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The Hero by Maya Perez
The Hero by Maya Perez
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The Proposal (Gertrude is Never Wrong)

 

The Hero

By Maya Perez

Helpful prodding by Wendy Dinsmore

 

 

 

The valiant G-4 skulked about the shadows ready to pounce on the enemy. Once again, his teammates, the ISO, the world, had turned to him to save the day. Stoically, the Swallow had gone to do what needed to be done--that which only he could do. Yes, the Swallow, the bravest, the most popular, the most powerful member of the Science Ninja Team. A breaker of women’s hearts all over the world. An imposing figure that thrust fear into the heart of his enemies.

So here he stood, that gallant hero, before the great fortress protecting the princess from those who would ravage her. And he, her bird crested knight, waiting to smite them if they dare try. Always vigilant, noble, brave—waiting--hour, after hour, after hour…

 

Jinpei sighed, letting his arm drop from the heroic pose he’d assumed during his musings and slumped down into the buggy’s seat. Who was he kidding? There was no excitement in his future. No princess, no adulation. This was boring! He sighed again. Waiting was nothing but endless boredom.

He stared disgustedly at the tall boundary wall and the large iron gate he’d been forced to watch for the last couple of hours. Like usual, his luck had been bad and he’d drawn the six to eleven shift. Now the eleven to four or even the four to ten, those would have been a good set of hours. No one in their right mind ever tried anything on people except real late at night or just before the crack of dawn.

But noooo! He couldn’t get one of those. He’d seen his sister give Ken one of those looks when he was drawing up the schedule. Jinpei was only too sure she’d given him some song and dance about him needing his sleep—that staying up late wouldn’t be good for him—blah, blah, blah. He loved his sister dearly, actually more than he loved anyone, but sometimes—pow, zap, zoom to the moon! It wasn’t like he was a little kid anymore. He was ten for crying out loud! He was a member of the Science Ninja Team! But she still treated him like a kid. Heck, they all did. Nambu included.

Jinpei sighed once more, hunching down a little further in the buggy.

He’d show the whole bunch of them someday though. He would! They’d quit thinking of him as the little pipsqueak after that. All he needed was a chance. Just one little situation he could use to prove himself. But hell, if things went as they always did, he’d get the chance just about the same time Katze developed a conscience and decided to turn himself in for the greater good! It wasn’t fair. Jinpei kicked at the dashboard on the buggy, crossing his arms in his unhappiness.

So, as usual, it would be Ken or Joe when the Galactor goons came. And sure, they’d eventually call for backup, but by the time the rest of them probably got there the fun would be over. Hmph!

Not that the goons had made any kind of move yet. The team had had to put up with four days of babysitting, and if Galactor didn’t make a move soon, who knew how long he’d have to sit here night after night. It’d been almost a week since the ISO spy network had gotten wind that Dr. Cooper was being targeted for a kidnapping. Yet when the ISO approached the billionaire, he’d scoffed at the warning and refused protection or even relocation. So of course, the powers that be had insisted. And while the doctor had then relocated to a place of his choosing, he’d refused to use ISO security but had hired some of his own. That’s why the team had been called in—the ISO didn’t want to leave the security of someone like Dr. Cooper entirely in the hands of a private security firm. It also meant that since they weren’t there with the doctor’s approval, they had to guard the place from outside. So the five of them had been taking turns out in this dark piece of street ever since.

The sad part was that the doctor’s undoubtedly expensive security force, hadn’t even bothered to sweep the surrounding streets to keep people like them from loitering outside. Even the ISO’s security people weren’t that bad. From what little Jinpei had seen, this security force of the doctor’s was only good enough for carrying around nasty weapons and looking mean.

Joe had already started mumbling there were better things he could be doing with his time than sit out here babysitting some gun happy idiots and their boss. Jinpei was sure if they stayed here long enough for Joe to miss a race, the mumbling would turn into full out shouts. And speaking of Joe, maybe he could see if Joe-aniki would trade shifts with him tomorrow. His sister need never know. A small smile tugged at the side of his face. The smile went suddenly flat though as it occurred to him what she’d do to him if he somehow got caught. Darn.

Jinpei almost jumped out of his seat as his wristcomm beeped in the still darkness. He quickly brought it up close to his face. "G-4 here."

"Jinpei, are you doing all right out there?"

He sighed. It was just Big Sis checking on her little Bro. Like what would ever be happening to him here? "I’m doing fine, neechan. I would have called if there’d been any trouble." The last came out in a nastier tone than he’d intended.

There was a prolonged silence from the other end. Jinpei cringed. He was in for it now. Stupid, stupid!

Instead of jumping his case as he’d half expected, however, Jun did something else. He was sure she only did it to keep him off guard.

"Sorry this duty is so boring," she said reasonably. "I think we all feel the same way about it." Her tone brightened. "Say, I get off at two thirty tomorrow. How about we go do a little exploring around town before your shift?"

Jinpei’s face lit up immediately. This was why he loved her so! "That’d be great, neechan!"

"All right then," she said, her voice sounding pleased. "It’s a date. See you."

Yes! Jinpei did a little victory dance in his seat. Doing the town would definitely take out some of the sting off this boring duty. For a little while, anyway. With better spirits than moments before, Jinpei started making a mental list of what he might want to go do on the morrow. Knowing his sister, she’d be ready for him with a bunch of brochures and a list of things they could do so they could decide how best to use their time. Museums would be okay, but game halls and amusement parks would be even better. Oh, yeah!

Jinpei stiffened abruptly, all thoughts of tomorrow draining from his head, as he spotted movement across the street. Ducking down inside the buggy, though the darkness from an overhanging tree in the estate next door already hid him mostly from view, he peered carefully to the other side to see what was going on.

A small package dropped to the sidewalk from the retaining wall. Even as he watched, Jinpei saw a figure show up on top of the wall and then drop down on the other side. Jinpei frowned, confused as the figure picked up the package, slung it behind them, and then walked on. As the figure came beneath the spreading light of a street lamp, he saw it was a young girl about his age. She was short and thin, a blond ponytail protruding from the back of a red colored cap. She wore a blue and white colored jacket, jeans, and a green backpack that hung from her back.

The girl, who’s description seemed to fit that of the doctor’s only granddaughter, looked off to the left and then the right before walking quickly in the opposite direction of where Jinpei was keeping watch.

Shaking his head to make sure he wasn’t seeing things, Jinpei slipped silently out of the buggy and ran after her.

"Hey, you, wait up!" Jinpei’s eyes glanced quickly around them, cursing his luck. What if some Galactors were hiding nearby?

The girl glanced over her shoulder as he came up, but then kept on going.

"Hey, didn’t you hear me?" Jinpei zoomed past her and blocked her path. "Where do you think you’re going?" he asked with a touch of impatience.

Piercing green eyes bore into his face for a moment and then looked away. Now that he was close, he noticed that her hat seemed somehow familiar—it had a strange green symbol on it that looked like a twisted, upside down Nike symbol. The girl glanced back toward her backpack to a yellow, weird looking duck doll hooked to the strap. The strange duck with the befuddled looking eyes and it’s arms held as if in confusion or pain to the sides of its head looked familiar too. "I guess he doesn’t know kids aren’t supposed to talk to strangers. They must not have taught him things very well at home."

"Wha--?" Jinpei stared, flabbergasted. Had he just been insulted by this kid? It took him a moment to figure out what to say. "Look you, it might be right not to talk to strangers, but it’s even worse for kids to be walking out on the street alone at night."

He got that piercing look again. "Psyduck, I think this boy needs glasses, ‘cause I’m obviously not alone," she said, a little hostility making itself heard in her tone. With that said, she stepped to the side trying to go around him.

Jinpei moved back to block her again. "You have to go back. It’s not safe out here. Even if you’re not alone."

The young girl ignored him and tried to walk past him. When he blocked her path once more, she looked over at him her features tinted heavily with annoyance. "I don’t think he wants us to get past him."

Jinpei raised a brow as he watched her turn her head to talk to the doll as if they could really carry a conversation between them. He blinked as he suddenly remembered where he’d seen the doll and the hat before. It was one of those new kid shows that were the latest rage. Poke-something. Sheesh! Why’d he have to get stuck with a weirdo.

Abruptly, the girl kicked out with her foot and whacked Jinpei on the knee. "Get out of the way."

With a yelp, Jinpei jumped back, his knee throbbing. Never looking at him, the girl started on her way once more.

Why that little…! He should let her go and let her get in trouble. Maybe that would teach her a thing or two! Jinpei glared at her back as she went on oblivious. Oh, why him? Why the heck couldn’t this weirdo have decided to run away during Ryu’s shift!

He couldn’t just let her go, no matter how tempting the prospect might be though. Figures that someone as rich as Cooper would bring along a horribly spoiled brat as a reward. If he didn’t bring her back, who knew where she’d end up. Or worse, what might happen to her. He was sure Hakase would have his hide for it, and his sister twice. Damn!

Grumbling, Jinpei hobbled after Dr. Cooper’s granddaughter trying to come up with some kind of plan.

"Hey wait! Please?" Jinpei limped beside her not trying to cut her off again. "My name is Jinpei. What’s yours?"

The girl stopped, her height only a few inches less than Jinpei’s, and gave him a measuring look up and down. "Psyduck," she said imperiously, "I think this boy must be stupid. He already knows I don’t talk to strangers."

Argh! Kids! Why the heck did he have to deal with this? He’d bet the stupid girl would have talked to his sister if she’d been the one on duty. But this tomboy looked like a boy hater. And so far he wasn’t so thrilled with her himself. Jinpei forced a wave of calm to struggle through him and tried talking to her again.

"Psyduck, can’t you introduce us or something?" Jinpei grimaced as he spoke, hearing imagined laughter in his head as he imagined what Joe or Ryu would think if they had seen him talking to a stupid doll. "We know each other’s names now; so we’re not strangers anymore. If you’d ask her to tell me hers, none of us would be stranger’s then."

The girl quit frowning at him, now looking disgusted as well as annoyed. Jinpei hastily stepped away, not wanting her to try and give another kick to his knees again.

"You look funny and you act weird," she said. "Everyone knows Pokemon don’t talk. Except Meowth that is, but he’s an exeption. Isn’t that right, Psyduck?" She reached over and pressed the doll’s bill.

"Psaiayay."

Jinpei’s mouth dropped open and he then closed it with a snap. He didn’t know or care anything about a stupid show. He was going to kill her! "That’s it! Run away then! See if anybody cares. I’ll just go up to your house right now and tell your grandfather what you’re doing."

He saw her eyes flash. Her small body stood defiantly before him. "You will not!" She stomped her foot on the pavement.

"Oh?" Jinpei shook with mock fright. "And who is going to stop me? You?" If Joe had been the one to find her, he would have shot her already and been done with it. The little snot deserved nothing else!

The girl only stood, staring at him and said nothing.

Jinpei sighed, his shoulders drooping. "Look, all I want to know is your name. Can’t you at least tell me that?"

Her deep green eyes stared at him impassively for a moment and then turned to look at Psyduck. Jinpei wanted to just yank the thing away from her.

After a moment, the girl looked over at Jinpei again, not looking happy. "My name is Krystal. With a K not a C."

"Okay, okay," he said placatingly, "so you’re Krystal and I’m Jinpei. We know each other now. So will you tell me what you’re doing out here?"

Krystal eyed Jinpei suspiciously. "Why would you want to know that?"

"Would you cut that out?" What was it with this kid? "Look, I’m just trying to help you. It’s late, and it’s dangerous for young girls to be out alone at night. I’m just trying to keep you from getting in trouble."

"How old are you?" she asked out of nowhere.

Jinpei frowned, not sure what that had to do with anything. "Ten. Why?"

Krystal suddenly smiled. Jinpei didn’t like the look of it. "Little boys shouldn’t be out and about either. If you tell me where you live, I’ll walk you home." Her voice was saccharine sweet.

"Wha--?" Jinpei eyed her, wondering how bad of a beating he’d earn if he just rushed her and picked her up to take her back before her grandfather found her missing. All he needed was for that security firm of his to go bezerk all over the place looking for her. Wouldn’t Galactor just love that! They’d definitely find the doctor then, if they didn’t know where he was already. "How old are you?"

Her smile grew even brighter. "I’m eleven. Definitely older than you, squirt."

Jinpei felt his blood pressure rise. Of all the stupid, ignorant, moronic, girl like things—and she was shorter than him, darn it! It was only his usual luck that she’d end up being older. Or maybe she was lying. That had to be it. "I’d watch who you called that, miss," he hissed. "Most people aren’t as tolerant as I am."

She just shrugged. "Whatever. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going now." Krystal stepped to go past him.

Jinpei’s shoulders slumped in defeat even as he wondered why he was putting up with this. He tried again. "Look, I’m only trying to help you! Didn’t your grandfather tell you why you got moved here and why there’s armed men all over the place?" Even as he said it, he wondered how in the world she’d been able to get past those guys. Maybe the security force was even lamer than he’d originally thought.

Krystal hesitated, her eyes looking uncertain for the first time. That only lasted a moment. "It doesn’t matter. I have something important to do and once I’m done I’ll come back. I’ll only be gone a couple of hours. No one will even know—my grandfather will never even miss me."

Jinpei frowned at the last detecting something there but not sure what.

"Who the heck are you anyway? And what do you know about my grandfather?" Krystal took a step back as if suddenly realizing Jinpei might not be what he seemed.

At least he had her attention now. Maybe he could even hope she’d be reasonable? He opened his mouth to tell her what he was doing there.

Before he could get one word out, however, a black van abruptly rounded the corner and skidded to a stop in front of them. A man in a dark long jacket and dark hat was rushing toward them from across the way.

The van’s side door swept back, and greedy hands reached out to grab the two of them.

"Crap!" Jinpei pushed Krystal roughly back, making fall behind him. He bit the hand closest to him even as he chopped at another.

"Why you little punk!" The man who’d run across the street made a grab for Jinpei. Jinpei jumped up into the air and did a roundhouse into the man’s face. There was a satisfying crack as his foot broke the man’s jaw.

The street vibrated roughly beneath their feet even as a loud sound reverberated through the air. Jinpei cursed, glancing back behind the retaining wall and saw the rolling flames of an explosion come from the house the doctor was hiding in. "Holy shit!"

Even as he realized Galactor was definitely making their move, a dark mass crossed over them to hang over the estate’s trees.

"Forget the boy, get the girl!"

"Krystal, run!" Jinpei’s attention snapped back to the men before him. Two were trying to run past him. Jinpei ducked down and swung his legs tripping the first. He then dashed after the second.

As he ran, Jinpei brought up his wristcomm unit and activated it. "Aniki! They’re here! They’re using explosives, and they have some ground troops, but they’ve also got a ship." The street shook as more bombs went off in the estate. The faint sound of screams and gunfire echoed in the air.

Jinpei spotted Krystal just making it over the fence the goon after her almost catching her foot. The man started to climb up after her. Jinpei threw himself bodily at the goons back, splatting the man against the iron rod fence. Even as the man fell back unconscious, Jinpei was clambering up past him.

More bright explosions tore through the estate. What the hell did Galactor think they were doing? It was almost as if they wanted everyone to know they were here. Shit, shit, shit!

The smell of sulfur and burning vegetation drove into his nostrils as he dropped on the other side of the fence. Quickly glancing around, he saw no sign of Krystal on the winding driveway. "Krystal!" Worried as yet another explosion lit up the night, Jinpei stayed by the fringe of the road and headed toward the house.

Bushes smoldered from flying burning debree, some of the trees had already caught on fire and lit the night with stark, moving shadows. Here and there he spotted a body of a security guard or two. Some had been caught by the explosions, others looked to have had a more personal death. This was looking worse by the minute. Where the heck was she?

Jinpei finally found her, close to the partial ruins of the house, staring at the walls of flame rising from a number of the broken windows. Krystal looked pitiful and small, standing there like an air raid victim, staring at the unimaginable devastation before her. Jinpei put on a burst of speed as he caught movement from the far right. Not pausing to think, he grabbed Krystal by the arms and dived for the closest set of bushes he could find.

Jinpei landed with a hard grunt, the air in his lungs pushed out as he took the brunt of the fall. He listened intently, holding Krystal against him, trying to hear for any sign that they’d been seen.

"Let go." Krystal squirmed in his arms, her voice very low.

Jinpei suddenly became aware of her warm body pressed so close against him, and remembered that despite her tartness, she was a girl. He felt himself blush. "Shshsh!" Jinpei let her go, feeling suddenly awkward, but kept his eyes on her not sure whether he could trust her not to run as he tried to get his breath back. "We’ve–got to–stay quiet. Bad men—coming."

Krystal’s face was hidden in half shadows as Jinpei gently pulled on her sleeve to get her away from the side of the bushes closest to where the movement he’d glimpsed had come from. A beam of soft light cut through the leaves, reflecting off a tear that slid silently down her cheek. "I have to find my grandfather." She made as if to get up, but Jinpei held her back.

"I’ll find him," he whispered. "Leave it to me and my friends." Jinpei took a peek through the bush guarding them from sight to make sure the source of the movement he’d seen hadn’t yet come too near.

Krystal shook her head, a fresh tear coursing down her other cheek, yet she said nothing.

Jinpei looked away from her misery, hoping the others would hurry up and get there. He would have left the girl there and started taking care of things, but his instincts told him she wouldn’t stay put. "Hurry, you guys."

Jinpei hissed as a large shadow suddenly blocked out the light. Looking up, he saw again the large Galactor ship as it silently glided past. Black and sleek, it descend slowly over the roadway ten feet or so from their hiding place. Six large struts quietly detached themselves from the black surface and aimed toward the ground. Static electricity seemed to fill the air, and a soft sub-audible hum vibrated through Jinpei’s skull.

As soon as the struts were set securely on the ground, the hum slowed and then stopped. A ramp slid from the black ship’s underbelly and projected itself to the road. Condensing air moved in soft swirls about the entrance as the ship’s cooler air met the heated atmosphere outside. The subsequent fog cascaded to the ground and scurried away like scampering dogs. After a moment, several green uniformed men hurried down the ramp. As Jinpei watched, two indistinct figures came out of the dark to meet them.

Jinpei grimaced, scrunching down a little further in his hiding place as he saw that the two were Black Birds. Katze must really want Doctor Cooper badly. Jinpei mentally kicked himself for not having asked why Galactor might want the doctor in the first place. He knew Ken wouldn’t be happy about this at all. But where was he?

"So? Have you got them or not?" A thundering voice boomed from inside the ship. A man, wearing long red leggings, knee high folded black boots, a ruffled black shirt, and a long black and red cape sauntered down the ramp. He wore a wide black hat with a large red plume and a small mask hid part of his face just above a trim goatee. Adding to the costume were long black leather gloves and a dome hilted saber at his side—the Galactor commander looked like something out of a black and white swashbuckler movie.

The two Black Birds knelt down to the ground at the sound of his voice. The green guards came to attention, lining the ramp like an honor guard.

"One of them, Captain," the thinner of the Black Birds answered his voice having a strange mechanical resonance to it. It gave Jinpei the shivers. "We have the doctor, but the child is missing." There was a slight pause. Jinpei saw the Captain frown. "The doctor, however does not know this and believes the child to be already on board."

The captain’s expression cleared. "Good, good." He waved a gloved hand at them. "Retrieve him and quickly. The hired rabble has been subdued but there’s bound to be others on the way. I don’t want to tarry here any longer than necessary." He pulled a black handkerchief from his ruffled sleeve and dabbed at the edge of his mouth as if speaking about the matter were unpleasant.

"At once, sir." The two Black Birds leapt backward and were swallowed by the darkness. Krystal gasped softly beside Jinpei as they dissipated like smoke.

Jinpei dared breath again, knowing it had been only pure luck that had kept him and Krystal from being found by the Black Birds before. He liked this whole situation less and less by the minute.

"As for the rest of you, stay here until our guest arrives," the captain ordered. "Once he does, escort him on board. Stay alert," he added crisply. With a swirl of his cape, he’d turned around and strolled up the ramp and back into the ship.

Jinpei glanced down at the girl beside him. Krystal was staring raptly through the bushes, obviously realizing her grandfather was about to be brought there. She wiped her face dry and looked at him, her eyes veiled. "Who are those people?"

"Galactor." He couldn’t entirely keep the rancor from his voice. "And they have Black Birds with them."

Krystal nodded. Jinpei couldn’t tell if she actually knew what he was talking about or not. She didn’t say anything else.

Where were the others? If they didn’t hurry, Jinpei would have to act on his own. And if Krystal decided not to stay put… Jinpei felt the unpleasant situation weighing down on him. This was not what he’d been wishing for.

Jinpei looked down at his wrist, tempted to use the comm. If he tried to call the others, or even activated the device to change to his uniform, there was a chance he’d be found out. This wouldn’t normally have bothered him—he was more than capable of taking care of himself—but Krystal. Jinpei glanced over at her and sighed. This kind of thing didn’t typically happen to heroes in the movies. So why was it happening to him? He waited tensely in the silence as the minutes ticked by and nothing happened. Where were they?

A loud explosion from the other side of the house made him look up. Finally! About time. The bombings had stopped until then, so surely this meant the others were here.

Krystal tensed beside him. "They’re coming."

Jinpei glanced at her in confusion and then up as three figures hurried toward the craft out of the shadows. He felt his heart leap hoping it was his friends. It was obvious in a moment, however, that it wasn’t them.

Two Black Birds pushed an aging man ahead of them into the light. The doctor’s hands were tied behind him, and he sported a large bruise on the right side of his face.

Jinpei reached down and grabbed hold of Krystal’s arm as the girl shifted as if she’d lunge forward. He got a hard glare for his trouble, but he inwardly sighed in relief as Krystal kept quiet and did nothing else.

"Take him." The tallest Black Bird thrust the doctor forward toward the green Galactor guards. "We have intruders. Tell the Captain we will take care of them. Also tell him it’s the ninja team."

Nervous looks passed among the guards even as they took the scared old man in hand and dragged him up the ramp into the ship. The two Black Birds immediately disappeared back the way they’d come. Jinpei pulled distractedly on his ear, knowing if he was going to do something, he’d have to do it now.

"Krystal, I’m going to go get your grandfather. Please stay here and wait for my friends. You’ll know who they are when you see them, so don’t come out until you do." He stared into her face, trying to will her to be reasonable, even though he was dead sure she would argue with him. Instead, she only stared at him, a set expression on her face.

Not waiting to try and figure out what it meant, Jinpei cut through the bushes and darted for the ramp. He was halfway up, when he felt it suddenly shift beneath him as it started to close. He glanced back to make sure, lifting his wrist unit to initiate the change to his uniform, when he noticed he wasn’t alone.

Standing behind him, her cap set straight and a determined look on her face, was Krystal.

"Shit!" She’d followed him on board. She’d planned it all along--no wonder she hadn’t said anything! She’d never had any intention of doing as he’d asked.

Krystal gave a small yelp as the ramp continued upwards and she struggled to retain her footing. The angle was too steep and she fell. Jinpei leapt forward to catch her before she could hit the floor. The two of them rolled off the ramp in a tangle of arms and legs into the interior of the ship. "Psayaiai."

"Don’t move."

Tangled up, dread clinging to his throat, Jinpei slowly looked up and found five machine guns leveled at his body. His eyes darted quickly around and saw the room they were now in was shaped like a small bowl. In such close quarters, there was no way he could defeat them all, and have a prayer of keeping Krystal from getting hurt. "Uh, hi, guys. Nice night for a ride?"

"On your feet!" One of the green goons took a step forward and gestured menacingly at the two of them with his gun.

"Sure, sure. Whatever you say." Jinpei held up a hand, hoping fiercely that Krystal would take the hint and get off him. The girl threw him a frightened glance and cautiously got to her feet. Jinpei followed not long after.

"Down the corridor on your left. Now." The five men shifted position opening a way for them.

Jinpei stepped forward, Krystal staying very close to him. The men had them get on a small elevator and then were taken down a couple of hallways. Jinpei memorized the way as they went, entirely too conscious of the girl at his side and the guns surrounding them. He was in a pickle now. How the heck had he gotten into this in the first place? Next time, if there was a next time, he’d just let the kid run away—it’d be safer for them both!

"Sir."

Jinpei and Krystal were prodded into a large circular room. A huge view screen took up the far wall. Clouds rushed past the view, seeming almost to glow with a green tint. Several manned consoles stood facing it. A large circular chair on a raised dais in the center twirled to face them. The Galactor captain smiled as he spotted them, lounging in his chair, one leg crossed over the other. "Well, well. What have we here?" He sounded amused.

Jinpei tried his best to look like a frightened kid, hoping the Galactor wouldn’t think he was anything other than what he looked like, not that it was such a stretch to do it as it was.

"Krystal Cooper, I presume?" The captain half rose as he gazed deeply at the girl. Too soon, however, his gaze left her and raked over to Jinpei. "And who might you be?"

Jinpei opened his mouth to answer, ready to say he was one of the servants’ children, but Krystal suddenly pipped up and beat him to it.

"He’s my friend," she said, pulling down slightly on her hat. "My rich friend, son of an important man who’s a friend of my grandfather’s."

Jinpei stared at her wondering what had possessed her to say such a thing. Not that he minded. Coming from her, it gave him more credibility, but still, did he look rich?

The captain looked even more amused than before. "And your friend’s name?"

Krystal glanced at the doll hanging from her backpack and glared defiantly at the captain. "None of your business."

The captain laughed out loud. Jinpei grimaced, knowing her attitude would wear thin with the scum real soon.

"Is that so?" the captain asked. "Well, we’ll have plenty of time to discuss that later." His gaze turned hard as he looked over at the guards. "Take them to a holding cell in sub-deck B." He turned his chair to face the screen again.

"Come along." The guards took the two of them back the way they’d come. Then they took them down a corridor on the right. Jinpei kept his eyes open for a good place to make a move while minimizing the risk to Krystal but found none. He could almost feel her fear as she shuffled along close beside him.

The guards led them to a short dead end hall with six doors, each marked prominently with a number. A desk sat at the end, an armed guard manning the computer console there.

The guard in the front called out to the one behind the desk. "Captain Black wants these two in a holding cell."

"Okay, put them in number four." The door marked with a large red four slid open.

Jinpei tensed, thinking this might be what he’d been looking for. If he could shove Krystal into the cell and jump away, he’d have a chance to take the guards on and maybe even win. The thought had barely entered his mind when Krystal suddenly latched onto him, her eyes wide.

"Hey!" Jinpei looked over at her, unhappy, until he saw the bright fear in her eyes as she stared into his own. He could feel her shivering.

"Quit dawdling and get inside!" The guard pushed Jinpei roughly from the back and it was all he could do not to fall as Krystal clung to him. Psyduck kept swinging and smacking him on the shoulder.

The metal door slid shut behind them. They were suddenly trapped in absolute silence.

"Krystal, let go! It’s just a room." Jinpei tried not to sound annoyed, but was hard pressed to do it. Their one good chance at escape was gone. And why?

"I—I don’t like rooms like this…" Krystal abruptly let him go and stepped away. She stared about the small metallic room as if it were an alien thing waiting to bite. Gingerly, her tennis shoes making thin squeaking sounds on the floor, she made her way to the northeast corner and sat down. Sighing, feeling a little confused by what she’d said, Jinpei picked a corner of his own and did the same.

So? What were his options now? He had the doctor’s granddaughter—and the doctor was somewhere on this ship too. The lot of them were on their way to some Galactor base somewhere. The team should have been able to take care of those Black Birds by now and had probably already figured he and the Cooper’s were gone. They hadn’t tried to call him though. Or if they had, they weren’t getting through. The way this ship looked and had appeared out of nowhere made him think it was likely heavily shielded and who knew what else to make it as undetectable as possible. Neechan would have been able to guess better than he could. He really wished she were here now.

Jinpei looked around him not feeling overly confident. The small cell had three vents, all set in the ceiling and none large enough for anything other than maybe a mouse to crawl through. So that was out. The door to the cell had no mechanism he could break into from this side. If Joe had been there, they could have used his drill. Heck, if Joe had been there, he wouldn’t even be in this cell! So that too was out. He sighed softly. It looked like he’d have to wait till they got to wherever they were going to try anything. If he got lucky, the place would be just like most of the other Galactor bases. Then he’d definitely be able to contact the others and lead them there if he couldn’t find a way to get himself out on his own.

"W-would you like a sandwich?"

Jinpei glanced over at Krystal and noticed that she’d taken off her backpack and opened it on her lap. From his vantage point he could see part of a thermos and what looked like flowers?

Krystal unwrapped one of the sandwiches and meekly brought it over to him. Her bright eyes wouldn’t quite meet his own. "Here."

"Thanks!" He tried to sound cheery, wondering if she thought he was still mad at her. Jinpei lifted one end of the white bread and saw a thick layer of peanut butter and bananas. He frowned at the strange combination, but took a bite anyway. Food was food—and who knew when they’d get any. Galactors weren’t known for their generosity to prisoners. He half grinned as the nutty flavor clashed with the sweetness of the fruit and merged into something unexpected. "This isn’t half bad!" He’d have to tell Ryu about this when he saw him again.

"They’re not hard to make." Krystal’s reply sounded shy and subdued.

Since she was being nice and also quiet, Jinpei watched her as he ate. He figured maybe Krystal might not be half-bad when she tried--for a girl.

"I’m sorry."

Jinpei was in the midst of licking some gooed peanut butter from his fingers, when Krystal spoke. For the first time, he noticed she’d not eaten anything though a sandwich still lay wrapped next to where she sat. "What about?"

She held Psyduck in her hands and stared only at him. "This is all my fault."

Jinpei had the sudden strange idea she looked like a budding flower taken out of the sun and put into a box to die. He shook his head, chiding himself, wondering where the strange thought had come from. "You could have made things easier, but there’s nothing to say it wouldn’t have gone this way anyway."

She nodded at his words but said nothing.

"Where were you trying to go anyway? Were you running away?"

Krystal shook her head. "No. I just had something important I had to do."

"And it couldn’t wait?" Jinpei doubted that. "You did know your grandfather was in some kind of trouble, didn’t you?"

Krystal squeezed the doll in her hands an angry look momentarily crossing her face. "My grandfather only told me we’d be staying at that new house for a few days and that I wasn’t to go anywhere, not even to school. He never explains anything to me."

Jinpei stared at her in surprise in no way having expected the answer she had given him and its accompanying rancor. The doctor had told her nothing? That seemed kind of strange. He wasn’t too sure how to proceed from here. "Um, so, how come you live with him?"

Krystal sighed. It was a long weary sound. "He was the only relative I had left."

Jinpei flinched, realizing he might not have asked the best thing. "Oh." Was there some way he could take it back? As he watched, a tear formed in her eyes and slid silently down her cheek. Now he’d done it!

Krystal squeezed Psyduck again. The duck looked sadly back at her. "It’s been a year, but I really miss them…"

Jinpei didn’t dare ask who, though he could make a good guess. He supposed even rich kids might have some problems in life. And now he had one about to cry in front of him and he wasn’t sure what to do. "I—I’m an orphan, too. But I never knew my parents. It’s weird, but I sometimes find myself missing them, though I never knew who they were."

Krystal glanced over at him in surprise.

"My sister found me, and adopted me. She and my other teammates are all the family I have. I’ve never had a grandfather."

Something hardened in her eyes. "Then you’ve been lucky. Having him is like having no one at all."

Again Jinpei found himself surprised at her words. How could she not like having a grandfather? The guy had money, he had an important job, what more could she want? Grandparents were supposed to be the next best thing to parents! What wasn’t he seeing? "Surely it’s not that bad," Jinpei said carefully. This was unfamiliar ground. "He’s family."

Krystal turned away from him and said nothing, holding Psyduck close.

Jinpei scratched his head not knowing what to say and not entirely understanding what was going on. If the man was so awful, why had she come with him to try and rescue him?

When Krystal said nothing else, Jinpei also turned away and tried to make himself comfortable on the cold, metal floor. He’d try to get as much rest as he could, so he could be that much more alert later. This way, he also wouldn’t have to think about the weird things Krystal had said.

 

 

 

"On your feet!"

Jinpei opened his eyes, startled by the gruff voice. He heard Krystal gasp across the room as she was surprised as well. Looking up, Jinpei saw a green uniformed guard standing in the cell’s open door, holding a machine gun menacingly in their direction. Three more guards stood behind the first.

Feeling a little stiff, Jinpei rose gingerly to his feet. They must have finally arrived. Soon, he’d get a chance to act. He glanced over at his companion/worry, and saw that Krystal had also risen, her hat on straight again, and her backpack and Psyduck back in their usual place.

The guards led them out of the cellblock to the upper level and signaled them to exit via the lowered ramp. They were halfway across the large, domed hangar when a voice rang out behind them. "Krystal!"

Jinpei glanced back as she did, and spotted Doctor Cooper partway down the ramp, surrounded by four guards. The old man was trying to get past his guards to rush toward his granddaughter. Two grabbed his tied arms and yanked him back. A third raised the butt of his machine gun as if he meant to strike him.

"No!" Everyone turned toward Krystal as she screamed. Elbowing the nearest guard in the stomach, she took off running back toward he grandfather. "Leave him alone!"

One of the other guards took off after her, while the third grabbed a hold of Jinpei’s arm. Jinpei glared at the guard, thinking it might be time to try and escape now, but did nothing as he realized the Coopers would be gunned down before he could make it across to the other set of guards. Chagrined, he stood still.

The one who’d been about to strike the doctor, turned his gun around and pointed it at the approaching girl.

"Krystal, no! I’m all right." Doctor Cooper tried to struggle with his own guards again. He couldn’t break free. Krystal came to a stop on the ramp, staring from the gun to her grandfather and back again. The Galactor guard from their group caught up to her.

"Quit making trouble, brat." He grabbed her roughly by the arm and yanked her back. Krystal let herself be guided back toward the others, sending a few glances over her shoulder.

"If you want to stay healthy, I’d advice you not try something stupid like that again." The guard Krystal had elbowed had stood back up and wasn’t looking happy.

The girl said nothing as she and Jinpei were dragged away.

Taken through a twisting maze of corridors, two elevators, and a large number of levels later, the guards brought them to a long corridor filled with cells. The area had a strange musty smell about it, as if it were old and had only recently been put back into service. Jinpei thought this might work to their advantage.

He also hoped that Krystal’s grandfather would be brought to the same area, but since they’d had two separate groups of guards, he didn’t think it would happen.

The two of them were prodded into an open cell. Unlike their previous prison, this one had two cots set against the far side, and was open to the corridor with a wall of thick bars, giving it the look of a jail cell out of an old western film. The cell door closed behind them with a definite clang.

Jinpei stared after the guards as they walked away. He didn’t move until he couldn’t hear their echoing footsteps anymore. He studied what he could see of the corridor and the other cells. He didn’t see any guards or monitors. Perfect. Now if they had little to no shielding… An impish smile grew on his face.

Plopping himself down on one of the musty cots, Jinpei started tapping the face of his wrist communicator.

"What are you doing?" Krystal came up close to him, staring at him with curiosity.

"I’m getting us some help," Jinpei answered confidently. "You and your grandfather will be free before you know it."

The light seemed to leave her eyes. "Whatever..." Krystal shrugged and walked to sit on the other cot.

Jinpei stared after her not able to put the current attitude with what he had witnessed minutes before. "Would you rather I leave him here? Is that what you want?" What was it with her? The guy had seemed truly concerned for her safety, so he did care for her. What was this about?

"No," was her muffled reply. "But maybe I should stay."

"How can you say that?" Jinpei asked startled.

She didn’t look at him. "He doesn’t love me. He barely knows I exist. I hate living with him."

"What?" How had she gotten that idea? The man had almost gotten beaten for her. Surely that meant something?

Krystal pushed back on the cot, hugging her legs to her chest. "It used to be different. Everything was different. Before…" Her voice grew small.

"Before?"

"Before. When my parents were alive. I loved him so much then. And he loved me too. But, but after…" Krystal laid her forehead on her knees.

Jinpei shifted in his seat feeling suddenly uncomfortable. "How did they, how did they die?" He had to struggle to hear her answer.

"I had been staying with my grandfather, at the summer house, and my parents were coming to get me so I could be back home in time for my slumber party the next day," she whispered. "It was raining, really hard, and on the mountain roads, it got slick. A, an eighteen wheeler was coming down and lost control. It jackknifed as they were going past and it forced them off the road before it crashed into them. They died." She reached into the small pocket at the front of the backpack and took out a picture. Jinpei couldn’t see it from where he sat, but could easily guess whose picture it was.

"My Grandfather wasn’t the same after. I didn’t know him anymore. I-I needed him, but he didn’t care anymore. All he cared about after that was his work," she said the last as if it was something that had crawled from a pile of filth. "Oh, he took care of me. I have a driver who picks me up to take me to and from school or wherever I want. I get fed everyday. I have toys, I have clothes, anything I want. But I lost him and he’s never coming back." Her hands shook as she stared at the picture, tears gathering in her eyes.

Jinpei stared at her, nervous about the misery he could see in her because he had no idea what to do about it. "I’m, I’m sorry."

Krystal shook her head, the tears overflowing and running down her face. "They died a year ago today. I’d, I’d asked if I could go visit their graves, if he’d come with me, but he never said. Then, then this stupid thing came up and he made us move and he just told me I wouldn’t be going anywhere until he said I could. So that’s why, that’s why…" A sob wracked through her. She stopped talking and hid her face in her arms, the picture falling to the floor.

Jinpei stopped pushing on the face of the wristcomm, trying to come up with something to help. Heck, they’d never taught him how to take care of crying girls! He got up. He took a step toward her and then hesitated. What could he do? Quietly, he stooped over and retrieved Krystal’s picture.

The edges were worn, as if it had been handled often. It was a family portrait. A younger looking Krystal sat on the front, looking pretty in a lacy pink dress. To either side of her stood her mother and father. Behind them, was Krystal’s grandfather, his smile very bright.

The resemblance between Krystal and her mother was amazing. She looked just like her. This made Jinpei wonder if he might look just like his father. It sent a strange tingle through him to think about it.

Yet as he looked up from the picture all thoughts of this or anything else left him. Krystal was crying in earnest now, though he could tell she was trying hard to keep it quiet. His sister would know what to do. She should be the one here! He was tempted just to back away and leave her alone, just let her get it out of her system, but…

Gingerly, he moved her backpack out of the way and sat down next to her. He stared at her a moment, still undecided and then put his arm tentatively around her. "It’ll be all right. It’s got to be."

Krystal said nothing, but did lean a little toward him, falling into the crook of his arm. After a minute, though he still felt sorry for her, Jinpei found that he liked the sensation of her body leaning on his. Would this be what it would feel like if had a girl of his own to go out with? He hoped it would, he hoped so very much.

Once Krystal’s tears had eased after a while, she fell asleep. As quietly as he could, Jinpei tapped at the face of his wristcomm to summon the rest of the team. After an hour or so of this, he stopped, figuring he’d given the others long enough to locate him. Besides, his finger was trying to cramp up on him.

Krystal woke up not long after that. Leaving her to herself, Jinpei jumped off the cot and approached the cell door. Framed within the bars around it, Jinpei examined the door’s hinges as well as the lock itself. He smiled. This would be so easy! He’d just need to get the timing right.

Almost as if on cue, sirens blared suddenly around them. Flashing red lights inundated the hallway. Krystal yelped in surprise and grabbing her things, quickly made her way to Jinpei’s side. "What’s happening?" she asked, her voice slightly trembling.

Jinpei grinned at her. "It means my friends are here and we’re getting out." He met her gaze with his own. "I’m going to change now, so we can go meet them. Just promise me that later, this will be a secret between the us, all right?" As he gazed into her face, Jinpei realized that the girl’s eyes were a pretty green.

Krystal nodded, though her expression made it clear she didn’t understand.

Making himself look away, Jinpei stepped back and then brought his arm up and then sharply down as he said the words that would begin his transformation. "Bird go!"

As the swirl of colors flowed over him changing his clothes into the uniform of the Swallow, Krystal’s eyes grew wide with wonder. Once the transformation was complete, she stared at him in utter awe. "You, you. I don’t believe it. You’re—" She stopped talking and shook her head.

"Maybe now you’ll believe I really did come to help." Jinpei couldn’t help grinning. Now this was the kind of reaction that was his due. Hah, if Ryu could have seen it. He would have been so envious! His grin grew even wider.

Working quickly, Jinpei turned away and extricated several charges from a pouch on his uniform and packed them into the cell’s large lock as well as packed them on the door’s hinges. After surveying his work, he turned away and was surprised when he saw Krystal already pulling one of the mattresses off the cots. "Good thinking."

The girl gave him a shy but pleased smile at the praise.

Having Krystal move between the two cots, Jinpei placed both mattresses between them and the door. After making sure she’d scrunched down out of the line of fire, Jinpei took out his bolos. Placing a charge inside one of them and taking careful aim, he thrust them at the door even as he dropped to the floor, covering himself and Krystal with his cape. Explosions reverberated through the room a wave of heat flashing over them. The smell of powder and hot metal filled the room.

As the smoke from the explosion dissipated, Jinpei tried to stand only to find that Krystal was clinging to him. "Hey, it’s okay. It’s over now." She coughed at the smoke swirling around them and let go.

"Are you ready?" Jinpei stared at her wondering if he’d hurt her somehow.

"Yeah." Krystal straightened wiping at her face with her jacket. "Let’s go."

With the girl in tow, Jinpei left the cell and rapidly walked up and down the prison corridor to make sure Krystal’s grandfather really wasn’t there. All the other cells were empty.

"Okay," he said, "Now we need to find a computer terminal. Hopefully one of their databases will tell us where they put your grandfather." Jinpei headed out of the cell area with Krystal close behind him.

Gingerly, he opened the heavy ironbound door out into the outer hallway. The area was deserted. "Come on."

Glancing over his shoulder to make sure Krystal was following, Jinpei hunched down and went to the right, in the direction they’d originally been brought from.

The alarms and lights went back to normal as they traveled but Jinpei didn’t let it distract him. There was no way Galactor gotten rid of the team that fast.

Rather than take the elevator, he led on past it looking for a guard station. They’d just come across a four-way intersection and after checking that the way was clear they took the way to the right.

Ten feet down the new corridor, they ran across a door. Jinpei tried the door but it was locked. A keypad was set into the wall next to it. He half smiled thinking it a good sign. Anywhere Galactor went through any trouble to keep people out was a place he wanted in.

He jiggled the keypad’s frame with a feather shuriken. Jinpei was glad Joe wasn’t there or he was sure he’d gotten clobbered for using one of the things for such a mundane task. The keypad’s frame popped open.

Working quickly, he pulled out the wires behind the numbers and bypassed the security input. The door opened. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that Krystal was impressed. He grinned again, liking the way it made him feel.

"Hurry up! The Captain wants them now!"

The gruff voice came from the direction of the elevator. They’d been sent for. Jinpei knew he had only minutes before the guards realized they were gone. A search might then begin for them in earnest. They had to hurry.

Jinpei slapped the frame back on the keypad and then rushed Krystal and himself into the open room before palming the door closed. He fumbled for a light switch in the ensuing darkness and then turned it on.

As the light blinked to life above them, Jinpei’s eyes quickly scanned the small room. Most of the space was taken by a metal desk and a few filing cabinets. Jinpei figured it had to belong to some superintendent for the floor. On the desk, just as he’d hoped, sat a computer terminal.

Saying nothing, he leapt to the other side of the desk and took a seat. "All right then, let’s get to work." Jinpei entwined his fingers together and cracked them.

Unobtrusively, Krystal came around the desk to watch. She jumped when a high beep chortled from Jinpei’s wristcomm unit.

"G-4, here." Jinpei felt clashing emotions at the call. On the one side he was glad to be hearing from his teammates, on the other he wasn’t because he’d yet to find Krystal’s grandfather’s location.

"This is G-1. Report." Ken’s voice sounded strained, the reverberation of explosions and gunfire filling the background.

"I’ve got Dr. Cooper’s granddaughter with me. I’m currently trying to hack into the base’s system to find out where they’ve stashed him, aniki," Jinpei said. "They didn’t take him to the same place." He fidgeted in his chair, not quite ready yet to admit he himself had been a prisoner.

"Okay," came Ken’s reply. "We’ll keep them busy on this end to give you some time. Let us know what you find. G-1 out."

"Roger." Jinpei cut the link. He bit the inner lining of his mouth not liking the increasing gunfire he’d heard in the background. He glanced up, slightly startled, as Krystal placed her hand on his arm as if to reassure him they were all right. Giving her a small crooked smile, he got back to work.

Bypassing the computer’s security wasn’t as difficult as he’d halfway feared. He’d been about to reboot the system and knock it out to the base operating software so he could build one of the special algorithm programs his sister had worked out for creating and finding back doors in Galactor firewalls when Krystal had started opening the drawers on the desk and then pointed to a piece of paper she’d found stuck on the side of one.

"Damn! You’ve just saved us a good chunk of time! It almost makes me change my mind about girls." Krystal blushed red at his words. Grinning, Jinpei typed the words ‘kill gatchaman’ into the login sequence and got in.

Krystal took off her backpack, giving Psuduck a squeeze, and opened it to take out the sandwich she’d not eaten earlier. She kept one half for herself and set the other on the desk for Jinpei.

"Thanks!" He reached for it and took a large bite, never missing a keystroke.

Jinpei quickly located a schematic of the base and had the software highlight all the detention areas. Leaving the information up, he called up another window and using the designation from the first one, looked for any entries in them with that days’ date. He found their entries first, or was pretty sure they were for them, since the location seemed to match with what he’d memorized of their path in relation to the hangar.

He was down to the last few, when he finally found what he was looking for. Krystal’s grandfather had been placed in a highly reinforced area close to the command level. "I found him! Your grandfather is here." Jinpei pointed to a place on the screen.

"Oh!" Krystal’s eyes were bright for a moment than were veiled.

Jinpei shook his head not understanding how she might be feeling. He had to hope the two of them would work things out once he got them out of there. "Come on, let’s go get him."

As he opened the door and took a cautious look out into the corridor, Jinpei activated his comm unit. "Aniki, are you there?" He paused a moment. "I found out where he is." The door closed behind them and he’d yet to get a reply. He didn’t like it. "Aniki? G-2? Neechan?" He got a tight feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"Black Birds," hissed a voice over the comm. Jinpei thought it might be Joe. "Can’t talk now."

"Where are you? I’ll come help!" Jinpei glanced about nervously wondering if any of the assassins were on this level.

Ken’s voice choppily came across the mike. "No—go save—meet later."

Krystal pulled insistently on Jinpei’s cape when he didn’t move. "We should go. The guards."

Jinpei glanced over at her. "Yeah, okay. Let’s go." He led the way back in the direction they’d come from.

Jinpei pressed the button for the elevator keeping his eyes and ears open for guards. He flinched when the elevator doors beeped loudly as the car arrived. He made sure to keep himself and Krystal out of the line of sight as the doors opened. He took a quick peek inside and found the elevator empty.

"Come on." Waving the girl inside, Jinpei followed her in after taking a last look around. As the doors closed and he turned to press the button for the command level, he spotted Psyduck out of the corner of his eye and got an idea. "Say, could I borrow him?"

"What are you going to do?" Krystal asked even as she unclipped Psyduck from the backpack.

"You’ll see." He gave her a grin. "Stand over there for me though, as much out of sight as you can. When the doors open, don’t do anything. Okay?"

Krystal nodded stepping to the other side of the doors and doing as she’d been told. Her manner was serious and unafraid. She stared raptly as Jinpei set Psyduck down in the middle of the elevator as the latter slowed down to a stop.

"Almost there." Jinpei tensed, knowing what he had to do next. This level was surely more guarded than the others.

As the elevator dinged and the doors opened, Jinpei flattened himself against the corner as far as he could, only stretching his hand out to keep the "open door" button pressed.

After several seconds of the doors standing open, first a machine gun barrel and then a curious guard peeked into the car seeing the doll with the strange pained expression on the floor. "What the?"

As the guard reached down for it, Jinpei yanked the two weighted ends of his bolos into the guard’s face, followed by a hard kick to his stomach. The guard dropped with a grunt.

Jinpei scrunched back, even as the elevator doors tried to close against the unconscious guard. The doors opened and closed, opened and closed, even as Jinpei listened to make sure there was no one else out there.

Hearing nothing, he sidled closer to the doors and took a look outside. Seeing no one, he stepped over the guard and out of the elevator. "Krystal, come on. It’s safe now."

The young girl quickly stepped out, but not before returning Psyduck to his usual place. "That was amazing," she said.

"That was nothing," Jinpei grinned half standing in his practiced heroic pose. "Though if I do get you and your grandfather out of here, then you can say it all you like." The grin faded. "Keep watch for me for a minute, okay? This guy here is about to make our lives a lot easier."

Krystal nodded, her face composed as she set herself in the middle of the corridor and studiously stared up and down the corridor.

Hurrying as fast as he could, Jinpei undressed the unconscious guard and then shoved the partially naked man the rest of the way into the elevator car. Jinpei changed back to his civilian clothes and donned the guard’s uniform. He cursed softly as the sleeves and pant legs fell way past his hands and feet. You’d think at least once he could get a uniform that half way fit him. Grumbling to himself, he folded up the sleeves and pant legs and tried to get himself looking as normal as possible. He picked up the guard’s machine gun, the oversized helmet trying to slide on his head. "Okay, let’s go."

Krystal turned around, took one look at him and burst into quiet giggles.

"What?" he asked. "What?" Surely he didn’t look that bad!

Krystal only shook her head still trying to stifle the giggles.

Jinpei snorted in disgust, knowing he’d just lost whatever esteem he’d earned from her so far, and set out to the left. They took it slow, seemingly in no hurry.

They were crossing an intersection when Jinpei looked down both ways. Krystal was doing the same. She looked to the left while he looked to the right. She stopped so suddenly he almost ran her down. "Hey!"

Jinpei turned to look in the same direction she was and was just in time to see two guards walk past another connecting hallway. "Krystal?"

Her face had turned pale. She pointed down the hallway. "I—I just saw him. They’re taking him away!"

"Crap!" He didn’t need this. Why couldn’t they have just left the old man in his cell just a little while longer? They took off down the hall to try and catch up.

Krystal slowly outdistanced Jinpei, the rolled up pants of the uniform unrolling off and on, trying to trip him. After they turned the corner where they’d seen the others go, Krystal ran even faster.

She ran past a connecting hallway and a guard looked out after she’d made it past. "Hey, you! Stop!"

Jinpei leapt, and hit the back of the guard’s head with his knee. There was a cracking sound and the guard went down. Krystal never slowed.

Jinpei chased after her hoping they might still make it in time. If the doctor had been taken out of his cell, it was probably because the commander was about to try and make his escape. If they actually got out of here with him, it might be impossible to find him again. As he rounded a corner, cursing the uniform as it tried to trip him again, he spotted four guards, the Galactor Captain, and Krystal’s grandfather. The lot looked about to step inside a large chute taking up most of the far wall.

"Grandfather!"

Startled faces turned to look at them even as Krystal headed straight for the doctor. Having no time to do anything but react, Jinpei fished out his bolos and threw them, simultaneously leaping into the air and throwing off his disguise so he could transform. "Bird go!"

The bolos wrapped around the neck of the nearest guard. He jerked back and fell, his windpipe broken. The other guards yanked themselves out of their surprise as their comrade hit the ground and started to raise their weapons. Jinpei saw that Krystal was still pelting directly toward them. No!

Leaping sideways, Jinpei pushed off the wide corridor’s wall and shot forward past Krystal yanking her off the floor away from the line of fire.

"It’s a science ninja!"

"Don’t just stand there, fools," screamed the Captain. "Kill him!"

Pulling a feather shuriken from his hidden pocket, Jinpei threw it with all his might at the nearest guard’s face even as bullets started ringing all around him.

The shuriken caught the guard at the temple as he tried to dodge the flying object and went down hard.

"Watch out!" Krystal’s grandfather called out as the two guards left aimed their weapons in Jinpei’s direction. The Swallow leapt again, avoiding the barrage, wishing the hallway was wider. Krystal was clinging to him for dear life, and Jinpei found the added weight distracting.

The Galactor Captain scowled in their direction and then grabbed Krystal’s grandfather and pulled him toward the large chute they’d been originally heading toward. Dr. Cooper resisted, and got slapped in the face for his defiance. Nevertheless, the old man braced his legs and fought as best he could.

Jinpei leapt again, twirled in midair and then aimed a kick at the guard on the left. He landed with a good amount of force on the middle of the surprised guard’s chest. As they fell, Jinpei let go of Krystal even as he tore the machine gun from the guard’s hand and launched it at the remaining guard.

The guard blocked with his own weapon, but it distracted him for several seconds. By the time he was ready to try to aim up on Jinpei again, the Swallow had closed the distance between them and kicked him mercilessly in the groin. As the guard gasped in pain, Jinpei hit him in the back of the neck with a well placed chop and the guard dropped to the ground unconscious.

"Krystal, back away." Jinpei turned to face the Galactor Captain, once she’d started moving back as he’d asked. "You, let him go!"

The Captain had stopped trying to force his captive into the chute and after straightening his ruffled sleeves turned to face Jinpei. "Not bad, little ninja," he said. "But you haven’t won yet. You have me to deal with still. And I was hoping for some good sport today." He smiled humorlessly with white glaring teeth.

Slowly, the Captain drew the Spanish rapier from the sheath at his side.

Jinpei shifted where he stood, trying to figure out how he could put himself between the Captain and Dr. Cooper. He eyed the sword uneasily knowing the team’s uniforms provided more protection from blunt objects than from blades. "You’d best give up. You’ve lost and you know it."

The Captain laughed, stepping back not trying to stop Jinpei from getting between him and the doctor. "Is that so? Well, we shall soon see, won’t we?" He swished his blade in an X pattern then gave Jinpei a salute. "Prepare to die."

"Dr. Cooper, go down the hall with Krystal. And stay out of the way!" Jinpei jumped back, almost smashing into the old man as the Captain abruptly thrust toward him with his sword. Jinpei got knicked on the shoulder and the tip of his cloak got cut as he tried to give the doctor as much time to get out of the way as he could. Dr. Cooper ran down the hallway.

Jinpei’s shoulder stung, and a small chill made its way through him as he realized the blade had made it all the way through the fabric to his skin without much resistance.. It shouldn’t have cut him that easily!

The Captain smiled as the blood trickled from the cut on Jinpei’s shoulder. "Do you like it? Quite impressive, wouldn’t you say? The sword is made of a new allow we’ve only recently developed. You should feel honored," he sneered. "I’d hoped to test the blade on Gatchaman himself, but you will have to do."

Jinpei leapt back again, barely dodging the Captain’s snake like strike, wishing again for more fighting room. As he dodged another thrust, he glanced behind him to make sure the Cooper’s were well out of range.

"They won’t get far." The Captain laughed and then lunged at him again. Jinpei barely had time to flip out of the blade’s path.

The guy was good—Jinpei would give him that. But he had no time for this! Jinpei dodged the Captain’s thrusts even as he was driven further and further away from the chute. His leg and arm stung where the Captain had managed to graze him several times. The uniform had parted like butter, giving him no protection at all. The Captain’s smile grew at each hit.

Breathing hard, Jinpei knew he couldn’t keep this up forever. Sooner or later, the Captain would get lucky and get him good. Then where would his charges be? And it wasn’t like he could expect help from the others. They were busy enough as it was. He was on his own. So he had to take him down, take him down now!

On the Captain’s next high lunge, Jinpei dipped beneath the sword’s blade and threw himself forward reaching up for the Captain’s arm. Grabbing hold of it, Jinpei pulled. The Captain growled in anger and smacked Jinpei in the head with his fist. Jinpei’s head barely rang from the blow, his helmet taking the brunt of the impact. He swung out his leg, pulling those of the Captain out from beneath him. The two of them went down. The sword clattered on the floor as is skittered away from them.

Jinpei tried to rack the Captain in the groin and then leapt after the rapier. His knee tingled from having hit something hard. He’d almost reached the sword when he found himself yanked from behind.

"That’s not for the likes of you, little bird." The Captain spit the words out as he swung Jinpei by his cape toward the wall. "I will drive it through you soon enough."

Jinpei turned and hit the wall taking most of the impact on his right shoulder. Grunting, he pushed away, even as the Captain dived for his weapon.

"Chikusho!" Jinpei leapt up into the air and landed on the Galactor’s back as he bent to retrieve the sword.

Jinpei wrapped his legs around the man’s waist even as the Captain brought the rapier up and around and cut into his arm. Grimacing at the pain, Jinpei brought both palms up and smacked them hard onto the Captain’s ears.

The Galactor screamed and dropped to his knees. Before he could turn and hit Jinpei with the sword again, G-4 chopped down on the soft side of his neck with three swift strikes.

The Captain fell on his face on the hard metal out cold. Blood softly trickled from his mouth and ears. Jinpei yanked the sword from his grip and then rose a little unsteadily to his feet.

"You won!"

Jinpei looked up startled, only in time to get pummeled by Krystal’s body as she thrust herself into his arms. With a yelp, Jinpei fell on his bottom, the girl’s arms wrapping themselves about his neck.

"You won! That was great! You did it!" She suddenly peered beneath his visor and then gave him an awkward peck on the lips.

Jinpei found himself blushing, not having expected the touch of warm lips on his own. "Of, of course I won." He turned his face away, hoping she hadn’t see it, and gently tried pushing her away, though part of him insisted he shouldn’t. He could climbed back to his feet.

He glanced at Krystal’s grandfather as he stood up, and saw that though the doctor looked a little shaken, he seemed otherwise unharmed.

"Thank you very much." Krystal’s grandfather approached him. "I owe you much for taking such good care of my granddaughter."

Krystal looked surprised even as Jinpei felt his blush spreading down his neck. "I—I didn’t do all that much." He sent a quick glance in Krystal’s direction. "You’re not quite safe yet though. We still need to get you two out of here."

"Just tell us what to do," Dr. Cooper said.

Jinpei nodded feeling a little strange to find himself the one in charge. Even Krystal was gazing expectantly at him, as if she thought he knew what to do. Luckily he was saved from having to prove himself one way or the other as his comm beeped on his wrist.

Not long after he answered the call, Jinpei’s teammates caught up to them and hurriedly led the Coopers to safety aboard the God Phoenix and set course toward Crescent Coral.

Krsytal stuck close to Jinpei on their way back, her grandfather never very far. Krystal even helped Jun, as the latter worried, cleaned, and fussed over his wounds. None of them were serious and would heal soon enough. Jinpei hoped one or two of them would leave a scar. Still, Jinpei kept noticing the doctor sending troubled glances in Krystal’s direction, but she never looked at him, seemingly content to just watch Jinpei do not much of anything.

He glanced at Jun a moment, wishing he could discuss the girl’s problem with his sister. Since he couldn’t, he pondered about it a while and decided on a course on his own. "Aniki, would it be okay if I gave the Coopers a short tour?"

Ken glanced back from the bridge’s command chair looking as tired and worn out as the others. "Sure. But not too much."

"Roger." Jinpei got up, a shoot of excitement coursing through him. "Krystal, Dr. Cooper, this way." He had each of them get into the bridge’s small elevator, cramping the three of them in, and took them down. As Krystal’s arm made contact with her grandfather’s, she sent a small glance in his direction. Their eyes met and she quickly looked away. Jinpei almost smiled as he saw the ache in the old man’s eyes after that. This would work.

Jinpei started the tour on the cargo hold and slowly worked his way back. Once they’d come back into the smaller hallways, he looked up at both of them as if he’d just realized something. "Oh, I forgot something I needed to do. Would you two mind waiting here for a minute? I’ll be right back."

Krystal didn’t look happy at this but said nothing. Her grandfather nodded slowly.

"Just be a minute!" He waved at them and left. As soon as he was out of sight, Jinpei halted and snuck back the way he’d come to take a peek so he could watch things unfold without being seen.

Krystal had her back to her grandfather, Psyduck unclipped from her backpack and nestled in her hands. Dr. Cooper watched her, his mouth moving as if he’d speak but no words coming out.

Come on, old man, come on! Jinpei tried to will the old coot to say something.

"Krystal…"

The girl tensed but didn’t turn around. "Yes?"

"I’m glad you weren’t hurt," he said tentatively.

Krystal shrugged in answer.

The doctor tried again. "I, I realized something while they held me prisoner."

Krystal said nothing her whole concentration on the duck in her hands.

Jinpei could see the doctor struggling to put his thoughts into words as she ignored him. You can do it, old man!

"I have three PHD’s, but I realized today I’m still just a stupid fool." He took a half step toward his granddaughter and then stopped. "Though I thought I was doing everything I should have been, I now realize I wasn’t. I was going through the motions sure, but that was all. I’d, I’d shut myself away from you. Your mother…" He hesitated, his hands bunching into fists. "My daughter, she, she was everything to me after your grandmother died." He hesitated again, a mournful tone lacing his voice. "As a widower and his daughter, we made do, though Annie’s loss had been hard on both of us. It’d been so hard on me that I lost any interest in ever marrying again. It just, it just didn’t seem worth it. And I didn’t have time--I had my work and Emily. They were all I needed."

Krystal shifted uncomfortably where she stood.

"I’m sure your mother told you how obstinate I was about her marriage, even though I knew your father because he’d worked for me for a number of years at the lab."

Krystal almost glanced over her shoulder at him but stopped herself before she did it. "So?" she asked quietly.

"So, giving in had been hard. Not that I didn’t like Rob or thought he wasn’t good for Emily, but rather I’d been afraid I would lose her if I let her go. But your mother was never one to be put off. And despite myself, I didn’t lose a daughter but gained a son. And later a beautiful granddaughter."

Krystal pulled down on her hat as if to dispute what he’d said, holding Psyduck even tighter. Jinpei bit his lip not sure she would truly listen to what the doctor was trying to say.

"When they, when they died, it felt like I had lost everything. I couldn’t deal with it, knowing they were gone." His voice wavered. "What I’m trying to say is that it looks like I am not a strong man… And you, you look so much like my Emily, it was almost like looking at her whenever I saw you. And it it did was remind me, remind me she was gone…"

"So you blame me…" Krystal said this quietly as if it were a known and irrefutable fact.

"No! Never!" He took another half step. "If anything, I blamed myself, though my mind rightly pointed out there was nothing I could have done. Still… It hurt, it hurt that they’d left, it hurt that you were growing to look more like your mother everyday yet she was gone. What if, what if I had to go through the pain again? So I shut myself away. And then, when the explosions started, when the security men dropped all around me, all I could think about was you! I ran to your room and couldn’t find you. I almost went mad trying to guess where you could be. Whether you were hurt. Whether by a miracle you could have possibly escaped. Or whether it was already too late and you were dead.

"When they told me they had you, I didn’t resist, I couldn’t. I was too relieved." The doctor’s face was a mask of misery. "I wouldn’t allow them to hurt you because of me. And the way you tried to help me when we got to the base… It was like a dose of reality crashing down on me. I realized I had pushed you away, that I had put my all into my work and avoided you. I had given you everything you could want except the very thing your mother had given me when I’d needed it most—support, love, a family." The old man stared at his hands tears rising to his eyes. "If, if you had died… I would have never been able to forgive myself. I never meant to hurt you but I know that’s what I’ve done. And now that I’ve finally come to my senses, I’m hoping, I’m praying it’s not to late to change, to salvage and be the family we should be. Is it?"

Krystal stood very still, saying nothing. After almost a full minute, she slowly turned around and looked up at her grandfather’s face. As she saw the tears falling gently down his cheeks, her own neutral expression began to crumble. "No!"

She flew into her grandfather’s arms even as the old man hugged her as if he never meant to let go.

Jinpei half smiled, even as tears gathered at the edge of his own eyes. Knowing he’d now done what he’d set out to do, he left them alone and made his way back to the bridge.

 

 

 

Not long after that the God Phoenix docked at Crescent Coral. Once the tons of water had been drained from the bay, Nambu and a flock of medical personnel rushed toward the ship’s lowering ramp.

Jinpei watched as the Coopers were surrounded and then summarily escorted away. Krystal’s hand was held firmly in her grandfather’s and the two of them were shyly smiling at one another. It looked like the two of them would be fine. Jinpei sighed relieved this had worked out and that it was also the end of his adventure.

He was just about to start pondering on the virtues of a really long and well deserved nap, when a small form darted out from the retreating party. Krystal ran up the ramp and stopped just in front on him, before grinning at him from beneath her Pokemon cap. "I anted to thank you again."

Jinpei felt his teammates eyes rivet on them and felt his cheeks grow hot. "Don’t worry about it."

She signaled him closer with a finger, her eyes intent. Krystal took off her cap, letting her golden hair cascade about her face. A little confused, Jinpei bent forward. "Yeah?"

"I know what you did, since you never came back. So I’ve decided that maybe boys aren’t so bad."

Jinpei looked away half-grinning, having decided himself girls might not be all that bad either.

"And I think I just might like to marry you someday."

Almost choking at her words, Jinpei did nothing as she hugged him hard and planted another awkward but even more blissful kiss on his lips. When she parted from him, she flashed a smile and then ran back the way she’d come.

Jinpei could only stare after her his mind and body numb with guilty pleasure.

Joe and Ryu burst out in laughter behind him. "Way to go, hero!" Ryu slapped him on the back. Jinpei barely felt it.

He nodded slowly, feeling tingly all over. Yeah, a hero. He liked that. Maybe things had turned out like they were supposed to after all.

 

 

The End

 

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