing.

"Hide," she hissed at him, then screamed for someone to come.

"Get Brace Hoffman," she told the man who came running, naming the Chief of Katze's personal entourage, "Tell him code 4 and code 7, with a possibility of code 14, I don't know," her voice was breaking, "Tell him to move his ass!"  And she collapsed.

A few minutes later, Brace arrived, with two more members of Katze's personal escort.  Brace carried a bundle -- codes 4, 7 possible 14; Berg Katze was unmasked and injured, possibly enough to Change. They knelt near Kai, then Brace and the other man came to Katze's hiding place.  The third man carried Kai away.

"We'll take him out through the outer door, come in through the main entrance after we've remasked him," Brace told the other man, "It's alright, Katze-sama, we'll get you safely to the Infirmary..."   Then he was lifted into the burly man's arms.  He yelped in pain, then the blackness enfolded him.

        *               *               *               *


He had been treated for a cracked rib, sprained ankle, multiple bruises and lacerations.  Kai's leg had been stressed by her first fall from the tree, and the tibia had fractured when she leapt from the bridge.  She suffered several bruised ribs, a cracked cheekbone, a deep puncture wound contaminated with evergreen needles, several torn ligaments, and multiple contusions.  Seven stitches were required to close the gash in her neck, and her hand suffered severe burns where she had held the burning bola ("Don't try this at home, kids," she had laughed, "And if you do, throw it up first!").  She bore bruises everywhere.

They had soaked in Katze's hot tub for a while -- Kai's nose nearly underwater, keeping her cast hoisted out on the rim of the tub -- then had rubbed each other with massage oil.  He sat her in his favorite chair, wrapped in one of his plush robes, and he sat beside her, painting her cast.  He had painted little happy faces on her toenails. They had bullet holes in the foreheads.

He felt her reach down and stroke his hair.  Turning to face her, he smiled up at her, then daubed a little paint on her nose, "Beep!"

A knock at the door, and Brace entered, bearing steaming cups of hot chocolate.  These they took gratefully, then Brace bowed out and left them.

"Do I get to paint the other side?" she asked.

"Yep, I'm only painting half."

"Cool."

The firelight flickered over their faces.

"Was that a neutrino beam?" Katze asked.  She nodded.

"Patch.  I wear them on my palms.  They come in handy sometimes."

"Don't they take a lot of power?  I didn't notice a battery pack on your back."

"Don't need one.  Home system.  I run my computer the same way, when I have to."

"How?"

She pulled aside the robe to show him a band-aid stuck to her waist.  She pulled it off -- two needle-marks showed on her white flesh.

"You stick yourself??" Katze asked, feeling sick.  She beamed, and nodded happily.  Ugh, using your own body to generate the electricity necessary, via two needles as electrodes..  The idea caused his stomach to do a slow roll and dip to the left.

"You're weird, Kai."

"And you love it."

Yes.. yes, he did.

"How'd you do my voice so well?"

"Mini vocodor."

"Don't tell me, you were a Girl Scout.. I can tell."

She smiled.

"I wonder how long it'll take them to realise I'm too short to be you..." she mused.  Katze thought about this, then burst into laughter -- even when female, Katze stood a good eight inches taller than Kai.

He felt her fingers touch his cheek, and looked up.  She sipped the chocolate, sighed, then opened her eyes.  Still green, now they were warm and luminous, and the tender smile she showed him made his heart ache.

"Thank you, Berg," she said softly.  Two tears appeared on his cheeks.

"I couldn't.. I mean, after all you did.. I.."

Their lips touched.  Soft, sweeter than any kiss he had ever known -- it was the only kiss they ever shared.  He stared at her.

She gazed at him, watching the play of emotions; the confusion, the desire, the guilt, the embarrassment.. He ducked his head, his hair falling over his face.  She stroked it back and smiled.

Epilogue:

"..and for months afterwards, that was my big spiel, telling the men that they were so incompetant, one woman could guard me better than the entire lot of them," Katze said smugly, smiling at the memory.

Joe grinned, "And what did they say?"

"Oh I even got this from Sosai: 'She got you a cracked rib and a sprained ankle', and I'd say 'Yes, normally I'd have a cracked rib, sprained ankle, broken nose, concussion and the crap beaten out of me besides!'  Sosai didn't like that," he laughed.

Joe laughed as well, "I can't imagine why not!  His pet human, getting lippy?  Can't have that, now can we?"

"No, he couldn't," Katze sobered suddenly.

Joe studied the mutant's face for a couple of minutes.  He thought about the journal he had found in the bedroom, the one Katze seemed unaware of.  "Will you never name her?" he asked.  There had been no names in the journal -- whomever the woman was.

Katze shook his head, "No, she is dead, except in my memory. Let her remain so."

"So why do you tell me about her?"

"Because you'd understand."

Understand her, or you? Joe thought.

The wind howled.
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