Gatchaman v5.1: "Putting the Damage On"
PUTTING THE DAMAGE ON
by Emby Quinn
(post Gatchaman #87, "Triple Joint Mecha Patogilla")
There's a light in your platoon
I've never seen a light move
Like yours could do to me
But I've got a place to go
I've got a ticket
To the late show
And I've got to hurry
'Cause boy, you look so pretty
When you're putting the damage on
The green-clad soldier pulled the lever, and the wide spool mounted in the ceiling began turning in the other direction. The heavy rope wrapped around it, every twist and jerk of the heavy coils sending spikes of pain through Ken's arms and shoulders. His forearms were bound behind him, holding his arms up behind him as he was hauled off the floor. His ascent stopped with a screech of gears and a final jolt that made him groan through clenched teeth. His feet dangled about a foot off the ground.
Within arm's reach in front of him stood a familiar, hated purple-clad figure. Berg Katze's sharp mouth twisted itself into a razor-wire grin, the lips parting to show startling white teeth. His eyes were unreadable behind the lenses of his mask, but his tone was easy to interpret--smug, mocking, arrogantly confident. "What's wrong, Gatchaman? Are you feeling uncomfortable yet?"
Ken dragged in a breath and forced out the words. "I'm...not...Gatchaman." In all honesty, it was true enough; he was in civilian mode, and out of his Birdstyle, he wasn't Gatchaman. He was Ken Washio, a private pilot who supposedly knew nothing about Science Ninja. Even if he'd wanted to change now, he wouldn't be able to; his bracelet was gone. He'd stripped it off and thrown it into the tall grass outside the airstrip when the Blackbirds jumped him.
"Still in denial, I see." Katze shook his head in an effort to show weary resignation, but the bitter smile still tainted his full lips. He walked slowly in a circle around him, his heels clicking on the concrete floor. "There's a term for the ordeal you're currently forcing yourself to undergo. It's called the strappado. In the Dark Ages of historical Europe, it was often an effective tool for persuading accused witches to confess to their sins." He stepped away from Ken, looked up, and chuckled. "It seldom failed."
He raised his arm, swung it down, and Ken found himself falling to the cold concrete floor. He landed hard on his knees, his shoulders screaming from the sudden release of tension in the muscles.
"Beautiful in its simplicity, really, isn't it? No complicated devices, no tiresome heating of brands--all you needed for the strappado was a sturdy beam and a length of rope. Naturally, I made a modification or two, for convenience's sake." A sharp heel dug into his shoulder and kicked him over onto his back, his arms pinned under him. Katze grinned down at him. "Of course, a drop of a few inches is hardly sufficient for the strappado to have its desired effect. Usually the subject would be hauled up to the roof and dropped, and the rope would be brought to a halt before the prisoner reached the ground. In this fashion, the shoulders would be quite efficiently dislocated. In some cases, if the drop was severe enough, the hapless victim's arms would be torn completely out of their sockets." He looked up at the high ceiling overhead, pursing his mouth slightly. "I would say the roof's about...thirty feet up? That should be more than enough to rip your arms off." He looked down and smiled. "What do you think, Gatchaman?"
Ken bared his teeth and kicked out at Katze's knee, who dodged the blow barely in time. "I've already told you! I'm just an airmail pilot! I don't know anything about any Science Ninja, or Gatchaman, or anything else you've been blabbing about! Now go ahead and kill me if you're going to!"
Katze's head nodded mockingly in a counterpoint rhythm to Ken's impassioned words. "Yes, yes, you have told me that. The fact that you're lying, I suppose, is beside the point."
He turned and gestured to another goon, who brought him a clipboard. Katze read from the attached paper. "'The profiling department has determined that Gatchaman is probably a Japanese male, eighteen to twenty-five, between five-feet-ten and six feet tall, slender build, dark hair, light-colored eyes, with quick reflexes and superb fighting skills. Probably works as a test pilot or possibly a charter flight pilot.' Yes, that's what it says. Would you like to take a look?" He shoved the clipboard in Ken's face; the latter turned his head aside. "No matter. You managed to kill three of my best men before the rest could tranquilize you. The Blackbirds are the equal in skill and fighting ability to any of the Science Ninja, and the fact that you would be able to best even one of them, never mind three at once, speaks far more than your feeble denial."
The chain began to ratchet up again, pulling Ken to his feet. Katze gestured for a pause and took another step forward. "Now, Gatchaman," he said, his voice a low, smooth purr, "it really doesn't have to be this way. All you have to do is answer a few simple questions--the identities of your teammates, the precise location of your secret base, trivial little details like that--and I'll be more than happy to let you go. I'll even grant you a head start so you can warn them we're coming. After all, a hunt is no fun if you don't flush the quarry from hiding. What do you say?"
Ken just glared at him, saying nothing.
Katze shrugged and sighed dramatically. "Oh, all right, then. Let's see how talkative you are without arms." He waved his hand again, and Ken was pulled off the floor. This time the ascent didn't stop until Ken's bound wrists touched the heavy spool mounted on the ceiling.
"I'll give you one more chance, Gatchaman!" Katze shouted from the floor below. "If you agree to talk, I'll let you down easy and you can keep your limbs intact."
He could feel the tendons in his joints already threatening to tear. He couldn't feel his hands anymore. With any luck, once his arms were gone he'd bleed to death before Katze managed to get anything of use out of him. His voice was surprisingly steady as he called down his answer. "You go to hell, you circus freak."
He was gratified to see Katze stiffen. The leader of the Galactor Syndicate turned sharply away and waved a hand dismissively. "Drop him."
The rope let go. Ken was falling, and he braced himself for the sudden stop that would seal his fate.
He was halfway to the floor when the lights went out. Over the sudden cries of confusion from the Galactor soldiers he heard a whizzing above his head, accompanied by a familiar cry.
A familiar voice. Too famliar. It was his own voice.
A heartbeat later, a white shadow rushed through the air towards him. A hard shoulder slammed into his stomach, knocking the breath from him. His downward fall became an arc towards the back wall of the warehouse. In the semi-darkness he glanced over his shoulder, trying to identify his...rescuer?...and saw--
A white helmet with black flashes to either side representing the eyes of a bird. The head half-turned to look back over one shoulder. A blue visor shaped like a beak.
It was the Gatchaman.
But he was the Gatchaman!
They landed behind some crates--though "landed" was perhaps too generous a term. They fell to the floor in a tumble of arms, legs and white-winged cape. Ken landed more or less on top, and the groan from underneath him was in a voice that was just as famliar, but not quite his own.
"What the hell--?!" He looked down at the face behind the visor--his visor. From a distance it could easily pass for his face, but it wasn't. It was his sister. "Miyae?!"
"Shut up, dumbass," she hissed. "Here--" She unwrapped the loosened rope from his aching arms and fastened something around his left wrist. "We found your activator in the field. I suggest you use it."
"Explanations later! Just do it, baby brother!" Miyae was already ripping off her Birdstyle--the material shredded like cheesecloth, and underneath the bodysuit she was wearing an exact copy of Ken's civilian clothes. Her hair, normally fiery red, was even dyed to match his dark brown, and trimmed to just past shoulder length.
As she stuffed the tattered remains of her suit into the helmet, Ken looked at the bracelet on his arm and brought it into position. He half-whispered "Bird GO!" and discovered that, even spoken sotto voce, the activation phrase worked just fine.
Katze's men were milling around in confusion, shouting orders and counter-measures, sometimes shooting each other in their haste to bring down the Science Ninja. Katze quickly extracted himself from the chaos and headed for the fire exit.
But someone was waiting for him there.
He skidded to a stop, almost falling forward in his haste. "Ga--Gatchaman!?"
The white figure chuckled. "Really, Berg Katze, if you were so anxious to see me, you only had to ask. I'm sure there's all manner of things we can talk about--the location of the main Galactor base, for instance. Luckily for you, the ISO doesn't believe in torture...though in your case I am tempted to ask for an exception. There's no excuse for what you did to that poor young man."
Katze gulped. "But--he was--I was so sure--!!"
"You should tell your men to be more discreet. Mister Washio's sister saw his abduction and contacted the ISO for help." Ken was making up the story on the fly, but hey, it sounded good enough. "Really, Katze, the Blackbird's uniforms were a dead giveaway. We knew at once who had taken him and finding you after that was simple enough. Now then--"
As Katze turned to make a run for it, Ken reached out and grabbed at his cape--but his grip was unsteady, his arms still throbbing with pain, his hands numb, and he couldn't keep hold. Katze vanished into the darkness and by the time Ken got after him, he'd vanished out another side door into the night.
Grumbling curses, he turned back to the fight in progress, flexing his hands to get feeling back into them so he could join in the wholesale busting of Galactor heads.
A white spherical object was tossed from behind the crates in a lazy arc to the floor. Ken had just enough time to recognize it as a match for his own helmet before it exploded in a flash of light. Ken's polarized visor protected his eyes from the worst of the glare, and he assumed that the others on his team were similarly shielded, but most of the Galactors were half-blinded. Grinning savagely, Gatchaman threw himself into the conflict, ignoring the pain in his shoulders, dealing death on all sides.
The warehouse, as it turned out, had been built before the war in an isolated area--a building project that had fallen by the wayside. Just for good measure, Jun planted enough explosives to bring the whole place to the ground as the God Phoenix was lifting off.
Jun insisted on checking Ken's shoulders for serious damage--she'd overheard Katze's explanation of the strappado. "Nothing life-threatening," she said. "You'll need to get some X-rays and you're probably not going to be playing any baseball for a week or so, but I don't think anything permanently nasty was done to you."
"Thanks, Jun." He turned to his sister, who was peeling off some sort of chest appliance under her jersey that had flattened down her modest breasts into the semblance of a masculine torso. "All right, now can I get an explanation?"
"It was Nambu's idea," Joe explained. "He heard Miya could imitate your voice, and she is just about your size...he had the design team cobble up a fake Birdstyle for her. It was good enough to fool that idiot Katze, especially in the half-dark."
"A 'fake' Birdstyle? But she was flying!"
"Nope," Ryu said from the pilot's chair. "I threw her at you."
"One hell of a pitching arm there, big guy," Jinpei said. "Maybe you should play the major leagues! --No, wait, you'd never be able to run the bases--ACK!" he squawked as Ryu grabbed him in a headlock and began knocking on his helmet. "Hey, cut it out already! Ow!"
Ken chuckled, then looked at his sister. "Thank you, Miyae. You saved my life."
She smiled and shook her head. "Hey, I'm just the understudy. Everybody else did the real work. Jun found the place, Ryu got us here without the ship being spotted, Joe got us in and Jinpei took care of the lights. Even the rope was cut with Jun's yo-yo while I called out your silly yell."
"And you were late with it, too," Joe pointed out.
"Be quiet, you."
Ken arched an eyebrow. "'Silly' yell?"
"Uh-huh. Whose bright idea was it to call your weapon a 'birdrang' anyway?"
In chorus, all five team members answered: "Hakase's."
Everyone laughed. Ken rubbed one shoulder absently, knowing he was going to have to endure a battery of tests once they returned to base. Damn, he hated post-mission exams worse than the missions themselves. "Ryu, take us home. Oh, and Sis?"
"When we get back to base...could you find something else to wear? Seeing you wearing my clothes makes me edgy."
"I could always take them off," she said, reaching for the hem of the red jersey.
"No! No, just--" Ken broke off at Miya's wink. "Miyae..."
"Keep your shirt on, woman." Joe pulled her down to sit on his knee. "I've seen them, Jun's got her own, Jinpei's too young, Ryu couldn't take the excitement and your brother would die of embarrassment--and since we went to all this trouble to get him back, we should at least return him to Hakase alive."
Ken snorted and turned away--admittedly, made more than a bit uncomfortable by the sight of his sister (wearing his clothes, with his hair) nestled in his gunner's lap. He sat in his chair beside Ryu as the big man piloted the God Phoenix over the water towards the base. His shoulders still hurt like hell, his arms were trembling with pain and fatigue, and Berg Katze had gotten away--again. But he was back with the people he loved, his identity was secure, and there would always be another shot at bringing down Galactor. At least they weren't likely to try and snatch any of them off the street again anytime soon. For now, today, that was enough.
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