"Haven't you finished that yet?" The voice was harsh and Jinpei looked up, guiltily.
"Nearly, Aniki," he said, swallowing at the irritation he saw plainly on Ken's face, irritation which was, for the moment, covering the signs of illness and pain that were normally there.
"You're worse than Joe, Jinpei. Those reports are important. It's our observations that help us to know the mind of our enemy. And knowing the mind of our enemy is the best way to defeat him."
"You've not needed these before," the boy said cheekily, grinning.
Ken snapped. "How do you know? We've missed on destroying Galactor completely so often ˆ how do I know that there wasn't something that you observed, that should have been in one of the reports that you should have written that wouldn't have given us the final edge?" The Eagle paced and raised a finger, pointing it at the boy before him. "Grow up, Jinpei. What we do is vital, and I can't afford to have one of my team not take it seriously."
"No more, Jinpei. I want those on my desk before you go to bed tonight. No arguments." Ken stalked out of the room, and Jinpei sighed.
He hated being the youngest and smallest member of the team. He hated that Ken was obviously suffering, and had nobody to share it with. Nobody took him seriously. He was the Mighty Swallow, and yet, everybody still treated him like a kid.
"Not fair," he whined, before picking up his pen.
Another hour saw the reports almost finished, but Jinpei was overjoyed when his bracelet started to chime. "Yippee!!!" He jumped up and raced for the door, changing to birdstyle as he did so.
When he came back, there was time to finish them.
"Haven't you finished those yet?"
Keyop looked up and grinned. "Re-reading them, Princess," he said. "Mighty Swallow."
She smiled at the boy relaxing on the couch. "I'll mighty swallow you, Keyop. Hurry up, it's way past your bedtime."
"Another hour? Please?"
Princess pursed her lips, but shook her head. "It's after midnight already, Keyop. We've got a training session early tomorrow, and you need your sleep." She sat on the couch next to him and started to gather the papers up. "They won't go away, you know," she said gently.
"I know. Just that.," Keyop put his head on her shoulder. "Want to know, Princess. So much like me, and so different. Had a family."
She hugged him. "And just what is it that you think we are? Spaceburgers?"
"Nah," said Keyop. "If you were a spaceburger, Tiny would have eaten you by now."
"Keyop!" Princess was shocked at the words, before she realised that Keyop had no idea of the double entendre he had just uttered. Please any and all gods that Jason never heard of that particular statement!
She shook her head, laughing softly. "Never mind. Bed. And remember, Mark, Jason, Tiny and me, we're all your family. Even the Chief, I suppose."
"But I'm not real. Created."
She poked him. "You feel real to me." Then her face sobered. "Ask Jason to tell you about Joe sometime," she said. "I think that you'd understand Joe, and it may help you a little."
Keyop stood up and took the folder from Princess, hugging it tightly to his chest and walked to the door. "Did you think they knew?" he asked, turning back to her.
"That last mission. That they weren't coming back."
She looked down, her dark hair falling and hiding her face. "I don't know, Keyop. I know that they were pretty much at the end of their endurance. Ken's illness was tearing them all apart."
"Think they knew," he said staunchly. "Think that they knew this time they had to do whatever they could to win."
Princess looked up, and her green eyes were filled with tears, tears that were also reflected in the eyes of the boy looking at her. "I hope they didn't Keyop. I'd hate to go on a mission knowing I'd die completing it."
"Me to," said Keyop, and sadly left the room.
He put the precious reports on the desk in his bedroom and placed a hand flat on them.
"Swallow," he said thickly. "I'm a Swallow too. And I hate being the littlest and youngest. I hate being treated like a kid. But you knew," he said. "You knew you weren't coming back. Why else did you write that last sentence?"
He straightened, his gaze sharp, staring out the window into the starry night. "I won't fail," he whispered. "I'm the Swallow now, and I won't fall."