Toshio Honda awoke to a hand pressed up against his mouth. He squirmed.
Kouga put a finger to his mouth silencing Toshio. "Get dressed and follow me," he whispered. "And try not to wake the others." Toshio and the other children were given a single crew cabin at the Citadel on what they had come to call D.A.R.E. Island. There were two sets of bunk beds, a small dresser, overhead lamp and not much else.
Kouga led Toshio through the halls of the Citadel and into an indoor running track. Yoshi, Fumio, and Hanna were already there.
"Kouga, what are we doing here?" Toshio asked.
"You're about to see what we D.A.R.E. officers have to do every day," Kouga said. "And believe me, it's not all tea and cookies. We'll start out small, five miles around the track."
"Five miles?" Toshio looked at the track. "How long is that?"
"The track's outer circumference is equivalent to one quarter of a mile," Hanna explained. "You would need to make 20 rotations to make five miles."
"You mean I need to run around the track 20 times? That's crazy."
"That's nothing compared to what we normally do," Fumio said. "I can make it fifty miles."
"Of course you can, your legs are longer," Toshio said.
"Just get going," Yoshi said. "The time you spend whining could be used in trying to complete five miles."
Toshio sighed and started running.
"Keep an eye lock on him, Hanna," Yoshi whispered. "Monitor his vitals like the Captain ordered us to."
"G.T.G.," Hanna said.
It took Toshio only 90 minutes to complete the track. Then Yoshi had him do pull ups using Hanna's outstretched arm. The original order was to do 30, Toshio could only do 6. After that, it was 50 push ups and fifty sit ups (with Hanna holding his legs which meant they were iron tight shut).
"Are we done yet?" Toshio asked as he finished his last sit-up.
"Nope," Yoshi said. "Next is one of the best parts of D.A.R.E. training."
"And that is?"
Yoshi had Toshio change into a karate uniform and took him into a room with mats covering the floor. "Aya will be the one to teach you the basics."
"Aya? She knows how to fight?" Toshio asked.
"Of course she knows how to fight," Yoshi said. "I was the one who trained her."
"Then maybe you would be the better one to train me."
"What's wrong, afraid of fighting a woman?" Aya asked appearing also in a uniform.
"I'm not afraid of anything," Toshio said defiantly.
"Good because I'm not going to go easy on you just because you're a kid."
"People rarely do," Toshio said looking at the mat.
Aya realized that perhaps she chose her words wrongly but instead of apologizing, she said, "Let's begin." She ran him through some basic kicks and punches. Then they started sparing. True to her word, Aya did not hold back and Toshio found himself on his back more than a couple of times.
After about ten minutes of this, Yoshi said, "Okay, Aya, I think you had enough fun for one day."
Aya took a deep breath and stepped back. Yoshi helped Toshio stand up.
"I think you overdid it," Toshio said.
"Don't worry what's next doesn't involve much physical activity."
"What's that?" Toshio asked
Toshio walked into the room to a surprise. Ron, Nobuyuki, and Yumi were all sitting at wooden tables with chairs attached to them.
"Toshi-chan," Yumi cried happily. Then she tensed up at seeing his wary expression. "Are you all right?"
"My arms and legs feel like lead," Toshio said as he collapsed into a desk.
"Don't worry, Toshi-chan, I'll give you a nice back rub later."
"Would you two can the lovey-dovey act?" Nobuyuki asked. "The teacher's going to be here any minute."
"Good morning, Class," a cheerful voice said. A middle-aged woman came into the room. Her hair was shoulder-length and she had bangs across her forehead. She was short but not exactly fat. She wore a pair of wire frame glasses. "I'm Amagai-Sensei."
Hanna came into the command room and handed Captain Nagaya a disk. "Captain, here is the physical and meta-structure data of Toshio Honda." Nagaya inserted the disk into the computer and read the data on the main screen. "Interesting… endurance, maneuverability, everything beyond what is expected for someone for his age." Nagaya smiled. "Thought so."
"Captain, a question," Hanna said. "Why do you intend to test Toshio Honda like this? His physical attribute levels are at unexpected levels, but why should they take up your time?"
"Hanna, that almost sounds like jealousy."
"I apologize, Captain," Hanna said. "That is not my intention."
"Let's just say that if what I suspect is true, he could become a tremendous asset, but that is if Professor Amagai comes through on her end."
"After the Kaiju assault of the late 1960's and early 1970's, the Japanese government decided to insert safety shelters in all of Japan's prefectures. The design was actually based on the bomb shelters from the world war that happened about 20 years before hand. The construction started by…"
Toshio struggled to stay awake. This Professor Amagai seemed too bubbly to be a school teacher and what she taught was boring. The last exciting thing that happened was Nobuyuki tried spitting a wad of paper out of a straw and Professor Amagai caught it before it could touch the back of her neck.
Toshio couldn't hold his yawn in any further. Unfortunately for him, that was enough to attract Professor Amagai's attention. "Toshi-chan," she called.
"Please give the 3S category for the spatial coordinates of the nebula 3 million light years from Earth."
Nobuyuki, Ron, and Yumi were all dumbstruck by Professor Amagai's question. They haven't even started astronomy yet. And why would she pick such a random question? Was it a trick question?
"M-78," Toshio droned before he actually knew what he was saying.
Professor Amagai smiled, "Correct, Toshi-chan, very good." She turned back to the blackboard. "Now in the early twenty-first century, the United Nations decided to form two Committees, one to defend from aggressive acts and the other to help rebuild structures. After the Legion attack, the Life Defense Council…"
The others leaned in, "Toshio, how do you know that?"
"What do you mean?" Toshio asked.
"You automatically knew the answer to something that sounds like something some astronomer would know."
That woke Toshio up. How did I know that?
"Because that is my home, the Land of Light."
Toshio jumped a little, he forgot that Kinto resided inside his mind. "Your home?"
The volcano rumbled again, this time spitting out a little bit of lava. The investigation team set up on a cliff near the top started to worry. "Professor, the seismic thumper is here."
"Thank you," the scientist said. "Hopefully, we can figure out why Mount Kiriyoshi is erupting after all this time." The Professor and his assistant exited the tent and went over to the strange device. "Okay, turn it on." Upon activating a machine, a low thump began emitting from it. "Any response yet?"
"Not yet, Professor, but we've only reached twenty meters, we still have some ways to go." The ground underneath them started shaking again. This time, the shaking was so hard that the machine fell over. The cliff they were on started to break away from the volcano. The last thing the expedition team heard was a loud screeching sound.
"So your home is called the Land of Light?" Toshio asked Kinto as he walked through the headquarters after school.
"Correct, it is the headquarters of the Space Garrison."
"It's not dissimilar to D.A.R.E., The purpose of the Space Garrison is to protect the peace and tranquility of the universe."
"And yet you came to Earth. What makes Earth so special?"
"Before I left, my Sensei told me something; that if I were to go to Earth, I would discover something precious."
"I don't know, but my Sensei told me I would know it when I found it."
"Huh?" Toshio looked inside a lounge and saw Aya, Kouga, and Fumio sitting on a table that was cluttered with cards. "Come on," Kouga said. "We need a fourth."
"You're the only one in hearing range." Toshio entered and took a seat across from Aya. "Good, this will only work with an even number of people. Okay, boys… and girl." Kouga nodded to Aya. "The game is tag team Black Jack. You and your partner have to get as close to 21 as possible. Two lay down limit. Obviously, whoever holds a black jack wins. Remember, grasshoppers, the key is to work with your partner." Toshio looked at Aya out of the corner of his eye. She gave him a critical look which made Toshio feel ashamed and he didn't know why.
The game started out one-sided, Kouga and Fumio owned the field. "What are you doing, you idiot?" Aya snapped.
"Give me a break, it's my first time," Toshio complained.
"I don't care, I don't need a handicap weighing me down," Aya barked again.
"I shouldn't have joined in," Toshio said getting up.
"Just one more hand," Kouga insisted. "If you lose, then you can leave. Deal?"
Toshio cast another side glance at Aya. It was clear that they both didn't want to do this. Toshio let out a defeated sigh. "Fine." He sat down again.
Fumio reshuffled and dealt the cards. With a side glance at Kouga, they each laid down two 5 cards. "Twenty," Kouga proudly declared.
Aya looked at her hand and groaned. The best she could do is 18. "I can only do 18."
Toshio looked at his hand and saw a three. "Actually, she has 21." He laid it down.
"Looks like they win this round," Fumio said.
Aya was genuinely surprised at Toshio.
"So, do you still want to check out?" Kouga asked.
Toshio was about to get up and leave when he looked at Aya again. If he left, then it would be like he didn't care what happened to her and he didn't want her to think that. He sat back down. This time, Aya was the one who dealt the hand. Looking through his hand, Toshio realized that he wouldn't have the same luck he had last turn.
"Don't worry," Aya whispered. To Kouga and Fumio, she said, "Well, looks like this round's over before it's even begun." She laid down a black jack card. "Trust is a two-way street," she told Toshio. The boy nodded.
"By George, I think they got it," Kouga whispered to Fumio. Fumio nodded.
Professor Amagai came into the control room where Captain Nagaya was waiting. "Well, Amagai?"
"He got it right," she said. "He's definitely the one."
Nagaya chuckled, "I knew it." He turned to the woman. "You've been in this boat, Konomi, what do you think?"
"I think that the reason we were kept in the dark for so long wasn't just out of tradition. If word were to get out of who he is, it would cause a big hassle not only for him but for us as well. We should keep it between us for now."
Suddenly the alarm started to ring out. Konomi left as the other members of D.A.R.E. ran in. Otome ran to the control panel. "Report coming in," she said. "On screen." An image of an elderly man came on the screen.
"Who's that?" Toshio whispered to Fumio.
"That is Minister Yamaguchi, one of the Life Defense Council," Fumio said. "The Council has unlimited authority over all branches of D.A.R.E."
"At 13:53 this afternoon, all contact with the Geological Research Team at Kiriyoshi Mountain was lost. D.A.R.E. Japan's primary goal is to ascertain the status of the research team and render humanitarian aid if needed. As secondary goal, if the team has been killed or lost, D.A.R.E. Japan shall recover any information they retrieved and ascertain the source of the problem and neutralize it." The transmission ended.
"Not one for small talk," Toshio commented.
"That's how the Life Defense Council is," Hanna said.
"All right, D.A.R.E., here's the plan," Captain Nagaya said. "Koji, Fumio, Toshio, take a S.T.A.R. Koji and Toshio, investigate the camp. Yoshi, Aya, and Kouga will fly escort and patrol. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," everyone said.
"Then move out." The five D.A.R.E. members moved towards the chute.
"And just where do you think you're going?" Hanna asked Otome who was trying to sneak over to the chute. Otome just let out a nervous laugh.
Fumio, Koji, and Toshio exited the chute through the overhead hatch of the S.T.A.R. The S.T.A.R. took off first. Soon, Yoshi, Aya, and Kouga followed into their Wingers.
"Winger 1, Honen, ready for launch."
"Winger 2, Hikari, ready for launch."
"Winger 3, Pierce, ready for launch."
The Wingers took off as well.
The D.A.R.E. vehicles quickly reached the cliff side. The Wingers spread out to start their patrols while the S.T.A.R. hovered over the Cliffside. The lower hatch opened.
"This is as far as I can get you," Fumio said. "As soon as I find a place to land, I'll join you."
"Right." As the S.T.A.R. lifted off, Koji instructed, "Try to get the machinery up and working."
"Okay." Toshio went over to the nearest machine (a sonic scanner) and laid his hands on it. He could feel the circuitry, it was still warm. The team hadn't been gone long.
Outside, Koji paced the circumference of the camp. He took out his communicator and attached the Bluetooth headset. "Field team calling D.A.R.E. Headquarters, are you receiving?"
"G.T.G.," Otome confirmed, "Coming in loud and clear."
"Toshio and I arrived at the camp, no sign of life, over."
"Understood, I'll inform the Life Defense Council…"
Koji saw something out of the corner of his eye, he ran over and picked it up. It was a piece of cloth lying on top of a rock. He looked up. "Could it be… Koji to Wingers, I need you do a recon on the top of the volcano. Tell me if you see anything."
"Winger 3 here, I'm on it." Kouga rose to the top of the volcano. "Oh God! Winger 3 to all D.A.R.E. units, I spotted the crew, it's… not pretty." Kouga activated his Winger's recorder and broadcasted it to D.A.R.E. Headquarters.
"Come on," Toshio said. "Tell me what happened to you." Toshio began receiving impulses like the computer was trying to communicate with him telepathically. Through the computer, Toshio saw the last glimpse into the life of one of the researchers, right before a giant claw literally crushed him.
The bodies of the research team were mashed together along with big logs and other debris on a ledge inside of the mountain to make a nest-shape container.
"It's strange," Hanna said working the control panel (Otome had to run to the bathroom after seeing the sight). "Judging by the dimensions and shape, it looks like a bird's nest."
"Bird's nest," Captain Nagaya gasped snapping shut his notebook. "Not good. All field units return to base immediately!"
"Roger," everyone said. Then a loud screech penetrated the sky around the mountain. A large avian creature rose out of the hole. Though it did look like a bird, it stood like a man. Its wings spread out across its arms and had two sacks on either side of its beak.
"Curious," Hanna said. "Though it's clearly avian, its neck shape and feet suggest a more reptilian nature."
"Birdon," Nagaya said.
"Another prehistoric monster?" Otome asked wiping her mouth with a paper towel as she came in.
"I'm afraid so. It's extremely dangerous."
"As Lieutenant Kouga is about to find out," Hanna said.
"All right," Kouga said activating the release on his laser controls. "I feel like chicken tonight."
"Kouga, do not fire on it, that's an order!" But Kouga had already fired. The lasers struck Birdon in the forehead. Birdon flapped its wings and created a huge gust of wind which sent Kouga's Winger careening out of control. The gust even broke off a bunch of rocks which buried Koji.
"Winger 1 to Winger 2, Winger 3 is down," Yoshi reported. "Attack from zenith point three-five-zero, we'll try to force it into the volcano."
"Negative, break off attack," Captain Nagaya ordered.
"Think about it, Yoshiaki, Birdon came out of a volcano, do you really think forcing it back in will even slow it down, never mind stop it.."
"We have to do something," Aya said.
"We will, Aya, trust me." The two Wingers circled Birdon before ascending into the sky. The sun's glare was hard on Birdon so it wasn't prepared for the laser assault. "Aya, break off on three… three! Fumio, move in!"
The S.T.A.R. also came swooping in firing the nexus cannon. The steady stream of energy forced Birdon back into the volcano where it face planted into its nest.
"Now, Aya." The two Wingers dropped bombs. One set of bombs fell into the volcano which caused lava to shoot up. The other set hit the edge which caused boulders to fall on top of Birdon.
"They did it!" Toshio realized.
"I guess we don't need Ultraman after all," Aya said. Unknown to her, Toshio lowered his head at that comment.
Suddenly a large energy blast burst from the volcano. Boulders flew out and plowed into the underside of Aya's Winger. Aya bailed as her Winger fell right onto Birdon.
Birdon was not affected.
Toshio sighed frustrated, then looked at the machine he was working with.
He had a stroke of genius. He ran over to the still unconscious Koji and took out his communicator. "Fumio, bring the S.T.A.R. in."
"But an enemy is still in the area! I must fight it!"
"I know, I'm just going to give you a better weapon to fight it!"
"Oh, since you put it that way."
"What do you suppose Toshio has planned, Captain?" Otome asked.
Captain Nagaya smiled. "Not sure, but let's give the kid a chance. Yoshi, stall it for as long as you can."
Yoshi saw that Birdon now had him in its sights. "All right, Big Bird," he said. "Let's play follow the leader." He punched the thrusters. Birdon screeched then followed the jet. Yoshi banked to avoid the barrage of energy bursts from Birdon's beak. "Hah, too slow..." Suddenly Birdon disappeared. "What?"
"Damn, I forgot about Birdon's speed," Nagaya muttered.
"Where did it go?" Yoshi asked. "All my scanners are coming up blank!"
"Yoshi, forget your scanners," Captain Nagaya instructed. "Use visual."
"I'm looking around," Yoshi said. "But I don't…" A large shadow crossed Yoshi's left eye.
Birdon was right in front of him, almost breathing mist into the cockpit's glass.
"CRAP!" Yoshi pulled back at the same time activated the vertical thrusters. Birdon disappeared.
"It can teleport?" Otome asked.
"No," Hanna replied. "I replayed the last five seconds at one-ten thousandth speed and it can't teleport but use its wings to propel itself faster than the human eye can register."
"Do you ever get tired of being a show-off?"
"I do not get tired."
"He never told me about these abilities," Nagaya whispered. "Could it be that Birdon is… evolving?"
"And how is this supposed to help me?" Fumio asked. Toshio had set up the machine to the control panel of the S.T.A.R.
"Just fire it at the monster like you would normally do," Toshio explained.
"But what if it doesn't work? What if I can't reach it in time?"
"Trust is a two way street, right?" Toshio asked. "I trust you to carry out the plan, you can trust me to make the plan work."
Fumio sighed. "This would be a lot better if I had a Suzaku with me. Fine, I'll do it. You stay here with Koji."
"But I…" Toshio looked down at his wrist and saw that the Ultra Brace had turned blue. "Sure, Fumio-san." Toshiowalked down the ramp as Fumio shut both hatches. As soon as the S.T.A.R. was off Toshio made sure Koji was comfortable then leapt off the ledge the camp was on. Still in mid-air, he punched the Ultra Brace. His form started to expand while at the same time he felt his mind pull in to itself.
Fumio could see that Yoshi was failing in his attempt to successfully dodge Birdon's attacks. "Come on, you no good piece of…" Suddenly a shaft of light flew under the S.T.A.R. and formed into Ultraman Kinto. Kinto kicked Birdon in the head and allowed Yoshi to grab some distance.
"Thanks," Yoshi said.
Aya spied on the battle from a set of binoculars. "How is it he's always able to find us?" She wondered.
Kinto activated the Ultra Brace and started to draw energy in for a Bracium Blast. Suddenly Birdon vanished. Kinto halted his attack which caused the energy to disperse harmlessly. Kinto looked around for Birdon. Suddenly Birdon reappeared behind Kinto and slashed Ultraman with his wings. Kinto tried the Bracium Blast again. This time he was able to fire it but Birdon dodged at the last minute.
"He's just too fast even for Ultraman," Yoshi commented.
Birdon reappeared above Kinto and got ready to launch an attack. Suddenly the S.T.A.R. came zooming in. A barrage of sonic waves came from the cannon barrels. Birdon screamed and flew around and even thrashed its head against the side of the volcano.
"Hey, what do you know, looks like the kid was on to something," Fumio said. "Fire!"
As Fumio continued his assault, Kinto saw this as his chance to attack. He readied his Bracium Blast. Again, Birdon flapped his wings and both Ultraman and the S.T.A.R. went flying.
"This is no good," Toshio said. "It won't even give me a chance to attack." Suddenly Birdon rushed at Kinto. Toshio screamed inside. Instinctively Kinto held out his hand to stop Birdon. As he did, his other hand touched the Ultra Brace. A burst of energy shot out of Kinto's hand and sucker-punched Birdon. "Did… did I do that?"
"Toshio, the Ultra Brace."
Kinto looked down at the Ultra Brace. One of the lights that encircled its rim had lit up.
"I must've solved one of the twelve trials," Toshio said.
"You did, the Trial of Trust."
"Great, maybe this can help me defeat the monster."
Kinto used the new attack, the Quick Burst, and fired a barrage at Birdon. Birdon did its best to dodge but some still got through. Kinto thought he was good but then the crystal on his chest started flashing.
"That flashing thing again," Otome noted. "Captain, what does it mean?"
Nagaya sighed; he knew Otome knew he knew something about Kinto. "Basically it acts as an energy gage. It means Ultraman is running out of power."
Nagaya nodded; watching the screen as Birdon renewed its assault on Ultraman Kinto. "I'll explain it all later. I'd rather not repeat myself to the others."
Birdon flapped its wings and created another whirlwind. Both Ultraman and Yoshi were thrown back. Before Kinto could recover, Birdon was flying straight towards him. Birdon buzzed Ultraman and sent the red giant crashing. Birdon continued flying into the distance until it could no longer be seen. Ultraman Kinto just staggered to his feet and flew off into the air.
Toshio, Aya, Yoshi, and Fumio stood at the cliff's edge where the camp used to be. Kouga was checking on Koji but joined them just in time to hear "It got away," Yoshi said.
"He was one tough bastard," Kouga agreed.
"But next time we'll be ready for him," Toshio said.
"Something else has been bothering me," Aya said. "Ultraman Kinto, how does he always know where the monsters are?"
"It's not like they're trying to hide," Toshio pointed out.
"There must be some connection," Aya insisted. "I'm going to find out."
"Trust is a two-way street," Toshio said. "Ultraman Kinto trusts us to help him defeat the monsters, can't we trust him that he's here to help?"
"I'll try," Aya said. Under her breath, she added, "But it won't be easy."
Toshio and Koji develop a new Winger design for use against Birdon. But Otome, in an attempt to prove her worth, crashes it. The aftershock makes Otome wonder about her own worth to the team. Can Toshio save Otome from a dangerous opponent: herself while battling Birdon and the high-screaching Pestar?