1. Cars 1.0 by Alara Rogers
Why Galactor would build a base under a shopping mall, none of the Science Ninja Team knew, but Dr. Nambu had told them it was a distinct possibility, and so they had to go investigate. "This is the plan," Ken said. "Jun and I will go into the mall and look for anything suspicious."
"I'll stake out the food court," Ryu offered.
"Good idea. There's probably an employees' area near the food court-- you can check that out."
"Can I help Ryu?" Jinpei asked. He knew why Ryu wanted to stake out the food court, and it had nothing to do with checking employee areas. "Can I, can I?"
"No. I want you and Joe to stake out the parking lot."
"The parking lot?" Jinpei wailed.
Ken glared at him. "Do you have a problem with that?"
Too late, Jinpei remembered the rude comment he'd made yesterday about why Jun let Ken get away with bigger unpaid bills than anyone else. He gulped. "Nope, aniki. No problem at all."
"Good. You know what to look for, Joe?"
"Anything that remotely resembles a Galactor."
"Right. Jun, Ryu? Come on."
As Ken left, Joe grinned. "You know what remotely resembles a Galactor, don't you, Jinpei? Galactors drive real nice cars, you know. And a lot of Galactor women are babes. We better check out all the nice cars and good-looking chicks in the parking lot."
Jinpei grinned. Perhaps this wasn't going to be as bad as he thought. "Sure thing! Think Galactor might have any girl spies? You know, like 12 or 13?"
"Could be. You'd better investigate any cute little girls. I'll take the grown ones."
"Joe aniki! Get a load of that car!"
Joe swiveled his head. The car in question was a flame red sportscar, custom-built, with tinted windows and what had to be the sleekest lines Joe'd seen all day, at least on a car. He'd seen some pretty sleek lines on a pair of 18-year-old mall rats leaving the parking lot ten minutes ago. But in any case, it was a lovely car, and certainly deserved close inspection. "Let's check it out."
They approached the car. Jinpei circled it slowly, whistling. "This is a radical car, Joe aniki."
"Yeah." Joe frowned. "You know, the last two times you said that, it turned out to be Berg Katse's car."
Jinpei stopped dead, staring at the car. Finally he looked up at Joe. "You know, the last two times I said that, it was a car that looked just like this one."
"Shit!" Joe pressed himself against the tinted windows, trying to see inside the car. "Maybe there really are Galactors here!"
"You didn't think there were?"
"No, I didn't. A shopping mall?"
"Did sound a little strange. I was kind of like 'Get real, Doctor Nambu.'"
"Yeah, so was I. I don't think Ken was taking it seriously either, otherwise he'd never have assigned Ryu to the food court. But if this is Berg Katse's car..."
"Maybe it isn't. Maybe it's just the same model."
"This is a custom job, Jinpei! The last time we saw a car that looked like this, it was parked outside Dr. Hume's place. I didn't pay a lot of attention to it then-- I was more worried about nailing Katse. But I remember what it looked like. This is it."
Trust Joe to remember exactly what a car he barely glanced at a month ago looked like. Jinpei swallowed. "So... so if it is Berg Katse's car, what do we do? Break into it and see if he's got any plans or stuff in there?"
Joe whapped Jinpei on the head, lightly. "Don't be dumb. He's probably got security out the ass on the thing. I'm surprised we haven't set off some kind of deadly car alarm just touching it, actually. No, I got a better idea."
Joe grinned ferally. "Stake out the car and nail whoever tries to get in it."
"But we don't know what Berg Katse really looks like."
"That's just it! Man, woman, or vegetable, if something comes over here and tries to get inside this car, we'll know it's Katse. So then we nail him. Beat the crap out of him, make him tell us all about the base, tell Ken, and then bring him to Dr. Nambu gift-wrapped. How about it?"
Jinpei's grin matched Joe's own. "Bet that would make my popularity go up, if I brought in Berg Katse."
"Whattya mean you, kiddo? This is both of us I'm talking. Besides, you tried it already, in the Himalayas."
"Whatta we do if that Sosai X thing shows up?"
"Shoot Katse before he can get away. Besides, if we get Katse outside one of his bases, out of costume, I'd be real surprised if that Sosai X thing could show up. It can't be all-powerful, you know." He shrugged. "I might just shoot Katse anyway."
At this point a tall man with spike heels, lipstick and an effeminate walk began walking toward the car, tossing his keys up in the air and whistling. "Aniki!" Jinpei whispered. "Look!"
"I see him."
"But he's got red hair! And it's short!"
"So he got it styled different. Go to Bird Style and hide behind the car." Joe and Jinpei both did as Joe suggested, and waited.
The man was singing by the time he actually reached the car. "...not the world's most masculine man, but I know what I am..." He started to unlock the car door. "...I'm glad I'm a man, and so is Lola, L-O-L-Aaah!" Both Joe and Jinpei dove out of their hiding place, and Joe had him pinned against the car before he could finish spelling Lola.
"Wait a minute, I'm not who you think I am, I'm not Katse!" the man gabbled.
His voice didn't sound like Katse's-- it was also a high tenor, but unlike Katse, it sounded natural. However, Katse could imitate voices. Joe slammed the redhead down on the hood of the car. "Don't give me that shit!" he snarled. "How would you know we were after Katse?"
"Because this is his car!"
"He's got to be a Galactor, anyway," Jinpei said. "He knows it's Katse's car."
"I am not a Galactor! Ow! Leggo the neck!"
"What are you doing with Berg Katse's car?"
"I stole it, of course."
"He's lying, Joe aniki! Beat him up!"
"I'm not lying!"
"How the hell did you know it was Katse's car if you're not a Galactor?" Joe shouted.
"Who else would park in the space marked 'For Galactor Leader Only?'"
"Oh, buddy, you are digging yourself in deep," Joe warned. He released the man slightly, not quite strangling him anymore. "Jinpei, frisk him."
"Got it." Jinpei went through the man's pockets and found a mirror compact, a crumpled-up playbill, a pack of condoms, a lipstick, two pens, a tear-gas sprayer, assorted jewelry and a wallet with six different ID's in it. "Andrew Serbay? Lola Lightfingers? Marie Antoinette Johnson? Whose are these?"
"They're his," Joe growled. "Disguises."
"They are mine and they are disguises but that doesn't prove I'm Katse."
"You got women's ID in your wallet, what am I supposed to think? You stole it?"
"I don't have any weapons. Would the leader of Galactor go around without weapons? And you might well think I stole it. I stole most of that jewelry."
"Could you let go of me? Not that you're not cute, under other circumstances I wouldn't mind being in your arms, but--" Joe yelped and shoved the man into Jinpei, who tripped him and put his foot on the guy's chest.
"I got him, Joe aniki. Can we pull out his fingernails to make him admit he's Katse?"
Joe gave Jinpei an odd look. "No, we're not gonna pull out his fingernails. You've been watching too many gangster movies."
"Well, I got'em from your library."
"Look, I'm not Katse, all right? I stole his car. I admit it. I steal lots of stuff. But I'm not a Galactor, I kind of resent you calling me one, and will you get your foot off my stomach, you're ruining my shirt."
"We might ruin a lot more than that before we get done with you," Joe said. "Let's assume for the time being that you're telling what we laughingly call the truth. Who are you, where did you find Berg Katse's car, and why did you steal it?"
"My name's André Sordonne. I found Berg Katse's car at a Galactor base, of course, in the underground parking lot. And I stole it because it was a challenge. I didn't realize I'd have Science Ninja gorillas attacking me over a car. How did you know it was Berg Katse's car, anyway? It's not like it's got a bumper sticker that says 'Galactor Rules' or something."
"Are you seriously trying to tell me that you broke into a Galactor base parking lot and found Berg Katse's car?"
"In a space marked 'For Galactor Leader Only.' I mean, who else would park there?"
"What were you doing in a Galactor base?"
"Looking for something to steal. I hear they steal gold and jewels and things. I could live without the gold, but I'm rather fond of jewels. Also, maybe I could have found some information to sell to ISO. I may be a thief, but I'm a patriotic thief. I'd've given you guys discounted rates."
"How did you know it was a Galactor base?"
"Well, it had a lot of goons in green suits around the place, so it was either that or the world's tackiest masquerade ball."
"He's gotta be lying, Joe aniki," Jinpei said. "We ought to beat him up."
"You are so incredibly bloodthirsty! What have I done to you? I've done you a favor! Now Berg Katse is going to be awfully humiliated because someone stole his car, and he'll have to borrow one from one of his underlings, and everyone will snicker behind his back and he'll lose some of his authority. But do you thank me? Reward me? No, you call me a liar and threaten to beat me up! Does the UN Human Rights commission know about the way you guys behave?"
"Shut up," Joe said. He turned to Jinpei. "This isn't Katse."
"How do you know?"
"Berg Katse might act stupid sometimes, but even he's not dumb enough to come up with a story like this and think we'd believe it."
"Maybe we just caught him off guard and he said the first thing that came into his head."
"Uh-uh. I don't buy it. He'd've talked in Katse's voice if we caught him that off guard."
"So you believe me!" André beamed. "I knew I liked you."
"No, I don't believe you. I just don't think you're Katse."
"What don't you believe? You think Katse would let anyone else take his car out for a spin? You think he's my dad or something? 'Dad, can I have the car tonight?' 'Sure, son, but make sure you get back by 8 tonight. I have to go out and devastate a city.' Get real!"
"Your entire story makes no sense. I don't buy that a common thief could just waltz into a Galactor base and steal Katse's car."
"Ah, but there's your mistake, you see." André pushed Jinpei's foot off his chest and stood up, brushing himself off. He drew himself up to an impressive height-- he had to be at least six feet tall without the spike heels-- and said, "I am a very uncommon thief."
"Yeah? Gimme that jewelry, Jinpei." Joe took the jewels from Jinpei without taking his eyes off André, and thrust them in front of the self-proclaimed thief's face. "This is costume junk. It's not worth shit. What would such a great thief be doing stealing stuff like this?"
"Well, uh--" André smiled bashfully, his face going a bit red. "The lady who had the stuff was wearing really expensive clothes. I didn't check the jewels before taking them. Anyway, I was going to give them back to her."
"Right. You were going to give them back."
"Well, of course! Most of the things I steal, I give back-- especially if they're worthless. I don't need the money. I just steal for fun. That was why I stole Katse's car. I could describe to you in detail the defenses I had to disarm to get into the base, take the car and get back out, if you'd like."
"You do that. But not right now." Joe put his bracelet to his mouth. "Ken, come in."
"Ken here. What's up?"
"I've captured this guy who claims he's a thief that stole Berg Katse's car. You might want to talk to him."
"Right. On my way."
"Oh dear," André said.
"What's the matter?" Joe grinned nastily. "Got a problem with talking to Gatchaman?"
"Not that at all. It's that station wagon that just pulled in."
Joe and Jinpei followed André's gaze over to a huge, black lacquered station wagon, which screeched through the parking lot and came to a squealing stop in front of them. The door was thrown open and a tiny old lady with the piercing gaze of a mean librarian, wearing a fur coat, climbed out.
"André Sordonne, there you are! I have been looking all over for you! Do you realize how late it is? I have been positively frantic with worry!"
"Maman-- Maman, not here-- I'm sort of in trouble--"
"I'll say you're in trouble, jeune homme! You were supposed to come home three days ago! So I find you here, traipsing around with men in skin-tight clothes--"
"Hey!" Joe shouted. The woman ignored him.
"--god knows what diseases you've picked up--"
"I just went out to steal a car, Maman. That's all."
"That's all? Did I raise you to steal cars?" She grabbed André by the ear and tugged him down. "Now you are leaving that car in the parking lot, and you are coming home with me, is that understood?"
"Wait a minute!" Joe stepped in, trying to separate the two. "ISO wants him for questioning! You can't just walk off with him!"
"Are you telling me what I can or cannot do with my own son?" The woman gave Joe a piercing look. "If your ISO wants to talk to him, it can call him at home. Here's my card." She pulled a business card out of her coat. "I'm Madame Sordonne, the clothing designer, and this is my worthless son André. Stealing cars! If your father was alive, he'd be turning over in his grave!"
"Joe aniki, you ever hear of a Madame Sordonne?"
"What do I look like, a fashion maven? Ask Jun. Ma'am, calling him at home is out of the question. He's wanted for possible connection to Galactor."
"To Galactor! Pfaa! Galactor wouldn't want a worthless nuisance like him! Out partying till all hours of the night, stealing things--"
"I give most of them back!" André protested. "Maman, I'm supposed to go with these people."
"You are not! You are no Galactor, and they don't have a shred of evidence, and they can't legally hold you, and if they try--" She fixed her gaze on Joe and Jinpei. "If they try, their Dr. Nambu is going to find himself fighting off so many lawsuits he won't have time for Galactor."
Ken arrived. "What's going on here?"
Joe shrugged. "Looks like our thief's mother showed up."
"How did you find me?" André protested.
"The same way I did last time. There's a tracer in your ring. And don't bother to take it out-- I'll have you permanently bugged. I swear, I should lock you in the mansion..."
"Ma'am," Ken said, "we'd just like to ask your son a few questions. He claims he broke into a Galactor base. We'd like to know where it is and how he did it."
A crowd had by now gathered around the group. "I really ought to, Maman," André said. "You don't understand. Nambu'll put a lot of pressure on your business if you try to sue him."
"Well, we can do it indoors. I'll take all of us to a nice restaurant, and we can have a civilized discussion. You seem like a much nicer young man than your subordinate, what's your name? Gatchaman, that's right. Well, you're much politer than your friend here."
They all moved off in the direction of the mall. "Sorry about that, Madame Sordonne. The Condor isn't trained for public relations."
Joe rolled his eyes, as the old woman said, "Well, he ought to be. I'm telling you--"
"Aniki!" Jinpei screamed. "The car!"
Ken and Joe whipped around and stared as the car door-- which no one had noticed opening-- slammed shut with a flourish of purple cloth, the engine roared to life, and Berg Katse's sportscar pulled out of its parking space at high speed. "Down!" Ken screamed, grabbing André and Madame Sordonne and pulling them between two parked cars as the sportscar aimed at them. "Joe, Jinpei! Let's get after that car!"
Joe fired his cablegun at the tailpipe of the departing car. Ken and Jinpei grabbed hold of Joe, and the three of them went sailing off after the car. Madame Sordonne dragged André into the station wagon, and they roared off in the opposite direction.
"Who've you got in the car?" André asked.
"One of my men," Madame Sordonne snarled in a very unfeminine voice. "I'll probably have to write the car off as a loss."
André shrugged, grinning embarrassedly. "Sorry."
"Sorry? That's all you have to say? You take my car without my permission, my lovely custom-built sportscar, drive it to a mall that the Science Ninja Team have staked out, make me have to rescue you and all you have to say is sorry?"
"Well, how was I to know the Science Ninja Team would be here?"
"Because I have a base under this mall, idiot!"
"Oh." André thought about that. "Well, I didn't know that."
"You should have. You know practically everything else about my operations, you meddlesome, annoying--"
"You know, you really do look like my maman, Be-chan. Quite a convincing impression. I was impressed."
"André. Shut up."
After it was all over-- Ken, Joe and Jinpei having captured the Galactor driving Berg Katse's car and getting the base's secret from him, the team evacuating the mall and blowing up the Galactor base-- Ryu was quite upset. That mall might have been a cover for a Galactor base, but one of the shops in the food court made the best milkshakes he'd ever had. He'd drunk six that day on duty alone.
Oh well. The life of a Science Ninja was one of hardship and sacrifice. Besides, the store's personnel had been evacuated, and would probably relocate to another mall. So it all ended well after all.
Except of course for André, who had to pay for the destruction of the car-- and the base-- by being forced to impersonate a member of the Catseye gang and try to steal a painting, while Toshio Utsumi and his band of police had staked out the painting already... but that's a story for another time.