This dates waay back to 1991 or something like that, thus revealing that yes, I have always had an obsession for gender-swapping characters. To some extent this is based on the Gatchaman II episode "Gatchaman Revealed?", but this variant takes place in an alternate universe and during series I.

Target: Gatchaman

Janine Aurant walked into the hangar containing her plane, whistling cheerfully. "Got a job for us, Baby," she told the plane. "Dr. Morton wants me to run out to the Island to test-run her new attack fighters."

"Excuse me," a throaty feminine voice said. "Are you Janine Aurant?"

Janine turned. At the entrance to the hangar stood a tall blonde woman with a slender figure, framed by two men in business suits and sunglasses. They look like Mafia or something, Janine thought, but the Mafia don't employ women, do they? Does Galactor? She didn't think Galactor did, but she was wary as she said, "Yes. Is there anything I can do for you?"

The woman smiled, and stepped behind the men-- who had guns.

Janine ran for it. She didn't get far.

When the smoke cleared, the blonde woman turned the body over with a kick, and stared at the face. "No," she finally decided. "This one isn't her."

She consulted the list. "Tomorrow we'll do Lori Chibi."

Lori Chibi did not like the look of the car following her.

She looked in her rear view mirror. Shit! She was right-- those two men were in Galactor greens!

She floored it. What could Galactor want with her? She was only a flight courier, nothing special. Why were they after her?

Alphabetical order, anatomy, and profession were not explanations that occurred to her before the car caught up to her, and the goons fired.

The car crashed spectacularly. The two Galactors in the now stopped car gave each other high-fives. "Yatta!"

"No. We defeated her too easily," their Captain said from the back seat, the planes of her fine-featured face glittering in the light from the burning car. "That one wasn't Gatchaman either."

"How many left, Taichoh-sama?" one asked.

"There are 13 women left employed by ISO as pilots."

"Are you sure one of 'em's Gatchaman, though?"

A cold smile appeared on the woman's face as she watched the fire fade. "I am positive."

Alison Fredericks was next.

In four days, four women had been murdered. Mari Washio sat at the bar of the Snack J, after closing time, despondently drinking more heavily than was her wont.

"What's wrong, onechan?"

Mari downed the rest of the drink. "Another one, Jinpei."

"I don't know if you should be drinking so much..."

"No, you definitely shouldn't," Jun said, coming over. "Mari, what's wrong?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Mari got up to make her own drink.

"No, it's not obvious, dammit," Joe said, coming over to the bar and hovering over her. "I understand that you're upset about the murders, I understand you think it's Galactor and you want it to stop. What I don't understand is why you're not investigating Galactor's motives and stopping the deaths instead of drinking yourself into a stupor."

"I am not drinking myself into a stupor!" Mari stopped short on her way to the barstools and faced Joe angrily. "And you're not one to talk about my health. I'm much better at taking care of myself than you are, Joe. Don't worry about me."

"You're not acting it much, fearless leader." Joe leaned against the bar as Mari sat down.

"Anyway, Mari," Ryu said, trying to defuse Mari and Joe, "why aren't we investigating the killings?"

"Because I know Galactor's motive already." Mari took a deep drink. "It's me they want."

"You?" Ryu asked. "That's ridiculous! How can you know that?"

"Why do you think so, Mari?" Jun asked.

"All the women killed have had exactly two things in common. They're young females, and they work for ISO as pilots. And that's it." She looked into the glass. "I don't know if it's somehow my fault, but either way, it's because Galactor's figured out I'm one of ISO's pilots in my civilian identity. Not too difficult, actually-- everyone knows the Science Ninja Team is affiliated with ISO, and Katse would be really stupid not to figure out my specialty is piloting. It's not a big leap in logic to figure out my civilian identity might be involved with planes and ISO's payroll. So he's going to keep killing female pilots until he gets to me."

"Couldn't we put them under protection?" Jun asked, horrified.

"I told Dr. Nambu, and he's already done it. But ISO security isn't up to Berg Katse's devilish ingenuity when it comes to figuring out how to kill people he wants dead, not unless we're there to protect them-- and there's 10 of them, not counting me. We'd have to spread ourselves damned thin, and leave ourselves vulnerable that way."

"Maybe we could... convince him to knock it off," Joe suggested.

Mari glared at him. "Oh, right, Joe. We somehow magically locate Berg Katse, and I offer to beat the shit out of him if he doesn't stop attacking female pilots. That'll just persuade him he's right even more. What do you want me to say? 'I'm not a test pilot so leave those innocent people alone?' When has our opinion ever made a difference to Berg Katse? And we don't even know where he is, to try. No..." She took another drink and looked down at the glass. "I can see only one way to stop the killings."

"Kill Katse?"

"You try telling me where he is, Joe, and I'll consider it. Besides, that'd only encourage his successor even more. No. I'm seriously thinking of turning myself over to him."

There was a quartet of shocked gasps, and then a fist connected with Mari's jaw, sending her sprawling off the bar stool and into the floor. "Bakayaro!" Joe shouted, furious. "Mari, you're not expendable!"

Mari got up, holding her jaw. "Dammit, Joe, I know that!"

"Then why are you saying such stupid things? If you got yourself killed by Galactor, it'd kill us!"

There was a moment of silence, as everyone remembered the exact same words passing between Joe and Mari on previous occasions, only in the opposite direction. Finally Mari said, "I think you have a lot of nerve, saying that to me."

"This time it's different, Mari! I'm expendable, you're not!"

Seconds later it was Joe who was flying across the room. "Dammit, you are not!" Mari shouted. "Joe, none of us are expendable!"

Joe picked himself up. Ryu stepped toward him, ready to stop an incipient full-scale battle, but Joe was unusually restrained, limiting his attack to words. "Maybe-- but all of us are more expendable than you. Mari, you're the leader. Don't you know what a victory it would be for Katse if he destroyed you? Do you realize what it would do to world morale, to hear that Gatchaman was dead? What do you think it would do to our morale? Or our effectiveness in battle? Do you think I can lead this team effectively? Remember the last few times I tried, Mari! I could mention Cataroller, or the time when Katse impersonated your father and I had to fill in for you--"

"I know that. But how can I stay in hiding when innocent people are being killed for me?"

"Your job's more important than theirs. You're more necessary to the world than they are."

"My job is to protect innocents like them!"

"You can protect a hell of a lot more innocents if you don't waste yourself stupidly!"

"I get this from the man who routinely takes the most reckless risks imaginable?"

"Just because I'm reckless doesn't mean you should be!"

"You shouldn't at all!"

"Stop it, both of you!" Jun cried.

"That's right!" Ryu interposed himself between the two firebrands. "If Berg Katse could see the two of you right now, he'd be laughing his fool head off. I say you should both calm down. Mari, sure you're upset, but don't take it out on Joe. And Joe, don't you go making matters worse for her!"

"When Mari talks about doing idiotic things like giving herself up to Galactor, it's my job to knock some sense into her," Joe said levelly.

"More often she knocks sense into you, Joe aniki," Jinpei observed.

"Watch it, mouth."

Mari grabbed her jacket and stalked toward the door. All three of the older members of the Science Ninja Team were suddenly between her and the door, and Jinpei was holding her hand. "Where're you going, Mari one-chan?"

It would have been funny if Mari had been in any mood to laugh. "Knock it off, people," she said angrily. "I'm not going to go hand myself over to Katse, I just need time by myself. To think. So do you mind?"

"How do we know you're telling the truth?" Joe demanded.

Mari gave him a look that was pure ice. "You're the untrustworthy one, Joe. Don't project what you'd do onto me." Joe's eyes blazed. "Why, you--"

"Don't, Joe!" Jun turned to Mari. "Wasn't that really uncalled-for?"

"Yeah, well, I don't like being distrusted. I'll keep my word. And if another innocent dies, it'll be on all your consciences as well as mine." She stalked out.

Mari thought about flying. Whenever she was depressed about something, flying helped distance the problem, the sheer pleasure of being alone and free in the air making her troubles fade... But even if these troubles faded from her mind, they wouldn't from the real world. Ignoring things rarely made them go away, much as Mari wished they would. She would be cheating those innocent women if she let their deaths for her sake fade from her mind.

She walked alone in the park, with none of the fear of the darkness that might be expected of a woman her age. Not that the park was particularly dangerous-- Utoland's crime rate was higher than Japan's but still pretty low. As she walked out onto the bridge, the black water caught her attention, mesmerizing in the way it glittered with the moonlight, flowing and changing endlessly, carrying her away. For several seconds she watched it, letting her mind go blank.

No good. The hurt didn't go away from not thinking about it. She shook her head, angry at herself for letting herself leave the problem behind. Because, dammit, Joe was right. Her duty was to her team, to the whole world, and only after that to a small group of innocent women. But knowing other people were dying for her sake, and she was doing nothing to stop it... Partially, it was her sense of honor. It was not honorable to let these women die. It was honorable to sacrifice herself nobly, but it was a. stupid b. opposed to her duty, to protect all the world c. giving in too easily to Katse. For these reasons, she could bear the loss of honor. But her compassion and sense of justice did not listen to such rational voices. It was so damned unfair that innocent people should die because Galactor was trying to kill her. Like a knife in her gut, a tightening net of acid across her brain, it was agony to know innocents were dying for her, and she had already done all she could... and knew it would not be enough.

She had gotten Dr. Nambu to put protection on the women, of course-- and, since the existence of one unprotected female pilot would be rather like sending flares up to Katse, protection had also been put on her home, though she wasn't likely to go there unless there was a scramble and she needed the Eagle Sharp. Maybe the security would dissuade Galactor-- but more likely, it would just force Katse to come up with creative ways around it-- and, as Mari had told the team, she had never met anyone else as devilishly clever at figuring out how to kill people as Berg Katse.

There had to be something she could do.

But she could think of nothing...


Mari spun, recognizing the shadow against the tree. "Dammit, Joe, I asked to be left alone!"

"You've been out here for three hours," Joe said levelly. "Ryu and Jinpei already went to bed, and Jun and I got worried-- you did drink a lot, you know, and if what you say's true, there are people out to kill you."

"And you were afraid I'd gone and handed myself over to Galactor."

"Believe it or not, I wasn't. But I don't think we should be discussing this here. It's late, Mari, and your place's gonna be crawling with guards. Jun offered to let you stay upstairs at the J."

Mari was tired, as a matter of fact, and she felt as if her brain was going in circles. Maybe the morning would give her a fresh angle to look at things. "Yeah, all right. Are we walking, or did you bring your car?"

"Brought the car."

They got in, and Joe said, elaborately casual, "Wanted to apologize for what I said back there. Thought about it after you left, and I guessed you wouldn't pull an idiot stunt like that after promising us you wouldn't."

"Well, maybe I got a little out of line, too," Mari said, leaning her head back against the seat.

"You damn well did. But I understand why."

"I'll apologize too-- that remark of mine, about you being untrustworthy, really was uncalled for."

"I won't dispute that." They pulled up alongside the J. Jun was waiting for them, just inside.

"Good God, Mari, you look terrible!" Jun exclaimed sympathetically. "Here, I made you some hot chocolate--"

"I don't need it."

"It'll settle your stomach-- keep the nightmares away." Jun looked at Mari critically. "I remember what it's like to room with you when there's something eating you alive like this. Do you want to wake up Jinpei with your screaming?"

"Wouldn't be dignified, Mari," Joe said, remembering numerous nights in childhood when one or the other of them had woken the other exactly that way. "Think of the image."

"The image is why innocent people are dying," Mari snapped, but allowed Jun to lead her to the bar.

"You haven't had anything to drink since you left the J, have you?" Jun asked.

"No-- and I never had much. Three glasses and you people act like I'm turning into a lush. I am stone cold one hundred percent sober. Want me to say 'She sells sea shells by the sea shore' to prove it?"

"You sure you're sober?" Joe asked, amused.

"Yes. Exhausted to the point of stupidity, maybe, but certified non-alcoholic. I could even drive, except I'd probably fall asleep at the wheel." She accepted a cup of hot chocolate from Jun and sipped at it cautiously, since it was steaming.

Jun stood aside, watching her friend. Mari looked ghastly, as if the Galactor killings were drawing her blood from some hidden wound. Sleep peacefully, Mari. Tomorrow all your problems will be solved. I hope.

Mari did not quite finish the chocolate before nodding off on the counter. "Help me get her to bed?" Jun asked.

Joe half-carried Mari up the stairs, with help from Jun. "You know," he said musingly, "she never promised she wouldn't pull a stunt like she threatened tomorrow. She promised for tonight."

"Oh, lord, she'd better not," Jun said. "Help me get her into this nightgown." It wasn't Mari's nightgown, but Jun and Mari weren't that far off in size. They got Mari dressed and into the bed, and Jun folded her clothes neatly and put them down. "Hey, her boomerang's missing!"

"Oh, I've got it," Joe said, tossing the silver thing at Jun's feet. There was a soft thud, but Mari didn't stir.

"Why'd you take it?" Jun asked, placing the boomerang under the clothes.

"I was going to get a boomerang once, did I ever tell you that?" Joe asked, and Jun followed him out of the room. "It was after Mari and I'd been watching another of those stupid kung fu movies we used to eat up when we were little..."

Later, after Joe had left, Jun went back up to Mari's room.

Mari didn't stir as Jun lifted the clothes, took the boomerang, and carefully put her own yo-yo in the hidden pocket where Joe had taken the boomerang from. For a moment, Jun worried that the sleeping pill she'd put in the hot chocolate, on top of Mari's exhaustion, might cause her to be groggy for a scramble or something. She wasn't worried about the possible effects of the alcohol Mari'd drunk, as she'd made sure there was no alcohol on Mari's breath, and three hours was more than enough time to metabolize three drinks. But if there was a scramble... It was a calculated risk. Katse wanted to take Mari in civilian style, therefore wouldn't risk showing himself as a target for her in Bird Style. He was crazy, but he wasn't stupid.

She thought of taking Mari's Bird Style... but no, the shoes wouldn't fit. For that matter, probably nothing else would, either-- Jun was shorter and had smaller breasts, narrower shoulders, and wider hips than Mari did. So she took only the boomerang, and moved to the door.

Forgive me, Mari, she thought to her sleeping friend. But Joe was right. All of us are more expendable than you, and I'm the only one who can go in your place.

She headed for bed. Mari would sleep late tomorrow. Plenty of time for Jun to put her plan into motion.

After leaving Jinpei a note-- "Errands to run; I'll be gone all day. Take care of the J."-- Jun headed for Sakurami Complex, to see her friend Herricane G, better known as ISO pilot Gretchen Listendorf. Her Special Security Badge-- the kind that dissolved when anyone other than its rightful owner touched it, that identified her as a high-clearance member of the Special Projects Division-- got her into the complex without trouble.

Gretchen herself was much less trusting.

"Prove you're Jun," the voice came through the shut door.

"Ask me something."

"Who was the Unutterably Gorgeous God the night the Herricane hit the Mirror Jungle?"

That was easy. "Michel D'avignon, of Supersonic," Jun replied.

"Okay-- I guess you're Jun. But just in case you're not, don't try anything funny, or I'll shoot." The door opened just wide enough to admit Jun.

"It's me, Gretch," Jun said, slipping into the darkened room. "Herricane J. I'm not out to get you."

The light came on. "I'm not taking any chances," Gretchen said. She was a big-boned woman with short, sun-colored hair and alert blue eyes, and at the moment a burningly intense expression and a gun in her hand. "Someone tipped Dr. Nambu that they're killing ISO female pilots in alphabetical order. Guess who's next?"

She moved to put the gun down, but froze and spun back to face Jun as Jun said, "I know. That's why I'm here."

"What does that mean??"

"Gretch-- relax. And put down the gun. I'm here to help you."

Gretchen sat down, with the gun next to her on the bed. "How?" she asked warily. "I'm a fighter pilot, Jun-- you're just a student with a restaurant. If I can't protect myself from Galactor--"

"You'd be surprised at my resources." Jun pitied Gretchen, and felt proud of her, that she was Jun's friend, at the same time. The woman was terrified, but she hadn't gone hysterical or panicked; she was protecting herself as best as she could, from an enemy far more powerful than herself. Mari was right, entirely right. These women didn't deserve to go through this kind of terror. That was why Jun had made this decision.

"Listen," Jun said. "I can tell you why Galactor's doing this. They've somehow gotten the mistaken idea that Gatchaman is an ISO pilot into what passes for their minds, and they're killing all the female pilots to try to get at her. It's my responsibility to see they don't kill any more innocents, so I figured that-- since you're next on the list, and you know me personally and trust me, I can take steps to protect you and all the others."

Gretchen was frowning. "Your responsibility?"

"I don't want to go into that right now--"

"How do you know Gatchaman's not one of us?"

"I don't want to go into that either. What I want is permission to impersonate you, and the keys to your car. And permission to wreck the car, if necessary-- ISO'll cover the cost of a new one, I think. I'm going to make it too expensive for Galactor to keep this up."

She saw Gretchen's eyes widening. "Jun-- are you--??"

"Shh! Not even in here!" Jun said. Her own eyes were intense, boring into Gretchen's. "You understand, I think, why this mess is my responsibility. Will you help me?"

"Yes-- yes, certainly! But how are you going to make Galactor think you're me?"

"They'll assume it, if I'm driving your car. Everyone killed so far has been in her own car, her own house, or near her own plane. They don't know what any of you look like, they need other identification. That's why ISO moved you from your home, and that's how I'll trick Galactor into thinking I'm you. Once they realize who I am, I'll trick them into thinking I'm Lori Chibi."

"She's dead."

"I know, so she's safe. If something goes wrong, I don't want Galactor to keep believing Gretchen Listendorf is Gatchaman, after all."

"But-- if it's you they're after, wouldn't it be stupid to walk into their hands?"

"They'll underestimate me. They always do." Jun took the keys Gretchen pressed into her hand. "But... If I don't return in 12 hours, I want you to tell my friend Mari Washio. She's a pilot, too, so she'll probably be under protection. Okay?"

Gretchen nodded. "Does she know?"

"Not everything. Just tell her I went to take care of the Galactor problem. She'll understand." Jun went to the door. "Thanks, Gretchen."

"Thank you. And-- your secret's safe with me, Jun, whatever happens."

"I know. I trust you, Gretchen." Jun left.

Sneaking back into her room, Jun put on blue contact lenses, padded her bra and shoulders slightly, and changed to a light blue T-shirt-- though Katse undoubtedly didn't know they all wore numbered T-shirts, G-1 wearing a number 3 would look distinctly odd-- and stashed grenades, explosives, shuriken, a garroting cord and a gun in various locations on her body. Her wallet contained the ID for the dead Lori Chibi. Jun planned to get herself captured, on her own terms, after putting up enough of a fight to "prove" she was Gatchaman. She would inform Galactor-- letting it "slip" in anger, perhaps-- that the woman who had died in Lori Chibi's car had been a friend of hers. Since Chibi had been a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian orphan like both Jun and Mari, and since her remains had been unidentifiable, she was perfect for this. Then Jun would manage to escape, or at least contact the team, leaving Galactor to believe that Gatchaman's real name was Lori Chibi-- who would then vanish thoroughly, because of course the real Lori Chibi was dead.

She hated having to do this. Jun, sometimes more than the others, was conscious that they were a team, that that was where their strength lay. She disapproved of any of them going off by themselves, and yet here she was, doing it. But Joe was right that all of them were more expendable than Mari-- whatever Mari herself might think-- and only a female stood a chance of pulling off a deception like this, and only a member of the Science Ninja Team had a chance of surviving it. That kind of narrowed down the number of people who could do this, and it had to be done, so... no choice.

In the converted warehouse/control center of the Gatchaman assassination operation, a certain female fifth-level Galactor Captain was curled in an armchair, smoking a cigarette and trying to figure out where their scheduled next target had hidden herself, when the report came in.

"Taichoh-sama! Satellite reports a car sighted with Gretchen Listendorf's license plates!"

"Where?" The blonde woman was out of her chair in a second, examining the satellite tracking map of the roads around Utoland as she stubbed out her cigarette.

"On Route 52-- looks like she's trying to leave the city!"

"The fool. Does she think we can't follow her? She was safe as long as she hid... or could this be a trap?" The woman thought about it for several seconds. "I won't take chances. Put me through to Devil Star!"

The round mecha-- used equally by Berg Katse, the woman captain, and the elite female squad of the same name-- was currently occupied by the woman assassins. Devil Star 35 answered. "This is Devil Star."

"Pick me up. Our next target is fleeing the city. If she's Gatchaman, I want to make sure a competent squad is dealing with her, so I'll take you there."

"Kashikomairimashita, taichoh-sama." With pleasure, Captain.

Jun glanced at the rear view mirror. Three truly bizarre cars were pursuing her, and when she tilted the mirror to see their faces-- Devil Stars! There was no mistaking the masked, wigged women-- and there were more of them than she'd thought. Five of them! And in that car, in the back-- an unmasked woman riding with a Devil Star pilot-- that was their captain, wasn't it? Jun floored it. Let's play "catch", girls!

Two sped up to flank her, while the others hung back, herding her. Jun grabbed one of the grenades off the front seat and lobbed it out the window. Startled, the Devil Star wasn't able to swerve in time, and her car exploded spectacularly. Jun hurled another through the other window, but that one was warned-- she slammed on the brake and went skidding off the road, disappearing into the tall grass. Three left, maybe four if that one wasn't seriously damaged. Not good. Jun had been expecting goons, not Devil Stars.

One of the three took off, and began firing a bazooka at Jun from the air. Damn! Jun was really a lot more used to motorcycles. She swerved madly, but she couldn't dodge them all. As one exploded Gretchen's car, Jun leapt free, landing on one of the Devil Stars' hood and breaking the windshield with her gun. The woman threw her exploding rose at Jun's chest-- Jun grabbed it and lobbed it at the one in the air. It missed, but she was already breaking the Galactor's neck with her foot, sliding into the machine and trying to work the controls.

Inside the control car, which was still hanging back, the blonde woman wore an unconscious smile. This one was Gatchaman, there could be no mistake! "Give me the wheel, and you shoot at her!" she told the assassin in the car with her, and they quickly traded places. "Devil Star 23, strafe her!"

Jun was unsuccessfully trying to get her stolen mecha into the air when the command car started firing a bazooka at her, while the flying car swept down for the kill. Jun leapt out of the car and onto the flying one, where she swiftly killed the pilot and divebombed the command car. The one she'd sent off the road hadn't turned up again-- that meant this car was the last. With the woman captain at the wheel, though, it was also likely to be the toughest. It went into rapid reverse and took off, firing at Jun with the main guns. Simultaneously, the Devil Star inside it was leaning out the window with a rifle, shooting at Jun. Jun dodged--

--and a massive shock went through her vehicle. Jun spared a swift glance at the rear view mirror. The woman she'd sent off the road before was back, and had blown off the rear of her car/plane. All control was out. Jun leapt free.

Gunfire from both operative vehicles grazed her. One caught her in the side, and she staggered as she landed. It hurt, badly. She'd forgotten how painful getting shot out of Bird Style could be. Jun rolled and hid herself in the grassy field at the side of the road.

The command car buzzed her. With all her strength, she hit it with the last of the grenades, and as it went down, began to run. Only one car left, trying to mow her down. This particular Devil Star was damned good-- Jun tried to leap onto this car, and the woman lifted, making Jun's body smack into the clawlike front of the vehicle. Then she sped up, effectively keeping Jun pinned there, until she went into a barrel roll over the pavement and dumped Jun on the highway.

(Behind her, through the grass, a bruised and furious Galactor Captain, having jumped out of her car just as it and the Devil Star inside it crashed and burned, made her way toward Jun with a gun in one hand.)

Jun stood, shakily. She took out the boomerang and held it up, glittering in the sun. She wasn't terribly experienced with a boomerang, but she knew how to work it well enough that she could kill this last pilot. Her plan had been to get captured on her terms, not Galactor's. So she stood and waited for the car to come down for a pass--

--and as it did, a gunshot rang out behind Jun, and pain shot through the back of her neck. The world stretched suddenly, spun, and she fell numbly to the ground...

"Is it her?" the exhausted surviving Devil Star asked her captain. "After all this, is it really Gatchaman?"

The Captain knelt by the fallen woman, taking note of the bracelet on the wrist. She stared at the face. It didn't look quite right, to be Gatchaman-- a trained mimic, she was sensitive to such things. But there was the bracelet, and the boomerang, and that had unmistakably been Science Ninja Team fighting style and Gatchaman's skill-- and the face was similar, after all, if not quite entirely what she'd thought... "It is. It must be." Though she felt bruised and exhausted, she found the strength to laugh. "After all this time, Gatchaman is finally my prisoner!"

"You didn't kill her, taichoh-sama?"

"No. She's far too valuable as a prisoner, and I saw the opportunity to take her alive, so I did. Get her into the car. Back to Devil Star. We'll take her to Morden Base, and I'll turn her over to Berg Katse-sama."

At the base, a few pills took care of the bruises, and Berg Katse was feeling much better when his prisoner finally awakened.

He had had her strip-searched, and a prisoner's uniform put on her-- he could have left her nude, of course, but that would encourage the men too much, since it wasn't his intention that she be raped. She was shackled spread-eagled to two poles, which were mounted on a wheeled appartus and which had webbing stretching between them, so he could move her about or shift her to a vertical, diagonal or horizontal position, as he chose. It was the sort of device he used to hold prisoners while he was making himself up to impersonate them. At the moment he had her supported vertically, since he didn't want to strain his head to look at her. He was somewhat amazed by how short she was-- he had never noticed that she wore heels in Bird Style, yet she was significantly shorter than she'd been all the times she'd throttled him... Well, lack of oxygen can do strange things to one's perception. Katse smiled cruelly as his prisoner blinked her eyes open. "So, Gatchaman! You've finally seen fit to rejoin the land of the living?"

The mocking words reminded Jun of who and what she was supposed to be. She wanted to close her eyes, to shut out the sight of Katse's smiling face. No, it's all gone wrong! They weren't supposed to get me this helpless... But Mari would be defiant, would not shut her unpleasant circumstances away. So she blinked and forced her eyes to stay open, staring at Katse with all the hatred she could muster.

"Come, come, Gatchaman, don't glare so! Did you think perhaps you would escape us in the end? When we knew it was you we were after? I think you've sorely underestimated Galactor, Owashi no Mari."

"Considering your usual competence level, that isn't hard," Jun murmured.

"Kindly remember that you are speaking to the one who holds you captive. You could die here, you know, at a single order from me-- you should take that into consideration. And casting aspersions on our competence can only reflect badly on your ability, since we did eventually take you, no? This time you won't be escaping, Gatchaman. Your days of harassing Galactor have come to an end."

Jun lifted her head. "I don't think so," she said, pitching her voice low and speaking in masculine forms, like Mari. "I think you've underestimated me, Berg Katse."

"Really? I can't imagine how. You're shackled here, with your fate entirely in my hands. What is there to underestimate?"

"Why is it you think my being captured came as a surprise to me, Berg Katse? After you killed an innocent friend of mine in my car, I decided I had to put an end to this scheme of yours at any cost. So I stole the next victim's car-- bad habit of yours, Katse, killing them in alphabetical order-- and headed out to find you." She smiled. "I do have to say your woman subordinate is a bit more competent than I expect of Galactors-- I thought I'd have to kill a lot more of your goons before getting to see you, Katse. But now I'm here, and my team knows where I am. They'll be here any minute."

"Will they, really, Gatchaman? Don't they need this?" Katse held out her bracelet. "We checked after we'd stripped you, to make sure your body wasn't emitting any radio signals-- and if there's no transmitter inside you, you'd need this little bauble to call your team, wouldn't you?"

Jun could not keep her anger and fear completely off her face. Katse laughed. "So I was right! You would like this pretty little trinket back, wouldn't you? Although, I wonder if the drug we used on you broke some of your spirit-- I'd have expected you to try lunging at me."

"It wouldn't do any good, would it?" Jun asked tightly.

"No, of course not, but you're not usually that rational. Are you tired? I regret to tell you that it will be a very long while before you're allowed to rest-- unless, of course, you tell me right away the real names of your teammates. Now that I know your true name-- Lori Chibi."

So he'd taken the bait! Jun let herself look startled for a second, then shrugged, smiling-- or tried to shrug, though with her arms shackled it was difficult. "Knowing my name won't help you, Katse," she said. "Lori Chibi is officially dead. You won't find my teammates by connection to me. And as for my telling you anything..."

"Everyone has a breaking point, Lori-kun."

"You underestimate my training. I'll be dead before you get anything out of me."

Katse laughed. "What a strong spirit." He tangled his hand in her hair, yanked her head up, and Jun had to fight not to cry out. Mari wouldn't cry out... "Even if what you say is true, seeing you die would be a satisfactory outcome in itself. If you think it will bother me to torture you for a very long time and get no information, you must understand that simply the sight of your pain will be a reward in itself. And after all, if you die, even if you give us no information your team will be crippled by your loss. Their morale will be destroyed, and without you the Science Ninja Team really has only one effective fighter."

"Don't underestimate G-3, G-4, and G-5," Jun said. "They're not as flashy as the Condor and myself, but they're perfectly capable of destroying you-- and they will. We've had gloves on in dealing with you, Katse, because I had orders to take you alive. But with me gone, and the others consumed with rage, what do you suppose will stop them from slaughtering you?"

Jun spoke from her own rage, that Katse should take herself, Jinpei and Ryu so lightly, knowing that if Katse had killed Mari, nothing would stop the other three-- not to mention herself-- from destroying Katse. But Katse only shook his head.

"Gatchaman, it is not my destiny to die at your team's hands. The future will demonstrate my ascendancy, and your destruction. It is simply fate."

"You're even less comprehensible when you try to get mystical, Katse," Jun said.

"Then let me put it to you in terms even one like you can understand. The Ninja Team will burn with rage for a time, yes, but they won't find me. I'll simply stay out of their range until rage turns to grief, until they start to make mistakes. How long can they survive without a leader? And then, when they are gone, there will be nothing to stand between Galactor and the brilliance of our destiny. Reflect on that, Gatchaman, because I think that's the greatest torture I can give you." He threw back his head and laughed.

He was right, of course-- that was exactly what would have happened, had it really been Mari they'd captured. Jun no longer had the strength for defiance-- she knew she had to save it for the ordeal ahead. Her only hope now was that, when the twelve hours were up, Mari would learn what she had done, and come after her-- and how could Mari find her? She had been planning on using the bracelet, and Katse had it now... all her plans had been wrecked...

She closed her eyes. Forgive me, Mari. I had to go in your place, because your death would be the death of us all. I tried to make a plan that would save us all, but I failed... please forgive me...

Katse ordered the device lowered, so that Jun was stretched out horizontally. She heard one of the Galactors, with a leer in his voice, say "Hey, she ain't a bad-looking bitch. Katse-sama, are we gonna get to--?" Jun's eyes snapped open, to see several Galactors eyeing her salaciously.

"Control your urges," Katse said coldly. "The women I give you are weak enough to be broken by such a simple thing. This one is too strong for that. It would be a waste of time. No." Katse smiled. "If Gatchaman were the man she pretends to be, the question would not come up, I think. So we shall destroy her as men are destroyed, without rape." Thank God for small favors. Jun and Mari had both been trained to think of rape as simply a form of torture, no more degrading than ordinary pain, but Jun wasn't one hundred percent positive she could see it that way if it actually happened. Katse continued. "Instead, we will hurt her until she wishes we'd used such comparatively mild methods." He looked down at Jun. "I'm not wrong, am I? You would simply ignore being raped. It's very easy to send the mind elsewhere when nothing worse is happening than physical violation, and I want you right here with us the whole time."

Katse, I only wish I could live to see your face when you next see Mari, and realize you killed the wrong woman. "I can tell you're an expert on being raped, Katse," Jun murmured.

Katse's fist jerked her head back against the webbing, and loosened teeth. "Restrain your comments to what is useful for us to hear," he snarled. Jun smiled through the pain. Maybe her remark had hit a nerve.

"Will you hurt me worse if I insult you?" she asked mockingly.

Slowly Katse smiled down at her. "That's true. No matter what you say, your pain will be the same. So you may talk as freely as you like, Gatchaman-- but before long, all you will be able to say will be the words we want to hear. And if you should die before you reach that point-- well, you have two and a half years of my humiliations to pay for. I will be satisfied if that payment is all you give me."

He turned toward his men. "Heat up some pins. I think we'll begin with her face."

Mari tried to spend the whole day in bed, but her body protested the inaction even as her anguished mind clung to the hope of sleep's oblivion. Eventually, at 4 PM, she was forced to get up by the little involuntary surges of energy that kept running through all her limbs, but she carefully avoided thinking about anything as she showered, dressed in workout clothes, and headed to Dr. Nambu's home and the gym there, with her clothes piled in the back seat of the car.

It was a forty-minute drive to Dr. Nambu's mountain home. Normally Mari treasured such time as unoccupied minutes during which she could put her thoughts together, or simply lose herself in the mindless pattern of driving. This time, when she found her thoughts returning to the problem, over and over, she put on the radio, loud, and sang with it off-key all the way to the mansion.

This place had been her home away from home when she'd been a child, the place where she'd gone to escape the reality of a dying mother. Now she felt as she did then, with the same sort of helplessness. There had been nothing a little schoolgirl could do about a mother with leukemia, as there was nothing Mari could do about the murder of innocents now.

She headed for the basement, and began working out on the parallel bars, losing herself in the intricate gymnastic routines. Then she realized what she was doing-- what she'd been doing, since she got up so ludicrously late today-- and landed on the mat, angry with herself. Last night, in the park, she'd vowed she wouldn't go flying until she came up with a solution, that she wouldn't sublimate the problem that way. So what was she doing? Sleeping until 4 in the afternoon, driving off, losing herself in gymnastic routines-- wasn't she running away again? Cheating these poor women, by her refusal to face what was happening?

But what good would thinking about it do? The more she considered the problem, the better the solution of giving herself up to Galactor seemed. If all she did was flaunt herself in front of Galactor, made Katse reveal his hand-- was that so dangerous? That would be taking a risk, but not giving up stupidly. Was that the same as what she'd promised not to do?

And if it was-- and if it was the only solution-- could she betray her promise?

"Mari, do you have a particularly good reason for kneeling on the practice mats here?"

Mari started guiltily, twisted her head toward the door. "Dr. Nambu!"

"You're not injured, are you?"

"No-- no--" Mari stood rapidly. "I'm just fine. Just-- thinking."

"Jinpei was worried about you," Nambu said. "Jun left on some errands early this morning, and then, with you sleeping until 4 PM, he had no reassurance you were all right. --I hope you're not planning on making that a regular occurrence, by the way."

"No-- and I'm sorry. I have no good explanation. I was just-- trying to stay asleep, because I'd have to think about-- this problem once I woke up. That's why I came here. I was trying not to think. I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry, too." Nambu crossed the room and looked away from Mari, at the bars she'd been working out on. "I can't help but think there was something I should have done to make your identity more secure. Perhaps if I'd hired several hundred female pilots, the prospect of trying to kill them all, one by one, would have daunted even Galactor."

"I don't know," Mari said sourly. "I don't think there's anything beyond Katse."

"Beyond Katse's audacity? Perhaps not. But I'll warrant even Galactor has budgets to work within. Mari, what's happened was unavoidable. Even if you weren't a pilot for ISO-- and in fact, since you get most of your civilian salary from the postal service, we could easily have you taken off the books-- it's a natural assumption for Galactor to make. What I hope to do is make it generally too expensive for Galactor to continue with these tactics. But what you must do, Mari, is refuse to lose heart. This reaction is exactly what Katse might have been hoping for."

"Doctor, innocents are dying because of me--!!"

"I know. I know how much it hurts you, Mari, and I know how much you'd rather sacrifice yourself. Mari, these are my people, women I hired, dying because I hired them. I don't like the situation any more than you do. But I can only think of two solutions to the problem. Either put enough security in the way so that Katse decides to give up in favor of an easier plan-- or change everyone's names and identities and relocate all of them."

"That sounds like a more reliable plan than the first. Why don't you just do that?"

"Because not everyone is as without connections as you, Mari. And not everyone is as-- ruthless, for lack of a better word. This isn't like a witness relocation program-- these women are in this situation through no actions of their own. If there's one more death, I'm going to ask them all to disappear-- but they have friends, families, they shouldn't be forced to leave. I want to see if simply protecting them will solve the problem. Galactor isn't known for patience. Katse should give up if this plan is thwarted for a few weeks."

"But what if he doesn't?" Mari asked, upset. "Doctor, just the death of one more innocent is unacceptable to me!"

Whatever Nambu might have replied was cut off by his beeper. "Excuse me," he said, turning and heading out of the gym. More out of habit than anything else, Mari followed him.

Upstairs, in his office, he lifted the phone. "Nambu here. --The location of Mari Washio? I believe I can get in contact with her; why?"

Mari tensed as Nambu listened to the phone, then said, "I see. I'll send her over." He hung up and turned to Mari. "Do you know Gretchen Listendorf?"

"She's the next target, alphabetically, isn't she? I don't know her personally-- she hasn't been killed, has she?"

"No. She wants to speak with you. It's of vital importance regarding the killings and a mutual friend of yours, she says, and that's all she'd say. She's under protection with some of the other pilots at the Sakurami Complex. For appearances' sake, I'm going to send you over with a group of plainclothes guards, so that it's not too obvious that you don't need protection."

"A mutual friend of ours?" Mari was puzzled. Aside from the team, her friends came from all over the world. She didn't have many from school-- other than the Flight Academy she'd attended at 16, she couldn't remember having any friends from school, other than the betrayer Alison. And her only close friends were in the team. Had Joe ever dated Gretchen Listendorf?

She couldn't remember. "Who could it be..."

The guards checked Mari's and her guards' badges before they let them into Sakurami, and only Mari was permitted into Listendorf's room.

"You wanted to see me?" Mari asked warily, shutting the door behind her-- and tensed. "What the hell is that gun for?"

"What color car does Jun drive?" Listendorf asked, her voice taut.

Jun? She's a friend of Jun? "She doesn't have a car, she drives a motorcycle, you wanted to see me so put down the gun!"

Listendorf did so. "I guess you really are a friend of hers. She gave me a message to give to you, but I had to make sure you weren't Galactor or something."

Paranoid-- but in this woman's case, perfectly understandable. Mari's anger faded. "I know. We can't be too careful. But why did Jun give you a message for me? I see her all the time--"

"She told me to tell you she was going to take care of the Galactor problem. She said you'd understand."

"Oh my God--" Mari did understand. "Bakamono! Shimatta, Jun no baka--!!" She turned to run, to try and follow, even though Jun could be anywhere by now.

"You-- know why she did it?" Gretchen asked. "She said-- you didn't know all of it--"

"Where did she go?" Mari shouted, grabbing Gretchen by the shirt. "How did she involve you, and why did she do something so stupid?!!"

Unfazed by Mari's fury, Gretchen pulled Mari's hands off her shirtfront, and said calmly, "She borrowed my car. She said she'd figured out what Galactor is doing, and who they're really after, and that it was her responsibility to make sure no more innocents get hurt. She told me, if she didn't come back in 12 hours, to give this message to you, but I didn't want to wait that long."

"When did she talk to you?"

"At 8 this morning."

"Shimatta, and it's almost 6 now... Listen, disregard all Jun's warnings. I know everything, but I suspect Jun lied to you." She saw the woman's fce tighten. "Look, my best friend is out there, probably being tortured by Galactors--" for my sake, Mari didn't say-- "and I've got to help her! What did she tell you she was going to do?"

"I don't know how much it's safe for me to tell you--"

"All of it. I know all the dangerous part."

"If you really do, then this should mean something to you-- she said the killings were aimed at her, that Galactor was operating under a false premise--"

"--and that she was Gatchaman," Mari finished. "She lied."

"How do you know it was a lie?!"

"Because I know who Gatchaman really is, and who Jun really is!" Mari shouted. "Jun was trying to save the real Gatchaman. She hasn't got a prayer-- Katse'll be armed for bear. No way will she be able to pull it off-- oh, damn. Baka na onna!"

"How do you know all this?" Gretchen asked sharply. "Who're you?"

Mari felt suddenly very tired. She looked into the woman's eyes. This was a person Jun had trusted with a lie even more damning than the truth. "Would you be terribly amazed to know Galactor was on the right track?"

The woman smiled. "I thought so. Is Jun-- a comrade as well as a friend?"

"What Jun is or isn't, I'm not at liberty to say," Mari said. "Let's just asy that with Galactor geared up to deal with Gatchaman, Jun hasn't got a chance-- and it's my responsibility to see she gets rescued."

"I understand." Gretchen sat down on the bed. "But if Jun's sacrificed herself for-- Gatchaman, wouldn't it be stupid for Gatchaman to sacrifice herself for Jun?"

"Gatchaman's not that stupid, believe me," Mari said. "Do you know when Jun left?"

"She left my room about 8:30..."

"All right," Mari said grimly. "Thanks." She turned and left the room at full tilt.

Several frantic attempts to call Jun on the bracelet achieved nothing. Mari called Dr. Nambu, and told him what Jun had done. He agreed to call a scramble, while Mari headed at full speed for her home.

The guards there-- who knew who she was-- assured her no one had tampered with the Eagle Sharp. She took their word for it, as she didn't have time to inspect personally, and was in the air in moments.

"Bird, GO!"

The familiar shimmering transformation took her-- and a sharp pain stabbed into her side, the pain that indicated something was out of sync. It wasn't badly out of sync, since the transformation did run to completion, but it worried her. She needed both hands to fly with, but the moment she had docked with the God Phoenix, she checked her side. Jun's yo-yo was stuffed into her boomerang holder.

DAMN! All members of the team were trained with each other's weapons, but Mari was not nearly as skilled with the yo-yo as she was with the boomerang-- and she dared not use the yo-yo, since no doubt Jun had used the boomerang to prove she was Gatchaman. If Gatchaman turned up with G-3's weapon, it would be a logical conclusion that the impostor was G-3. In fact, Katse might jump to that conclusion anyway, and they had no convenient G-3 dolls to decoy him with this time. They'd have to do something to fake Jun's presence among the team without actually having her there..

She came out onto the bridge of the God Phoenix. "We haven't gotten a signal from Jun, have we?"

Jinpei shook his head. "I've been looking and looking, one-chan, and I've tried calling her several times. Nothing." He looked like he was going to cry.

Joe was looking at Mari, and the yo-yo in her hand. "Isn't that Jun's yo-yo?"

"Yeah. She apparently took my boomerang and left me this-- what are you grinning for?"

"We're in luck," Joe said, a slow smile spreading across his face. "I bugged your boomerang. --Jinpei, set the frequency to A-29! Broadcast, and see if you get a return signal!"

"Roger!" Jinpei bent to his work with a will.

"Joe, you..."

"You only promised for one night, Mari. I had to make sure you didn't decide to do something stupid in the morning."

Mari shook her head in resigned irritation. "Well, this time it seems your deviousness might have paid off--"

"Got it! I got a signal!"

"Ryu, bear on those coords! Full speed!"


Despite what he'd told her before, Gatchaman had managed to irritate Berg Katse. It wasn't so much her unwillingness to talk, as her uncharacteristic passivity. He had expected gritted teeth, eyes filled with hatred and defiance, finally breaking down and screaming, cursing Galactor. None of that had happened. The woman had withdrawn almost completely into herself. Her eyes were glazed, and the most noise he'd gotten out of her were faint whimpers.

He understood what she'd done, of course. He'd done it himself, the few times in his life when he'd seen no hope whatsoever of escaping pain, and had simply sent his mind away, passively accepting and not caring about what was happening. But that was out of character for Gatchaman. Not as passionate as the Condor, but she was still far too intense, far too violent for that kind of passivity. Katse studied the woman's face carefully. A member of the Science Ninja Team she was, there was no mistaking that. But wasn't it possible that she was the Swan instead? She looked very much like the woman he'd captured and guessed to be the Swan during the Gezora Operation...

No. The resemblance might very well speak of some sort of relation-- maybe they were sisters? And before, this woman had been too violent, too defiant, to be the Swan. She had to be the Eagle.

"I'm not as sure as I was, of your identity," he murmured to her-- and saw the blue eyes snap open. "Oh, that did get your attention. I was beginning to fear nothing would." She said nothing, but stared up at him as he said, "I wouldn't have doubted-- but you don't quite look like I remember you, if you're the Eagle. And if you're not... you have a remarkable resemblance to the Swan..."

"You just can't bear that I'm not giving you what you want," the woman said harshly-- too harshly to be the Swan; unless she was faking it?...

"I think that will be my next question," Katse said. "Who are you, really? And I think I know a new technique that will end your silence. Bring over a laser torch!" There was unmistakable fear in her eyes. He laughed softly. "Oh, so that you fear. Red-hot pins, the breaking of your bones, being crushed-- these things you don't fear. But fire, that breaks your defenses down. Perhaps a bird will sing for us now, no?"

"And perhaps not, Berg Katse," a chillingly familiar woman's voice called out.


Katse spun. A shadow he knew all too well fell across the back wall.

"Wherever Galactor works its evil, Berg Katse. Wherever the schemes of evil are performed, there I am. The uncagable, invincible white shadow-- Science Ninja Team Gatchaman!" Mari stepped out into the light.

"If you're the Eagle, then this woman must be the Swan!" Katse shouted, backing up against the bound woman.

Mari laughed. "Wrong again, Katse. Who do you think's blowing up your base?" There was a sudden explosion, and the Condor and the Owl suddenly appeared, behind the Eagle. "The Swan and the Swallow are taking care of that. No, you've been taken in by one of ISO's disguise artists-- a brave woman who chose to sacrifice herself for the sake of the innocents I didn't even know you were killing. That makes me very angry, Katse. Not only were you killing innocent people to get at me, but you weren't even looking in the right place!"

"What are you talking about?" Katse said. "You work for ISO, your specialty is piloting--"

Peals of laughter cut him off. "Do you honestly think me such a fool, as to have such an obvious occupation?" Mari said, laughing. She sobered. "You, a master of disguise, should know better! I'm a ninja, the protean white shadow. My identity is by definition not obvious. I could be a nightclub singer or a whore or a scientist. I could be anyone, Berg Katse. Never make the mistake of guessing you know my true nature again."

Mari had decided that the only way to convince Katse he was wrong was to make fun of him, and it seemed to have worked. Katse looked suitably irritated. "Well, whether you're a pilot or not, I imagine the fate of this woman means something to you!" he shouted, holding a knife to Jun's neck. "I could kill her in a second! What do you say to that?"

"What do you want me to say?"

"I want you to surrender your weapons, all three of you, or-- aooww!" Bolos suddenly snapped around Katse's wrist, and the knife dropped from nerveless fingers. A flying little boy rendered a kick that sent Katse skidding several feet. The Galactors lifted their guns to fire.

"Bird Run!"

Mari, Joe and Ryu went into action, ripping into the Galactors' ranks. Jinpei yelled across the room, "The Swan says meet her at the God Phoenix, one-chan, the bombs are all set!" There was another explosion, as Jinpei reached Jun and began working on her bonds, cursing in a very unchildlike fashion as he saw her wounds. "Are you all right, miss?"

Jun smiled weakly, knowing she couldn't be known to be the Swan until they got out of there. "I knew the Science Ninja Team would rescue me."

Abruptly Jinpei was looking at the barrel of a gun. "Hands up," Katse snarled, "and back away from the woman!"

"All- all right," Jinpei said, backing up-- and he abruptly ducked, rolled under the contraption holding Jun and slammed his head directly into Katse's crotch.

Katse's reaction was unexpected. With a shriek more of rage than pain, Katse dropped the gun and grabbed Jinpei by the head, pushing him to the floor and landing his full adult weight on Jinpei's stomach, wiry hands locked around Jinpei's neck. "That hurt, little boy," he said savagely. "You're going to pay for that."

Jinpei tried to choke out a defiant comment, but couldn't breathe well enough to do it. Had he miscalculated? Katse had reacted as if it'd been the stomach he'd hit, or the solar plexus-- if Jinpei had hit where he was aiming, Katse should have been completely unable to fight back. But Jinpei's helmet had struck bone, not the softness of a stomach, and he couldn't possibly have hit the solar plexus instead--

"Get up, Katse!"

Katse looked up, and saw his captive-- kneeling on the floor, holding the gun on him. "You! How did you get free?"

"The little boy freed one of my arms. It wasn't hard. Get up!" She continued speaking as she had during the Mari impersonation-- the last thing they needed was for Katse to guess she was the Swan.

Katse stood, slowly, and Jinpei rolled to his feet. "Thanks."

"Are you all right?"

"I may never smell okay again," Jinpei said, holding his nose dramatically. "Katse breath-- yuck!"

"Well, as long as you're-- ah!" She went backward as Katse kicked the arm holding the gun, dropping it from her hand. Jinpei dove at the Galactor leader as Katse hurled one of his light-bombs, but didn't manage to catch anything. Instead, he smacked into the floor hard, knocking the air out of him. When either of them could see straight again, Berg Katse was gone, and all the Galactors had been dealt with.

Mari dropped the dead body of the Galactor she was holding and strode over to Jun. "Jun..."

"Forgive me, Mari," Jun said weakly. "It was the only way I could think of to save you and those women."

Mari lifted her hand, as if to strike Jun, but seeing how badly Jun had been hurt, let her hand drop to her waist. "Don't you know what hell you put us all through, imagining what Katse was doing to you?" she said. "If Joe hadn't bugged my boomerang... By the way, I found these, if you want to change." She dumped Jun's wardrobe, complete with bracelet and yo-yo. "Your uniform shirt's still at home, I guess, if that's where you left it."

"It'd be a tight fit anyway," Jun said, smiling. "I padded my bra so I'd look more like you."

"You what??"

All three male members of the Science Ninja Team burst out laughing.

Later, they reported to Dr. Nambu.

Jun had some broken ribs, a lot of bruises, and some burns and abrasions, but as Mari pointed out (at least six times), it could have been much worse. Nambu reprimanded Jun severely for taking independent action like this-- if she'd coordinated her story and her plans with the rest of the team, she wouldn't have been hurt at all. Jun pointed out that the rest of the team would never have let her do it. Secretly, Nambu was pleased by her ingenuity, and he finally admitted that this was probably the most effective way to solve the situation.

It was, of course, possible that Katse would strike at the pilots simply out of spite, so they kept some degree of protection for the next few weeks. Nothing happened, and finally Galactor struck somewhere else and it was business as usual. It seemed Mari's tactic of humiliating Katse had worked, and he'd given up this particular scheme...

In fact, Katse had given up this scheme, but not the way they all thought.

Anything Gatchaman told Katse was liable to be a lie. Katse was still convinced that that had been the Swan-- and what the Science Ninja Team didn't know was that it hadn't been a simple whim, to start killing pilots. Katse had a specific reason for believing Gatchaman to be an ISO test pilot, and the fact that Gatchaman claimed she wasn't meant nothing.

But it was too obvious to go about attacking them all-- and it would warn Gatchaman sufficiently that it wouldn't be possible to take her. Katse saw that now. A forewarned Eagle was an invincible Eagle. So. It was necessary to narrow the search focus. And Berg Katse knew exactly how to do it. If that had been the Swan... Katse had her face memorized now. Find the woman pilot who was connected to the young woman of that description, check to see if they were both connected to two young men and a little boy-- and they'd all be found...

There were other projects at the moment, more important ones. But sooner or later, Katse would find them all out... and destroy them.