Katse rubbed his hands together, pausing before peering with one eye at a test tube filled with bright green fluid. Around him various flasks steamed and gurgled in various states of percolation.
‘What is this one, Doctor Rolf? It looks wonderfully dangerous!’
‘It iz call Kool aid. Lime flavor.’
‘Hmm. You need to work harder on naming your chemicals. Is it poisonous?’
The almost bald-headed man wearing the auspicious white lab coat looked askance at Gallactor’s great leader, ‘Yez.’
‘So. Have you created what I asked for? Where is it? I’m paying you good money you know.’
‘It iz very deefficult, zis ting you ask of me. Take ze ordinary cowardly minionz and turning zem into loyal army zat do everyting you zay.’
‘Dr. Rolf, why is it that all evil scientists speak with a horrible Germanic accent?’
‘You would hire me if I am speaking ze Jamaican?’
‘Touche. Very well. Are you finished yet?’
‘Why are all evil dictatorz in impozible hurry?’
‘Is that a yes or a no?’
Dr. Rolf uncrossed his arms and handed Katse a small vial, ‘No. I create ze powder like you ask, and it will remove ze fear but ze patient goez nutty. Happy. Crazy.’
‘Fabulous,’ Katse said sarcastically, ‘you’ve created LSD.’
‘It alzo create rash. Spread by body fluidz.’
Katse backed up two paces, ‘You mean it’s infectiouz? I mean infectious?’
‘Hmm. Maybe I can think of something to do with it after all. Is it permanent?’
‘I do not know, I had to kill ze patient. I get tired of ze show tunez. And I have only one vial yet.’
‘Well make some more. A lot more. Like the entire population of earth more.’
Dr. Rolf scanned his sterile laboratory quickly, ‘Are you certain iz wize to build important rezearch lab within your giant attack machine?’
‘What do you mean, inside a mecha? What could happen?’
As if in response, the floor tilted suddenly beneath them followed by a deafening boom.
‘Run for it!’ Katse screamed as he bolted for the door.
Dr. Rolf sighed and shook his head, ‘I should have stayed in Zalem.’
Ken rubbed his hands together and then pressed his fingers to the panel. The door to Hakase’s office hissed open in response. The rest of the team followed him in. They spread out into the room and waited for Nambu to finish his phone call. Ken was particularly satisfied with the team today and was looking forward to the debriefing. True, they still didn’t have Katse in custody, but their engagement today was very efficient. It seemed to be a pattern when he and Jun worked together. He allowed himself a smile at that thought. Yes, today’s mission reports would be shorter than usual having had no major complications. Except for that last little bit with Jinpei. He had only thought to bring the Swallow along for practice…
‘Congratulations Gatchaman,’ Nambu said from behind his desk, ‘A successful mission in record time and no collateral damage to the God Phoenix. The engineers are grateful.’
Lowering himself unto the couch, Joe snorted in response.
Still standing, Ken offered a more official report, ‘The mecha was easily infiltrated, Hakase. We were able to sabotage it quickly and Katse was within hands reach but-‘
‘He got away again,’ Joe finished with a sneer, ‘For once it would be nice to say we accomplished something other than a mushroom cloud. ‘
‘We did manage to find out where the supply bases in New Jork are. Katse got away but we almost had him,’ Jun soothed.
‘Until he blinded me with dust,’ Jinpei strode forward and perched himself on the corner of Nambu’s desk, ‘F*#@n’ dirty trick!’
‘Excuse me?’ Nambu half rose from his chair. Ken wasn’t sure if it was in response to the swear word or the fact that the Swallow’s rear end was parked on a pile of papers marked Important.
‘You’re excused but try not to let it happen again Hakase,’ Jinpei reached over and took a sip out of Nambu’s coffee mug.
Ryu had his fist in his mouth as his body trembled with the effort not to laugh. Before Nambu could turn a deeper shade of purple Ken marched Jinpei to the table and sat him in the chair, ‘Not another word. What has gotten into you?’ he handed the boy a pen and piece of paper, ‘Start your report – now. And keep quiet!’
‘Sorry Hakase,’ Ken bowed his head slightly, ‘As Jinpei was saying, Katse distracted us by throwing a handful of white powder at his nearest target. I suspect it was an act of desperation – it didn’t really do anything but it delayed us for the split second he needed to escape. We gave a sample of the powder to Chief Medical Officer Krys on our way here.’
‘Thank-you Ken, I am aware of his rank.’
‘Sorry Hakase. Afterwards we alerted the UN of the all clear and they took over the clean up. The preliminary evaluations of the mecha agree with our initial assessment -’
‘Enough already Ken,’ Joe added, ‘The short story is mecha boom, Katse gone.’
Jun folded her hands in her lap. Ken watched her out of the corner of his eye to see if she seemed disheartened by Joe’s cynicism, but she kept her chin up. He was proud of her resilience. They had done an excellent job today and aside from one awkward moment when their arms touched in the elevator she had been a consummate professional. Joe continued.
‘And since we have no other information about the next –urk!’
‘The next urk?’ Ryu snickered.
In a moment of stunned disbelief, Joe was wiping a wad of paper that was sopping with spit off the side of his face. At the same instant Jinpei was lowering the shell of the pen from his lips. In a blur Ken leapt into a body hug that captured an enraged Condor in the midst of launching himself from the couch.
‘You are dead, kid. So dead,’ Joe growled.
‘Aniki, I’m done with my report!’ Jinpei saluted with one finger.
‘Young man!’ Nambu slammed his mug on the desk.
‘So sorry Hakase! He is just disappointed about not capturing Katse,’ Jun swept in and hastily ushered Jinpei towards the door, carefully avoiding Joe in a wide arc. She smiled meekly at him before chastising the Swallow marching before her, ‘You are going straight to your room young man, this very –‘
The door whisked shut behind her. Nambu hissed as he began reorganizing his desk, then began muttering to himself about children and zoos.
‘Let me get you another coffee Hakase,’ Ryu grabbed the mug and quickly retreated from the room, audibly sighing with relief at his escape.
‘Seen and not heard,’ Nambu tapped his desk with his finger.
‘What in the world was that about?’ Ken asked in disbelief.
‘I suggest you get your team under control, Ken. That was unacceptable.’
‘You can let me go now.’
Another moment passed before Ken was certain he could risk releasing Joe, ‘You promise to behave?’
‘For crying out loud. I just want to go back to my trailer, relax and have a shower. I’ll kill the kid later.’
‘Fine. Alright. But stay in radio contact.’
‘Uh huh,’ Joe checked his watch, ‘Traffic is going to suck.’
‘Just stay out of trouble.’
Joe just rolled his eyes. It wasn’t worth a response.
The hallways of the ISO tower were as clean as a surgical operating room. Ken admired the shining polish that allowed an almost perfect reflection on the floors. He walked at a crisp pace past the seating area with its one fake rubber tree to the elevator. He checked the clock on the wall against his watch to make sure they were in unison before entering. Nambu’s assistant joined him in the elevator, pressing the lobby button with a manicured finger. She smiled at Ken – not too little to be dismissive, but not too much to be encouraging. Just cordial. As was expected. Her hair was pulled neatly into a tight bun.
‘You have a smudge on your glasses,’ Ken offered helpfully.
She was still polishing them when Ken stepped out onto the floor where their unofficial quarters were. He checked the clock on this floor. Five seconds slow. An ear piercing scream followed by a snarling bark were the only warning before a blur of yellow and purple slammed into his midsection.
‘You bit me!’ Jun screamed from down the hall.
Sitting atop the prone Ken, Jinpei growled happily. He was in full birdstyle but for some inexplicable reason he had put a yellow t-shirt on overtop and pulled a yellow mask over his helmet.
‘Jinpei! Why are you dressed like big bird? Wait! Are those forks in your hands?
Before he could answer, Jun jerked Jinpei up by his scruff into the air. She dangled him out at arm’s length, ‘You actually bit me! What? Do you have rabies or something? Some kind of yellow vampire?’
He slashed outward with the forks making whooshing noises, ‘Wolverine! I’m Wolverine! You old people never read comics?’
Jun glared at him, ‘We should have let Joe kill you. Sorry Ken,’ she apologized dragging the wickedly grinning boy back down the hall to his room. From his position on the floor Ken saw Jinpei wink at him and then smile contritely. When Ken frowned in disproval, Jinpei returned another one finger report.
‘Okay one fresh cup of java. Sorry it took so long, but I had to put on another … hello?’
When Ryu returned to Nambu’s office it was empty, but the computer and lights had been left on. Shrugging, he left the new coffee on the desk and was about to leave again when he noticed the half eaten Danish by the monitor.
‘Aw. It even has a cream cheese icing. Now why do people always let good food go to waste?’ he clucked in displeasure letting his eyes roam around Nambu’s cluttered desk. ‘Wow. And all this time I thought he was doing something important!’ Ryu slowly lowered his bulk into the ergonomic chair and admired the freehand sketch done on the memo from President Anderson. He began scrutinizing the other doodles while absently munching on a stale half eaten Danish.
‘Huh. This one kinda looks like a giraffe.’
‘Thanks for coming up so quickly Ken,’ Chief Medical Officer Krys tugged on his labcoat and closed the door to his office, ‘I wouldn’t have summoned you if it wasn’t urgent.’
‘I was on my way anyway Krys, Jun has a bite wound she needed to get cleaned up.’
‘Yes well, you folks do get some strange types of trauma. Anyway – that powder you brought in from Gallactor has some very odd properties. At first we thought it was an explosive powder that failed or even some caustic agent. Turns out to be some kind of low grade biologic.’
‘Like a medicine?’
‘No, more like a growth medium. Like a powdered agar. We’re sorting through the imbedded germs right now. So far just normal airborne bacteria are growing out, but I’m still playing it cautious. Jinpei was the only one exposed to the stuff – has he shown any signs of illness?’
‘Does being obnoxious count?’
Krys blinked at him silently.
‘Okay, I mean way more obnoxious than normal.’
‘Hmm. Maybe you had better bring him by – just in case.’
Ken nodded and gave a sharp salute. He was back in eagle mode. Eyes sharp, muscles tense and at the ready. Even without the birdstyle the transformation was instantaneous. Years of physical and mental training kicked into high gear as he set off on his next mission. Retrieve the brat.
‘Hakase, I just stopped by to -’
His back was to Ken, but even from the doorway it was obvious that something was not quite right with his mentor. For one thing, he was wearing a smock.
‘What do you think, Ken?’ Nambu pivoted and held out a fan of multicoloured swatches for Ken’s appraisal. ‘I’ve been leaning towards the lemon but now the seafoam seems to be speaking to me.’
‘Uh – seafoam?’ Ken repeated.
‘Hmm. Interesting choice. A little hesitation at first though. Perhaps some inner conflict there. Are you feeling out of touch with your chi, Ken?’ Nambu’s tugged frantically at his tie knot until it hung loosely around his fourth shirt button.
‘You really should read more psychology you know,’ Ken backed away as Nambu shook the paint swatches at him, ‘I mean if you aren’t in touch with your inner eagle how can you expect – wait! Chartreuse! Of course!’
Lightly closing the door behind him Ken padded silently backwards until he was safely in the hallway. It was then that he realized the lights had been dimmed.
‘Bottle of red … bottle of white …’
Ken turned slowly, as if expected the floor to open up and swallow him if he moved too suddenly.
‘It all depends upon your a…a…appetite.’
Standing on the lounge coffee table, surrounded by fake rubber trees now adorned with white Christmas lights, Ryu was crooning into a soup ladle doubling as a microphone.
‘I’ll meet you anytime you want...’
Nambu’s assistant, hair now falling loosely over her shoulders, was sitting at rapt attention on the couch opposite. Ryu lowered himself until their heads were only inches apart.
‘At our Italian restaurant.’
‘Ryu!’ Ken hissed.
The Owl didn’t even turn his head. Eyes locked in a dreamy stare with his appreciative audience, he dismissed Ken with a wave. ‘Go away Ken. I’m working it here.’
‘This is G-1 to Medical Officer Krys. I think we have a situation.’
‘I’ve locked down the building,’ Krys walked briskly alongside Ken back towards the medical wing, ‘And outside security is rounding up the only four other people unaccounted for. A dozen or so of my staff were locked away in their labs doing experiments so I’m certain they haven’t been exposed. I’ve diverted them to working on the problem.’
‘What are we dealing with here?’ Ken asked nervously.
‘A contagion of some kind. We should have that nailed down shortly. Transmission doesn’t seem to be airborne or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Either that or it isn’t that virulent. Was there any physical contact between Jinpei and Doctor Nambu that you can recall?’
‘No, they never touched,’ Ken rubbed his temple thinking back to the debriefing, ‘Oh! Jinpei did take a drink out of Nambu’s coffee mug!’
Krys nodded, ‘Yes, okay. Salivary transmission is a possibility. What about Ryu? Any thoughts?’
‘No, but he was out of my sight for a little while. Will they be alright?’
‘Well you’ve seen the symptoms so far. The patients seem to suffer total lack of inhibition and no sense of consequence. Other than that it doesn’t appear to be harming them in any way. It puts the normal functioning of this facility at risk and that in and of itself is dangerous. I don’t want to think about Doctor Nambu being incapacitated for any extended period of time. Hopefully we can detect an immune response and use it to create a vaccine. Thank you by the way, for helping me take the blood samples from G-5. We’re lucky his reticence isn’t holding back any violent tendencies. He’s a big enough guy to be dangerous if he wanted to be.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘This infection lowers all the barriers of self restraint and all the members of your team are capable of serious damage. In other words, thank goodness he doesn’t have it out for anybody.’
‘Ken - are you okay? You’ve gone completely white! What’s the matter?’
The security detail was instructed to back away from Joe’s trailer until Ken arrived in person. He had made the call himself to confirm that nobody had died yet. Apparently a police car was parked outside but other than that the scene was quiet. In a hurry to get to the sub-garage as quickly as possible Ken was in a full run down the corridor when he collided with the person stepping around the corner. Crashing to the floor, Ken used their momentum to roll himself underneath and keep from crushing the hapless pedestrian. He found himself staring up into Jun’s shocked face.
‘Ken!’ she was straddling him. A fact that Ken found himself all too aware of. He scrambled to his side and lifted her gently back up to her feet.
‘I’m sorry – I was rushing, but I’m glad I uh,’ Ken mentally calmed himself, ‘Jun. We have an emergency situation.’
She stepped closer to him, eyes widening, ‘Go on.’
‘The powder. Remember the powder,’ he blinked.
‘Uh huh,’ she stepped closer, her lips parting slightly.
‘Are you wearing lipstick? I’ve never seen you wear lipstick.’
‘I always look this way Ken,’ she answered slowly.
‘I uh, never noticed. That. The lipstick,’ suddenly there was a wall against his back. When had they narrowed the hallways?
‘I know,’ she was even closer now, gently pressing herself against him.
‘I was going somewhere,’ Ken murmured.
‘Yes, yes you were,’ she answered, lifting her chin.
‘Jun!’ Ken pushed her back abruptly holding each shoulder in his hands and keeping his arms locked rigidly. He shook his head. There. A room off the hallway. Not letting go of her shoulders he backed towards the door and pulled them both inside. He was relieved to find it empty and let go of his vice grip.
‘Hmm. Great idea!’ Jun draped herself against him. His head banged against the door as it closed behind them eliciting a startled grunt from his chest. Jun leered in a predatory way at the noise and pressed her lips ferociously against his. Ken felt the air rush from his lungs even as his arms seemed to stop flailing all by themselves. After a moment he managed to mumble something.
Jun released him just enough to stare intently into his eyes, ‘What was that?’
‘Earthquake,’ he replied dreamily.
This time they both felt the floor tremble and their foreheads collided as they each looked down at their feet at the same time. Jun took a step back rubbing her head.
Shaking his head Ken raised an arm defensively, ‘Jun. Stay here until I get back. Don’t open this door. Stay.’
‘Ken! Are you putting me in a time-out?’
‘Okay, yes. Sort of.’
‘Can I choose to have a spanking instead?’ she advanced towards him.
Bolting out into the hallway, he spun and locked the door behind him. Chest heaving he paused to lean against the wall for a moment. For just a moment he looked longingly back at the door. The next reverberating crash sent him sprinting for the stairs.
‘Holy sh-‘ nearly leaping out of his own skin, Ken sprung for the next landing in the small dark stairwell. On the back of the door he had just come through was a large painting of the Phoenix done in a blocky cube kind of style with the head of a chicken where the nose of the ship should have been.
‘What the hell is that?’
Clinging to the underside of the stairs above him, Jinpei was in a fit of giggles – and red pajamas.
‘For crying out loud!’ Ken looked down at the bird rang in his hand, ‘I could have killed you idiot! Is that graffiti your handiwork? What in the world are you doing?’
‘Playing Spiderman. I want a bird rang! Can I have a bird rang?’
‘Absolutely not. Get down from there.’
Jinpei stuck his tongue out at Ken. At least it wasn’t the finger. Resisting the urge to throttle the boy, Ken tried to steady his breathing and concentrate on a solution. Going back through the door and finding Jun was appealing on more than one level. No, he had to get out of here and find Joe. If he could just keep everyone else occupied then he could feel safe leaving them alone. He glanced up at Jinpei. Keeping him focused on anything was near to impossible unless…he snapped his fingers. It was time to think like a twelve year old.
‘You know that game Jun won’t let you play? The one with the rampaging prostitute zombies?’
Jinpei dropped down neatly in front of Ken and smiled wickedly, ‘You mean “Need for Resident Evil Pimps?” You know where she hid it?’
Jinpei smacked his own forehead, ‘So obvious!’ then was barreling past.
One floor up, the once pristine floor was now littered with refuse. Broken lights hung by tenuous threads from the ceiling and paintings had crashed to the floor. He was getting closer to the source of the tremors. An upended desk had a pretty accurate caricature of Katse taped to it and was being used as a dart board.
‘Now that I do like,’ he commented aloud.
A short dark skinned man was holding a one sided diatribe with a photocopier.
‘Why do you say paper jam when clearly there is NO paper jam?!’
Ken skirted around him and followed the trail of clutter. The next door he came to was the war room. Normally locked tight, it was slightly ajar. He stepped inside and got a lung full of rancid cigar smoke. Waving for fresh air in front of his face he found three of the UN’s top generals seated around a table playing cards. Naked. Except for General Wung. He was still wearing socks.
‘That is not a proper military solute, boy. You should be court-martialed.’
‘Say,’ General Whitehouse drawled, ‘You wouldn’t happen to know the rules for strip poker would you?’
‘Uh, well sirs,’ Ken blinked, ‘I think there are supposed to be women present.’
‘Females!’ Wung slammed his fist on the table, ‘Of course!’
‘The boy should be an admiral.’
‘Congratulations, son. You’re an admiral.’
The men went back to playing their hand, completely forgetting Ken’s suggestion. He shrugged and went through the corridor to Nambu’s office. It was a good idea to check on Hakase while he was nearby.
‘Medical , this is G-1. Come in.’
‘Ken! You’re still here?’ Krys responded
‘I’ve run into some obstacles. Listen I’m on the fourteenth floor and I think the outbreak is spreading.’
‘Tell me about it. It is widespread on this floor as well so we’ve barricaded ourselves in, but the good news is that we are close to a breakthrough.’
‘Make it quick. The top brass is out of commission and if Galactor launches an offensive in the middle of all this we are going to be in big trouble,’ Ken entered Nambu’s office and froze in midstride. Desperately fighting the sudden wave of nausea he covered his mouth with his hand and reached out with the other to find some solid object to lean on.
‘What about Doctor Nambu? Have we lost him too?’
Every inch of wall, ceiling, floor and furniture was painted in psychedelic swirls of neon pink, yellow and green.
‘That would be a yes.’
‘I’ve been thinking about it Ken. Maybe you should stay put. We’ve quarantined the building for a reason. If you’re infected…’
Ken just shook his head and closed the communication. He didn’t even want to think about what Joe was up to now. He might already be too late to stop him. A hippie Hakase was one thing, but an unrestrained Condor on the loose was unfathomable.
‘Wonderful! Ken! It’s so good to see you!’
‘Hakase?’ Ken spun around and then noticed some of the brightly coloured swirls were moving towards him. He swallowed the bile rising in his throat.
‘Oh, look at me!’ Nambu used his sleeve to wipe most of the paint from his face. How he saw through the glasses Ken had no idea. He was dangling a straw from his mouth.
‘Hakase - you did all this? Wait a minute. Is that a bong?’
‘I’ve been ignoring the other side of my brain for far too long now. It has been screaming at me all this time and I never heard. But this,’ Nambu gestured at the walls, ‘This is so ten minutes ago. I’ve moved on to bigger challenges. Come with me! I want to show you something!’ He grabbed Ken’s arm and started to tug him towards the private library. Eager to get out of the disorientating room he followed without protest. In the center of the library were buckets of murky water and a paper shredder that had seen better days. They stood next to a seven foot tall object covered in a dirty white sheet.
‘My greatest creation!’ Nambu circled around in front, made sure Ken was looking then grabbed the sheet with both hands. He whipped the sheet off with a flourish. It was larger than life. Nearly seven feet tall and pointing towards the heavens, done totally in paper mache, was a very nude statue of Red Impulse. Complete in every detail.
‘What do you think?’
‘I think I’ve gone blind.’
‘The male form is nature’s greatest work. This is my tribute. Hold on, you don’t like it?’
‘As if his ego isn’t big enough already,’ Ken muttered.
‘You’re right,’ Nambu began tearing at the statue with his hands, ‘It’s too small. It has to be bigger! I’ll start again. This time it will be magnificent! I need more books. Where are those files on the Mantel project?’
Another tremor shook the walls, stronger this time. It seemed to be right above them.
‘Where is that coming from?’ Ken asked in frustration.
‘That dear boy, is a microcosm of life’s greatest struggle. The truism of our inner conflict manifested in a most basic representation. The ultimate veneration of animal tendencies.’
‘I said where.’
The heart of intel was a room nearly eighty feet across. A wall of giant sized monitors on each side flickering with satellite information, tracking details and surveillance feeds. An orderly array of desks filled the entire space, each within arms’ length to facilitate the sharing of information and ideas. Multiple computers at every station and communication devices spitting out information to be used by some of the top minds in the world.
That’s how it used to be. Ken arrived to find the furniture and priceless equipment had been pushed and piled to either side of the room creating a long runway down the middle. The top minds in the world were divided into two camps at either end of the room. At his end, a man in his early forties had each foot planted on a rolling chair, a pillow on his head and a broom tucked under his arm pointed at the other end of the room. On the far side another man Ken knew was named Earl had fashioned a chain mail vest out paperclips and was straddling a dessert cart. He was armed with a mop. At either camp a mob of people were shouting encouragements. The entire intel staff had been affected.
‘Doesn’t anyone wash their hands anymore?’ Ken yelled in irritation.
The entire room fell silent. Slowly Earl lifted his mop and pointed it at Ken.
‘Dishonour on your cow!’
With that, three people began pushing his cart down the runway at breakneck speed. At the other end two men leaned into the chairs and began pushing their man as well. The floor rumbled and people hooted. Not wanting to be skewered by a broom stick, Ken hightailed it out of the room. The resounding crash behind him signaled the end of the joust.
‘I wonder who won,’ he said to himself.
‘Who won what sir?’
Ken turned in surprise towards the young man standing beside him. He was in full military uniform. Neat, pressed and standing at attention. Best of all, he was wearing a medical mask. Ken breathed a sigh of relief, basking in the symbol of normalcy and order before him.
‘I thought that was you. Are you … alright?’
‘Sir, I have not been affected if that is what you are wondering.’
‘You should be downstairs with the others then.’
‘My orders were to man this floor and try to keep anyone from getting killed.’
‘Not preventing them from getting hurt?’
‘I’m only one man, sir.’
‘True enough,’ Ken eyed the man carefully picking up on a detail that just came to his attention.
‘And you say that you are not sick.’
‘Then why are you guarding the closet.’
The man was obviously struggling not to smile. The corner of his mouth turned slightly.
‘As a personal favour to G-5 sir.’
‘He’s in there?’ Ken was confused, ‘Then let me by. I need to check on him.’
‘Sir, he’s um, not alone.’
‘Oh,’ Ken paused, ‘ooooh.’ The major just nodded, eyes bright.
‘Okay then do me a favour Yatto,’ Ken put his hand on the man’s shoulder, ‘Make sure he stays in there for a while. A long while.’
‘I don’t think that will be a problem sir,’ he smiled for real this time.
‘You’re a good man, Major.’
Something seemed to catch Yatto’s eye. He tilted his head to look past Ken and then removed one hand from behind his back to point towards the end of the hall, ‘Uh sir?’ Following the direction he was indicating, Ken turned and saw Jinpei crawling up the window. From the outside.
‘Please stop playing Spiderman and come inside – carefully!’
‘Not Spiderman,’ Jinpei yelled from three stories up, ‘bungEEEEeeee!’
A blur that was Jinpei then plummeted past him and Ken was left staring at one of Jun’s bras, stretched beyond recognition and tied at each end to pantyhose, and then more bras. The parade of underwear that was Jinpei’s bungee rope whirled past then began to recoil. Ken thanked the god of knot tying then reached out to snatch the rebounding Swallow and caught – nothing. The makeshift harness was empty.
‘Jinpei!’ Ken was thrust half his body out the window and scanned for the boy. He finally caught a glimpse of Jinpei’s leg as he wriggled into another window several stories lower. Mentally, Ken counted the floors to where he had seen Jinpei disappear. His worry quickly dissolved when he heard the exuberant shout echo up from below.
The kitchen. At least the Swallow would be occupied for a while.
‘Good enough,’ Ken went in search of the Condor.
He made it about as far as the door to the elevator when an explosion resounded from behind him.
‘What NOW?’ he yelled, losing composure.
Stepping out of the cloud of smoke preceding her, Jun blew him a kiss. ‘That would be the photocopier on the fourteenth floor.’
‘You blew up the …’
Jun interrupted him by holding out her hand to stop, ‘Wait for it,’ Four more explosions went off in time, ‘Fifteenth floor, two on sixteen and fax machine on twelve.’
‘Wait a minute … was that supposed to sound like Beethoven’s Fifth?’ Ken was incredulous.
Jun bowed gracefully, ‘Thank-you very much.’
The little dark skinned man appeared out of nowhere and began kissing her hand, ‘Angel! You are an angel!’
Jun patted him on the head, ‘You’re welcome Amir.’ Ken’s throat had suddenly gone dry. Somehow, Jun had managed to cut her pants into daisy dukes and her t-shirt had been pulled into a knot at her chest revealing a very cute belly button. She caught him staring.
‘I have something for you, too.’
‘You do?’ Ken’s voice shook.
She held out an odd shaped metal key on a gold key chain. ‘The key to the new BobKat AK prototype, fully fueled and ready for takeoff.’ She started walking towards him.
Amir waved at Ken before heading off, ‘I heard about your promotion. Congratulations Admiral!’
There was no controlling the laughter that erupted from his chest. He had to lean against the wall for support as tears rolled down his face. Recovering, he clasped his hand over his mouth as realization struck. He was losing control.
‘G-1! This is Krys. We have a vaccine! And we’ve confirmed transmission via saliva.’ Jun licked her lips still advancing. Krys chimed in, ‘Ken, do you copy?’
She dangled the key in front of him, ‘So Admiral, coming for a ride?’
Just then the door to the elevator whooshed open. Ken didn’t even care. Let it open. He was tired of fighting and running down every hallway. She was right in front of him. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Every cell in his body was screaming yes. He leaned in. Jun looked over to the elevator.
‘Oh goody! Joe’s here.’
Then everything went black.
‘Wake up sleeping beauty.’
Each syllable was torture, as if tiny knives were being pressed into the backs of his eyes. Knowing that light was only going to amplify the pain, Ken kept his eyes shut for a few more moments. With the luxury of knowing the Condor was beside him he felt he could afford the time.
Unless Joe had done this to him in the first place.
Ken’s eyes snapped open and as predicted but momentarily forgotten, it hurt like hell. He was outside, lying on what felt like gravel. The smell of burnt rocket fuel made him cough and gag. Smoke was still rising from several nearby buildings. At least what was left of them. The devastation was widespread.
‘Good Lord, Joe. Tell me you didn’t do all this.’ Ken sputtered.
‘Oh no,’ Joe said helping Ken to his feet, ‘Don’t go trying to pin this on me. This –‘ he gestured with a wide waving arm, ‘Is all your handy work. I only got here ten minutes ago.’
‘I did this?’
‘Well you had a little help from Jun.’
‘Apparently you fought off Katse’s infection for quite a while. Unfortunately, the last ones to get sick always get it the worst. When it finally hit you – let’s just say you exploded. Literally. This wasn’t your first stop you know. There are three other demolished sites. The security tapes I stole are something else. It took everything I had to keep up to you two, never mind finally sticking you with a bloody syringe. I have to tell you, I’m very impressed. I had no idea you were wound that tight. You really need to relax more often and let some of this out.’
‘Wait,’ Ken rubbed his throbbing temples, ‘Wait. The infection. How did you not get infected?’
‘Oh I was infected alright, Krys confirmed it, but it really didn’t do much to me.’
‘Come on Ken. Think about it. When have I ever held anything back? Sure, I managed to pick up a speeding ticket on the way back to my trailer but it turned out Officer Joann was a fan. A big fan,’ Joe smiled wolfishly.
‘You didn’t kill anyone?’
‘I would have if there was a Devil Star in front of me, but how is that different than any other day? Ken, I’m the most uninhibited person you’ve ever met. You’re just lucky I came back to headquarters when I did. I ran out of clamato.’
‘Oh man, the ISO building is a complete disaster,’ Ken said as he followed Joe’s lead back to the Phoenix.
‘I wouldn’t worry about it. Half the expense is going to be cleaning up Hakase’s … artwork,’ Joe was grinning from ear to ear.
Ken was still trying to shake the cobwebs from his mind. He could barely remember anything from the past day and a half. He did know that he was dead tired. Every muscle screamed with fatigue. Small snippets of memories kept flashing at him randomly. Joe was still walking alongside with that stupid grin and saying nothing. Ken took advantage of the silence to focus. Explosions, screaming, laughing – mostly from him. Flying in the BobKat to somewhere. The supply bases in New Jork. Ken remembered helping Jun out of the plane. Sneaking into the first base. Setting charges. Hiding and giggling. He remembered the flames and intoxicating smoke, Jun with those eyes and … skin.
‘Joe!’ Ken grabbed the Condor’s gloved forearm in sudden panic, ‘What security tapes?’
The smile that erupted on Joe’s face could only be described as evil. Pure maniacal evil.
The Brotherhood of Evil Geniuses was holding its annual meeting at the very top secret location of Starbucks in lower Manhattan. Dr. Rolf was the last to arrive, pulling up a chair and pointing across the table to his counterpart.
‘You owe me a thouzand dollarz.’
The others were incredulous. ‘No, you didn’t!’ ‘No way possible.’
The man he addressed actually seemed jubilant, ‘You actually sold my LSD virus?’
‘To ze very zame guy who bought Doctor Bugz’ subterranean monzter machine,’ Dr Rolf beamed and lit a cigar.
‘The one that exploded in sunlight?’
‘I don’t believe it!’
‘What a maroon!’
‘Now, now gentlemen,’ a bald man in a white tuxedo joined the discussion, ‘I think there may yet be untapped potential here.’
‘Lex, you can’t be serious.’
‘No one iz that ztupid.’
‘Ten thousand dollars to the challenger!’ Lex offered.
A black haired man wearing an eye-patch slammed the table with his hand, ‘Done!’
In unison, the men lifted their lattes in toast and shouted, ‘Giant flaming lava Jesus!’
A waitress walking past just shook her head, ‘It’s a good thing you guys tip well.’