Ave Maria by Daniel Rush
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AVE MARIA
A Joe love tragidy
by Dan Rush

"It is never done, never finished, never ending. I see blood, fire, a rose, a woman in red. My mother and father slumped dead on the beach. I take his Magnum from his dead hand, "Bitch! Lex Talionis! the law of revenge is mine!" I never get to fire back and had it not been for Doctor Nambu, I wouldn't b fighting back at all."  2:37am July 26 (In the Gatch I universe)

Joe Asakura wakes once again in a cold sweat, rising with such suddeness that it makes Jinpei and Ryu fly up as well from the futon mat laid out on the floor of Joe's camper.

"Anikie?" Jinpei says as he wipes the sleep from his eyes. "Man, it's only two a.m., Joe." Jinpei rises and walks over to sit next to Joe as he rubs the sweat from his neck and hair.

" Dam it's still warm out?" Joe says as he turns to rub Jinpei's head. "So how you doing Swallow? That was good yesterday."

"Aw shoot. Blasting a hole in that so called glass shield was no problem. I'm geting better at mixing gunpowder huh?"

"Well I'll take credit for that. Now if you'd control your snoring every now and then."

Jinpei gave Joe a smack on the arm before slipping off to the coffee maker. "Hey Ryu, you want your's black right?"

Ryu sat up on the futon and stretched his arms with a very obvious shudder to remove the sleepiness in his body.

"Yeah.......Make it pitch black Jin. You know Joe's right...you do snore alot."

 Jinpei turned from the coffee maker and smirked. "We'll your no better as a pillow oh mighty owl, your stomach sounds like Mount Unzen waiting to blow itself to bits! Heck, Isn't three large pizza's to much for one person?"

Ryu stood up and slapped his stomach. "When your dealing with Gallactor, a little strenth in the gut never hurt anyone."

"Except the poor bastards you leave in the walls after your finished bulldozing them to death Ryu." Joe said as he walked up to the television and turned it on. He was greeted by the sight of a dead body on CNN.

"This morning there has been another killing in Utoland City related to the person now being called the Virgin Mary killer or Ave Maria by the Utoland press. The killer struck again last night, killing an unknown victim in the buisness district, a 25 year old man who brings to seven, the number killed by Ave Maria.

Once again, police officials here have found Ave Maria's calling card next to the victim as with the six before. The card shows a picture of the Virgin Mary with outstreched hands with blooded roses resing on each palm.........."

"Ave Maria struck again." Joe said as he took a cup from Jinpei who looked rather scared.

"That's where me and Jun live! Maybe we should move to Cressent Coral untill they find this killer?"

Ryu sipped his cup and thought. " You should be safe Jinpei, I don't think Ave Maria's out to gun down kids. Besides, I wouldn't let that scumbag run my life. That guy just got careless and walked late at night in a dim part of the district alone. These serial killers prowl in places like that."

Joe went back to the bed and sat on the corner watching the television coverage that was still showing the dead body. " A lot of blood around the chest. Probably single shot from a sniper rifle. This guy's a real pro." Joe thought deeply as he once again recalled the image of the woman with her rifle and a rose. "So was she....so was she..."

**************

5am
Downtown Utoland City.


Joe was screaming down the main street in his cobra with Ryu holding on for dear life in the passenger's seat as they weaved past cars and through the intersections with Jinpei's buggy right on their tail.

"Son of a bitch!" Ryu screamed as they flew by the front of a trolly at high speed. "I knew we shouldn't have given that kid coffee so early in the morning!"

Jinpei was wired and as always he carried an ample supply of eggs in the car to make trouble with the local bike life of Bozos who made it a point to bother cars, harrass quiet sleepers, and just make awfull noises with their baffleless mufflers and high exhaust pipes. Well, Jinpei commenced to making war as usual by getting in the middle of a pack of pipe and bat weilding bozos and throwing eggs in their faces as they came close to his car.

Of course...they now chased him and Joe all over Utoland as his sterio blasted their location to every angry punk biker within a ten mile radious! After some two hours of wild driving, they had finaly shaken their angry tail with great relief.....not so with Ryu. He might enjoy some fun and folly with his ten year old cohort but this was it!

A they pulled up to the Snack J, Ryu jumped from the Cobra and caught the boy halfway to the door. He made no sound, said no word, but proceeded to paddle Jinpei hard! The boy took off with a shot inside the Snack screaming up a storm with Ryu and Joe right behind him.

Joe was shocked! " Dam Ryu? What the heck was that for?"

As of late, Jinpei had been rather bratty, big headed, and hard to control. The mission with the so called "glass Bubble" resulted from Jinpei thinking he could go on his own against Gallactor without anyone else to watch him.

It was his little stunt that resulted in them almost being trapped and maybe killed...Ken berated Jinpei with a verbal shot but Ryu was a firm believer in the old fassioned way of disopline when it came to children. Jinpei could boast his adulthood till he was blue in the face, but he was a child still and a child his age shouldn't be acting so wild and stupid! .......so Ryu thought.


Joe could see it coming a mile away. Jun was coming right at them both and she was fit to be tied and angry as a tiger. He just stood aside knowing it wasn't a smart idea to get in her way when she was angry.

"RYU!!" Jun screamed as she got right in Ryu's face. "Who the hell gave you the right to spank Jinpei! What the frick were you thinking?!"

Ryu came right back at her. "Did he tell you what I've gone through for the last two hours on the way here Jun? He deserved it! The little kid almost got us killed! He threw eggs at some bozos and they drove us crazy all over the city! Jun as of late, your little brother's turned into a little brat!"

 "That still doesn't give you the right to hit him Ryu! I decide his punishments when he needs them, not you! Don't you know how he looks up to you? What you just did to him?"

 Ryu stood back and crossed his arms. "I did it because I love him Jun. That little guy means alot to me as much as he does to you. I don't want to see a day come when I may have to carry him home to you in a body bag. And if he keeps going with this wild wolf act of his, he will end up dead."

 Jun was cooling off, but still she was upset at the spanking part. She remembered her days in the orphinage when Jinpei went through some horrific beatings by people she hated with all the marrow in her bones. She swore to him that never again would someone abuse him like that. She thought " Ryu's from the old ways, a strong family, it's expected. He didn't know better and in a way it's the right way...... but not with Jinpei."

"Ryu, please. Apologize to him." She asked as she looked at Joe for some backing.

Joe wanted to side with Ryu on this one but he would have his own way with Jinpei later. He had to go with Jun, who knew the boy better than the other's did.

"Ryu......" He said as he knoded. The big man just shook his head and walked towards the stairs behind the bar. Jun offered Joe a seat as she began making morning breakfast on the grill. This was not a good start to a Sunday morning.


Ryu walked up the stairs to Jinpei's attic room and stood by the open door as the boy lay quiet on his bed with his back turned to Ryu as he walked in and sat on the floor.

" Boy......I'm a big, fat,stupid, lazy ball of walrus chum!" He said with cursed lips.

 "What?" Jinpei replied with a sniffle. "I said, I'm a big,fat,stupid, lazy ball of walrus chum!" Ryu repeated as Jinpei started to laugh even as he cried at the same time.

The boy rolled over to see Ryu looking at the floor in disgust. " You might think I was wrong Jinpei, but I think you know better...you just won't show it. I felt I was right to spank you like that, maybe now I was wrong."

 Jinpei slipped onto the floor and poked his head around Ryu's face so he'd look at him. "I was angry, for a little bit.  Till I saw how stupid I was. Jun's no different, she'd let me have it good' though she says she can't spank me anymore like you did, That realy hurt!"

 Ryu looked into Jinpei's eyes."You tell me the truth. What would hurt more, you getting paddled or being scraped off the street?"

"I guess the second one." Jinpei answered as Ryu stood up.

 " Jinpei...I didn't do that to hurt you, I never ment to, but I'd rather do that and see you reach 18, then watching you die at ten. I won't apologize for what I did, though I think bad of it now. You mean too much to me as a friend, do you understand?"

Jinpei knoded as Ryu took him by the shoulders. "Comeon, let's see who eats more pancakes this time around!"

Down they both went at a full run which ended up in a pile of fallen bodies at the back door to the Snack. Poor Kenji Ashakano just had time to jump with a plate of noodles in his hand as the two clowns crashed into the back of the bar, summoning the rath of Jun once more.

"Now I wish you two ended up your seperate ways! Make up your minds will you!" She said as she watched them pig out on the pile of pancakes on the bar.

Joe, meanwhile, had once again assumed his usual place in the corner table near the door. He was sipping his orange juice when he noticed a well dressed woman walking towards the snack in the usual morning buisness suit and briefcase arrangement. It was the briefcase that took Joe by surprize as she passed his table. The colorfull seal adorning the case was the state seal of Sicily!

" A home Romano?" Joe thought as he watched her walk up to the bar and talk to Jun. He had to know who this suddenly interesting woman realy was!

***************

Let it never be said that Joe Asakura was not a lady's man, especialy when he was being compaired to Ken by those that knew them well. Joe was more outgoing in everything, unlike the more calm and studious Washio who seemed to give poor Jun a passing interest. Of course, Joe knew otherwise about how Ken realy felt about Jun but the demands of command always got in the way of any serious rellationship between the two.

Of course....Joe considered himself un-hindered in matters of women.

He aproached the bar as this young and quite attractive Euro-Italian woman began to sip her latte and read the morning news paper. Joe calmly took a seat two stools down and signaled Jun for a cup of coffee for himself.

She was quite beautifull, this woman from Sicillia. She was tall, almost six foot. Her hair was light brown and well set in curls and locks. Joe imagined it to be quite long when combed strait. She had the body of an athlete even when dressed in the deep blue buisness suit with it's gold lapels and white scarf around the collar.

He slowly turned his head as he sipped from his coffee and eyed her softly as he spoke.

"Buon giorno. Di dove e Sicillia?" He asked as she turned to him with a smile.

"Ah....Goomba dove e Sicillia?" She said as she pointed.

"Si....Goomba dove e Pallarmo. Mi chiamo Joe Asakusa. Piacere!" Joe extended his hand as the woman switched her language.

"I am Belledona Reece, from Mesina. It's always good to meet a fellow Sicillian in a place like this. Other than the councelor's personal staff, I don't meet to many home people. How long have you been here?

Joe placed his coffee on the table for Jinpei to refill. The boy just gave him a real smarty look and smacked off a few fake kisses as Jun grbbed him by the shirt.

"I'm sorry Miss Reece, my little brother likes to "joke" alot. Comeon Jinpei..you and I are going to have a little talk!" Jun dragged Jinpei off by his shirt as Joe laughed to himself. "He's in a lot of trouble." He said as Belledona seemed to agree.

"Tell me....when did you last see Sicilly?" She asked as Joe played with his coffee.

"A long time ago. I was about eight years old then, a long story as to how I ended up here. You though, the Councel of Sicillian Regents is a very prestigious posting I hear. Why did you come to Utoland City?"

"There's a very large trade meeting here this week and I'm on the negotiation board for the Sicillian trade ministry. Actually, I'm here for alot longer with the Ambassador's councel. I've always wanted to see Japan, the history is to say......interesting."

Joe thought for a moment, wanting to expand the advantage he was seeking.  "Have you been able to get around? See what Japan's like?"

"Of course.....but it's always with the official detail you understand. Photo ops, promotions, grande attivita!" She said as she threw her hands up in the air. "If I could travel outside this official bluster with someone who didn't act stuffy all the time, I would be happy."

That did it.....Joe smiled as he leaned on the bar. "I know you just met me only ten minutes ago Belladona, but my friends can vouch for me. I'm always free to show people around when I have the chance to. They only have to ask.......and trust a bit."

Belladona took a pen from her coat pocket and scribbled a few quick lines on a small note pad before rising to leave.

"Something tells me I have a lot of trust. Mi piaci Joe Asakura, Buon giormo." She slid the paper slip before Joe's hands as she left the money for her bill on the table and walked out.

10-57 Cho-Tetsuyama
Shinjuku Chome
5pm.....home cooked dinner?


Joe smiled widly with a warmth of pleasure as Jinpei came into the bar looking very upset.

'What's up manio?" Joe asked as Jinpei threw on a white apron.

"What is it with everybody? Wasn't Ryu spanking the heck out of my butt enough punishment!" The boy said with a vicious anger.

Joe grabbed him by the arm and pulled him close to him. "No....and it's not the last one you deserve Jinpei. You have been getting rather crazy as of late and everyone's worried about it. Our last mission wouldn't have happened if you didn't go off alone to prove the size of your balls."

"JOE!" Jinpei snapped as he tried to pull away. " What do you guys want when you treat me like a kid! I'm part of this team too. Ken sends you and Jun off on lone missions, why not me?"

"Because you haven't stopped acting like a child. You still act like this is one big game when it isn't. Your very good Jinpei, awsome in fact, but the child in you still jumps out at the wrong time. You can only make one mistake manio, and your actions will end up killing you sooner or later. If you want to be a grown up Jinpei, you have to be one, not act like one."

Jinpei gave Joe another of his "Yeah..I know, right." Kind of looks as he began to wash the dishes in the sink. Joe turned away to leave the boy to his pondering as he walked out into the Sunday morning light.

"5 pm.....Church of all things first. Have to give Mama and Papa their just dues before that." he thought as he drove away from the Snack with a gun of the Cobra's engine.


*******************



July 26
2pm
Tetronics Industires
29-10 Sho Tsunda, Utoland


Katse found little pleasure in any "lulls" that occured during operations, though these short rest periods were needed if any vital work was to get done. She had learned from previous errors in judgement when she would try mass wave assaults against Gatchaman and the ISO without proper planning. Most of the time, They and their U.N. Allies came out on top.

She was sitting back in her chair nursing another of those bad headaches she'd suffer during her gender transformation. It wasn't easy shifting from a man's to a woman's theology of seeing and she often began to wonder if there wasn't some ability lost in these sudden shifts that hindered Gallactor's performance.

Her main goal now was to find Gatchaman's hideouts in Utoland. She had deduced these facts after long and logical investigation into the possibility that they clocked themselves in the endless streams of normal life that flowed through this great city.

A knock on her door caused her to quickly don her uniform and cowel and forgo the much deserved glass of expensive Coniac she used to quell her thumping head. "Come in." She commanded as the man she placed in command of the M-9 intelligence wing entered and bowed before her.

"Your report, Davress?" Katse said as she eyed the glass.

The tall, black buisness suited man stood rigid as stone. " Nothing yet Katse-sama, but I'm afraid we lost yet another of our agents to this "Ave Maria". This makes seven so far."

"I see." Katse said with a slight snarl, more from the headache than her own response. " Maybe you need to employ your men better. This Ave Maria is becoming a problem. But it must not interfear with our plans. Gatchaman always takes priority, understood."

The man bowed his head slightly, if not with a bit of concern. Gatchaman was becoming an obsession to Katse.   Ave Maria however, was more dangerous in that it was cold, calculating, and precise. It was a stalker, the man reasoned ,bent on some kind of vengence against the Gallactor for some wrong.

Gatchaman could be expected to have some kind of honor code, which made their actions a bit easier to predict, though hard to defend against. With this "stalker" there was no honor code save execute without prejudice and that made it more dangerous than Gatchaman, for the fact that it would do anything to carry out it's one mission in life...........kill without thought!

5:10pm
The residence of Belladona Reece


Though a man of women, Joe Asakura was a man not trusting of them. Call it the left over baggage of long ago horror when as a boy, he saw the red suited, rifle toting blond who had destroyed all he held dear. Trust was a thing women, not he, had to earn. Even Jun herself took years to earn Joe's adorations and respect even affection for which he hid so well behind a vail of protective bravado.

While Belladona prepaired dinner in the other room, Joe did as he always did with any woman he would spend time with. Eye rifle every picture, every slip of paper, every stitch of clothing within hands reach. Nothing was inocent because everything ws suspect. He'd run into Gallactor women before by surprise so it was safety's sake that drove him to take looks every time she left the room.

Her cooking couldn't be suspect though, it was true Sicillian. If food was the way to a man's heart, she understood the protocalls well.

"The risotto....manifico!" Joe said as he took another serving from the big plate in the center of the small Japanese style table with it's heated foot box pit.

"Im glad you like it Joe. It's hard for me to get all the needed things here to make it but I find good substitutes for everything." Donna said with a smile. "It's not often I get to cook such a big meal for "Normal guest."

Joe leaned back from the table, taking time to smell the aroma of the fine Italian Vino she offered him. "No poisons." He thought as he eyed her searchingly. "Somewhat sullen..... She's troubled by something."

Belladona rose from the table and turned on a small CD player in the corner of this small traditional Japanese room with it's thick futon and paper doors. The sound of opera filled the air, a soft almost heart felt melody that Joe recognized almost immediatly......

"Mary Anderson....She was one of the most respected singers of all time....that's her Ave Maria isn't it?" He said as Belledona closed her eyes and listened with a carefull swey of her body to catch all it's tenderness.

"My moma Nora would play her all the time in Mesina. Even on Sunday after Church.....I loved her music, studied her life, a radiant if not gracious woman. When my mother died, I had the Mother Superior play that very song."

Joe listened, thought, surpassed, and looked down at the glass. "When did your mother die?"

"When I was very young. About nine years old. A very hard way to grow up...not having a parent around to guide your way. in Mesina, I work the orphins home often."

Joe leaned on the table. "Then we both share a commonality. My parents died when I was eight....not a story worth telling. I've lived alone for most of these years, survived more the word. You get used to living, not to the emptiness of it all." Joe picked up the glass of Vino and took a long sip. As Belladona reached for him from across the table.

She felt the roughness of his cheek, the wildness of his hair, the rock like form of his jaw. She was searching.......for that common center.

"Would you stay with me tonight Joe?" She asked as he thought......not yet Asakura, one more day. Rushing into this too quickly? You'd do it, then again you'd fight with yourself endlessly if it all went wrong....one more day...

"I wish I could, but tonight...I must decline. I'm sorry." He was cold, serious and brudish as he spoke but he was also carefull. She  didn't seem upset by his response though.....

" Tommorow then?...will you come here again tommorow?" She asked.

Joe knoded as he rose to leave. Taking her hand in his, he kissed it tenderly and bade her fairwell for the evening...


0134 am
July 27
Utoland buisness district


The two Gallactor agents walked side by side down the narrow streets of the Buisness Ginza. Both conversed openly about the small club they had visited and the young woman who owned it. "Smart huh? I told you she might be good as a partner...or in bed. You should have tried to recruit her!"

"I would have if not that little bar brat given me so many bad looks. Besides, were not on a recruiting assignment are we? I'd allmost best she'd be smart enough to be a Gatchaman Ninja if........"

The man never finished his words......the other agent watched in horror as the man's head exploded before his eyes!

The lone survivor began to run but was cut down just as brutally with two hits to the back and a grace shot to the back of the neck. He fell to the street without a chance to cry his last....

"Lex Talionis......mine to behold again." Said the visage as it departed it's place apon the roof tops.


*******************


July 27 08:00AM
Coral Crescent Island
Pheonix resting dock.


"Shoot!" Ryu said as he and Jun sat looking over the electronics buss that sat above the starboard engine of the God Pheonix. Ryu loved the old girl dearly, when she was good but when she wasn't, he became grumpy as a bear without honey.

The problem had hashed itself out over the past two months, a fuel mixture imballance that caused the Shima Tori effect to phase in and out at random times during use. It wasn't too serious, provided the system didn't quit at the worst time like a collision with a solid mass such as a Gallactor mecha.

Jun leaned back against the lower hump of the Pheonix's upper structure and shook her head to get her hair out of her eyes. " I don't know Ryu, could be the ICU bridge or the main systems terminous acting up again. Let me go down and run a Diognostics check again."

"That's the seventh one!" Ryu said as he lightly tapped the wing. "I'd say an old fashioned kick in the throttle box would set this old girl strait again."

Jun smirked. " A man's typical answer to everything female. You have to handle the Pheonix with a more motherly touch Ryu, "She'd" probably respond better."

Jun looked down at the dock floor as Joe came walking in. "Well look who decided to join us this morning! Welcome back to work Joe!"

Joe gave Jun a wave as he walked up the service ladder and joined Ryu near the buss panel. He removed a large white envelope and handed it to the burly pilot.

"What's this?" Ryu asked as Joe took a seat next to him.

"That's a card for your Dad. His birthday's Friday isn't it?" Joe said as he watched Ryu's face beam at the thought.

"Joe....you didn't have to do this. Your the only one who even keeps my dad's birthday in mind."

' Well....how many times has your Dad had us over for vacations over the past three years? Your lucky, he's a good man and damm proud of you too. This is just a small bit of gratitude."

Ryu leaned back resting his hands behind his head. " And your the best Joe. I mean that. How did your date go last night?"

Joe closed his eyes and laughed. "Well....." Ryu shook his head and smiled. "Oh no...you read her the riot act again didn't you? What's next Joe, an FBI background check? Can't you just enjoy an evening for once insted of turning it into a command investigation?"

Joe took it as a joke..." It's habit Ryu, I've been pretty lucky in runing into Gallactor  women as of late."

"Oh yes......I remember, Joe the "preacher" Asakura, converter of Gallactor women who shall see God before they take the one way trip to Hell. Remember that Gallactor girl you blasted out of the sky during the train tragidy with Nambu? I swear she said "amen" before she went boom! Joe......you....are....not...... cursed!" Ryu said with a finger in Joe's face.

"Cursed?.....I wonder. Carefull....I know. That's how I've stayed alive for so long Ryu. Everyone thinks I'm paranoid all the time.... tell me one case where I was wrong?"

Ryu smiled...."Easy, there's Angela, Mary, Daphnie, Megan...."

"Allright, so no one's perfect!" Joe said as he stood up and stretched. Ryu was rolling on the wing laughing at the though of Joe's as of yet 500 negitive batting average. He stood up and took Joe by the shoulders. " Look Joe, do us all a favor and get a normal rellationship going for once? A little love might change your saggy outlook on life."

"Saggy?" Joe said as he punched Ryu in the chest. "Look who's talking saggy oh great sushi wrestler from hell!"

Ryu went into a fake Sumo wrestler stomp and charge stance and chased Joe across the wing of the Pheonix. Joe was faster of course and more confident about jumping from the starboard pod and landing without a mis-step on the deck some 50 feet below. He turned to bid Ryu a good day as he had to see Ken about a status update.

"Studious as usual", Joe thought as Ken sat behind his office desk pondering over paperwork and the usual morning breakfast of sandwitches and coffee.

"Morning Ken...head exploding again?" Joe snickered as Ken gave him one of his famous "Ok wise ass" looks.

"Once again we're in another long lull Joe. Looks like Katse's getting board with this game. Then again.....He's probably designing a "puppy mecha" that will bring undo terror into our hearts."

Joe smiled and poked his fist before Ken's face. "Go ahead brother...one more word about "puppy dogs" and I'll give you a dog bone for your troubles."

Ken went back to seriousness as Joe
took a seat in one of the thick recliners that sat next to the desk.

"Joe, we have two problems at the moment. Danny Bogamill over at Center Intell intercepted some code traffic taking about an increase in Gallactor counter-Intel in Utoland City. They may be trying to find us out of uniform. He says the size of the "as of yet"  unknown cell could be 2500 effective agents."

Joe rubbed his chin. "I'm surprized Katse took this fricken long to try finding us at all. Says much about his priorities.......totaly fucked up!"

Ken seemed to agree. "Our other problem is Ave Maria. We may get called in soon to hunt him down. Last night, there were two more killings and the Utoland Police and the National Constabulary may ask for ISO sciance and ballistics help."

Joe leaned back. "I see.....but I don't think they'll call us into this at all. We're not cops and you know there's always local politics involved Ken. The mayor of Utoland would fly the farm if he heard Gatchaman was outdoing his own police. Go figure huh?"

"I'll agree on that. By the way, you need to fill out a witness statement concerning your little "Joyride" with Jinpei yesterday. I'm revoking his off duty driving privilages."

"Oh shit." Said joe with a frown. "That will go over just great Ken. The kids been yelled at, spanked, and now this? Your gonna have to pull him off duty for a while if you do that because he will be so pissed off that you couldn't get him to do anything with a ten foot pole."

"That's the way it has to be Joe. Jinpei knows it all too well. I've given him enough warnings about his attitude as of late and this is it. If he cries, it's his own fault because it's time he got his dues for the checks he's been bouncing."

"Ken......" Joe said as he tapped his fingers on the desk. "You've been watching Top Gun again. I can tell. Must be number 55 right?"

"15 Joe....and don't you go spraying it around either."

Asakura turned to leave Ken to his work. He certainly didn't want to be in the office when poor Jinpei walked in, that could be dangerous with all the loose stuff the kid could wind up throwing around in frustration. As for Joe, he had his own mound of work to do before seeing Belladona again.

 " That's what you get for seeing Gallactor all the time. Your Buggy's toast!

*******************


Evening, July 27th


Joe could not have felt any better than he  had in his whole life. He took Belledona all over the famous "loop" of Tokyo. The block parties in Shinjuku, the beach of Kamakura where he chased her as if he was in High School all over again, and across the great city of Yokohama where they finaly found a place to relax.

VIVRI 21 was a penthouse evening club that overlooked the Yokohama skyline and the great mass of people who wandered and partied in the streets and bars below. They were both watching some off work Salorymen as they enjoyed singing and drinking to the karoke music being played from the bar at the end of the club.

"Now this is what I'm talking about Joe. Just getting away from the frustrations of work for a while." Dona said as she held his hand.

For his part, Joe was at ease which was to say a very unusual condition for a man of almost constant vigilance. He placed his arm around her and drew her close to him with a protective yet loving embrace. He hadn't felt such a thing in a long time. But his sure feelings were tempered, at war with his more brutal half which still stabbed caution into his veins.

A song drew him to stand and guide Dona to the small dance floor, another rare thing for Joe to do since he spent most of the time in the Snack sitting in darker corners.......

"........Nobody does it better.......Makes me feel sad for the rest...nobody does it.half as good as you......baby your the best........."

"........but like heaven above me.....the spy who loved me.....is keeping all my secrets safe  tonight........."

Dona slowly rubbed his steel like shoulders, the hardened face which seemed to melt like a protective wax in her hands. He was a good dancer.

Joe looked deep into her eyes, a woman surely pure and in need,as he was, of love. He got closer as the song continued it's cool love spun melody. He slowly touched her lips in a loving caress. A momentary gift of tenderness from one not used to giving so to others, death turning to life, Bleekness to color, and he felt needed tears loosen from their prison to fall into her caring hands.

" I know that you.......are only a kiss away...... I fell your smile in a thousand dreams........ felt your touch and it always seems......... you love me..........you love me..........."

The dance was indeed finished...but not the love. Joe eyed her once more as he felt her hands embrace him, caress him, wanting and needing him.

"Stay with me tonight Joe?" Dona asked as Joe took her by the hand and quietly took her home.

11pm
Snack J

Jun was alone, save Ryu who had just walked in all happy and smiling as usual. " Wow. I never expected the Snack to be so empty this time of night Jun?" He said as he took a seat and looked about the floor. "Where's Jinpei?"

"He's probably sleeping or still sitting in one angry mood. Ken revoked his civilian licence for that "Bozo" incident yesterday." Jun said as she did the dishes.

"Wow." Ryu replyed as he tapped his hands on the bar. "This hasn't been his day has it? Hey Jun, let me borrow him tommorow?"

"I can't. He's grounded for a week. That's my punishment for him."

"Now you got me saying enoughs, enough Jun. The kid's got too many punishments as is, I think I gave him the worst of it all and that sure counts for some free time doesn't it?"

Jun thought for a moment. "Well.....call me too soft or too foolish for doing this. You can have him but you'd better not get him into any more trouble."

Ryu pounded his chest. "You got a deal and if I do get him into trouble, may God strike me deader than a door nail!"

The big man bad Jun a good night and sauntered out for a short ride home.     

1:34am
July 28th


He never saw it coming, never saw it till his chest was laid open by a high powered rifle round and he lay on the street in agony and pain.

It came from the darkness this black dressed killer who's face was hidden by a vail of silk. "Who are you?" The man asked in his final throws as bullets tore his knees to shreads and his head to a pulp.

"Lex Talionis.....Vengence is mine!" said the figure once again vanished into the shaddows which became it's allies.

The calling card left as usual, in the clutching twitching hand of another nameless body.


2:46am

"Where was she?" Joe asked as he rose from his sleep finding Dona gone. The soft sound of the television in the living room was an indication and sure enough, she was there lying on the futon with a sheet to cover her nakedness.

Joe smiled at her as he sat next to her and watched the news report about Ave Maria's latest attack.

"It's horrible isn't it?" She told him as she moved to feel him once more, lean on him for support. "To think such a scum would dare take the Lady Mary in vain like this?"

"Yes." He replyed as she cringed closer to him. The stalker was getting worse. Maybe Joe's earlier talk to Ken was in error. Maybe Gatchaman should go after this killer, before it got worse.

Joe turned the television off, more reminded of other sad memories than repulsed by the vision of another dead victim. He moved slowly to once again join with Dona in a more happier pursuit of the night......


*******************



0900 July 28th, Tuesday
Snack J


"No Ken, I haven't heard from Joe all this morning." Jun spoke into the phone as she began fixing breakfast for the morning crowd of buisness customers. "Wait...Ryu just walked in, I'll let you talk to him."

Ryu took the phone with a smile allready wide on his face with the knowledge of why Ken was calling. Joe had missed the morning status brief at Coral Cressent, an obvious sign that he was indeed enwrapped in other matters.

"Guess what Ken, it's day three and he hasn't killed her yet, you'd better call the Pope and tell him we got a miracle here! I think Joe's in a good relationship at last!"

Ken sounded angry from the other end.  "Well that's just good for him...now, you tell him to get in here as soon as he can Ryu, this latest intell report can't wait till he gets "comfortable", got that?"

The phone clicked leaving Ryu to sit and tap his wrist com with a pre-coded sequence. " Joe? Hey good buddy. Morning!"

"Can't he sit still for once and relax? I heard him belch a half an hour ago and I'm on my way to ISO to catch the shuttle now!" Joe said as he pulled into the Headquarters parking lot and quickly combed his much frazzled head of hair.

"I swear to God Ken, if you don't have a stroke before your 30 you'll be friken lucky." Joe continued his growling even as he sat in the seat of the shuttle for the ride over.

"Kuso....I bet he hasn't even had his cup of coffee either, he's gonna be one grouchy mother this morning I can see it coming."

Ken met Joe outside the helo pad as the shuttle came to a rest before him and Joe jumped out with a real smirk on his face.

For Ken's part, he could only shake his head as Joe walked by him without a word.

"So....how was it last night? I hear this Sicillian woman's a real killer." Ken said as he smiled at Joe.

"None of your buisness.....besides..I at least have something other than my car to talk to Mr. hot shot pilot of the year."

"Oh.....the sharp tounge of the Condor strikes! Well at least she's still alive Joe... three days is a personal record isn't it?"

"Kuso.." Joe said as he tried not to laugh. " Ken, I'll say it a thousand times. At least I do it in three days where it takes you three years to get to first base!"

Ken let Joe go ahead of him with a wave of his hand.No need to try and fight a man who used truth as a weapon as well as he'd use a gun.

Snack J


Ryu, meanwhile, was trying to get Jinpei out of his current state of anger brought about by the revoking of his driver's licence and the bombs dropped on him by everyone else. He was trying not to listen to Ryu as he lay on a crawler under his car.

Ryu had no time for a sour puss and he made that evident when he pulled the boy from under the car and playfully sat on him, tickling him to a blind, wiggling mass of crying laughter!

"Stop it!" Jinpei screamed as Ryu helped him stand.

"Now....are you going with me or not? I'm not going to Tokyo DisneyLand by myself and I'm not letting you stay here so you can bug your sister to death and chase sympathy puppies all day."

Jinpei just stood there frowning again at his streak of misfortunes. Ryu threw his hands up and started walking away, which brought the obvious response he wanted when Jinpei ran to catch up to him.

Ryu threw his big arm around the pouting boys shoulders. "Stop it Jinpei. It's not the end of world for Kamei's sake, your not going to die from being punished. After all, you did start it didn't you?"

"I didn't expect to be dogged out like this!" Jinpei said back as they entered the bullet train station.

Ryu walked over to a Coke machine and handed Jinpei a drink. " Look...Live and learn it Jinpei, that's it! Now for the rest of the day we're gonna have fun allright? Forget being punished and enjoy it!"

7pm
Snack J


The day at Coral Cressent had been long and tedious to say the least. As Ken expected, the ISO was now involved from the science and forensic aspect in the Ave Maria serial stalker case. Who ever this killer was, Joe credited his genious.

The killer remained illusive, the weapon was old and unidentified other than the high power impact and destructive nature of the rounds, 7.77mm lead azilade hypersabots. The killer must have used them to break through body armor as was shown by one of the victims wearing a kevilshield under his dress coat, no help there...

Dona was working late at the Councel's residence again, another one of those high class photo op things. Oh well..for the time being, Joe contented himself with a tall one to ponder the later activities when he would see her later around 12am.

10pm
Triple Star Theater, downtown Utoland
5 miles from the Snack J.


Ryu was right. Jinpei was a hundred times happier than he was in the morning, once again the frolicing youngster dancing and laughing the tunes from the Disney cartoon the two had just finished watching.

"Thanks Ryu!" Jinpei said as he stood before the big pilot with a pleasent grin on his face.

"Say no more Jinpei. What I tell you? Not a problem that can't be handled with a little laughter huh?"

"You can say that again. I still think I should pay you back for all this, it's only fair!"

Ryu gave the boy a hard slap on the back and threw him ahead as they walked back to the Snack through the now empty streets of the buisness Ginza. " Pay me nothing. Just being a friend to me is payment enough Jin......."

Ryu's eyes caught something familiar on the ground at his feet. "Hey Jinpei! Look at this?"

Jinpei looked at the all to familiar shape of the pin in Ryu's hand. "Galactor!" Jinpei said with a startle as he looked the pin over in his hands. "It's one of those comlink badges Ryu. I think it's broken."

Jinpei smiled and pinned the link to his shirt. "Look Ryu!" Jinpei said as he made moves like a broken robot trying to walk. "I am a Galactor Goon.......I seek Gatchaman.. I seek to get my ass kicked by Gatchaman!"

Ryu snickered as he grabbed the pin and took it off Jinpei's chest. "That's mine! I found it first remember?"

Ryu placed it on his own shirt and began to walk down the street ahead of Jinpei. "Now I'm a Galactor.....a big fat dopey Galactor goon Commander! You will do my bidding! Then I'll blow you up while I run away!"


Ryu was just begining to turn towards Jinpei, his arms raised like a bears when his chest exploded in a cloud of froth and blood! The bullet had slammed him in the back, tore through a lung, shattered a rib, cut an artery, and expended itself in the street!

He knew he was hit, his first instinct was the boy, cover the boy! Jinpei caught Ryu just as another round slammed him in the back of the neck, cutting the spine, tearing the windpipe, and sending them both to the ground!

Jinpei scrambled out from under Ryu's crumpled body, grabbed his arms and tried with all he could to pull him into an alley and out of the line of fire when he was suddenly thrown around by something hot, searing, flaming, that tore into the side of his face! He fell back, crashing into a pile of garbage cans, holding his bloody face as he tried to stay alert. He managed to scream into his comlink before passing out....."ONECHAN!!!!"


*******************


11:03pm
July 28, Tuesday
3 Miles from the Snack J


Jun was speeding like crazy around the narrow corners and down the small streets of the buisness district with Joe's Cobra in close pursuit. Joe listened closely to his wrist com as the beeping got louder and more steady untill it became one long aural tone and he could see Jun letting her bike slide away in a shower of sparks as she jumped off it.

She saw them both, she could smell the blood, and to her horror she saw Jinpei's  head lying in an ever widening pool of it! She fought to keep control as she checked him and found to some relief that he was resisting her as she tried to touch him.

Joe was screaming behind her into his comlink, "I need a friken ambulance here now!" There was so much blood pouring out of Ryu and the wounds were horrific that they brought the pain and the fear back all over again. Joe craddled Ryu's head, tried to say something, but looked about aimless at the surrounding buildings.

A glint, a momentary shaddow, a movement!

  "You mother fucker!" Joe said as he let Ryu go and pulled his 357 magnum from a chest holster. "Jun! The son of a bitch is still here!" Joe took off in a mad sprint watching the roof as the killer jumped the tightly packed alley spaces between buildings.

"Your not getting away asshole!" Joe screamed as he rounded a corner and found the sniper had fast roped off the buildings via a pre-planned rope and harness setup. Now he was on the ground and running through the street and alleys with a mad man in pursuit!

"BOOM BOOM!! Joe's magnum barked
and he could see that one round had connected sending his target into a wild spin, but to his shock the killer kept running!

"Son of a bitch! Bastard's wearing tech armor!" Joe quickly changed his cyllindar on the run with a speed loaded full of high velocity, Depleated Uranium rounds.

"No you bastard! Your not getting away from me!" The chase now moved into the open main street of downtown Utoland where Joe drew another deadly bead on his target in the middle of the street!

"Good night son of a bitch!" Joe fired just as a car caught him in the leg and spun him like top! He regained his footing and took off again as the figure headed into another section of the huge Ginza.

Joe could see from several drops of blood that he'd hit his mark as he slowly moved around a corner and looked down the long lenth of darken street. He knew better than to challange a thing that had a clear advantage in a darken, enclosed place like this and the blood trail indicated he didn't do much damage to begin with....." Don't be stupid, time will come soon enough to deal with this fucker. He just made this a personal war."

Joe slowly widthdrew from the Ginza and vanished into the night, leaving the killer to wince in pain from a shattered hand.

3am
July 29 Wensday
ISO Medical Center
Trama unit


There were no sounds from any of them. Joe was off by himself while Jun and Ken sat together in mute shock.

Jinpei would be ok, though the furrow cut into the left side of his face would take time to heal. The doctors had him drugged and out cold in a room because he wouldn't stop trying to jump out of the bed to see Ryu. The act was understandable given what had happened.

Joe was tired, his leg still hurt from being smacked by the bumper of that car. He thought he'd pulled a muscle by the feel of it but that wasn't important. Ryu was the closest to Joe of any of the others and he couldn't stiop the shaking, the all to noticable fear in his face.

A familliar voice, crying from behind, brought Joe's attention. It was Noriko, Ryu's girlfriend and one of Doctor Kraft's nurses. She was screaming in tears as she walked from the trama room with another nurse to support her! Joe thought only the worst as Craft came out and Jun and Ken ran up to hear the all too unbeleavable words.....


*******************


3:30am
July 29 Wensday
ISO Medical Center


Joe looked at Doctor Kraft's face searching for some trace of hope, that it wasn't going to end like this, not for someone like Ryu who never deserved such a death.

He joined Ken and Jun, allowing a depth of feeling he seldom showed anyone, his arms grasp both their shoulders as he pushed between them and held them like steel.

Kraft took a little time to frame his words before he spoke....." The situation is most grave my friends. But Ryu still lives, if all but by a thread. We lost him four times in there but he kept coming back. He refuses to die."

Ken felt Joe's fist clench even tighter. There was indeed hope.

"His condition however, remains most grave. We can't repair any spinal damage or perform deeper surgery untill he improves.....if he does.

Joe gave Kraft an angry look. "What do you mean if?...."

"Ryu has slipped into a coma Mr. Asakura. How long we do not know, he may still die at any time..."

Joe released his grip of Ken and Jun and stood there, transfixed, angry, a visage of all consuming hate. In times like this, you didn't dare try to talk to him or reason with him lest you end up a expension target of all that wrath.

Ken watched Joe turn and leave, stopping at the elevator without looking back. Ken knew where he was going, no bother trying to stop him now.

"Can we see Ryu now?" Ken asked Kraft. "Yes...." The Doctor guided them through the doors and into the ICU.



The head nurse in Pediatrics jumped when she saw Joe walk past the counter, stopping briefly to look at the patient list. She ran from behind the counter and cut him off.

"And just where do you think your going mister? Visiting hours are over!"

"See this!" Joe said as he pulled out a feather sherikan and threw it into the wall where it imbedded itself rather thick. " Now... get out of my way or I'll give you one as a gift.....free of charge!"

Joe proceeded to pull his ISO identification from his wallet and tucked it into the nurse's coat pocket. "Now you be sure to tell security my name and tell them to get Commander Ken Washio after me insted of security."

"Your hear to see the boy that got shot I assume?" She said as she reached for the sheriken and tried to pull it from the wall. " All you had to do was ask, Leutenant Commander Asakura, or is that how you treat every woman you meet?"

"No, not every woman catches me at my most foul moments either." Joe replyed as the nurse held the room door open for him.

"I wonder what you'd do if they caught you at your best moments?" The nurse playfully replyed as she closed the door behind him.

Good Jun, she had gone home to get  Jinpei's blue mink blanket to make him feel better. Joe laughed a little dispite the large clump of gause and tape that covered the boy's left cheak and jaw. He was out cold untill Joe touched him on the head and his eyes opened.

"anikie......." Jinpei said softly as Joe fought to control his emotions. Had the round gone any deeper....God be praised for his good mercy.....

"Hey manio...your gonna be just fine." Joe said as Jinpei pulled his blanket closer to his chin.

"ryu.....I wana see ryu...." Jinpei asked as Joe shook his head.

"Soon manio, soon. You need to sleep. But tell me what happened, what did you see?"

Jinpei was falling back into the drug induced sleep again untill Joe gave him a gentle shake and a reasuring pat to bring him around.

"Comon manio......I need to know....tell me? Joe asked as he shook Jinpei a little more.

Jinpei replyed...." After a movie....found a pin... ....Garractor pin......Ryu had it on when he....... The boy slipped off to sleep as Joe gave him a tender kiss on the forehead.

"Thanks little maino....sleep well." Joe  turned to leave. He thought of Belladonna for a moment, thinking he needed a little time for tenderness to restore his angered soul before he embarked on the hunt.

*******************

Ryu was the only thing running through Joe's mind at the moment as he pulled up to Belladonna's house. All the times they'd been together, fought together, drank to teach their sorrows to swim or just talked about their problems and it all came to this....Joe felt a death that possibly even Donna couldn't fix. He tried to stand at the door as if nothing happened but he found himself shaking as she let him in.

Joe turned about to see Donna's left hand wrapped in a heavy bandage. " Your hand?" He asked fatigued.

"Silly me Joe. Here I was carrying these reports in my hands when I was walking down the stairs, well my shoe caught the rug and down I went. Broke the stupid wrist." She replied as she showed him the arm with a smirk.

"My God, you look like hell!" She said as she took his coat and guided him too a chair.

"I feel like it. Been up all night. Ave Maria struck again and this time he was too close to home."

Donna started the coffee maker as Joe relaxed in the chair. "Too close to home? You mean you were near by when he hit?"

Joe shook his head. "I don't want to talk about it Donna. I'd rather try to forget it for the time being in fact."

She reguarded him with a cursed look as she poured his coffee and gave him a hug around the neck. "Well...I haven't had much sleep tonight either with this stupid arm. Why don't you take a warm bath and stay with me for a while?"

Joe turned his head and gave her an affectionate kiss, a deep much needed show of affection to ease the pain he was feeling. He coudln't help it as he held her and allowed the tears to flow that she couldn't see....indeed it had been a long night.

5:17am
ISO Medical Center


Jinpei looked in the mirror at the bandage on his face as he got dressed. The drugs were still causing him to sway around though he was awake and pumped up on fighting adrenaline.

"They don't want me to see Ryu, keep me all dopped up so they can ship me out of here I bet. Well sorry everybody but I've got rights too!"

Jinpei poked his head out of the door to view the still empty corridor with a single nurse still on guard at the desk. He reached into his pocket for a 100 yen coin and threw it into a fire extinguisher down the hallway. The clank caused the nurse to move as Jinpei silently ran for the elevator and went through the open doors.

The ICU wing was also empty. Obviously a shift change was underway and once again the time honored distraction technique worked like a charm. Jinpei made it into ICU but the two obvious voices of Doctor's Kraft and Nambu made him duck into an empty bed stall for cover.

"Tell me the truth." Nambu asked Kraft as they stood inside Ryu's booth.

"It's not good at all. With every hour that passes, we loose more hope. I won't give up Nambu Hakasei but all we have now is faith and it's being lost to us. I give Ryu less than 10 percent, he may die within the next 48 hours he may live, we need a miracle."

Jinpei's heart sank, more than sank as the two Doctors left the ICU leaving him alone. He was afraid to even go near the stall , but he had too.

Ryu was a ghastly, horrible sight for a little boy to see. Tubes came out of everyplace. wires and needles ran askew along his arms and the un-natural forced breathing of the machine caused Jinpei to loose it all. He threw himself at the bed, pounding the matress over and over, gripping at the sheets so tightly that his nails drew blood.

"Ryu........" He cried over and over. "Wake up......wake up God dam it!" He screamed then covered his mouth to avoid being heard. His face changed from shock, to sadness, to anger all in one quick motion. " I'll get the son of bitch for this Ryu....I'll make em pay for this!" He said as he walked over to a window and kicked it out!

Down the fire escape he climbed and out into the still dark street below where he ran as fast as he could towards home.

7am
Jun's apartment


"Sis is gone....good." Jinpei said as he walked up the side stairwell of the house and into his room. He grabbed an extra set of bola from his dresser draw, his brown leather flight jacket from the closet, and a box of 45 calabre shells from a hiding place above the door frame.

Jun would have killed him if she found out he had kept a stash of shells for the old Colt revolver Joe gave him as a present sometime back. He had restored the weapon with a new wooden grip and kept it so well oiled that the cyllinder spun like mad within the frame.

He loaded six rounds into the chamber and snapped the weapon closed with a sharp flick of the wrist. "Ok Ave Maria, son of a bitch! Let's play ball!" He said with a snarl as he ripped the offending bandages from his face and walked out the door. His last act was to shut off his comlink. No one was going to stop him from finding whoever it was he was going to kill.

*******************


9:00am
July 29 Wensday


Joe felt lost for the moment, bewrapped in the passion of Donna's beauty as she rolled with him on the futon. It allowed him to clear the mind, return the center, ease the pain of grief that all but clouded his thinking for the last few hours. He collapsed as his strenth was spent at last in heavy breathing and the pulsing of his heart....only the sudden sound of his comlink going off brought him back to reality.

He slowly rose up allowing Donna to fall limp from his grasp. He tapped the wristband as he entered the bathroom..."G-2 here."

"It's Ken ,Joe....I know where you are so I won't go hunting you down as usual."

"Wise choice....what's the word on Ryu?" Joe's eyes closed as he listened, he grew angry again but it was more focused now.

"Right now our immediate worry is Jinpei. He's gone Joe. Jun tells me his Colt 45 is missing from his dresser."

Joe's eyes widened! " Kuso! That kid's lost it! He's gonna try and find Ave Maria on his own! Did you try the link?"

"A thousand times Joe.....no answer. He's shut it off. I'm going after him and you'd better be doing the same. No telling what he'll do if he's not thinking right!"


"Son of a bitch!" Joe cursed as he shut his comlink off and hurried into the living room to grab his clothes.

"What's wrong?" Donna asked as she
watched him grab his jacket and boots.

"I have to get to work. There's some big important stuff I have to get out of the way."

Joe stopped briefly to give Donna another kiss. "I'll see you tonight....." He said to her as he went out the door.

9am
The former Hundai plant
South Utoland...


Rippy Kashihara was just finishing his breakfast when he saw Jinpei kick the door open and walk past him without saying a word.

"Hi Jin?" He said with a questioned look on his face as Jinpei turned around to reveal the awfull scar running down the left side of his face. He was not in a good mood, nor in a good condition either.

Shioko Rei apeared out of an ajoining room and stood transfixed at the sight. "Holy Kamei! What happened to you?" She asked as she tried to touch him. Jinpei gave her hand a smack as he bore his teeth.

She came right back at him with the glass of water that was in her hand, hitting him full in the face with it!

He just stood there huffing till it finaly made no sense, grabbed a nearby chair and sank into it, totaly exhausted.

Shioko moved closer, extending a hand that he didn't bat away from anger. "What happened Jin? What's got you so upset?"

"Ryu.......he's dying." Jinpei lost his anger, turning to sob on Shioko's chest. The affect on the other gathering members of the pack was profound.

Streeter Otomo bent down to look Jinpei in the face, noticing the Colt tucked into his belt. " And your going after the person who shot him, that's obvious. Your being stupid and crazy Jinster...it's gonna get you killed!"

Jinpei would have jumped if Streeter wasn't right. " I can't sit and do nothing.... The son of a bitch has to pay.....Ryu was my brother for God's sake, my best friend! He never did any one any harm who didn't deserve it! And this bastard guns him down like a common dog!"

"And your sollution is to do what? The same thing? Yumi and Jizo found out some interesting things about this serial killer.... and if you intend to hunt him down, you'd better know what target your looking to kill before you pull that fricken trigger, or it'll be an inocent person like Ryu at the other end of that barrel!"

Streeter reached into Jinpei's belt and pulled the Colt out, handing it to Rippy behind him.

"Now....your gonna go in there, take a  good long shower, and get some sleep while Jizo does his homework, then you can take this on with a clear head insted of being stupid!"

Streeter might not be a ninja like Jinpei was, but he was one thing Jinpei wasn't... street born and street wise. Though he liked to ride Jinpei alot he loved him dearly. That day when Streeter crossed paths with a Galactor goon who beat him nearly to death untill Jinpei saved him was still fresh in his head, he owed Jinpei his life and the value of his hard experiance. He also knew Ryu and wanted to see justice done for a man the street kids held with great respect.

Jinpei walked from the shower wrapped in a blanket and totaly exhausted. Shioko caught him as he allmost collapsed to the floor and carried him to a bed where he quickly fell asleep.

She stroked his head tenderly, reguarding the sad fact that she could never tell him her true identity, which he'd long forgotten if by force. She hoped it would not be a mistake to let him chase after this mad serial killer after all he'd been through in his life.

*******************


2:17pm
29 July Wensday
Utoland Ginza


Joe emerged from the Palace Amusement center with a look of bewilderment. " Dam it Swallow, where the fuck are you?"

Joe walked carefully down the same street he'd chased Ave Maria the night before in the now delayed hopes of piecing this killer's M.O. together. He reasoned that whoever it was had something against Galactor, the pin Ryu was wearing when he was shot sort of proved that loose thread, but the fact that two employs of Cybernaught Electronics were amoung the dead made it sound like some techno-vengence thing....or was it? A Galactor cell was possible, so too was a copycat "Uni-bomber type" anti- tree killing freek..."What the fuck am I thinking?" Joe said as he walked out of the ginza and down the street.

"Don't be so stupid and wild Asakura, stick to the dam facts. Galactor cell isn't far fetched, nor is.......revenge?" Joe froze, stood there for a moment as if a fist had slammed him hard.

"Omerta? Lex Talionis? Kuso!" Joe quickly tapped his wrist band. "Ken! It's Joe!........"

"What's up Joe?" Ken replied. "Have you seen Jinpei yet?"

"No....but I've got an idea on who Ave Maria is. I want you to check the Net for all murders commited from the time my parents were killed through three years past that. Specificly looking for female victims with Mafia ties!"

Joe began to run as fast as he could back to his car. There was no time to lose.

Hundai Plant
South Utoland


Jinpei felt a little better now, certainly more awake than he had been. He downed a full 12" sub sandwitch as if it were his first meal in a week. The Brats were all there now, including the Snack's cook Kenji Ashikano who told Jin that his sister was very upset about him going alone.

"Then go home anikie!" Kenji pleaded with Jinpei as he played with his Colt's cylinder.

"I can't." Jinpei said as he drew a bead on a nearby can and cut loose a round that shook the whole room.

"Dam it for cryin out fucking loud!" Streeter said as he once again deprived Jinpei of his Colt. " Either you do it our way Jin or we'll call the police and see you get locked up!" Jinpei grasped the chair, fighting to control his anger. He slackened and looked at the faces around him, these poor kids who looked up to him like lost boys to Peter Pan. Right now he wasn't setting a good example to any of them and it was hurting him.

"Allright....what do we have?" He asked as Jizo Daita stood before his lap top.

"Well....like I was telling you a while back, it looks like old Tut's trying to make a re-play on Utoland with Galactor help. Well I've been deep diving for two days and what do I find? A fully operational Galactor spy cell in the buisness district funded by Cybernaught Electronics. And who owns them? one Misahara Yotasawa consumate Yakusa boss and rat mate of.....Tut."

Jinpei frowned for a moment. "So what's this have to do with Ave Maria?"

"Simple....two of our meat slabs from the seven who've been killed so far were working for Cybernaught. In fact, by the description you gave me, you and Ryu passed right by the crime scene of the first killing, a one Kintaro Minami, age 32, shot through the head by a high powered 7.77mm rifle bullet, Czechoslovakian made, possibly from an AK-47 Kalashnikov special......."

"That's enough Jizo!" His sister Yumi said as she smacked her brother on the head.

"You mean to tell me that Ryu....was shot by mistake!" Jinpei said as he was getting hot again. "A fucking mistake!" Kenji grabbed him but Jinpei threw him into a wall before realizing what he'd done.

"Oh God Kenji!" Jinpei said as he pulled the startled younger boy off the floor.

"Anikie, your in no condition to take this on by yourself! Go home dam it before you end up like Ryu!" Keji pleaed once again as Jinpei apeared lost, not knowing what to do..

Streeter caught him at the right time as he bashed him over the head with a hashmaker club and sent him sprawling to the floor....

"Tie him up!" Streeter said as he removed the com braclet from Jinpei's wrist. "Kenji, you go back to the Snack J and let Jun know where Jinpei is, lead her like you usualy do. I don't want her finding us out."

*******************

4:37pm
29 July Wensday
Belladonna Reece's house


Joe didn't want to beleave what he was thinking, the "not her" was going through his mind as he slowly aproached the back of the house and removed the stilleto blade from a holster in his boot. Japanese houses were so easly to break into because nobody ever thinks of doing it, the result of a well organized society.

The window lock snapped easily as Joe checked around the yard and the surrounding houses for any lookers. Out came the 357 as he slipped quietly into the bedroom and stool still awaiting a possible response.

"She's gone. Good." Joe proceeded to
rifle carefully through Donna's things making sure to replace them in purfect order to avoid detection if she came home. So far everything seemed normal. No trap doors, no sliding panels, no hiding places for a weapon, no evidence at all. If she was Ave Maria, she was dam good at keeping herself hidden.

Joe walked into the living room, kicked the futon mat, looked under the tables and chairs, everyplace he could think of. Nothing!

"Shit. Maybe I'm just flat out wrong?" He thought. Then again, maybe there was a clue. He thought back to the bed room. To that bible on her bed?

He walked back and picked it up. Looked normal, till he saw the center picture. The Blessed Virgin with her palms extended and an inscription below it. "P35-8?" Joe thought as he searched through the book. 'What's P35-8? Psalms!"

He found the verse...Psalms 25 verse 8 " Let destruction come upon him at unawares and let his net that he hatth hid, catch himself into that destruction let him fall!"

Joe continued to think....He looked about the room for a map, tore the living room apart till he found a road atlas of Japan where he searched for the address of Cybernaught Electronics...." 25-8 Honza Chome! No!!"

Joe ran out the door, setting off the house alarm and ran to his Cobra. "Jesus Christ! She's planing to walk right into a fucken ambush!"

The Cobra sceamed down the street and onto the highway heading for UtoLand City.

"Joe!" It was Ken on the comlink and he sounded urgent!

"Joe I have that information for you! Dam it are you even hearing me?, Joe!"

Hundai Plant
South Utoland


The brat pack had done their homework well or so they thought. They took Jinpei's bracelt, his boots, rifled through his pockets, and stripped him down to his underwear. They even tied some awsome knots around his ankles and hands and lashed him to the bed....but Jinpei didn't teach them everything he knew.

Know was the time where long hair came in handy. He felt the nape of his neck for the small razor he always taped there and tore it off with some effort. He carefully manipullated the blade with his fingers untill he cut the bonds behind his head.

Slowly he rose to cut the remaining lines off his chest and ankles and carefully slid from the bed onto the floor.

They were all gone of course, all but streeter who sat waiting for Jun to show up. Jinpei was going to hate this part, but he had no other choice but to act quickly. Once again a well thrown rock came in handy as he broke a window and waited for Otomo to emerge through the doorway.

"Wham!" Jinpei jumped behind the teenager and landed a quick box like slap to both sides of his head at just the right pressure points to knock him cold.

Jimpei pulled Streeter into the other bedroom and laid him down. "I'm sorry." He said as he quickly got dressed and retrieved the Colt from a cabinet.

He quickly ran out the oposite end of the building just as Jun pulled up in birdstyle and slowly made her way inside. But she was too late to catch him as he boarded a bus for the buisness district with a look of revenge in his eyes.

*******************


29 July 7:00pm
Cybernaught Electronics Bldg.
25-8 Honza Chome


The two Galactor operatives stood talking in front of the locked gate to the Cybernaught center about the plan for catching this so called serial killer.

"He'll show up. We didn't go spreading the word all over town for nothing, Katse made sure to that." One man said as he lit a cigar and looked at the surrounding buildings.

Sogo Annex
25-7 Honza Chome


Picking the lock was easy, so too was the guard who suspected nothing as he was put to sleep by the anesta dart that flew from a very well aimed blow gun. There were to be nothing but dead ememies when this night's work was over, one of course being the man who raped and killed the one dear to Maria's heart. She patted the stock of her AK-47 long barrelled machine gun with pride. The old weapon had brought ease to her pain and justice to her soul. Now she would exact a higher count in revenge to apease the Lex Talionis.

Daita store roof
25-4 Honza Chome


Jinpei had arrived 30 minutes ago and was scanning the adjacent rooftops for any sign of life. He knew Galactor was out here also since he all but ripped the guts out of the body of the agent that was laying next to his feet. Galactor wanted Ave Maria as well? Too bad. He was going to have his way with that bastard first before anyone else tried to claim their hair cutting tickets on this barber.

Suddenly, he turned about and ran to the fire escape at the other end of the roof!

Sogo Annex


They were coming down the road, she could see the line of lights that indicated the number of cars filled with sloth that needed killing. She adjusted her sights on the two guards allready standing below at the gate and matched their distances in the scope.

"Soon....very soon." She said as she waited patiently for the cars to pull up."

Honza Chome North
5 miles from the Sogo Annex


Joe couldn't get closer, fearing Galactor would pounce if they saw him now trying to speed into the scene. He got out of the Cobra and changed into bird style on the run, " Please! Don't let m be too late!" He said under his breath as he ran all out through the alleys to hid his presence.

Sogo annex


The cars were stopping now, good. They should be turning into the gates but they were stopped and conversing with the two at the gate. She could see him sitting in the back seat of the black sedan, vullnerable and helpless before her, just as her mother was before him.


"Steady...." she softly spoke as the trigger finger moved to embrace the trigger....moved ....moved......

"Whirrrrrr.................Smack!"


Ave Maria felt the weapon depart her hand and land with a clatter on the roof floor. There was someone behind her! She turned to pick up the AK-47 and saw before her a very small boy....with a very big gun clentched in his hands.!

"So your Ave Maria?.......I hope you've said your blessings because this...is where you fucking die!"


*******************

7:15pm
Sogo annex roof


"Go ahead.....grab it. I dare you to." Jinpei said with a snarl as Ave Maria stood frozen before him. He couldn't be a Galactor, not this young...then again.

"You don't know what your doing boy. You fire that gun and those people down below us will be charging through this building looking for you."

Jinpei tightened his grip on the Colt. "So, all they'll find is your body. You've killed a man that was everything to me...and he wasn't even a Galactor!"

"Jinpei!", Joe's voice suddenly came up from behind and Jinpei's arms suddenly went flying back as Joe pulled the Colt from the boy's hands!

"Anikie!" Jinpei screamed as Joe drew his own 357 as Maria tried to grab for the AK-47 and had just started to pull it off the foor.

"Don't do it Donna!" Joe pleaded with her as he cocked the hammer of his gun back and drew a bead on her head.

"Joe?" The woman asked as Jinpei stood trying to grab his Colt back.

"Stop it boy!" Joe said with a real angry look on his face as Jinpei relaxed and tried not to cry as he could only think of Ryu.

"She killed Ryu, Joe........." Jinpei seemed so out of it that Joe was almost tempted to cold cock him.

"That's not decided yet Jinpei. He might pull through, Ryu's not one to give up. Nor am I Donna...or shall I call you Maria Castalano?"

Maria was shocked! She still held the AK in her hand and she was determined to use it no matter who was in her way, she had the right!"

Joe came a little closer. "Maria Castalano, Daughter of Virginia Soltie, boss of the Mecina mafia. When she didn't join Galactor, your mother was raped and shot right before your eyes, I know the story far too well."

Maria was a vision of pure hate, even to the man she had come to love. "I have the right of Lex Talionis Joe Asakura! That filth down there was the man who raped my mother, I have a right!"

Joe screamed back, "Your rights were made void when you gunned down an inocent man! Your revenge is over Maria! Put down the AK or I'll blow your head off myself!"

"You would never do that!" She screamed back as Joe stood like a statue with his eyes cold and penetrating below his helmet sheild.

"Try me......Don't be a fool Maria, you know me too well to throw what's left of your life away.... come back with me."

She had to chose......and suddenly the choice presented a new and more frightening option! She swung the weapon around as fast as could. "My beloved Joe!" Her thoughts raced as she could see the magnum bark before her.

"NO!!.........." Joe cut loose a round that sent Maria flying like a ragdoll into the upraised buttress of the roof's facade.

And all at once things exploded! Joe was propelled forwards by a fusilade from behind! Jinpei dove for the Colt that had fallen free from Joe's hand and cut loose two rounds into the head of the man behind him.

The Gallactor's trap was sprung! and all hell was coming with it!

"Anikie!" Jinpei screamed out as he grabbed Joe by the cape and dragged him to a spot next to and air conditioner bundle that offered some protection as more Galactor's came running through the roof top doorway only to take head and chest shots from the boy's deadly aim.

Joe was allright, saved by the capewing's protective Kevilar mesh. He could still see Maria lying in a heap, out in the open.

"Cover me!" He screamed as he flipped Jinpei the 357 and dove out into the crossfire from the ajoining buildings.

"Shit! He's crazy!" Jinpei fired the magnum and almost got the hammer back in his face! " Son of a bitch Joe! What's in this gun? Artillery shells!" The boy yelled as the big gun killed another Galactor foolish enough to come through the nearby door.

Joe came runing back with both Maria and the AK in tow and he quickly riflled Maria's suit for more ammunition.

" Here! Shoot this and save the small stuff! Don't "rock and roll" it!"

Jinpei fliped the selector handle on the side to semi-auto and the old Kalashnikov proved it's worth as men were dropping by the score. Another sniper fell to his death from the building across the way and a running Galactor took two shots before tumbling over the roof edge as he tried to scoot and shoot at the same time.

Joe held this former Belladonna Reece in his hands. He knew his aim had been too good. Center of mass shot to the chest, she never got to say anything back to him and in the midst of the gunbattle now raging around them, he became lost in grief for a woman he thought he could finaly love.....

"Joe?.......Joe! These guys are still coming! Dam it Anikie we gotta get out of here!......... ANIKIE!!"

*******************


Sogo Annex roof
29 July 7:30pm


"ANIKIE!" Jinpei screamed as he wrapped Joe off the head with his Colt to bring him back to his senses. The rolling gun battle was getting worse with every second! Jinpei exhausted the last of the AK amo and was about to fire the 357 when something brown came flying through the roof access door!

"Shit!" Joe screamed as he grabbed Jinpei up in his arms and sprinted towards the end of the roof and launched himself off as the 70 pound pack of therimite c-4 explosive touched off with a horrendous thunderclap of roaring flame and concusion! The whole roof became a lighted ball of fire.

A quick reaction draw of the cable gun, a wild risky aim into the rapidly moving facade paid off as Joe felt his right arm jerk as he and Jinpei swung about on the steel line and crashed through a plategless window on the tenth floor of the annex!

Joe struggled to his feet only to be hit by an alert mafioso guard full in the chin guard with a baseball bat.....the world falling away to a flash of white and blur!



Time had passed. How long he didn't know. But Joe awoke in a fog that broke with a sharp pain in the jaw. The mafioso clocked him good that was for certain. He looked about the empty space as details became more clear. An empty warehouse from the looks of it. His hands were lashed behind him, wrapped around a pillar from the feel of it.

Joe felt the small hands at the base of his back and was reasured. The boy was with him. "Hey Jinpei?" Joe said softly in hearing the gentle sobbing of his young team mate. He didn't answer.

"Jinpei? manio, talk to me. Did they hurt you?" Joe asked as Jinpei started crying a bit louder.

" No...but my stitches came out, I'm bleeding." The boy sounded like he was on the vurge of loosing it.

"Manio, I know how you feel. Revenge never fixes anything. It just leaves more pain. You have to deal with it."

"I don't want Ryu to die!" Jinpei began to pull at his ropes, trying to break out. He was upset! "I don't want Ryu to die!"

"Shut up!" Joe commanded. "You sound as if you gave up allready, like Ryu's shoved into the box and buried before he's even dead! Get a grip on yourself!"

Jinpei exploded wih anger! " What do you know! You don't care about anyone! I've seen how cold you are! If you'd cared about Ryu you'd spent more time with him than with that bitch!"

Joe had to control himself despite what Jinpei was screaming. The boy was scared, he'd seem Ryu gunned down right before his eyes like Joe had watched his parents and there was nothing he could do about it.

Joe allowed Jinpei to expend his anger, his grief, his pain untill it all became useless to go on. Insted he head Jinpei return to a soft sobbing before he spoke....

"Manio....Look at what revenge did to you, and you want to know why I am who I am? Jinpei I'm no different from Maria, we both went down the same road together and had it not been for Doctor Nambu I'd be dead earlier than planned. You have to be brave Jinpei because I won't be here much longer... like Maria, I'm a walking corpse because my heart is empty, consumed with so much anger and hate that my early death is certain."

"No!" Jinpei snapped back. "No Anikie!" Joe looked at the floor as Jinpei continued to plead to him.

" Stop it Jinpei. Your a good kid, a great kid who'll be a good man. Your whole life's ahead of you, your sister loves you, and Ryu will be there to see you grow up. I know it because I've seen it in my own dreams."

Jinpei started to regain his control again. to breath easier. But Joe was scaring the piss out of him with his wild talk. " Your not gonna die Joe. I won't let you!" The boy said as he tried to see Joe.

"Manio, what ever happens. I love you alot, I want you to know that." Joe could see shaddows coming towards a glass door at the far end.

"Anikie Joe, we're gonna grow old and fat together right?" Jinpei asked as he began to chear himself up just as the glass doors flew open!

*******************

Empty shipping warehouse
Cybernaught Electronics Annex
North Utoland
9:36pm July 29


He was once the most powerfull Mafia Lord in Asia, till Jinpei got into his "freeze" hyperdrug operations in Japan and sent him to prison.



Now Tut was back...in all his vengence, still dangerously powerfull, and with Galactor in tow.

"Well look who we have here!" Said the don as he walked past Joe to look at the boy. Joe suddenly heard the sickening sound of a boot meeting soft flesh and Jinpei's high pitched sqeal as the Don slammed his groin!

"Mother fucker! Leave the boy alone!" Joe cried as fist after fist met their target.

Tut pulled Jinpei's Colt 45 from his waist flashed it before his battered eyes. "See this? Your gun you little shit!" Tut proceeded to throw a bullet in the cyllinder and gave the weapon a wild spin!

"Let's play a little Russian Ruellete." Said Tut as he jammed the barrel into Jinpei's mouth and pulled the trigger!

"Clink"

"I remember you. Oh yeah, I remember prision too and that wasn't a very nice thing to do to me you little shit!"

"Clink"

"Your gonna suffer.....I like making people suffer before they end up dead!"

"Clink"

Jinpei couldn't see anything. The swelling of his punched face began to take it's toll. "Anikie." He said softy and Tut loaded all six rounds into the Colt and smiled.

"Anikie?" The man said as he moved to Joe's side. "Did you hear that? He called you Anikie. Well, Anikie, your little shit brother will live....after I kill you. Sorry to be picky but..uh....this is buisness, not personal you understand."

"Kiss your Anikie goodbye punk!"

"NO!"............BOOM!

*******************

July 29, 9:47pm


Jinpei couldn't hear anything...the awfull sound of the Colt's thunder had sent him into shock. All he knew was that his legs felt wet and warm from the sudden horror that filled his head.

All about him was a symphoney of death, of men being cut to shreds, screaming their last as their weapons barked, but still he heard nothing!

Tut had vanished in a ball of fire but for certain he didn't die from it like his leutenants did.

within a matter of seconds......it was all over...

Jinpei felt the hands grasp his face and he realed back in fear.

"Jinpei?" He heard the familiar voice call out! There she was, scared but at the same time smiling at him, calling him home.

"Onechan!" Jinpei said as he fell from the bonds and into her loving arms.

There came another touch from behind. Joe smiled with Ken behind him. "They didn't win Manio." Joe said as Jun lifted her brother in her arms and carried him away.

"What took you so long?" Joe asked Ken as he replaced his birdrang to it's proper place and handed Joe his bracelet.

"Traffic. Where's Maria?" Ken asked. Joe didn't reply, insted he just walked off leaving Ken to stand alone in the empty warehouse. "I see.....I'm sorry my brother." He took the calling card he'd found at the Sogo and tore it to shreds before leaving it behind on the floor.

EPILOGE
July 31st


Jinpei stood with Jun near Ryu's bed, pausing to give the big man a kiss on the forehead before leaving for the day.

As they walked out of the ICU, Joe stopped to give Jinpei a slight glance before walking in. Now words need be past between them. It would be a long time before the boy would get over all that had happened to him, Joe knew it well not to talk about it now.

As he stood looking at Ryu's frozen form, Joe slowly lowered himself to his knees and thought....a leap of faith was needed..a miracle required.....he turned his head skyward and closed his eyes....

"God, I never prayed to you before. Not since my parents were taken from me, not since I joined Gatchaman, I felt you wouldn't listen....till now.

I've seen too much death, lost too many freinds, watched too many people die and I can't stand another. Not this man before me.

I ask a favor, take me insted when ever you wish, let my friend live, dear God I beg of you"

Joe's eyes filled with tears as he looked apon Ryu and slowly walked out the door. A miracle was needed......a payment required.

NEXT MORNING


The banging on the door was loud and joyous, it was the boy happily jumping up and down in the window.

As Joe opened the door to his trailer, Jinpei jumped into his arms with the brightest smile on his face.

"Anikie! He's awake! Ryu's alive!! He woke up!!" Jinpei said as he couldn't stop himself from dancing. "Comeon! Let's go!!" Jinpei screamed as he ran for his tracker.

Joe looked up into the morning sky and smiled to the saving grace above. "Your still there, thankyou."

He climbed into the buggy as Jinpei looked at him happily holding his hand. "Beat em again huh Anikie Joe? Can't wait till we're old and fat!"

"Yes...Manio.....can't wait." They drove off together into the morning light.


Two months later.....Joe Asakura was killed in the final raid on Berg Katse's empire........

The body was never found.
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