Chapter 1: Plunder

Far out in space, an asteroid tumbled at high speeds. It was hurtling towards a small planet. It impacted and in the resulting explosion, a crystalline piece broke off and was sent rocketing on into space. Its course would take it to the third planet.

Jet Icarus stood between the gurneys. Its left arm had been removed and was hanging just a few meters from the torso. Workers were in the cockpit running checks, others stood on the shoulder and called instructions to each other. A voice over the loudspeakers urged them on. "We must hurry and finish the Jetman repairs!"

"No, this is no good." Ryu stood in the control room, flipping anxiously through the pages of blueprints. He had a kind of frenetic energy, his gaze intent on everything he read. Director Odagiri watched with calm, judging eyes. Frustrated, Ryu muttered, "The current weaponry just isn't good enough, and new weaponry hasn't been developed. At present there's no way we can defeat him!"

"Why?" spoke up a voice behind him. He turned to face the assembled Neo Jetman, all of whom were staring at him with stern indignation. J1, as tall and slim as himself, seemed on the verge of fury. "Why do you have to fight? Leave the work to us, the Neo Jetman and the Sky Force." J1 crossed the room to glare into Ryu's eyes fiercely, his team stepping near him though not close enough to interfere between the two men. "You're retired from active duty. Why does it have to be you who fight?!"

Ryu met J1's eyes unflinchingly. "You ask why?" He stepped close, making J1 nervous. He said firmly, "Because he's after me. This has nothing to do with you, or Sky Force. It's me -- the Jetman he intends to defeat."

Part 2: Soldier Running in the Sky

There were names on the back of his guitar, famous groups he loved and wanted to be like. Pink Floyd, AC/DC, The Rods, Iron Maiden and SMG. The electric guitar was as much his voice as the sound from his lips. He played it fiercely in support of the lead singer of their band. His shirt was plastered against his torso from sweat and he did not feel it. All he felt was the deep thunder of the music they played, and poured his heart and soul into every note as his fingers flew.

When it was finally over, he was still flying. They had to wait for the crowd to clear out of Live Star Treck, but he was almost tempted to go out there. It might be a lot of fun. He turned from that idea and spoke to his friends. "Man, at last there're people coming to see us play live! I'm gonna be a big star, just wait and see!"

As always he towered almost a head over his bandmates. As always it made him feel like a big klutz. But their eyes shone with affection and warmth. His fellow guitarist clapped him on the shoulder. "You were really on the groove tonight, Jeff! Something particularly good happen to you?" Flushing, he rubbed the back of his head and laughed shyly.

The drummer was there on the other side and sneered, "No way!" but thought, Of course. He edged his way between them. He and Jeff were eye-candy for the customers, and the tall man's innocent temperament was ideally suited to the band. And he loved to make him blush. "I know what it is, I know," he teased. The other guitarist snickered. "Today's the day it came out for sale, you bought one!" He had the pleasure of seeing Jeff turn bright red.

The lead singer had arrived at this point, and laughingly said, "Ah, you!" to his young, exotic guitarist. "The things you like..."

Under the dark skies, in the light of the shining neon signs, while wandering couples strode the sidewalks.... The group paused in a crosswalk and Jeff started off down the road, his guitar safely in its case across his back. The lead singer called him, "Well, the day is done. We're gonna go off and get drunk!"

"Yeah!" Jeff called back. Then he looked over his shoulder at them, winked and hollered, "I'm sorry!" For he had other things he wanted to do this evening than deaden his flying with alcohol. He glanced up at the sky visible between the towering buildings. There was a brilliant, shining star above him. "Someday we'll be just like that star," he mused happily. "Oh, a shooting star!" he realized. You were supposed to make a wish. But before he could, he realized something frightening. There was a dull sound in the air, and that star was growing. "FALL -- " he started to shout but it was too late. The meteor hit the street several meters from him. The shockwave of its impact was like being hit by a wall and Jeff was sent flying, green electrical bolts wrapping around his body. Mercifully, he blacked out before he hit anything.

As Jeff woke, pain died down to a dull throb except for his brain, which seemed to be testing the concept of jumping out of his skull. Some sort of circular thing was above him, round eyes peering down. "Uh," he groaned. Oh, they weren't eyes. As his vision cleared, he realized he was staring up into very bright lights. He blinked feebly. "Uh..? I..?"

A woman spoke. "He's regaining consciousness."

He felt so drained. It was an effort to turn his head towards her voice. There were four people, their features dark to his tired eyes. A statuesque woman whose suit seemed military-cut. A man in some sort of one-piece pajama outfit. A slim girl who had long hair and wore heart-shaped earrings. A heavier man with glasses was standing behind the girl, hands deep in his pockets. Odd. Jeff tried to pull himself together. The effort required to sit up seemed all out of proportion. His brains felt like they were sloshing around. He held his head wearily as he strove to make sense of his surroundings. He was under a stiff, white blanket and his jacket was gone. "Where... 'sis a hospital? Who are you?" he asked groggily.

It was the woman who answered him with a steady, firm voice. "This is the Sky Camp, and -- "

The man in gray pajamas cut her off. "We're the Jetman."

Lyta and Ako stood close together, staring at the young man who was now blinking owlishly at Chokan and Ryu. Lyta murmured softly, "Wow, his eyes are so blue."

Ako whispered back at him from behind her hand, "That hair color can't possibly be real." For his hair was a pale, spunlit gold over fine, dark eyebrows, and it seemed like it might tangle in his earrings, the left of which was the Greek symbol for woman and the right the symbol for man. Her muttering caught his ear and those impossibly blue eyes flicked towards her, then widened.

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" And he threw off the sheet and bounded off the hospital bed, sending a startled Ryu back a few steps as he scrambled to his feet to get closer to her. "Oh my GOD it's really you! You're Ako Hayasaka!!"

Scrambling for dignity, Ako managed to stay in place. "Me?"

Ryu, Lyta and Chokan watched in dumbfounded amazement. The boy was like a huge puppy, trembling and bouncing as he crowed in ecstasy, "I'm your number one fan, I've got EVERY one of your CDs! You're my inspiration. I'm seeing you in person!"

Ako was gripping her dignity in both hands and holding on tight. Maybe that was his real hair color. His shoulders were tremendously broad and he seemed to have enough energy to power all of Tokyo. He loomed over her and she thought in vague shock, This guy's big.

And he went on, stuttering with joy. "Lucky! I went to your concert! I bought your last CD, but I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet! I was going home to listen to it after our live concert... eh?" At last the rush of words trailed off and he held his right hand near his chin, eyes suddenly losing focus in confusion. His finger drifted up to worry at his lower lip. "I saw a shooting star... eh..?!"

Chokan was standing between him and a peeved Ryu. She spoke clearly into his confusion. "That meteor impacted. It made you a Jetman." Her words so calm and stated as absolute fact turned him half-around. He stared at her in stunned disbelief over his shoulder. She continued, "You were in shock, they took you to a hospital. After that they brought you to the camp with the meteorite. After a thorough examination, we found a strong resemblance of the meteor's substance to Birdnium. You were transformed by it."

But Ryu was becoming frustrated with all this, and shoved his way into the face of the boy who was even taller them him. He snapped urgently, "You're a Jetman! Please, we need you to help us fight!"

Jeff stared dumbfounded at him. He knew these people, though the woman was a stranger and looked like someone who had no patience with limelight. Ryu Tendo, Lyta Ooishi and Ako Hayasaka were all in this room with him. And they were all staring at him with anxious determination. Their eyes all said the same thing. You are a Jetman. We need you. Half-unbelieving, he laughed weakly. Their expressions did not change. It was the truth. The shock was blasted apart by a euphoric thrill. He leaped victoriously into the air, shouting "GREAT! Thunder! OUTSTANDING! This is wonderful! I'm honored, I'm really a Jetman! I've always wanted to be one! I'll do my best!"

He had finished that last sentence leaning into Ryu's space, sending the startled man back a step. Ryu managed to utter an agreeing sound to the boy's blazing, happy energy and then he and Chokan watched in unbalanced bemusement as the youngster snatched up a black leather jacket, threw it on and bounded over to Ako and Lyta.

He had pulled a CD from his pocket and was bowing over and over to them, but nothing seemed to stop the flow of his words. "I'm Jeffrey Kensaki. I'm a half, call me Jeff. I'm a guitar and vocalist in the Black Eagle band." He held out the CD to them, they looking no less stunned by the barrage of his energy than Ryu felt. "If you don't mind, please come to our live show! Here's one of our CDs, please listen to it!"

Odagiri broke from it first, turning away to go report on a successful recruitment. Ryu followed after her with relief. She said mildly, "He's certainly a lot easier to talk into this than Gai was."

Ryu agreed aloud, but felt with shameful selfishness that he would far rather have had Gai back. The selfishness faded before the relief that he finally had a chance to feel. We retrieved the Birdnium. We can change. We can repair the machines. And then we can fight Radiguet!

It was a glorious, sweet day. Peach Hill Shopping Mall was filled with people. Among the shoppers walked Kaori Tendo and her daughter, Aya. Kaori barely looked old enough to have a child, but little Aya kept a contented grip on the hem of her mother's dress as they walked, her cushy kitten-doll held by a paw and swinging. They headed out into the food court, bought lunch and settled at a covered table. Sunlight bathed the area around through the wide skylights. Aya, a perfectly behaved little girl at this time, sipped her drink contentedly next to her mother. When she was full, she slipped from the chair and headed towards the fish tank at the center of the court. "Aya-chan, where are you going?" Kaori called her gently.

She turned and waved her hands. "Mahma," she replied with a happy smile. Her mother sat back and watched her with the warmth and joy of a contented day. She watched as Aya crossed the short distance to the tank and reached up with innocent joy, trying to touch the fish through the tank. A large fish, equally curious, swam down to investigate the little fingers pressed against the wall.

Peace. A temporary peace. A quiet afternoon. If we have to fight Radiguet, there will be no peace.

Kaori remembered the time and stretched as she stood up, settling her purse under her arm. "Aya, time to go home."

Little Aya looked back at her from the side of the fishtank. "Mu," she protested. Kaori smiled.

Someone else was watching this happy scene. Someone with long, white hair and with bone armoring his left cheek. He smiled smugly, staring down.

Perhaps it was his shadow that caught Kaori's eye where it fell across her daughter. Robber! she thought at first. Someone climbing the glass roof! She looked up and knew sudden terror. A man stood far above, cloak billowing around him, hair a fuzzy blur against the sunlight. "That's --!" Even as the skylights above shattered and glass came raining down, Kaori was lunging, arm outstretched. "Aya!" she screamed.

Aya had been staring up at the source of the sharp sound, and at the strange form hurtling towards her from above. Now she turned to see her mother's terrified face. When a strange arm closed about her and jerked her out of reach, she screamed in confused surprise.

Kaori half-lay on the floor. For just an instant she had touched her daughter's fingers. Now she could only stare in horror. Her baby, crying and clutched in the arms of the man she knew was Radiguet. He smiled down at her and said calmly, "She's safe. I won't kill her. She's very important, I'm going to raise her. Tell Red Hawk I've taken his daughter." Then he began laughing madly, and he and Aya started to fade away. "Let him suffer!"

As they vanished, Aya reached for her mother with a cry, "MA!"

They were gone. "Aya..." Kaori gasped.

For a long moment Ryu Tendo could not breathe. Everything inside him was frozen and knotted. He stared down in horror at his wife. Kaori sat in one of the office chairs, huddled in torment. Her long hair was limp and damp with tears. Ryu finally steadied himself with a hand atop one of the monitors.

Across the room, Lyta, Ako and young Jeff all stared at the shaken pair. Lyta murmured, "That's... Aya-chan is..." he could not continue.

Kaori whispered. "Radiguet has her."

The words cut Ryu like knives, and he slammed his fist hard atop the monitor. "SHIT!" he snarled.

Kaori buried her face in her hands and huddled on the chair. She whispered brokenly, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Ryu." Trying to stand, to face him with her failure, she wept "I... I couldn't -- "

"It wasn't your fault," he said quickly. He took her shoulders firmly in his hands and made her look at him. It was still so hard to breathe, but his beloved wife needed him. "It was I who should've been on guard." They held each others' gazes and fought for calm.

The click of heels on the floor as Odagiri came to them. She spoke firmly into their grief. "We can't start blaming ourselves, Ryu, Kaori. Now there's just one more reason for us to fight."

They both lifted their gazes and stared at her. Yes, if there was one thing for certain, there was reason to fight. And yet the weeping would not stop, but it could be exchanged for harder emotion.

Behind them Lyta snapped firmly, "Right!" Ako was as determined as he, and Jeff flipped the birdie to the enemy.

"We'll fight Radiguet as soon as we can."

And somehow, somewhere, Radiguet listened. He chuckled low in his throat. Weren't they in for a surprise.

Behind them, the computer monitors turned themselves on. At first there was static, then a voice broke through, hard and female. "Can you hear me, Jetman?" Ryu nearly jumped out of his boots. Everyone turned to stare at the screens, at the woman whose face appeared there.

Her hair was white with a trace of pink. Her face was beautiful and perfect, her eyes were red. A fine metal thread held a golden, v-shaped pendent on her forehead. She wore white leather over a deep red bodysuit and slapped a whip against her palm. She looked hard and cold, and she smiled slightly as she stared at them through the monitors. "My name is Ruma. I am Great Emperor Radiguet's daughter. I will take my father's place, and make him a present of your deaths!"

Ryu and the others scowled at the image on the screen. Of course Radiguet had some sort of ally. But before they could say anything, there was a shriek from behind them. "Ah! That girl!" It was Kaori. Startled, they all whirled to stare at her. But she only stared at the screen, horrified. "AYA!"

"Eh?!" Ryu gasped. No, nonono. "WHAT?!"

Chapter 2