1. Cheaters Always Win by Maya Perez
“Damn you, Gatchaman!” Katse threw his wineglass across the room and watched it shatter against the wall, the wine staining it the color of blood. The gesture brought him little satisfaction.
Nothing really did that anymore. Every time he thought up or stole a brilliant plan that seemed flawless in every way, that hated Science Ninja Team always found a way to get the better of him. He was the ultimate genius for Pete’s sake; yet he still found himself humiliated time after time by five pesky kids. It wasn’t fair! He should have been master of the world well over a year ago!
But with these brats ruining his plans and Sosai always breathing down his neck, it was a miracle he’d been able to make any progress towards his goals at all. Gatchaman destroyed everything he built while Sosai only lectured or punished. He was always expected to put out. But between those meddling kids interference and Sosai’s constant criticizing, was it any wonder that his creativity was going out the window? Didn’t he already have enough to do coping with unexpected sex changes and mood swings? He wouldn’t even go into the incompetence of his subordinates or all the back stabbing that went on around there. Hell, if things kept going this way, he might very well give it all up and go stark raving mad!
The Galactor leader frowned at the familiar, overtly cheerful voice and twisted to look back at the open doorway. “Andre, this isn’t a good time.” The words came out in a growl.
In no way fazed by this, the lithe youth in the blood red tights and puffy pink sleeves slipped into the room and closed the door. “Are we having a bad day, dear?”
Katse sneered and turned away from him. Now there was an understatement. “I’m just not in the mood for your games today, all right? I need some time alone.”
The youth’s effeminate mouth pouted prettily. “What? Even though I brought presents?” He held forth a thick folder and gently waved it back and forth. “This took a little effort you know.”
Katse sighed. It was so hard to deny Andre anything. He guessed it was one of the reasons he actually kept him around. “All right, what did you bring me?”
Andre bounded forward a large smile on his face. “I acquired some information off the ISO. I just finished decoding it and I figured you should be the one to see it first. Who knows what might be in there, right? Maybe we’ll find out that Nambu is having an affair with the Eagle. Wouldn’t that be swell?” Andre’s expectant, excited face stared at him as he jumped onto the nearest settee.
Katse frowned, feeling a slight jolt of excitement though he knew better. He was loath to leave his bad mood after he’d worked so hard for it to reach its current state. Still… He sat down beside Andre with a humph. “Give it here.”
Andre passed the folder and perched close to Katse so he could read over his shoulder, toying with Katse’s mask’s pointed ears as he did so. Katse let his eyes roam over the information not really expecting much. If memory served him right, he thought that Andre had mentioned something about having hacked his way into the ISO files through a recently destroyed facility. Whether he’d actually gotten anything useful or not, it had at least kept his exuberant self busy for a while. Andre at times had to be taken in small doses.
Hm, weather reports, personnel movements, supply requisitions – mundane information that might prove useful somewhere but it was all still mundane. Now wait, what was this? Katses’s eyes grew wide. This looked interesting. He sat forward, Andre leaning more heavily on his shoulder. Katse’s eyes hungrily moved over the page. Thirty of them later, he stared unbelievingly at what was before him and read it again.
Andre sat chuckling softly beside him. “Oh, this is just too delicious!”
Katse found his spirits lightening like they hadn’t for some time. “Andre, are you pondering what I’m pondering?”
“Oh indeed, I think I am.”
Laughing, the two got up and quickly left the room.
“Oh my, this is still so very puzzling.”
Deep within the depths of Center Neptune, one worried 7-Zark-7 was pacing erratically back and forth. For the hundredth time, he set up the computers there to run once more through the collected data of the past several months. “I just don’t understand it, 1-Rover-1. Ever since those weird energy emanations flared up six months ago, all sorts of things have been happening that don’t make sense.” Zark’s antennas drooped as he looked down at his ever-faithful companion.
Lying on the floor, 1-Rover-1 happily ignored Zark as he chewed on his favorite wrench.
“It’s so unnerving, really. People are actually dying in the cities being attacked by Spectra. Valiant heroes are being lost, and I haven’t been able to save anyone in the nick of time for months. It’s so wrong! It’s almost as if some innate laws of our universe were somehow being violated. And I’ve no idea what is causing it!” He paced some more.
“And as if that weren’t bad enough, Susan, poor Susan hasn’t been able pick up any signs of alien transmissions or incoming ships, yet the evil Spectrans are still showing up all over the planet! What’s a robot to do?”
Zark stared at 1-Rover-1 fondly. “Why, yes! Yes, of course. A ten-second oil break is just what I need. What a good dog you are!” 1-Rover-1 wagged his tail enthusiastically. “An oil break would soothe my frazzled fozdick and help me think more clearly. Great idea!”
As Zark scooted over towards the oil break capsule, 1-Rover-1 followed after him, his chewed on wrench in his mouth and his tail wagging happily.
Zark entered the capsule and sighed as his mechanical body leaned back against the tilted flat bed. With a fond look at 1-Rover-1, he pressed the button to begin the oil changing process.
Zark sighed again a flushing sensation coursing through him as the oil was drained from his system. With something akin to mechanical ecstasy, he shook all over as the new, virgin oil was pumped in and it moved to fill in all his working avenues.
Feeling more calm and content than he had a few moments before, Zark waited for the replacement cycle to finish and then left the capsule. “Ah, that was just what I needed,” he almost cooed with pleasure. “That sweet oil from that new company really does do the trick so much nicer, 1-Rover-1.” And he’d gotten it at such a bargain price too. Just like everyone else, he always tried to do his part to reduce costs so that as much of their funds as possible could be used on repairing and improving G-Force’s equipment.
Besides, because of G-Force and his involvement with them, he always enjoyed it when he could buy goods from companies that had his favorite letter in their name. If only Chief Anderson would approve his request to have his name changed to 7-G-7 life would be complete. Oh well. He supposed he did have better things to worry about. The team and Spectra kept him very busy and he always had to be vigilant. Now if he could only make heads or tails of the new anomalies.
Zark switched on his motor servos and headed towards his main control console.
Abruptly, all the screens in the control room flickered.
“Oh my!” Zark came to a sudden stop, his antennae springing straight up in the air. What was this? More anomalies? This wouldn’t do!
All the screens filled with static for a moment before suddenly clearing only to show a familiar purple masked figure on the screen.
“Greetings, 7-Zark-7.” The man’s full lips spread into a pleased smile as he spoke. “It’s so nice to finally be able to meet you.”
“Zoltar! What is the meaning of this! How did you get on this frequency?” Flustered, Zark shuffled back and forth between his controls while 1-Rover-1 barked furiously at the screens.
The intruder’s pleasant smile suddenly turned feral. “I am not your pathetic Zoltar, dear Zark. He has… gone off on a little vacation.” The smile turned friendly again. “My name is Berg Katse.”
What? This was impossible. The man looked like Zoltar. Sure his voice sounded a little different, hiding some kind of subdued accent, but still, he’d never confuse that masked face. “I don’t know what game you think you’re playing this time, Zoltar, but whatever you’re up to, G-Force will stop you.” Zark tried to urgently send out a distress call to the team but found all his channels blocked.
Katse laughed. It wasn’t a pretty sound. “I’d like to see them try. They, like you, are so horrifyingly pathetic it’s almost not worth the time. But it’s no good to have loose ends, I will get to them when I’m good and ready.”
Zark felt a deep jolt in his transistors. How dare he? “We’ve brought you down before and we’ll do it again. Spectra will not rule this planet!”
The intruder’s smile never lessened. “Yes, actually, you’re quite right about that. I have other plans for this place and they definitely don’t include sharing it with that bunch of losers.”
“Look,” Zark said, “I don’t know why you’re making so little sense today and I don’t care. Just what do you want?” He’d already tried to cut off the transmission and found out that he couldn’t. Whatever had unhinged Spectra’s leader and made him want to call him, Zark would have no choice but to listen to it.
“As I told you before, I am not Zoltar. I am Berg Katse. And the reason I’ve called is to thank you.”
Zark took a surprised step back. “To thank me?” Mark must definitely have pounded Zoltar’s head in one too many times.
“Do you happen to recall a rather strange incident that occurred, hm, say about a year ago, Zark?”
“A strange incident?”
“Yes, something having to do with someone named Condor Joe?” Katse crooned.
All of Zark’s lights shut down for an agonizing moment. Condor Joe? Zark heard 1-Rover-1 whimper in misery behind him. That name, yes, he remembered that name. It’d given him nightmares. He’d almost had to reprogram 1-Rover-1 over the incident. 1-Rover-1 was a very sensitive dog and being dismantled so violently just hadn’t gone over very well with him.
Condor Joe – some strange fluke had brought him over from what they figured had been an alternate dimension. He’d looked just like Jason, but he’d proven to be so much worse. His temper! And his flair for violence! But how would Zoltar have found out about Condor Joe – unless… “Oh my!”
“Yes,” Katse almost purred. “I see you understand now.” He laughed. “What a stroke of luck it was to come across the strange reports on our violent friend’s little trip. To think there was a world full of almost docile duplicates. The implications had been immediately obvious.”
“Sure were!” A gaily dressed figure popped up behind Katse.
“Andre…” Katse sounded slightly annoyed. Zark stared at the new figure not recognizing the stranger at all.
“Oops, sorry, chief!” The youth disappeared.
“Anyway, I had a number of closely trusted people work on a project for me so that I could go on a little trip. And here I am.
“And how nice it was to discover that the ISO’s reports had actually been accurate.” Katse smiled with pleasure. “You can imagine my delight. Everything here was just so much easier to do than at home. The higher the moral fiber, the faster it can be undermined.”
Zark gulped. He couldn’t stop his antennae from quivering. “What, what do you mean? What have you done?”
Katse waved his hand motioning that the matter was irrelevant. “Oh, not all that much really. I just went and changed some of the rules a bit.”
“Just a bit!” Andre’s voice piped in as an echo though his image did not appear on the screen.
Katse’s brow raised for just a moment. “I burned down the Spectran organization here and made it then rise from the ashes. You no longer have to worry your nuts and bolts about Spectra anymore – now the Earth will have to contend with a true organization with ambition and terror. Before long, the world will bow to the will of Galactor.”
G- Galactor? Zark’s gears whirled as the name rang a familiar cord in his positronic brain.
“Security measures here are laughable,” Katse said.
Katse glanced behind him for just a moment, before turning his full attention back to Zark. “It’s been such a true pleasure to have things go my way for once. And after all that work, here I am talking to you. To thank you and to tell you how grateful I am for all you’ve done for me.” Katse leaned hungrily towards the screen. “All those wonderful files you’ve compiled on all your tricks and secrets. How you’ve gone out of your way to tie all the ISO’s and the world’s systems together until you’d become the heart and breath of everything. And because of that, because of your need to be into everything, I have to thank you for you’ve handed the world over to me on a silver platter.”
1-Rover-1 started barking at something in the back of the room. Zark looked back hopefully, thinking that maybe one of the team had come on one of their rare visits, even as he still reeled from Katse’s strange words. “You, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, don’t I?” Katse laughed.
“Yeah, doesn’t he?” Andre mimicked Katse’s laugh exactly. It made a strange duet.
The Galactor swiped at something behind him. He laughed again, this time alone, before going on. “My dear Zark, I know everything there is to know about you. I know more than Anderson even suspects there is to find out. I know of all your naughty deeds. I even know about your mechanical desires for Susan.”
Zark found himself blushing from head to foot. How had he…?
“I know about your special cape and your cute little bird rang. I know of your secret desires to join the Science Ninja Team in battle. I know what your favorite puzzles are, the range and scope of your sensors. Even when and how often you take your beloved oil breaks. You see Zark – I know.”
“He knows.” Andre’s voice whispered over the comm.
Zark retreated away from the evilly grinning images of Katse slowly shaking his head from side to side. This wasn’t possible. It wasn’t! He would have known what Spectra was up to, he always did sooner or later. How, how could he have done this?
1-Rover-1 barked again and something metallic hit the ground and then rolled up to Zark’s feet. Looking down, he recognized the empty can of oil. 1-Rover-1 shot out of nowhere and pounced on it and rolled with it farther out into the room. As the dog rolled over on his back, the can’s label was thrust prominently to the fore. In blood red letters it proclaimed – Galactor Oil Specialty Grade.
“Oh, my…” Zark’s antennas drooped as he saw this, finally recollecting where he’d seen the name before.
“Yes,” Katse’s voice whispered gently across the room. “Your beloved oil breaks. Your one major weakness. And with my talents, a very exploitable one.” His smile was smug.
“What – what – what?” Though Zark had long ago overridden his own programming and added a number of emotions one now rose to the fore which he’d never experience before. He shook with fear. He instantly launched all six of his diagnostic programs.
“Certain acts of mine on my world had accelerated technology there on the use of viruses against petroleum based products, mainly crude oil. So imagine what would happen to a machine here pitted against something like that, especially after the virus had been modified to more sinister purposes.”
Muffled giggles poured from behind Katse’s form. The latter totally ignored it, his feral smile concentrating on Zark alone.
“And imagine if you will, if you were this machine. Imagine the chaos that would happen as system after system locked and failed without your constant vigilance and guidance. Imagine the horror to everyone but those under my organization. Can you see it? Isn’t it sweet?”
“NO!” Zark turned away and reached for the nearest console even as the numerous images of Katse laughed in his face. Alarms blasted inside Zark’s brain as the diagnostic programs ran through their subroutines. His arm half-rose towards a set of buttons and then stopped. Though he strained his servos, he couldn’t make it move again. “You fiend! You vile villain!”
“Vile villain!” This was done over the com with a sad imitation of Zark’s voice.
“What have you done to me?” Zark screamed. How had this happened? He was supposed to be the one in control!
“Oh, not much, really,” Katse replied in a smug tone. “Just loaded some oil with a special enzyme that would activate once it was exposed to heat of any kind. As the enzyme breaks down the oil, it creates a hardening foam as a by-product. Even as we speak, the foam is spreading through your systems. It will soon lock you in place and one by one your systems will collapse to nothing. You will be almost a complete vegetable, able to see and hear and think, but not to act, that is if your internal power systems remain active.” Katse chortled with glee. “Clever, don’t you think?”
“1-Rover-1, help me!”
The dog barked and took to the air with his rotating tail and zoomed out of sight. He returned a few moments later and dropped his beloved wrench at Zark’s feet.
“No, no!” Zark could feel the foam clogging up his systems. They were starting to shut down from too much heat.
“Oh yes, Zark. The end is near.” Katse laughed. “This world will be mine as it couldn’t be at home. And I will have you to thank for all of it.”
White foam dribbled out of Zark’s outer casing and dripped to the floor. 1-Rover-1 pawed at a bit of it and started playing with it across the floor.
Zark’s internal power flickered as even more systems shut down. Oh why, oh why was this happening to him? He should have stayed in simulations.
“I promise to erect a plaque in your honor,” Katse said. “And I’ll even make sure to tell the team all that you have done for me.”
Zark’s vision grew dim as the rising heat melted wires leading to his optical systems. He wanted to scream in horror, but his vocals were already gone. The last thing he heard before his systems totally failed was Andre’s pleased voice chortling in the background.
“No more Sosai, no more overlord – whee! Katse, Katse, wins, wins wins!”