When the sun was up, Ken spoke. “I guess I should take you home. It’s still raining, so I could drive you.” he offered.
Jun nodded. Leaving her motorcycle at the airfield, she got into Ken’s car for the ride back to the Snack J. Just as Ken pulled up, his bracelet came to life.
“G-1!” came Dr. Nambu’s voice, “Assemble your team! Launch the God Phoenix immediately!”
“This is G-1. Understood.” Ken responded. He looked at Jun.
“Go change into your new uniform. I’ll wait for you.” he said. Jun rushed to follow his orders. Ken began to contact the others on his communicator.
Racing back outside, she saw Jinpei close behind her. Ken motioned them both into his car. Fortunately, Jinpei was so surprised by the early morning call, that it didn’t occur to him to wonder why Ken was there in the first place.
Once aboard the new God Phoenix, Dr. Nambu explained that Gel Sadra had developed a mecha based on one of Berg Katse’s old designs. It was hidden in a Galactor base underneath the ocean. Apparently, she was planning to attack the Ogon Penninsula.
Ryu flew to the underwater co-ordinates that the ISO had transmitted.
The KNT quickly realized that they were no match for the mecha’s freeze ray. Ryu lost control of the ship, and they plunged into an iceberg. The New God Phoenix was trapped, and they couldn’t get out.
“We need to use Science Ninja Technique: Firebird!” Ken stated. But when Ryu tried, they discovered that one of the electrical connections in the G-2 storage bay had been broken.
Joe had been silent up until now. He had acted professionally, not giving any indication that anything was amiss between him and Jun.
“Leave it to me.” Joe stated. He ran off to the G-2 docking bay.
A short while later Ryu’s communicator chirped. “Go for it, Ryu!” came Joe’s voice.
Whatever Joe had done, it was enough. The firebird technique was successful. They were able to escape the iceberg, and destroy the mecha with Super Bird Missiles.
On the way back to G-Town, Joe re-entered the cockpit. His gloves and hands were torn to shreds, but he refused to comment on what had happened. He merely took his seat and sat in a cold silence, ignoring the puzzled looks around him.
Jun’s mood was grim. It was things like this, that had caused that terrible fight between them last night. She needed to know more. Quietly, she slipped out and went to the G-2 docking bay. There, she found the broken electrical connection. The two ends of the wires were lying on the ground. It hadn’t been fixed at all.
Analyzing the situation, she realized that the two ends were less than an arm’s length apart.
Joe had a lot of explaining to do. But she knew now that no explanation would be forthcoming.
Despite her anger regarding Joe’s silence, Jun still cared for him. Her feelings weren’t just something she could turn off like a light switch. While she pondered the meaning of her night with Ken, she also longed for Joe to come to her and reveal what he had been hiding. But he did not.
Then, one day, a few weeks later, she was guarding Joe on a mission. He had been chosen to drive important documents to ISO headquarters, but had gotten a blinding headache, and had lost control of his car, while trying to avoid a large group of green-suited goons.
Jun was incredibly concerned. She had thought that the days of those terrible headaches were behind him. Whatever his secrets, Joe had seemed healthy enough, since his return. Dodging Galactor assassins, she jumped off of the G-3, and into Joe’s car, trying to help him drive. But it was too late. The car plunged off of a cliff and flipped over, rendering the Condor unconscious. Jun dragged Joe into a nearby cave, and tried to contact the other KNT for help. Waiting for Joe to regain consciousness, she found a tracking device in his messenger bag. No wonder Galactor had known exactly where he was!
Joe groaned. What had happened to him? He had thought that his brain modifications would prevent any more sudden headaches. Then he saw Jun fiddling with the tracking device, and knew that it must have interfered with his cybernetic brain.
Jun. She had tried to help him, leaping into the car without thinking, facing death with him as it fell from the cliff. If she hadn’t taken him here… wherever this was… he might be dead even now. Although she hadn’t talked to him in weeks, he knew she still cared for him a great deal. The knowledge comforted him, even though he knew he could no longer return her feelings.
He had tried to forget her. He distanced himself, and barely spoke to her now. Knowing he was now the most expendable member of the KNT, he dived headfirst into the most dangerous missions, taking the most risks. So far, he had managed to escape unscathed every time. But he knew it couldn’t last. Dr. Rafael had plans for him… plans that would no doubt result in his death. He didn’t have much time left, and didn’t want Jun to grieve him again, when he was really gone this time.
Then two weeks ago he had run into Kathy… he had never thought he would see her again. She was a woman he should love: another Rafael-created cyborg like himself. If anyone could understand what he was going through, it was she. But she had grabbed the magma solidification device from him, and thrown herself into the lava to stop Galactor’s volcanic eruption… and now she was gone too. He had thought he could love her, but deep in his soul, he knew that the only true love he would ever know, would be with Jun.
Was Kathy’s demise what it would be like for him too? Would he plunge himself into harm’s way, on a moment’s notice, to fulfill his true destiny?
Whatever that destiny was, it didn’t include Jun. He was certain of that.
Jun noticed that Joe was awake.
“Thank God, Joe! I was getting worried about you.”
“I’m too tough to kill…” Joe groaned.
“An attitude like that, is what will get you killed!” responded Jun hotly. “We need to focus! I’ve been injured too. If Galactor finds us now, we’ll be in trouble. I’m trying to contact the others, but I’m not sure my signal is getting through.”
“Don’t worry about me.” Joe mumbled. “I’m not your problem any more.”
His words hit their mark. Jun’s eyes filled with tears. She angrily brushed them away and tried to change the subject.
“Joe… while you were unconscious… you were mumbling. Something about Dr. Rafael?”
“Look Jun, just stay out of my business!” he snapped. “I don’t need you prying into my affairs!”
As usual, he didn’t want to talk to her about what was going on in his mind. Jun let out a painful sigh. She should be used to it by now, but her heart still cried out at his indifference.
Suddenly, she heard a noise. Turning around, she saw a large Galactor tank-like mecha, accompanied by at least a hundred soldiers, forcing its way into the cavern.
Jun panicked only briefly. She couldn’t stand on her wounded leg. Joe was not in Birdstyle. He had no protection from their weapons, and was still too groggy to fight. As the soldiers trained their guns on him, she did the only thing she could do.
She covered his body with her own.
She cried out as the weapons fire hit her. Collapsing on the ground, her last conscious thought, was of Joe.
Joe couldn’t believe what had just happened. Jun had just sacrificed herself to save him. Even worse, it hadn’t really been necessary. His new body probably would have withstood the close range fire. But Jun’s could not. He was ashamed at the depth of her love for him, and the lengths to which she had gone, to in order to protect him. He didn’t deserve such caring.
Seeing Jun’s inert body slumped on the ground filled him with a sudden, cold rage.
Dodging Galactor’s fire, he quickly ducked in an alcove, and changed into Birdstyle. He would destroy Galactor, even if it meant tearing them apart with his bare hands.
Ken saw the smoke, and heard the shouts of Galactor goons from inside the cavern. He ran towards the explosions, Ryu and Jinpei close behind. He only hoped that he wasn’t too late, and that Joe and Jun were all right.
His knees nearly gave way, when he saw Joe carrying Jun out of the haze. She was obviously wounded, and Joe carried her tenderly up the slope to the remaining KNT.
Gently, he deposited her into Ken’s arms. His eyes sent a clear message.
She was Ken’s responsibility now.
Ken took that new responsibility seriously. He watched over Jun, both on and off duty. While she didn’t exactly fall into his arms, or his bed, he felt that she was coming to terms with the night they had spent together, almost a year ago.
The Condor had his own sense of honor, and apparently it precluded him from interfering. They saw him as little as possible, and on missions he was always professionally distant.
And then... then came that fateful day, when Dr. Pandora had shot Hakase. She had successfully stopped his brainwaves, temporarily thwarting Gel Sadra’s attack on Dr. Nambu, but it had been Joe who had saved the day by defeating her psionic fiend.
It was then, that Dr. Pandora had told them the truth. Joe, alone, had been able to accomplish thi, because of his cybernetically enhanced mind. The KNT let out a collective gasp. A cyborg???
Looking at Joe’s face, Jun knew it was true. This was what he had been keeping from her. As he walked out of the room, Jun ran after him. She didn’t notice Ken following behind.
Outside the building, she breathlessly caught up to Joe.
“Wait!” she pleaded as she grabbed his shoulder.
Joe slowly turned to look at her, his eyes like granite. “What more do you want from me, Jun?” he asked, “You know, now. Just please, let me go.”
“Joe… is this what you’ve been hiding from me? From all of us? Is this your deep, dark secret? Or is there more?”
Joe slowly shook his head. “No more.” he replied with a grimace. “That damned Pandora just laid me bare, for all of you to gape at.”
“But, Joe…” Jun said, her eyes shining, “I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me if part of you is a machine. What matters to me is that we can be together. After all… you’re still human here…” and she touched his chest, where his heart should be.
A laugh erupted from inside of Joe. But there was no joy, no life in it. It was a cold, bitter laugh, that cursed the day Dr. Rafael had ever found him.
“I hate to break it to you, sweetheart,” he said in a grim voice, “but there are cyborg components there too. I’m not a man anymore… I’m a machine. Any feelings I have are just remnants of my past life…”
“A life, where I did love you…” he whispered softly, “but not now… I can’t love you, now.” He reached out to touch her face and stopped, his fingers a bare inch from her skin. He held them there for a long moment.
Dropping his hand, he turned and walked away again. This time, Jun let him go. She knew it was finally over.
Completely, irrevocably over.
Just as her sorrow overtook her, she felt strong arms encircle her waist, from behind. She turned around, coming face to face, with Ken.
This was the man who had always been there for her. This was the man who had stood by her, allowed her time to sort out her feelings. Whose patience and tenderness had always gone unrewarded. Yet, he was still there for her now.
They embraced, and Jun felt her soul lighten.
From a distance, Joe watched them connect. He knew he had done the right thing. His life was intended for destruction, and his time was coming to an end. He had no right to claim Jun, no matter how much she protested. She needed Ken, to make her happy.
Only, things didn’t turn out the way that Joe had thought they would. He hadn’t died with Sosai X; it had been Gel Sadra who had taken the brunt of the blast. Afterward, he had suffered severe exhaustion, as Dr. Nambu searched for a way to re-charge his cybernetic body, and return him to a semblance of normalcy.
During it all, Jun had been there, but it was not as it had been. She had found peace with Ken, and Joe knew that Jun spent most of her nights at Ken’s house, at the airstrip. She was concerned for Joe, she cared for Joe, but her passion for him was gone.
He had watched Ken and Jun grow closer, as he had always thought they were meant to. Why had he ever been with her? Was it some kind of karmic punishment of Ken’s for treating Jun so callously all those years ago? Or was it Fate, granting him something precious, to help him through those dark days with Dr. Rafael? Joe didn’t know.
All he knew, was that his love for Jun burned as brightly as ever. He had come to understand that it always would.
And then, one day, he realized that he wasn’t going to die. That he was going to live a life as full and as long as any other man. And he had no one to share it with.
He knew then, that he had to try and get her back… even if that meant hurting Ken. She was the only thing that made his life whole. He had to fight for the only woman who had ever touched his soul.
He had made a terrible mistake, and he resolved to put it right.