Joe rubbed a worn towel over his head as he walked through the ISO Locker Room. He hadn’t been able to wait to get back home to clean up. Besides which, the hot water at the trailer had been turned off, and these shower stalls were much bigger. The Condor needed to wash away the stress and tension of this day.
It had been a long mission fighting off Katse’s latest mecha. Unlike a lot of Galactor’s robot creations, this one had been well-planned and therefore more difficult to destroy. The entire Science Ninja Team had had to sneak aboard dressed as goons, and plant explosives while simultaneously recovering stolen ISO data on the Mantle Plan.
The only good news was that Joe was finally back and able to relax. If he was lucky, Berg Katse wouldn’t be able to cobble together another mecha for a few days, and Joe could have some time to himself, to relax in blessed solitude.
But a bright red envelope protruding from his locker told Joe that there was something he had forgotten until just now.
It was Christmas Eve.
How could it be Christmas again already? It seemed like only last week that Joe had had to endure that horrible dinner at Jun’s…
The Swan had taken some kind of cooking lessons, but what she had actually learned there, Joe could only guess. Jun’s roast Christmas turkey had transformed into a giant turkey mecha, and the resulting battle had covered everyone with burnt cranberry sauce and feathers, not to mention the near-destruction of the Snack J.
It was not a Christmas that Joe cared to repeat.
It was therefore with some degree of trepidation that Joe opened the envelope. His trembling fingers took far too long to pull back the red paper flap and draw out the small card inside.
“Got your invitation, huh, Joe?”
The Condor nearly jumped sky high as Ryu’s voice practically shouted close to his ear. The towel he had slung loosely around his hips began to slide, and Joe grabbed at it with one hand, the other still holding the offending envelope.
“What does it look like?” he growled.
“Thanks goodness we don’t have to go to Jun’s this year!” Ryu commented as he dug through his locker in search of a razor.
“We don’t?” The Condor’s face bore a giant grin. “So what’s this all about, then?” He waved the red envelope around.
“Nambu wants to take us out to dinner.” came the Owl’s muffled voice. “Finally, a Christmas with some decent food!”
“About time!” piped Jinpei, who was just coming out of the shower himself. “After that disaster last year…”
“Don’t remind me!” moaned Ryu. “That horrible oily cranberry sauce!”
“If we’re going out to dinner, then it should be fine.” Jinpei said. “I’m not letting Onechan get anywhere near the kitchen!”
“Do you think we have to go?” Joe asked.
“Dr. Nambu has requested that we all go.” came the Eagle’s voice.
Everyone turned to look at Ken, who was wearing his ‘command’ face. Joe had no idea where the Eagle had come from, but that didn’t stop the Condor from trying to weasel out of this whole thing.
“‘Request’ and ‘order’ are two different things.” Joe pointed out. “I’m just going to…”
“Joe, you are ordered to go.”
“You can’t order me to go to dinner, Ken! This isn’t a mission!”
“Fair enough. Would you like Hakase to mediate this dispute?”
“Damn you, Ken!”
“They destroyed Ultimagon?” Berg Katse screeched. “The Science Ninja Team blew up my unstoppable mecha? The one I spent months designing? It was perfect! It had no flaws…”
The purple-masked man sank into his favorite armchair, burying his masked face in his red-gloved hands. How had this happened? He had put all of his considerable intelligence into designing the one mecha that the Science Ninja Team could not destroy, and yet somehow, they had managed to do so. The Galactor Leader still didn’t have the final report. Once he had heard the security alarms going off he had gotten the hell out of there in his escape pod.
Sosai had not been pleased. But then, when was Sosai ever pleased? Even tonight, on Christmas Eve, when the Galactor Leader was exhausted, the alien entity would not let Berg Katse rest. Leader X was demanding that a new mecha be launched immediately.
The problem was, Berg Katse didn’t have another mecha.
The Galactor Leader stared morosely into the fire that was burning merrily in his fireplace. In an attempt to be festive, one of the goons had hung a wreath on the mantle. Even as Berg Katse watched, flames licked up from the fireplace, quickly turning the wreath into ash.
This was his problem! He was surrounded by incompetence! Why, if it weren’t for…
“Monsieur Katse, are you ready for your dinnair?”
“Jacques!” Katse sat up in his armchair, looking up at the handsome Frenchman. Come to think of it, it had been a year ago tonight that he had first met Jacques. The French chef had been found screaming in the night, ranting about giant killer turkeys to anyone who would listen. At first, Katse had suspected Jacques of being an ISO spy, but he had quickly come to realize that this was not the case. And when the chef had offered to prepare a Christmas dinner… well, it was the first decent meal Berg Katse could ever remember having.
He had eaten well ever since. He paid Jacques a fortune, and the man kept the Galactor Leader supplied with the most exquisite dishes. If he weren’t on the run from the Science Ninja Team so much, Katse would have put on a significant amount of weight.
“You had time to make me dinner?” Katse asked, surprised. “I thought we were going out…”
“Oui, Monsieur.” Jacques nodded. “Zat is what I meant. Are you ready to leave?”
“Yes.” Katse smiled. Weeks ago, Jacques had asked for permission to cook at a special Utoland function. And when Berg Katse had heard that this dinner party was at a performance of the Nutcracker, he had become very excited. He loved the ballet. Why, when he had been a small girl, he had taken ballet classes at Madame Pompidou’s Academy…
Ah, the sweet childhood memories. Katse could still recall the fluffy pink tutu she had worn, as she had danced and pirouetted before everyone. They had loved her flying blonde curls and rosy cheeks. She had wanted to make a career out of dance.
And then, Sosai had forced his change early, to prevent him from dancing any longer. Sosai did not feel that ballet was a proper activity for a future Galactor Leader.
But tonight… tonight Berg Katse would enjoy the ballet. Sosai be damned, Berg Katse was going to forget about the Science Ninja Team and just enjoy Christmas for once. He turned to a smiling Jacques.
“I just need to get dressed.”