Gatchaman IV: The Beginning
Prologue: The Interregnum
When Nambu and the team returned from Keirai, they caused a great deal of general consternation in ISO. It had been two months-- Gatchaman was believed to be dead, Nambu was known to be dead, and yet here they were. The first assumption was that they were some sort of impostors, or at least that Nambu was-- the Gatchaman team dropped out of ISO's sight, entering civilian life, and so the controversy focused on Nambu. His explanation for his return to life was very unsatisfactory. An alien woman saved him. Yes, what alien woman? How? Where? How do we know this isn't a trick? There was no way he could prove to anyone's satisfaction that it wasn't a trick. Kamo, who now headed his old department, and the men and women of that department stood by Nambu 100%-- he didn't need to explain how to them, they could see that he was the real Nambu. Others, who did not know Nambu as well (or were "more objective", depending on who you listened to) were leery about even letting Nambu take back his position as Assistant Director, that he'd held before Anderson's death, let alone making him Director again. The then-current Director, Horning, was a basically decent man who was perfectly willing to yield his post to Nambu, if that was indeed Nambu.
Nambu told ISO that he understood their position perfectly. He would not ask for the Directorship back, or even the Assistant Directorship-- he would rejoin his old department as Kamo's advisor, and work his way back up through the ranks as he proved himself to the others. They accepted that as satisfactory. What no one realized was that Nambu was a legend, especially among ISO's junior members. People sought him out for advice, Kamo accepted his word as law, and gradually Nambu came to be a focal point of power in ISO once more. Finally, a long talk with Horning resulted in Horning's acceptance of Nambu as the "real" Nambu, or as close to it as made no difference, and stepped down as ISO Director in favor of his predecessor. Needless to say, much of ISO was highly leery of this move, but Nambu had all his life been dealing with people who didn't believe him, or didn't know the whole story, and he worked around the problem.
As Director, Nambu immediately made changes. The day of peace that they had worked for so long was finally here. Nambu reprioritized, making weapons work low priorty and giving Assistant Directorships to the heads of the departments of genetics, psionics, cybernetics and space travel. There was a great deal of work to be done. Galactor itself, and ISO during the war with Galactor, had discovered many new principles and techniques that had been implemented only in weapons technology-- it was, Nambu said, ISO's duty to explore these things for peacetime applications. It was time to start rebuilding the world, and ISO should be the vanguard.
As for the Science Ninja Team themselves, none of this troubled them. For them, it was also a time of rebuilding-- this was the first time in seven years they had all been together without the threat of Galactor hanging over their heads. They barely knew how to live in peacetime, but they were all willing to learn...
Ryu and Joni were married, shortly after the return from Keirai. Without an income from ISO for work as Gatchaman, the yacht harbor wouldn't support a family, and the rest of the team needed income, too. Jun came up with an idea that would enable them to use their talents-- with her entire savings, and a little pitched in from the others, she opened a small travel agency, Free Bird. The idea was that small groups of 1-10 people would sign up, and Free Bird would take them practically anywhere they wanted to go, whether it was on the regular travel routes or not. The team would provide transportation and protection, and act as tour guides/interpreters or provide such, make all housing arrangements and generally arrange the trip to whatever the clients' specifications were. From ISO, they purchased a number of surplus vehicles (including the first God Phoenix and associated vehicles, which they promptly repainted) and used them. Ryu and Joni bought a large tract of waterfront land outside the city, and they had a private airfield and small harbor built into the property, for the agency's use. Since they had spent so much time traveling, they knew or could find their way around virtually anywhere, and with their various skills at driving or piloting various vehicles, they could handle any assignment with ease. In addition, the flexible schedule-- with sudden bursts of activity when they were on a trip, and long hiatuses in between-- was similar to the schedule they were all used to, with the important difference that they could make their own hours.
A travel agency was not a career for a lifetime, though, nor did it give them anything to do during the hiatuses. Ken, Jun and Jimpei all decided to go to college and become scientists. With Ken, it was less a love of the field than that he had been around scientists all his life, more of a desire to someday join in ISO and participate in the peacetime work going on. He was also sick and tired of being woefully ignorant about everything but what was important to a particular mission. Jun and Jimpei, however, were both interested in science for its own sake. Jun majored in medicine-- it took up more time than she'd have liked, but it was what she really wanted to do, since she was already a computer expert and engineer of sorts-- while Jinpei majored in biology, wavering between entomology (bugs) and botany (plants). Jinpei's growth problem had been corrected, and, though he was still small, he had begun to grow and change. Braces corrected his teeth, and he began to look like a normal human being. Somewhere along the way, he met Romaya Tremaine, a somewhat flamboyant journalism major, and she became his first real love.
Joe had a very hard time accustoming himself to peace. He needed excitement in his life, but he couldn't return to racing...as a cyborg, his reflexes were just too good. There was no fun in it anymore. Somehowh he located the kid gangs in the city and embarked on a one-man campaign to clean them up, using his toughness and streetiness and natural affinity for kids. He was also seen on occasion doing volunteer work at the orphanage for children whose parents had been killed by Galactor. It got to the point where Joe was never seen without a bunch of tough-looking teenagers trailing after him, calling him "big brother" and listening avidly to whatever he said. He got ribbed about it quite a bit, too.
Dave, who already had the equivalent of several degrees, joined ISO right away. His father put him to work compiling the knowledge taught him by his mother, so that Teriani's vast advanced learning would not be totally lost to the planet Earth. Dave was also a member of Free Bird, having done extensive traveling, and he became good friends with the members of the team. His relationship with his father was somewhat strained and strange; Nambu hardly knew how to get close to his son, though he wanted to, and David felt somehow soiled, distorted, by the knowledge that he was a clone of the original David Nambu. To his mind, he and that boy were not the same, could not be the same, and so that made him an artificial construct, with no true past of his own...
Ryu and Joni's first child, Akiko, was born. A routine genetic scan was run, as it had been on the original David and his sister Mitsuko when they were born, Nambu said, as it was highly unlikely that Terran and Keiraine genes were exactly compatible. The scan turned up frightening news, and all the members of the team were examined.
This confirmed it: Although Akiko was normal, she bore unrealized recessive mutations, which might turn up in future generations. Ryu-- and every other member of the team-- had contaminated genes, whether from exposure to Zed or cosmic rays or what, nobody knew. The mutant genes would not directly affect the team members, and since they were recessive, they would probably not turn up in anyone's children-- unless they interbred, in which case the chance that the child would be a mutant was quite high. Ken and Jun had been discussing marriage-- but they had had nothing but bad experiences with mutants. They fell silent on the subject, no longer discussing it with one another...
Other than that, though, everyone was happy, perhaps for the first time in years. The peace they had worked for so long and hard for had finally arrived, and they meant to enjoy it.
But the war had not ended, the peace was only momentary...
About two years after the return from Keirai, Nambu began picking up indications that perhaps Galactor was not quite as dead as had been believed. Men suspected to be of Galactor dropped out of sight. Flows of drugs and other illegal substances increased, shifting direction. Agents whose covers had remanined throughout the interregnum reported being contacted. Nambu finally assigned three of his top agents to infiltrate and learn what they could.
What they learned was frankly terrifying. The remnants of Egobossler's Galactor had united under a man named Galliente, and were rapidly increasing in strength as they reactivated old bases, old agents. Where were they getting the money? Nobody knew. At the same time, there were indications that many scientists had suddenly developed connections with Galactor. The agents probed deeper, and discovered a secret power behind the rebirth of Galactor, in the form of a young woman named Alatan Katse, the self-proclaimed daughter and heir of Berg Katse. With the vast hidden fortune of her father, she was rebuilding Galactor in secret-- Nambu only noticed because Nambu was ultrasensitive to such things. And being ultrasensitive, he noticed something else-- he'd heard that first name before...
Alatan Kelly Remington was the 13 1/2- year-old daughter of Dr. Lara Remington, Asst. Director and Head of the Genetics Dept. She and her mother were surrounded by enigmas. Dr. Remington's mother and sister had both been institutionalized for hereditary insanity. Lara Remington had a juvenile criminal record, an arrest for burglary. No one knew who the father of her daughter was, and though there was a record of Alatan's birth at Utoland General, no one remembered Remington's pregnancy or hospitalization-- the doctors on duty at the time of Alatan's birth didn't remember her at all. Once, when Nambu had asked Remington for her genetic expertise on Katse, he had seen raw panic in her eyes-- concealed but, in hindsight, apparent. Alatan had been kidnapped in a mecha, shortly before the liner carrying Sammie Pandora had been attacked. Nambu had once caught an anonymous blonde child trying to rifle his translations of Berg Katse's personal journals. It was a frighteningly unpleasant pattern.
It was true that Alatan Remington was dark-haired, not blonde as the picture showed, and that she was a child-- but she was a tall child, and the picture was too blurry to make out specific details of build, except that Alatan Katse was tall and thin. And why would the daughter of Berg Katse be restrained by hair color, or any other aspect of appearance? As for her age... well, a girl that age could not be controlling Galactor by herself. But if she were a figurehead, if someone were using her... After all, though X was dead, there were other manipulators in the world. And if Alatan were the daughter of Berg Katse and Lara Remington, what did that say about Remington?
A picture was painted in Nambu's mind of a vast and horrible plot. Lara Remington, for years the image of a model scientist, rising to power within ISO-- all this time a highly placed spy for Galactor, Berg Katse's lover and the mother of his/her child. She must have raised her daughter (if "daughter" was even an appropriate term-- there was no telling what sex the child really was) to someday take the father's mantle as Galactor leader, a figurehead with Remington, not X, pulling the strings. He ordered constant surveillance on Remington and her daughter.
But it seemed impossible. Alatan was a sweet, gifted child who readily made friends with the agents sent to watch her, making their job that much easier. The tap on the phone line persistently malfunctioned, but it seemed to be a problem with the neighborhood phone service and not connected to the Remingtons at all. Alatan had numerous friends she went out driving with when her mother was out, but the friends' homes were clean and a quick check of backgrounds showed no anomalies. A more in-depth study was initiated, but it would take time. Alatan had P.O. boxes, with tons of mail coming in, but the agent who checked reported that it was all letters from pen pals-- she was a brilliant young girl, and corresponded with adults on a regular basis in their native languages. And Dr. Remington had even fewer anomalies-- she was watched round-the-clock, but she was never seen doing anything but legitimate ISO work.
And then came the day when two of the agents watching Alatan failed to report in...
(Gatchaman IV #4)
Nambu summoned a team of five security people. Yamada had missed 3 check-ins, but that was typical of her-- she made a superb watchdog, but as far as security went she had a mind like a sieve. Her relief, Shimitsu, however, was incredibly punctual, and he hadn't checked in either. It did not look good.
"I want you to head to the Remington house and find out what's going on," Nambu said. "And be very careful. We don't know what we're dealing with."
They nodded grimly. If Shimitsu hadn't checked in, something had to have happened to him, at least...
Yamada's car was parked by the copse of trees on the side of the road. Shimitsu's was down the block, parked by someone's house. Lara Remington's car was in the driveway, but there were van treads on the lawn. It was dark out-- sunset had nearly ended-- and so Norton almost missed the squashed-grass lines of a person being dragged. Almost, but not quite.
"Whatcha got?" Anteleone asked, walking over with his flashlight.
Norton pointed out the tracks of crushed grass. "They dragged somebody along here," he said. "Let's find out where."
Flashlights at the ready, they followed the tracks to the doors of the cellar. The entrance to the cellar was set at a slant, a pair of doors forming the hypotenuse of a triangular cement structure attached to the ground and the house wall. There was a metal chain wrapped securely around the door handles and padlocked. "Think we can get in from the house?" Norton asked.
"I wouldn't risk it," Anteleone said. He pulled out his walkie-talkie. "Jim, Natsu, Diego-- got a lead here. Bring the metal cutters."
When the other three arrived, Diego Valasquez bringing the metal cutters, they sliced their way through the chain and pulled it free. Everyone pointed guns at the door as Norton pulled it open and shone a flashlight in.
Two crumpled, bound bodies lay on the cement floor inside. As Norton, horrified, shone his flashlight on one of the heads, it lifted and a gagged Yamada looked up at them.
With the other two still manning the guns, three of them pulled Yamada and Shimitsu out and undid their bonds. Shimitsu was still unconscious, but Yamada was all right, she claimed. "You took your time about getting here," she said, and tried to smile. Her swollen lip made it into a puffy grimace.
"What the hell happened?"
Yamada bowed her head. "I feel so damn stupid," she said. "I thought I'd gotten the kid to trust me, that she was my friend. So I go onshift today, and Larson hasn't left yet. Alatan's over by his van, talking to him and a bunch of other men, and I notice that her hair's blonde. So I go over and yell, 'Hey! La! What'd you do with your hair?'
"She yelled something back about it looking better this way, why didn't I come over and talk to her. So I walk over and Larson says, cool as a cat, 'What time you get off-shift today, Midori?'
"I didn't understand. We were supposed to keep it secret from the girl, for gods' sake! And then I notice that these men are surrounding me. Alatan says, 'Midori, it's been such fun, but I'm afraid it's got to end. Don't worry. I won't hurt you much.'
"She went for me then. I tried to fight, but it was...well, I hit her several times, hard enough to take her down, and it didn't even slow her. Then her men grabbed me, when I was still reeling from her, and started beating me up. Next thing I knew, poor Shimmy was getting dumped on top of me. I tried to get out-- I could see the crack of light in the cellar doors-- but I couldn't get untied and my head wasn't strong enough to budge them."
"They were chained, Midori," Jim Laurencia said. "You couldn't have gotten out even if you did break free." He looked back at the others. "Ante, Ed-- get Midori and Shimmy back to the van. Natsu, Diego-- let's check out the house."
There was no sign that a teenage girl had lived in this house at all. It was almost unbearably neat-- the floor waxed to a polish, the carpet vacuumed-- but there were anomalies... Like the spots of blood on the living room carpet, and the crack in the glass coffee table. Like the room that was completely empty, with nothing but a carpet remaining. Like the moaning noises coming from the closet...
Natsuko Harubashi was the first to reach the closet. She jerked it open, gun ready, and a woman toppled out. "Shimatta!"
The three of them all recognized the woman-- Dr. Lara Remington, who all of them had been, on occasion, assigned to the surveillance of. She had been beaten even worse than Yamada, her limbs systematically broken and her face bloodied. As if she had been tortured... "Alatan," she moaned, half-delirious. "No...please...why? why, Alatan?"
"Let's get her to Medical," Laurencia said tightly.
Gatchaman were, fortunately, not out on a trip at the moment. Nambu called Jun on the phone-- they hadn't worn the bracelets since Keirai-- and told her to get the others and get over here. It was late, but Nambu felt that the briefing couldn't wait.
All of them showed up, even Dave, who wasn't a member but wondered if he might be useful in an emergency anyway. "It can't be Galactor," Ken said, in a sick tone of voice that made it evident that that was exactly what he thought it was.
"It is," Nambu said bleakly. There were sighs, looks of despair, and Jinpei blurted, "Not again!"
"We were supposed to have peace," Ken said bitterly. "Peace..."
"Let me begin from the beginning. I don't know, yet, quite how serious this is-- perhaps there's time to nip it in the bud. Perhaps. I'll start by asking you a question. Joe and David, you weren't there, but among the rest of you, who remembers an incident shortly before X's return to Earth? The young daughter of an ISO researcher was carried off in a Galactor mecha, and so we started preparing for another war?"
"Yes, of course," Ken said.
"That's right!" Jun said. "We found her in the wreckage, and she wasn't hurt?"
"Yeah, I remember that," Ryu said.
"I don't really," Jinpei said, shrugging. "Anyway, what's the point, Doctor?"
"Well. I blame myself for this, of course. It seems that... That girl was Alatan Kelly Remington, the adopted daughter of Dr. Lara Remington. The girl's natural father was Berg Katse."
"WHAT?" "How?" "But that's not possible-- he was a..." Ryu blushed and trailed off as everyone looked at him.
"Nevertheless, it happened. Dr. Remington wasn't able to tell me more than that-- she was injured rather badly, and is in the hospital now-- but what she said confirms suspicions I've had for some time. If I'd only not wasted so much time suspecting Dr. Remington... but that's past, now. The girl has changed her name to Alatan Katse, and so far as we can see, she is the new leader and guiding force behind Galactor."
"But she's only a child, isn't she?" Jun asked, surprised.
Nambu flashed a briefing slide-- a blurry color photograph of Alatan Katse. Little was distinguishable of her personal features-- which was, of course, par for the course when dealing with Galactor leaders. She appeared to be on the tall side, but not overly so, perhaps 5'9" or 10", with an elegant slimness and no apparent figure. Long blonde hair cascaded down onto a red cape, and a black mask kept the greater portion of her face from view. She appeared to be wearing a black bodysuit, with gloves and boots the same color as those her father had worn, although smaller than his. "A man died to get this picture," he told them solemnly. "Up until yesterday, we knew almost nothing about Alatan Katse. She has somehow managed to inherit her father's legendary wealth, and is using it to rebuild Galactor. Apparently there are, or were, two factions remaining after the defeat of Zed-- a man named Galliente took control of the remnants of the Egobossler Family, as well as various Galactor bases-- perhaps with aid from Alatan, or whoever's backing her. The other faction, we know less about-- it contains a great many scientists, and is led by Selina Marriochio. Perhaps you'll remember Marriochio from the incident with Katse's vault."
"I remember that," Joe growled. It had been galling to Gatchaman and Galactor alike; one of Berg Katse's secret vaults full of wealth had been revealed in a letter found in a Galactor warehouse. The letter mentioned riches and-- more important to ISO-- the former Galactor leader's private records and journals. Gel Sadra and Gatchaman had clashed for possession of the vault-- but the letter that gave the vault's location had been written by Katse to a Galactor scientist named Selina Marriochio, and during the fracas, Marriochio had slipped in, taken what she wanted, and blown up the vault.
"I suspect it may be that Marriochio is the true power behind Alatan, since I doubt very much that a 14-year-old girl, by herself, could manage all this. However, Alatan herself should probably not be underestimated-- her test scores reveal an incredible brilliance, she has been tested with an IQ of 265, and she personally managed to manipulate and deceive some of our top agents. In addition, I'm told she possesses adult fighting skills, far superior to her father's-- though I realize that that isn't difficult." Nambu switched off the slide and opened a dark drawer, yanking out a handful of bracelets. "I don't know if Alatan will strike any time soon, but I'm putting you all on active status. I suggest you take up wearing your civilian transformables again."
"Uh, Director..." Ryu looked uncomfortable, almost miserable.
"What's wrong, Ryu?" Nambu asked.
"I don't know if I can say this right, but... You know how we all thought we were going to have peace, we'd never have to worry about Galactor again. Well, that's why me and Joni got married and had Akiko, and another one on the way... I know I ought to be concerned with Galactor and all above everything else, but... Doctor, if there was an attack I'd be worried about Jo and Aki-chan. I mean, that's all I'd be worried about. I'd be distracted. I know I ought to be used to having family out there, distracting me... but it's different when it's a wife and kid. Maybe I ought to be ruthless, put it out of my head-- but I'm not going to be able to. I know that. I'd just be a big liability. I mean, if I was in the team, and Galactor got Jo or Aki-- I don't know what I'd do, but it wouldn't be helpful."
"In other words, you'd prefer to resign from the team," Nambu said thoughtfully.
"Well, I wouldn't prefer it, but... oh, heck, Doctor, you know what I mean, don't you? I want to help out the team, but..."
"I understand," Nambu said. "All right, Ryu-- here, take your bracelet. You'll be on inactive reserve status-- we'll replace you, but if we need you, we'll call. All right?"
Ryu smiled. "Thanks, Director." He looked at Ken. "Maybe I shouldn't be here for the rest of this, if you guys are going to talk about confidential stuff, huh?"
"No, you can stay, Ryu," Nambu said. "Someday you may need this. Ken. Do you have any suggestions as to our new G-5?"
He already knew what Ken would answer, and sure enough, Ken did. Without hesistation, Ken said, "David. He's already trained, we've worked with him before..."
David had suspected something like this as soon as he realized that Ryu was resigning, but it was a happy shock to hear it confirmed. "Ken, thank you," he said happily.
Ryu slapped him on the shoulder. "Better not disgrace the name of G-5, Asapei no Dave," he said, regaining his cheerfulness.
"Oh, sooner perish."
At that point the phone rang."Nambu here."
He put it down a moment later. "Dr. Remington's conscious. She wants to speak to the Science Ninja Team. Let's go."
Dr. Lara Remington had seen much better days. Most of her body was wrapped in a cast, there were bandages on her forehead and one cheek, her legs were held in support straps, and there was an IV tube connected to one arm. "It's really not as bad as it looks," she said wanly, convincing no one.
"You wanted to talk about Alatan, Dr. Remington?" Ken asked.
"Yes." She turned her head toward the ceiling, looked straight up. "I don't think she's responsible for her own actions."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Joe asked.
"I mean I believe Sosai Zed-- or Sosai X, whichever-- is still residing in my daughter's brain. Alatan would never do a thing like this. Never. She hated violence-- she was such a sweet, gentle little girl.."
Lara Remington began from the beginning, describing the story of her daughter's life. She painted a picture of a beautiful, gentle girl whose birth was marred by its circumstances and whose life was darkened by a terrible purpose, the manipulations of Sosai X. Alatan's natural mother had been merely a tool to X, a body to bear a child; her natural father had been twisted into a monster to serve X's purpose. Lara had tried to reconcile Alatan's basically gentle nature with her tendency to do things like dissect stray cats, and had finally realized it was Sosai X warping her. Sosai X, who had insured Alatan could never have a normal life with normal children. "He's done this to her," Lara said passionately. "He's made her into this. It's not her fault." Ken refrained from mentioning that at nearly 14 years old, Alatan should be capable of rejecting X if she really wanted to.
Lara also spoke of Alatan's powers. Alatan could heal herself and shapechange, both with unbelievable speed. She had higher than normal human strength, because she could exert more force without damaging herself, and she'd taken extensive martial arts training. She was also a computer expert, a talented singer and dancer, and for a 14-year-old exceptionally well versed in the biologic sciences, as well as a polyglot who spoke, so far as Lara knew, seven languages fluently. And, what Lara didn't mention but they all realized, was that, as the daughter of an ISO researcher, Alatan had been privy to many of ISO's secrets, perhaps had even learned Gatchaman's identities...
Reading between the lines, Ken saw a formidable opponent. If she were possessed by or in mental linkage with Sosai X, she might present a more dangerous face than even Egobossler-- and, whether she was in contact with X or not, her list of skills-- including the other one Lara hadn't mentioned, the ability to hoodwink a brilliant woman like her mother for years-- indicated someone at least as intrinsically dangerous as Berg Katse had been. Of course, Berg Katse had been fifteen years older, but if X were involved... Gel Sadra had been dangerous, too, at 3 years old, because of X's backing. How much more damage could a 14-year-old wreak?
By the time Lara Remington finished, exhausted, it was close to 3 in the morning and all of them but Joe were in danger of dropping off. Nambu told them all to go home to bed."If Alatan doesn't attack tomorrow, all of you should sleep in," he said. "She'll probably be too busy consolidating her power to attack any time soon, but you should all be ready."
Then he returned to his office. It was going to be another one of those nights. Since something might come up, he didn't dare go home... Sighing, he pulled the cot out from the closet. Once, he'd spent almost all his sleep time on cots like this, but since his return from the dead he'd had very little occasion to use it. He'd liked being able to sleep in his own bed, at home... Oh, well. What had to be done, had to be done.
The buzzer woke him up early in the morning, maybe 6, 7? Whatever, not late enough. Nambu dragged himself awake, pulled on his lab coat, and buzzed his visitor in. Yamada entered, looking less beaten up but more frazzled than she had last night. "Director, I'm really sorry about the early hour, but this is important," she said nervously.
"Well-- you know how my car was parked outside the Remingtons'? That little bitch Alatan rifled my glove compartment. She got my wallet, my ID-- and my ISO badge, Director. What am I gonna do?"
Nambu stared at Yamada, suddenly wide awake. "You keep your badge in your glove compartment?"
"Well, she wasn't supposed to know I was an ISO'er, I couldn't very well wear it, could I?"
"So what you'd like me to do is cancel the old badge and give you a new one."
"Oh, would you?"
That confirmed it. Nambu typed the code for Security into the computer and pressed the Bird Scramble button by the side of his desk, calmly and giving no indication of what he suspected. He continued to type-- a dummy cancellation order-- as his other hand reached into his desk and took out the trank gun. He pulled it out smoothly and pointed it at her. "Hands up."
"What?" She was startled.
Nambu sighed. "Your story had several inconsistencies in it, Alatan. I'll only point out one. Agents of ISO do not keep their badges in the glove compartment-- they wear them hidden on their person at all times. What did you do with Yamada?"
"You're really good, Nambu," Yamada/Alatan said, almost admiringly. "She's in her bathroom, in the tub, with a wooden board nailed over her. She'd have gotten out eventually, but by that time I'd have access to ISO."
"No, you wouldn't have," Nambu replied. "Alatan. Why are you doing this?"
She moved, almost blindingly fast, but Nambu shot her with the trank gun twice, and she collapsed in a heap. There was a tinkle of broken glass. Nambu checked the computer-- where was Security? He tapped in a query code, and got no response. Alatan's a computer expert-- she must have disconnected me. It wasn't a problem-- he picked up the phone and called Security manually.
"Engineering, can I help you?"
What the-- ? I called Security! "Engineering, this is Nambu. I seem to have a line mixup--"
"What? Can you repeat yourself? Who is this?"
"We must have a bad connection," Nambu said wearily. The voice on the other end sounded very distant and removed. "I'll try again."
"Who is this? Is something wrong?"
Nambu hung up and repunched the code for Engineering. Perhaps now he'd get Security. But all he heard was the thin whine of the dial tone in his ears... What's going on?
And then he heard laughter, and realized for the first time that his "unconscious" visitor was standing. She had changed-- no longer remotely resembling Yamada, she presented the same tall, elegant appearance hinted at in the photograph. The costume transformed her from a child to an adult, but a somewhat androgynous adult-- she was feminine, but nowhere evidently female, her body as slim as a boy's. The long blond hair was the same color as her father's. "Doctor Nambu, it's no use to fight it," she said, laughing sweetly, obscenely. "You're not the only one who uses biological warfare, you know. You see, I'm immune to drugs, and you're not."
He didn't hear any more. A rush of ice cold darkness swamped him, and he saw without feeling as his body toppled from its chair and crashed to the floor...
Alatan ran through a scale with her voice, her pitch and timbre changing impossibly, until she hit Nambu's voice. She punched the code for Sanitation. "Nambu here. I have some rubbish to be disposed of." The word "rubbish" was the key-- her men would know from that who was really speaking, and what the "rubbish" was...Hanging up the phone, she examined Nambu's fallen body, turning him over with her toe to see better. She concentrated, and a weird blue glow enveloped her, transformed her clothing into his, as her face melted and changed. When it was done, Nambu's likeness injected Nambu with another drug and stuffed him into a garbage bag.
She opened the door to let her men in when they rang, since she had no idea where the buzzer was. They wore the garb of ISO sanitation men-- as a matter of fact, they were ISO sanitation men, sleepers planted for the day she might have to use them. They took the garbage bag with Nambu in it and carried it out. Alatan riffled through Nambu's papers, found the report on her lying on the desk, and took it. Then she strolled calmly out of the building in Nambu's form.
It had all taken less than 10 minutes.
Engineering, concerned, had called Security. Security had run the babbling voice through an analyzer and found it to be Nambu's. By the time Gatchaman arrived-- fifteen minutes after receiving the emergency call-- Security was already reviewing the videotape of the past half hour.
Gatchaman watched in shock. They had expected an attack of some sort soon-- but no one had thought that Dr. Nambu himself could be in danger. No one had expected an attack on Nambu at all, much less one carried out with such apparent cunning. As they watched Nambu on the screen, babbling into the phone under the apparent delusion that he was making sense, Ken said," Did you people test the air for the drug she used?"
"No trace," one of the men replied. "Looks like it dissipates as fast as it acts."
"I don't understand how she managed to drug him," Jinpei said.
"Did you hear that tinkling glass when she fell?" Jun asked. "She must have been carrying the gas in a glass vial, and when he shot her she used it as pretext to break the glass and release the gas."
"That might have been a last resort plan," Ken said. "I think she really was trying to get Yamada's badge. Remember the havoc her father wreaked when he got hold of one of the computer scientists' badges."
"I remember," Jun winced. Because she hadn't acted fast enough, Berg Katse had managed to crash the mainframe at one of their more important buildings, disguised as a scientist whose badge he'd stolen.
"Did you do anything about Yamada?" Ken asked.
"She's one of ours," the man replied simply. "Soon as we found out we sent a team to her apartment."
Someone else asked, "What are you going to do about Dr. Nambu, Gatchaman?"
"I don't know what we can do," Ken admitted, looking around him. Ryu wasn't here-- he would be, in a second, if Ken called him, but Ken wouldn't. There was nothing they could do with six people that they couldn't do with five. Dave was here, having responded to the summons for the first time in his life, and Joe, Jun and Jinpei were all here and ready for battle-- their first battle in two years. The security people frankly didn't know what to do-- they were all looking to Ken for guidance. The trouble was Ken didn't know either...
On the viewscreen, the camera angle shifted. A split--screen appeared as they viewed both Nambu's captors and Alatan Katse. The two sanitation men brought Nambu downstairs and dumped him into a van, with the words ISO printed on the side. Then they drove out of camera range. Meanwhile, Alatan in Nambu's guise stole a report and walked brazenly out of the base with it.
"Damn her," Joe muttered. "Rewind. I want to see that van's license plate."
They rewound and checked-- it was J54-59C. "All right, it's a lead," Ken said. "Find out who that's registered to. I want to find out as much as possible about those two 'sanitation men'."
Nambu awakened, dizzy and uncertain. Two blobs of color swam before his unfocused eyes, as the clear, musical voice of his new enemy rang out. "Dr. Nambu! How good of you to join us!" Her words were full of sarcastic honorifics, and her tone could only be described as merrily vicious.
He blinked. "Alatan Katse?" Slowly he brought her into focus, a bizarre figure in red, black and gold. "To what do I owe the dubious pleasure of this visit?"
"Your charming, winning ways?" Alatan asked brightly. "You do cut quite a dashing figure for a dead man, Doctor."
"Don't play with him, Alatan. Get to the point." Nambu's attention was drawn to the woman standing next to Alatan-- a scientist, probably, since she was wearing a lab coat. Her face was a harsh greyish-white, a color only achievable by cosmetics, and it contrasted sharply with thick dark hair. She spoke in a monotonal, precise voice, speaking in informal language but totally stripped of emotional content.
"You ruin all my fun, Selina." Alatan turned back to Nambu. "Let me make introductions. Dr. Nambu, this is Dr. Selina Marriochio. I hope you can get along with her, because you're going to be spending a lot of time in her company..."
"He can see you," Selina said. "He's focusing. Apparently he doesn't need the glasses." Nambu realized then that his glasses had been taken from him. Three years ago, that would have rendered him helpless... but since Teriani had given him eyes with perfect vision, the glasses had been no more than props.
"Soo," Alatan said, surprised. "Yes, you're right. Doctor, you didn't go off and have corrective surgery done on your eyes without notifying me, did you? Or is it just that the dead all have perfect vision?"
"Why don't you get to the point," Nambu said.
The amused manner was abruptly gone, and Alatan spoke in a cold voice. "You are dead, Doctor," she said. "My mother brought me to your funeral, and I saw how Egobossler destroyed your tomb. Your body was blown to bits. Before you were placed in the tomb, you laid in state so that everyone could file past and pay their respects to their poor dead legend." It was bizarre and chilling, hearing this catalogue of events surrounding his own death, but Nambu carefully kept his reaction off his face as Alatan continued. "And yet, here you are. This strikes me as very strange, Doctor-- in my experience the dead do not get up and walk again. I'm sure many people are just as surprised at this as I am, and yet you've never bothered to explain this anomaly publicly. How did you win back ISO's trust? Were you such a legend to them that they could accept your resurrection without comment? Perhaps an angel appeared to them at the tomb? Maybe we will be celebrating a new Easter for you?"
"I merely explained the truth to them, and they came to accept it," Nambu said. "There's no great mystery involved."
"Then explain to me."
"If you insist...." Nambu shrugged. "My ex-wife, an alien from another world, used a device to warp time and recreate my body around my soul, many light--years from here."
"Doctor, I'm surprised. I had no idea what a funny man you are."
"Believe me or don't, as you wish. I have nothing to gain by lying. The device that accomplished this was destroyed, and so the procedure could never be repeated in any case."
"I don't believe that. You don't understand the extent of Galactor's scientific archives. We could rebuild such a device..."
"I doubt it. Besides, my wife is dead, and no one else knew anything of the procedure's nature. You couldn't work blind."
"I don't believe that either, Doctor. You know how it was done. You must."
"Why? It was done to me, I had nothing to do with actually doing it."
"I know you better than you think, Doctor Nambu. If something of that scope and magnitude was done to you, you would make sure you knew all about it. Nee?"
She was unpleasantly close to the truth, there. "There was no time to learn anything. We were under attack."
"Then at least you know what it's like, on the other side..."
Nambu shook his head. "I don't remember anything about it."
"I didn't say you remembered. I said you know. And anything you know, whether you remember it consciously or not, can be gotten from you with drugs. Selina is an expert with such things. Either you are in fact the real Nambu, in which case you remember death and can give us clues to its nature, or you are not, in which case by studying your memories we can learn how you were assembled. And in any case, there's much more to be learned from you than this... just that this is the most important to me."
"Why? What value can there be to you in understanding death?"
"Resurrection. You hold the key, Doctor."
"Even if you figured out how to do it, the expense would bankrupt Galactor. All your father's legendary wealth would not be enough to bring him back from the dead-- and I assume it is Berg Katse you want to resurrect?"
"How astute! No wonder they made this man head of ISO, Selina!" To Nambu she said, "If you could live again, why can't my father?"
"Is that why you became leader of Galactor?"
"No, don't be stupid. I became Galactor no shuryô so I could rule the world, Doctor, why else would anyone do so? And I captured you primarily to neutralize a dangerous enemy and learn ISO's secrets... those secrets I don't already know. But if I can... You hold the key to resurrection somewhere in you. You must! And when I have it... first I will take the Earth. And then, with all the resources of this world behind me... why should it be so difficult to breach the other?" Alatan clenched a fist. "I will be reunited with my father..."
"That will only happen if you throw yourself into the lava pit at Cross Karakoram," Nambu said. "You cannot learn what you want from me."
She looked as if she would hit him, but stopped herself. "Oh, yes, I can, Nambu," she said softly. "And I will..." She turned to Selina. "He's yours, Selina. Do whatever must be done."
Alatan Katse was an Equal Opportunity Employer. Three women in Galactor greens, modified slightly for female bodies, walked down a corridor in First Base, talking.
"--thinks this Nambu guy can bring Katse-- the first Katse, I mean-- back from the dead," one was saying. "A lot of crap, if you ask me."
"Where's she putting him?" Maryla asked. "Not in my section, I hope. I have to deal with enough shit without an attack from Gatchaman."
"Oh, you don't have to worry about that," the third said. She was young and eager, on fire with the dream of world conquest. "Katse-sama's designed a perfect plan to stop them if they come."
"What is it?" Maryla asked.
The girl sounded disappointed. "I don't know. I just know it must be a perfect plan, because Alatan-sama designed it."
"Shit," Maryla said with feeling. "She's younger than you! How the hell's she going to design a perfect plan? You can't stop the Ninja Team."
"I don't think we have to worry about it, though," the first woman said. "He's going in sector E. Under Marriochio-- brrr! I wouldn't want to be him."
"Well, of course not," the third girl said. "He's really dead! Did you know that? That guy is really an android!"
"You've been listening to Harris again," Maryla said.
The first changed the subject. "Did you see that new guy over in B, with all the makeup and no mask?" she said. "God, is he ever gorgeous..."
Maryla bantered inanities for twenty minutes, until she was sure nothing more on Nambu was going to come up. "Jesus, look at the time!" she said suddenly. "Promised my kid I'd see her damn school play. I gotta get out of here!"
"No overtime tonight, huh?" the first woman said, and snickered.
"No shit. Look, I gotta run..."
She didn't have to run, actually- Kyoko was in fact in a play tonight, but was entirely resigned to her mother's absence. The poor kid was trying so hard not to suspect, to just believe her mother's tales of police work... It wasn't for Kyoko's sake she was leaving the base now, but for the sake of her job-- and the two were almost always contradictory.
Maryla hated this. She wanted to be home with her daughter, watching her play Tillie in Man-in-the Moon Marigolds. Her daughter, the only thing remaining to her of the man she'd loved-- she'd promised Kyoko, promised her that she'd quit...But she'd made a promise to Kyoko's father, too, and that went deeper.
As long as there was work for her, the Angel of Death was compelled to fly...
The van had been found abandoned in a mall parking lot. Gatchaman investigated the mall and were forced to pronounce it clean. The "sanitation men" had dropped out of sight-- even their bank accounts had been cleaned out. Three days after Dr. Nambu's disappearance, all of them were out of ideas, when they received the letter in their intramural mailbox.
"Gatchaman-- I've found Dr. Nambu. Please meet me near the Nisatsu Packing Building at 5 AM tomorrow.
--The Angel of Death "
Ken showed it to the others. "What do you think? Does it look like a trap?"
"Doesn't matter," Joe said. "It's a lead. We have to go anyway."
Jinpei said, frowning, "It must be on the level, or else the Galactors are being even stupider than usual. Why would it say 'Angel of Death' if it was a trap? That's kind of like saying, 'Hi, we're Galactor, can the Ninja Team come out and play?'"
"From what I've heard of Galactor, that wouldn't surprise me much," David said, grinning.
Ken looked at him sharply. How can he make jokes when his father may be in danger for his life? "No. It isn't typical. The Galactors usually try not to arouse suspicion when they plan a trap. They don't usually succeed, but it's not because of mistakes like this." He frowned, picking it up. "On the other hand, we know very little about Alatan Katse's capabilities... and it could be that she expects us to think precisely what we've been thinking, that it's too obvious to be Galactor... We'll talk to Chief Engineer Kamo about it."
"What're we going to do if he thinks it's a trap, pass it up?" Joe said. "We can't afford to do that. And don't tell me 'then we'll take precautions' because we'll take precautions anyway."
"I like to know where we stand," Ken said. "And we've been out of action for a while-- it could be Jiisan knows soemthing we don't."
As it turned out, Kamo did. "Well. It's genuine, unless they've caught her," he said, turning the paper over in his hands. "The Angel of Death is one of Director Nambu's top agents."
"Then why does she call herself that?" Jun asked. "It seems to me that that's not a very appropriate name for an ISO agent..."
"Well, I don't know. If it turns out to be her at this meeting, you could ask her. It's almost sure to be her in fact-- I know the Director assigned her to the Alatan Katse problem from the beginning."
"All right. We'll go to the rendezvous and keep our eyes open," Ken said, somewhat superfluously. "And if it turns out to be a Galactor trap..."
"..then somebody will pay for it with their life," Joe growled.
At 5 AM, the shadows cast by the just--rising sun threw everything into a twilight world of light and dark. The Nisatsu Building, nestled among tall structures that blocked the light, was almost entirely shadowed-- and there appeared to be no one there. "Maybe she's late," Jinpei offered hopefully.
Suddenly there was a woman where there had been only shadow before. She seemed almost to be made of shadows-- a tight black bodysuit covered her, with black gloves and boots and a black belt. A hood obscured her face; she shook it back, revealing
Mediterranean swarthy skin and long curly black hair. A pair of wraparound mirror shades obscured the top half of her face, serving as an effective mask. "You're slipping, Gatchaman," she commented. "I wasn't even trying very hard."
"You are...the Angel of Death?" Ken asked.
"I'm called that, yes. With good reason, when it's Galactors doing the calling." She stepped forward. "Alatan Katse's kidnapped Nambu, to try to find out the process that returned him to life. She's got her top interrogator working on him, a scientist named Marriochio who's very good at rearranging other people's minds. Nambu's life per se is not in danger, but if anyone in the world is capable of breaking him, it's Marriochio. Time is the important factor."
"And you know where they're holding him?"
The Angel nodded. "He's given me specific instructions-- I'm not to blow my cover no matter what. That's why I can't rescue him myself. I'm not even supposed to be here-- I don't care for myself, but if Galactor catches me... I can't allow that, there's someone I need to protect. So I'll take you to the base and show you the way in, Science Ninja Team.
The rest is up to you."
"All right," Ken said. "Let's go!"
Outside a warehouse labeled "Fisher Fruits", the Angel gave them their instructions. "The fruit crates inside form a path, to a crate labeled 'Seedless Plums'. Take the path and press your hand on the plums label. It will move aside, and you'll see a staircase. Take the staircase down six flights, until you see a sign that says 'E Sector-- Badge Workers Only.' You can probably figure out from there how to bypass the door's security. The fifth door on the right in the corridor opens into a big circular suite, with several doors leading from it. The door labeled U--197 is where Nambu's being held when Marriochio's not working on him."
"Thanks," Ken said. "All right, let's move!"
They started toward the door. The Angel called, "Gatchaman!" and Ken turned around.
"What is it?"
She smiled-- "I just want to say-- you're getting more and more like your father. He would be proud of you."
Ken's face grew warm in embarrassment. "You-- knew my father?" he asked.
"Someday, perhaps, I'll tell you the story..." She threw him a half-salute. "Sayonara!" And she vanished into the shadows again.
Ken turned and rejoined his team, Joe giving him an "I'll-get-it-out-of-you-later" look. Dave asked quietly, "What was that all about?"
"She knew my father," Ken said briefly. "Is that it over there?"
They found the stairwell, and Sector E, and bypassed the door without difficulty. The corridor was small and claustrophobic when compared to other bases-- it had lights running along its length, to make matters worse, and the ceiling was too low to make a good hiding place. If anyone showed up, the only choice the Ninja Team would have would be to fight. There was, however, absolutely nobody in the corridor besides them. The fifth door on the right wasn't even locked, and although the door labeled U-197 was, they picked the lock with ease. This was going without a hitch, which made Ken rather antsy-- they didn't have any clear notion of Alatan's competence, but surely she wasn't this bad? "Careful," he told his people, holding them back at the door. "This may be a trap." He yanked the door open.
Director Nambu lay, pale and silent, on a bunk next to the far wall. The room was no more than a whitewashed cubicle, with no traps Ken could see, and so he ran forward."Director!" The others followed him in--
--and a heavy metal door clanged down, cutting off the exit behind them.
Ken cursed. Stupid, beginner's mistake, falling for a trap like this... Joe, Jinpei and Dave immediately bent to the walls and door, searching for weaknesses, as Jun by Nambu's side cried, "Ken, he's a hologram!"
Peals of girlish laughter rang out. "How are you today, Science Ninja Team?" a musical voice said.
"Alatan Katse?!" Ken shouted, searching for the source of the voice.
A blur appeared in the center of the room, resolving itself into the form of an elegant young woman with long gold hair. "I refuse to be amazed at how quickly you found this place," she said, smiling. "I knew when I inherited this job that your spies are everywhere, and the lessons of my predecessors have taught me never to be surprised at anything you do. So I released false information to my people, and sure enough, here you are. Once I interrogate you, I'll learn where the leaks are and plug them."
So the Angel of Death had not deliberately led them into a trap-- that was oddly comforting. Out of the corner of his eye, Ken saw Dave and Jun packing explosive against the wall-- so there were no other exits. That was to be expected. He kept his attention on the hologram, an image so sharp and clear that, if he hadn't seen it appear, he might never have known it for what it was. "What have you done with Director Nambu?" he demanded.
"Oh, Dr. Nambu is in a safe place, quite unhurt-- unless you count drugging him, but I don't. Right now your own fate should concern you more, Gatchaman of the Science Ninja Team. I didn't bring you here for nothing-- and you needn't bother setting those charges. Didn't you learn from Nambu's fate? You won't have time to blow up the walls..."
"Gas masks!" Ken shouted, as a sudden wave of wooziness overwhelmed him.
"Oh, but it's too late, Gatchaman. Gas masks won't do you any good at all." Her image smiled mockingly. "It seems I've been misled about you. I've defeated you all so easily-- and on my very first mission, too! My father would be proud of me."
Retorts flickered into Ken's head, but he hadn't strength to speak them, as he was falling, falling...
The moment Alatan mentioned gas, Joe did as Teriani had taught him when she gave him his new improved body. He activated his blood-brain filters and started up his blood purification unit with a mental command-- they would have gone on automatically, eventually, but this way his head immediately cleared and he was free of the gas. What Katse didn't know would hopefully hurt her, though, so he obligingly dropped to the ground and schooled himself to remain motionless. He didn't have long to wait.
An indeterminate number of Galactors entered the room. "Look at'em, napping like babies. They don't look so tough."
"Don't let Katse-sama hear you say that. She's always harping about not underestimating the Science Ninja Team."
"Ah, the kid's a wimp. Weren't for her daddy's money and Galliente-sama's pulling her strings, she'd be nothing."
Someone kicked Ken's limp form, and Joe had to fight to remain motionless. "Big tough Gatchaman over here! So much for the great white shadow!"
"Hey, who's this guy? What happened to the Owl?"
"He ate too much and burst!"
"Man, lookit here. Check out the new outfit. I wouldn't mind having her for my very own bed toy."
"Shit, what are you, stupid? She's a Science Ninja! She'd just as soon cut it off as let you stick it in her!" Laughter.
"Oh, I betcha I could calm her down. Women just need a little roughing up, you know? Show her who's boss." Red fury darkened Joe's vision, and it was all he could do to stay still. Come on, come over here, you bastards...
"Yeah, well, you can try it. There's enough hot tail roaming the base without having to work that hard for it." More laughter.
"Oh, whatta we got here? Poor little Condor, all crumpled up on the ground?" They laughed again. "Some big tough guy, huh? Hah!" A boot aimed at Joe's face--
--and he grabbed it, moved up fluidly and hurled the man into a few of his comrades. Feather shuriken dealt out death to two of the men standing. He grabbed the man who had made lewd comments about Jun and put his fist through his face, then struck the man coming up behind him with the corpse, breaking his neck. He flung two more shuriken and turned. The last man was holding a gun pointed at Ken's motionless head, shaking. "Don't move, or I'll blow Gatchaman away!"
Joe raised his hands slightly. "Okay, I'm not moving."
"Drop your weapons." The man, no longer quite as fearful, had acquired that smug tone of voice Galactors got when they thought they were in control. Joe obligingly picked up his gun as if he were going to drop it-- then, faster than the human eye could follow, shot the man's trigger finger and the release nerve in his hand. The Galactor howled as the gun dropped-- a slug in the brain shut him up quickly.
Footsteps outside. Joe knew, painfully, that he could not fight a whole troop of men while his teammates were potential victims of the crossfire. He scooped up Jinpei-- who was still smallest, and easiest to carry; in another year or so, the boy might outstrip Jun, but not quite yet-- and ran. Galactors fired; he shot them with his gun, one-handed, while flinging himself and Jinpei over their heads, into the stairwell and from there to a darkened recess on the fourth floor.
He hadn't known fury like this in years. After Rafael had rebuilt him, he'd had to learn to calm down, to take things easier, less personally. Galactor's existence had become less of a personal affront to him and more of a menace that needed to be fought, the way Ken had always seen it. In fact, during the war with Egobossler when Ken had started to take everything personally, several times Joe had had to calm him down-- an ironic role reversal. Joe had matured. And then had come the peace they'd sought for so long, and for the first time Joe had begun to feel as if he could be truly happy. He had always felt as if he were made for war-- but with the destruction of Galactor, the reason for his intense hatred had melted away, leaving the love of the wild life that had characterized him once. He had been happy.
And then Katse's brat had come along and had the nerve to destroy that peace. The daughter of the man who had murdered his parents, she had inherited his hatred as Gel Sadra and Egobossler had not-- not because of who her father had been, but because she idolized the bastard, had deliberately chosen to follow in Katse's twisted footsteps. It had been Ken who had pitied Katse-- Joe had never felt anything but hatred, and he did not choose to pity Katse's daughter, either. They had had happiness, and she had dared to destroy it for nothing more than her own sick ambitions. It didn't matter that she was a child-- Joe already hated her as he had not hated anyone since Sosai X. He wanted her dead.
He shook Jinpei lightly-- the Swallow was still unconscious. As soon as he woke up, though, and Joe was free to go back and rescue the others... there would be a reckoning. Alatan Katse would pay.
Alatan watched the scene nervously, angrily, as Joe vanished. "Damn!" She bit her lip absently, thinking, before she remembered that it didn't fit the image, and stopped. Picking up the microphone, she decided and spoke. "This is Alatan Katse. Have the remaining three members of the Ninja Team brought to the control area in A. Use stairwell 3." She clicked out.
Three women stood at attention behind her. Alatan glanced at the mirror-like darkened viewscreen to see them, and without turning, said, "Bring out some chairs, and some rope. I want our guests to have a comfortable place to stay."
Even as Joe plotted revenge, the image of the one he hated appeared, illuminating the darkened area he'd been in. "If you thought you were hiding, I regret to tell you there's nowhere you can hide from me," she said, sounding amused.
"Damn you, Katse!"
"Why, thank you. It's wonderful to feel that one's enemies take one seriously," Alatan said. "Here's another tidbit to feed your hatred with, Condor Joe." The image dissolved and revealed Ken, Jun and Dave, slumped unconscious in chairs with their arms apparently bound behind their backs and armed female guards standing behind them. Alatan's voice spoke, and without her image to distract him, Joe placed it as coming from a speaker set into the wall across from him. "Here your friends are, and here they will die, one by one-- unless you surrender yourself and the Swallow to me..."
As Ken slowly came to consciousness, he was aware of two things: an annoying, persistent tapping on his back, and a sweet girlish voice rising and falling with sinister import. The tapping on his back was the more personally significant of the two, so he paid attention to it, trying to figure out what was causing it. He tried pulling away from it, but was stopped by bonds around his wrists-- and then, with a shock, he deciphered it as modified Morse, spelling out kana symbols on his back.
"...understand me, twitch your left shoulder slightly. If you can understand me, twitch your left shoulder slightly. If you..." Ken twitched his left shoulder, and the message changed.
"This is the Angel of Death. Don't turn around. Pretend you're still unconscious. I'm going to release your bonds-- don't do anything until I give you further instructions." He felt the bonds loosen, and moved his hands slightly. The tapping resumed. "When I give you the signal, grab my arm and throw me at the wall, two meters to the left from Katse. If you understand, raise your right hand slightly." Ken did so, and the tapping stopped.
As Maryla surreptitiously sliced the cords binding the still--unconscious Jun and Dave, Ken listened to Alatan. She had to be talking to Joe, he guessed. "...you will not harm your escort, in any way, shape or form. You will allow them to bring you to me, where I will give you further instructions. Is that clear?"
Maryla allowed her leg to abruptly give out on her, and she fell against Jun's guard, her gun barrel with the concealed hypo jabbing against the Swan's shoulder. The other guard shoved her, enabling her to fall against the Asapei and inject him with the antidote too. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" Dave's guard asked indignantly.
"Wasn't my freaking fault, Peters-- she shoved me!"
"Well, what was I supposed to do, you just fell into me! Are you on drugs or what?"
Alatan signed off and turned to her women. "Oh, excuse me-- this is a kindergarten? I thought it was Galactor. My mistake."
Jun's guard reddened. "Well, she just fell into me!"
"Excuse me for living!" Maryla shouted. "You didn't have to shove me into Peters!"
"Enough!" Alatan shouted, and they all shut up. She stalked over and eyed them coldly. "I expect certain standards of behavior from Galactor soldiers," she said, speaking precisely. "Perhaps Gel Sadra tolerated this sort of nonsense-- I can't imagine that my father or Egobossler would have. If you wish to work for Gel Sadra, find the nearest nursery school and pledge your allegiance to some little girl there. If, however, you wish to work for me, then you will act like adults. Do you think I pay you good money to shout 'She did it first!'?"
"No, Katse-sama," they chorused.
The name hardly sounded like her own. "See that you behave in a manner more appropriate to your station from now on," she said, and turned back to the viewscreens, observing her men's progress. They should be here with the Condor in only seconds. She turned around to face the doorway.
Ken opened his eyes a crack as several men marched in with Joe their prisoner, two of them toting Jinpei. The sharp symbols rapped out on his back-- "Ima." Now.
He grabbed the Angel's arm and hurled her at the wall panel, which flipped around as she went through. Alatan's escape hatch! He stood, and as the two women behind him converged on him he grabbed their arms and swung them together, smacking one into Dave and knocking over Jun's chair. Jun opened her eyes in the sudden shock, took in the situation, and ran to Jinpei's side. Joe had already gone into action, cleaning up the Galactors, and a still-slightly groggy Dave went to help him. Alatan was shouting, "No, you idiots, get back! Get distance from them, and-- oh, why do I even bother?" She turned and ran for her escape hatch-- which Ken was blocking. Alatan spun, but Ken stepped forward and caught her wrists before she had a chance to get away, pulling her in. He held her in a headlock and pressed the point of his triangle against her throat. "Tell your men to drop their guns and surrender!" he said.
"If you insist, Gatchaman." She didn't sound particularly frightened, but there was a strange note of exhilaration, a breathlessness, in her voice. "Drop your weapons and run like hell!"
"Alatan-sama! We can't leave you--"
Joe stepped in the doorway, blocking the men's escape. "That wasn't the deal, Katse," he said harshly.
"I wasn't aware we'd made a deal. But if we're negotiating, I have bargaining points... Let my soldiers go, or you'll never see Dr. Nambu again!"
"I know." Joe stepped out of the way with bad grace. The Galactors dropped their weapons and ran, and Alatan's arms suddenly reached back, striking fingers into Ken's shoulders. Nerves screamed agony, turning to swift numbness, and Alatan wrenched her way free as Ken's arms dropped involuntarily. He got control again much faster than an untrained person might, but by that time Alatan was in the center of the room, surrounded by his teammates-- including Jinpei, whom Jun had given the antidote to. "There's nowhere for you to go, Alatan," Jun was saying.
"I know, but knives at my neck make me nervous," Alatan replied. She turned toward Ken. "You really surprise me, Gatchaman. To recover from that drug so fast, and then throw the guard directly at my escape route, revealing it... well, you either have to be a superhuman like me or have a lot of dumb luck. I suspect you of the Science Ninja Team have somehow managed to harness luck."
Ken ignored her comments. "Surrender, Alatan. We're going to take you with us with or without your cooperation."
"Let's be reasonable here, Gatchaman. I still have someone you want. Why don't we make a deal? You move away from that door and let me go through it, and I'll let Dr. Nambu go home with you."
"What makes you think we can trust the daughter of Berg Katse?" Ken said angrily.
"Oh, I always keep my word. It makes it so much easier to make bargains that way."
"Then I'll give you this bargain. Release Director Nambu and come with us peacefully, or we'll break you into tiny pieces."
"You could try, Gatchaman."
"We'd succeed," Joe growled.
She spun to look at him, and was apparently taken aback by the ferocity in his face. "On the other hand, since I'm not a fan of pain, how's this-- I'll go with you as far as the door, to personally ensure that there are no tricks. Dr. Nambu will be brought up here and you'll leave safely with him. I can't be fairer than that."
"We can take her, ani-ki," Jinpei said angrily. "We don't have to listen to this."
"Lay a finger on me and it'll be done tenfold to Nambu. And he hasn't got the option of healing himself."
Joe stepped closer to her, and she backed in Jun's direction. "You do anything to Dr. Nambu other than have him brought here, safe and unhurt, or there won't be enough of you left to feed the fish with."
Ken moved in as well. "Alatan Katse. You will have Director Nambu brought here, safe and unhurt as G-2 said. You will come with us when we leave. There will be no tricks. Otherwise we will beat you to a bloody pulp and then take you with us."
Alatan smiled. "I'll go with you as far as the door, Gatchaman. After that, I won't promise anything."
Ken realized that was the best they were going to get from her-- even if they forced her to promise to come with them, she wouldn't keep it. They'd simply have to take her captive when the time came. "All right, then. Get the Director up here."
Alatan went to the control panel. "Jun, what's she doing?" Ken said. "Make sure she doesn't try anything."
"Gotcha. Looks innocent so far."
"I'm just calling to have Dr. Nambu brought here," Alatan said. "Hello, Selina?" She spoke to a blank screen. "Have Dr. Nambu brought to the control room right away."
"Alatan." A flat female voice. "Are you sure-- "
"Oh, I'm quite sure. Make sure he's awake and lucid-- a convalescence period at this point would set back my plans quite a bit." She broke the connection. "He'll be here, escorted by my people. You'll let them go, or I won't vouch for what happens."
"We'll let them go, then," Ken said.
He looked at her. She was a child, for heaven's sake, a girl not even 14 playing dress-up in her daddy's clothes. What was she doing as leader of Galactor? Two months ago, she was probably in the ninth grade, doing homework and going home to her mother... "Alatan, why are you doing this?" he asked. "You're breaking your mother's heart, you
"My mother broke my heart years ago, when she lied to me about my father, and I believed for years he was still alive," Alatan replied quietly. "Why shouldn't I return the favor?"
"But why? You weren't an evil child..."
"I'm not evil now. You merely perceive me that way. Gatchaman, I don't know what my predecessors intended to do with the world once they had it, but I know what my plans are. I will use my power to create a Utopia, here on Earth--"
"And you think you can accomplish that by killing?" Jun cried.
Dave said, "Haven't you learned any history? It's the ones who start out with the highest ideals who create the most horrific regimes. Someone's been feeding you a line, Alatan, and you're too young to know any better."
"I don't expect to accomplish my goal by killing," Alatan said, defensive anger in her voice. "I've gone out of my way to make sure that no one has died because of me. You people are the only ones who've killed today."
"Words," Joe said derisively. "You're good with words, Alatan, but that's it. Your father was good with words, too, and you're nothing but scum like him."
"Let's not talk about people's fathers, or I could mention some traitors who parented a member of the Science Ninja Team?" Alatan said coldly.
It was a childish remark, and one that Joe might have shrugged off if he hadn't hated her so much. He lunged forward and struck her, knocking her back into Ken. Dave grabbed his arm before he could hit her again.
"She's just trying to provoke you," he said. Joe glared at him, but Dave merely absorbed it in his own mild gaze. At that point several men arrived with Dr. Nambu. At a sharp gesture from Alatan, they departed again, as the members of the Science Ninja Team converged on their mentor.
"Are you all right?"
Nambu shook his head lightly, trying to clear out cobwebs. "I'm fine," he said, "though I suspect... Alatan, kindly tell me everything that was done to me." The forms of speech he used implied that she was a child, but Alatan did not respond to the slight.
"Very little. I'll be frank, Doctor-- our intention was long-range, to brainwash you rather than outright break you and destroy your usefulness. To that end, we began a regimen of nerve blockage injections, to artificially stimulate sensory deprivation and prepare you for the mind-bending drugs we planned to use later."
Nambu frowned. He didn't want to take her word for it, but knew that she would have no proof to give him-- he would have to undergo a medical examination when he got home. "All right. What have you agreed to here, team?"
Ken repeated the terms of the somewhat one-sided "deal" with Alatan, and Nambu nodded. "Good. Let's go."
Alatan led them all out to a stairwell, which they navigated without incident, and which led them out into a somewhat musty storage room, again with no incident. Outside, in the brilliant sunlight of July, things were somewhat different-- about 40 Galactors were arranged in a circle around them, some on the roof, some standing on cars in the parking lot, some kneeling-- all organized to cover maximum area with their firepower. A man stood by one of the cars, evidently a captain, with a costume vaguely reminiscent of some European country's uniform. A naval cap and simple eyemask served to disguise his features. "Alatan-sama. What are your orders?" he called.
Ken thought treachery instantly, and grabbed Alatan, holding her neck. "Liar!" he said savagely.
"No one's lied," she strangled out. "Get off my neck, please, or my men will shoot Nambu." The other team members had already converged on Nambu, protecting him under a canopy of wings. Ken released Alatan-- but with his hands ready to grab her again-- and she laughed softly.
"I told you, Gatchaman. I'll let you go safely, but I've no intention of going with you. I gave my word that I'd release you, and so the six of you are free to go. But if you try to take me, my men will protect me-- and could you be sure Dr. Nambu wouldn't be hurt in the firefight? Am I worth it?"
Ken stepped away from her. "All right. You win this round, Alatan," he said, tasting the bitterness of the words. He'd hoped so hard for a quick end to this... but it was never that easy. "Next time, though..."
Joe, the strongest, picked up Nambu, and the five of them vanished.
Galliente was disgusted. "All right, report to your regular duty stations," he shouted to his men. As they dispersed, he turned to Alatan. "Alatan-sama, are you out of your mind? You gave your word that you'd let them go? What's that supposed to mean? You've just rendered this entire operation pointless! You--"
"Galliente, please shut up. I know quite well what I'm doing."
Galliente looked at her a long moment. "Do you intend to explain to me what you're doing, then, or am I to guess?"
"Oh, I'll explain, of course-- it's no fun if I don't. Galliente, you didn't think I'd be such a child as to let Dr. Nambu go, did you?"
"I implanted a hidden transmitter in him, of course. Whenever we wish, we can send out the signal and receive a return transmission giving us Nambu's location. All we need to do is wait utnil the information leaks are sufficently plugged up, and then..." She smiled, and watched the expression mirror itself on Galliente's predatory face. "And the best of it is that the transmitter's located in his heart. It's made of organic materials, so it won't show up on X-ray, and the heart's own electrical field will mask it from probes-- until we turn it on. It won't transmit or give itself away at all until then. And then, when we so choose, we can activate it-- and using it, we can slow or stop Nambu's heartbeat. There will be no way he can escape us.
"They think they've defeated me this time, Galliente, but I have all the time in the world..."
On the way home, Nambu asked, "Opinions?"
"Dangerous," Ken immediately replied. "She-- or whoever's working with her as her brains-- seems to plan ahead in detail. Somehow she knew her men would be outside, waiting for us-- either that's a plan worked out ahead of time, or she has excellent backup, and either way a higher degree of intra-base communication than Galactor's shown in the past."
Nambu nodded. "I agree. She may prove to be more dangerous than her father was-- and although she is young now, she will grow older. Given time, she might very well mature into the most formidable opponent we've had so far."
"So we won't give her time," Joe said. "Take her out now."
"That's essentially it. Until we know more about what we're dealing with, I don't suggest taking drastic action. After that, however-- with no plot by Sosai X to destroy the Earth, forcing her to take higher than usual risks, she and her Galactor might very well survive another 6, 7 years. At your ages you cannot afford to let that happen.
"Take her prisoner if you can. But Alatan Katse must be stopped, by any means, before she gains too much experience and maturity-- or it may well be too late...."