“Joe, we need to know what we’re dealing with first. Besides, we only have a limited supply of bird missiles on board. We should be saving them, not wasting them.”
“Ken, you think too much. Give me one shot and then we can go home!”
“I already told you, we’re not firing yet.”
Joe swore at Gatchaman as he yanked his hand from Ken’s grasp with a grunt. He turned defiantly and began to reach for the button again only to find himself being grabbed and pulled backwards away from the console. Pivoting on his heel, he growled loudly as he pinned Ken with a menacing glare. Both men gave up any pretense of a rational conversation as they stood snarling at one another. Circling each other aggressively, the Eagle and Condor decided to settle things physically. Seeing his opening during the ensuing scuffle, Joe pulled his fist back, ready to swing at Ken’s face with all of his considerable strength, when an incessant beeping distracted him.
As the sound continued, Joe blinked his eyes open only to realize that he was no longer on the bridge of the God Phoenix; he was in his trailer. A quick glance through the window at the indigo sky outside confirmed that it was nowhere near morning yet. Groaning, he sat up and looked at the clock. “Kuso, it’s too early for this,” he muttered even as he raised his wrist to his mouth. He grunted out a gruff, “What?” expecting the call to be from Ken.
The voice that responded, however, did not belong to Gatchaman. “Joe, report to Crescent Coral Base immediately!”
“Yes, Hakase!” He leapt from his bed and pulled on his clothing, muttering to himself the entire time. As he turned his car onto the road, a light rain began to fall. “This had better be good. That was turning into a great dream…”
After arriving at the base, Joe quickly made his way through the security checks. As he neared Nambu’s office, he wracked his brain trying to figure out just what this summons could be about. He couldn’t think of anything that he had done recently that would have warranted a wakeup call in the dead of night. Sure there were things that might be deemed worthy of a lecture, but nothing that needed to be addressed before the sun came up. Squaring his shoulders, he reached into his pocket and withdrew a feather shuriken. Placing the tip into his mouth, he began to chew, hoping the motion would help him to relax. At the very least, it would give him something to concentrate on besides the speech he was surely about to endure. After all, it really wouldn’t do to fall asleep while being censured for some unknown transgression.
Knowing that he was expected, Joe didn’t bother to knock or otherwise announce his presence. Stepping inside the room, Joe twirled the feather between his teeth as he slouched against the wall, his arms and legs crossed before him. “You summoned me, Hakase?”
Nambu glanced up from the stack of papers he’d been engrossed in and made note of the Condor’s pose. He raised an eyebrow and wondered just what trouble Joe had gotten into now, but then decided he was better off not knowing. “Joe, just how much do you remember about your childhood? From the time before you came to be under my care.” His eyes took in Joe’s shocked expression as the question caught the ninja completely off guard.
“My childhood?” Joe’s brows furrowed sharply. “I don’t understand, Hakase. Why did you wake me in the middle of the night and summon me down here to ask what I remembered of my early childhood?” His arms fell to his sides as he leaned forward slightly.
Nambu sighed, realizing that he wasn’t going to get much information out of Joe like this. Changing tactics, he carefully slid the papers from his desk into a file folder which he slipped into a drawer before speaking again. “Joe, does the name Niccolo mean anything to you?”
Joe stared at his mentor in confusion for a minute before shaking his head, the feather dangling from his mouth drifting with the movement. “No, nothing in particular. Why? Should it?”
“That’s what I am trying to determine, Joe. Recently someone by the name Niccolo has been making inquiries into the deaths of Giuseppe, Katarina, and Giorgio Asakura. The questions, while discrete, imply an intimate knowledge of your family. Unfortunately, it’s proven nearly impossible for us to find out just who this Niccolo is and what his connection is to you.”
Joe pulled himself from the wall and approached Nambu’s desk. Passing a chair, he hooked his arm through it and dragged it with him, dropping heavily into the seat once he reached his destination. “What do we know about him?” His words, barely above a whisper, betrayed a mixture of apprehension and hopefulness.
Nambu sighed heavily before reaching back into his desk drawer and withdrawing a slim burgundy folder which he handed to Joe wordlessly.
Joe stared at the colored cardstock for a few moments before taking a deep breath and opening the folder. The feather hanging from his mouth spun and twirled crazily, betraying his anxiety. He looked at the top of the single page report, but couldn’t bring himself to begin reading yet. This was all too new, too unexpected. When he had gone to bed the night before, he was secure in the knowledge of who he was and what his place was in the world. Now, a few short hours later, he was sitting in Nambu Hakase’s office staring at a folder containing information on someone who may have known his parents. Slowly he let his eyes drift across the page, scanning the words inscribed on the crisp, white sheet. Reaching the end of the report, he flicked his eyes back up to meet those of his mentor. “Hakase, are we sure this is accurate?”
“As sure as we can be at this time. I’m sure you can understand now why it was so urgent that we address this immediately.”
Joe nodded somberly. “Where is he now?”
“He arrived at the Utoland airport just before I contacted you. I’ve had agents following him since he left the terminal.”
“Then let’s go have a word with him.”