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Black Shells by Ennien
Black Shells by Ennien
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Black Shells
a Gatchaman vs. Aliens fanfiction by Ennien Ashbrook Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and characters copyright Tatsunoko Aliens copyright 20th Century Fox



The sunshine beat down through the blazing summer sky, glittering off the canopy of the Cessna. Ken banked, releasing his cargo of mail, then waved to the people below as he pulled back the flightstick. The sky opened up above him, beckoning. It had been so long since they'd heard anything from Galactor that Ken wondered if the syndicate had given up after all. Maybe he could finally relax, finally concentrate on having a normal life. Maybe he should give Jun a call..

Still, it came as no surprise when his bracelet, silent for (it'd been so long he lost count), chimed into life. He banked, lifting the Cessna higher into the clouds, answering Nambu's summons.


"Galactor at last, Nambu-hakase?" Ken had hardly set foot through the door before asking the question. Nambu shook his head and gestured for Ken to take a seat. Ken did so, glancing over his companions; Joe, Jun, Jinpei and Ryu sat about the room, looking about as enlightened as he. Nambu cued up a video tape and started the briefing.

"It may be Galactor; it may not. As you know, we have had no signs from the syndicate in some time, no events since the launch and return of that strange object over the Karakoram range of the Himalayas. Recently, however, something strange has been happening in that range."

"Strange how, hakase?" Ryu asked.

"Reports from the locals tell of shadow creatures, demons from the underworld, seizing people and carrying them off to Hell."

Joe snorted, "Myths. Fairy tales. Probably jackals or hyenas."

"Those are African, Joe," Jun corrected softly, "The Karakoram mountains are in the Indian subcontinent. Could it be tigers, Hakase?"

"Not according to the reports of the eyewitnesses and there have been plenty of those," Nambu stepped aside to reveal the tv screen, "In addition, there has been a fair amount of video footage of the creatures."

They all gasped.

If there was a Hell and there were demons, these would probably be what they'd look like. Ken stared at the nightmarish beings, vaguely humanoid in shape, with elongated, eyeless heads, needle teeth, spiked tails and heavy, chitinous armour. Jinpei shrieked involuntarily as one lucky camera caught one of the creatures devouring a human being: It seized the poor sap by the head, then opened its mouth.. Ken's stomach lurched as its *tongue*, possessing teeth of its own, shot through the person's forehead, spattering gore. Nambu turned off the tape.

"Kuso...." Joe breathed softly.

"They aren't easily stopped," Nambu said, "Bullets, for the most part, bounce off them. They can survive gas attacks, napalm, bombs, lasers.."

"Then.. how do we stop them?" Ken asked.

"I don't know," Nambu said softly, "That's what we need you to find out. If they can be stopped, how to stop them and.. what they are."

"Hakase...." Jun spoke softly. Her face was pale and Ken knew immediately what she was thinking, "Galactor.. made the Jigokillers.."

"I know, Jun. I know."


Ryu brought the God Phoenix to a cruising level suitable for passing the treacherous Himalaya mountains. They had stopped in several villages where the creatures had been spotted, had gathered much information. That information led them here, to the center of a widening circumference of sightings. Now, they stared below them.

The mountain had sprouted chitinous bubbles here and there, the same sort of material that had armoured the things. Joe pointed wordlessly: If the organic stuff confirmed the things' presence, the stylized carving of Galactor's shadowy Soosai X confirmed Galactor's involvement.

Ryu landed God Phoenix a safe distance away and the team disembarked. Ken held up a hand, ducking for cover as he heard screaming. As they watched, a Galactor foot-soldier sprinted from the mountain. Following, almost lazily, was a thing. Ken suppressed a shiver - the thing coiled its legs underneath it, sprang.. then its knifelike tail shot up between its legs, into the fleeing soldier. Jun buried her face in Ken's wings as the thing began to feed messily.

"Come on," Ken whispered. They moved away from the scene, noiseless, seeking another entrance. Spotting a chimney, Ken motioned to the others; after determining its safety, he slid down.

The base was utterly silent, broken only by the occasional agonized scream. Slime festooned the walls and the place stank of blood, gore and a tinny, alien smell. Ken held his hand up in a warning gesture to the others, watching as one of the things dragged a struggling soldier down the hall. The villagers had said the things dragged people away. To Hell, they were certain, but they had been quite adamant that most were carried off alive, not eaten as was the soldier up on the surface. Why? To what purpose? A larder, to be eaten later? Ken crept forward into the gloom.

"It looks like they took over," Joe whispered, nearly scaring Ken out of his skin. Ken looked around again, realizing that Joe was right.

"Yeah.. You wouldn't think they'd let things like this just have the run of the place. You'd think they'd kept the Jigokillers under lock and key."

"So the experiment failed, maybe. Broke loose."

"Looks it.. and where's Berg Katze, do you suppose.."

Joe smirked, "In one of those things' bellies, I hope."

They shared a grin, but both quickly lost it. Ken, for one, was uncertain he'd wish such a fate even on Berg Katze. They crept forward, wary.

Ken was beginning to be afraid. Katze was dangerously unstable, prone to dangerously unstable stunts. The Jigokillers had been one of them, carnivorous flowers that fed on females, could have decimated Earth's population by obliterating its generative half. These things.. obviously they were even more dangerous.  Resistant to gas, napalm, bullets, ruthless and vicious.. What had Galactor been thinking of? Was Berg Katze *that* desperate to rule? Ken crept on through the silence, watching the dim light reflecting off the columns.

Silence. Too... silent... Like a candlestick that suddenly becomes two faces, Ken realized that what he was looking at weren't columns but *things*! They were surrounded!

He felt the pressure of bodies as the rest of the team backed against each other. With a sibilant hiss, the Things began to move.

There was no time to think. The Things went from immobility to barely-perceptable slowness, then to lightning speed faster than Ken could comprehend. He flung his birdrang, shuddering as it clattered off the Thing's armour with no effect. Jinpei flung his bolo - it wrapped itself around a Thing's arm and detonated. Sickly yellow stuff sprayed out and Jun screamed in pain.

"Acid! They bleed acid!" she shrieked. The stuff was all over her left thigh, curdling and blistering the skin. She flung her yo-yo at the nearest Thing and activated the charge. Current flowed and the Thing skittered back, giving her room enough to douse her leg with alkaline. It was not stopped for long, though, and slammed into her again, making her dance to avoid the other's pooling blood.

"Oh god..! Oh god...!" Ken was beginning to panic, "How do we fight these things?? AGH!" He broke off; a Thing had him around the neck, its tail snaking up his thigh. It caught on Ken's bracelet, snicking it off.

The Things screamed and suddenly Ken was free: The sudden burst of light and radiation had forced them back. "We know two ways to make them back off, at least," Ken cried. He ducked away, snatching up his bracelet and putting it back on, "BIRD GO!"

"Aniki, we've got to get out of here!"

"I know! Everybody form up, Whirlwind Fighter.. Jun, Jinpei, Joe.. Joe?"

"Where's Joe?!"

"Aniki!! Joe-aniki!!"

Ken felt a clutch at his arm and whirled. It was Jun: She was pointing to a scrap of blue birdstyle wing - daubed with slime and caught in a closed door.

"Shimatta..." Ken breathed, "They must have got him during the flash.."

"Joe," Jun choked on a sob, "We.. we have to find him.. We can't just leave him.."

"Onechan, we don't even know if *we* can get out!"

"No.. she's right," Ken said, staring at the door, "We have to find Joe."


The corridor beyond the door led into a labyrinth of slime, chitinous columns and strange, smallish pods. Hanging from the walls were large cylindrical shapes, opalescent and organic. Jinpei crept up to peer at one and recoiled in horror: It contained a man.

"Don't touch anything," Ken whispered, "Stay away from anything unfamiliar." He unclipped his bracelet again, forcing any watching Things back into the shadows. Here, however, the few that they saw seemed almost unconcerned, practically ignoring them. They continued on, transforming and untransforming, peering at the faces contained in the luminous cocoons.

"Ken.." Jun's voice drew Ken's attention.

"Joe?" Ken asked hopefully, but knew as soon as he saw the cocoon that it wasn't Joe. The face inside was familiar to them all - blonde, beautiful, she had attempted to assassinate Nambu, kicked Ken off a moving train and kidnapped Jun and Jinpei - only now it was slightly different. Sharper, more chiseled, the body definately male instead of the seal-hipped figure he had seen ascending to the Devil Star. It was by the clothes that Ken realized who he was looking at.

"Berg Katze.."

His eyes snapped open, as blue and as cold as sapphires. Ken stepped back, startled. "I never thought I'd be glad to see you," Katze whispered, "But you're too late."

"Yes," Ken replied, "Too late to stop your experiment from going awry, too late to keep it under control. You couldn't escape them, huh Berg Katze. Where's your precious Soosai X? Why hasn't he intervened to save you?"

"Gatchaman no baka," Katze gave him an arch look, "Who do you think put me here in the first place?"

Ken drew his knife and cut the Galactor leader free,"This wasn't your idea, I take it."

"I was against these things from the moment Soosai returned with them."

"Returned? What do you mea.." Ken broke off, gasping in horror as he felt something claw at his foot. He looked down.

Lying motionless on the floor was something that looked like a clawed, tailed gasbag. Fingerlike appendages projected off the sides. Its mottled back sprouted several long spines. It seemed to be dead.

"Wh... What is it?"

"Face-hugger. At least, that's what we started calling them," Katze stared at it, his fingers touching his temple. The glove had been eaten away and Katze's fingers bore the same acid burns that now decorated Jun's thigh. He swallowed, then abruptly turned to Ken, "You'd better get out of here if you can. See if Nambu has anything in the way of a thermonuclear device.."

"We can't.. Joe.. Kondoru no Joe got taken, and you.. " Ken nearly had to run to keep up with Katze, so fast was he moving.

"I'll find your friend. If they haven't strung him up or eaten him, I'll send him along."

"We're coming with you."

"Gatchaman, get OUT of here!"

"You'll need back up.."

"They won't touch me."

"You can't be sure of that."

The sapphire eyes stared at him for a long time. "I've watched these things for weeks now, Gatchaman.."

"Then we *need* you at ISO! We need whatever information you've learned, to combat these things."

"Aniki.."

They stopped. Jinpei straightened up, holding up a dark shape: Joe's helmet. The visor had been shattered and it was covered in slime and scratches, as though something had tried to claw its way inside. Taking note of the empty pod beside Jinpei, Katze looked up. Ken followed his gaze. High on the wall above them was Joe, his head obscurred by one of the "face hugger" things. With a little cry, Ken leaped up to slash his friend free.

"Joe!"

"Aniki!"

"Jun, help me pry this thing off. Set the charge on your yo-yo.."

"Don't."

Ken turned to snarl at Katze, "And why the hell not??"

"Because they're stronger than they look. They burrow through the skin, bore anchor holds in the skull. Even if you succeeded in making it let go, it'll peel his face off with it." Ken's scalp crawled: Katze's voice was neutral, calm, the voice of experience - he'd seen it happen. "Any attempt to disturb the implantation process will bring the adults on you in a nanosecond. They'll tear you apart, even me. Get him out of here, away from the adults, then kill him."

"Ken, he's unconscious," Jun spoke into Ken's shocked silence.

"Yes," Katze replied, "He will be until the implantation is complete. I was just coming around when you found me."

"What do you mean, 'kill him'?!" Ken finally found his voice, "What's this about an 'implantation'?"

"Gatchaman, the longer we stand around here, the more likely *you* are to be wearing one of those things," Katze said levelly.

Ken weighed the warning, "Alright. Jun, Jinpei, stay close. Call God Phoenix, tell Ryu.."

"Hey, one of these things is opening," Jinpei leaned over the top of one of the pods. Something pulsed within.

Katze seized the boy's wings and yanked him back. He had his gun out of its holster and fired as the thing sprang upon its coiled tail. It skittered across the floor towards Jinpei. Jun screamed and unleashed her yo-yo. The detonation blew the thing apart, spattering the walls with acid.

"That's done it," Katze said. A raucous cacaphony split the air and adult Things converged around them. Back to back, they drew together, facing the eyeless black heads that closed in.

The Things stopped. They looked at each other (although how things without eyes could see, Ken didn't know), looked at the knot of humans, looked at each other again. They seemed confused.

"Alright.." Katze breathed. His eyes moved from one Thing to another, as confused as they, "What's different about me?"

"Huh?" Ken was ignored. Katze stepped forward, toward the Things, toward the exit. The Things hesitated.. then drew back.

"This is strange," Katze said softly, "Why aren't you hurting me? What's holding you back? I hurt one of your babies, what's holding you back?"

"Nani?!" Ken hissed in horror, "*Babies*??"

"That's what we are, Gatchaman. Walking wombs. Living incubators." Katze pushed past the Things, which closed in a knot behind them, "Huh. Watch yourselves: They aren't touching me, but they're not sure about you."

Katze pushed deeper through the corridors, seeking the surface. Every Thing he met treated him the same way: Hesitant, then deferent. It was as though they remembered the ghosts of their Galactor hosts. A shiver ran up Katze's spine.

"Wait.." Katze turned at the sound of Ken's voice. "What about your sister?"

Katze's face was blank, "Sister?"

"That was your sister, wasn't it? On the train? In the mansion?"

"Oh," Katze chuckled briefly, "I don't have any blood relatives. That was me."

They pressed on, Ken spouting questions and Katze answering freely. By the time they reached the top level, Katze had told Ken most of hir secrets; it simply didn't matter any more.

"So you're a mutant," Ken repeated again. Katze nodded. Ken nodded as well, finally clearing that concept and moving on to other pressing matters, "Babies, you said. Walking wombs. What's happening to Joe?"

"Those face-hugger things are carriers. They transport the larvae from the egg-cases to the hosts, then keep the host alive and docile while the larva implants itself."

"Its a parasite?"

"Hai. The larva wrap themselves around the host's heart and spinal column. Any attempt to remove it.."

"..kills the host," Ken finished grimly. So much for his hopes of saving Joe with surgery. "What happens when the larva comes to term?"

"We called them chest-busters," Katze looked distressed, "Your friend will die a painful and ugly death, Gatchaman. When that thing inside him is ready to hatch, it'll burrow through his chest to his diaphragm, then punch its way out."

"Then.... your saying to kill him..."

"Was the only mercy we could find. The larvae can't survive if the host is dead."

"Kamisama.." Ken breathed, devastated. He stared at Joe's unmoving form in his arms, "How.. how long?" S/he told him, the words falling on Ken's heart like bombs.

"And less for you?" Ken looked up in shock at Jun's soft words. Katze was nodding. Ken suddenly noticed the healing finger-holds in hir hairline.

"Oh god.. Katze.. you.."

"S/he said we'd found hir just as s/he was coming out of the implantation coma," Jun supplied. Ken swallowed, cursing silently.

Katze had reached the surface of the base and flung open a door. Sunlight blinded them after the gloomy base, shining on the red and blue of the God Phoenix.

It was also shining on the glossy black chitin of the Things. They looked reluctant but determined, as though they had to do something they'd really rather not. Katze set hir jaw.

"I see. You'll let me have the run of the place but you won't let me leave, is that it?"

"To hell with that!" Ken snarled and brought his bracelet to his lips, "Ryu! Get bird missiles ready and be prepared to hover. We may have some problems getting to you."

Whatever advantage Katze possessed, they pressed it as far as they could. The Things, however, had other ideas: They swarmed between them and the God Phoenix, trying to encircle the ninja team. A few well-placed bird missiles dispersed them only momentarily. The Things swarmed up to neutralize the new threat.

"Ryu - hover! Use God Phoenix's anti-grav jets to fry them!" Immediately Ryu obeyed. The air was filled with the shriek of Things and retro-jets.

"Great. Now what?" Katze's voice should've dripped sarcasm, Ken thought. How strange that it didn't.

"Jun, Jinpei -- Form up! Jun, take Joe; I'll take Katze."

"I don't think so," Katze protested, but shut up when Jun gathered Joe into her arms and leaped atop Ken's shoulders. Jinpei leaped atop Jun, completing the formation. S/he swallowed hard and did not resist when Ken put hir arms around his neck and clasped hir waist.

"KAGAKU NIMPO TATSUMAKI FIGHTER!"

The air blurred, whipping Katze's hair into a tangled mess. S/he felt the ground leave hir feet, heard the scream of the thwarted Things as the elemental fury flung them back. Abruptly there were sharp jerks as Jun and Jinpei threw themselves apart, then solidity beneath hir feet as they lit on the deck of the God Phoenix. Ken released hir and s/he pushed hir tangled hair out of hir eyes.

The teeth were scrabbling towards hir all too quickly.  "We aren't out of this yet!" s/he screamed, and fired hir gun. Bullets might bounce off the Things' armour, but they didn't like them in the mouth. S/he dropped into a firing crouch as Ken shouted orders and the air crackled with electricity.

"Ken! They're all over the ship!"

"I know, Ryu, I know -- let us get the platform cleared, then close the bubble. Go to Hinotori as soon as its closed."

"Roger!"

"Great plan," Katze vaulted a gleaming body and delivered it a bone-cracking kick, "Now all we have to do is clear the platform."

"Easier said than done," Ken agreed, "Everyone, to me! Katze, you grab Joe's wrist -- All at once, on my signal, take off your bracelets! NOW!"

There were screams and scrabbling claws, then the familiar sound of the deck canopy rising into place. The deck sank into the God Phoenix safely.

"Ryu - altitude!"

"Roger!" Ken pushed Katze into Joe's chair, giving hir his unconscious teammate. He leaped into his own seat as Jun and Jinpei took theirs.

"KAGAKU NIMPO HI NO TORI!"

The air split apart in noise, colour and radiation distortion. Ken, unprotected by his birdstyle, grit his teeth against the pain of blisters rising to his skin.

Finally, it was over. The coruscating energies slid away from the God Phoenix's hull, leaving it hot, battered but clean. They were free.

He looked back at Joe and Katze and wondered what the price had been.



    The medical facilities at the Crescent Coral base were well-heated; nonetheless, Ken felt chilled. The "face-hugger" had finally fallen away, dead. The team stood over Joe's motionless body, staring up at the images on the video screens overhead.

"It's not the same," Dr. Nambu pronounced finally.

"I wondered about that," Berg Katze slid off the other examination couch, wiping ultrasound gel off hir pale chest. S/he took the robe Ken profferred and joined them at Joe's side, "The one on him looked the same as all the others. The one on me had spines."

"Curious," Nambu agreed, "How did this happen? Were they an experiment, like the Jigokiller flowers?"

Katze shook hir head emphatically, "No. Those things were controllable." S/he sighed deeply; Ken thought s/he looked a little sheepish.

"Soosai X created me to do his work. He cannot function here as we can, so he needed me. Throughout my life," here Ken and Nambu winced; Katze had told them about hir childhood, "I was assured that Soosai had come to conquor, that I would rule as his chosen.

"Only, I wasn't succeeding, certainly not fast enough for Soosai. He left the planet, telling me I was a waste of time and energy, that he would acquire a weapon equal to his needs."

"Off... planet?" Ken gasped.

"There was a missile launched from the Himalayas a while back.."

"Looked like a big gold pencil?" Katze beamed as Nambu nodded, "Wasn't a missile. That was Soosai X."

"He has space-faring technology?"

"Of course," the mutant shrugged, "That's how he got here, after all."

"He's an alien," Nambu stated flatly.

"Yes. So are these things he brought back when he returned. I don't know where they come from. I know very little about them at all. Soosai X brought back many egg cases and had me chain soldiers in front of them as punishments. That was how I first learned what they could do. Once the first few larvae were adult, they took over that job.. Hell, they took over everything! Finally they seized me and brought me before the Overlord."

"Wait.. Brought you to Soosai X? I thought you said they couldn't be controlled?" Nambu frowned.

"Not by us," Katze replied, "Soosai's telepathic. Those things he brought seem to heed him, if not actually follow his orders. Which they don't."

Nambu gazed thoughtfully at the monitor images, "So he had you brought to him.. and the one that took you was different.."

"So's the larva," Ken pointed out, "Look, the one inside Joe doesn't have this little crest. It's not as large either."

Katze gazed at the image of the monster inside hir. S/he remembered how devastated s/he'd been when the Overlord left, how near s/he'd come to launching every finished and unfinished weapon Galactor had, if only it would win the Overlord's favour. How determined s/he'd been to utilize Soosai's promised new weapon to its utmost...

But *these*..!

They filled hir with sick terror just looking at the eggs. When s/he saw what they could do, the alarms had begun to ring in the back of hir mind. S/he knew these would swarm, like ants or bees, over-run, out of hir control -- How could s/he threaten the ISO, promising a purge s/he couldn't deliver? The Overlord had ignored all of hir protests, telling hir s/he was a has-been, a failure, a joke to be disregarded. S/he'd nearly called the Kagaku Ninja Tai hirself, hir hand had been reaching for hir cellular phone.. Then the Things had found hir.

S/he remembered the Overlord's mocking voice as s/he hung in hir cocoon, staring at the flowering egg case before hir.

"I WASTED THIRTY YEARS ON YOU, BERG KATZE. STILL, YOU MIGHT YET PROVE USEFUL. YOU LONGED ONCE FOR A FAMILY - NOW YOU WILL MOTHER THE GREATEST CHILD OF ALL"

Then the spined thing had pounced at hir face, stifling his laughter, hir screams, the light..

Everyone was staring at hir and s/he realized s/he was chuckling out loud. "I know what it is," s/he said softly, "I know why it's different, why they treated me so differently. I've seen them cripple a host who'd damaged a larva or killed another host, but they didn't touch me at all.

"They're workers, like ants or bees. They hatched from the eggs, turned Cross Karakoram into a hive.. then they saved the best for last once they had everything ready."

"A queen," Nambu breathed in horror, "Good god.. a queen.. capable of producing who knows how many eggs.."

"Hakase.. s/he said," Ken swallowed and couldn't look at Katze, "S/he said that the larvae couldn't survive if the host died."

"Ah yes, well.. There's a problem with that," Katze sighed, "Doubtless that's why Soosai made *me* carry the queen. I don't die."

"N..nani??"

"I mean, I can't be killed. Mutation. I Change and that regenerates me. Cheated death I don't know how many times.."

"Then.. when that thing busts out.. you could survive?"

"I might. Which is doubtless what Soosai X intended for me - to be a host over and over again," s/he chuckled, "What a joke. You should be laughing, Gatchaman; you wanted me dead for what I've done. After everything I've been through, everything I've done, everyone I've killed and *this* is how I end up," Ken recoiled; Katze's voice was rising to a hysterical pitch, hir eyes mad, "I'm the ultimate host for the ultimate parasite, Gatchaman! I'll die a thousand deaths and envy EVERY SINGLE HUMAN I've ever known because *you* can die and I can't! Isn't that a fitting end? Isn't that poetic justice? So why aren't you laughing, Gatchaman?! *Why aren't you laughing?!*"

Without a word, Jun slipped from her chair and embraced the mutant, tears streaming down their faces.

"Because its not funny," Ken heard himself whisper, "Its not funny at all."




Joe stared at the image of the thing inside him. It made him want to vomit, but the beast suppressed the reaction, suppressed anything that would cause him to lose precious nutrients. He felt healthier than he had for months. He shuddered and rejoined the discussion.

"..a nuclear device," Nambu-hakase was saying, "But the destruction, the radiation.. It would take centuries to recover. There has to be another way.."

"If I *had* a better way, I would suggest it," Katze replied coldly, "Unfortunately, that's the only way I can think of right now to annihilate those creatures completely."

"It's out of the question. Maybe Galactor hasn't learned from history but *we* have: We'll find another way. It may take some time but.."

"WE. DON'T. HAVE. TIME!" Katze shouted, "I am carrying a time bomb, Nambu-hakase; once this queen comes to term you won't have very long before she pupates to adult form and THEN where will you be? She'll be laying eggs and you won't stand a chance, I promise you.

"A nuclear device isn't the best choice, but its the only one we have because *there is no time*. It will destroy the eggs, the larvae, the adult workers, the queen, Soosai X, but it must be delivered SOON and it must be delivered by me."

"Why you?" Joe asked, curious.

"Because the creatures won't touch him," Ken said softly, "Because of the queen."

Katze nodded.

"You'll need back-up."

"Joe, what do you.."

"He was infected first -- that means he could die first, that queen thing could break out first. We gotta prepare for that: Someone's gotta be ready to kill the thing when it starts to go and that means someone else might have to place the device."

Ken couldn't believe what he was hearing, "You can't be serious, Joe!"

"Are you completely mental or just dumb?!" Ken whipped around to plow his fist into the mutant's face but Joe caught him.

"He's *dead*, Gatchaman," Katze continued, "There's no way to save him, no way to remove the embryo without killing him instantly: I know. I've tried."

"He's right," Joe said softly, "And its a stupid way to die, a dog for an overgrown flea. But if I can go out fighting.." Ken dropped his arm. The silence was thick.

"I'll order the evacuation immediately. You'll have your device by midnight," Nambu turned away and left the room. One by one, the other Science Ninjas followed, leaving Joe and Katze alone.

"*Can* they be killed, once they.. hatch?" Joe asked after a few minutes' silence.

Katze nodded, "Fire. They're vulnerable until their shells harden. Carry a flame-thrower."

Joe shivered, "That's an ugly way to die. Eviscerated from the inside, then incinerated.." Katze shrugged. "But you said this one in you wasn't behaving the same way. What if it takes longer?"

"Then I'll plant the device as planned."

Joe was silent for a time. The mutant stared out the ports at the fish drifting past. "This isn't like you," Joe said finally.
    "How would *you* know?"

Joe sighed, "I'm.. just trying to make conversation." The mutant said nothing. "You aren't exactly known for saving the world," Joe tried again, "Why so hyped on destroying these things? Why not let the world go to hell in a handbasket?"
    "And let the Overlord get away with it?"
    "Ah, revenge," Joe cracked a grin, "*That's* the Katze I know."

S/he snorted and turned back to the port. S/he watched his reflection as he approached hir and laid his hand on hir shoulder. "What do you want?" s/he snapped.

Joe drew back, "I.. uh..." He looked away, scratching his head in embarrassment. "I don't want to die alone," he blurted out.

Katze's expression softened for a moment and s/he turned to look back out at the water, "Yeah. Well. Neither do I."

"You like auto races.." Joe scratched his head again, "I remember seeing you a few times.."
    "Your point?" Katze snapped.

Joe blushed, but met the mutant's sapphire gaze, "What else do you like?"




The team met a few hours later in Nambu's office. Joe hovered protectively close to Katze, stroking hir hair with an expression curiously akin to tenderness. Ken wondered what had happened between them, then decided it probably wasn't any of his business: Approaching death made people do strange things, he knew.

"Here it is," Nambu was saying. Upon his desk was a small cannister, about the size of a large popcorn popper. It had a timer screen and punchpad built into its side. Ken felt his scalp crawling. "This is one of the newer devices. The radiation does more initial damage, but its half-life is less; the overall damage to the environment should be lessened."

Katze examined it critically, nodding in satisfaction, "This should do the job. I know just where to plant it where it'll do the most good."

"Then waste no more time," Nambu said, "Get to God Phoenix and go. You'll be commemorated for this."

"As if I care about that."

Nambu permitted a small smile and half-way tender look to pass his features, "No.. but you wanted to be remembered. We'll make sure you're remembered. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, this will exonorate you." S/he snorted, looking almost gratified. Nambu saluted his team, "I pray for your success."

"Roger!"




Cross Karakoram Headquarters - what was left of it - was silent as the God Phoenix sank down for a landing. The Ninja team readied themselves, then followed the Galactor leader as s/he ran purposefully forward into the milling throngs of Things. As s/he expected, they bowed out of hir path, allowing hir easy entrance.

"Where to now?" Ken asked at hir elbow.

"Down a few levels, then in towards the center of the complex."

"What's down there?" Jun asked. She had glommed up tightly against Katze's side, much to Katze's annoyance.

"The audience chamber, and from there, the socket. And will you get AWAY from me?? Geez, what is it with you people all of a sudden, I feel like I've got burrs!"

Jun blushed, "I.. don't know.. This is all so surreal.. I just.. feel like you're the safest one to be around."

Ken winced. {Ow. That had to hurt,} came Joe's voice.  Katze looked up, startled. S/he looked around at the hovering Things, looked at the Science Ninjas and realized why hir head had been filled with soft little whispers.

"The god-damned thing's telepathic," s/he whispered, "That's why you're all hovering around me -- It's drawing you in to be hosts for her eggs when she hatches! That's why Soosai X could influence the adults!" S/he turned, hir wounded gaze meeting Joe's startled eyes.

"Katze..." he whispered. S/he turned away, hurting. Joe shook his head, "It doesn't matter why. It was and it was good. Let's get this over with while we still can." He threaded his fingers into hirs and picked up the cannister in his other arm. Katze resumed hir course.

S/he was brought up a few flights down by an 'urk'.

"Joe!" The Science Ninjas crowded around their fallen comrade. Joe had fallen to his knees, clutching his heaving, writhing chest, horrid strangling sounds rising from his throat. Blood oozed from his lips and nose. "Ken.."

Ken's hand shook so hard he could hardly hold the gun steady. He blinked, trying to clear his eyes of tears, but instead they spilled out and welled up with more, "Joe... Joe.. I.. oh god.. "

"Do it!"

"I can't!"

"Gatchaman, you must!"

"He's my best friend.." Ken broke off as Katze wrenched the gun from his hand. S/he raised it, aiming squarely between Joe's eyes.

"I love you."

"I know."

S/he fired. An instant later the thing broke out, exploding out of Joe's dead chest in a shower of blood and bone. Ryu had the flame thrower off his back and bathed the area in flame, incinerating corpse and larva together. The thing curled in on itself, squealing as it died. They all turned and stared at Katze.

"You're living on borrowed time," Jun whispered.

Katze nodded, "Get out of here. There's nothing more you can do except get caught. Get out and away and just pray I get this thing primed before I end up like him."

Jun ran forward and hugged the mutant hard, tears streaming down her cheeks. Ryu slapped hir on the back and Jinpei wept as openly as his sister. Ken knelt down and unclipped the bracelet from what had been Joe's wrist. He gave it to Katze, "Here. This way we'll know." S/he grunted, clasping it about hir own wrist. Ken met hir eyes, "Good luck, Berg Katze."

"Good luck, Gatchaman."

They spun on their heels, Ken herding his team back to the God Phoenix, Katze speeding for Soosai X's lair.

S/he raced through the audience chamber, noticing that it had been outfitted by the Things into a theatre fit for a Queen. S/he activated the great crystal doors that hid the socket, the miles-deep pit where Soosai X's true, cylindrical body, was nestled.

"SO YOU HAVE RETURNED, BERG KATZE."

"Yup. Had a good trip."

"I KNEW YOU COULD NOT RESIST THE QUEEN'S COMPULSIONS. YOU ARE NOT SO STRONG."

"Nope. Guess not." S/he climbed the golden cylander, seeking the pinnacle.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING, KATZE?"

"Brought you a souvenir from my trip!" S/he reached the top and sat down cross legged, cradling the device as s/he tuned it. S/he knew that X could not see hir: His optics were tuned into the holographic receiver in the audience chamber, not to the socket surrounding his physical body. S/he primed the device and set it down beside hir, glancing at the blinking light on hir bracelet that indicated an open channel.

"A SOUVENIR? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? WHY ARE YOU HERE IN THE SOCKET?"

"I'm nesting," s/he purred, "Isn't that what all mothers do when they're about to give birth?"

"NESTING?! BUT.. A.. NEST HAS BEEN PREPARED FOR YOU.."

"I know. Don't like it. Like this one much better."

"KATZE! GET OUT OF THE SOCKET THIS INSTANT! GET OFF OF ME AND GET BACK OUT THERE WHERE YOU BELONG! WHAT IS THAT THAT YOU HAVE  BROUGHT
WITH YOU? GET IT OUT OF HERE."

"Don't want to," s/he replied. S/he was starting to feel queasy and nauseated, like hir guts were moving within hir. S/he leaned over and peered down the side of X, into the deep well of the socket. S/he sighed, feeling strangely content, and in a soft voice, began to sing.




There was no conversation aboard the God Phoenix. They raced at top speed, sonic booms collapsing in their wake, waiting for the moment when they should go to Hi no Tori to weather the brunt of the atomic detonation. Ken had patched his bracelet through to the main speakers, so that all could hear the exchange between X and his creation. They'd had to laugh; it was so like hir.

Now they listened to hir sweet voice, singing in chorus with hirself, a waulking song from long ago.

".. gu Sean Caimbeul, hu il oro.. Donn mo leannan, boch oraICHH.." Ken's gaze met Jun's, then Ryu's. There was silence for a moment, then the singer resumed, "Donn mo leannan, o hi ibh o, Sealgair gaoithe, hu il oro, Roin 's ealHHHCHHK.." Ryu pressed his lips into a thin line and pushed the Hi no Tori throttle forward. The song was nearly lost in the wailing energies, yet it came through crystal-clear to Ken. Hir voice grew weaker, then a sharp scream of pain, then hir voice became distorted, as though heard through a Doppler wave. Then the signal cut out altogether and the God Phoenix was buffetted by a severe force wave.

It was over.



Epilogue:

Eight months later, the UN unveiled the newest statues to decorate its square. The sunlight gleamed off the polished bronze faces of Kondoru no Joe and Berg Katze, who had been represented uniformed but unmasked, hir bronze hair flowing in metallic folds. Ken wept unashamedly, as did Nambu and the rest of the team. Amid the thousands gathered for the ceremony, theirs were not the only wet eyes.

Excavations of the Cross Karakoram site revealed that Berg Katze had known what s/he was talking about. The Things were gone, atomized and fused into the surrounding mountains. The miles-long cylindrical husk, the UFO that had once been Soosai X, was analyzed with great excitement. There would be much to learn from it, much that could boost Earth's space-flight programs centuries into the future -- once it cooled off. X itself was dead. They would never know where he had come from, or why he had come. They would never know why he had created Berg Katze, nor why he had been so unprepared as to need hir. As for Katze hirself, of course, there was no trace.

Ken wept, wiping his eyes with the two fragments of cloth he held; a numbered t-shirt and a purple mask. The sunlight reflected off his tears.

He did not see the figure standing on a rooftop, sunlight gleaming off a golden ponytail flowing over one shoulder. He did not see it dance off a bracelet tossed into the air then caught in one ivory hand. He did not see sapphire eyes smile down at him, then disappear.
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