June's surveillance of the anomaly confirmed that it was about 2000 meters ahead of them. The Condor was rather vocal about the need to attack the mecha they detected despite the fact that G-1 was standing firm about following Nambu's orders to not engage the warship, but to observe it and try to find out where its base was.
"Ken˜they're like a pack of mad dogs." Joe insisted. "We need to mount an offensive before they attack us!"
"We're not going to be mounting any offensive." the Eagle countermanded.
"What do you mean?"
"While I'm in command here, we're following orders. Dr. Nambu is relying on us." Ken said firmly. "June, collect as much information as you can about their ship using your sensor array. Then report to Dr. Nambu and tell him we're awaiting his orders."
"Roger." G-3 acknowledged, turning to her panel, her slender fingers dancing over the surface so that the information they needed was gathered as quickly as possible.
"Oh, brother." the Condor rolled his eyes and sat down, knowing when he was beaten˜at least, this time. He still felt that Gatchaman should attack the mecha rather than waiting.
"You're making this spy business too personal, Joe." Rocky assured him. "I'm sure there'll be plenty of time to engage these monkeys. The battle's just begun." The Swallow appeared beside Joe's chair, leaning an elbow on the top of its back as he added his own two cents' worth:
"It's better to study them first...what do we really know about these people..?"
"I know as much as I need to know. Believe me, I've devoted my life to exterminating them." the Condor ground out, his hands clenching the armrests of his chair. " I never told you before˜but when I was a boy, the Gallactor came for my father and when he wouldn't go...they killed my parents." The raw pain and anger in his voice was evident and it made everyone listening very uncomfortable.
June announced that the mecha was heading for Kaimar City, where the main research facility for the Mantle Plan had been established. The Mantle Plan was supposed to be a way for the Earth to conserve its resources and be able to continue have its current technology function without continuing to pollute the environment. Ken ordered that their findings be relayed to Dr. Nambu at once, along with the recommendation for the city to be evacuated as well as UN fighters be scrambled to defend it.
They all saw, to their horror, the huge mecha emerge from its storm cloud cover. It resembled a cross between a dragon and a turtle...and it rained destruction upon Kaimar City. The hoard of fighters that rose to meet the monstrous thing were repelled with contemptuous ease, none of the Hellraiser missiles fired at it even dented the armored exterior. Then the mecha went on to use its beams of energy to raze Kaimar City completely to the ground. Everyone aboard the Godphoenix knew that there hadn't nearly been anywhere near enough time to have evacuated even one-quarter of its population.
"Look at what you've done!" the Condor cried, springing across the deck and hauling Ken up out of his seat by the front of his uniform. "If you had let me attack them when we had the opportunity, we could have saved all those people! Those lives were lost because of your bad command judgment!" Ken pushed the angry G-2 away from him.
"Stop it, Joe!" the Eagle retorted. "We did what we could, but it wasn't enough..." He went on to point out that attempting to take out the mecha now with the armament on the Godphoenix
Nambu announced that the information gathered and sent by June confirmed that the mecha had been created and manned by extraterrestrials. Jimmy was guessing that such aliens were bug-like˜he was an avid amateur entomologist. The security chief pointed out that, since the aliens had been on the Earth for a rather long time, they most likely looked human. Nambu told Gatchaman to continue to monitor the ship and to keep him updated with whatever course the ship would take.
Nambu signed off and took the hard copies of the data he received with him, knowing that he had to report the developments personally to Director Anderson. He was deep in thought as the elevator made its way to the level that housed the director's office, trying to formulate the best course of action for Gatchaman to take. He was coming to the conclusion that the team would need to infiltrate the warship itself˜to sabotage the inner workings of the mecha˜when the doors to the elevator parted. He only had time to take a step forward when he was suddenly hit by a dart to his chest. The mustachioed man stumbled back and slid to the floor, attempting to fight the shock and the drug that now coursed through his veins. He looked up into the mocking smile of Dr. Kessler.
"Wha˜what are you doing...?" Nambu gasped.
"It's time for you to take a little nap, doctor." the blond man responded archly. "Have a nice rest." Nambu struggled against the drug's effect, but was soon enveloped by darkness.
"IT LOOKS LIKE the Gallactor ship has changed its course." Jun reported from her station on the Godphoenix. "It's headed for Utoland City, and at this rate, it'll be there in an hour!"
"What???" Ken gasped. Then he sent a signal back to Dr. Nambu...who, it seemed, was not responding...
NAMBU BLINKED, TRYING to marshal his fuzzy thoughts into some semblance of order. He looked around him, instantly recognizing that he wasn't in ISO headquarters anymore, but somewhere else...a sumptuously appointed office that had a spectacular view of sky and clouds. However, the hum of machinery that he felt through the floor seemed to indicate that he was either in a high rise factory (highly improbable) or on a ship of some sort.
"I see you're finally awake, Dr. Nambu." the figure on the other side of the expensive antique desk spoke confidently even though he was technically facing away from the security chief. "Wh-who are you and what am I doing here?" Nambu demanded.
"Welcome, doctor, you're aboard what your people like to call a 'mother ship'." Beoluke turned to face Nambu.
"Why are you here, President Beoluke? Are you responsible for kidnapping me?"
"I apologize for any mistreatment that you may have suffered in the transportation, but it was important that we meet and I knew that you would never come voluntarily." Beoluke said evenly. "I have a proposition for you. I know your mind is one of the most advanced on the planet so I'm giving you a chance to join a very elite organization."
"I'm afraid I don't quite follow you."
"I'm inviting you to live aboard this great ship and work with the kind of technology that you have only dreamt of in your earthbound imagination! You will be among the only ones of your kind to make it into the glorious future." Once again the president of Hontwall faced the window.
"And what happens to the rest of the human race?" Nambu asked archly. "Have they offended God so badly that He plans to wash them away with yet another flood?"
"I'm afraid 'God' is just a concept for the fearful among us." the bald man said dismissively. "As for the rest of humanity, they'll very likely be eliminated through their own foolishness." Beoluke turned back to the younger man. "They pretend to care for their fellow man, but deep inside they're filled with selfish interests and greed. They pretend the world is in peaceful balance, but each day it teeters on the edge of annihilation. Technology has advanced much faster than man's moral development and all it will take is a maniac with a bomb to destroy civilization. I know certain nations are preparing to attack Hontwall because our military alliances are upsetting the balance of power." Beoluke faced his captive once again. "My pre-emptive strike will lead to total war. The only survivors will be those living aboard this ship."
"You madman!" Nambu responded in shock. "The world will rise up to destroy you!"
"I'm counting on them to try, particularly after I vaporize the UN Headquarters."
The security chief could only stare in horror as the clearly-insane president of Hontwall laughed...and laughed...and laughed.
"COME IN, DOCTOR...please respond!" Ken called over the communicator yet again, but was met only with silence. He wasn't getting any response at all from any of the assigned emergency frequencies.
"Hey, what's happening here?" G-5 asked with a frown. He wasn't the communications expert of the team, but even he knew that Nambu would never deliberately refuse to respond to a call from Gatchaman.
"I think I know." Jun announced and then explained about the sudden build-up of military presence in the airspace and oceans outside of Hontwall, using the ship's screens to emphasize the gravity of the situation. The countries of the United Nations were blaming Hontwall for the attacks on the various cities and wanted to attack Hontwall before anything else could happen.
"Wait!" Ken cried, leaping to his feet. "This must all be part of the Gallactors' plot!"
"If that spacecraft attacks Utoland City," the Swan pointed out, "The UN will attack Hontwall and there'll be war."
ABOARD THE MOTHERSHIP, Beoluke was still attempting to persuade Dr. Nambu to join the Gallactor side. The security chief was still holding out, though...so the president brought Nambu to meet with other people who had joined up.
Nambu recognized all the missing scientists from the various reports about the destroyed facilities from the past few weeks, including Dr. Kirkland and, apparently, Dr. Kessler as well. The security chief was happy to see they all survived, but was repelled to hear them all spouting the same twisted garbage that Beowulf had tried to persuade Nambu with earlier, each of them saying they were excited to be there.
"They've all been brainwashed!" Nambu muttered softly. Beoluke still attempted to persuade the scientist to his point of view.
"Dr. Nambu, the new millennium is dawning right before your eyes!" the bald man said glibly. "Join us as we guide your species to the next rung of the evolutionary ladder! You have a chance to be remembered as a great benefactor of humanity...all you have to do is to help bring order to your turbulent world˜by working for the Gallactor!"
Nambu still refused, and accused Beoluke of being Solaris in disguise. The bald president of Hontwall revealed himself to be the tall commanding figure Solaris, who laughed at the security chief, insisting that there was nothing that Nambu nor the ISO could do to avert the end of human history.
BACK ABOARD THE Godphoenix, the members of Gatchaman were all discussing attacking the mecha their ship was following. The consensus was to fire the Armageddon rocket at the spacecraft, but Ken nixed the idea, pointing out that none of the conventional missiles had managed to hurt it. He instead proposed that the team infiltrate the ship and plant a few strategic bombs to destroy the mecha from within. Once he voiced this as a choice, Joe was all for it˜this meant he'd be able to personally beat on Gallactor troops.
Rocky soon maneuvered the ship over the rear of the mecha and put the Godphoenix on autopilot.
Soon there were five figures sailing towards the dragon king mecha, intent on stopping it before it precipitated a world war. They landed on the outside of the ship, finding a hatch and siccing young Jimmy on it. G-4 made short work of the electronic lock used to secure it and the quintet dropped down into the belly of the beast.
"COMMANDER!" ONE OF the troops at a monitor on the bridge suddenly announced. "We have an unauthorized entry on B deck, Hatch 5, Area 12."
"What???" Drakon bellowed, then swiveled about in his chair. "Blackbirds team!" The four people assigned to the bridge dropped down from their perch.
"Sir!" they all acknowledged in unison, Kara amongst them.
"We have an intruder...go and take him out."
"Right." the team leader said, and the cadre took to the air. "Head for the hatch...we'll track the intruder from there."
"HERE ARE THE assignments..." Ken told them in a soft voice, "...Jun and I will will go to the engine room...the rest of you survey the ship."
"Bring me back a souvenir of their drive system!" Jimmy directed his request to the Swan, who gestured dismissively.
"Let's move." Ken interrupted the exchange. The Eagle and the Swan ran off in one direction, while the Condor, the Swallow and the Horned Owl quickly hustled away in the other direction. The quartet of Blackbirds arrived at the now-empty scene.
"Switching to infrared." Kara said, touching the control on her visor. The heads-up display showed two different sets of tracks going in opposite directions. "They split up˜three of them went that way." She pointed off towards the secondary monitoring station for B deck.
"Where the hell would the other two be going?" Marin, the team leader, asked irritably. The other Blackbirds kept their mouths shut while Kara pointed out the painfully obvious:
"Hel-lo...infiltrators on a ship? They're trying to find the engine room!" Marin's face flushed.
"In that case, smart ass," the team leader ordered, "You follow the trio and we'll go after the ones trying to sabotage the engine room."
"But...that's three-to-one..!" Kara said, dismayed. "I'll be at a distinct disadvantage."
"Then think before you open your mouth next time, Kiri." sneered the team leader before he zipped away with the other two members of the cadre.
'Asshole.' Kara thought uncharitably, then went after her assigned quarry. 'Marin's such a dense idiot, he'll likely get his ass kicked anyway.' She based her hypothesis on the fact that five operatives were able to get into the mecha that was flying tens of thousands of feet above the Earth's surface. That bespoke intelligence as well as skill.
Though she had no way of knowing it, Kara was completely correct. Although Marin and the Blackbirds with him got the drop on the white-winged intruder, they were easily defeated by G-1. June was able to plant the charges and started the timers.
The dragon king mecha now had a mere ten minutes to live.
GARY SAT AT the computer console, bored. He was a Gallactor grunt, assigned to monitor duty, and he felt like this stupid assignment would be the death of him, for he would be bored to death. He was half right, as his dead body slumped forward, thanks to the energy garrote used on him by G-2. The other two members of the B deck monitor crew turned around to stare at Gary...and were immediately felled by the blitzkrieg attacks launched by G-4 and G-5.
"Good." Joe approved. "Now let's see if we can find their headquarters...Jimmy, can you access their computer records..?"
"No problem." the Swallow sat down at the nearest console and plugged in his universal access unit. "It operates like a joystick at a video game arcade..." The boy began working the device, running through the different code combinations, but getting only the dreaded "ACCESS DENIED" message on the readout.
Kara could hear voices from the monitor station, and she could tell they weren't the voices of the crew˜the infiltrators had obviously gotten the upper hand. She stealth-walked to the doorway, turning off the infrared on her HUD and hunkering down as she silently got out the poisoned quills that were mandatory equipment issued to all Blackbirds.
"Shoot...I'm locked out and I don't know the access code!" the voice of a young boy˜he couldn't possibly have been more than eleven at the very most˜complained.
"Too bad, little buddy...I guess the Gallactor's smarter than you if it's got you beat." the person replying to the boy was a giant of a man˜he had the bulk and the muscle of a Sumo wrestler. Kara immediately pegged him as the threat to take down first, as he was doubtless the strongest.
"Don't say that!" the boy begged, and Kara's instinct was torn in twain. The two of them sounded so...friendly. It was a shame she had to kill them...but it was her duty to defend her ship. So she aimed and went to toss the virulent quills...and then gasped in shock as she beheld the back of the third, practically invisible infiltrator˜the mark on the back of the wing-like cape he wore...it...couldn't be...and yet, the evidence of her own eyes made it so:
He wore the mark of the Kiri on his back!
Joe heard a gasp behind him and caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He reacted instinctively, leaping over the console he stood at.
"Rocky! Get down!" the Condor cried out, shoving Rocky back a few steps with his landing. In the spot where Rocky stood were some wicked-looking, thin daggers. All eyes went to the doorway, where there knelt a figure in a bird-style-like suit...black wings, solid black visor. Joe saw the finely-shaped mouth of their adversary twist in a smile˜or it may have been a grimace, since the wannabe-assassin missed his target. There was a slight chuckle, too...low and hard to hear.
Kara was definitely grimacing and she chuckled at her own ineptitude. If she lived through this, she'd be on the wire for at least eight hours for messing up such a simple kill.
And now all three of the obviously extremely well-trained operatives knew she was there, trying to kill them. She heeded her instinct and bolted down the hallway, using her comm link to signal the Commander that she would try to lure her three targets to the landing bay.
"Heh...finally a worthy opponent..." Joe's own chuckle and accompanying smile was not at all nice as he took off after his perceived quarry.
"Joe˜what about our assignment..?" Rocky called after him. The Condor continued his single minded pursuit, however. The Owl and the Swallow raced behind him.
"We don't have time for this!" Rocky complained.
"Jo-OE!" Jimmy admonished.
"Nobody's makin' ya follow me!" snarled G-2, who didn't want to let his prey go˜which almost puzzled him. Logic dictated that Rocky and Jimmy were both correct˜following this would-be assassin wasn't according to orders...and yet, there was something about this one that was pushing all his buttons. Joe felt compelled to have to do his utmost to catch this guy. He put on a burst of speed.
Kara prayed she'd actually make it to the bay, as she could definitely hear the trio pounding down the hall after her. Her survival instinct was what was prompting all this...but, even so, Kara's mind was still turning over the implications of the symbol on the backs of not just the operative with the black uniform, but the other two as well. Not only that, but her senses were also telling her that the people behind numbered two humans and a Person˜the one hellbent on catching her.
She was totally ambivalent about leading the three young men into the trap laid for them, but she wasn't about to stand still and allow them to kill her, either. Kara reached the sanctuary of the landing bay and leaped to the first level circular catwalk, relieved to see the silhouette of the troops there, ringed around the bay. She landed on the catwalk and huddled down, breathing heavily at the exhertion and receding anxiety of nearly getting caught by her pursuers.
The three infiltrators rushed into the bay, and the bulkhead door behind them immediately slid shut.
"We're blocked!" the youngest cried.
"Damn it!" cursed the black-caped agent.
"We're trapped!" observed the husky man in green.
The overbright repair lights snapped on, and clicks of dozens of automatic weapons being primed sounded all over the perimeter of the bay: the three Gatchaman agents were in the sights of no less than eighty of Gallactor's finest.
'Well,' Kara personally amended, '...eighty of Gallactor's finest draftees.' She didn't think that made them the finest, per se˜but they certainly had numbers on their side.
"On my count..." the black-garbed male said to his companions in a low voice. Kara heard him anyway, and was totally aghast˜they were so horribly outnumbered, yet they were fighting anyway? How stupid...how...brave.
"Don't move!" yelled Drakon, striding forward between his two personal Blackbird guards and glaring down at his three captives. "What monumental arrogance you have, to break into the dragon king, our ultimate killing machine! There will be no mercy for spies and saboteurs like--" There was suddenly the appearance of an incredible boomerang-like device, thrown from the upper levels of the bay, taking out just about all the troops at the topmost catwalk. Kara's eyes rolled. Yup...Marin had gotten his fool ass kicked.
"Good timing!" commented Jimmy.
"There's more of them!" the reptillian-uniformed commander stated in irritation. Kara's eyes rolled again˜not only had Marin gone and got his ass kicked, but he had failed to report to their commander the fact that he'd gone after another two of the infiltrators. She stood up and turned around, looking down to see that the trio on the floor of the landing bay had already taken advantage of the distraction the boomerang attack had afforded and were now gone, the half-dozen or so troops that had been closest to them now scattered on the ground, out cold or dead.
'Hmmm...if Marin's team got beaten,' Kara thought to herself, '...then that means...'
"There are bombs in the engine room..!" the Blackbird groaned, immediately running for the upper exit with the intention to try to get to the engine room and find the bombs, even as every soldier with a gun opened fire all over the bay.
"Hey, you!" one of the troops noticed that a Blackbird was trying to flee the scene of a muster. "You're supposed to stay and fight!"
"I have to go to--"
"Hey˜you're the Kiri trash!" the soldier recognized Kara's voice, snarling with hatred. He reached out and grabbed her arm, yanking her around from the door to the railing. "Stay and fight, you cowardly bitch!"
"You don't understand, you fool!" Kara snapped, struggling to pull her arm out of the man's grasp. "If I don't get to--"
"You're not leaving us here to fight your battles for you, bitch!" the soldier roared in blind hatred. "Fight, damn you!" Kara ripped her arm out of the soldier's grasp, but her attention had been focused on him˜she freed herself in time to get the butt-end of another soldier's weapon smashed down across the back of her head...and then she was falling...