The Gatchaman Team, Doctor Nambu and the Turtle Mecha all belong to Tatsunoko. The members of the Hanatchma Team are all mine, God help them.
SCIENCE NINJAS VS. THE TERRAPIN OF TERROR
My wristlet chimed, I raised it to my mouth, "H-1."
Doctor Nambu's voice responded. "Go to Birdstyle, rendevous with the Sun Phoenix at co-ordinates 55-8-014 and await further orders."
I stared blankly at my communicator. I'd been training for this moment practically my whole life, why did I suddenly feel so unprepared?
"Hanatchma, acknowledge!" my guardian snapped.
"I'm here," I didn't quite stammer, "orders received, on my way," the connector light winked out. I lifted my arm higher, "Bird Go!"
The world whited out as energy surged around my body transforming my t-shirt and jeans into Falcon Birdstyle; white helmet with curving blue beak of a visor and blue and gold painted eyes, golden yellow winged cape, scarlet lined, and a yellow tunic over flesh colored bodysuit, long white gloves and thigh high boots. I felt steadier in Birdstyle, more like Hanatchma. I Hopped into my car, now transformed into the low-slung gold-toned H-1, and headed for the rendevous point as my life flashed before my eyes.
I was only three when my parents were killed after an early 'Firebird' experiment went catastrophically wrong. I became a ward of the Project head, Dr. Kozaburo Nambu, who already had a two year old nephew, Lee, on his hands. Little more than a year later we were joined by two more children; four year old Ken Washio and his baby sister Tori. Doctor began training us as Science Ninjas but we were only four, he needed a fifth.
Then two suitable children fell into his lap; Joe and Kady Asakura were eight and seven years old respectively, early training proved them equally apt, Doctor had to decide which to use. Naturally we kids had strong opinions in the matter. Ken and Lee wanted Joe, so the boys would be in the majority, while Tori and I wanted Kady for pretty much the same reason. We all teased, and wheedled, and generally drove Doctor crazy. Finally, one dayI wondered aloud why there couldn't be two teams, one for boys and one for girls. Doctor looked thoughtful.
The advantages of having two teams to back each other up were obvious, as were the training advantages of inter-team competition. All he needed was four more kids. He found them through ISO's Education Directorate; Ryu Nakanishi was Lee and Kady's age and unlike the rest of us still had both parents. They were fisher-folk in northern Japan and happily accepted Doctor's offer of a special education for their eldest son.
Two little girls came from the same orphanage in Kyushu. Kim and Jun were nine when they joined the project, Jun dragging her 'little brother' Jinpei along with her. Though only three he fell within the test parameters and was included in our training.
By the time I was twelve we had two teams of five each. The boy's team was code named 'Gatchaman'; the girl's 'Hanatchma'. That was also the year we got our wings, and Doctor had to set some unusual new rules; 'No Flying Indoors'; 'No Unauthorized Night Flying'; 'No Dive-bombing or Dog-fighting'. Why Doctor's hair isn't snow white instead of brown is a mystery to me.
A deep thrumming overhead interrupted my reminiscing, announcing the arrival of the Sun Phoenix. Ship and car matched speed and I was brought on board. I wriggled out of the H-1 and pulled myself up the tube to Control. My team was already assembled. They looked at me, I looked back, hoping they couldn't see how nervous I was.
H-5, Tori Washio, had the helm. Her Birdstyle is the Gull; white helmet with yellow visor and yellow and black painted eyes. White wings over a blue tunic, yellow gloves and boots.
H-4, Kim the Mockingbird, sat behind her at the Navigation board wearing a violet helmet with pink visor and pink and green eyes. Violet wings collared and lined in green, over a pink tunic, and pale lavender gloves and boots.
My number Two, Kady the Raven, occupied the weapons station. Her Birdstyle had a black helmet with green visor and green and scarlet eyes, black wings with green collar and scarlet lining. Black tunic, scarlet gloves and boots.
And finally H-3, Lee the Crane, at the scanners, in a blue helmet with blue visor and red and grey eyes, blue wings lined in red over a light grey bodysuit with red gloves and boots.
Screeching halt. Wasn't this supposed to be an all girl team?
Yep, and it was until we started ship training and Jun pitched a fit at being separated from her precious little brother. She made such a fuss that Lee, who should have been G-3, offered to trade and Doctor decided to let them.
Ken and I were not at all happy about this eleventh hour switch in personnel but as it turned out the new teams worked even better than the originals. Jun's had a terrible crush on Ken since she was nine and doesn't say boo to him. She's a lot more assertive with me, and with Kady for a second the last thing I need is a smart-mouthed H-3. Lee is quiet and usually efficient - except for a tendency to zone out while thinking deep thoughts about Unified Field Theory and the like, but I guess you've got to expect that of a genius.
I took my seat beside Tori as the Sun Phoenix rose through the clouds to cruising altitude. The God Phoenix came out of the sun to skim wing to wing with us.
"Hi Ken," I said as the monitor lit up with a control room twin to our own. "what's up?"
"I was hoping you knew," he admitted.
"Incoming from HQ," Kim and Jinpei announced in stereo.
The screen split, the image of our guardian, a grim look on his face, pushing the Gatchaman team to the side. "Galactor has finally shown its hand," he said without preamble. "the Mantle Project base is under attack." Doctor touched a button and the screen split for three, the lower quadrant showing a weird looking Mecha tearing its way into Mantle Base.
"What the Hell is that?" Kady demanded.
"Looks like a turtle," Lee said judiciously. We stared at him. He shrugged apologetically. "Well it does."
Doctor cleared his throat pulling attention back to him. "Conventional forces have responded but are having little success." Watching artillery shells bounce off the Turtle's carapace I silently agreed.
"You want us to flame it?" guessed Joe, aboard the God Phoenix. Behind me his sister grinned in anticipation.
"I want you to drive away from Mantle Base then track it to its own," Doctor replied, bending his sternest look on us. "Let me be very clear. You may fire lasers at will but the Bird Missiles are to be launched only on my direct order. Is that understood?
"Yes sir!" Ken and I chimed in unison as the Asakura's scowled their disappointment.
Doctor nodded. "Good Luck, team."
"Roger!" we chorused and gave him our special salute (invented by Ken when he was six.)
Mantle base had been built into the crater of a (hopefully) extinct volcano, the crater could be entered by air or via a submarine tunnel. "Why don't we take the Sun Phoenix in from above, while you bring the God Phoenix up from below?" I suggested as we came up on the island.
Ken nodded, "Come at it from two directions, increasing the elements of surprise and confusion, I like it."
"Going down!" said Ryu throwing the stick forward.
Our brother ship plunged into the sea while Sun Phoenix began to climb. Stooping from thirty thousand feet we screeched in at mach 2, sonic booms cracking round us. Almost simultaneously the God Phoenix broke from the crater lake in a geyser of water, sending tsunami like waves crashing high against the cliff walls. The Turtle mech swung ponderously from one ship to the other firing blue-white laser beams. Our contrails criss-crossed as we wove in and out between the beams returning fire with golden laser pulses. They weren't that much more effective than the Regulars' shells but at least they left scorch marks.
After a few passes Joe got bored or artistic and etched a G-2 into the Turtle's armor. Kady topped him with a G-1, heart, G-3. I grinned imagining the squeals of outrage aboard God Phoenix, then vented one of my own as Joe lasered an H going down in flames into the enemy carapace. Glancing back to see how Kady was taking it I saw her shift targeting from the Turtle to the God Phoenix and cried, "No!"
"C'mon, just one blast, Zan!" she pleaded.
I wavered, just one couldn't do any real damage, then visualized Doctor's reaction to us firing on our brother ship in a battle situation, shuddered and put temptation behind me. "Thisisn't a training exercise H-2, this is for real! Concentrate on the enemy!" Sulkily she settled for carving a G over the flamed H.
Harried beyond endurance the Turtle lifted off, trying to escape, "Fall back," Ken advised over the com. "Give them room to run."
"All right," I agreed.
The Mecha headed southeast and we pursued at extreme scanner range.
"If it holds to present course the Turtle'll pass over the city of Brisbane in-" Kim glanced at the chronometer over her nav board, "- nine minutes."
"The Australian outback is pretty remote," I mused. "Good place to hide a secret base."
Ken, on monitor, looked doubtful. "Seems too easy."
"If we find the base we can flame it," Joe remarked, cheering visibly at the thought.
Ken looked over his shoulder at his second. "We call Doctor for further orders." he corrected.
"Doctor, may we please blow the enemy to Hell? Pretty please?" Kady snarled.
"Doctor is our superior officer," I snapped back. "We do what he tells us."
"Little miss Doctor's pet!" Kady gibed. I twisted round, ready to wipe the sneer off her face but was interrupted by a cry from Lee.
"Turtle firing on the city!"
"Confirmed!" Jun chimed in from the God Phoenix. "Targeting business and government sectors! "
"Full ahead! Intercept!" Ken and I ordered in stereo. I wish we'd stop doing that.
Our two ships dove on the Turtle, blasting away with lasers. The Mecha turned its attentions from the city to us, firing in a random pattern hoping to catch one of us out.
Tori loop-de-looped round the beams while the rest of us hung on to our seats and our stomachs, a huge grin on her face, enjoying herself enormously.
Kady vented her spleen by lasering H-1, heart, Dr on the Mech's carapace.
I contemplated possible disciplinary action; keelhauling, hanging in chains...
"They're breaking off!" Tori reported. "Heading north by northeast," said Kim.
"Fall back and shadow," I ordered.
The next several hours were somewhat repetitive; the Turtle would attack a city or military base, we'd charge in to the rescue, the Turtle would disengage and head off into the wildblue while we shadowed it, hoping against hope that this time it would give up and head for home. Four times we went through this routine.
Kady does not handle frustration well. "To hell with this! Just splash the damn thing!"
"The Mecha is secondary," I repeated for the gazillionth time. "It's base is our real target."
"But it's not leading us to its base!" she shouted. "Maybe there is no base!"
"It was built somewhere! It has to hide out somewhere! Of course there's a base!" I yelled back. Kady always does this to me.
"Maybe it's on a one way mission!" she snarled. "Maybe its never going home!"
I opened my mouth to argue and left it open. Damn that was a thought!
The monitor flicked on. It was Ken, breathing hard. Behind him I could see Joe sulking at his station and nursing his jaw. Obviously Gatchaman'd been having his own problems with theAsakura temper.
"This isn't getting us anywhere-" Ken began, and was promptly interrupted by the four smart mouths aboard my ship:
"Real brill, Big brother!"
"Talk about stating the obvious!"
"Shut up!" I yelled at my team then continued to Ken: "You have a suggestion, Gatchaman?"
"Board and storm," he replied. "capture the ship and its computers full of Galactor info."
"That is a completely insane idea," I told my fellow commander and grinned. "I love it! Let's go!"
Kady and I took up stations on the circular lift in the center of the control room. Tori zoomed in for a near pass as we rose through a dilating hatch into the observation dome. At closest approach the dome split and we jumped. Even in Birdstyle a human being can't really fly, just glide on wind currents, but that's close enough. A straight swoop out, summersault to put my feet under me, and I was on the Turtle's skin. I looked around as Kady landed next to me, spotted an air shaft with its grill wrenched off and swung myself into it, Kady right behind. We tobaggened down the steep, squared tube to land literally on top of Gatchaman and Swan Jun.
"Sorry!" I gasped as we disentangled ourselves in a flurry of wings.
"Why don't you watch where you're going?" Jun grumbled, straightening her helmet.
"Why don't you watch where you're standing?" Kady retorted cheerfully. Her good humor magically restored by the prospect of some action.
"Are you all right?" I asked Ken anxiously. He'd gotten my boots square in the solar plexus.
"Okay," he aspirated once he'd regained his power of speech. "we've got to locate the control center and the engines-"
"-And disable weapons systems and open landing bay doors for the Phoenixes," I finished.
"Roger," Ken agreed. "You and me'll take care of that. Jun, you search the upper levels, find Control."
"I'll look for the engines below," Kady volunteered. "Remember you're on recon," I warned.
She rolled her eyes. "I know, I know! Look but don't touch."
"If you need help call," Ken told the Swan.
"Thanks Gatchaman, but watch yourself," she returned and sprang into the air, riding an updraft into a vertical access tube.
"Yeah, don't stand under any more air shafts," Kady grinned, "no telling what might come down them." And with that dropped through a hatch to the lower decks.
"Why Jun not Joe?" I asked my fellow commander once we were alone.
He grinned wryly. "You really want two Asakuras underfoot?"
"Good point," I conceded. "I'll go starboard, you take port."
The corridors I snuck through were empty, everybody presumably at battle-stations watching anxiously for the Phoenixes' next attack. Tracing power conduits I located a junction box and set the first of my falcon-darts. Then a second, and a third. My bracelet chirped.
"I've found the bay door controls," Ken reported.
"I've planted charges to cut power to the laser emplacements," I responded.
"Good. G3, report, have you found central control?"
"Roger," Jun said, breathless with suppressed laughter. "get this the Galactor commander's dressed like a turtle!"
"This I've got to see," I said. "H2, report, have you located the engines?"
"Well, I've found something," Kady replied doubtfully, "I guess they could be engines."
"Good enough?" I asked Ken.
"Good enough!" he agreed. "G1 to God Phoenix, Sun Phoenix, I'm opening the bay doors, come on aboard."
"You heard the man!" came Joe's gleeful tones, "Go, Ryu!"
"Hey! Ladies first!" Tori protested.
"Just don't collide," I pleaded, and detonated the falcon darts with a signal from my bracelet. Smoke billowed into the corridor accompanied by muffled screams and curses. I headed for the landing bay to join the others.
I emerged onto a catwalk overlooking a bay now occupied by the two Phoenixes, resting on the crushed remains of assorted Galactor vehicles. I hopped over the railing and spiraled down to land between Kady and Lee.
"I suggest the Hanatchma Team secure below." Ken said to me. "Maybe Lee'll recognize the engines. Gatchaman will take the upper levels and control."
"But I want to see the Turtle commander!" I protested.
"Uh - I think you're going to get that opportunity," Lee murmured pointing upward. I followed his gaze.
"Shit!" said Joe and Kady in near unison.
"Double shit!" piped Jinpei, and for once Jun didn't swop him.
We were surrounded by guys in green with scraggly hair hanging below their half masks (apparently Galactor doesn't employ barbers). They crowded the catwalks holding machine guns aimed down at us. As for their leader, God help us, he really was costumed like a turtle, complete with shell armor and a scaly cowl mask.
"What have we netted here?" he demanded in a light, mocking tenor. "A flock of little birds?"
Jinpei, snarling: "Who're you calling little!" He tends to be over-sensitive about his size.
Kim: "Love the outfit, who's your stylist?"
Ryu to Lee, grinning: "Villain on the half shell."
Ken to me: "Okay, you've seen him, happy?"
It was hard to tell through the mask but I think the Turtle commander was taken aback. We were not reacting as expected. He tried again: "Surely Earth grows desperate, sending children against us!"
Joe, indignant: "Hey, I'm eighteen, old enough to drive, vote and kick Galactor ass!"
Ken: "We are ISO Science Ninjas. Team Gatchaman-"
Me: "-and Team Hanatchma."
Ken: "Ten, or five, or one. We are the shadows that slip in unseen!"
Me, sotto voce: "Not this time, we weren't." Why is Ken such a ham? Me, aloud: "Whirlwind formation!"
"Roger!" chorused both Teams. The Galactors watched in confusion as we formed the double pyramid and began to spin. Then the winds began, increasing in force, tearing guns from Galactor hands, slamming men against the walls and pinning them there as we rode the whirlwind out of the bay to scatter to our various assignments.
Kady, Lee and I charged into the main engineering compartment, the crew took one look and fled. Glancing around I saw why Kady had been confused. It didn't look like any engine room I'd ever seen before, then I'd never seen a ship shaped like a Turtle before either. Consoles and monitors lined the walls, a massive containment vessel occupied the center of the room, glimmering with green and amber read-out lights, with strangely colored fires visible through thick clear-steel ports.
Lee advanced on it ablaze with scientific enthusiasm. "Incredible!" he breathed, "cold fusion!"
"We got fusion," I pointed out, puzzled.
"Not cold fusion!" he corrected. I didn't see the difference.
He dug into a belt pouch, "I got to take some notes!"
"Not now, Lee!" The boy's got no sense of priorities. "I need you to find the propulsion controls."
Reluctantly he tore himself away from the power center and began to circle the walls, studying the controls. I glanced at Kady, on watch at the main hatch.
She shook her head, "Nothing." did I detect a note of disappointment?
"Found it," Lee announced. Stopping before a console which seemed,to my untutored eye, identical to its neighbors.
"Great. Now set us a new course for HQ."
"Roger," he began to play with the controls.
"Zan! company!" Kady sang out happily from the door.
"Keep working," I told Lee and went to join her.
Somebody had finally managed to whip up a counter-attack, obviously not one of their top tacticians. The Galactors came through the hatch in twos and threes, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. We'd had training exercises that were harder. Of course training-bots didn't bleed, or thrash around moaning in pain. The Galactors withdrew - okay ran - after loosing a dozen or so men. I barely managed to keep Kady from following them.
"God, you're such a killjoy," she complained.
We gravitated back to Lee, still working away at the propulsion system. After moment he reported. "Course set and engaged," then ruined the effect by adding: "I hope." Kady rolled her eyes.
My bracelet chimed. "H1."
"The Turtle commander's triggered a destruct device," Ken reported tersely. "Jun can't do anything from up here, can Lee stop it at the power center?"
My number three moved back to the cold fusion chamber and studied the read-outs. "How much time do I have?"
"Five minutes, 39 seconds," Jun replied.
Lee shook his head. "Not enough."
Nobody argued. If Lee says he can't do it, it can't be done.
"Damn!" said Ken, "back to the ships!" We were already on our way.
I burst into the Sun-Phoenix's control cabin - made a quick count of heads - found all present and accounted for and threw myself into my seat. "Go, Tori!"
We lifted off, pivoted to face the bay doors. "Uh oh," said Tori.
The doors were closing. The God-Phoenix, being closer made a run for them, meaning to block the door mechanism before it'd fully closed then force them back open with the retro-jets. It didn't work. Our brother ship ended up jammed half in, half out, jets splashing futilely on the deck plates.
"We're stuck!" Ryu panted, unnecessarily, over the monitor.
"52 seconds and counting!" Kim warned.
"Go to firebird!" said Ken. "It's our only chance."
I was not enthusiastic, the Firebird had killed my parents after all, but he was right, no choice. "Prepare for Firebird!" my team braced themselves. I pushed the power levels up into the red zone. "Science Ninja Team Firebird!"
Everything went red as the energy plasma Phoenix formed around us. The cabin walls radiated heat, visibly quivering under the strain. Protected by our birdstyles we were in no danger of sharing my parents' fate but it wasn't fun.
Tori aimed the Sun-Phoenix at the bay ceiling. We burned through decks, bulkheads and the armored outer hull, bursting out into open sky just as the Turtle hit the ocean and made a wide circle above the site. Squinting through the wavery red of the plasma field I made out a second Firebird doing the same. The God-Phoenix had made it too. Sighing in relief I pulled power levels back down to normal and the firebird form dissipated.
The cabin was silent except for hoarse breathing. "Well," I tried to say brightly, "that wasn't so bad!"
My team gave me richly expressive looks.
"Damn but we look good!" Joe beamed happily at the television screen where two Phoenix ships harried the late, unlamented Turtle Mecha.
"MmmHmm!" Kady agreed, munching a handful of popcorn.
We'd spent most of the evening watching footage of ourselves fighting the Turtle. Various news groups had managed to cover the entire battle from first engagement over the Mantle Project Base to the final spectacular explosion with two Firebirds breaking free at almost the last moment. It made great television but the mission had been a near failure and both Ken and I knew it. So did Doctor, but he was taking it well. He'd never expected us to win the war in one afternoon anyway.
"One question," he'd said at our special commanders' debriefing. "Why did you go inside the enemy mecha in the first place?"
Ken took a deep breath and replied, "Sir, we'd become convinced that the Turtle was on a one way mission and would never lead us back to it's base. I proposed, and Hanatchma agreed, to try to capture the ship and the information in its computers."
"I see," said Doctor. "It didn't occur to either of you to call in and ask permission for such a risky tactic?"
"We figured you'd say no," I replied honestly. Ken flinched.
Doctor has a great poker face but his moustach quivered suspiciously. "I see. In the future, Zan, when you think I might say no to a plan consider it already said."
"Yes, sir." I'd murmured meekly.
Now I made my way to Ken's brooding spot at the back of the TV room. "Never mind," I comforted, "we'll do better next time."
He looked up and sighed. "I sure hope so."