Drakon screamed at his idiot troops, who were wasting ammunition and time shooting at the barely-seen figures zipping near the ceiling of the landing bay, ordering them to hold their fire and, instead, aim at the ones on the floor˜then he saw, much to his anger, that the trio of formerly-easy-targets were no longer there.
"Sometimes we appear as one..." intoned Joe.
"Sometimes as five..." added Rocky.
"Sometimes with no form at all˜just a flash at the corners of your vision..." said June.
"But you always know when we're here..." Jimmy said a bit gleefully.
"The Science Ninja Team...Gatchaman!" Ken announced, appearing very clearly, outlined by one of the main repair lights. Everyone fired upon the man the commander's order, but it was merely an illusion.
"Aerial assault formation˜flash strike!" ordered G-1. Suddenly the air was full of fighters that all seemed to be everywhere at once: the Swan taking out several Gallactors with an energy yo-yo device and then sending yet another one of the troops sprawling with a flying kick; the Swallow zipping around, his speed and agility such that he slammed one Gallactor into the wall before downing two more with expert tossing of his bolos; the Condor savagely beating Gallactors with his bare hands, reveling in the damage he was inflicting with his fists; and the Horned Owl slammed troops not only into the unyielding metal walls of the mecha, but into each other as well.
"You idiots!" screamed Drakon, spotting the white-garbed Eagle and attempting to leap on him in an two-weapon ax attack. "Die!!!" Ken was a whirlwind of action, deftly avoiding the blows of not only the axes, but the attacks of two Blackbirds as well. He used the Science Ninja formation: Triple Shadow to help confuse and, ultimately, beat the Blackbirds. Drakon saw that the Gallactor's numbers were seriously dwindling, however, and decided that descretion was the better part of valor, leaping away to escape the landing bay.
Joe had just finished pounding the face of one Gallactor when another one tried to attack him from behind. G-2 unleashed a feather shuriken, smirking when the weapon buried itself in the man's throat. Then he leapt back from the Blackbird that tried to dive-bomb him, flinging a second shuriken at the dark-garbed assassin...but the shuriken struck the opaque black visor at an angle as opposed to lancing up through the eyeball like Joe had intended˜this Blackbird had not been dive-bombing him, but, apparently, dropped out of the air. Most likely killed by one of the other members of the Gatchaman team, he thought, turning his attention to the battle around him...and becoming extremely disappointed when he found none.
"Uhhhhnghhhh..." the Blackbird that had fallen groaned and shifted, apparently still alive. Joe reached for another shuriken to finish the bastard off˜but found, to his annoyance, that he was fresh out. Damnation! Joe reached for his gun, then--
"Joe!" Ken's voice interrupted. "Let's go˜we only have less than sixty seconds before the bombs go off!" The Condor's hand was on his gun and he glared down at the still-living Blackbird lying face-down on the ground.
"Fuck it." he cursed, spitting on the man's sprawled body. "I'm not putting you out of your misery that easy...better to let you fry in the explosion!" Then he raced out of the landing bay after his teammates.
KARA WAS FINDING it very hard to think. Why was she lying on the cold deck? And why was the inside of her Blackbird visor decorated with a feather? And why was that man with the voice that was more than welcome to star in her lovely, lovely wet dreams cursing her..?
"...we only have less than sixty seconds before the bombs go off..."
Bombs. Oh, yes...she had wanted to go find the bombs...but the silly Gallactor got in her way...the pain in the back of her head told her that she'd been stupid enough to get struck from behind...
Goddammit...if she lived through this, she'd be on the wire for at least sixteen hours for being fool enough to allow some grunt to get the drop on her AND for missing a simple kill. That would make for a great time, now, wouldn't it?
Time...right...time...how much time until the bombs went off..? Kara blinked, trying to get her head to work. Bombs...in the engine room...they'd take out the power source for the ship, to be sure...but the ship itself would remain relatively intact˜unless the Science Ninja Team had been smart enough to make sure that the bombs were placed not only to stop the mecha but also to destroy its fuel source...which, judging by how competent they'd been so far, Kara immediately assumed that was exactly what had been done. After all˜it wasn't very politic to have a 400-foot-tall mecha drop like a stone into the middle of downtown Utoland City if the whole point of the mission was supposed to keep the city from being attacked in the first place, right..?
Kara's head cleared just a bit˜there was still some fuzziness around the edges of her thoughts, but it was manageable. Her brain prodded her into action˜she brought her communicator to her mouth.
"Co...Commander...there are bombs...bombs on board..." she croaked into the device.
"What? This is the Kiri upstart, isn't it?" Drakon's voice responded. "That stupid Science Ninja Gatcha-mahoosis fiasco is all your fault! I'm recommending that you get a full day on the wire, you useless bitch!!!" He cut off the link.
Kara would have laughed, but that would only have added to the pounding in her head. These fools didn't want to listen to the emotional Kiri female, then? Fine. She had tried to do her duty by the ship, but they didn't want her help. Now she had to try to help herself... ...but first...a little nap...just...a little...
DRAKON RAN ALONG the route to the command deck of the dragon king, seething with anger. Only a third of the way there, his comm link beeped and he heard the groggy voice of some female:
"Co...Commander...there are bombs...bombs on board..."
Who in the hell was this? Oh, wait˜on the Blackbirds team...there was a woman...yes, that's right...that Kiri that Viz had warned him about...Kiki...Kathy...something...oh, who gave a shit! His ignominious retreat from the landing bay wouldn't have had to happen if she had competently been doing her job, the slut.
"What? This is the Kiri upstart, isn't it?" Drakon's voice responded. "That stupid Science Ninja Gatcha-mahoosis fiasco is all your fault! I'm recommending that you get a full day on the wire, you useless bitch!!!" He cut off the link, storming onto the bridge in a towering rage.
"Gatchaman...I'll deal with them after I destroy Utoland City..." he vowed, looking out the viewport to see the city coming into the range of the dreaded plasma blasters, a fact confirmed by one of the technicians in Tactical.
"By the time I'm done, it'll be ashes!" Drakon snarled, then ordered: "Power to maximum!" The bridge crew followed the command.
"Plasma beam standing by..." the crew commander at the weapons station relayed, "...Ready to fire on your order!"
THE FIVE MEMBERS of Gatchaman were on K deck, trying to open Hatch 8...however, the safety interlocks were still operating and would not allow the hatch to be opened while the flight system was engaged, in spite of the brilliant hacking that Jimmy was doing.
"I-I can't open this hatch lock!" G-4 admitted, looking frazzled.
"Stand back." Joe told everyone, drawing his gun and flipping up its energy dampener. He pointed the weapon at the circular escape hatch and pulled the trigger. The unencumbered energy blast blew the hatch off the ship, and the Science Ninja Team were soon gliding serenely away from the doomed dragon king and back onto the nearby Godphoenix.
THE LIGHT WAS warm and welcoming and made Kara want to weep with relief for being within it. She could feel the presence of the Bright Lady herself.
Yes, Kara, you are loved. assured the gentle voice of the Lady. But, my dearest...it is not your time yet. You must go back...there is much for you yet to do. You must help the other Kiri defeat the Darkness that would consume you all.
O-other Kiri? But...I thought I was the only one left... Kara was stunned.
Kiri exist in spirit, Kara, not necessarily by birth. The Bright Lady told her. You are the means by which the other Kiri may discover their true power...if you don't return, they may not realize what it is that they can do. They have the power, but you have the knowledge...you must become one if you are to defeat the Darkness. No one may accomplish this alone.
I...don't understand... Kara's head was spinning and fuzzy. How will I know them if they weren't born as I was..?
You already know them, dear one. The Bright Lady bade her. In the meantime...live.
Kara's eyes snapped open.
She was on a ship that was going to explode literally any second now...and she had to get out of there! Unfortunately, while her spirit was more than willing, her head˜her at the very least mildly-concussed head, she now realized˜was less than cooperative. Kara crawled over to one of the emergency cases and smashed it using her wrist claws, grunting as the pain jarred through her to her (surprise!) head. She pawed through the bits of shattered safety glass, finding the item she'd been looking for˜an emergency rebreather. Then she crawled over to where one of the emergency escape hatches were...and waited...
ON THE BRIDGE of the dragon king, Drakon sat at his command chair, bellowing orders:
"Set objective: the ISO building!!!" He pointed imperiously towards the vista filling the viewport. His faithful crew scrambled to do as they were ordered.
In the landing bay, Kara huddled by the escape hatch, her fingers flexing in her anxiety to leave, but she knew that she had to wait until the bombs wrecked the flight system before she had a prayer to open the hatch.
She could only hope that this happened before the fuel finished off the rest of the mecha.
"TARGET IS LOCKED in, Commander!" Tactical announced over the comm system. Drakon's lips curled in a cruel smile.
"FIRE!!!" he roared, one arm sweeping forward as though he, himself, were a god casting forth a thunderbolt with which to strike down the puny human mortals on the Earth.
THE CHARGES SET by June blew. The engines were immediately destroyed, which shut down the power to the entire ship. Kara was bounced around a bit, but she grabbed the emergency release bar of the hatch she was beside and yanked with a strength born of desperation...the bar groaned and began to yawn away from the hatch.
"ROCKY," KEN ORDERED, "Put us into overdrive."
"Copy that!" G-5 acknowledged and then pushed the Godphoenix on a trajectory away from the crumbling mecha. They didn't see the head of the dragon king separate from the dying body and take off as well.
KARA WAS LEANING her entire weight into the stupid emergency release bar, which was now stuck midway through its arc...the primary power systems had rendered the flight systems inert...but the damned back-up generators kicked in and put the safety interlocks back online˜and the safety protocols were now re-engaged for the hatches.
The bar refused to budge.
The reluctant Blackbird didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. A rumble and another violent shudder lurched through the dying dragon king...and Kara stared as the landing bay exterior wall suddenly buckled...and then became rent with several fissures...which, themselves, widened out into gaps that Kara could easily pass through.
She thanked the Bright Lady and dived out of the ship and into the sky...several thousand feet above the waters outside of Utoland City.
THE HUGE DRAGON king mecha exploded in a spectacular fashion, making Jimmy leap to his feet, pumping his fists in triumph.
"Yeah, all right!!!" he crowed.
Joe watched the destruction of the mecha with just the hint of a smile on his face, imagining the wounded Blackbird he'd been prevented from shooting suffering from suffocation at being unable to breathe this high up in the atmosphere. The thought of a Gallactor suffering always seemed to make Joe's day.
Even as the pieces rained down into the large lake below, June reported the escape of the dragon king head. Ken ordered that she keep tracking the mini-ship˜they still had Dr. Nambu's original orders to find the Gallactor's base, and he was determined that they would do this, come hell or high water.
KARA SHOVED THE rebreather into her mouth and then used her free hand to remove the feather shuriken that was still dangling in front of her eye inside her visor. Damn˜that Condor was a dangerous son of a bitch. She'd have to remember that in the future...if she survived the plunge. The Blackbird curled into a ball as the mecha went through its final explosions. The force of the explosions pushed her further away from the mecha pieces˜for which she ought to be grateful, she supposed˜however, she was being pelted with shrapnel from the ship. It was a good thing that her uniform's wings were reinforced fiber...not quite bulletproof, but able to stave off most of the pieces that were catching up with her.
After she was relatively sure that most of the bigger pieces of mecha had passed her by, Kara spread her wings and adjusted the angle of her descent, figuring that she more than likely had a semi-decent chance of being able to back off terminal velocity being as high up as she was. She also estimated that her chances of surviving the landing would be better if she did so in the water, rather than on land.
So she eventually maneuvered herself into a wide, rather graceful spiral, the water below getting inexorably closer and closer.
DRAKON, IN SPITE of having escaped the destruction of the dragon king, was not having a good day at all. He was stammering out an apology to Solaris˜or, rather to Solaris's holographic image˜and Solaris was not in the mood to be apologized to. Solaris coldly ordered that Drakon turn the escape ship around and dispose of the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, or not bother to return to the base.
"Remember...all power to Gallactor..." Solaris intoned, the holo-image saluting Drakon before fading away.
"HE MUST HAVE picked us up..." Rocky said, puzzled at his console readings, "...he's coming back our way."
"Wait˜he's gonna ram us!" Ken pointed out as the dragon head sped towards the Godphoenix.NOW!!!" The Owl at the controls gasped and used all his skill to get the ship out of the collision course the head of the mecha was now following. However, the enemy ship was still fast enough to give pursuit, as well as creep closer.
"The sensors are picking up a bomb in that craft..." June reported, standing up and looking towards Ken. "It's a neutrino bomb." The Eagle's blood ran cold.
"He's planning on making it a kamkaze mission!" G-1 declared.
WITHIN THE DRAGON king head, Drakon laughed.
"You can't get away from me now, Gatchaman!" He kept laughing. "Anyone who tries to interfere with the Gallactor master plan must pay the ultimate penalty!"
"KEN, HE'S STILL on our tail!" Rocky reported unhappily.
"Right." the leader of the Science Ninjas acknowledged, then ordered: "Buckle down...let's try a hyperspace jump."
"Say what???" the Owl's voice almost squeaked, the million-and-one ways that this particular maneuver could literally blow up in their faces coming to mind.
"Are you serious?" the Condor asked, staring. "You plan to use--"
"Our only choice is the Firebird." the Eagle said logically. "And we can blow him up if he's close enough."
"Ye-es..." Joe conceded in a drawl as a shocked and scared Jimmy looked on, "...but he might take us with him."
"Not if we time it right." Ken's voice was firm. "Rocky, make him follow us into space...we don't want a neutrino explosion in the lower atmosphere."
"Right." the pilot agreed, resigned to trying this hare-brained idea, thinking to himself that he didn't want to live forever, anyway. He punched in the navigational coordinates and guided the ship away from Earth, with the dragon-head vessel still following. "Approaching maximum overdrive..." The safety harnesses engaged, locking the crew of the ship into their seats for the upcoming physical transmutation. The process started, a fiery nimbus beginning to envelop the Godphoenix.
"This maneuver had better work or we'll all be toast..." Ken said by way of prayer. The layer of fire outside the ship thickened.
"YOU CAN'T ESCAPE from me, Gatchamaaaaaan!!!" Drakon's insane howl was unheard across the vacuum of space...as was the explosion of the neutrino bomb aboard his ship. The unholy flare of light from the release of energy was nigh blinding, though.
Yet, out of that burst of neutrino energy flew a magnificent bird of fire, screeching its triumph to the heavens as it winged its way back to Earth.
The Godphoenix reverted back to its normal physical state, with Rocky straining to pull the craft up out of its dive before it hit the water.
KARA LOOKED UP, gasping as she saw in the air above her the phoenix of legend. She recalled a snippet from her childhood˜something her mother had told her:
"The bird of fire is the agent of the Bright Lady...to behold its radiance is to be blessed by her."
Kara was sure that it was a sign˜she was defecting from Gallactor and never returning to Hontwall ever again. However, there was one last thing that she definitely wanted to find out, and Kara knew that only one person in the world could answer that final question for her. She looked down. The water was coming up fast. It was almost time for the Blackbird to start swimming.
ABOARD THE MOTHERSHIP, Solaris was frowning in thought while gazing out of the viewport.
"Too bad, Solaris." Nambu said, sounding anything but sorry. "I guess you'll have to put off that victory celebration you planned." The elaborately-garbed commander of the Gallactor chuckled and turned to face the security chief.
"My compliments, Dr. Nambu," the alien replied lightly, approaching, "You display a sense of humor in the face of catastrophe. Before too much longer this planet will be ruled by me...but you won't be around to observe that day because you are too dangerous for me to let you live..." One gloved hand reached towards the captive scientist with deadly intent...
...halting at the sound of shattering glass˜the Science Ninja Team dropped in through the skylights in the ceiling of the craft. It had been fairly simple for Gatchaman to find the mothership once the obscuring clouds generated by the late dragon king were gone. The five young people surrounded their mentor, knocking out the guards in the room, and interposing themselves between Nambu and Solaris, who took a few steps back.
"I guess some days it doesn't pay to get out of bed." the security chief deadpanned. "You had something to tell me..?" Solaris chuckled once more, then out-and-out laughed in their faces, appearing to grow to nearly ceiling height and becoming surrounded by what appeared to be an energy aura˜the shifting purple glow seemed to replace most of Solaris's body under the sweeping cape.
"Don't be intimidated..." warned Dr. Nambu, "...this is some kind of illusion."
"You are a foolish species whose era is about to end." loftily declared Solaris in a resonating voice, "You pretend there is hope for your struggle, but the conclusion is predetermined...you cannot fight the will of the universe...those that survive will learn to accept the domination of the Gallactor, if not today, then tomorrow."
Joe had enough of the bullshit˜he threw a feather shuriken at Solaris's head...and it zipped through the apparition's forehead, causing the image to melt even as its mocking laughter echoed through the room.
"He's...a projection." Jimmy said, stunned.
SEVERAL HOURS LATER
IT WAS SOME time later that a humble Solaris bowed low before the Master that the Gallactor served. The high-tech communications center suddenly...magically?...shifted to a temple setting that evoked the atmosphere of ancient Egypt or the like.
"Forgive me, Lord Zoltek, we met with unexpected resistance." the commander apologized abjectly. "We were unable to complete our conquest of the planet according to the timetable."
"Hear me, Solaris." bade the awesome dark being before which Solaris was submissively posed. "Do not underestimate the skill of the Science Ninja Team...you must exterminate them all."
"I'm counting on you." Zoltek said, practically purring, "You will be the king of planet Earth...the leader of the new Age of the Gallactor..."
"Your wish is my command, my lord!" Solaris assured the entity. The commander of the Gallactor stood and saluted in rapture. "All power to the Gallactor!"
An anticipatory chuckle echoed through the chamber, but there were no witnesses to tell whether it was Solaris or Zoltek...nor exactly what it was that either of them could have been anticipating at the time.
THE SCIENCE NINJA Team Gatchaman were in the Godphoenix when they received an incoming message. The ship's main video monitor flickered to life.
"Thank you, my friends." Dr. Nambu told them sincerely. "Very good work˜the world will never know how close it came to complete disaster...and it's not over yet, I'm afraid. The Gallactor will be back to challenge us again, but with your strength and courage, I know we'll prevail. Are you with me?"
To the last person, the Eagle, the Condor, the Swan, the Swallow and the Horned Owl agreed, wholeheartedly.