Chapter 2: Challenge

Explosions rocked the city. The air filled with smoke and dust. A pair of helicopters buzzed around the rising cloud and the pilot in 52 radioed urgently, "An enemy robot has appeared! It's destroying the city!" But others had already noted the source of the attack, and a bare moment later the pilot was able to shout with relief, "Here come the Neo-Jetman!"

The approaching fighting machine was yellow, red, black, gold and white. It jetted through the air, beautiful and deadly. The Bird Garuda. Inside were its five, black-clad pilots, their helmets emblazoned with a stylized image of an attacking bird. J1, the leader, shouted, "I have visual confirmation of our target. Confirmed, it's an enemy robot." Their target stood, huge and somewhat organic looking, amongst the rubble of buildings it had destroyed. A long, black cloak covered much of it, and was too heavy for the winds to stir as it faced the oncoming Bird Garuda. "We'll start our attack," J1 declared firmly. "Transform! Jet-Garuda!" The machine took on its secondary formation and landed in humanoid form in front of the enemy. "Let's go!" J5, her curls falling out from her helmet, grunted agreement. J1 said confidently, "We'll finish it off in one blow."

"Roger," the others confirmed.

From the great V on Jet Garuda's chest came the burning plasma fire. "Garuda Burst!" the Neo-Jetman called it. The brilliant flare of light hurtled towards the enemy robot, a powerful destructive force. Light glowed and nothing could be seen within the brilliance. Delighted, J1 crowed, "We destroyed it!"

And then a strange sound began to fill the air. A tremendous groaning that stretched the kilometers. The light faded to reveal the thing they had attacked, its cloak burned away. It looked far less like a robot and more like some giant creature armored in bone. It had a small head where one should be, and another sticking out of its upper chest.

The Neo-Jetman were stunned. "Wha -- What?" gasped J5.

J2 shouted, "Forget that, it's back!"

But J1 commanded sharply, "Keep up the attack! Garuda Claw!" At command, Jet Garuda slashed its arms down together, sending the attack at the enemy. Though it held out a hand to deflect the blow, the impact knocked it over and back. J1 said urgently, "Don't hesitate!" But when the smoke cleared there was nothing to be seen. "It's gone!" he gasped in relief. But he spoke too soon.

It was behind them, appearing out of the air. Its left hand closed on Jet Garuda's head while the right slashed their right arm off. They cried out in shock as the feedback sent electricity skittering through the cockpit. And then the gigantic claws tore through to them. And in the darkness behind the claw, something appeared. First it glowed, then became a man cloaked in blackness, silver-white hair flowing, deadly smile on his face as his clawed hand reached for them... and closed.

Jet Garuda was nowhere to be seen. Only the enemy stood there, and whether it was a robot or not was highly debatable. It stretched out its arms, the great, boney face on its chest opened its long, dragon mouth and a voice pealed in the air. "Listen to me, Red Hawk, if you want to help them. Come out and fight me. This is going to be fun, Red Hawk." And then there was only victorious laughter.

In the control room at Sky Base, frightened men and women worked frantically with their machines as the viewscreens all along the wall showed the battlefield. Now nothing stood there. Nothing at all. One man shouted, "Garuda's not responding!"

Aya Odagiri was there. And so was Ryu Tendo. He stared at the image on the screen in furious anger. That... that was Radiguet! He looks different, but I know him. He... the Vyram are not destroyed?! Raw rage coursed through him. His closed his hand into a fist, then whirled and stalked towards the elevator.

Odagiri saw him and called sharply, "Ryu! Where are you going?"

Ryu faced her determinedly, his lab coat flapping as he whirled. "I'm going out to save the Neo-Jetman. It's me he's challenged. I may not be a frontline soldier anymore, but I'm still a soldier. I have to fight him." Nothing else needed to be said. Odagiri turned to the monitors, and Ryu raced out the automatic doors.

He had kept fit, all these years. Now he slipped the familiar gray uniform on over his underclothes. He zipped it up, knotted the black boots, secured the brown flight-harness and donned his gloves. Helmet cradled under his left arm, he walked the old section of the base. In the darkness, he reached what he knew was there, mothballed in case it would be needed. Jet Icarus. The beautiful old fighting robot stood amongst the maintenance girders, huge and familiar as home.

There was no room for pain, even this one. He thought a prayer to this old companion. Jet Icarus. Fight with me, one more time. We have to finish Radiguet, once and for all.

He was broken from his thoughts by a bright, clear voice that nearly made him jump out of his skin. "Yo, Ryu, you're looking pretty good."

He whirled to see two people standing there, still in their civilian clothing. "Lyta! Ako?! Why -- "

Lyta's hands were deep in his pockets, he stood completely at ease and both of them grinned smugly at Ryu. Lyta said cheerfully, "We'll fight at your side, Ryu."

Ako gave him a cheeky thumbs up and declared, "I know it's been five years since we retired as soldiers, but we were very well trained. We can still fight, now. It'll be fine." She added in a cheerful aside, "We idols have to keep fit, you know."

Ryu was pretty slow on the recovery. He said weakly, "But...."

Ako waggled her finger sternly and glared at him. "Hey, you're always heading out on your own. We none of us have the Birdnic Wave anymore, you know."

Knowing his position was weak, he still made the attempt to reason the two away. "That's why I'm going myself."

Ako would not be turned away that easily. "Don't be so reserved," she told him.

And nor could Lyta be. "Aren't we part of each other?"

They both held out their hands to him, tag-teaming him most unfairly. Ako said softly, "That's right. And we fought together, all the time."

And the cold shock of battle-readiness began to ease. His heart warmed and he knew he was blushing. They were with him. Together they could defeat anything, couldn't they? They had always been part of each other. Ryu closed his eyes to capture the memory of this warmth. "Yes, well, yes." And he straightened up, again their leader, and called, "Let's go!" And Lyta and Ako leaped to his command.

In no time, they were in their flight suits too, and the three settled into Jet Icarus' cockpit. The rumble of power as the great robot was activated. And when all systems were go, Ryu shouted, "Jet Icarus, take off!" And for the first time in years they launched themselves into the skies of Tokyo.

Far below, two pairs of eyes watched them go. One was wistful and worried. The other was delighted in the flare and color above. Kaori murmured her husband's name, while Aya in her arms tried to reach and catch the robot. The sound of footsteps behind them was drowned by the rumble of the launch, but the voice that spoke a moment later was not. "Kaori."

Aya turned her head to see who spoke. Kaori did not have to. "Chokan," she acknowledged, still focused on the robot vanishing in the distance.

"We who watch and wait are also fighting, Kaori," Odagiri said quietly. "Even though we are not with him, we are fighting. We're part of his team."

It was scant comfort. As Jet Icarus went beyond sight, she murmured, "Yes, I know."

They landed on the battlefield. Nothing to be seen, but that did not fool Ryu. He called into the microphone: "I'm here! Come out, Radiguet! I'll finish you this time!"

Chapter 3