Gatchaman v5.1: "The Blackest Ocean"
THE BLACKEST OCEAN
Emby Quinn (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Author's Note: This story takes place concurrently with Gatchaman episode #81, "Siege on Galactor Island". If you have never seen the episode and/or are not familiar with the events which take place therein, this story may not make much sense. I don't own Gatchaman or any of its characters; only the Savage Redhead is mine.--eq
* * *
And maybe I ain't used to
Maybes smashing in the cool room
I cut my hands up every time I touch you
Maybe it's time to wave goodbye now
* * *
It was a gloriously beautiful day. The sun shone down from a faultless blue sky, and the air was sweet with the fragrance of cultivated blooms. The lushness of green growing things spread as far as the eye could see.
The woman waiting in the small blue rental car shut her eyes against the exotic beauty of her surroundings. The irony of her present situation was not lost on her. The tropical breezes, the scent of flowers, the lulling whisper of waves against sparkling sand were all too familiar to Miyae Washio, and she hated every moment of it. Only you, Joe Asakura, could drag me to a place like this. I promised myself that if I ever got away from Petal Island I'd never set foot on another island again so long as I lived--and yet here I am.
Joe had insisted on going alone to his parents' graves, and as reluctant as she'd been to let him out of her sight, Miya had obeyed his wishes. She remembered the time a few months before, when Ken had taken her to the cemetery where their mother and father had been buried...Ken had let her go alone to their mother's gravesite. She'd fallen to her knees, tears spilling unbidden from her eyes as her fingers traced the name carved into the weathered marble. SAYURI WASHIO, Devoted Wife and Mother.
"I'm here, Mommy," she'd whispered through trembling lips. "They tried to make me forget you...but I never did. I never did. I wish you could have waited for me..."
The grave of Kentaro Washio was alongside that of his wife. It wasn't a true grave, but a stone memorial, since the body of Red Impulse had been lost in the explosion of the rocket which had claimed his life half a year before. Miya regarded her father's tombstone in silence. She couldn't remember him at all. The only image she had of him was from a picture she'd been shown of her parents and a baby who had grown up to be her brother Ken. She couldn't remember the sound of her father's voice, or what he was like, or if she had even loved him. Her sole memory before being taken to Petal Island was that of her mother, running after her, stumbling through the pressing crowd, screaming her name as strong, thin arms bore her away: "Miya...stop...Miya...!"
Her eyes snapped open and she sat up. For the space of a heartbeat she tensed--the man standing outside her window was a stranger, wearing a bulky sports jacket and a plaid cap and dark glasses and an obviously false mustache. It was only because the voice was still familiar that she didn't swing the door open to knock him down, or deliver a punch out through the open window, or take any of a half-dozen other actions that might take the man off his guard.
But then, Condor Joe was very, very hard to take off-guard.
"Did I wake you?" he rumbled mildly in his throaty baritone. "And I thought you were good at keeping watch."
"Bastard," she muttered, sliding over to the passenger seat.
"Flattery will get you nowhere." Joe opened the door and got behind the driver's seat. He cranked the engine, shifted the car into gear and pulled away from the wrought-iron cemetery gates.
Miya looked at his rugged profile, obscured by his attempt at disguise but still distinguishable. "Are you all right?"
She didn't press the issue with him, but she wished he'd tell her why he insisted on coming all the way out here. Somehow she sensed it wasn't just to visit the graves of his murdered parents. What answers did he hope to find here, after ten years?
"There," he said, pointing out the window at a stretch of beach. "That's where it happened." He didn't stop the car or even slow down as they passed the area. "Ten years ago today."
Miya looked, not really expecting to see anything significant--and she didn't. Pale sand, blue water, clear sky. Nothing else. As if there'd be a memorial stone there? 'Be it known that in this place two innocent people were murdered and their son was taken to become a Science Ninja'?
They drove in silence for a while, until they reached the outskirts of the city. Not that the settlement on BC Island actually qualified as a metropolitan area--it was more like a village, really--but there was nothing charmingly rural about the place.
Joe pulled into a small copse of palm trees and stopped the car. He stepped outside, leaning on the door, and lit a cigarette.
Miya got out on her side and walked around the car. She perched on the fender beside Joe, and they stayed that way for a few minutes, neither speaking. The roar of the surf was faint, but inescapable, always there. Finally Miya could stand it no longer, and broke the silence. "Joe. Why are we here?"
He took a long drag and blew out the smoke. "You didn't have to come. I didn't want you to come." He flicked the butt aside and turned to look at her, his predatory eyes unreadable behind the polarized lenses of his sunglasses. "The only reason you're here is because you caught me heading out and threatened to rat me out to Ken if I didn't bring you along."
"You were leaving your trailer carrying a suitcase and I wasn't supposed to wonder where the hell you were going? And when you told me not to mention anything to the others..." Miya waved her hand. "I knew you were looking to get yourself into trouble. I couldn't let you go alone. I just wish you'd let me in on the secret."
"I told you why I was coming here."
"To see where your parents were buried. You've done that. But you're not finished here."
Joe looked away. "...No."
"Why not? Joe, I know I must sound insensitive, and I don't mean to. But I don't understand why you felt you had to come here now, after all this time. It's no great mystery how your parents died--you were there. You've told me the story. And why the disguise? You've never bothered to hide your face before, even when working undercover. I thought you were the one who hated masks."
He looked sharply at her, but she didn't shrink back. It helped that she couldn't see his eyes. After a moment, his head dropped, and he sighed. "Miya..."
"You don't have to tell me anything if you don't want to. I came here to help you if I can, not to interrogate you. But if I don't know anything, I can't do anything if you do get yourself in trouble here somehow."
"You're right." Joe removed the sunglasses and put them in the pocket of his sports jacket. When he turned his eyes on her, his stare was so intense that she did feel like shrinking back, or at least looking away, but she made herself return his gaze. But his eyes--so full of hate...
"I'm a Galactor," he said.
The words didn't register with her at first. When it finally clicked, her breath hitched in her chest. "Wh...what...?"
"Galactor by birth. Galactor by blood. My father was the boss of this island. Giuseppe Asakura, along with his wife Katarina. When I was eight years old, they wanted out of Galactor. I don't know why. Maybe they got into trouble with someone higher up. Maybe they made a mistake they couldn't cover for. Maybe they just didn't like the way things were being run. But they were planning to leave the Syndicate--probably intending to trade information for immunity from prosecution. So Berg Katze had the whole family killed. Back there, where I showed you."
"I was supposed to die, too. The boy I was--Giorgio--did die, back there with his parents. But the Doctor faked my death--"
"I didn't just find my parents' graves. I found mine."
"Dr. Nambu faked my death and took me back with him. It took me a long time to recover from my injuries, but I never doubted that I would. I wanted to get strong, and grow up stronger, so I could make those responsible pay for the way my parents died. But...I hated Galactor so much I couldn't accept that my parents had been Galactors, too. So I blocked it out of my mind completely. That's where the nightmares came from--my own suppressed memories, fighting their way to the surface. Now that I've finally remembered, I can't escape the truth about myself."
Miya finally looked away. Tears stung her eyes at the irony of it all, the cruelty of Joe's fate. Did I really think I'd suffered so much? Joe's suffered enough for ten lifetimes. I always wondered if he could ever forgive me for my association with the Syndicate, and now he's learned that he was born into it-- "I'm sorry..." she whispered.
She felt his hand close over hers. "It's not your fault. But now you understand why I'm here? To get answers. I don't know what I'm looking for, but if I'm going to find it anywhere, it'll be here. I want to know why my father was a Galactor. I want to know why he and my mother decided to leave. Until I know that...I won't know whether my parents died as heroes or as traitors."
They're dead, Joe. What difference does it make now? But Miya didn't speak her thoughts aloud. She didn't look at him, either, but she squeezed his hand a little.
"What about where you lived? The house might--"
"It was burned to the ground. The ruins are still there, probably as a warning for anyone else who wants to try to defect."
Miya did look at him then. "A warning? You mean--"
Joe smirked. "This island is crawling with Galactors. It's not so much a base as a training ground for new recruits. A place to separate the chaff from the wheat."
Like Petal Island was, though maybe not quite so extreme... Miya repressed a shudder. "So that's why we came in under assumed names."
"Not you--me. I didn't have time to get you a false passport." There was humor in Joe's tone, but it held an edge of bitterness. "But having you along does have its benefits. That's why I told you to keep your mouth shut and let me do all the talking. The one good thing about a place like this is that no one's going to ask too many questions of someone who acts like they belong here. A man traveling alone might attract the wrong kind of attention, but a man traveling with an attractive woman is either just another playboy or is stepping out on his wife. As far as anyone here's concerned, you're just my personal piece of ass for the weekend."
Joe chuckled and gave her a healthy pinch on her hip before putting the glasses back on. "Wish me luck."
"Good luck. With what?"
"I'm going back into town and have a closer look around."
"I'm going with--"
"You're staying here."
"But why?! Joe, you just said--"
"When I said 'traveling alone', I meant arriving on the island. I do my best investigational work solo and I don't want to have to worry about you. You should be safe enough here till I get back."
"I'd rather be there to watch your back."
"I know." He got into the car, opened the glove compartment and took out a small black celphone. "I picked two of these up before we left Utoland," he said. "They're prepaid, and they're interconnected. They're not as efficient as Bird Scramble transmissions, but they're a way for us to keep in touch. I'll call if I need you, and you do the same." He handed the celphone to her. "But don't use it unless you absolutely have to. And if you do have to, don't address me by name. Just in case someone might be listening. Understand?"
She nodded. "Joe...just be careful."
"Don't tell me to do the impossible, cara. I don't do 'careful'." He reached out of the open window and pulled her down for a kiss. After letting her go, he checked in the rearview to make sure he hadn't dislodged his false mustache, then started the car.
Miya watched him drive down the road towards town until he disappeared around the bend. With a heavy sigh, she sat down under a convenient tree, her eyes scanning the changeless horizon, and resigned herself to a long wait.
* * *
The last glimmer of light faded as the swollen red disk of the sun dropped beneath the water's edge. The whispered roar of the surf became a background harmony to the songs of crickets and tiny tree frogs, and one by one the stars glimmered into view in the darkening sky.
It had been too long.
Miya knew she was being a worry-wart. She had alternated between pacing restlessly and watching the bend in the road. Every time she heard the sound of an engine, she tensed with anticipation, but it was never Joe's rental car. She jumped at the sound of squirrels in the trees overhead. She felt completely useless and utterly unnecessary and she knew she was simply trying to redirect her anxiety about Joe so she wouldn't worry over him like she was doing anyway.
No news is good news. If he needed me, he'd call. He's a Science Ninja. He's Condor Joe, for Christ's sake. He doesn't need a babysitter and he doesn't need anyone to follow him around and keep him out of trouble. He knows what he's doing. I hope. Anyway, he should be back any moment and he's going to laugh at me and call me a fretting female--
The celphone in her hand cheeped, and before the first ring had finished it was at her ear. "Hello?!"
A deep chuckle came over the line. "I hope you weren't expecting someone else to call."
Joe/'s voice was a hoarse, urgent whisper. Miya swallowed hard, reminding herself they weren't supposed to use each other's names. "Where are you? Are you all right?"
"I ran into a little trouble in town, but nothing I couldn't handle."
Miya didn't relax much. For Joe to admit that he'd even had "a little trouble", something had to be terribly wrong. She wanted to ask for details, but she knew he wouldn't be able to give them to her over a celphone transmission.
"How are you doing? Any excitement out there?"
His tone was casual, but Miya could hear the concern behind the words, and she smiled even though Joe couldn't see it. "A whole lot of nothing. I'm bored out of my skull. When are you coming back?"
"As soon as it's safe to leave the church, I'm out of here. Just sit your pert little butt where you are and I'll see you before morning."
"Before--? But it can't be long after midnight--"
"There was a...problem with the car. Don't worry. Just keep your pretty little head down and I'll be there before you know it."
The line went dead, and Miya took the phone from her ear and stared at it in confusion. A problem with the car? Had it simply broken down?
She put the celphone down on a small, squat treestump and folded her arms. Oh, who gave a damn about the stupid car, anyway? Joe was all right. If he'd been in real trouble he would have told her to get the hell out of there and contact the team. There was nothing more to worry about.
Nice argument. Now if she could only convince herself it was true.
Oh, hurry, Joe, please hurry. I want off this overrated sand dune. I wish I'd never let you come here at all...as if I could have stopped you. But I could have told Ken. I should have, the moment you told me where you were going. But I didn't, because you asked me--begged me--not to. It was all I could do to convince you to let me come here with you.
And if you'd refused, would I have gone through with it? Would I have called Ken and had him stop you at the airport, when you told me how much you needed to do this on your own, and how important it was that nobody on the team find out where you were going?
Who the hell am I kidding?!
Something rustled softly in the trees behind her. Miya didn't freeze, didn't make a sound, but instantly all her senses were on the alert. There's something--someone--behind me. More than one someone.
Immediately all her training and discipline snapped into place. Even the surroundings contributed to the illusion that this was just another Petal Island training exercise. Darkness was no hindrance to her--she could fight blindfolded if she had to. In fact, she was probably in less danger now than she would have been back in the deadly forcing garden that had been her home for eighteen years. The place that had turned her into a cold-blooded killer.
If they wanted me dead, they'd already be shooting. So they're going to try and take me alive. Question me. Use me to find out everything they can. Dammit, they didn't just overhear the phone conversation, they traced it--
She made a wild grab for the phone, but a shot rang out and the unit went flying off the treestump, shattered into a tangle of plastic and circuitry. Miya leapt into the air and scrambled up into the closest tall tree, crouching on a thick branch as bullets shredded leaves around her.
Voices. Harsh, half-muffled by fanged masks.
"Did you see her jump?"
"Could she be one of the Ninja?"
"Who cares? Katze-sama wants her taken alive. Get her!"
Miya was already crawling onto the limb of another tree. She wrapped her legs around the limb and flung herself downward, catching one of the Galactor soldiers around the neck and snapping it before he could even scream. She caught the automatic rifle from his dead hands as it fell, flipped herself back up onto the branch, and started returning fire.
She was no sharpshooter, but with a machine gun chattering in her hands, she didn't need to be. Bullets sprayed the area below her, cutting down a number of Galactors where they stood. When the gun clicked empty, Miya tossed it aside, leapt out of the trees and dove into the knot of surviving soldiers, too close for them to be able to shoot at her, even to wound, without risking hitting one another. This was what she had always known how to do best--raw, close combat, not with guns or swords or even knives, but with her hands and feet. Her body was the only weapon she'd ever really needed.
Broken bodies fell around her, and still they kept coming. How many of them were there? How many of them could there be? She'd killed en masse before, more times than she could count--ten, fifteen, twenty men in quick succession, inflicting crushed skulls and broken backs and shattered necks as fast as she could take in breath. She showed no mercy, felt no remorse. It was kill or be killed. But soon the grass at her feet was littered with the dead, she could hardly move without stepping on cooling flesh, and still they came, as though spawned from the trees themselves. She was beginning to tire. Sooner or later--too soon--they were going to wear her down through sheer numbers.
I can't let them take me. But I can't run. If they shoot me, they'll shoot only to wound--I have to finish myself, bite through my tongue, bleed to death--But the survival instinct that had kept her alive for most of her life under Galactor oppression and control wouldn't let her give up. Not yet. Not ever. Not until she couldn't move anymore, couldn't raise a hand to defend herself. Not until it would be too late.
A steel and silver flash passed through the crowd of green-clad soldiers around her, and half a dozen fell, their throats bloody and torn wide open. Momentarily freed from combat, Miya glanced around, breathing so hard she almost couldn't speak. "Ke--Ken!!"
"Get out of the way!" Jun called to her, swinging her yo-yo out towards another Galactor. "We'll take it from here."
Immediately Miya obeyed. With the last of her strength she jumped clear of the impromptu battlefield and dropped to the ground outside the copse of trees. Once she stopped moving, exhaustion clamped down on her like a crushing weight. She lay there gasping, barely conscious, her whole body shaking with fatigue, covered in her own sweat and the blood of those she'd killed.
She made no effort to take shelter; however many Galactors there were, she felt sure they would be no match for the Science Ninja, and she was right. Ryu tossed the soldiers aside as though they were stuffed dolls, dolls that broke and bled and died where they landed. Jinpei's bola strangled Galactors where they stood; when they collapsed, he untangled the weapon with skillful fingers and threw it at another target. Besides using their weapons, the Science Ninja were at least as skilled at hand-to-hand as Miya was herself, and to their added benefit, they moved and thought as a team--a glance or the call of a name was enough to convey a plan of attack or defense.
That's the reason five people can defeat a million. The Syndicate doesn't have any real tightly-knit organization, they don't encourage people to work together towards a common goal. Even on the island, all we did was compete with each other, and no one ever helped anyone else. I watched so many of the other girls die, and I never raised a hand to help even one of them, because if I had it would have been seen as a sign of weakness and I would have been weeded out. That's why Galactor will ultimately fall apart...
When the last soldier fell, the team regrouped, and Ken approached his sister. "Miyae, are you all right?"
Miya stood, and stumbled. Ken caught her arm to steady her as she brushed herself off as best she could. "I'm fine. Thanks for the rescue."
"It shouldn't have been necessary." Ken's face became stern behind his blue beak-shaped visor. "To be honest, it wasn't you we came here to rescue. We didn't even know you were here. If Dr. Nambu hadn't figured out that Joe had come here--"
"Joe!" Miya cut her brother's lecture off. "If they found me, they must have found him too. He's in town, and he's probably in trouble. This island's full of Galactors--"
Ken's eyes went wide. "You knew that, and you let him go off alone? Are you insane?"
"Bitch me out later, little brother. Joe said something about being at a church. We've got to find him before he gets captured or worse!"
"'We' are going to do no such thing. Ryu, take Miyae to the God Phoenix, then catch up with the rest of us."
"Ken--" Miya began, but the look on his face made her fall silent.
"Don't argue. Just go."
Miya didn't argue. She just went.
* * *
So now instead of waiting in the car, I'm waiting on the bridge of the God Phoenix, and I can't even get out of here unless one of the bird people carries me. Unless I want to make a jump for it and risk a broken leg. If I even knew how to open the doors. Which I don't.
Miya sat in one of the chairs and stared blankly at the console in front of her. "Stay right here, and don't touch anything!" Ryu had told her before hurrying out to rejoin the others. It wasn't as if she had a choice about the first, and as for the second...well, she knew better than to go about randomly pushing buttons and pulling switches on a highly complex airship armed with tactical missiles.
She folded her arms, swung slowly back and forth in the swiveling chair, and waited. The bridge of the God Phoenix was eerily silent. Not even the sound of waves could penetrate the hull. She was left with only her gnawing frustration and her encroaching concern, not just about Joe, but about all of them. Ken was, after all, her brother, the only family she had, and Jun and the others were her friends.
But Joe was out there alone. If Ken and the others found him too late--
Or if they did find him, but were ambushed--
A pneumatic hiss behind her made her jump to her feet and spin around before she realized she'd moved. Ken appeared, supporting a battered and bleeding Joe, who didn't seem able to walk on his own.
Miya took a single step forward, then made herself stop. She didn't have the right to interfere. If I hadn't insisted on coming along, he might not have gotten hurt. They traced him through the celphone signal, just like they traced me. It's my fault he's in this condition.
She kept her distance, watching as Jun tended Joe's injuries. Five gunshot wounds, most of them grazes, but one had gone through the meat of his shoulder and another had left a nasty crease on his temple. Behind her, Miya heard Ken reporting in to Dr. Nambu, explaining how they'd found Joe wounded and about to be captured at the church he'd mentioned.
Apparently the parish priest there had been a childhood friend of Joe's, and had a grudge not only against Galactor, but against one of the Science Ninja Team as well. After the defeat of the Galactor soldiers, Alan had appeared, carrying a rifle. He'd turned the gun on the Ninja Team and demanded that Condor Joe step forward, .claiming that the Condor had killed his fiancee. He was obviously unaware that the man he knew as "Giorgio" was also Condor Joe. Ken had claimed to be the Condor, but before Alan could pull the trigger, Joe had shot him with the last remaining bullet in his gun. Ken wrestled the firearm from Alan's dead hands and discovered that it wasn't even loaded. Joe hadn't had to kill the priest after all.
Miya turned and leaned her forehead against the cool metal of the bulkhead. It had been worse for Joe than she could have imagined. If I had only been there, she thought, and then, If only I hadn't insisted he bring me along.
She looked back over her shoulder. Joe was struggling to his feet, brushing off Jun's admonitions to stay where he was. Limping, one arm in a makeshift sling, he made his way over to where Miya stood. She turned to face him, her heart aching miserably for his sake.
"Damn..." Joe's grey eyes swept over the blood on Miya's clothes.
"It's not mine," she said. She reached out as if to touch him, but hesitated, then let her hand drop. "Joe...I'm so sorry." It sounded completely hollow, worthless, but she couldn't find anything else to say to him.
His fingers brushed softly across her cheek. "They came for me," he told her. "They knew where I was. When I called, they traced the signal right back to you. I'm the one who put you in danger, cara mia." He blinked, hard, and tears spilled from his eyes. "I almost killed you, too."
His face crumpled, and Miya put her arms around him, careful not to touch his bandaged wounds as he pressed his face against her shoulder. With gentle insistence she guided him back to his chair and made him sit down. She sat on the floor beside him and leaned her head against his uninjured leg. His hand stroked her hair, his fingers trembling, and they sat that way together for a very long time.
* * *
Joe insisted on staying for Father Alan's funeral, yet when the time came, he refused to actually approach the gravesite. Instead he stood on a nearby hill and watched, along with the rest of the team. It was an obvious security breach, yet no Galactors came after them. Perhaps they had suffered too many losses, or perhaps they were still looking for the son of Giuseppe Asakura, who had escaped them in the confusion of the arrival of the Science Ninja Team.
Ken wouldn't allow Miya to leave the God Phoenix, claiming it was too dangerous for her in case they were attacked again. Miya considered pointing out that if they were attacked, Joe was hardly in any condition to fight, but she thought better of mentioning it. There had been more than enough drama already, and if she and Ken got into it, there was no telling how Joe would handle it. It wasn't just his physical condition; he was walking wounded emotionally as well.
Close to mid-day, the elevator brought the Ninja back up, and quietly each member went to their regular station. "Ryu, take us home," Ken said, his voice oddly subdued.
Once the ship was airborne, Joe caught Miya's eye. He beckoned her with a slight jerk of his head (which made him wince), and obediently she walked over and settled against his console, carefully out of the way of any buttons, switches or indicators.
"I'm sorry I dragged you into this," he murmured.
"You didn't. I dragged myself. If I hadn't insisted on coming with you, things might have turned out differently."
Joe shook his head with a bitter chuckle. "Maybe. Or maybe nothing would have changed. Or maybe I would have gotten myself killed by doing something even stupider than normal." With a grunt, he sat forward and leaned his cheek against her stomach. "I don't suppose there's any way to know."
She put a hand lightly on the back of his neck. "Did you find it?" she asked softly. "What you were looking for?"
A weary sigh. "No. I don't suppose I ever will. But somehow, it just doesn't seem to matter anymore."
* * *
All the world is
All that I am
The black of the blackest ocean
And that tear in your hand
You don't know the power that you have
WIth that tear in your hand
* * *
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