Nine year old Joe looked proudly at the letter he’d written, even though it didn’t quite say what he wanted it to. What he’d wanted to say was that he’d been delivered into hell, he hated everybody, and if he didn’t get taken home immediately, he was gonna start busting heads. Only he didn’t know how how to say any of those things in Japanese. The only reason he even knew how to say ‘bad’ in Japanese was because he was taught it as the antonymn of ‘good’. Japanese, in his opinion, was a language it was far too difficult to be rude in. He’d have written the letter in Sicilian, but as far as he knew, Nambu Hakase didn’t know that language. Besides, no one would acknowledge him unless he spoke in Japanese, so he suspected if he did write in Sicilian, Hakase would just toss the letter out unread.
Tears stung his eyes, which he blinked away rapidly. He had to get out of there. They were trying to turn him into some kind of ninja when all he needed was a gun and a clear shot.
And it didn’t really matter if Nambu took him home anyway. His parents were dead...
If only they weren’t trying to change everything he was. Don’t speak Sicilian, Joe. Don’t swear, Joe. Don’t show affection or anger or grief or pain, Joe. Who the hell was Joe anyway? he was Giorge! Giorge Asakura. Only Giorge Asakura was dead, according to all the adults around. Dead and buried.
"You know, you don’t have to put in the ‘watashi wa’."
Joe spun, arms covering the letter to see Ken standing behind him, hair falling into his round blue eyes. "Nani??" he growled, and cursed at himself for slipping into Japanese again when he was feeling defiant.
Ken blinked. "The watashi wa. The I. You don’t need to start a sentence with that unless no one knows what you’re talking about, and it’s kinda obvious there."
"What are you doing reading my letter??" he snapped.
The smaller boy shrugged. "Nothing. You know you spelled ‘chiisai’ wrong?"
Ken rolled his eyes. "Look, you’ve got two ‘i’s’ in there."
"It’s spelled that way!"
"Yeah, but the symbol before the i is ‘chi’. It’s got an i in it already."
Joe looked down at his paper, had to hunt for a moment to find it, then saw that he was right. "Baka! I never asked you to look!"
Ken’s jaw dropped. "You swore!"
Joe got in his face. "Baka!" he repeated. "Anata wa baka desu! Oobaka desu! Ooki warui baka desu!"
Ken clamped his hands over his ears. "I’m not a big bad idiot!" he wailed and ran out of the room.
Joe grinned. Japanese was usually so polite Ken hadn’t ever been sworn at before. Served him right. If he’d had a bigger vocabulary, he would have called him a lot worse than just a ‘big bad idiot’.
Dinner was soup and fish, as usual, and, as usual, Joe had to say everything he did out loud to practice his japanese.
"Suupu o kudasai," he growled at Ken, who didn’t say anything as he handed the bowl over. "Arigato gozaimasu," he spat and spooned himself some. All of the other four kids at the table were silent, sensing his mood.
Joe took a spoonful and slurped it rudely. "Suupu o tabemase!" he declared. If they were going to force him to speak Japanese, he was going to be as annoying about it as possible. He took another loud spoonful. "SUUPU O TABEMASU! I EAT SOUP!" The year old Jinpei whimpered in his high chair and was quickly shushed by Jun. Ken glared at Joe while Ryu was wide eyed.
Putting down his spoon, Joe grabbed his bread and started to cram it into his mouth whole. "Pan o tabemasu!" he mumbled and grabbed his glass. "Nomimono o nomimasu!"
"We know!" Ken yelled. "You eat soup, you eat bread, you drink a beverage. Be quiet!"
Joe belched. "Sumimasen. Geppu o agemasu." [Excuse me. I give you a belch]
Ken spun towards their teacher. "Sensei! Make him stop!"
Joe looked innocent. "Wrong tense? Was it supposed to be "Geppu o agemashita?"
Their sensei, a tiny little man Joe was convinced had to be at least 800 years old, regarded him evenly. "Young Joe emberasses only himself. Disregard him."
Joe glared at the old man. How dare he ignore him? Now he really wanted that letter from Hakase to come. He couldn't get out soon enough.
Confused, Joe stared at the letter. When he sent Nambu a letter, he never expected him to respond using Kanji. Kanji was evil, Kanji was sadistic. He sighed and hauled out his dictionary. Kanji was damn near untranslatable.
It took him a week to translate the first line. "Greetings," he read. "It is the season of cherry blossoms, how are you doing? I am working very hard for world peace..."
Joe buried his head in his hands. Sometimes he really hated adults.
By the time Joe finished translating the letter, he realized the whole thing was a joke. No wonder he wrote it like this, he sulked. Figures I'll take so long trying to read it I'll forget what I was asking for in the first place.
Angry, the little boy stood, heading across the room towards the closet where his suitcase lay. He'd packed it weeks before, when he still expected Nambu to come rescue him. Well, if he wasn't willing, he'd rescue himself. Find his way back to Sicily and kill his parents' murderer.
Pulling the suitcase out, he dragged it over to the window. His room was on the first floor so climbing out was easy. Carrying it in both hands, he looked back at the little house he'd been forced to call home for over a year, then pulled his cap low over his eyes and headed off into the darkness.
He didn't leave a note. He didn't know the word for runaway in Japanese.
Rage kept him going until dawn, down the road to the highway where he hitched his way into town. No one came after him - they had no way of knowing he'd even left until he didn't come down for breakfast. He smiled. He'd have loved to see their faces when they realized that their little charity case wasn't there to be treated like an idiot anymore.
It was past dawn when the car he'd hitched a ride in pulled up at a busstop. "This is as far as I go," the driver told him. "Are you sure you'll be okay on your own?"
"Yeah, my dad's waiting for me," Joe lied.
"But, to send a little boy out hitchhiking..."
Joe shrugged. "I had to. Bad stuff happening at home, you know."
She paled. "Do you want me to call social services?"
No way. They'd have him right back at Nambu's house in hours. "No, I'll be okay." He grinned at her, grabbed his suitcase and ran before she could stop him.
The inside of the bus station was dirtier than he'd expected, dingy and dark, with very few people around. Glancing around for the ticket booth, he went to check the bus schedule mounted beside it, putting his heavy suitcase down beside him. There was a bus into the main city where the airport was, leaving at ten. He glanced at the price for a ticket and winced. That would take almost half of the money he'd saved from his allowance. Hoping he'd have enough left for a plane ticket home, he went to buy one, using the change to buy a chocolate bar for breakfast. Feeling like a liberated man, he went to sit on a bench next to a sleeping wino and wait for the first real step back to where he belonged.
Nothing had ever prepared Joe for the city. Three million people, buildings as tall as the sky, and cars everywhere. Used to the tiny town on B.C. Island, then the small estate that Nambu owned, he gaped at the sights around him, overwhelmed by the noise and chaos.
Chin jutted out, the little boy pulled his cap low over his eyes and looked around him defiantly, not sure which way he was even supposed to go. He'd been told at home to always ask a policeman for directions, but he didn't dare now. Not with Nambu probably looking for him. Nor could he risk showing fear. His father never did, not even at the end.
A familiar pain hit him, making his lip quiver and and his eyes fill up until he wiped them viciously away. He was Sicilian and he was his father's son. He didn't have time for tears, he was sworn to vengeance. He'd find that woman and he'd kill her the same as she killed his parents. Blood for blood.
Lugging his suitcase, he made his way down the street in the direction he hoped led to the airport. "Doko wa kookoo desu ka?" he asked one man, tugging on his sleeve. He was promptly given a detailed set of directions that he half understood and sighed, bowing. "Arigato." He was on his own.
Time passed. It got very hot out and his suitcase became very heavy. Sweating, Joe struggled with it down the sidewalk, hoping he was going in the right direction and almost smothered in the sheer press of people around him. Hawkers on the street tried to sell him food, or clothes, or trinkets, and his stomach rumbled at the plethora of smells that reached him. He missed his mother's cooking, but he hadn't eaten since that morning.
Finally deciding that he could spare a bit of money for food, he went to one of the stalls, setting his suitcase down as he leaned over to sniff the delicious offerings it had, though he wasn't entirely sure what most of them were.
"Kore wa misete o kudasai," he said at last hesitantly, pointing at what looked like meat on a steak. The saleslady wrapped it in a napkin for him, beaming.
"300-en desu," she told him.
Three hundred yen. Joe did some quick math and winced. No way around it. Sighing, he turned to get his suitcase, where he'd stashed all his cash.
It was gone.
"Hey!" he yelped in Sicilian. "My stuff!" Looking around wildly, he didn't see anyone with it and his heart fell. He was now well and truly screwed.
Five hours later, he was hungrier than he'd ever been. Night was falling and he was exhausted, as well as lost. For a long time, he stared at a payphone, wondering if he should call Sensei and ask someone to come get him, but his lip twisted at the idea. He didn't want to go back, and even if he did, he was sure they wouldn't want him anymore. Now when he spat on their hospitality the way he did. He was completely and totally alone.
If only he wasn't so hungry. Joe sighed, making his way along the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets. The day crowds had gone and lights come on. Now women stood on the street, made up strangely and laughing towards the cars that passed slowly by. They went up to to lean on the open windows of ones that stopped and occasionally got in. Joe ignored them. They looked old.
"Chotto! Soko no kimi!"
Hey, you there! The words filtered into Joe's brain. Someone was talking to him? Annoyed, he turned to see who had spoken. One of the cars had pulled up to the sidewalk beside him and a man with greasy hair was grinning out the window at him.
"What?" he growled, then remembered to use Japanese and tried again. "Nani?"
The man's grin was... odd. Joe'd never seen anyone smile like that at him before.
"Ojisan no ie ni asobi ni konai kai?" he asked. "Dou ka na?"
Joe blinked. The man spoke far too quickly, but it sounded like he asked him to go home with him. His eyes narrowed. "Doshite?" [Why?]
The grin broadened. "Pati o shimasu."
He understood one word of that. "Party?" He moved closer to the car. "Doko?" [Where?]
The man unlocked the back door. "Ojisan no apaato da yo. Saa, kuruma ni notte ikou."
Joe got about one word out of that. Apartment. He thought about it. A party would have food and maybe a place to catch a nap. Certainly people who might know how to find his suitcase without going to the police. He grinned and nodded. The man pushed the door open and he climbed in.
They drove off.
The man's apartment was in a dingy part of town, far away from where he'd found Joe. Not that it mattered. He hadn't known where he was anyway. He studied his skinny back as they went up the dark stairs to the fourth floor. "Anata wa namae desu ka?" he asked carefully. It seemed odd the man hadn't told him his name or asked what his was yet. Usually, people were always asking him that.
The man turned and grinned. "Namae ha betsu ni ii darou?."
Joe didn't have a clue what he just said. He frowned. "Watashi wa Joe desu."
The man shrugged. "Joe," he repeated and unlocked a door.
His apartment was a mess. Joe took a few steps inside and stopped. The place was filthy, filled with old pizza boxes and newspapers. Stuff piled so high there was barely a path to the living room. A scrawny cat blinked at him from on top of a broken cabinet and the smell of catshit was almost overwhelming. Joe started to back away. "I don't like this..." There was no sign of a party at all. No one except themselves and the cat.
The man put a hand on his back, surprisingly strong as he pushed him forward.
A bed dominated the one room apartment. Joe looked at it and around at the mess, getting a sinking feeling that maybe he'd made a mistake. It was confirmed when the man started to unbutton his shirt. ""Beddo no ue ni nete, fuku wo nugun da!" he ordered.
Joe backed away. He didn't understand. "What do you want?" he whispered.
The man blinked, looking confused. Joe tried again, stumbling over the words. "Nani ga shitai desu ka?"
The man laughed. "Sekkusu o surun da yo," he told him. "Kimatte iru ja nai ka!"
Joe's eyes widened. When he was first given his dictionary, he'd immediately started looking up dirty words to learn. There hadn't been many, but there was one, and sekkusu o suru had been it.
"You want me to have sex with you?" he whispered, horrified. Suddenly he understood what those women on the sidewalk had been doing and what this man had meant by the word party. "Iie!" he shouted. "No!" And bolted for the door.
The man tried to stop him, shouting angry words Joe would have loved to learn under different circumstances. He grabbed his arm and the boy turned, taking his arm and breaking it like he'd been taught, leaving the man to scream on the floor as he fled out the door, down the stairs and into the night.
Dawn seemed to take forever to come. Just as it had the day before, and the day before that.
Huddled in a doorway, with old newspapers covering himself for warmth, Joe slept fitfully, his face dirty and his dreams disturbed. He'd failed his parents, failed everyone. There was no way for him to get to Sicily now. He couldn't even find food without stealing it from carts and running. His parents would be so ashamed.
The boy woke with a sniffle to see a policeman coming down the sidewalk, rousing bums from their rest and sending them on their way. Joe got to his feet quickly and hurried off. He'd already learned that the police would try to catch him if they realized he was out on his own.
Hands in his pockets, his stomach rumbling loudly, he walked along. He'd have to call sensei, he saw that now. There was no way around it. His eyes filled with tears, but he dashed them away. It was hard to admit he needed someone to survive, but he didn't want to spend the rest of his life scrounging on the street.
He went to a phonebooth. He couldn't understand the instructions, but he did know how to get hold of the operator.
"Konbanwa!" the operator said cheerfully. NTT okyakusama saabisu de gozaimasu."
He hoped that meant she was willing to help. He strained his vocabulary to the limit. "Uh, Utoland no Yamagato Sensei wa denwa o shimasu ka?" [Can I phone Sensei Yamagato?] How many Yamagatos were in Utoland?
He heard tapping. "Onamae wa Joe desu ka?" she asked.
Joe tensed, nervous. "Um, hai."
"Domo arigato." The phone started to ring.
They warned the operators to watch for his call? That didn't make any sense. Joe almost hung up before he heard the other line picked up. "Moshi moshi."
Ryu. Joe swallowed.
"Moshi Moshi?" the boy repeated.
He cleared his throat. "Ryu?"
"Joe?" the boy sounded surprised, then exstatic. "Is that you? Wow, is Hakase ever mad at you!" He heard him yelling. "Hakase! Joe kara denwa desu! Joe kara!"
Hakase was mad? He couldn't deal with that. Joe hung up.
Three hours later, he wondered how long it could take someone to starve to death.
He was somewhere in an area of warehouses and alleys, only a few blocks from where he'd made the phone call. With nowhere else to go, he wandered aimlessly in circles, wanting to cry but determined not to.
A policecar passed along the street, then slowed. Joe pulled his cap down over his eyes and kept going. The car waited for him to catch up, then paced him, the officer looking out the window at him. He rolled it down.
Joe ran. Nambu must have sent them to bring him back. Only how did he know where to find him? Did they trace the phone call? Sirens sounded behind him as one of the police officers followed in the car, but he could hear the one who'd asked if he was Joe chasing after him on foot. Desperately, he ran down an alley and stopped when he saw the dead end. Oh, no!
The cop came down the alley after him, not bothering to run now that he saw he was trapped. "Nigenai de iin da yo, Joe. Mou daijyoubu da kara. Ouchi no hito ga tottemo shinpai shite iru yo. Saa, ojisan to issho ni uchi ni kaerou. Minna, okotte nannka inai kara. Wakaru kana?"
Joe didn't understand what he was saying. He just knew he was trapped. Scrubbing his eyes with a filthy sleeve, he did the only thing he could. He charged.
The cop wasn't expecting it. Joe leaped at him, turning at the last second and roundhouse kicking him directly in the stomach. He fell with a grunt and Joe was past him. Leaping onto the hood of the police car that was blocking the front of the alley, he leaped off and sprinted for safety.
"Tomarinasai!" the cop in the car yelled. "Sono otoko no ko, tomarinasai!"
The car surged in pursuit. Sobbing, Joe raced down the street, losing his cap in his mad dash for safety, for anywhere that car couldn't follow him. It was gaining though, as unstoppable as the bullets that killed his parents.
Startled, Joe looked to his left to see a teenager gesturing at him from a narrow alley, one barely wide enough for a person to fit into. Gasping for breath, he ran into it, following the teen through the other end and into a parking lot. They crossed it quickly, the teen leading them on a route that left Joe no more lost than he had already been, but got rid of the cops.
Finally, they stopped, both gasping for breath. The teen grinned at him. "Sugoi na.. Anna tatakai kata ha hajimete mita yo."
Joe shook his head in hopeless frustration. "I don't understand."
The boy blinked, then grinned. "Understand now?"
Joe's head snapped up. "You can talk!"
The grin broadened. "Little. Liked fight." He pounded one fist into the other palm. "Pow!" He started laughing.
Joe grinned weakly, feeling his earlier terror ease, but he didn't trust the teen's motivations, remembering the man who tried to buy his body. "What do you want? Why did you help me?"
The teen shrugged. "I'm Akira. I want hire you."
"You fast. Nasty."
Joe stepped back hesitantly, even as his hopes rose. If he got a job, he could make enough money to get back to B.C. Island. He'd be able to avenge his parents after all.
"Doing what?" he asked.
"Deliveries," Akira told him. "That all."
The job was easy. Akira would give him a package and a destination, and he would take it there. For that, he was paid 2000 yen a trip and he was allowed to sleep on the floor of a warehouse near where Akira found him.
He never bothered to look inside the packages. He had no reason to and he was usually too busy playing spy when he had them. He had to keep clear of the cops and anyone who wanted to take the package from him. The one time some punk tried to rob him, he threw him into the nearest wall. Akira was so impressed he paid him an extra thousand yen.
He saved the money, keeping as much of it on him as he could and hiding the rest in the warehouse. He bought food and cheap clothes, as well as a cap to replace the one he'd lost, but he didn't spend any more than he had to. The money was being saved to get him to B.C. Island to avenge his parents. That was still his goal.
Akira was the only person he talked to. He saw other people around occasionally, the ones that Akira got the packages from, but he ignored them most times. After all, he could only understand Akira. Everyone else's Japanese was too fast and complex.
Three weeks after he first ran away, Akira called him up to the office on the second floor of the warehouse. "Be on your best behaviour, he warned him. "There are very important people here. We can make lot of money if we please them." He led him into the room and bowed before the three men sitting at the table facing them. Joe followed politely, wondering if they'd pay him enough for a plane ticket.
"Akira, soitsu ha dare da?"
Akira straightened up. "Joe desu. Ore no ichiban no hakobiya desu."
Joe didn't have a clue what they were saying. He studied the stern faced man, dressed in an impeccable gray business suit.
"Kare wa gaijin da na."
Akira was sweating, he noticed. Joe tensed, ready to run if he had to.
"Hai," Akira said. "Demo, ashi ga hayakute, atama ga iin desu. Kenka mo tusyoi shi."
"Watashi wa atama ga ii yatstu ha iranai."
What were they saying? Joe struggled with it, but they spoke too fast, their words flowing together. He suspected they were talking about him, but he couldn't understand it all. He tugged on Akira's arm. "What's he saying?" he whispered.
Akira shushed him roughly.
The man raised an eyebrow. "Nihongo wa wakaranain da rou na.."
Joe saw a smile cover Tanaka's face. Akira's answer was about the only thing he understood. No, Mr Tanaka. But he couldn't for the life of him figure out what he had to be happy about.
"Moushibun nai," Tanaka said. "Kono ko wo tsukaou. Zumen wo hakobaseta ra, koitsu wo shobun shiyou. Omae he no houshuu ha hazumu zo. Wakatta ka?"
Joe found himself staring at at a curious ring on the man's finger, with a flat top and an engraving of a red animal-like skull with two downhanging fangs and empty, narrowed eyesockets. Akira bowed, his face strangely pale, pulling him over to bow with him.
"Domo arigato gozaimasu, Tanaka-san," he whispered.
"Gyarakutaa ni eiyo are!" Tanaka replied with a smirk.
The package Akira handed him was about the size of a binder and wrapped. "What was that all about, Akira?" he asked. "Who was that Tanaka-san guy?"
Akira looked at him sharply. "You understood?"
Joe shrugged. "Just the odd word. He talked too fast. Who was he?"
"Very important man." Akira put his cap on for him. "From very big group. All need know. Just take package to address on card, give to man and wait for pay."
"How much?" he asked eagerly. "Enough for a plane ticket?" He'd told Akira his dreams of revenge.
Akira's face didn't change. "Lots money for me, and you get see parents. Trust me."
Get his parents back? "But, I thought my parents were dead." He started to tremble.
"Graves," Akira amended. "You get see parents' graves. Language bad." He turned his back. "Sayonara, Joe-chan."
Joe headed for the door, confused. "Okay. See you later, Akira."
Akira didn't answer.
Eyes open for cops, Joe trotted down the sidewalk to the address written on the card he'd been given. It was far enough he had to take the bus and he did so reluctantly. He didn't like spending money unless he had to.
Once on the bus, he took a seat at the back, holding the package in his lap and staring out the window at the passing city. He barely remembered Hakase and the others now, but sometimes, like now, he felt a strange ache for them. A loneliness, and wished he'd said goodbye. Things were for the better now, though. He wasn't a burden to anyone or a charity case. He was making his own way and he didn't feel like Akira was silently laughing at him all the time. He didn't care if Joe learned Japanese or not, or went to school, or learned how to fight.
He shook his head. He'd never learned why Sensei was teaching them. He'd never wanted to know, and never seen what the value of it was, though he had to admit that what he'd learned had come in handy a lot of times since he ran away. Still, to him, revenge had to come out of the end of a gun, the same as death had come to his parents. He couldn't get what he needed at Hakase's house.
The bus stopped, letting on a bunch of laughing teenagers with their heads shaved into colourful mohawks and rings pierced through ears, noses, lips and eyebrows. Joe's lip curled in disgust. They looked stupid.
One of them saw his expression. "Baka yarou!" he yelled, gesturing to his friends and pointing at him. "Nande omae ga soko ni suwatte irun da? Sono seki ha oretachi no mono da! "
Joe had no idea what most of what he said meant, but he got the general idea. They wanted to know what he was doing in their seats. Their territory.
Before they could reach him and, presumably, beat him to a pulp, Joe leaped to his feet and slammed the package firmly into the stomach of the first. Hoping there was nothing breakable inside it, he leaped over the collapsing teen and cracked it open over the head of the next one. People on the bus were shrieking, the driver bellowing back at them.
The package flew open as the teen wailed and fell, scattering papers everywhere. Joe dropped it and hurled himself at the others who, realizing they were outclassed, jumped off the stopping bus and ran. Joe started gathering up the papers.
"Oriro!" the driver ordered, standing angrily over him. "Ima sugu orirun da!"
The papers held awkwardly in his hand, Joe scurried off the bus and into an alley to try and get everything back into order. He was only halfway to where he needed to go and he had a time limit for delivery. He cursed himself.
The papers were blueprints. That much he recognized. He shuffled them into what he hoped was the right order and hesitated, realizing he recognized the building. It was ISO headquarters, where Nambu Hakase worked. He'd taken him and the other kids there once, and while they didn't see all that much, the shape of the building was unique. The building on these prints had to be the same. They showed the entire interior of the building, which Joe distinctly remembered Hakase saying was mostly top secret. He flipped through some more of the blueprints, noticing red dots in places with notations, and finally realized what they were.
Joe almost felt his heart stop. They were going to blow up the ISO building? They were going to kill Hakase? He was a pain, but he didn't deserve to die. Frowning, Joe finished wrapping the blueprints up. Not if he could help it.
He reached the warehouse where he was to deliver the blueprints an hour later. From one warehouse to another. He snorted at that and climbed up to one of the windows. The blueprints he left stashed in a nearby alley. If anything went wrong, he didn't want them to be found.
He didn't even think about the danger of what he was doing. It was just something that needed doing, or innocents would die. He'd never allow that, not so long as he had breath in his body. Reaching the window, he eased it open and slipped inside. He could hear voices.
"Bouzu ha doko da! " A rough, almost woman's voice growled.
"Maa, mate. Tanaka-san ga kuru jikan made ha mada ma ga aru."
Joe peered over the edge of a catwalk to see a group of men and one teenage girl with blonde hair below. The woman looked impatient and the men all wore strange green suits with masks like the ring of Tanaka. It was almost enough to make him giggle.
If they hadn't all been carrying machine guns.
The men and woman kept arguing and Joe crept closer, wishing for once that he'd listened more to his japanese tutors. He was useless this way.
Something cold pressed against the back of his neck and he froze. "Dare da?"
Slowly, Joe looked over his shoulder to see one of the green suited men standing behind him, holding a machine gun to his head.
"Tate!" the man demanded. "Tatsun da!"
Slowly, Joe stood up. He may have been only nine, but he felt no fear. That had all been burned out of him the day his parents died. Everything was so clear to him now. If he failed, he and everyone at the ISO would die, and then who knew what these people would do next. And Akira had set him up, he realized. All he'd have been allowed was one glimpse of all of this when he came to deliver the blueprints and he'd be a liability.
The man stepped back, turning his head to yell that he'd caught someone and Joe struck. Just like he'd been trained, he grabbed the man's wrist in a nerve pinch and pulled the gun at the same time, disarming him before he could realize what was happening. Turning the gun around, he shot him point blank in the chest.
Something inside him shrieked that he'd just killed a man, but his father's words echoed back to him. "If you ever have to pull a gun on someone, it's your life or his. Shoot to kill."
Those words remembered, he turned, aimed over the side of the catwalk at the startled people below and opened fire.
They scattered, screaming. Men fell, hit, and Joe felt nothing except a deep, abiding satisfaction. They were evil, wanted to kill innocent people, and were going to kill him. For that, he had every right to be their executioner. The gun bucked in his hand, hard for his small hands to aim and sporadic gunfire came back to him, but none of the fools could aim even as well as he could. He saw the woman running and tried to hit her, but one of the goons tagged him in the shoulder as he turned.
Joe fell, screaming in pain. "Get up!" he could remember his sensei saying whenever he fell in practice. "Pain is nothing. Use your pain and defeat your enemies." Gritting his teeth, he rose and saw goons running up the stairs towards them. On his knees, he fired through the railing at them, then aimed at the crates of bombs sitting on the far side of the hangar. The ones they'd planned to use against the ISO.
The crate exploded, taking the other with it, fire spreading across the floor into screaming goons. Clutching his gun, Joe ran for the window and safety.
"Daijoubu kai? Boku? Chi ga dete iru yo. "
Dizzy, his shoulder a mass of pain, Joe opened his eyes to find himself sitting against the wall of an alley beside a dumpster, the warehouse still burning only a few blocks away. A policeman knelt in front of him.
"Byouin ni ikou ne," he told him.
Frightened now, Joe shoved the nozzle of the machine gun that had half fallen behind him under his chin and saw the man turn white.
"No," he told him slowly, though he knew the man couldn't understand him. "I'm not going anywhere with you. I'm going home."
"And where would that be, Joe? You need medical attention."
Startled, Joe looked up to see Nambu Hakase standing at the enterance to the alley. Taking the opportunity, the cop wrenched the gun out of his hand. He barely noticed.
"What are you doing here?" he blurted.
Nambu raised an eyebrow. "There were signs of terrorist activity in the warehouse you destroyed."
He blinked. "How do you know I..."
"There are witnesses who saw a boy matching your description running from the building. Also, one of the men inside lived long enough to tell us what happened."
Joe's face didn't change. Neither did Nambu's. "They were gonna blow up the ISO building," he told him, his voice slurring.
Nambu knelt down to check his shoulder. "I see. How did you know this?"
Joe bumped his head against the dumpster. "In here. Blueprints. Supposed t' deliver them." He yawned, feeling incredibly sleepy. "What gonna do with me?"
Nambu's face softened slightly. "Take you to a hospital, then take you home."
Cool, Joe thought. Sicily.
"Boy was everyone scared when you ran away. We looked everywhere."
Joe glared at Ken. "Go away," he told him. "I don't like you, and I'm leaving."
Ken shook his head. "Not with your shoulder all wrapped up that way. You'll pass out before you get ten feet."
He was right. Joe hated it when he was right. He stuck his tongue out at him.
"Ken, could you leave us alone?" Both boys looked up to see Nambu and Ken left obediantly. Nambu settled down on the side of the bed. "Joe, I'd like to ask you why you killed those people. Most nine year olds would never do such a thing."
Joe's eyes narrowed. Was the man dense? "They were the ones out to kill everybody. So I got rid of them."
The doctor nodded. "I see. Do you know who they were?"
"Not really. But they had all these maps about the ISO building and bombs and guns and stuff. Looked like they were planning an invasion."
Nambu's eyes gleamed. "Did they say anything?"
"Yeah, but it was all in Japanese."
Nambu sighed. "Joe, the men you killed belonged to a terroriest organization named Galactor." Joe started, recognizing the name as one Tanaka had spoken. "They were the ones who killed your parents."
The world stopped. "What?" Joe whispered a hundred years later.
"They want to take over the world," he was told. "Your parents got in their way and were assassinated." Tears streamed down the boy's face that he wiped away. "You and the others are being trained to fight them one day. It never occured to me you'd get started this early, though for what's needed from you, it's a good sign."
Joe's lip trembled. "I'm being trained to fight them?"
"Of course. What did you think you were being trained for?"
"How should I know!" he snapped. "Everything anyone ever said to me about anything was in Japanese!"
Nambu nodded. "That was to encourage you to learn. We won't make that mistake again. You'll still learn the language, but we'll make sure you're kept informed while you do."
Joe sniffed, saying goodbye to the dream of going home, at least for the moment. He had another way to fight back now, one he suspected was more likely to be effective. But, as Nambu leaned back to fill him in on his future, he saw that he had indeed come home after all.