Disclaimer: Joe and Jinpei belong to Tatsunoko Caution sensitive readers: more profanity than usual
November 23, 2022
It was a relief, getting back to the base. John had enjoyed the weekend more than he had anticipated, but "the anniversary" was always draining.
The halls were surprisingly quiet. He stopped. Hmmm. Something wasn't right.
He ducked, just as the whoosh of a hammerlike arm flew past his head, and 230 pounds of Darrel Harris went crashing to the floor.
"You sonuvabitch," John said, leaning against the wall, "I'm gonna fuckin kill you you try that again...."
Darrel pulled himself up. "How do you *do* that?" he asked. "You're like a fuckin... a cat, or something, I don't know.... Shit, I been waiting to jump your ass all weekend."
Darrel stood up. "Who else am I gonna jump?" he asked. "I don't wanna get suspended."
John shrugged, and they started to walk.
"You got too much time on your hands, D," he said.
"This past weekend, for sure," Darrell said. "I was hanging out with those fuckin' candyasses from unit B. And fuckin' Mickey, he's a menace, man. I'm glad you're back."
"Yeah," said John, "me too."
"So how was you're weekend, man?" Darrell asked. "Your mom cool?"
"Yeah, she's cool."
"Good, 'cause she's a good person. You know," he said, "I know good people when I see 'em. She's not phony or anything."
"Yeah," Darrell said. "Oh, I forgot to tell you --"
A sudden, female voice interrupted him.
The boys turned. A sprightly blonde bounded towards them.
John moaned quietly. "Her again..." he muttered.
Darrel looked at him and rolled his eyes.
"Johnny," she stopped in front of him, close enough for him to take a half- step back.
"Hi, Nina," he said flatly.
She looked up at him soulfully. "I haven't seen you around," she said.
"Well, I went home for the weekend," he said.
Darrel stood behind her a raised his eyebrows at John, who shot him a look.
"What," Nina asked, spinning around. She looked at Darrell. "What?" She turned back to John.
"We really gotta get going," John said, pointing to the empty corridor behind him.
"Oh, well, wait, Johnny," she pleaded, "There's a party tomorrow night, you know, for the new fighter pilots, and I thought maybe --"
John interrupted her, "Oh, well, see, I'm trying not to drink this week -- we've got a lot of serious training --"
"Well, you don't have to drink."
John paused. "You know, I'm really not interested, Nina," he said.
"Oh," she said, looking crestfallen.
"There's just a lot going on right now," he said.
She perked up slightly. "Oh, well, maybe some other time, then."
John looked into space. "Uh... yeah... possibly..."
"OK, Johnny," she said, turning. "I'll see you later, then."
He smiled weakly. "Yeah," he said, "See ya."
Darrell shook his head slowly as she walked away. "See," he said," That's the difference between you and me, bra', that's the difference between you and me...."
John turned. "She's obnoxious," he said.
"Yeah, well, she doesn't want to sit and *talk* with you," Darrell laughed.
"Only words you'd be hearing from her is your *name* over and over,"
"D, I don't *like* her. I'm not going to take advantage of her."
"Shit, that's all I need is to have her following me around thinking I'm in love with her," John said.
Darrell shrugged. "Still," he said.
"Whatever," John said. He sighed. "Anyway, what did you want to tell me?"
"What did you want to tell me? Before Nina came up..."
"I dunno, man," Darrell said.
"You were like, 'oh, I forget to tell you...'"
"Oh!" Darrel said, "I forgot to tell you! Guess who's name came up in the locker room while you were gone?"
John shrugged. He didn't really care. "Who?"
"I'm stressing *while you were gone*..."
"I don't know, D...."
"Your fuckin' *sister*, man!"
"Fuck off," John said, pushing Darrell's shoulder. "She's just a kid!"
"Yeah, well, she's a kid with a C-cup."
John grabbed Darrell and pressed him against the wall. "You were checking out my baby sister's *breasts*?"
Darrell pushed John back. "Not me, man... those other guys..."
"Well, you can tell 'those other guys' that I *will* kick their asses."
"I already did, bra',"
"Fuckin' *A*, man..."
Darrell smoothed down the front of his shirt. "It's all good, man," he said. "Nobody's messing with your sister."
*Flashback - November 10, 2017*
All John saw when he opened the door was blood. There was blood on his mother's hands, smeared on her face, the floor....
"Johnny," she yelled breathlessly, "take your sister outside!"
But John just stood there, frozen. She had cut him open, right there on the dining table.
Sarah clutched her brother's arm. "What's happening, Mama?" She was crying.
"*John!*" Kira screamed, "I need you to get your sister out of here *now!* Please!"
He stepped back, and turned Sarah around.
"Everything's going to be OK," Kira said, "Everything is going to be..." her voiced trailed off.
John pushed Sarah outside. He looked back. He knew what his father was, and he knew his mother had operated on him before, but never right there, right in front of them.He'd never seen anything like it - his father's chest was a mass of blood and organs and wire.
Sarah cried as she sat on the back step. "Is Daddy dead?" she sobbed.
John looked at her, and knelt beside her. "He's not dead, Sarah," he said. "Mom's fixing him."
She let out an anguished wail.
"Don't cry," he pleaded, but he couldn't stop it.
"What if she can't fix him?" She looked at John.
"She will," he said. But the scene had shocked him, too, and he wasn't sure anymore, either. "If anything happens to Dad, I'll take care of you. Me and Mom." He put his arm around her.
Sarah continued to sob. "Who's gonna take care of Mom?"
John squeezed her shoulder. "Mom can take care of herself," he said. "And we'll take care of her, too." He wiped his eyes. "But Mom's going to fix him, OK? She always does."
Sarah pressed her face against his shoulder. "I just want my..." she sobbed.
He touched her hair. He was starting to cry now, and he didn't know what to do. "I know, Sarah," he said. "He'll be OK... He'll be OK real soon."
Mickey knocked on the door. "Dr. Kyoto?" he called. "Chief?"
"The door's open," Jinpei called. "Who is it?"
He pushed the door open. "It's me, Owens," Mickey said.
Jinpei nodded and waved him in. "What's up, Owens?"
"Um..." he looked nervous. "I was just messin' around today, and..." he handed over a bunch of papers. "I found this."
Jinpei scanned them, looking concerned. "Where did you find this?"
Mickey shifted. "I'd rather not say..."
Jinpei stood up. "Look, kid, I don't give a shit about your hacking. I'm not going to turn you in." He crossed his arms. "You wouldn't *be* here if you didn't know what you were doing."
Mickey swallowed. "OK," he said.
Jinpei shook his head. "It doesn't matter where you found it," he pushed a button on his desk, accessing UN Headquarters.
"What is it, Kyoto?" General Basal asked, as he appeared on the screen before them.
"Sir, one of my boys has found a very irregular reading, here," he said, sending the papers through to him. "I find it very suspicious."
"Well...." The general looked it over, but seemed unclear. "How do you suggest we look into this? I don't want to pull our best units out of Alteca with the unrest there."
"No," Jinpei agreed, "I'd like to get *my* team together to check it out."
The general paused. "Is your team assembled?"
"They've been chosen, sir -"
Mickey perked up.
"But not yet assembled," Jinpei said.
"What kind of time frame are we talking about here?"
"We have time. Not a lot, but -"
The general interrupted him. "Assemble them, then," he said. "And don't send them anywhere until you speak to me."
Jinpei nodded. "Yes, sir." He switched on the intercom.
"Sir?" Mickey asked.
Jinpei ignored him as he began speaking into the microphone. "This is Dr. Kyoto," he said, "The following must report to my office *immediately*." The names came out abruptly:
"Asakura, John. Casey, Tena. Harris, Darrel. Ito, Anji." He switched off the mic and moved across the room anxiously.
"What about me, sir?" Mickey asked.
"You're already here," he said.
"Does that mean I made the team, sir?" he asked.
Jinpei looked at the kid. "Of course you made the team, Owens," he said sternly.
Mickey smiled. "Thank you, sir!" he said. "I won't disappoint you!"
"No," Jinpei agreed. "Not if you know what's good for you."
*Flashback - November 11, 2017*
Kira scrubbed the blood from the floor furiously. She tried not to notice her husband's livid stare.
"If you don't tell me, I'll just ask them myself," he said.
Kira stopped. "I told you, they were *outside*..."
"What did they see?"
She looked away. "They hardly saw - "
"'Hardly'?" Joe bent down and grabbed her arm. "Did they see?"
Kira looked at him, her eyes wide. "They were only in here for a minute -"
"God damn it, Kira! How could you do that?"
"I didn't have a *choice*!"
"Don't give me that shit." He wasn't yelling. He didn't have to. She had never seen him so angry.
"I don't care what happens," he said, "you don't *ever* let my kids see that."
Kira stood up. "They're *my* kids, too!"
"Why don't you act like it, then?" He glared at her. "I thought you had better judgment than that."
"What was I supposed to do?" she wanted to know. "You would have *died*. Would it be better for them to come home and find you dead?"
Joe paused. "Maybe it would."
"Don't say that, Joe."
"I mean it, Kira, that was the last time."
She shook her head and looked away.
"Kira!" He grabbed her by the shoulders. "I'm serious. It's *over*. You promised me -"
She tried to pull away. "I *can't*."
"You *have* to. I won't *let* you -"
"No." Her voice started to rise. "I can't stand there and watch you die -"
He covered her mouth with his hand. "Shhhh..." He looked over his shoulder. The children were outside, but he didn't want them to hear any of this.
"You told me you'd let me go when it was time," he whispered. "And you know as well as I do that it's *time*."
Kira blinked as the phone rang. She looked down at the arm she was working on, its hand opening and closing slowly. She disconnected the circuits and pressed the answer button. Jinpei appeared on her screen.
"Oh, hi, Jinpei," she said.
"Kira," he said, "the team has been assembled."
She straightened up. "Where's John?"
"He's drilling with the others."
She thought for a moment. "Did Darry make it too?"
"They both made it," he said. "I just wanted you to know that it looks like they'll be going out by the end of the week."
"Why? What's happening?"
"I'm sorry, Kira," he said. "I can't give you that information."
She took a deep breath. "OK."
"I have a lot of confidence in them," Jinpei said. "That is, as long as they don't kill each other."
Kira leaned forward. She was almost smiling. "If he gets out of line, tell him you'll have me come down there."
Jinpei smiled. "I tell him that already. It works."
Kira sat back "Take care of my little boy," she said. "It's your turn now."
He nodded. "I'll look after him," he said. "You look after yourself and Sarah. Peace stay with you."
She nodded. "With you, too," she said.
He disappeared from the screen.
Kira stood up. She wasn't sure how she was feeling. She paced a little, until, finally, she picked up an old framed photo from her desk. It was her favorite one, taken just a few days after John's birth. In it, Joe cradled his infant son, and although the baby's eyes were probably still learning to see, it looked as though they looked at each other in awe. John's tiny fingers - was he *ever* that small? - reached towards his father's face. Kira looked at the photo for a long time, until she couldn't anymore. She glanced at another favorite - taken just a few months before - of John, leaning away from the camera, laughing. Sarah deserved a Pulitzer for that one. She placed the baby picture back down, and got back to work.
*** (One hour earlier)
"What's up, Chief?"
Jinpei turned around as Johnny and Darrel walked in, at last. "Are you two ready, because it shouldn't have taken you ten minutes to get here."
"Maybe they had an impromptu wrestling match on the way," quipped Tena.
"Shut up, Tena," John said, "What are *you* doing here, anyway?"
"I was *called* here, just like you," she said, then turned to Anji. "I liked him a lot better before I heard him open his mouth."
"Yeah, well, I *never* liked -"
Jinpei stepped in. "All right... no one likes each other. But you'd better get *used* to each other...."
"Why?" Darrel asked.
"Why do you think?" Mickey said, rolling his eyes.
"Asakura," Jinpei said abruptly, "you're in command -"
"What?" Darrel interrupted, "Why does he get -"
"You're the bombardier, Harris -"
"Fuckin bombardier... I don't want to be the - "
"Wull, I wouldn't mind - " John started,
"These assignments are *final*," Jinpei said. "Casey," he continued,
Tena interrupted him. "You're not saying that *we* have to take orders from Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dumber, here?" she motioned to John and Darrel.
"I thought you said there were going to be *females* on this team, Chief," John said.
Jinpei ignored them "...you're in charge of navigation and mechanicals, of course -"
"And what the hell is *he* doing here?" Darrel asked, pointing to Mickey.
"I was just *getting* to that," Jinpei said. "Owens is intelligence and infiltration."
Mickey nodded and grinned.
"Oh, God...." Darrel said.
"Ito, if you haven't guessed, you're our main pilot."
Anji nodded. "Yes, Sir," she said.
Jinpei nodded. "Do you all understand your positions?"
The team stood silent, glancing at each other. It was finally setting in that this was it. No one was shocked that they were chosen. All had been involved with intensive solitary and pairs training for months. Even Mickey, for what he lacked in fighting ability, had the skill and IQ to put him above the rest.
Jinpei opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out five communicator bracelets, which he handed out, one by one. "This is your bracelet, your wristband, whatever you want to call it," he said. "Once you put it on, you're never to take it off, except by my orders." He glared at them. "Not Asakura's. *Mine*. Your band has been programmed specifically for you. It knows you. And it can do a *lot* for you. We'll go over its functions over the next couple of days. You'll find it had many uses, but it is not a toy."
"How do we change into uniform?" Mickey asked.
Jinpei looked at him. "We'll get to that later. But you'll find that everything you can do now, you'll be able to do better. I was ten when I started on the team. Had no problem fighting grown men hand-to-hand. Now, imagine harnessing that - and multiplying it - for, say, Harris, here."
"You will have three days to master this -"
The team looked shocked. "Three days?"
Jinpei scowled. "You've already been trained, team," he said.
"But not with the armor," Mickey pointed out.
"I told you," Jinpei said, "The armor will make it *easier*. You'll see."
"With all due respect, Sir," John said, "I know for a fact that you had more time to train."
Jinpei stood in front of him. "That was twenty years ago."
"We haven't worked together, yet, though, Sir."
"Look," Jinpei said, scanning the team, "You can train for ten years - you're not going to learn any more than you already know until you get out there."
"But we don't even know who we're fighting!" John said, stepping forward.
Mickey looked at the Chief. "No, we don't," he said. "But they've got a heavy arsenal. And they're heading right towards us."
Disclaimer: Jinpei and Joe = Tatsunoko
NEW BLOOD PT 3
"Look," Jinpei said, scanning the team, "You can train for ten years - you're not going to learn any more than you already know until you get out there."
"But we don't even know who we're fighting!" John said, stepping forward.
Mickey looked at the Chief. "No, we don't," he said. "But they've got a heavy arsenal. And they're heading right towards us."
John turned to Mickey. "How the hell would you know?" he asked.
Mickey crossed his arms. "Well, unlike some of us, I don't sit around shining my piece all day."
Darrel grabbed John's shoulder before he could even reply. "That's it," John said, "You're done."
Tena, who outmatched Mickey herself, stepped in. "You're only proving his point," she said.
"There's nothing to prove," John said, pulling from Darrel. "And I wouldn't talk, anyway, Tena, you're butcher that I am."
Tena laughed. "Like that's so *hard*."
"Chief!" John turned to the Jinpei.
Darrel shook his head. "You walked right into that one, " he laughed.
"What are you looking at me for?" Jinpei asked.
"How do you expect me to give orders to those guys?"
"Well, you can't let them walk all over you."
"None of these guys is even capable of listening," John said.
"What are you picking on *me* for?" Anji cut in.
"Because you're with *that*," he pointed to Tena.
"You guys are hopeless," Mickey said. "We might as well just surrender now."
Jinpei put his hand up. "OK! That's it. Get your asses up to the training room now! We'll discuss the details later."
The team looked at each other, and turned to go.
"Not, you, Asakura," Jinpei said.
John stopped, and turned to face the chief.
"Shut the door," he said.
John complied, and stood, looking at Jinpei, who paced, arms crossed.
"Do you know why I assigned you as the leader?" he asked.
John looked at the floor. "I don't know. Because you were friends with my dad?"
Jinpei sat down on the edge of his desk. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't pay special attention to you at first because of that."
"Great," John mumbled.
"But if you hadn't lived up to my expectations, which were high - higher than what I expected from anyone else - I would have left you in Unit B with the rest of them. Don't think for a second I wouldn't have. And I'd never give *anyone* your post just because of their name." "Why'd you give it to me, then?" John asked.
"Because I know you can do it. *You* know you can do it. You *knew* you were going to make the team."
John shrugged. "I'm glad about it and everything, but those guys won't *listen* -"
"Well, I didn't see you listening to Mickey here a few minutes ago." Jinpei stood. "John, you're a smart kid. You can get their respect, but not by running to me whenever the piss you off."
John nodded slowly.
"You've got an awful lot going for you," Jinpei said. "Don't waste it."
*Flashback: November 11, 2017*
John sat on the back step, staring at his shoes. He felt his father sit beside him, but he didn't react.
Joe glanced at him. "hey, buddy..."
John stayed completely still. He didn't even blink.
Joe took a deep breath. "Johnny," he said, "What happened yesterday -"
John looked up abruptly, fixing his gaze on his father's, stopping his words cold. His eyes were full of hurt.
John didn't let him finish. "Are you going to die, Dad?" he asked, flat out.
Joe paused. "We're all going to die..."
"Don't bullshit me," John said. "I'm not a little kid. I don't need you to hide stuff from me."
Joe looked his son in the eye. "You do too," he said.
"No, I *don't*," John said. "Nobody hid stuff from *you* when you were my age -"
"Oh, so now you want to be like *me* at your age?"
John looked away.
"Is that what you want?"
John shook his head slowly. Tears ran down his cheeks.
"You better think before you say things, John." He crossed his arms. "I'm *sorry* about what happened yesterday. I never wanted you to see that. I don't care what you say, twelve is still a kid. And I don't want you to lose that, because you can never, ever get it back, Johnny..."
John sniffed. "Maybe it's too late," he said. "You think I don't know what's going on, but I do."
Joe didn't say anything.
"Why does she have to keep cutting you up?"
"It's hard to explain, Johnny..."
Joe paused. "Nothing works in me anymore," he said slowly. "I can feel everything slow down," he looked down at his hand. "and my veins jam up." He looked at John. "I can't describe it."
John blinked. "Does it hurt?"
"Usually it doesn't hurt," Joe said. "Sometimes it hurts bad...." He pressed his finger against John's temple. "If it gets too bad, my brain just shuts off, to stop the pain."
John made a face. "What does that feel like?"
Joe thought for a moment. "It's like... it's not bad, actually... kind of peaceful. But, see, if it stays shut down for too long," he ran his finger down the side of John's head, stopping behind his ear. "Everything shuts down. That's death."
"But Mom can fix you, though," John said.
Joe sighed. "Well, see, that's the thing," he said. "She's fixed me so much that there's not much left to do. And if she made it so that my brain could just tell the rest of me to stop jamming up, so it wouldn't have to shut down..."
John narrowed his eyes at him.
"Well, I wouldn't be me any more."
"What do you mean?" John asked. "What would you be like?"
"I don't know," Joe said, " I might not even know you anymore. That's why I don't want to do it."
"You wouldn't even know Mom?"
"I really don't know," Joe said, "but I wouldn't be me anymore. And it might not work, either. I just can't keep *doing* this..."
John pressed his eyes against his crossed arms. "You just *want* to die..."
"John," Joe said, "If I could live and do right by you and Sarah and Mom, God, I would in a second. You think I want to leave you?"
John turned his head and rested in on his arms, his eyes closed.
Joe put his hand on his back. "You're a great kid, Johnny," he said. "You're everything I ever wanted in a son... even when I didn't know I wanted one." He squeezed his shoulder. "You can do anything you want to.... You have so much going for you. And I hope you think about me when I'm gone, but, you're right. You don't need me to hold your hand anymore."
John gripped the old, broken airgun in his hands. He wiped his eyes and nose on his sleeve. He felt a hand grip his shoulder.
"You all right there, Johnnyboy?" Darrel asked.
John sniffed. "Leave me alone." He placed the gun back on its shelf and sat on his bed. Darrel kept his eyes on him.
"Wipe your nose, at least, dude. You're snotting all over."
John sniffed again. "Shit...." He grabbed a dirty t-shirt and blew his nose on it.
Darrel made a face. "Nice. Remind me not to borrow your clothes anymore."
John glanced at him. "I never let you borrow them, anyway. You just take 'em."
Darrel shrugged and sat on his own bed, opposite John. "You know, you're lucky. I never knew my dad."
"This isn't about my dad, D -"
Darrel rolled his eyes. "Who do you think you're talking to, man? I *know* you're thinking about your dad. You always play with that thing -" he pointed to the gun, " - when you think about him. I don't give a shit if it makes you cry. I *respect* that shit, man."
"What if I fail?" John asked, rhetorically more than anything else.
"You never worried about that before," Darrel said. "None of us mean anything by it when we give you a hard time. We're just-"
"Maybe *you* don't -"
"Naw, man, Mickey and the girls, they respect you.... They're maybe jealous -"
"But they're cool, man."
"Since when do you defend Mickey and Tena?"
"Since never," Darrel leaned forward. "And don't you fuckin' tell them I did, either. But, deep down, that's what I think. We'll be OK, us five."
John leaned back on his elbows. "I guess." END PT 3
"You mother -"
John came crashing into the hallway, just missing a collision with Tena and Anji.
"-fucker!" Darrel ran out after him, wielding a soggy T-shirt.
John grabbed Tena and ducked behind her. "D's got a present for you, Tena..."
Darrel reached past her and grabbed John by the throat. "You're gonna *eat* this, snot boy!"
"Get the hell off me!" Tena simultaneously kneed Darrel and elbowed John, dropping them both. "Psychos."
John got up, eyeing the bag in Anji's hand. "What's this, Anj?" he asked, grabbing it out of her hand. "Is this *booze*?" He took of running. "You are *so* busted!"
"Give it back, asshole!" Anji screeched, taking off behind him.
"Oh," Tena said, shaking her head. "He is so -"
" - dead" Darrel finished, picking himself up off the floor. They started after them.
Mickey popped out of his room, cutting them off. "What the hell's going -"
Tena grabbed him, still running. "C'mon, Owens, you're going to have some fun for once!"
They ran after John and Anji, until they came to a T in corridor.
"Which way did they go?" Tena asked, looking both ways.
"I think we lost them, " Mickey said. "Maybe we should just call it a -"
Tena grabbed the back of his collar. "You're not going anywhere," she said.
There was a noise from above.
"Up there!" Darrel pointed to a shaft overhead.
"But there's no way up there," Mickey said.
Tena rolled her eyes. "I can't believe you actually made the team."
Darrel stepped back, lunged into the air, and grabbed onto a fixture on the ceiling. He leapt over to the shaft and hoisted himself up.
"See, it's easy."
Mickey looked at Tena. "Well, go ahead..."
Tena shook her head. "Oh, no... if I go first, you'll just run back to your room and *read* or something."
"But this is so *stupid*!"
"Up!" she pointed towards Darrel.
Mickey sighed. There was no getting out of it. he took a deep breath, and went for it. It wasn't pretty, but he made it. Tena followed easily.
Darrel was already halfway up the shaft, heading towards an opening. "I think they're up here," he called back.
Mickey shook his head. "They're not up there," he said. "This is - "
"Shut *up*, Owens," Tena said. "You are *such* a wimp."
Darrel didn't see them, at first.
He spun around, and managed to catch an airborne wine bottle before it smashed into his head. "The *fuck* are you trying to do to me?"
"You owe me fifteen bucks, Johnny," Anji snarled.
"Holy *shit*...." Darrel was still contemplating his near miss. He looked at the open bottle, shrugged, and took a drink.
"Fifteen," John said, "For that cheap shit. I don't think -"
Anji hauled off and punched him in the face. He fell back, catching himself on the ledge behind him.
"Whoa," John said, touching the side of his mouth and checking it for blood.
"Nice one!" Darrel called out, laughing.
"That was pretty good, Anj," John said. He sucked air through his teeth. "That *hurt*...."
Anji shook out her hand. "Don't screw with me, Johnny," she said.
Tena came up behind Darrel. "What's so funny?" she asked.
"You just missed it," he said. "Anji just clocked Johnny good." He took another swig from the bottle.
"Give me that," Tena said, yanking it from him.
Mickey stood behind Tena. "Wow," he said, looking out at the lights in the distance, "How did you know you could get up here? You can see the city from here..."
"I didn't know you *could* get up here," Darrel said.
"Me, neither," Tena said.
Mickey walked over towards the edge of the roof. He glanced at John. "What's the matter with you?"
"Shut up, Owens," John said.
Mickey shrugged and looked up. "I wish I had my telescope up here."
"Owens," Darrel said coming over, "can you go five minutes without having a totally wussy thought?"
"It's not wussy - don't act like your not interested in this stuff."
"Not right now, I'm not," Darrel said. He grabbed John by the jaw and inspected the damage.
"Get *off* -" John protested.
"Ah, it's not too bad," Darrel said. "Makes you look tough."
John laughed. "Yeah."
"You always see *mine* coming,"
"Yeah, well, I misjudged the length of her fuse, I guess."
Darrel looked out at the lights. "She probably wants you."
"Whatever, man," John said. He picked up the cork and bounced it on the ledge.
"How'd you know you could get up here?" Darrel asked.
John gripped the cork and pitched it out into the night air like a baseball. "Didn't," he said. "I just found it. Pretty cool."
"Yeah," Darrel agreed. "Wonder if they can find out we were up here?"
John shrugged. He looked back at Anji and Tena, who were sitting on the ground, sharing the rest of the bottle. "What'd you think of those two?"
"I think I'm glad they're on our side," Darrel said. "If these guys turn out to be male, we've got no problem, with Tena fighting with us."
John laughed. "True.... But it's like, I don't get it... I wasn't trying to be flat-out mean to Anji..."
"You stole her wine, opened it, drank out of it, and started playing keep- away..."
"It's no different that what I'd do to you."
"Yeah, but I'd've kicked your ass, too."
"She *didn't* kick my ass... besides, that was different. She was really *pissed*."
"Well, what the fuck did you expect?"
"I expect that if she and Tena want to be treated like anyone else - like guys - they don't freak out when you treat them like guys... It's like, if I treat them like *girls*, they want to fight me. If I treat them like *guys*, I'm an asshole."
"Yeah, but they think you're an asshole, anyway, so you can't be doing that... it's not like you're all friends...."
"We're *supposed* to be friends."
"Nuh-uh. We're supposed to be a *team*. It doesn't matter if we love each other or hate each other."
John shook his head. "I don't agree with you, man."
"Well, then, maybe you need to get some social skills."
"What? I've got social skills!"
Darrel shook his head. "You've got *no* social skills."
"I fuckin' do!"
"You can't deal with people."
"Oh, see, now, that's not right... I can totally deal with people."
Darrel smiled. "I don't think so."
"Shit..." John made a face. "Well, I have better social skills than you do!"
"So what? That ain't saying much." Darrel leaned back and spit over the side of the building. "See, that's the difference between you and me. I *know* I'm a jerkoff. You're a jerkoff, too, but you don't even realize it."
John clicked his tongue. "You are so wrong, D."
"Isn't it weird?" Mickey asked from his perch a few feet away. "It's so beautiful up there. It's hard to believe there's so much bad stuff out there."
"It's not hard to believe," John said.
"I think it is," Mickey said. He looked over at John and Darrel. "You guys stand around and bullshit all the time... aren't you even worried?" He looked over at Tena and Anji. "We could be dead by Saturday."
"Oh, *god*," Darrel said, turning. "There any wine left, Tena?"
She held up the half-empty bottle. "Help yourself."
John turned to Mickey. "So what? We could be dead by Saturday - I could toss you over the side here, and you'd be dead thirty seconds from now."
"I'm just sayin'..."
"What, are you psycho?"
"I'm not saying I'd *do* it, I'm just saying it's *always* there, anyway, whatever you do."
Mickey looked exasperated. "Well, I think going out and fighting the enemy is a little more risky than walking down the street."
John shook his head. "I don't agree with that, Mickey, that's bullshit. How many people died in the Galactor Wars?"
"Millions," Anji said.
"More than that," John said. "And a whole hell of a lot of 'em were just walking down the street. Didn't know what him 'em."
"You're forgetting, though," Mickey said, "that the last time they tried to put together another team like this, they all got wiped out in two seconds."
"That team wasn't properly trained -"
"Oh, please -"
"No - they didn't know what they were doing..."
"John! *We* don't know what we're doing!"
John shook his head.
"You compare yourself to your father -"
"No - sorry - everybody else does, *I* don't -"
"You don't have to be here, though - nobody made you come. You're here because you want to be, so you can be like your father."
"All right," Darrel broke in. "This is going nowhere..."
"No, I'm cool, D," John said. "I don't know what you think, Mickey, but I didn't come here for *fun*. My mother had a *breakdown*. Chief agreed to take care of us while she was sick. *That's* how I got here. It wasn't *fun* for me."
"Well, you didn't have to *stay*..."
"What are *you* doing here, Owens? You don't want to fight, don't trust ISO -"
"Because I don't know anything else. I don't have the luxury of memories of my father or phone calls to my mother. You think you're so tough. When you came here five years ago, I'd already been here *six* years. I don't *know* anything else."
John stood silent, glaring at Mickey.
"Don't *tell* me you know more than I do, about *anything*. I probably know more about *your* father than you do."
John drew back slightly, but didn't say anything.
"You're my commander now, and I'll respect you. But I won't let you get away with telling me I'm full of shit all the time. I *won't*. Fuck that." He looked around. "From *any* of you." He turned, and ran inside.
"Mickey!" Tena got up to follow him.
"Leave him alone," Darrel said. He nodded at John. "See, what did I tell you? No social skills."
November 26, 2022
The kid was sharp. As Ken watched him, down below on the gym floor, he almost felt proud. He had no reason to. He'd done nothing to help mold the boy - nothing at all. His parents and Jinpei and the Training Academy were the ones who had made him who he was. But Ken felt it all the same. He felt a bond with the kid - especially now. Now, they shared something more than before.
"Do you always shoot hoops all by yourself?" Ken called down.
The kid looked up. He was surprised to learn he was being watched, but smiled when he saw it was Ken.
"Hey," he called. "How's it going, sir?"
Ken walked over to the narrow stairway and started down to the bottom. "John," he said, "I told you. I don't want you to call me 'sir' or 'Mr.' or anything - you know you can call me Ken."
John shrugged. "I know." He tossed the ball to Ken. "Wanna play a little one on one?"
Ken smiled, and tossed it back. "Nah... I don't think so..."
"You're afraid I'll kick your ass," the kid said.
"I'm not afraid you'll kick my ass," Ken said. "I *know* you will."
John tossed the ball casually towards the net. It went in.
"Nice shot," Ken said.
"I'll spot you ten points," John offered.
Ken smiled and shook his head. "Now, that's just insulting..."
John laughed. "Yeah, well, that's OK," he said. "This isn't my game anyway."
"Nope. My game's contact football."
"A man's game, I guess," Ken said. "What's your position?"
John looked at him like he'd just asked him what color his hair was, or something equally obvious. "Quarterback," he said.
Ken nodded. "Should've known," he said. "Well, if your aim is anything like your dad's, you must do all right."
John shrugged. "He taught me all right," he said. "The thing that sucks, though, is that Chief made us quit playing."
"Really?" Ken asked. "How come?"
"Thinks we'll get hurt off-duty. Can you believe that?"
"Well, you have to put the team first."
John picked up the ball and bounced it a couple of times. "Yeah, but it's still bullshit." He looked at Ken. "You guys got to do whatever you wanted."
Ken paused. "No, it's just that - it was a different time."
"Yeah," John agreed. "It was better."
"I don't know about that..."
"Well," John said, "I've never been hurt playing football. Sheesh. I'm half cyborg anyway..." he took another shot, smiling as it went in. He looked at Ken, who was giving him a strange look.
"That was a joke, Ken," he said. "You know, it's not like it's an inheritable trait..."
Ken nodded. "I get it," he said. "I just... didn't know you joked about it."
John shrugged. "You gotta do something..." He paused. "A person can drive himself crazy."
Ken looked at him. He wasn't sure exactly what he meant, but he got the point. "Yep," he said. "A lot of people have."
John looked at the floor. "I won't, though." He stood, arms crossed. Ken didn't want to bring it up, but he wondered if the kid unconsciously mimicked his dad's gestures, or if he had somehow inherited them. He had gotten a lot better about being around John - it didn't freak him out to see him any more, but sometimes it was still hard to look at him.He lowered his gaze. Ken had never noticed that the kid had tattoos on his arms - he'd always seen him in long sleeves. He smiled as he recognized Joe's symbol, the condor, displayed boldly on his skin.
"So," John asked, "What are you doing at the base, anyway?"
Ken paused. "Well... I wanted to see you, John. I thought maybe we could talk."
"Hm. OK," John said. "You mean about the mission?"
"Something like that."
"Should I be nervous?"
"I... wouldn't be surprised if you were nervous."
"What? Before my first mission? Hell yeah."
John thought for a moment. "I'm more nervous that the team won't listen to anything I say."
"Well, probably they won't."
John smiled. "Thanks..."
"I mean, you know, you're going to want them to put in their input, especially at first... do you really want four blank faces staring at you, waiting to be told what to do?"
"Huh. No... But I don't want them - well, especially Tena - to tell me what to do, either."
"Just hold your ground. But don't pull rank unless you absolutely have to."
"No way. You're still a team."
John nodded. "Right."
Ken looked at him. "I think they made the right decision, choosing you."
"Yeah? Well, I guess you have to say that."
"No I don't," Ken said. "I was pulling for you. I didn't have any input, but I ... I thought you were the right one. I don't know, I guess I'm biased...."
"I've known you since the day you were born..."
John smiled, and rolled his eyes. "True," he said.
**Flashback** September 19, 2005
"Oh, he's *beautiful*!" Jun was gushing. Ken didn't know what bugged him more, the fact that she was gushing, or the fact that she kept looking at *him* while doing so.
"Yep," Ryu said, "and he's all boy, too."
Jun looked at Joe. He placed the baby into Kira's arms, as if he wasn't confident that he wouldn't drop him. "He looks just like you, Joe," she said.
He looked up. "You think so?"
"Oh, I see it," Jinpei said, sitting one the edge of the bed.
"I see it too," Kira said.
Jun looked like she was about to burst. "Can I hold him?" she asked, finally.
"Jun," Ken said, "you can't be passing him around. He's just going to start screaming."
"Of course you can hold him," Kira said.
Joe stood up and turned towards Ken. Ken smiled and held up Joe's helmet. In all the excitement, he'd forgotten that he was still in his uniform.
"You should get into something more comfortable," Ken said.
"Yeah, that's probably a good idea..."
Ken paused. "So... how do you feel?"
Joe looked back. "I feel kind of bad that I wasn't with her... I don't know if it's really hit me yet."
"Well, you'll take some time off... get used to it."
Ken looked at him. "Joe, you have to take time off. Don't be stupid."
"I'm not taking time off. It's not like I'm gone every day..."
Ken glanced around, and lowered his voice. "Joe. I'm serious. I don't want you reporting in for four weeks."
Joe glared at him. "All right. Step outside."
"Into the hallway."
Ken followed him into the hall and shut the door. "I don' want to argue - "
Joe turned to him. "You're *suspending* me?"
"Suspending you? I'm giving you *leave* so you can be with your *son*... and your wife... who, I should add, doesn't have anyone else to help her..."
Ken shook his head. "It's bad enough that you won't even consider retiring..."
Joe exhaled. "We're not having this discussion now."
"You know, you're right. It hasn't hit you. You're a *father* now. Do you even know what that means?"
"It means that I have more reason to fight, Ken, not less."
"He doesn't need you to be out there killing yourself for him, he really doesn't. He needs you to be there..."
"Look, Ken, just because your father turned his - "
"This isn't about *my* father - "
Ken faced him. "You can call it a suspension. Call it whatever you want. But don't come in for four weeks."
Joe paused. "I'll take one week."
"I'll take two weeks... come on, Ken, don't do this..."
Ken thought for a moment. "OK, two weeks. But if you change your mind and want more time, it's still open."
"I'm not trying to be a hardass about this, Joe," Ken said. "But you know how I feel about it. What you have in there is a *family*. And that's the most important thing in the world. I shouldn't have to tell you that."
Joe sniffed. "You *don't*."
"Hey, Asakura, is that you?"
John turned to see Mickey hanging out of his doorway.
"What is it, Owens?"
"Can I talk to you for a minute?"
John paused. "It's getting late..."
"I know, but this is really important."
John walked over to him. "OK... what is it?"
"I want to show you something..." He turned. John followed him into his tight quarters. Mickey didn't share like the rest of them, so he had a really tiny room. "I'll be glad when we get our new apartments, won't you?"
John looked around. There were papers everywhere. "Yeah... won't have to share with Godzilla anymore..." He picked up a folder. "What *is* all this shit?"
Mickey grabbed it out of his hand. "Don't touch anything!" he said. "It's called research... it's what I do when you guys are out... pretending to kill things."
"Never heard of it," John said dryly. "You know, they never made *me* take any of those classes where you have to actually think..."
"Shut up," Mickey said. "Are you going to listen are are you going to play around?"
"You haven't said anything yet."
Mickey gave him a bemused look and sat down at his computer. "You know a lot about the Galactor organization, right?" he asked, as he clicked away at his keyboard.
"What do you want to know?"
Mickey paused, then resumed. "Do you think they'd send about a hundred of their people out into space in the early '80s?"
Mickey turned to him. "No, the 1480s..." He shook his head. "Maybe they thought they'd lose and they wanted to preserve some of their people by sending them away. Does that sound like something they'd do?"
John thought. "I don't know... It always seemed to me that they had more confidence than that."
"That's what I was thinking."
"And, besides, it's not like they really valued their human followers that much."
Mickey nodded. "True."
"Why, was there a mission like that?"
Mickey pointed to the screen. "These files here are encrypted. But I was able todecipher some of them. They tell about a mission in nineteen-eighty... something... that involved one hundred and seven people. It appears to have been fifty males, fifty females, and seven children."
"Yes... these people weren't trained astronauts or anything, any of them... which, of course, is very strange for that time."
"I don't remember anything about this."
"I'd never heard of it either... it was extremely confidential. And even these notes... there is very little detail. Nothing on the purpose of the mission."
"You think it was a Galactor mission?"
"I - I don't know... I wanted to get your opinion." He paused. "Maybe it was set up by the UN ... or the ISO..."
"If so, wouldn't the Chief know about it?"
"You'd think... I mean, maybe it was *so* secret that only a few people knew about it. And this was before the Chief's time... it was before the General's time, even..."
"Yeah, but still..."
"I mean, the UN didn't know what was going to happen. But they must've known the Organization was powerful enough to destroy everything. There was no KNT at that time... they weren't even born yet, probably."
John nodded slowly, and stared at the screen. "My dad was born in... like '84..."
"Right. Maybe they were scared. Maybe they chose a nice cross section of civilians and shot them out into space."
"The point being that you think now they're coming back."
Mickey shrugged. "It's a theory."
John sighed. "Well, that's easy, then. We just tell them we won. It's a hundred and seven people. Put 'em in quarantine for a few weeks... they'll have a little culture shock, but - "
"No. No, John, you don't understand. It's not a hundred and seven people anymore." He tapped some more and came up with a new screen, with a dark, somewhat fuzzy image on it."
"This is a picture taken from ISO's Mars base an hour ago. This image isn't even clear, but there's got to be five hundred ships there."
Mickey nodded. "Easily... and looking at the ships..." he magnified the image. "Look... even if 3/4 of that ship was arsenal, there would still be room for at least a thousand people on one of these ships..."
"A thousand - wait... you're telling me there are half a million people on those ships?"
"I'm telling you that's a conservative estimate."
John sighed. "Mickey... that's not possible. You know that's not possible."
Mickey just shook his head.
"*Mickey*... those people shouldn't have aged more than a few months, let alone reproduced..."
"No, you're thinking as if they just traveled for a few billion miles and came back. They could have gone anywhere... We don't know everything about the Universe, how time really works... what if they had crossed some kind of... time warp... thousands of years might have passed for them..."
John shook his head. "I don't believe that... Why are you even connecting this to the mission in the '80s?"
"Because they're from Earth."
"What makes you so sure of *that*?"
Mickey turned his monitor towards John. "Look at that. What do you see painted on that ship?"
John looked. "That's a coincidence..."
"What is it?"
"It looks like an old Italian flag. But -"
Mickey clicked. "What about this?"
John paused. "That's an old British flag."
Mickey nodded. "Let's see..." He clicked. "Japan..." click. "Brazil..." click. "Oh, here's an artifact... a US flag with the stars and stripes..." He turned to John. "There's more. Do you want to see them?"
John shook his head slowly, his gaze fixed on the monitor. "Who else have you told this to, Owens?" he asked.
"No one. I wanted to run it by you first."
"Well. I want to keep a lid on it until we get a closer look tomorrow. OK?"
Mickey nodded. "OK. No problem."
John headed for the door. "Get some sleep. Gotta lot of miles to cover tomorrow."
November 27, 2022
Ken still felt inexplicabley drawn to the base. He considered leaving, going home like he probably should have, but, somehow, he couldn't. He was too nervous and anxious about this mission.
Still, as Jinpei often reminded him, he had nothing to do with this team. He hadn't even met some of them; he had briefly been introduced to the young female pilot, as well as the skinny kid who was the team's (and, it seemed, the entire base's) intelligence unit - but that was it. Except, of course, for Johnny.
The truth was, Ken couldn't really call himself close to the kid. He was trying to be, espcially since Johnny landed the leader position on the team. But he'd really only had his first true conversation with him just two weeks before, on the anniversary of Joe's death. Still, he felt close to the kid. He was worried about him. He felt as though if something were to happen to the kid, it would be too much to bear. John seemed to Ken to be such an embodiment of his father, as much as he struggled for his own identity. He was, in a way, all that was left of Joe. Oh, Sarah reminded him of Joe, too - but it wasn't the same. It all made Ken feel almost overwhelmingly protective of the kid.
He sighed. "I wonder if there should have been backup," he said, turning to Jinpei, who sat as his desk behind him.
Jinpei looked up. "We don't want to appear antagonistic," he said briskly.
"I know, but... they're so outnumbered."
"The ship is designed for this kind of mission. Besides, all we really need right now is data -"
"It doesn't bother you that this fleet of ships is so heavily armed?"
Jimpei sighed. "Ken. I know you're worried. But this isn't your mission. You have no input."
"Yeah, well," Ken said, turning back to the window. *I should,* he thought.
Jinpei glared at Ken's back. It had been great having him around, at first. Now he felt like Ken was trying to muscle in. And he had worked too hard for too long with these kids to to let anyone tell him how to run things now.
"You know, Ken," he said, getting up and ambling over beside him. "John isn't your responsibility. He's mine."
Ken paused, looking down. "I know. I'm not trying to override your authority. I just feel like I should be here."
"Well, it isn't helping anything. Kira isn't even here, pacing the floors like this."
"I know, but... I just feel like -"
"Maybe," Jinpei said, unsure if it was the right thing to say, "You should put some of this energy into your own kid."
Ken sighed in exasperation. "You know, I can get this talk at home."
"You should listen," Jinpei said. "Your kid -"
"My kid..." Ken was silent for a moment. "You know," he said finally, "he doesn't even know me. He's not proud of me..."
"Are you proud of him?"
Ken didn't answer. "I just wanted him to be safe. I didn't - *don't* - want him to get his head blown off."
Jinpei shrugged. "Who would want that?"
"And you think I'm an asshole because of it."
Jinpei sighed. "All I'm saying is that you have a son of your own, and it's not John. John's *my* kid now. One of them, anyway."
*Flashback* November 20, 2017
Joe took a look out over the drilling recruits on the platform below.
"They're looking good, J," He said, turning. "Did you get any word on assembling your own team?"
Jinpei sighed. "I got word all right," he said. "They said it wasn't in the budget, and not necessary during peacetime."
Joe shook his head. "That's ridiculous.... When the next attack comes, we'll be caught with nothing but general forces."
Jinpei shrugged. "They say the odds of another large-scale attack are slim..."
"That's what they said when X was defeated."
"I know. That's exactly what I said... I wish I had the means to just train them myself."
"Mm." Joe sat down in front of the desk where Jinpei was seated. "Well, don't give up on it. You know what's right."
"I know, but -"
"It'll come around." Joe pulled off his sunglasses. It had been a long time since Jinpei had seen him without them. He wore them indoors as well as outside, especially where flourescent lighting was prevalent, like the base. Jinpei had taken that into account, and had switched on only the warm incandesent lights in his office.
Joe blinked a few times as his eyes adjusted, then looked directly into Jinpei's eyes. Jinepi drew back; he nearly looked away, but didn't.
"I have something really impotant to ask you," Joe said.
Jinpei swallowed. "What is it?"
Joe paused, his gaze unwavering. "I'm not going to be around much longer - "
"No, just listen to me..."
"- don't say that..."
"Look... I haven't been doing well lately." He looked down.
"Well, you've always come back from whatever... you've always been OK..."
"Not this time. I just... I've been deteriorating too fast..."
"You look fine to me," Jinpei said. "A little tired, maybe -"
"I'm not tired. I ..." Joe paused. "It's not something you can tell by looking at me. But I'm breaking down. Kira knows it, but she won't admit it. Even John and Sarah know it, I think. Every day now, I wake up and I don't even know where I am. It used to happen every once in a while, now it's every day... pretty soon it'll be all the time. Nothing she's done has really helped. Not permanently."
Jinpei stared at him, speechless. "Well, there has to be something..."
"Sure. I could be a robot. She could probably program it so it acted like me, even." He paused. "But that's not going to happen."
Jinpei looked down. "Well... I don't understand. What do you want me to do?"
Joe picked up a pen from the desk and looked at it for a moment. "I need to know that my family will be OK when I'm gone. Especially my kids." He dropped the pen and put his sunglasses back on. "Kira, she can tak care of herself. But if anything happened to her... or if she needed help for some reason..."
Jinpei was shocked. "You want me to take your kids? Me?"
"You're good with them. And I trust you, Jinpei..."
"But I don't know anything about raising -"
"You watch over 1,200 kids here!" Joe said, motioning towards the window.
Jinpei shook his head. "It's not the same!"
Joe sat back in his chair and crossed his arms.
"I mean, haven't you thought that maybe Jun and Ken might be -"
"No. No, I haven't, Jinpei. I'm not going to send my son off to be sheltered like some..." he searched for a comparison.
"Well," Jinpei said, "It's pretty sheltered here, too."
Joe shook his head. "Look," he said. "I chose *you*."
Joe sighed, and paused for a moment. "Jinpei," he said, finally, "do you remember when Ken and Jun quit the team?"
Jinpei looked at him cautiously. "Of course I remember."
"And then *Ryu* left the team..."
Jinpei nodded. "Sure."
"I felt like I was the only one who gave a *shit* about what was going on -"
"But that's not really -"
"And you were the only person who didn't walk out that door that day."
Jinpei swallowed. "Well, you were right. There was more to be done. It was a hard decision, but... I knew you'd've gone alone otherwise."
"I would have."
"That didn't seem right."
"If it weren't for you, that war would probably still be going on... either that, or we would have lost it - lost everything..."
Jinpei smiled. "I can't really take the credit, Joe, you did most of the work -"
"Well, I couldn't have done it alone. There are times, when I'm feeling... weak or selfish... and I think I could have done it by myself." He leaned forward. "But deep down I know that's not true. You know it, too. There isn't anyone I trust more, next to my wife..."
"Ken's gonna kill me..."
"Ken's not gonna kill you - it's none of Ken's business."
Jinpei stood up and started pacing. "I don't know..."
"Look, if you don't want them -"
"I never said I didn't *want* them!"
"Well, I need an answer right now - *right now* - because if you're not willing to do it -"
"Of *course* I'm willing to do it," Jinpei said, standing in front of the window. What else could he say? He disagreed with Joe that he was the best choice, but he wasn't going to say no. He turned to face him. "And Kira agrees with this?"
Joe nodded. "I have your word, then?"
"You have my word." Jinpei sighed. "I guess I shouldn't be worried about it," he said. "You'll be OK, Joe."
Joe smiled weakly and gave Jinpei's shoulder a squeeze. "Thank you," he said.
Jinpei nodded. "No problem..."
Joe looked at his watch. "Look, I have to go..." He stepped backwards toward the door. "But, really," he said, "this means everything to me."
"I'll see you around, then," Jinpei said. "You should stop by more often."
Joe turned the doorknob. "Yeah," he said, and paused. "Goodbye, Jinpei."
Jinpei raised his hand in a wave. "I'll see you," he repeated.
He never would again.
His voice sounded stern, and old. The communicator crackled, then snapped into stark clarity.
"Doctor, this is G-1... we're at 32-8237... "
Jinpei and Ken looked at each other, startled by the break in silence and relieved to hear from the team after so many hours.
Jinpei spoke into the microphone quickly. "This is Dr. Kyoto," he said, "Do you have anything to report?"
"Yes, Sir," John replied. "We've made contact, Sir."