Sequel to "The Darkness That Rots Me"
He stood there on the top of the ship, sagging, his arms gripped by the two green-uniformed men who held him up. Without them, he would have fallen, but they didn't hold him carefully. Their grip on him was strong and must have been painful, but he didn't fight. Didn't resist at all as the madman who shouted beside him lifted his face up to show those vacant eyes. He didn't say anything as his death was proclaimed and the gun pressed against his temple, right above and before his ear...
I woke with a start, gasping, sweating from the same dream I'd been having the last five months. The dream of Ken's execution by Galactor.
With a groan, I buried my face in my hand. My head was pounding. Ever since Ken died, I'd been kicking myself for not being able to stop his murder. For letting Katse have this victory over us. A month he'd had Ken in his prisons, and none of us even knew it, thanks to the clone he'd made of the Eagle, programmed to take Ken's place and betray us all.
It had too. It'd done a masterful job of sneaking into our lives and pretending to be our leader. All while gathering information on us that it handed over to Katse. Our names, our faces, where we lived, who we cared about. Our identities were blown to high heaven and more. We got into hiding in time, but Katse destroyed us anyway. A few careful leaks and now the whole world knows who the Kagaku Ninjatai are and what they look like. None of us had been off Crescent Coral, except for in uniform or disguise, since.
I moved my hand, scrubbing my aching head with it. The worst of it was that the clone was still around... for some damned reason it turned itself in. Which is the only reason any of us are still alive. And, with Ken dead, it was the only one who could take his place. Looking into Ken's eyes every time I saw its face was another of my nightmares, only I was awake for that one.
The room was dark, the lights out. Groaning and knowing I wasn't going to sleep anymore this night, I reached over and flicked on the light.
Red Impulse was sitting in the corner.
"Fuck!" I yelped, jerking backwards. "What the hell are you doing here??"
The older man smirked slightly, his eyes hidden behind those visor-like sunglasses he wears, under the red nun's hat Ken and I always used to laugh about. "Losing your touch, Joe?" he taunted.
Before, he always used to taunt Ken. I guess with him dead, he needed a new target. I glared at him. "Fuck you. What are you doing here?"
He regarded me evenly. "What do you think of your new leader?"
My eyes narrowed even more. My opinion of that was a matter of record. Not public record, but one high enough for RI to get access to. Why ask me? "What do you care?"
He leaned forward. "I don't have time to play games with you. What do you think of him?"
There was something rolling off of him. Anger and pain. So much that I was startled. "It's got a purpose," I blurted, a little surprised to see any emotion other than amusement coming from the man. "It's not Ken."
"What do the others think?"
Growling, I reached over and grabbed my robe. "Why don't you ask them?" Jinpei hated the clone as much as I did, I knew that. Ryu avoided it. Jun was the only one who would talk to it outside of a mission and I knew she hadn't forgiven it for lying to her. She and the clone had gone a lot further than she ever did with Ken and she really hadn't forgiven it for that either.
"I don't want to ask them. I'm asking you."
I stood and turned my worst glare on him. "Why?"
His face, what little of it I could see under the visor, was impassive. "Because I want to know if any of you are controlled enough to go on a little mission with me. I don't need people who are hysterical with grief or full of forgiveness."
There was that anger again. "Whatever you're up to, leave them out of it," I growled. "They've been through enough without your games."
"This isn't a game." He stood, towering over me. "I want a partner. From the look of it, I want you."
That did not thrill me as I tried to get around him, feeling irritatingly short and hating it. "What about your buddies? Oniishii and Masaki?"
"This is personal."
"What?" I headed for the bathroom for a Tylenol. "You planning to go into Galactor and kill a few platoons in revenge for the Eagle?" Actually, that didn't sound like a bad idea, so of course Nambu had already flat-out threatened me with a court-martial if I tried it.
"No. I'm planning to go into Galactor and get your foster brother back."
I spat my Tylenol right into the mirror.
"You mind explaining that??" I demanded. "And none of your goddamned word games, got it??" My sore head was really ready to explode now. Ken was dead. I saw him die. I helped scrape his body off the pavement. I had nightmares about it every night.
Red Impulse was just as impassive as ever. The anger and pain I'd felt from him earlier was gone. Or at least really well hidden. "The Galactors created a clone of the Eagle so perfect that it was indistinguishable from the original. Not even a doctor can tell the difference. What says that the man shot by Katse on television wasn't another clone?"
I had to sit down. "W-what?"
Red Impulse paced to the window and pulled the curtains aside. The view was dark outside, only a few fish swimming past. I hated not seeing sky when I looked outside so I generally left it closed.
"Katse likes trophies and gloating," he continued. "We know this for a fact. Shooting Ken when Mark failed in his mission-" I grimaced at hearing the clone's newly adopted name. "-was a brilliant move strategically for putting the team and the world off balance. Very public and hard to deny. But could Katse's ego take letting his worst enemy off so easily? If I were him, I would have kept Ken alive and a prisoner, as someone to gloat over. Without his tools and no hope of any of us realising what really happened, he would never be able to break free."
I stared at him. Ken was alive? Might be alive? Trapped somewhere? I felt a sudden surge of hope in me, a loosening of a knot of pain in my chest for a brother. Why not? Red Impulse wasn't given to flights of fancy. He wasn't family, what reason could he have to grasp at hopeless straws? It had to be real. I grinned at him.
"When do we leave?"
With only five of us, the Kagaku Ninjatai is usually kept in reserve, sent out when things get bad and someone's needed to kick major ass. Generally, we didn't search out Galactor bases and such unless someone was already sure there was one near. The ones who usually did the legwork and infiltration were people like Red Impulse, and I had to admit that he did his work very well.
He took us in civvies to some town I'd never heard of and into a brothel I never would have entered, in spite of Nambu's lamentations about my general lack of morality. Being a minor, I nearly got thrown out again, but RI muttered something to the proprietor and he started bowing and directing us to the back of the establishment. I didn't ask what was up. I could smell Galactor better than just about anybody and this place reeked of them.
We went into a storeroom at the back of the building that was filled with boxes and shelves. The proprietor, still nodding like an idiot, pushed a shelf of boxes to one side on a hidden sent of hinges and pushed a button. One big crate on the floor slid aside to show stairs leading down. RI waved him off and we went down.
There was a changing room below, lockers and such. "This is a small sub base," RI told me in an undertone. "We're here for information only."
"Why haven't we cleaned this place out?" I whispered back as I watched him pick the lock on one of the lockers.
"Because they're just a minor supply base. They don't know we know about them, so it's a great place to pick up gossip on the big bases." He opened the door and handed me a green goon suit. "Get dressed."
I made a face but did so. It wasn't the first time. Luckily, unless you're Jinpei or Ryu's size, the suits fit everybody, but mine smelled of BO something fierce. Whoever owned it was a worse slob than most of them. I bore it though and waited impatiently for RI to get into his own suit. He crooked a finger for me to follow and we headed down into the base.
There's something invigorating and terrifying about being undercover in a Galactor base, and something else that fills me with a terrible rage as well. It's like the world's biggest game. Going in there without any of the protection of the BirdStyle, knowing that the slightest mistake could get you killed, yet also knowing that if you want, in two seconds you can be in BirdStyle and everyone around you will be living on your mercy only. That the whole time they live on your mercy. It makes me angry too. Their arrogance, their petty cruelty - I swore years ago to kill every Galactor that lived. I itched to be so close to them. They have no right to be so casual near me.
After this long, though, I was pretty good at hiding it. Slouching like every other goon there, I followed RI down into the base.
It really wasn't very big at all. Looked like they supplied office materials of all things. Of course, everyone needs office materials to keep track of things, but there's something so mundane about it. I forced myself to remember we were here to look for information on Ken and resisted the urge to toss a grenade in among the paper products. I'd show them mundane...
RI led us to a mess hall. It was about half full of goons and even a few officers, all looking rather bored. RI bumped into me at the door. "See what you can find out," he whispered and headed for the officers indirectly.
I went to join the chow line. I wasn't terribly hungry for Galactor food but I'd look odd if I didn't. I fell in behind some guy who looked like a scarecrow, he was so skinny. I guess he didn't like Galactor food much either.
The goon was babbling on to the man ahead of him about his latest conquest. Some little bitch who worked in a convenience store. I gathered she didn't know he was Galactor. He was going on about the size of her breasts in a way that proved to me he'd never seen them when I bumped him.
"Hey!" he protested, turning around to glare at me.
I smiled simperingly. "Sorry," I apologised and reached past him for some jello. "Anybody want this? No? Good." I put it on my plate, wiped my hand on my chest and held it out. "I'm Jenson. I just got transferred here."
Skinny shook my hand without much interest. "Bush," he mumbled and turned away, obviously planning to return to his conversation with the man before him.
I pretended not to notice. "Yup. Just got transferred," I continued cheerfully. "Glad to finally be at a new base and have it looking to last a while. Yup, yup. Been being bounced around like a pogo stick since Base 5696 blew up."
Bush had been trying to ignore me, but those numbers got his attention, and those of his buddy. "Base 5696?" he repeated, stunned. "You were there?"
Yep. Base 5696. The one where Ken got caught and switched with the clone, before he was spirited away and we showed up to blow the place to hell.
I smiled. "Yup, yup. Boy was that a disaster. I thought I was going to drown for sure."
All three of us headed over to one of the tables, both of them staring at me curiously. Ken's supposed murder was a big thing, even though the ISO claimed that Mark was the Eagle and they were lying. The Galactors yelled just as loud that they weren't and Mark was a fake. Every Galactor alive must know the story by now. About Ken's capture if not the clone.
"What happened there?" Bush asked in a whisper. "We haven't heard all that much."
I wondered how much they had. Enough to know where the Eagle was taken? "We caught some civilian and used him as bait for Gatchaman," I bluffed. I didn't bother to mention that the civilian was Ryu. The big guy hadn't gotten over his guilt for that yet and none of us brought it up. Even the clone avoided him, when it wasn't avoiding the rest of us too. "We caught him like 'that'." I snapped my fingers under their noses. "It was so easy."
They grinned back at me. "Did you see the double?" they asked. I nodded eagerly. "How did Katse-sama pull that off?" Bush leaned close. "I heard he was a dead ringer for the Eagle."
"He was," I whispered back. "Got us all their secrets too." They started chortling and guffawing. Idiots. "And Katse snuck the real Eagle away, right under the KNT's noses." I shook my head in pretend regret. "I wish I knew where they took him though."
Bush shrugged. "Probably the main base."
I stopped breathing for a second. We'd been trying to find out the location of that place for years. "Where's that?" I asked.
Bush immediately laughed in my face. "Like they'd tell me!"
Barely, I managed not to start swearing and was about to try a new tact when a hand fell on my shoulder. RI looked down at me. "Back to work," he growled. The two goons returned to their meals industriously, sensing his mood. He looked pissed.
Rather than argue, I got up and followed him. I wasn't really getting anything out of the goons and RI wouldn't pull me out unless he'd found something. Or unless the shit was about the hit the fan.
We headed to an entrance different than the one we'd used to get in, changed and left. We were seven blocks away before my impatience got the better of me and I spoke. "What did you get?"
"A direction to another base."
I groaned. "That's it?"
"It's better than nothing."
When my bracelet started beeping, I ignored it. My mission wasn't exactly sanctioned and I wasn't really looking forward to hearing Nambu yell. Impressions to the contrary, it was usually Ken who'd taken off on his own to do stupid things. I grumbled, but I obeyed orders better than he did. If I'd answered Nambu's call and he ordered me to come back, I probably would have. So I solved the problem by turning the communicator portion of the bracelet off. RI watched, but didn't say anything.
The next base was a small comm station under a ski lodge. The information we got there led us to a third base, and from there to a fourth. I hadn't realised that Galactor had so many little bases over the world. The ones I see usually have some fat-ass mech sitting in them. We went from one to the next methodically, but as quick as we could, staying in hotels with me wearing a wig and glasses to hide my stupidly famous face and pretending to be RI's younger brother. I'd jokingly suggested at the start that I pose as his son and he just about ripped my head off. Instead I got stuck calling him Aniki like Jinpei does.
I'm still not entirely sure where we screwed up. Probably in RI bringing along a gunner who wasn't trained in counterintelligence the way he was. I was used to a more direct approach. Either that or we entered some out-dated code or something RI had. Either way, someone got wise to our snooping, if not who we were specifically.
With RI dressed in a really dumb looking white leisure suit - complete with fedora and sunglasses - and me in my civvies with a jacket over them, we came out of the secret entrance to yet another mini-base. This one in a bakery of all things we'd parked our bikes a half block away. I'd left my car back in the God Phoenix. Every Galactor in the world had a picture of that thing in its civvie mode by now, I figured. I went to get on my bike, parked well clear of RI's and every instinct I had screamed danger. Immediately, I dove to one side and escaped getting blown to pieces as my motorcycle blew up. Rolling over to escape the flames, I pulled my gun, landed on my back, sighted along the trajectory the rocket launcher had used and put a bullet right through the forehead of the Blackbird who'd been waiting for us on the roof. Another two of them flanked him and I drilled one before the other could get airborne. He flung something and I rolled. Shuriken impaled the ground where I'd been lying and I shot him too. Blackbirds aren't nearly as agile in the air as we were.
It was a good thing we hadn't parked our bikes together. Just then, RI came roaring through the smoke of my bike, yelling at me to get on. He'd lost his hat and was bent low over the handlebars, bullets kicking the pavement after him. I leaped on without his even slowing, losing my wig in the process, and he swerved to his right, through an alley and away from the panicked crowds running away from the ambush.
The alley was filled with garbage but RI didn't slow down any, preferring to slam through it. Looking back, I could see why as goons on their own bikes tried to follow us. It was a full out ambush, it seemed. Reaching into my coat pocket, I pulled out a half dozen mini bombs and tossed them back. The alley exploded behind us as RI raced out the other end into a busy street, causing cars swerving to miss us to crash into each other as we struggled into the right lane and he gunned the engine. I hung onto the back of the bike and looked for more goons. There was no way I was going to hold onto RI if I could help it.
The goons didn't take long catching up. None came through the alley, but three cars full of them and a half dozen more bikes came around the corner up ahead, more civilians crashing into each other trying not to hit them.
When I'm in BirdStyle, I rely on my cable gun, a bunch of bombs and a whole lot of feather shuriken, as well as my own muscle. In civvies, I tend to try and go a little more conventionally armed and I'd gone beyond my normal for this mission. Reaching into my coat, I pulled twin berettas out of their shoulder holsters, braced my arms on RI's shoulders and fired right past his face at them. I took out the tire of one car and the driver of a bike. The car swerved, wrapping around a telephone pole, and the bike went down right in front of a second goon car, causing a nice pile up.
"Are you trying to deafen me?" RI asked conversationally as he roared along the only path through the confusion, a break between two crashed cars only a few feet wide. We went through at full speed and once past, I pointed to both sides and blew away the two riders moving to catch us between them. RI went around a corner so fast and hard that we nearly barked our knees on the pavement and we were away from them all. I could hear sirens but none of the goons were following us.
"Think we got them all?" I asked, doing some quick mental math to see if the little collision I caused accounted for them all.
"Eyes up," RI grunted.
I looked up. A helicopter was heading for us, gatling guns mounted on either side. "Fuck," I muttered.
The gatling guns opened up, chewing up the road. Swearing as loudly as I was, RI swerved to his right and into a parking lot for a mall. More civilians were running for cover, but fortunately the copter ignored them in favour of chasing us and no one was hit.
"Shoot the glass!" RI yelled, aiming the front of the bike for the nice big glass doors that fronted the mall.
I emptied both clips into them. They were tough, but not bullet proof and they shattered as we crashed through, airborne thanks to the wheelchair ramp for one second before we came down and skidded on the slick floor. We went down and both of us bailed, letting the bike crash into a cement planter in the centre of the wide hall. We went into controlled rolls past it and came up again bruised but unhurt. Wisely, most of the civilians in the halls ran for the cover of the stores, but one little kid stared at me, his eyes huge.
"You're the Condor!" he gasped. I'm not surprised. Thanks to Katse, you can get posters of me in goddamned cereal boxes.
"Get down," I growled at him as I stood, released the empty clips in my guns and slammed two full ones in.
Whoever was flying that copter was good. He brought it into a hover right in front of the mall doors, as close as his blades would let him. I got three shots off, cracking the window of the copter but not breaking it, and he opened fire.
I dove for the kid. Grabbing him in my arms, I rolled behind the cement planter, holding him pinned against me as a thousand pounds of lead seemed to rain horizontally by us on three sides. The kid started screaming, but I just held him tighter and hoped no one else got shot.
A muffled explosion later and the firing stopped. RI had done something. I didn't know what, but I didn't have time to question it. The kid held in one arm with his legs around my waist, I bolted for the closest store, firing at the copter with the other hand as I did. It was trailing smoke from an explosion on its underside and trying to turn back to face me as it did. There was no sign of RI. I didn't have a good angle to hit the driver and just managed to spiderweb the glass more before leaping into a store, hitting a table of clothes and knocking it and myself over, landing with the kid on top of me.
"Hide," I ordered him and he nodded, sobbing as he scrambled away to hide with the rest of the civs cowering under clothing racks and tables.
I checked my ammo and crept back to the front of the store. There was no point in calling the team. This fire fight would be over either way before they got here. The helicopter was still hovering before the entrance, turning from right to left slightly to bring its guns to bear on whatever moved.
I saw a flash of white on the other side of the hall. So did the copter. It started firing that way and I ran out into the hall, launching myself for the safety of the planter again while firing both guns at it. The pilot saw me and tried to turn enough to catch me in his fire, but the glass gave up under my bullets and I saw one take him in the shoulder. Reeling, he yanked back on the stick and I skidded to a halt, grinning as the copter pulled up and away.
That cocky move almost got me killed as six goons on motorbikes raced into the mall through where the copter had been. Then RI slammed into me and we both crashed to the floor as they raced by, their bullets going over our heads, and tried to turn to come back for another pass.
RI glared at me. "Idiot," he growled and pushed himself to his knees, firing at the goons. He'd lost his sunglasses and his hair was tousled from the fight. He looked familiar, but I couldn't place where from as I flipped onto my belly and started shooting too. Three goons went down and we rolled out of the way of the bikes. I pulled a shuriken and hurled it into the tire of one and the bike went down, taking the second with it. The third goon, obviously unhappy at losing all five of his buddies in under five seconds, kept going the way he was headed.
"Come on," RI ordered and ran further into the shopping centre, me on his heels. Amazingly, there were still civilians in the open and they all ran shrieking as we pelted past. I could hear more engines. Sounded like the goon who got away found backup.
"Someone going to get killed," I growled as we ran.
RI nodded. "We have to take them out, then get back to that base fast."
I glanced at him sideways as we ran. "Are you nuts?? We didn't learn anything there."
He skidded around a corner, me on his heels. "Not by talking, no. But that base had Blackbirds. Only major bases have them. I want to skip the subtle stuff and break into the main computers. See what we can learn."
I frowned. "I thought you said it was just a minor base."
"I was wrong."
Ahead of us, the hall split to pass around a drop down to the lower shopping area. I looked around at the columns and planters. Lots of cover, but lots of civilians to get killed by ricochet shots. I sighed. Tons of witnesses too, but it wasn't as though I had a secret identity to hide anymore.
I brought my left arm up in front of my face. "Bird go." Lightning flickered over me as my leathers appeared. Spreading my wings, I leaped up to the ceiling and clung there, waiting for the Galactors.
RI led them right into my trap. The second they appeared below me, three squads of them, I dropped a half a pound of explosives and flew into the confusion that ensued among the survivors, shuriken flying. I'd fought platoons worth of Galactors at a time before. In BirdStyle I was unstoppable and less than three minutes after I went to BirdStyle, they were all dead.
Civilians stared at me from cover in shock as RI came through the smoke. Somewhere he'd gotten hold of a new hat and shades with the price tags ripped off, and was on a badly scratched goon bike. "Come on. They won't expect us to go right back to the base."
I just groaned. That thing was smaller than the last one and RI after a fire fight smelled even worse than Ken did.
RI was right. The Galactors hadn't expected us to head right back to the base. In fact, the base commander had sent his entire fighting force after us when he figured out we were some kind of ISO spies. I showed to him the stupidity of that decision when I stuck a shuriken through his neck. RI raided the computers, downloaded a ton of shit and then blew the whole place up so no one would know what we'd taken.
My communicator somehow turned itself back on and started beeping again, the Joe-you're-on-live-television-out-of-birdstyle kind of beeping that would get me locked in my room for the next six months. Like I'd had time to notice that one of the stores we were fighting outside was a Sony Store with a camcorder pointing down the hall. Apparently RI had though. Much of the yelling that came later pointed out that his face hadn't once appeared on camera. Pointing out that everyone knew what I looked like anyway didn't help either. I went to BirdStyle on camera. It was months before I stopped getting reprimanded for that one.
"Where are we going?" I yelled at RI over the wind, trying to ignore how the family in the car travelling in the lane beside us were staring at me.
"An estate five hundred kilometres north of Utoland City," he yelled back at me.
"Another base?" I groaned.
"No. A private residence. The base we just broke in was the Galactor payroll office for this entire continent."
It took about three seconds for the ramifications of that to sink in, then I started grinning in anticipation.
Dr Hector Montoya, the gentleman - and I use the word loosely - that we were looking for, was a fat little man who had been drummed out of medicine for unethical practices and now lived on a huge estate in a mansion he never would have been able to afford if he hadn't started to work for Galactor. His speciality, as RI explained it to me, was cloning.
There were six guards roaming the estate, all goons in civvies so as not to attract attention. All were relaxed, as they wouldn't have been if they had any idea we were coming. RI and I took them out, both of us in uniform, then crept into the mansion to look for Montoya.
We found him in a nice, state-of-the-art medical centre in the sub-basement of the mansion, probably put there by Galactor for him to perform his work in. He just about shit himself when he saw us, and while I pinned him against the wall, RI started rifling his files.
"Where is he?" I growled at him. I was tired, angry and I wanted my brother back.
"Who??" he shrilled, panicking.
I shook him. "Gatchaman! You're the one who cloned him, aren't you?"
He gaped at me in shock, then started babbling. "I only did it because Katse ordered me!" he gasped. "I didn't want to!"
"Yeah, right," I growled. "Where is he?"
"I don't know what you're talking about!" he wailed. "He's not here anymore!"
Ken was here?? In this fat little man's house? He never would have been able to hold him. "You're lying!"
He shook his head desperately, undoubtedly sensing how close I was to killing him. "I did everything I could for him!" he wailed. "I swear! But the damage was too severe!"
I started to feel cold. "What damage?"
Over by the computer, RI had stiffened. "Joe, come over here," he told me with a funny catch in his voice. If I didn't know better, I would have thought he was trying not to cry.
Sure to keep a grip on the doctor, I went over to him. He was staring at a file on the screen and I read it over his shoulder. There were a lot of technical terms I'd never seen before. I didn't have a medical background.
I guess RI did. "That was Ken on the mech that day," he told me, that same catch in his voice. I felt the cold in me settle in my chest and start to squeeze. "According to this, the... memory transferral process into the clone... destroyed his upper brain functions. The only part of his brain that hadn't been destroyed was the stem." He stood abruptly and walked to the other side of the room.
I felt the cold start to kick me, pain like my parents' death settle in and crush the breath out of me. I hurt and I realised how much I'd believed RI. How much I'd wanted to believe him. Now it felt like Ken had just died on me all over again.
Distantly, I became aware of the panicking doctor and tightened my grip. "What happened?" I whispered.
The doctor was all too eager to talk. "I did everything I could for him!" he grovelled. "The whole time he was here. I really tried, but there wasn't anything there to work with and I couldn't get him to wake up!"
Katse must have been really pissed at that. I pulled him nose to nose. "What happened?" I repeated again slowly.
He swallowed. "It was untested technology. The mind transference machinery was nothing I'd ever seen before. Katse-sama didn't say where he got it. It was supposed to copy the Eagle's memories and personality into the clone, but something went wrong. Katse told us to hurry so we pushed the settings up." I closed my mind. Katse got impatient and Ken's mind was fried because of it. I felt like crying.
Probably frightened even more by my reaction, the doctor kept babbling, even when I'd rather he shut up. "Everything was wiped out in the Eagle as it was transferred to the clone. But it's not my fault, I swear it's not!"
I opened my eyes. "Transferred? I thought it was copied."
The man swallowed. "Everything of the Eagle is in the clone, intact."
He could be lying. The clone was Ken? The one who betrayed our identities to the Galactors and spent three months getting his mind reprogrammed to never do it again?
The one who let us know of his betrayal in the first place, my mind reminded me.
RI's hand fell on my shoulder. "Let's go. There's nothing to look for here anymore." He jerked his chin at the gibbering doctor. "We'll take him with us."
I let him take the doctor and steer him to the doorway. It took me a few minutes to follow, standing in the house Ken had been kept in before he was killed by Katse. At least, where his body had been kept.
I wasn't so sure anymore about his mind.
Debriefing took eighteen hours, and after it was done, the only reason I wasn't demoted was because there was no one to replace me. Jun, Jinpei and Ryu sat through the end part, softly weeping as they got to grieve again for Ken. At least they knew now everything that had happened. Almost everything. I didn't tell anyone the last thing the doctor said. I didn't know if I wanted to.
After it was done, I was free to go back to my room. I got to enjoy KP duty in the morning, plus any other boring task Nambu could think up for me for the next few months. Ryu, Jun and Jinpei headed back to theirs while I took a detour to the ready room for coffee. RI vanished to wherever it was he went when he wasn't harassing us. He didn't even say goodbye and I didn't see him go.
Lost in thought, I stepped into the ready room and stopped. Mark was sitting under one of the windows, staring out at the fish swimming by. His guard stood in a corner, looking unobtrusive. Unlike the rest of us, who could go outside as long as we disguised ourselves, Mark wasn't allowed to. He had a guard on him twenty four hours a day and only got to wear his bracelet when he led us into combat. He hadn't even been invited to the debriefing to find out what happened to his counterpart. For the first time, I wondered how that made him feel, just as I realised that for once I hadn't referred to him as 'it'.
I'm sure he knew I was in the room, but he didn't look at me. He was a complete dead ringer for Ken, even sat and moved like him, but the differences were there now that he wasn't pretending anymore. He'd buzzed his shaggy hair, he didn't go near planes, he didn't take off on his own and do crazy things. I'd figured that was because he wasn't pretending to be Ken anymore, but now I wondered if he was doing the pretending now. Pretending not to be the man he really was because we all told him he wasn't.
Everything of the Eagle was in his clone, the doctor told me. I stared at the back of Mark's head. Who are you? I wondered and couldn't come up with an answer.