Emby Quinn (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Author's Note: This story is a sequel to my post-Gatchaman F fanfiction "Past the Mission". The bird people,the mutant, the alien and the assorted ISO people do not belong to me. Only the redhead is mine.--eq
Chapter 1: Left Here Silent
Yellow bird flying gets shot in the wing
Good year for hunters and Christmas parties
and I hate elevator music
The way we fight
The way I'm left here silent
* * *
It was patient.
It could wait.
The time it had spent dormant in the midst of a barren Southwestern wasteland--almost an entire orbit of the planet around its star, by its own reckoning--was but a moment in the long span of its existence. It had time. It needed no sustenance, no nurturing, no particular environment for its survival. It had survived the cold hard vacuum of space, survived the searing heat of re-entry, survived the shuddering fall to Earth that had scattered the remnants of its former body across the arid landscape. It could not die. It could not be killed. It needed a physical form in order to set its plans in motion, and often in the past it had used agents--avatars, puppets, to do its bidding.
No more. Too many times the chosen weapon had turned on it, spoiling its plans just as they came to fruition. This time, it would act more directly.
It needed a physical body to inhabit, and in the past that body had always been mechanical in nature. It was but a shadow of its former self now, and did not have the power to construct itself a new body.
So it would simply have to requisition one.
The problem was the fact that its range was, at present, severely limited. Outside of a host, it could survive for only a very brief period of time. It needed a focus for its essence; otherwise it would disperse like morning fog, scattering into fragments, losing cohesion and eventually fading into nothingness. It could not leave the burned and twisted cluster of ruined metal that was all that was left of the satellite, and it could not access the raw materials around it to build itself a new, mobile body.
It was trapped.
But it was patient.
It could wait.
* * *
"Defeating Z was never your only priority. There is still much you must do."
"You are immortal, like the Phoenix."
Hakase, where are you? I can't see you...
"Don't let him catch you unawares. You have to be ready. He wants you to be complacent, to believe that it's over. It isn't over. There's still work to be done for Gatchaman."
What are you talking about? What's...
"...wrong? Ken, wake up!"
"Yamero!!" Ken Washio jerked roughly away from the hand that had been shaking his shoulder. "Dammit, leave me alone!" he snarled again, swiping his dark hair out of his face as he sat up, blinking hard against the morning sunlight.
"Excuse the hell out of me." Joe Asakura stood up and folded his arms, scowling down at him. "I should have just let you sleep through your own wedding day, I suppose."
"What? Wedding--chikushou!" Ken rolled out of bed and hit the floor running for the bathroom. "What time is it?"
"Relax," Joe called after him. "It's only eight o'clock. You've got a good five hours in which to panic before the moment of truth."
Ken barely heard him. He stripped out of his shorts and jumped into the shower before the water had even gotten properly hot. He was getting married today. His heart gave a leap of pure joy. After all this time, Jun was going to be his wife. They were going to have the life together they'd always wanted, the life they'd fought so hard to win for so long. The life he somehow still feared would be ripped from them before it had properly begun.
No wonder he was having nightmares.
He emerged from the bath with a towel wrapped around his narrow waist, his hair still wet and dripping down his back. Joe was sitting at the small table in one corner of his room, munching idly on a croissant. He gestured to the large plate on the table and swallowed. "Get 'em while they're hot."
"You call this breakfast?" Ken grinned as he took one of the pastries and sat on the edge of his bed.
"You'll survive without your morning miso this once. Eat up; you're going to need your strength."
Ken laughed. "Like you'd know. How many times have you gotten married?"
Joe snorted and took a long drink of his coffee. He was used to Ken needling him about "doing the right thing" and marrying Miyae, but he didn't like being pushed into anything. Now that the goddamned war was finally over, there was time. All the time in the world, and if Miya wasn't in any hurry to make a run for the altar then neither was he.
They ate for a while in companionable silence. Ken was glad of the quiet. He was usually one for words, but with Joe there often wasn't need for them. They had been together most of their lives, and they understood each other better than most men who'd been born brothers. It was that way with all the others, too--Jun, Jinpei and Ryu--a sense of belonging so strong that it transcended blood or any other ties, a sense of being together that had only grown stronger since the destruction of Z up in space.
"Don't let him catch you unawares. You have to be ready. He wants you to be complacent, to believe that it's over. It isn't over. There's still work to be done for Gatchaman."
Joe's quick eyes caught it. "What's the matter?"
Ken shook his head. "No. Nothing."
"You're not having second thoughts, are you?"
"Of course not. Just...pre-wedding jitters, I suppose."
Joe didn't look like he believed it. "Whatever."
"Don't 'whatever' me. You know I hate that."
"You're a lousy liar, my friend. But if you don't want to tell me what's bothering you, that's your business, not mine." Joe swung his feet off the edge of the table and stood up, walking over to the window to peer out through the curtain.
Ken sighed. He wanted to share his misgivings, his bad dreams, with Joe. The big Sicilian was his brother in all but blood, his other half, closer to him than anyone else except Jun, closer even than his own flesh-and-blood sister. But speaking it out loud, actually giving voice to the silent unrest within him, would make it all too real somehow. Irrational as it seemed, he somehow felt that by talking about it, he might make it come to pass.
It isn't over. There's still work to be done for Gatchaman.
No. Not for me. Not for them. Let someone else deal with it. We've done our part.
"It's going to be a beautiful day," Joe murmured, looking up at the clear blue sky.
Ken got up and walked over behind Joe, putting a hand on the man's shoulder. "It certainly is. I'm glad we're here to see it."
Joe looked back at him with a sad smile. "I just wish..."
"I wish Nambu could have been here too."
Ken's stomach turned to lead. He swallowed hard and tried to smile back. "I'm sure he is. He'll always be in our hearts."
"Yeah." Joe patted Ken's hand and headed past him for the door. "The tux fitter's coming at eleven. That gives you roughly two hours to get dried off and dressed."
The Sicilian paused, the door open, and looked back at him.
Ken smiled, a real smile this time. "Thank you."
"For being my best man. For being my best friend. For being here. For...for always being here."
Joe chuckled softly. "It's where I belong."
Ken sighed as the door shut behind him. He was more grateful than he could have said, not just for the reasons he'd given, but because Joe wasn't pushing him to talk about what was bothering him. What could possibly be bothering him on his wedding day?
Don't let him catch you unawares. You have to be ready. He wants you to be complacent, to believe that it's over. It isn't over. There's still work to be done for Gatchaman.
Ken resolutely shut away the memory of the dream (latest in a series, collect them all) and went to dry his hair.
* * *
"Morning." Joe caught Miya in passing in the hallway and planted a quick light kiss on her mouth. "How's the bride-to-be?"
"Calm, cool, collected and about to drive me insane." The redhead shook her feathered bangs out of her wide blue eyes. "How's my little brother?"
"Complaining about not having a proper breakfast and brooding about something he doesn't want to tell me."
"In other words..."
Joe smirked and finished the sentence for her. "They're acting perfectly normal."
"That's what scares me." Miya glanced back over her shoulder. "I've got to make sure the caterers are on their way. And that Jinpei doesn't kill them for invading his kitchen."
"You're taking your maid of honor duties pretty seriously."
"Of course. It's not every day my best friend and my only brother get married."
"I thought I was your best friend," Joe protested.
"You're my everything."
"Mm. Good answer." Joe caught her around the waist and gave her another kiss, this one neither quick nor light. For just a moment Miya pressed against him, kissing him back with a fervor equal to his, then she seemed to come to her senses and reluctantly disengaged. "Later," she promised.
"Che. That's what they all say."
She squinched her nose at him and hurried off. Joe watched her go down the stairs with a half smile and a sigh that was only mildly frustrated. He was amazingly happy for Ken and Jun--it was about damned time, after all--but all these preparations were cutting into his personal time more than he'd anticipated, particularly in the last few days.
Oh, well. They're only going to get married once.
* * *
Ryu grimaced, but he did his best not to fidget as Kamo's thick but nimble fingers adjusted his bowtie. "I've never worn one of these things before," he muttered. "I hate dressing up."
"It's for a good reason this time, at least." Saburo Kamo gave Ryu's shoulder a pat. He knew that the last time the team had worn anything like formal wear was at Nambu's funeral, and that was an incident he was sure they longed to forget. It had been almost a year since the President's murder, and Kamo knew that Ryu and his erstwhile teammates still missed their mentor fiercely. Kamo himself had taken Nambu's position when he'd become President, but he had never tried to take the Doctor's place in the hearts of the team. And he still thought of them as a team, even now, although it had been many months since they'd been officially retired.
"How do I look?" Ryu studied himself critically in the wall-mounted mirror. "I feel like an overstuffed penguin."
"You're fine. Very handsome." Kamo ran his hand through his own thinning gray hair. "Are you ready to go downstairs?"
"As I'll ever be, I guess."
"Smile, Ryu! This is a happy occasion, remember?"
Ryu did manage a grin. "Yeah, I know. It's been too long in coming, too. At least now Ken and Jun will have the life they've always wanted."
"The same goes for all of you." Kamo adjusted the lapels of his jacket and opened the door. "And as you said, it's been too long coming."
* * *
The decision to have a Western-style wedding hadn't been a difficult one to make. Ken wasn't particularly adherent to any religion, and Jun had been raised in a Catholic orphanage. Ken had left the decision to her, and with true dedication the intended bride had gone all-out with the preparations.
The Cygnus Lodge had a small chapel, and on this sunny day in early June it was festooned in a palette of soft whites. All manner of flowers--gardenias, daylilies, carnations, and yes, even roses--were scattered in lavish arrangements, filling the room with delicate scents.
The minister was a grandson of Dr. Cho-Yon Sun, the staff physician who had watched over the Science Ninja for years before her retirement near the end of the war. The guests were mostly ISO and G-Mountain employees, many of them known to Ken only by their surnames and titles. Standing at the altar in his crisp white tuxedo, Ken had a moment to reflect on the fact that very few of the people here were more than acquaintances. In all the years they'd been together, no one on the team had felt the need to form many close friendships outside the group...and the few times they had seemed to invariably lead to disaster.
With a couple of exceptions, he reminded himself. He heard the door leading to the hall open, and he looked back to see Miya appear, looking astonishingly feminine (if slightly uneasy) in her pale green bridesmaid's dress.
Ken nodded once to her and glanced at Joe. The Sicilian wore black, of course, and at the moment his blue-grey eyes were riveted on the woman coming up the aisle.
Next time we do this, she'll be the one wearing white, Ken thought, and as if Joe had heard him, the predatory eyes flickered at him. Ken winked to cover his own nervousness, and Joe snorted softly and looked away.
The organ music changed, and the guests stood and looked toward the rear of the chapel in anticipation. Ken's mouth felt suddenly dry, and he watched the open doorway. For a long, unsettling moment, the space beyond the door remained empty. Ken wondered if he'd forgotten how to breathe.
Then Jun appeared, on Kamo's arm, and Ken felt his heart start beating again. Pounding, really. Jun was looking down, her face obscured by a short transparent veil. The bodice of her dress was close-fitting and low-cut, but somehow it didn't look in the least inappropriate, only serving to enhance her maidenly beauty. The sleeves were puffed at the shoulders and close-fitting from the elbows down, covered with a delicate network of lace. The skirt was full and ruffled and whispered softly with every step she took.
At the head of the aisle she handed off her bouquet to Miya without a word and turned to face Ken, her eyes still cast down. Ken, for his part, couldn't take his eyes off her.
Ken heard the minister's voice, but the words didn't seem to be registering. Chief Kamo confirmed that he was here to present the bride to her intended husband. Tenderly the older man lifted the veil from Jun's face, gave her a fatherly kiss on her high white brow, and moved off to sit between Ryu and Jinpei on the front pew.
When the time came for the vows, Ken recited them in a strong, steady voice that betrayed none of his inexplicable nervousness. When he finished, his sister gave him a quick thumbs-up over Jun's shoulder.
Finally, Jun raised her eyes to meet his as she took her turn at reciting the vows. Her eyes shone under the soft lights, and her voice was a bare whisper.
Joe put the ring into Ken's nerveless fingers, and he almost dropped it, but he managed to keep hold of the small gold band and slipped it onto Jun's ring finger. Her hands were steady when she presented him with his own wedding ring, but the small slim fingers were cold as ice.
"...now pronounce you man and wife." Matthew Sun smiled. "You may kiss the bride."
She's not 'the bride', not anymore, she's my wife, Ken thought with a certain amount of proprietary pride. He took Jun in his arms and gave her a kiss that threatened to put the Sicilian behind him to shame in terms of expressed passion.
* * *
The reception was held in the lodge's banquet hall, and proceeded with an appropriate lack of civil decorum. After several glasses of champagne, Ken felt bold enough to remove Jun's garter. She squealed and swatted at him as he ducked underneath her voluminous skirts, cheered on by Joe and most of the rest of the male guests. He was greeted with applause when he emerged with the garter clenched firmly in his teeth.
With his long-accustomed grace he stood, pivoted, and fired off the garter at the man in black at the head of the crowd. Joe caught it reflexively and scowled theatrically as Ken tipped him a saucy wink.
Then it was time for Jun to toss the bouquet. Miya had to be urged to join the crowd of giggling females, and she resolutely stood at the back, arms folded, with her back turned. This, of course, availed her naught. Without so much as glancing over her shoulder, Jun tossed the bunch of white roses over her head, and it soared well above the frantically waving hands of the crowd to bonk Jun's honor attendant soundly on top of the head. Startled, Miya unfolded her arms just in time to catch the bouquet.
She looked from the flowers she was holding to Joe, who was walking up spinning the garter on one finger. "It's an insidious plot," she murmured to him, half-smiling.
"Uh-huh. Should I start trembling now?"
"They'd probably be disappointed if we didn't at least pretend to tremble."
"Well, damn. I never took Trembling 101, so they'll have to suffer." Joe looped an arm around her waist and kissed her, to the enthusiastic applause of the crowd.
"Ahem?" Jun waited patiently until she had their attention. "I'm going to need a little help getting out of this thing and into my traveling clothes..."
"That's what your husband's for," Miya suggested, not letting go of Joe.
Jun took hold of Miya's arm and tugged her away. "Come on, you. It won't take that long."
Joe watched the two women go upstairs. He realized he was still holding the baby-blue garter, and absently he pocketed it.
He turned. "Ken."
The dark-haired man jerked his head in the direction of a small anteroom. Wondering, but not asking questions, Joe followed his foster brother away from the noise and chatter of the small festive crowd.
Ken shut the door behind them. "Joe, I really want you to know how grateful I am for your being here."
"Where else am I supposed to be?" Joe leaned against the wall. "If you're going to ask me to run off with you now, I'd say you left it a little late."
Ken shook his head, dismissing the attempt at humor. "I wanted to give you something. A gift, I suppose."
"And it's not even my birthday."
Ken reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and took something out. Joe looked at the object in his hand, and his eyes went wide.
"Hakase's pendant." Ken took Joe's hand and put the pendant in his palm, closing his fingers over it. The pendant was warm to the touch. "I want you to have it."
"Ken...I can't take this away from you..."
Ken smiled sadly. "You said only this morning how much you missed him. This is all we have left of him now...and he didn't just leave it to me. He left this to all of us."
After a moment, Joe nodded. "Thank you, Ken...I know how hard it is for you to give this up."
"Not as hard as it would have been to lose all of you." Ken reached out and hugged Joe hard. "I'm not going to let that happen. Not ever."
Joe dropped an arm across Ken's narrow shoulders. "Not likely to happen now unless we all get in the same train wreck."
"Don't joke about it." Ken sounded close to tears. "We--I--lost you once, Joe. And we almost lost all our lives when we took Z down."
"Almost only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and tactical nukes." Joe clapped Ken on the back. "Don't go all weepy on me now--there's a lady upstairs who's waiting for you to carry her off into the sunset. You might know her--she's your wife. You wouldn't want her to get the wrong idea."
Ken took a deep breath and straightened up. "You're right, Joe. This isn't a day for tears." He managed a shadow of his usually sunny smile. "I guess I need to go get changed myself."
"You do that."
After Ken had gone, Joe sat down in a chair by the door and looked long and hard at the pendant in his hand. He wasn't really sure it was a pendant, though that was what they'd always called it. It didn't look much like a piece of jewelry. It was shaped roughly like the face of their activators, with a similar elaborate bird motif etched into the smooth metal surface. It seemed to be more like some kind of...
He held it up to one ear, listening intently, focusing his hearing, still superhumanly acute, trying to detect some hum of circuitry or whir of machinery inside the pendant's housing. There was nothing. Nothing he could hear, at least.
He sighed and slipped the pendant into the breast pocket of his jacket. Then he got up to rejoin the party outside.
* * *
Jun came back downstairs wearing a flower-print sundress and a white lace jacket. A white straw sunhat was perched atop her head. She descended the last few steps at a trot and took Ken's offered hand. He had traded his white tux for a white cotton shirt and gray slacks. "All ready, Mrs. Washio?"
Jun giggled--she couldn't help it. Having a real, legal last name was enough of a thrill, but having Ken's last name...that was something she had dreamed of since she was six years old. "Ready when you are, Mr. Washio."
Hand in hand they ducked out the side door, to be greeted by a flurry of rice, streamers, confetti and--of all things--soap bubbles. I'm glad I'm not the one who has to clean up this mess, Jun thought giddily as they ran through the colorful deluge.
Ken led her to his motorcycle and set her on the back, clambered on himself and roared off, leaving the shouts of the well-wishers behind them. Jun only had ears for a handful of the voices--Joe, Ryu, Jinpei and Miyae. "We're not riding this thing all the way to Halai?" she yelled over the roar of the Harley's engine.
He glanced over his shoulder at her, grinning, but didn't answer. He was heading for the airstrip that had been built after they'd purchased the lodge. The sign--AQUILA CHARTER--was still gleaming with fresh paint as they rode past it.
As they pulled around the hangar, Jun let out a laugh of surprise and delight. There, on the airstrip, waited a compact Cessna much like the one Ken's first vehicle had resembled in civilian mode. It was painted a glossy, high-cloud white, decorated with satiny streamers. The words Just Married were carefully painted on the left side, just behind the propeller.
When Ken stopped the bike, Jun threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. "How did you--I had no idea--"
"I'm the white shadow that moves unseen, remember?" Ken tapped her nose playfully. "I'm sneaky that way."
* * *
Miya shut the door behind the last of the departing guests with a weary sigh. Ryu and Kamo were upstairs, no doubt already asleep after the day's festivities. She glanced at the clock above the foyer--almost eleven. Ken and Jun should be safely on their honeymoon by now. She briefly considered calling them, then decided against it...even though it might have been amusing to catch Ken in an awkward moment as he so often had with her and Joe.
She wandered down the hallway, stopping briefly as she heard clattering and grumbling from the kitchen area. "Jinpei, leave it for tonight," she called. "I'll help you set the kitchen back in order tomorrow." The racket continued unabated; she shrugged and turned towards the stairs.
She was so worn out that she didn't even notice Joe until he dropped an arm over her shoulders. He was still wearing his formal wear, but somewhere along the line he'd discarded his bow tie, and the frilled shirt was open at the neck. "Ready to call it a day, Red?"
She looked up at him and smiled weakly. "It's a day. Want to come help me get out of this thing?"
"I thought you'd never ask." Joe steered her up the stairs to the room she'd taken at the end of the hall. As Jun's honor attendant and Ken's best man, respectively, Miya and Joe had barely had time to nod at each other since their arrival a week ago. Miya felt the last of the tension drain from her as the door closed behind her. "Thank God that's over." She reached up and moved her hair aside so Joe could get to the zipper down the back of her dress. "I hope I never have to go through that again."
"Does that mean you don't want to get married?" Joe pulled the tab of the zipper down to Miya's waist.
"I didn't realize you were offering." Miya shrugged out of the long, close-fitting sleeves. "Anyway, what difference does it make? We've got a good thing going here, why spoil it with a bunch of official garbage?"
"Hnm." Joe could have called to mind a reasonably good counter-argument, but the sight of Miya's bare white back was a severe hindrance to logical thought. He took a step forward and put his large hands on her shoulders, kissing at the back of her neck.
She shivered a bit. "Mm...keep that up and you might not get out of here before morning."
"I wasn't intending to attempt an escape." Joe tugged the dress off completely and turned her around, pulling her close. "It's been six days, seventeen hours, forty-seven minutes and an odd number of seconds since we've had any chance to be alone together. We're going to be here for at least another week; I intend to make up for lost time, starting right now."
"Mm...maybe I'm not as tired as I thought," Miya asserted as Joe pulled her down onto the bed, her hands already working his jacket off his broad shoulders.
* * *
The first thing to hit him was the smell. Ozone, gunpowder, sulfur, smoke, and permeating it all, the unmistakable sweet-rot scent of decaying flesh.
He stumbled through the red-glowing dark, unable to recognize the scattered bodies around him as individuals, only as the charred and dismembered remains of what had once been human beings. Fires guttered in the ruins around him, the only movement he could see.
He paused amidst the ruins, looking around desperately for some sign of life. Surely someone else must have survived? "Is anyone here?" he called out, cupping his hands to his mouth. "Can anybody hear me?!"
Then he heard it: the laughter.
It chilled his blood. He knew that voice, knew and hated it. The cold dread and horror in his stomach flared up into unaccountable rage at the sound of Z's amusement. "Where are you, you bastard?! What are you doing here? We killed you! Damn you, why won't you stay dead?"
"The same could be said for you, Gatchaman. How many times have I, or my avatars, attempted to destroy you and your team? Yet still you returned to stand in the way of my plans. But not this time. This time you're too late. All that you loved, all that you cherished, all that you sought to protect is gone. By turning your back on your obligations, by growing complacent in your dreams of peace, by refusing to remain vigilant, you allowed me to do this."
He saw them, then--four figures, lying on the ground before him, in their tattered BirdStyles. None moving. All dead. All except for him. He knew then that not only this place, but the whole world had been laid waste.
He was alone on a dead planet, the last of his kind. He had turned his back on his sworn duty, and the entire human race had paid the price for his folly.
The five of them had sworn to protect the Earth. They had failed. He had failed. Everyone was dead. Everything they'd fought for, everyone he loved, was gone.
Joe sat bolt upright in bed, breathing hard, shaking, covered with chilling sweat and wide-awake in the darkness. His eyes darted frantically around and saw only the shadowed contours of their guest room at the Lodge, with soft moonlight streaming through the curtained window. Beside him, Miya still slept, exhausted and unaware. Like her brother, Miya could sleep through an earthquake. She hadn't heard Joe's waking scream or sensed his sudden movement.
He looked down at her and brushed a trembling hand over her soft red hair. She was here, he was with her, Ken and Jun were on their honeymoon, Jinpei and Ryu were asleep down the hall, everyone he loved was safe. Just a nightmare, he told himself. And yet he couldn't get that last image out of his mind: standing in the guttering ruins of a burned-out city, the bodies of his murdered teammates at his feet--
The image was as clear as if it still hung before his vision, but there was something wrong with it. Joe shut his eyes tight and forced himself to remember every detail. Jun, lying on her back, her yo-yo wrapped around her neck, dead eyes open to the smoke-filled sky. Jinpei, skewered on a sharp spike of metal. Ryu, crushed beneath a heavy section of stone wall. And Ken--
No. Not Ken. Himself. His body, his Condor BirdStyle, his face on the severed head that lay several feet from his shoulders.
That didn't make any sense. Where was Ken? Why had he seen his own death, and not Gatchaman's?
Wait--Z had called him "Gatchaman"--
Had he, somehow, been having Ken's nightmare?
Ridiculous. That was crazy.
He swung his feet to the floor and bent over, running his hands through his tousled hair. A glimmer on the floor caught his eye, and he bent to see what was causing it. His fingers closed over smooth-patterned metal, and he picked it up. Nambu's pendant. Although it had been on the bare wooden floor, it still felt warm to the touch.
And it was glowing. Very faintly, but glowing nonetheless.
Must be a trick of the moonlight, Joe mused, and put the pendant on the nightstand. With a grunt he laid back down, turned on his side and gathered Miya into his arms. In her sleep she murmured softly and nuzzled up against his bare chest, which made him feel immeasurably better. He rested his cheek on top of her head, inhaling the sweet, slightly spicy scent of it, and closed his eyes.
But he didn't sleep again that night. He lay awake till dawn.
* * *
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