Emby Quinn (savageredhead@aol.com)

Author's note: This story takes place shortly before the first episode of Gatchaman II and endeavors to explain, among other things, why the team suddenly had Hawk Getz thrust upon them unannounced. I don't own the Condor, but the redhead is mine. --eq

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and now I feel the west in you
and I feel it falling apart too
don't say that you don't
and if you could see me now
said if you could see me now...

--Tori Amos

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The day had been bright and clear, but clouds were beginning to gather on the horizon. For now, though, the sun still shone down on a small, private cemetery. Sayuri Washio was buried here; next to her marker was a stone bearing her husband Kentaro's name, though the corresponding grave was empty. Here, too, were buried the long-dead wife and child of an ISO scientist named Kozaburo Nambu. Each of the stones bore the name of someone who had either worked for the ISO or had been related to someone who did.

A small black car parked at the gate, and a woman got out. She was tall, slender, with a fiery riot of red hair that gleamed like coppery fire in the afternoon sun. She entered the cemetery and paused only for a moment to lay a bunch of wildflowers on Sayuri Washio's grave. Then she went deeper into the grounds, finally stopping before a stone that had been erected almost two years before.

"Hi, Joe."

Miyae Washio knelt in front of the stone marker and put out her hand, the fingers lightly brushing over the letters in the inscription as though tracing the planes and angles of a familiar and well-loved face.


"I miss you." She choked on a bitter laugh. "That's like saying I'm breathing. I don't even know why I keep coming back to this place; you're not even here. Your body was lost in the Himalayas, and your spirit...your soul...oh, why do I even wonder about that? There's no such thing as life after death. A personality is nothing but electrical impulses in brain tissue. Once the brain activity stops, it's finished. You live once, and then you die, and that's it. Game over." She settled down and leaned her cheek against the cold stone, closing her eyes. "But I still come here and talk to you as though you could hear me, because this is all of you I have left."

She bit her lip. "I'm tired, Joe. I don't want to do this anymore. I can't...I can't be you."

She tugged fretfully at the collar of her jersey. It had been made to her exact size, but it seemed unsuitable, ill-fitting. Her fingers traced the "2" between her breasts as though trying to obliterate it.

"You know...Jinpei wanted to retire your position and have the team go on with just four members. I don't think any of the others really wanted 'another' G-2. But Ken...Ken insisted on putting me in your place. The trouble is--it isn't working. I'm just not becoming a part of the team. Ken says I'm not trying hard enough and Nambu says I just need more time. How much more time will it take? It's been almost a year since Ken talked me into this. Hakase's convinced that X is going to return to Earth because he has nowhere else to go. Katze's gone, but that just means X will find another figurehead. Even if X doesn't show up again, there are still terrorists out there, and someday someone might get the bright idea of reviving Galactor. The world's going to need the Science Ninja, and Ken's going to need a second in command.

"The trouble is--Ken needs you." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "We all do.

"I'm not a gunner. I can shoot a gun adequately enough, but I'm not a sharpshooter. The weapon doesn't become part of me. You know I've never been comfortable using any weapon except my own body. I'm not a driver, either. I've learned to drive a car--barely--but I can't drive like you could. I could never do the things you could.

"The simple truth is that I don't belong here. Ken wants me to take your place, but I can't. Nambu says I need to make my own place on the team--that they would rather have me, someone they know and can trust, than a stranger. But the fact of the matter is...I just don't fit. I've never been a team player. I don't work well with others. You know that, don't you?" She half smiled and put her hand on the stone. "Of course you do. You always knew me better than Ken did. Better than anyone did.

"You asked me to take care of them, and I've been trying, Joe. I've tried my very best, no matter what Ken says. But the training...it isn't going well. I keep messing up the fight formations, twice last week I hit Ryu instead of the practice dummy, and worst of all I keep falling out of the goddamned Tatsumaki Fighter!" She giggled helplessly. "Today I went spinning across the training gym and hit the wall full-on headfirst. If I hadn't been wearing the helmet I would have cracked my skull open." She rubbed the back of her head, wincing slightly. "As it was I was out for almost half an hour. Jinpei tried to turn it into a joke, but nobody was laughing."

She closed her eyes again with a weary sigh and was quiet for a long time, leaning against the unyielding surface of the headstone. The shadows lengthened, and the wind turned cold, sending a skirl of dry leaves across the withering grass.

Finally she spoke. "It's no good, Joe. I have to tell Hakase the truth. He said we could solve the problem with the Tatsumaki Fighter--he's developing a new trigger for it that doesn't require the pyramid formation--but that won't address the simple fact that I'm not meshing with the team. I know it, and I think Hakase knows it, too."

She sat up and swiped her hair from her saddened eyes. "I have to tell him. I have to let him know that he needs to find someone else, before it's too late and the team has to go out again. Before...before I end up getting Ken, or Jun, or maybe even all of them killed. My worst nightmare is that five of us will go out...and I'll be the only one to come back. I couldn't live with myself if that happened. I'd rather they all hate me than die because of me." She bowed her head. "I'm sorry, Joe. Forgive me for not keeping my promise to you.

"I just hope Ken will understand."

She leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the name carved into the stone. Then she stood, brushing dead grass from her knees, turned, and walked away without a look back.

She didn't look left or right, and even if she had, she probably wouldn't have seen the figure standing perfectly, unnaturally still in the shadow cast by the statue of a wingspread angel. After she'd gotten into her car and roared off, the tall, lean man in black finally stepped away from cover. His face was solemn, his dark-gold hair stirred by the cold wind, his grey eyes hidden by a pair of mirrored sunshades.

"Miya..." Joe spoke as though trying to call the woman back. It would be folly to reveal himself to her--he knew that. The arms that ached to embrace her could crush her without any effort at all. The heart that had once belonged to her was now a mechanical pump forcing nutrient fluid that emulated blood through his reconstructed body. He wasn't a person anymore, he was a machine. A corpse that didn't have the grace to lie down and die. A dead man walking who wasn't a man at all, but a freak. He had nothing to offer her but despair, the reopening of wounds best left closed.

His hearing was now far better than a normal human's; he could hear every word Miya had said, and he knew how hard the struggle was for her. He knew also that she was right. She didn't belong on the team, and only the fever-madness of desperation and approaching death had ever made him extract that promise from her.

"Hakase's right, Miya," he told the empty cemetery. "X is going to return, and sooner than anyone expects. That's the only reason I'm here--to be here to destroy him once and for all." He was only alive long enough to confront X when he reappeared, and when his function had been fulfilled, he would finally be allowed to lie down and die as he'd been meant to at Cross Caracolm.

"If I'm lucky--if we're all lucky--Hakase will never have to send the team out again." His hands closed into fists. "I'll get to X first, and take him out, and none of you will be any the wiser. You'll be able to live your lives in peace."

That was the real reason he couldn't let them know he was alive. (Not that he was alive--not in any way that counted.) He was living on borrowed time. He didn't want to hurt the people he loved any more than he already had.

And Miya? Joe Asakura was proud, but he was also realistic. He knew full well that he was the only man Miya had ever loved, and he had known his death would strike her to the heart. He'd seen the terrible emptiness in her eyes. He'd heard the pain in her voice--a quiet pain, tempered by time, but unmistakable, as much a part of her now as breath or heartbeat. He'd sensed the sadness that followed her like her own shadow, not always visible but easy to see in the light of day. Losing him had broken her heart and chilled her spirit.

Losing him a second time would surely destroy her.

He approached the memorial gravestone, wondering that he didn't feel much of anything at all seeing his own name there. He was sure he should feel something--unease, contempt, foreboding, maybe even a twisted kind of amusement--but he felt nothing.

All the more proof that he wasn't the man he'd used to be. That he wasn't a man at all, not really.

A dark smear on the stone attracted his attention. He bent to wipe at it, and his fingers came away damp. Damp with the traces of Miya's tears.

He felt an awful cramp of grief and loss as hard and unforgiving as a physical blow. It nearly doubled him over. He shut his eyes tight as his vision threatened to blur. He couldn't let himself cry. If he started, he might not stop.

Curiosity about his own empty grave had brought him here; seeing Miya had been completely unexpected. He should have left as soon as he'd seen her, but he'd stayed to watch her. That had been a mistake he wouldn't make again. He couldn't afford to return here, and he couldn't take the chance of seeing Miya again, even from a distance. The next time he might not let her leave without revealing his presence to her...so there couldn't be a next time.

"Saraba, cara Miya," he whispered in farewell as he walked quietly away. He didn't look back.

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