This is the sequel to "Eagle Hunting"
Rat bastard is my father?
Dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a sweater, the pale band around his wrist hidden under a watch, Mark frowned in thought. Ken's father, he amended silently. He was crouched on one of the beams crossing the ceiling of the hangar Red Impulse - my father - he thought again - was using to store his team's planes in while they were at Crescent Coral.
The young clone wasn't sure how to feel. Created by Katse to replace the real Eagle and spy out all their secrets, he wasn't even sure what he was doing out of his room. He'd failed in his mission, after all. Katse had him infiltrate the team and while he revealed their identities and the location of Crescent Coral to Galactor, he also warned the Kagaku Ninjatai in time for them to escape capture. Three months of reprogramming and he was now the Eagle for real, leading the team in combat since the old Eagle was murdered, and living in his quarters most of the rest of the time. If they had even an inkling of the fact that he was breaking out of his luxurious cell to explore the base, they'd have him back in the reprogramming tank so fast it would make his head swim. Providing they didn't kill him as a liability first.
So why did he keep sneaking out? He asked himself that question repeatedly and the only thing he could think of was that there was still something of Katse's creature in him. It wasn't a comforting thought, or one he dared share with the people who already didn't trust him.
Mark crouched in the shadows and looked down at the man below him bitching to his fellow pilots - about Mark himself he saw. He didn't know how to react to this news at all. Ken had been devastated when he was a child and his father was supposedly killed in an airplane crash. He'd never believed it. Mark remembered his tears and his vows to never give up believing in him like they were his own, but he felt only confusion instead of the emotions Ken would be feeling were it him hearing his father making these admissions below.
Ken would be overwhelmed. Happy, angry, frightened, relieved. He'd be mad with love and hate and rage and relief. Mark could feel those emotions too, but strongest was the knowledge that they were Ken's emotions, not his, and he would be his own man. He wanted to be his own person. Not just a copy of someone else.
Mark dashed away tears savagely on the sleeve of the sweater he wore instead of Ken's t-shirt and told himself that Red Impulse wasn't his father. Wasn't anything to him, wasn't his-
Father, he thought miserably.
"One thousand one… one thousand two… one thousand three… one thousand four…"
Ruthlessly, Mark forced himself to do the push ups, his upper body balanced on his fingers, his body covered in sweat. He'd been working out all morning, pushing himself to his limits and beyond until his muscles were shaking and he could barely see through the sweat in his eyes. At the door, his guard watched him as he rolled to his feet and started sprinting around the track, gasping and stumbling, and then pulled out a communicator.
Mark didn't care. He just kept running around the track, not wanting to think and hoping the exercise would block the voices out of his mind. It didn't work. He kept hearing RI bitch about how he would kill Katse for how his son died. For erasing his mind and then killing him for PR. Mark pushed himself faster. He'd waited so long to see his father again. No, no! Not MY father, Ken's father! I'm not really feeling this!
He'd worked so hard to be his own man, to reject the template he'd been built on. He had Ken's memories, but he was Mark, his own person, with his own needs. He'd buzzed his hair short, he didn't take stupid risks - You sneak out of your room, he reminded himself savagely - he admitted he loved Jun - And she won't let you touch her. He didn't fly planes for pleasure - because they won't let you go anywhere without a babysitter.
Red Impulse wasn't his father. He was Ken's father and Ken had always hated his sanctimonious, superior attitude. Mark didn't need to have anything to do with him. Didn't WANT to have anything to do with him.
Gasping, Mark came to a halt and stumbled to his knees. He could barely breathe and the emotions were going mad in his mind. Regrets, wants, promises, needs. He tried to push them all out, clutching at his temples as though that would help.
"STOP HAUNTING ME!"
"Who're you talking to?"
Startled, Mark looked up to see Joe standing over him, the Sicilian lazily gnawing on a feather shuriken while he regarded him. Mark didn't know how to feel about him either. When he first revealed who he really was, Joe had hated him. But a week before he'd vanished somewhere and wouldn't answer the ISO's hails. Mark didn't know anymore than that - he led the team only in combat and had no security clearance beyond immediate need-to-know. But when Joe got back, he'd changed. Now he treated Mark more like he would Ken, and Mark couldn't figure out why.
"No one," he muttered in answer, looking down.
Joe snorted and crouched down beside him. Mark had to fight the urge to lean away. This best buddy act of Joe was unnerving. He kept feeling he was just being set up for something.
"Keep up like this and Nambu's gonna think you've gone nuts," Joe told him. "You don't want another round with the doctors, do you?"
He actually sounded concerned. Mark eyed him. "Why do you care?"
The Condor glared at him. "I'm not allowed to like you?"
Mark looked away. "I don't know."
Joe snorted and slapped him on the back hard enough to rock him forward. Mark had to catch himself with one hand. "Well, tough. Now stop acting like a mental case waiting for a lobotomy or you just might get one."
Faintly, Mark thought he might be better off that way and looked at him. "What's Red Impulse doing here?" He asked faintly and immediately hated himself for doing so. You don't care about him! His mind screamed at him. He's not your father!
Joe shrugged and stood. "He took me on a mission with him. Stuck around to clear up the paperwork I guess. He's leaving in the morning though, thank God."
Mark didn't even notice that Joe hadn't told him more than the barest details, where before being left out of the loop for security reasons enraged him. "He's leaving?" he repeated.
"Yep." Joe grinned. "Good riddance."
Mark looked away. "Yeah."
The voices wouldn't stop.
He's your father!
He's Ken's father!
I am Mark. I have no last name. I am a clone of Ken Washio.
I am a man! It doesn't matter that my DNA is the same as his! I'm my own person!
I miss my father.
He never wanted Ken, why want me?
I don't need him.
I don't need anyone.
I am the Eagle. The White Shadow that slips in unseen.
My team hates me.
I have no need for someone else's father.
Mark woke with a start. His apartments in Crescent Coral were spacious, larger than Ken's since he wasn't allowed to leave without an escort and no one wanted him to feel too locked in for fear he'd snap. His windows looked out on water that was only lighted by the base lights outside but he looked at his alarm clock. Eight a.m.
Red Impulse must be leaving by now, he thought, followed by I don't care. Followed by Shit.
Quickly, Mark climbed out of bed and dressed. The civilian components of his BirdStyle and his bracelet were only given to him for missions so he wore jeans and a sweater instead. He didn't even bother with the door. He knew already that the ISO would never approve him just heading into the hangar bays where RI no doubt was, and RI might not agree to come to him. And even if they did approve it, RI would be gone by the time the permission came in.
Instead, he headed into his bathroom. He'd established himself as having the habit of reading in the bathroom and even kept magazines and books in there, since there were no cameras. Inside, he unscrewed the grille to the air vent, bypassed the security alarms and crawled inside. Ten minutes later, he was crawling out through another vent in a staff changing room a few sectors over. He'd inform Nambu of that little security hole if it didn't mean he couldn't use it then himself. Fifteen minutes after that, he'd opened the lock on one of the lockers and found a maintenance coverall that fit him not too badly and headed out, a cap over his head to hide his face.
Mark went up to the hangars. The one where RI was storing his planes was located at the top of the base, right below the false island top where an elevator could lift them all up to the surface for take-off. The God Phoenix was kept lower, since she was designed for underwater launches. The security badge on Mark's front pocket held a high enough security rating for him to go in there, so he walked in like he was on an assignment, nodding at a few people casually though he didn't stop to talk. He kept an eye out for anyone who actually knew him though. There was always the chance someone would recognize him, though he carried himself differently from both Ken or Mark, or the Eagle. Stance and movement were a vital part of disguise.
He saw no one he knew, but still the clone stopped in despair as he entered the hangar. The roof was open and the massive elevator was already lifting RI's red plane up to the surface, along with his teammates and a few other civilian craft used by the base staff.
"They're leaving?" he blurted aloud.
"Yeah. Got called on some new mission or something." A passing tech looked at him curiously. "Are you supposed to be here?"
Mark ignored him. Red Impulse was leaving. He didn't have to worry about him anymore. He could just forget what he heard and continue with his life. With HIS life, not the memory of Ken's. He could get back to his room before someone realized he was gone and ordered him hunted down and lobotomized.
Mark ran for the personnel elevator to the surface while the tech yelped in surprise. Running in, he hit the button for the top and paced the tiny room as it rose, cursing himself for the stupidity that wouldn't let him let this go. He had to confront Red Impulse. Father…
An endless time after he entered it, the elevator reached the top and opened. Not surprisingly, two armed guards were waiting for him, but Mark kicked one in the stomach and chopped the other in the side of the neck. They both dropped and he ran past them just in time to see the three red planes of the Red Impulse squadron lift into the sky.
Mark ran for one of the civilian planes, dodging confused techs that tried to stop him as an alarm began to sound. He was dead for this, he knew that. Nambu had warned him if he gave them reason to doubt his loyalty even once he would be reclassified as a liability and clones had no legal rights. Mark had no reason to doubt him.
He climbed into a small jet and pushed the cockpit closed just before bullets pinged off the bulletproof glass.
Mark fired the engine. The plane whined and he turned the wheels towards the little runway before someone could think to shoot them out. His radio squawked at him, but he ignored it and released the brake. The little jet flung itself down the runway and leaped into the air. Mark looked back down at the people scrambling on the surface of the island and hit the afterburners, racing straight up until he hit the clouds. Seconds later he was through and banked to follow his father, already a dot on the horizon.
The jet was made with a lighter frame than his G-1, the controls somewhat different. Mark studied them as he squirmed awkwardly into the seatbelts and tried to ignore the blinking light alerting him to an incoming communication. He didn't know for sure if they had some kind of command codes implanted into his subconscious that would shut him off like a light. Katse had used them, he wasn't sure the ISO hadn't tried the same trick.
RI's plane was still far ahead, apparently ignoring him. Mark bit his lip and hoped that meant that he was under radio silence. Still, it could be-
Mark's plane bucked and rolled out of control as something huge barrelled past him. Screaming, the clone fought the controls and brought it out of a lethal tailspin to see the God Phoenix turning for another pass. It had raced by him so fast that it had nearly torn his small plane apart with its backwash.
"Oh, SHIT!" he gasped and flipped on the combat controls. It gave him weapons, but also gave him radar. Now he could see the huge ship on his scanners. It filled them, and his viewscreens.
An instant later it raced by him again and Mark's head snapped back against his seat as the little jet bucked. Another second and it stalled and went into a dive, spinning.
You idiot, you're going to get yourself killed for someone who abandoned you! Abandoned Ken!
Mark swore and fought the controls, trying to get the engines to restart. He wasn't even sure who he was supposed to be anymore. So much for being my own man. The radio squawked at him madly as the plane spun and twisted, and swearing, he hit the button for it.
"What??" he screeched.
"Pull up, you moron!" Joe bellowed. "You're gonna get yourself killed!"
"Then why did you buzz me?!" he yelled. It was irrational, but all the blood was rushing to his head and he didn't feel like being agreeable.
"Because you're trying to escape! Nambu's just about having a coronary! The Council wants us to shoot you down!"
Mark felt a stab of panic at that, but forced it down even as he thanked whoever would listen that Joe had decided he was a friend and not an enemy. Gritting his teeth, he pulled back on the controls as the engines flared and barely a hundred feet above the ocean, he levelled out and regained control. The God Phoenix flew directly above him, keeping him in her shadow.
"Turn around and head back to base," Joe ordered.
Mark closed his eyes for a long moment. He was a fool. "I can't," he told him quietly.
"This isn't negotiable, Mark. We're not letting Katse have you."
Was that what he thought? Mark wasn't surprised. "This doesn't have anything to do with him. I'm after Red Impulse."
Joe hesitated. "Why?" He asked at last.
Ahead of them, on the horizon, Mark could just see three black dots against blue sky. "I overheard him talking," he all but whispered. "He's my father."
Joe gave a low whistle. "Whoa."
"I have to talk to him," Mark told him. "I don't know if it's Ken's memories or me, but I have to do this."
Static came through the comm. link. Mark had a pretty good idea of what was happening. Joe and the team were discussing their options. Joe and Jun might be for it, but Ryu had expressed nothing but contempt for him and Jinpei tried to avoid him even on missions. What would they do if it were a tie vote? What would Nambu order? Mark didn't really want to think about it, or what he would do if they decided against him. He couldn't outrun or outfight the God Phoenix.
"Go back to Crescent Coral," Joe told him suddenly. Mark started to speak. "We'll get Rat Bastard for you. You can talk on the island."
Mark felt a relief so strong it was tangible. "How will you get his attention?"
"Same way we got yours. I'm holding you to your honour, Eagle. You don't go straight back to that island and we'll hunt you down and blow you out of the sky." The God Phoenix put on power and raced by him, moving to intercept the dwindling specks.
Slowly, Mark turned the jet around, heading back the way he'd come. A new voice sounded over the radio, giving him landing instructions and he acknowledged, wondering all the while what Red Impulse's reaction would be to all of this. The moment he landed, armed soldiers surrounded the plane and the young clone got out carefully, his hands up. The men surrounded him, watching him warily with their weapons at the ready. Nambu stood beyond them, watching without expression. Mark could only look at him for a moment before turning away. Ken had been very fond of Nambu Hakase. Mark, however, could only admit that he was afraid of him.
Fifteen agonizing minutes later, The God Phoenix rocked by overhead and a single red plane landed. Mark stared at it, suddenly unsure again. What would Red Impulse say? What would Kentaro Washio say?
Why do you care?
Because I don't have anybody.
At a word from Nambu, the guards stepped back, opening a path for him. Mark swallowed and took it, walking uncertainly across the island towards the man who climbed out of the plane, his face hidden behind his sunglasses and helmet. Mark walked up and waited as he adjusted his gloves and jacket, then turned around.
"You're not my son," the man told him before he could say a word. "My son is dead and you helped kill him. You're nothing but a pathetic clone. A flawed copy."
Without another word, he got back into his plane and closed the canopy. The engine powered up and the plane taxied around the man standing immobile in the sand, then rocketed down the runway and up into the air.
Mark watched him go and he was a speck in the sky when the young clone's knees finally gave out under him and he crumpled to the sand, barely aware that his face was wet.
Did you expect any less? His mind tormented him. Why should he feel anything for you?
Why should he care?
You're nothing but a clone.
I'm a person!
Footsteps sounded in the sand behind him. "He always was a Rat Bastard," Joe reminded him. The shadow of his wings fell over him. "I'll talk to Nambu. I don't know what'll be done to you for this, but I'll do what I can to keep it from being anything permanent."
Mark shook his head. "I don't care what they do," he whispered.
He wiped at his eyes. "Why?" My father hates me.
The shadow shrugged. "Clone or not, you're still my brother."
Give up on a father for a brother he wasn't even related to. Take it, it's the best you're going to get. It's way better than any of Red Impulse's hate. Accept it.