06:20: Sun’s up, and the fairgrounds are full of the sounds of nature: Birds chirping, the distant roar of traffic from the highway, and the couple in the motor home two spaces down screaming at each other. People forget campgrounds aren’t that private. Or maybe they don’t care. I roll out of bed and make it up behind me, then set up the coffee pot.
06:40: Done with the morning ritual of shit, shower and shave, I dress in a spare t-shirt (“Utoland Speedway”), sweats and tennis shoes. The trailer smells like soap and coffee. I have eggs and sausage in the fridge, but not much else—I hate grocery shopping, especially when I’m waiting for payday. I make breakfast, then sit on the front door step of the trailer to eat it. I can see the bay from here. Even this early, the sunlight is sparkling off the water in tiny pinpoints. You can’t beat the view.
07:15: Time to warm up, do my morning run and calisthenics. I run past angry Utoland drivers jamming the roads on their way to work. I wonder sometimes what it would be like to have a nine-to-five desk job. Every day as predictable as the last, unless a Gallactor attack stomps on your desk and disrupts the routine. Like flying: hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror.
Naah, I’d rather do what I do.
08:30: Drive to the city gym, taking the back streets to avoid the congestion. Work weights, then take another shower. Two showers seems like a lot, but nothing’s worse than sitting in the cockpit in Birdstyle for hours, marinating in old sweat.
10:00: Nothing’s going on at the track until noon, so I drive to the Snack Jun and park in the garage. Jun’s ringing up customer checks, and she calls hi as I walk in. Jinpei’s at the counter, washing dishes and half-watching the morning variety show on TV. He heard me open the garage door and he put on a fresh pot of coffee. I’m glad he did it; he makes the better brew. There’s a fair crowd here today. With the sporadic hours Jun keeps in this place, it’s a miracle the Snack has customers at all. I buy a newspaper from the machine and sit at the bar with my coffee. Maybe I can get in Jinpei’s good graces and bum an early sandwich off him—like I said, it’s too close to payday. We’ve asked Nambu to raise our monthly allowances, but he hasn’t done anything yet.
10:05: I find an article about my latest race on the back page of the sports section. Just a quick note about a minor race. I came in second in this one, coasting across the finish line on fumes. I’d love to be racing in the big leagues, to have photos of me and my first-place trophies on the front page instead, but it’s hard to stick to the racing schedule when my day job can call me out at any time.
10:50: Ken arrives, looking happy and disheveled and covered in airplane grunge. He sits beside me at the bar and banters with Jinpei, which sets off a loud tirade about his legendary bar tab. Shit—so much for bumming lunch.
10:58: My bracelet pings. It’s Nambu calling us to do a patrol. Ameris intelligence found something they think could be a Gallactor base off the coast. Ken and I go into the garage while Jun and Jinpei close the Snack. A couple of customers get hustled out the door before they can pay their bills. Maybe that’s why Jun still has customers—time it right and your food’s free.
11:07: I drop Ken off at his airfield and head for my rendezvous point with Ryu. There’s a little-used farm road about twenty five miles out of town. I get there early, transform the car into the G-2, and hit the gas. When I reach the end of the road, I spin the machine around, kicking up a cloud of dust, and head in the opposite direction. Heh. The Godphoenix picks me up on the second pass. We pick up Jinpei and Jun, then climb to 20,000 feet, where Ken docks the G-1. Ryu’s already bitching about missing lunch.
12:01: We arrive at the site. Ryu steers the Godphoenix in slow, easy circles while the rest of us scan the site. We see no sign of life, no readings of power, no radio transmissions. We drop an atmospheric probe for signs of exhaust from construction equipment. There’s nothing. I want to pop the site with a couple of Bird Missiles just in case. Ken vetoes that.
12:27: We radio in. Nambu sends us to another site.
16:15: In close to four hours, we’ve been to four other sites now, no joy. We’re bored. And hungry. When Ryu gets hungry, he fantasizes about food. Loudly. We hear about tempura shrimp over rice, lemon-fried chicken, hamburger steak and green beans. We raid the lockers for energy bars. It’s no hamburger steak.
17:23: If Jinpei doesn’t stop with those damn clackers, I’ll make him eat them.
18:06: We’re sent east. The sun’s setting at our backs. No readings from this site either.
18:48: Something hits us hard. Both Jinpei and I are unbelted, and we go flying across the cockpit. It’s dark outside and we’re over mountains with no lights on the ground; flying blind.
Ryu hits the floodlights, and we see it. The enemy mecha looks like a giant bat. It follows the floodlights and tries ramming us. Ryu evades, and we all strap down for what’s going to be a rough ride.
18:49: Jun mentions that the floods make us a clear target. Ryu points out that the mecha attacked us before we lit it up. I suggest hitting it with a Bird Missile. Ken says no, we need to follow it to its base. Dammit, I hate that.
18:55: Why isn’t it shooting at us? I don’t detect any weapons. It keeps trying to ram us, and the Godphoenix is more maneuverable. It’s like the mecha isn’t completely built yet. I suggest hitting it with a Bird Missile. Ken says no.
19:15: This is getting long, for a battle. Neither side has the advantage so long as nobody’s doing any shooting. The giant bat shows no sign of wanting to flee. Ken decides to deploy the G-1 and annoy it a little. Bastard has all the fun.
19:17: The bat-mecha is ignoring the G-1. It made one wing swat at Ken, and it focused on the Godphoenix again. Without the G-1 docked, we’re weaponless. All we can do is hang on and hope we can keep our stomachs where they belong.
19:22: Ken wants to dock the G-1. The bat-mech won’t let him. If Gallactor could hear our radio transmissions, they’d be having a good laugh.
19:25: Ryu hooks the bat-mecha with the starboard float and spins it in the aerial equivalent of a PITT maneuver. The mech drops, out of control. We gain two thousand feet. Ken docks the G-1.
19:26: Now can I hit the damn thing with a Bird Missile?
19:29: I activate the target sight and my hand is poised over the big red button. Just light damage, Ken says.
19:30: I take off one of the bat mecha’s rocket engines and what looks like a grappling claw. It’s still fighting us, limping, trying to ram us. Ryu dodges easily and the bat is left squatting in our sights. The mecha commander’s probably on suicide orders.
19:31: I’ve hit as much as I think I can hit without splashing the bat. It’s not gonna lead us to its base, so why not finish it off? Ken thinks it’s protecting something. So we keep circling.
19:34: Ken thinks he can board the mecha, maybe convince the crew to lead us to the base, or maybe find some data. He heads for the overhead hatch, but he’s not going alone this time. There’s no way I’m letting him have all the fun. Neither is Jun, nor Jinpei. Ryu waves us off, saying he knows the drill. Wakatteiru-tte.
19:40: Jun finds an access door, and it takes several more minutes for Ryu to get us into position at an airspeed slow enough that the relative wind won’t wipe us off the top of the Godphoenix once the hatch opens. It’s one of those moves you don’t think about as you do it, but strike you as insane afterward; it’s a long way down if we miss. We contact the mecha about two feet off the mark and grab for hand-holds on the bat’s skin. I use the drill attachment on my airgun to disable the hinges on the hatch. Quickly, before the mecha shakes us off.
19:41: We’re in. Alarms are blaring because of the opened hatch. The familiar green goons appear with guns ready. Cue fight.
19:50: Still up to my armpits in goons. What do they do, store them in some cargo hold In Case of Gatchaman? Ken’s still here; so’s Jun. Jinpei is missing.
19:51: Jinpei pops out of a side corridor and summons Jun—he found something. Ken and I glance at each other and we know our job is to keep the rank and file busy while Jun works her magic.
19:53: Ken gives the signal to leave. I grab a couple of fallen rifles while Jun tosses a couple of small explosives. We leave the way we came.
19:58: We’re waiting for Ryu to get into position to pick us up. The bat’s moving real sluggish, but it still takes some maneuvering to get the Godphoenix into position. While the others wait, I watch the way we came for any goons dumb enough to follow us. Three are. I shoot them with one of the rifles I took.
19:59: We jump, again: down from the bat mech and onto the Godphoenix, near the bubble. As soon as the bubble closes over us, Ryu hits the afterburners, throwing us to the floor. The hell…?
20:00: The bat mecha drops like a stone and hits the ocean below with a huge splash and scattering of metal parts. I understand Ryu not wanting to be under it.
Jun is smiling. Ken stares at her a minute and returns the smile.
20:02: We head for home. Hopefully, the data Jun picked up from the bat mecha will lead to some base. Sitting beside Ryu and staring through the viewscreen, I feel the adrenalin fading. My side aches from hitting the back console, and it’s been a long four hours since I last ate. Ryu could put the Godphoenix on autopilot, but he doesn’t—probably trying to stay awake. Jun passes around bottles of water. I drink half of mine and swap places with Ken, then lean back in my seat for a nap.
21:15: We’re in the airlock at Crescent Base. We’ll spend the night here, debriefing, and then doing paperwork. Despite all the meetings, we still have to file written reports. Maintenance will spend the night checking our machines for damage. We help Ryu shut down the Godphoenix’s systems and leave via the lower hatch. Dr. Nambu’s waiting for us in his office.
21:17: Jun recounts the mission. She’s the best at making these kinds of reports—she misses nothing. Nambu’s not happy about our splashing the mecha without finding a base, but maybe something in Jun’s data will make him happy. Jinpei’s having a hard time staying awake, and he’s nodding off with his head on his hand. I boot him under the table more than once.
21:45: We raid the base cafeteria. The main counters are closed, but they always have a case of sandwiches and fruit for sale during the off hours. We close in on that case like lions on a carcass—lots of snarling and swatting. Somebody remembers to leave money… I hope.
22:00: All of us have quarters on Crescent Base. It would make the most sense for us to just stay here on standby for our missions, but I’m glad we don’t. Trapped underwater and surrounded by darkness and fish all day, every day, I think we’d lose our minds.
I sit at my desk in my quarters, eating my dinner and filling out the usual forms. Five Bird Missiles fired, and I have to justify each one of them. This is why Ken vetoes my firing requests, though in the heat of battle, I’m not grateful for it. I can just see the accounting records for one of our missions:
Feather Shuriken (20):
Pen Bombs (2):
Bird Missiles (5):
Not even the Kagaku Nimpo Hinotori is exempt thanks to the amount of fuel it consumes. When I have to shoot somebody, I don’t bother with my airgun. I use some goon’s rifle instead so I don’t have to report ordnance fired.
I hate the paperwork part of the job.
I’m sore. The gym here has a hot tub.
22:15: I’m not the only one with that idea. Ken and Jun are sitting in the bubbling water. Ken has his head leaning against the edge and looks asleep. Jun admires the big purple bruise above my hip. “Finish your report?” she says.
“No.” I say.
We do this every time. Just another glamorous day in the life of the Science Ninja Team.
0:00: Lights out, and I’m dreaming of flaming mecha, target sights and the big red button.