The Unauthorized Biography of Berg Katse

(Gatchaman IV story #15)

"Well?" Nambu asked.

Dr. Kestin removed his head from the viewer, and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Director. There's no sign of it."

"Nothing at all?" Nambu sat up, swinging his legs off the examination table. "Are you sure?"

"Quite sure, I'm afraid. Here, check the indicators for yourself." Kestin pushed the viewer toward Nambu, who got off the table, took a step toward the viewer and bent his head into it. Nothing. Kestin was right. Not that Nambu had doubted him-- Samuel Kestin was head of ISO's Medical Sciences Dept, and one of the world's foremost physicians. He had served as Nambu's personal doctor and consultant on the Science Ninja Team's illnesses for six years, and Nambu trusted him completely. But when it was one's life at stake, one wished to check for oneself.

The room was chilly. He reached for his shirt and put it back on over his bare chest. "She told me we wouldn't be able to find the implant," Nambu murmured, almost to himself. "I'm afraid I put it down to childish boasting until now." He looked over at Kestin as he buttoned his shirt. "I don't like the thought of living with Alatan Katse holding the sword of Damocles over my head. There's no way we can have it surgically removed without ripping my heart to shreds, since we can't find it on any scan; but what about a heart transplant?"

"If you were any other man in his late 50's, I'd say no," Kestin said. "The fact is, you're amazingly robust for a man your age-- when your wife restored you to life, she gave you the health of a 30-year-old. So yes, it's possible. But it might take quite some time to find a tissue match, especially since yours isn't an emergency case. Have you considered cybernetics?"

"There aren't any top cyberneticists left in ISO since Pandora died," Nambu said.

"What about your son? The Kymel papers include a wealth of material on cybernetics. I'd talk to him, if I were you."

That was true. Nambu didn't often think of David as a scientist and physician in his own right. As his son, as a member of the Science Ninja Team, as a skilled technician, but not as the expert he actually was. Nambu thought of science in terms of original work, and David had never done any-- but then, he didn't need to. His joining the Science Ninja Team had come as an afterthought to his real work, the task Nambu had asked him to do when they all returned from Keirai-- the translation of his mother's impossibly advanced alien science into principles and techniques that could be used by Earthbound scholars. David had never done any original work, but he was the Terran expert on Keiraine science-- in fact, despite his self-deprecating tendencies, he knew more about the principles behind the Bird Styles and the Phoenix Effect than Nambu himself did.

"I'll do that," Nambu said.

Nowadays there were three main bases in ISO. Headquarters, the third building to bear that name, was in the middle of Utoland, as usual. Until very recently, the Science Ninja Team had used it as their base as well. They had kept Phoenix Reborn stashed at Denari Lake Base, in the mountains around Utoland. Two years ago, Denari had been little more than a glorified hangar; since Alatan Katse had made her first move, Nambu had ordered Denari expanded, to become Gatchaman's new HQ, and while Nambu was captive of Galactor Ken had initiated moving procedures.

G-Town, however, was still around. It had been decided, since the Gatchaspartan wasn't amphibious, that G-Town would be converted into a science center and not an administrative base, back at the beginning of the war with Egobossler. Now, it would create much too much of a hassle to move Gatchaman back in, and Alatan Katse had actually been inside G-Town as a small child; there was no question of returning it to its former status as Science Ninja HQ. Instead, it was a thriving science center, and the place where David Kymel spent most of his off-duty time.

When Nambu arrived, the area controller asked, "Have you come to see Dr. Kymel, Director?"

As always, Nambu started on hearing that name, before remembering that Dr. Kymel was David's name now. Not Teriani's. Teriani had no more use for it anymore. "Yes. Where is he?"

"According to the board, he should be in his office."

David was, in fact, in his office, working at the computer. The door was open, and he was positioned so he could see anyone coming into the room. "Father?"

"Yes," Nambu said, entering the office. He shut the door behind him. "I need to talk to you on a matter of relatively great personal importance."

"So do I." David pushed his terminal into the wall. "Sit down if you want." There was a chair just inside the door. Nambu didn't take it.

"No, thank you, David. What was it you needed to talk to me about?"

"I didn't want to interrupt you, while you were getting your medical exams done, but... I was held at the Temple of Science for a little while, too, and Marriochio used some kind of truth drug on me. I know I told her something... but I don't know what."

"I see." Nambu sighed. "We'll need to know what you told her, for damage control."

"I know. Is there any way we can, I don't know, hypnotize me and find out?"

Ken, Jun, Jinpei or Ryu would be miserable with guilt, in this situation. Joe would be enraged. If David felt guilt or anger, he was controlling it, being matter-of-fact and practical about the situation. It was one of the rare times when Nambu felt that this young man in front of him truly was his son. "Probably. We have our own truth drugs. Does Marriochio know you're a scientist?"

"I don't know what Marriochio knows. I figure she knows that now, if she didn't before."

"Well. We'll deal with it, David. You've heard about my problem, I imagine."

"The implant? Did you find it?"

"No. Which is the problem. As long as that implant is in my heart, Alatan can kill me anytime she chooses, as long as she's in range. As you may well imagine, this is an intolerable situation to me. There is, however, no way to find the implant, separate it out from my heart tissue, and remove it without tearing up a good portion of my heart-- which would take me months to heal and leave me prone to heart attack for the rest of my life. Dr. Kestin suggested that I talk to you about the possibilities of a cybernetic heart."

"Um. Do you mean, can I build you one?"

"That'll do to begin."

"Not here. If you come up to Ayalat with me, we've got the equipment there to build an entire cybernetic body, let alone a heart. So sure, I could build you one. Who's going to do the surgery, though? I never did surgeries on my own-- I wouldn't trust myself, and the equipment's all on Ayalat. It'd be very difficult to install it down here."

"I can have a team of specialists flown up to Ayalat k'Mina, if that's where the work needs to be done."

"Okay. If you want me to drop this and get to work on it, I can have your new heart ready in a week. I'll need to take a shuttle up, though-- if an emergency comes up, Ryu will have to take Phoenix Reborn and cover for me. The work's very precise, and doesn't tolerate interruptions too well."

"I think that can be arranged. I'll talk to Ryu and get you a space shuttle. What's the typical recovery time from cybernetic implant surgery?"

"About a month or so bedridden. After that, it depends on how healthy you are. Another reason I'd rather do it on Ayalat is that it's a lot more antiseptic up there. I can open the station to vacuum and kill any microorganisms in the place--"

"But I won't be doing my recovering on Ayalat."

"Yes, you will. Space flight before you've recovered from heart surgery? Don't be crazy. Not to worry, though; we've got full spectrum communications capability. You can run ISO from your bed by radio, if you have to." David smiled. "I've been meaning to get you up to Ayalat anyway. There's some of Mother's old things you might want to go through, see if they have any value to you."

Nambu sighed. "Well. I'll arrange for you to go up and build me the heart, but I don't know if I'll be able to take a month off to recover anytime soon. I'll have to juggle my schedule. Get the heart ready, and I'll let you know when I'm ready for the surgery so you can sterilize the station."

In the borrowed flesh of a girlchild, the alien made his way to the top of the mountain nearest Karakoram Base. The night was unusually clear for Cross Karakoram, where the fog usually blocked all sight of the sky; stars glittered against the background of a black velvet night, moonless and cloudless. Borrowed eyes narrowed, seeking out the Andromeda galaxy.

If I had a light telescope, I would still be able to see you. It'll be 2 million years before your funeral pyre is visible here by anything other than a tachyon telescope... not that the people here will be seeing anything in 2 million years. I give them eight to twelve of their months, at most.

A thousand years... He was so tired. Strange, how one could live a thousand years, a life full of glory and conquest, and see it all destroyed in a ridiculously short period of time. Close to forty years since coming here. Less than five, since the end had become visible.

"Do you hear me, my people?" he murmured, deepening the borrowed voice to match the voice of the machine body, before the first death. "I'm coming to join you. And I will bring with me this world, to be our servants in the afterlife."

Abruptly he laughed. Afterlife? He was beginning to sound like a Keiraine. Perhaps he had been too long enfleshed. Or too long dealing with Low Ones, trying to understand their incomprehensible feelings and manipulate them. I'm starting to think like one of them, perhaps.

Are you laughing at me, my masters? That I, the last of our kind, would die in exile, in a flesh body... Perhaps escape might have been possible, but it would take years more. Two deaths had left him a burned fragment of what once had been. He was too tired to build a new machine body, and escape when this world died... and what was left anyway? For whose glory should he conquer new worlds? What was the point to ruling over worlds of scuttling flesh creatures, never to know the presence of his own kind or see his homeworld again? What reason had he to go on, when his people were dead?

I'm tired of dominating anthills. Tired of seeing my Chosen act like a fool, end its life in failure... tired of trying to manipulate these creatures. Destroy them all, and let it end. I tried to avenge you, my people... I would have destroyed Fuyuress for you, but the effort split me in half and killed my body. So I will destroy my destroyers, and go to join you.

Too long in this fleshly envelope. Yes, let there be an end to it. Let his spirit go free, let him disperse his essence along the stellar winds and forget his failures.


The human's voice disturbed the alien's reverie. His borrowed body jerked upwards. "What? I thought I told you not to disturb me!"

"Alatan-sama... you said you wanted to know, when Dr. Marriochio was awake..."

Oh, yes. He had forgotten. The body was not his own... and burned fragment that he was, he hadn't the strength to assert his complete control of it even against a child. I'm a tenant here. Until I have the strength to take over completely... if I ever do, before the end comes. He released the body, and let its owner deal with the situation.

Alatan blinked. Where was she? Out on the top of the mountain, she realized, and dimly remembered deciding to climb up here... Had she fallen asleep? "Yes, soldier?"


"I assume you had a reason for coming out here to get me. What was it?"

"Uh..." He was giving her a very strange look. "Dr. Marriochio is awake. You said you wanted to know..."

"I did. Thank you." Alatan got to her feet, and swayed suddenly, a wave of weakness almost dropping her again. God, I'm more tired than I thought! She carefully made her way down the mountain, conscious of the man following her. By the time she had gotten to the bottom, the weakness had abated, leaving her slightly breathless but no longer feeling on the verge of collapse. I've never been so tired before. What've I done to myself?

Selina Marriochio had been, perversely, just badly enough hurt that she needed medical treatment, but not hurt badly enough to push her into the Change, which would have healed her completely. She lay limp in a hospital bed; her skin, while devoid of its usual white cosmetics, was terribly pale, compound of never being exposed to the sun and registering her recent weakness. Alatan entered the hospital room, and stared at Selina's bedridden form. Selina was so strong, Alatan's pillar of strength. How could she be injured? How could she be weak?

"They told me you nearly burned to death. That you didn't try to call for help."

"I was busy evacuating the base," Selina said hoarsely. Her voice had been damaged a bit by the smoke. "By the time I realized the flames had surrounded my position, it was too late to do anything."

"You fool!" Alatan was possessed of conflicting urges-- she wanted to slap Selina, or hug her desperately. Both were more or less out of line. "It's never too late! Don't you know what would have happened if I'd lost you?"

"You would no doubt have had to grow up some."

"Damn you, Selina, I need you! I can't afford to have you die!"

"You're the leader of Galactor, Alatan," Selina said. "You can't afford to need anyone that much. No one is indispensable."

This wasn't going the way Alatan wanted it to go-- but then, with Selina, nothing ever did. Alatan wanted to say, "You fool, don't you realize I care about you?" but knew that Selina would tell her that the leader of Galactor couldn't afford to care about anyone. "It was incredibly careless of you to nearly get yourself killed like that. For starters, who'd've pulled Galactor Science Institute together again if you'd died?"

That one hit home. "I agree that it was careless," Selina said tonelessly. "I had other things on my mind."

"More important than your life?"

"There are many things more important than my life. Getting my base successfully evacuated was one of them." She closed her eyes. "If you want to criticize me, why don't you discuss my stupidity in allowing Meghara to escape and betray me in the first place? That was inexcusably stupid, and will set back your plans quite a bit. My own death would have been of little importance, next to the loss of the Temple of Science at this critical time..."

"It's not that critical. The Nightfall Operation will be set back, but I can concentrate Syndicate resources to have the biomechs built on schedule, in about a month from now. I can get some of the setup work for Nightfall done, anyway. But if you'd died... I imagine you can get GSI back on its feet in a month. Who'd have been able to save it if you'd died?"

"You could. You could have created a more integrated Galactor, instead of having two separate rival organizations under the same aegis. It might even benefit Galactor if both Galliente and I died, and you had to take the whole thing under your complete control."

"It's too big to be under my complete control! I'm not my father yet, Selina-- I'm only 14, I can't run it all by myself. I know you want me to be an adult, and I'm trying, because I want to be an adult, but the fact is I'm just not. I need you and Galliente while I'm growing up, to act as my regents."

"Wean yourself of that."

"It's not going to happen overnight. Selina, I absolutely forbid you to die while I still need you. If you stupidly let yourself get killed, it's the same as betraying me. Nothing is as important as your life."

"Except yours?"

"Right. Except mine. And even there, remember I can regenerate a lot faster and a lot more than you can. This is a direct order, Selina. Don't get yourself killed."

"I will keep that in mind, in the future," Selina murmured. "I'm tired, Alatan."

"All right, I'll let you sleep. You need to get your strength back. I mean it, Selina. I need you."

She left, inwardly seething. Why did Selina have to be so cold? Why did she try to cut emotion out of everything? I want to tell you I care about you-- you're more like a mother to me than that woman ever was-- but how can I say it, when you'll just give me that look and say I'm a fool?

"She's waking up," the nurse told Ken.

"Right." Ken headed into the room to see his little sister.

Theoretically, he was supposed to be overseeing the move from ISO HQ to Denari Lake Base. But Dr. Kamo and Jun had that pretty much in hand, and Ken had to see Kyoko. What she'd done had been impossible; but she'd done it, and saved everyone's lives.

She lay in the bed, looking pale and surprisingly small. "Niisan?"

"Kyoko!" Ken swiftly moved to the side of the bed. "Do you know how worried we all were about you?"

"Actually, no," Kyoko said. Her voice was weak, and a little hoarse. "I've been asleep, remember?" Despite her weakness, she grinned.

"Dammit, Kyoko, it's not funny. It's-- you were out for two days, you know that?"

"Two days?" She blinked. "I feel like a bag of socks. Very old, faded, holey, washed-to-death socks. What happened?"

"You tell me. Ryu and Dr. Kamo said you had the Gatchafencer."

Kyoko tried to sit up, alarm in her eyes. "The 'Fencer-- where is it? I--"

"I got rid of it," Ken said levelly.

"Niisan, you didn't!" Kyoko wailed, sounding her age for the first time in a while.

"I did. Nobody knows better than me how dangerous that thing is. You powered it with your emotions and your own life force; don't you know what that does? No wonder you've been in bed two days-- that thing drained off a year of your life!"

"I needed it!" Kyoko said desperately.

"For what?" Kyoko was silent. "For revenge? Listen, Kyoko-- revenge isn't the answer. It never was."

"That's easy for you to say," Kyoko said bitterly. "The one who killed Father's been dead for years."

"Whatever happened to wanting to live a normal life? To wanting to be left alone?"

"Galactor happened."

This didn't sound like her. Kyoko was normally a very sensible girl. On the other hand, Ken had normally been a very sensible man, until Dr. Kamo had first handed him the Gatchafencer. "How long have you been using the 'Fencer?"

"About three weeks."

Three weeks. Long enough for it to begin its insidious work on her emotions. "Where'd you find it? It should have been destroyed with Z."

"It was in a bin for weapon parts in Dr. Kamo's office. I don't know how it got there."

Neither did Ken, but the implications scared him. "Kyoko, listen to me. The Gatchafencer warps personality. It brings out rage and hate and suppresses everything else. And at least I had the power of the Gatchaspartan feeding the Hypersuit most of the time. When you generated the Hypersuit in the auditorium, you were consuming yourself to do it."

"I didn't generate the Hypersuit. I just took out those Dancers."

"You were glowing! I saw the tapes! And the things you did were impossible for someone of your training. Some of them would've been impossible for me without the Hypersuit. You didn't even control it with ritual, like I did."

He remembered the elaborate ritual he'd had to perform every time, the words he'd had to call out like a mantra or magic charm, in a desperate if mostly subconscious attempt to keep the Hypersuit separated from his daily life. It hadn't really worked. Toward the end, he had been the Hypersuit, had been consumed with the rage and hate it helped him feel and the need to use it to destroy the targets of that rage, while his body burned away... It hadn't all been the 'Fencer's fault, of course. The fact that killing Sosai X hadn't ended it, that Dr. Rafael and Pandora and Gel Sadra had all died in vain, had had something to do with it. The fact that Egobossler had been more competent and more personally odious to Ken than either of his predecessors, and the fact that he'd managed to kill Director Nambu, had also factored in. The fact that they were fighting a senseless war against Z's creations, which not even the Galactors understood... But the 'Fencer had amplified all the worst things, fed on the rage and the pain and the hate and mostly suppressed everything else in Ken's personality. He was not going to let that happen to Kyoko. "It was controlling you, not the other way around. It's much too dangerous, Kyoko. It could kill you. It did kill me."

"You look pretty healthy."

"So does Director Nambu, and his funeral was televised. Just because we came back from the dead doesn't mean you will, Kyo-chan. Dr. Kymel's dead. That opportunity's never going to come back again."

"If I hadn't used the 'Fencer, everyone would be dead now."

"I know. I'm not belittling what you did, Kyoko-- I of all people understand why you did it, and it worked. You were a hero. Well, heroine. But I'm not letting you do it again."

Kyoko lay back. "It doesn't matter," she said tiredly.

"Good. I'm glad you're going to see reason about this." He got up. "Now listen. You're at our new base, Denari Lake. I have to go help move us in, but when we're finished, I'll come back to visit you. Also, there's a girl your age who's defected to ISO that you might want to meet. She'll also be staying here and taking combat lessons, and I thought you might have the same personal tutor for your schoolwork. But you just get your rest and get your strength back, okay?"

"Sure, niisan." Kyoko sounded drained. Ken left.

Kyoko stared up at the ceiling. She really did feel tired, and she wasn't an argumentative sort of person. It was easier to give in to Ken. But she knew she and the Gatchafencer weren't finished with each other yet. There was still something she had to do.

"Ah, Gatchaman! Just the person I wanted to see." Kamo's office was chaos, with boxes everywhere. "I wanted to consult with you and the Director, but he's gone to G-Town. What exactly are we going to do with this?" He gestured at a small box, inside of which was the Gatchafencer.

Destroy it, was Ken's first thought. It wasn't going to have his sister. Destroy it, and Kyoko would be safe... but was that wise? The Gatchafencer was the most powerful hand-held weapon in the world. A nagging doubt perturbed Ken's mind-- what if it was needed again? What if there was an emergency, like this time? Ken Washio was an older brother concerned for his little sister, but Gatchaman had to put the welfare of ISO and the world first, as always. Did he have the right to destroy it?

Ken took it in his hands. It whispered of past glories, of battles fought and won, of the blood of enemies. It was not malevolent, Ken knew, but it was a weapon, built for destruction-- and it wanted his sister. It wanted his baby sister.

You won't have her, he told it silently. Even if I need to take you back myself, you won't get Kyoko. "We'll keep it," he said. "In case of emergencies. But I want it hidden so only the Science Ninja Team knows where it is. I don't want Kyoko getting her hands on it again."

"I'll see to it," Kamo promised.

The move-in was a nightmare. Joe's cyborg strength and Jun's relentless organizing helped out some, but it was a few days before things got back to any semblance of normalcy, and it was a thin semblance at that. The tension was increased by Ken's belief that Alatan was going to pull something any day now; after the failure of her most audacious plan yet and the destruction of the Temple of Science to boot, Ken imagined she would have to do something to regain face. When she didn't, he got very antsy. Just because he didn't see Alatan doing anything didn't mean she wasn't.

After a few days, things quieted down a bit. Dave was still up in space, on a special project for Dr. Nambu that neither of them were apparently willing to talk about, and so Ryu was still on call. But it had been several days since he'd seen his wife and children, so Ken let him go home, figuring he could be summoned back in an emergency. By the same logic, the rest of the team dispersed to their off-duty occupations-- Jun polishing up the negotiations for her nightclub and running the travel agency; Jinpei, back to college for finals; and Joe to whatever it was Joe did when he wasn't around. Ken, of course, was left stuck with the task of overseeing the unpacking.

It really wasn't all that bad, though. Ken was going to be chief administrator of Denari Lake Base, a fact which made him quite happy, for a number of reasons. It gave him both a salary and an excuse to avoid the Free Bird Christmas expeditions Jun was organizing; and it made him feel like he was finally getting some of the benefits of being adult. In the past few years, he had grown more and more dissatisfied with continuing the role of his youth, of the commando leader, the weapon who struck what he was pointed at and never questioned why. Actually, he had always questioned why, but that was beside the point. He was finally going to hold administrative power in ISO as well as the power being Gatchaman had always given him, and it was more than a little exciting.

So he didn't mind being stuck with the organizational work that much. It was, after all, his job. And for someone who'd always had life-and-death responsibilities riding on his shoulders, the mundane responsibilities of seeing that all the personnel got quartered and the equipment got hooked up in time were almost fun.

On the outside, in Utoland, Joe was seeing to his responsibilities.

Back in the interregnum, before Alatan had appeared and before they'd had any reason to think she or anyone else would, Joe had come to the conclusion that he was not cut out for peacetime. The others all had careers they wanted to pursue-- Jun's dreams of being a millionaire, Jinpei's dreams of being Romeo, Ryu and his family, Ken and his need to follow in Nambu's footsteps. Joe had nothing like that. He hadn't the faintest idea what he wanted to do with his life. Settle down with a woman? But he'd never gone for the type of woman who settled down, and anyway, what kind of life was that? He couldn't have kids. Rafael had taken that hope away years ago, and not even Teriani had been able to give it back to him. It might be nice to have companionship, someone to return to every night, but no woman could be Joe's reason for living. He didn't much care about money, since there wasn't all that much he wanted to buy. All the fun had gone out of racing since he became a cyborg... what was he supposed to do?

Catching a teenager trying to hotwire a car had given Joe an idea, at last. He went about for two years, collecting street kids and getting them a life. Maybe he'd always had an empathy for kids, at least the rotten little street brats that reminded him of himself, or maybe it was some paternal instinct kicking in as he got older. Whatever, he used it. He refused to be a father figure to the kids he piled up-- he was older brother, and never let them forget it. (The one time one kid had called him "uncle", trying to imply Joe was over the hill, Joe had thrashed him.) Kids respected Joe because he knew what it was like. Though Nambu had tried to shelter all of them, Joe had never lost touch with his roots.

He had, now, five boys, and had gotten all of them into paying jobs. Most of them were doing things like working in a garage, getting their hands dirty with the real stuff. One boy, however, had ambitions beyond the street. The punk had previously done time in the juve for stealing TV's, which he'd been fencing himself-- a regular entrepreneur. He wanted to go to college, study business, found his own company and become a millionaire. To earn the money for the entrance exam study classes he took, Joe had found him a job in a bookstore. Now he was going to check up on him.

"I hate it, aniki," Tetsuo grumbled. He looked utterly incongruous in pressed slacks, a button-up shirt and a tie. "All these fat old grandmas coming in to buy romances, grubby little kids after the manga... About the only advantage is getting to look at all the girls coming in, and most of them have pimples and glasses. This place is boring me to death!"

Business was slow at the moment, with no manager in sight and only a few browsing customers, so Joe felt it was safe to lean on the counter and take up Tetsuo's time. "Was your own choice, Tets'kun," he said. "You're the one wants to be a millionaire."

"Yeah, well if they paid me more than pigeon shit it might be worth it. Aren't there any other jobs?"

"I could look. You could look, for that matter-- it's your future, not mine."

"I-- Shit. My manager's back from lunch. Could you make like you're looking at books or something, aniki?"

"Yeah, sure," Joe muttered, and turned to look at the display. He wasn't into books. For one thing, having started to learn Japanese at the relatively late age of 10, when he was still shaky on the spoken form and he had so much else going on in his life, he had never become an amazingly fluent reader of Japanese. He was a lot slower with it than he was with Italian, and he was not exactly a speed reader in Italian, either. Utoland had always had equal proportions of the English and Japanese languages floating about, but he had actually never formally learned written English at all; he'd picked up a good bit of it along the way, but he was even worse with it than he was with Japanese, despite the fact that its alphabet was similar to what he'd grown up with-- probably because of its psychotic spelling. And then, Joe didn't have the temperament for reading, anyway. The first time he'd come to visit Tetsuo had been the first time he'd set foot in a bookstore in nearly ten years.

But he looked at the display, pretending for Tetsuo's sake that he was a potential customer, and his eyes were arrested by multiple copies of a black book. The fact that a sign over it trumpeted "JUST IN!" in bright red and gold had nothing to do with it; he was used to ignoring gaudy signs. It was the stark black cover with no ornamentation that caught his eye, and he stepped closer to read the title, which was in white, script-like English lowercase. It read,

"the twisted mirror:

the life of berg katse

dark ikeda"

"What the fuck--??" Berg Katse?

"Oh, yeah," Tetsuo said. "That just came in. They're saying it's going to be a bestseller, but you couldn't tell by me. Nobody's bought it yet. 'Course, it did only come in three hours ago."

"Shut up," Joe said. "I'm trying to read this."

The inside jacket read, "Acclaimed and controversial journalist Dark Ikeda has put together his most ambitious work in The Twisted Mirror, the first biography to be written about the notorious mutant terrorist Berg Katse. Drawing on an unbelievably varied array of sources (some of which nearly cost his life to obtain), Ikeda paints a picture of Katse at once absorbing and terrifying, vivid, riveting and haunting. Here for the first time, the true story of the most infamous terrorist of our age..." There was more like this; Joe didn't read it. The back cover had more of the same, with no About the Author. Inside the front cover there was a painting of Katse out of costume, his/her back turned, facing a mirror, which was shattered and showed various versions of Katse, most of them psychotic and tortured, in the mirror fragments. On the dedications and acknowledgments page, Joe found that Gatchaman and Director Nambu of the ISO were both credited with having rendered "invaluable assistance."

What the fuck is this?

He turned to Tetsuo. "I'm getting this."

"You're buying a book, aniki?"

"Why not? It's not a contagious disease, Tetsuo, don't worry about it. I got somebody I've got to show this to." And he better, Joe thought as he paid for the book, have a real good explanation.

Ken had, at long last, managed to find time to set up and organize his office. His own office, with his own desk. There was a terminal, pushed into the wall at the moment, and neatly sharpened pencils in a pencil holder, lined up in a fastidious row, and even a clean new desk blotter. He was leaning back in his soft office chair, taking a rare moment of freedom to relax. Today's quota of move-in stuff had finally been completed. Nothing to do but relax.

Joe kicked the door open and dropped the book on the desk with a resounding thud, messing up the pencils' order. "Ken. What the fuck is this?"

"Try knocking next time, asshole!" Ken shouted, furious at having his peace and quiet interrupted so rudely. For what? He inspected the book--

"Oh shit." Ken sank back into his chair, color draining from his face. "Shit. I can't believe Ikeda was this stupid."

"Mind telling me about this?" Joe looked thoroughly pissed off. "I didn't know you'd been consulted about a book on Katse."

"How'd you know I was?"

"You're in the credits."

"Well, it was a long time ago. We thought you were dead at the time, as a matter of fact. Ikeda's this Japanese/American journalist, living in California or someplace like that. He was pretty young-- what am I saying, he was four years older than me-- anyway, young to have his own column and a minor name for himself. He came to Dr. Nambu first, and the Doctor suggested I give him an interview on the subject of Katse. That's not the big deal, Joe. I'm not surprised someone would want to do a biography of Katse-- I mean, Hitler, Stalin and Mao got bios, why not Katse? What upsets me is that the idiot chose now to publish it."

Joe was slightly mollified. "When I saw your name on the acknowledgements page, I thought you knew about it being published now. Alatan's going to be on this guy, like--"

"I know. I know."

"So. Do we go bail him out, or what?"

"Give me the book," Ken said wearily. "I'll read it, and see if I can figure out just what Alatan will do. Then I'll see about dropping in on Mr. Ikeda and letting him know just how much of a moron he is."

That night, Ken read the bio.

The first thing that struck him was the introduction. It startled him, though on thinking back he realized it made sense... Ikeda stated, in the first paragraph of his introduction, that he was a mutant like Katse, who had changed from male to female and back uncontrollably every year of his life. He had never understood the cause until Nambu went on international television and announced the facts about Katse. Then Ikeda had realized, as he put it, that he and Katse were linked in a fashion.

"I had mixed, and mostly unpleasant, feelings about the whole thing," he wrote. "It was as if someone had come up to a person with no family and said, 'I've got good news and bad news. The good news is, I've found your long-lost older brother. The bad news is, he's a serial killer.' And I started wondering about the genesis of evil. Were there any similarities at all between Katse and me, aside from our sex and our biological processes? Was Katse inherently evil, born that way from tainted stock, or-- perhaps, there but for the grace of God went I? I had to know. I had to find out what made Katse what he was before I could be sure of myself and my own morality again..."

Ken remembered Ikeda as an androgynous, pretty man with long hair, who Ken had at first dismissed as effeminate. Ikeda's conversational style was direct, almost abrupt, though; he came through as slightly pushy, but that fit a journalist, and Ken had lost the impression of effeminacy. There hadn't been any effeminate mannerisms about him, just his looks. Come to think of it, though, his behavior had fit most of the American reporters Ken had met, both women and men. Compared to most American reporters, in fact, Ikeda had practically been tactful and retiring. He could have been a woman. Once you specified that he was an American? Yes, he could have been an American woman as easily as a man.

Ikeda briefly detailed his quest to learn more about Katse. There was a brief side jaunt as he related what he'd learned about his own origins and how they related to Katse's; Sosai X had made seven mutants of twins, not one, and three (including Katse) had been hermaphrodites. The other two hermaphrodites, including Ikeda himself, had been born seven years after Katse, apparently as backups in case the oldest three mutants died in childhood.

He told of some of the adventures he'd had in getting materials; tracking down people who'd known Katse in childhood (and as Ken well knew, such people had had a very low survival rate); his interviews with the third hermaphrodite, the mysterious André, who'd been Katse's lover and had come forward to present "the other side of the story"; going undercover into Galactor to steal documents, and so forth. "My personal goal has always been the Truth, pure and unsullied. Finding it, however, is a bit like the quest for the Holy Grail, or lightspeed-- however close you get, the pure truth is often unattainable, in this case because many of the necessary records, and people, have been eliminated. Katse's journals themselves, kindly provided to me by Director Nambu, André, and a few other people who had them in their possession, have been my primary source; unfortunately, as they were written by a known psychotic for an audience of himself, they're difficult to trust. Wherever possible, I have corroborated the journals' evidence with other sources. This book is not a novelistic recreation-- nothing is my invention, not a single description or line of dialogue. Katse's story is already strange enough that it requires no embellishment..."

The biography itself was -- weird. Disturbing, in a way. Ken had never actually known his enemy intimately. Ikeda's writing style was uneven, but when it was good it was very good, becoming the sort of transparent prose that melted away in your mind, leaving you with the facts and images as clearly as if you were watching a movie. The wealth of information he'd managed to find on Katse was unbelievably detailed, from before Katse's conception to the moment of his death (Ken remembered telling Ikeda the story behind that.)

Katse's father, Karl Rittger, had been an ambitious German man in what Galactor was in the days of its beginnings, before it took its name. He had been recruited by a scientist named Vail Djannis, one of the few to be directly working with Sosai X, for a special project: chosen along with five other men and one woman to produce children that would become world rulers. Katse's mother, Wilhelmina Bergmann, was the brilliant but homely and neurotic daughter of a wealthy Swiss family, of German extraction. She had easily been seduced by Rittger's promises of love; promises that turned into a nightmare when she was kidnapped to Cross Karakoram and her unborn twins were merged into a single being, at 3 months. Escaping later with the help of another female victim, Willa returned to her family slightly mad and very pregnant. She fought to prevent the child from being aborted, but when it was born she was too weak to prevent it being taken from her. She was placed in a home for the mentally ill, and her child was given away to the Human Genetics Institute of Switzerland, where it was renamed-- Katzchen Brenn Bergmann changing to Berg Katze. (The "Katse" spelling, used by Katse himself, was apparently a personal idiosyncrasy.)

The child's body held within it the keys to human regeneration, the control of cancer, and the true nature of sex differentiation. Since it was assumed the infant wouldn't live, it was studied and experimented on, neglected by nurses, and treated more as a lab animal than a person until it was about two. By that time, it was recognized that the child was an intelligent being-- more than usually intelligent, in fact-- and more or less likely to grow up, and so the more destructive of the tests stopped. But no one in the place treated the child as a human being, even then. It was from this that Katse's later hatred of scientists and terror of being unmasked came.

At the age of five, Katse, a girl, was adopted out of the institute by Willa Bergmann, who'd gotten out of the mental hospital. By this time, however, the damage was done. Convinced that she was an inhuman freak who would be hated by anyone who knew her secret, the child Katse fled her mother's house when she was six, a month or so prior to the Change. She was picked up by a pedophile and abused until the Change came, when he was abandoned in a ditch.

From then until he was 18, Katse lived on his own in the streets, stealing, whoring or manipulating people to stay alive. Though there were occasional bright spots, friendships and small kindnesses, Katse had to leave them behind as he left everything. The one time she tried to cheat her destiny and stay somewhere, for the sake of a boy she loved, the genius Emmett Howell, the Change caught up with her and made her kill her beloved in a berserker delirium. This happened when she was 15. After that, Katse never admitted to as much as affection for anybody.

At the age of 18, he realized his life was only going to get continually worse, and he attempted to jump off a bridge. Sosai X appeared to him for the first time then, and told him he would rule the world, and Katse-- a poverty-stricken child of the street who had never had anything, not friends, not parents, not even a stable identity-- grabbed at X's promise as a starving man grabs food. The next four years, in which he simultaneously attended college, trained for his future role, and held a position in Galactor, were a delirious whirlwind of activity, a roller coaster that set the pace for Katse's future. He was slowly corrupted, tossing aside more and more of the world's morality-- which had always been more of a guideline than a rule for him anyway-- and discovering the pleasures inflicting pain could give. When he was 22 years old, shortly after graduating from college, Katse was made head of Galactor Intelligence, and used his position to prepare for his eventual takeover of the whole organization. By the time Katse finally became ruler of Galactor, at age 28, it was a change in title only-- he had been unofficially running the organization for nearly the entire six years since his graduation.

Up until his first encounter with the Science Ninja Team, Katse had never failed at anything he had any degree of control over. He was the Enfant Terrible, the child prodigy who had set Galactor on its ear, Sosai X's perfect prodigy. Now he began to encounter failure-- constant failures, as plan after plan fell to the Science Ninja Team. Unable to perceive his own overconfidence and the failure of his perceptions, Katse blamed everyone else-- but even a megalomania like his wasn't impervious to the erosion constant failure brought.

He had some time ago been diagnosed by Dr. Djannis as a manic-depressive, and had decided to treat the condition by taking drugs to keep himself manic all the time. Now he further complicated matters by taking refuge from various psychosomatic illnesses in more drugs, which dulled his abilities and further magnified his instability. Unable to control his depressions with drugs anymore, he frequently plunged into suicidal desponds, twice nearly taking his own life. Toward the end of his career, migraine headaches, dizzy spells, hysterical numbness, and drug abuse combined to make him a shadow of his former self. He never showed his weakness on the outside, continuing his work as if nothing was wrong, driven by Sosai X and his own demons, but he was riding on the ragged edge of a nervous breakdown when everything blew up.

In a rare moment of self-knowledge, he wrote in his journal, "The worst enemy I have to face is the one in the mirror. None of my other enemies can match up to me, really. The Science Ninja Team are nothing to worry about. In the end, it won't be them or any outsider who brings me down, because who could take me? Mine is the only hand that can bring my downfall. When the end comes for me, mine is the hand that will end my life."

And, of course, he had.

There was no attempt to whitewash Katse; his crimes were presented in a clear and sober light, and were often the more despicable when one knew Katse's own perception of them. At the same time, though, he was not the cardboard caricature, the two-dimensional avatar of evil Ken had always known. He was portrayed as a complex, tormented individual, twisted by forces not always of his own making. The child Katse was actually a sympathetic individual-- a frightened hurting child seeking desperately for love and security-- and the descent of that sympathetic character into madness and evil was horrifying. Ikeda's conclusion seemed to be that the beast exists within us all; Katse was no more born evil than anyone else. Ikeda made no bones about the fact that Katse was evil; though he was a victim of society, he was also the final arbiter of his own fate, and Ikeda made no attempt to remove the guilt from Katse's shoulders. But the evil Katse manifested was simply the full-blown, carefully cultivated version of the darkness within everyone.

It was a philosophical tightrope Ikeda walked, and did so neatly; neither absolving Katse of his crimes, nor refusing to credit society's, and X's, roles in making Katse what he was. On a purely abstract level, Ken could appreciate it-- in fact, the argument was very similar to ones he and Dr. Nambu had both made, on various occasions. But Katse was someone Ken had known, hated, and made into an avatar of evil in his mind; it was hard for him to like what Ikeda had done. Perhaps it was too truthful. No one should ever know their enemy so well.

There were certain things in the book that hit particularly close to home. For instance, Ikeda's analysis of Red Impulse's death, based on his study of Katse, was that it was caused by a failure of ISO to call Katse's bluff. Katse had actually had every intention of sending up the missile, whether the world surrendered or not; he was exploiting his own reputation for ruthlessness and insanity to mask the simple fact that he lived here, too, and couldn't afford to destroy the Earth. Red Impulse had died because Nambu, and everyone else, had been cleverly manipulated by Katse-- because they'd made a misjudgement. There'd been no need for Ken's father to die. That hurt, badly. He hoped Kyoko wouldn't read this for a long time.

Of course, that didn't explain the Black Hole Operation-- but according to Ikeda, Katse had planned to do the same thing there. However, dealing with the fallout from Nambu's announcing his identity on television-- both his desperate struggle to hold Galactor together, and the psychic trauma he'd suffered from being unmasked-- had consumed most of Katse's resources, already stretched perilously thin by the psychosomatic illnesses and drug abuse. Katse had gratefully left the whole thing to Sosai X, who, it had turned out, could destroy the Earth because he didn't live here. Katse had been in much better control of himself and his surroundings during V-2.

After reading the book, Ken considered carefully what Alatan's reaction was likely to be. It all depended on how she saw her father. From what she'd said about him, it was hard to tell whether she saw him as a vilified revolutionary, not half as bad as everyone made him out to be, or if she saw his crimes clearly and just didn't care. If the second, she might actually like the book. Ikeda himself did no editorializing; he presented the facts and let them speak for themselves. Ken's interpretation of the book's stand on Katse's guilt would likely not be shared by Alatan, who would, as usual, see exactly what she wanted to see. Nevertheless, the Science Ninja Team, or at least Ken himself, should probably pay Dark Ikeda a visit in the very near future and make sure he had some kind of protection.

Dark Ikeda sat in Dennis' living room, chewing nails that were already bitten close to the quick, watching the television intently with a look of disgust on her face. "Oh, fuck."

"What's wrong?" Dennis came out of the kitchen with a pair of beers.

Dark rewound the tape. The talk show host, an elegant-looking redhead, was saying, "Our next guest has stirred up a great deal of controversy with her-- or his, or its-- new book."

A well-chewed thumb slammed down on the pause button. "Dammit, I told that bitch ahead of time, I'm female now so use 'she'! She called me 'it', Dennis!"

"So write a nasty gossip piece for the Enquirer about her illegitimate love child by Count Egobossler," Dennis suggested.

"Work for that rag? Not even as a joke. Besides, she's had her tubes tied."

Dennis was used to Dark's utter lack of a sense of humor. "Will you unpause the tape and let me watch the interview?"

"It's symptomatic," Dark muttered, and let the tape roll.

She had dressed up nice for the interview. "Dressing up nice", to Dark, was invariably a suit. However, as this one was fuchsia ("It was pink! Your fucking color is screwed again, Dennis!" "So fix it. Later. I want to watch this."), and the blouse underneath had lace cuffs (and a lace collar, obscured by the tie, which had been black, Dark pointed out, and not the mutant shade of green it appeared here. Dennis replied that the tie looked black to him, and threatened to dump his beer over Dark's head if she didn't shut up.), it did not look like male clothing. When dressed in male clothing, whatever sex Dark actually was, she looked male. When dressed female, she looked female. (At least, so she informed Dennis, pointing out why the expletive-deleted talk show host was an expletive-deleted and a moron for using the wrong pronouns. Dennis poured some of his beer on Dark's head. She stomped off in a spluttering huff to rinse it out, and Dennis finally got to watch the interview.)

In the image, Dark walked over to the chair by the hostess, a Sharon Ryan, and sat. She looked nervous. Dark was accustomed to interviewing others, not being interviewed herself, and not on national TV.

"Dark. That's a very unusual first name," Ryan said. "How did you come by it?"

"My mother gave it to me. Since she's dead, I never found out why."

"Oh," Ryan said, discomfited by the flat statement. "I'm sorry." A slight silence fell. "Well. Your latest book, The Twisted Mirror, is a biography of Berg Katse, right?"


"Could you tell us why, exactly, you chose to write about Katse?"

Dennis could see this coming. Even without Dark's furious recounting of what Ryan had done to her, Dennis would have been able to tell where this was going. He put his head in his hands. "Dark, you idiot," he muttered.

On the tape, Dark said, "To start with, I was born with the same mutation as Katse. When Nambu announced on the news that Katse was a hermaphrodite like me, I started wondering if there was any connection between us. I mean, I'd never known why my body did this--"

"Could you clarify exactly what you mean by that?"

"Mean by what?"

"Well, explain exactly what this mutation is."

"It's in the book."

"Not everyone in the audience has read your book yet, Dark."

"Right. Well, it's-- in the simplest possible language, I change sex every year. The process isn't entirely under my control. I can choose when to Change, but if a year's passed, I have to Change whether I like it or not. Katse's biology worked the same way."

"What's that like?"

"Changing? Unpleasant. I don't think you want me to discuss the details while people are eating breakfast."

Ryan laughed. "No, I suppose not. But that's not actually what I meant. How does it feel to be a different sex?"

"In what way?"

"Well, to wake up and not be the same thing you were before."

"Everyone goes through that. Ever hear of puberty?"

"I mean, I'm sure most of the people in the audience have remained the sex they were born all their lives. What's it like to change back and forth?"

"Are we talking about me or Katse?"

"You, of course."

"Well, I came here to talk about my book, not my sex life."

Dennis sagged. Dark had no tact.

"Yes," Ryan replied, struggling gamely on, "but this is very interesting. I mean--"

"Why didn't you have me here on a double bill?" Dark snarled. "Right after the transsexuals. You could come right out and ask us all, 'How does it feel to be a sexual freak?'"

"I didn't--"

"Well, it feels just great, let me tell you." Dark's voice was not loud, but it carried a wealth of fury and sarcasm. "I am perfectly adjusted to myself. It's the rest of you who can't handle it. I've been jumped by gangs, insulted on the walls of restrooms, attacked in men's locker rooms, had lovers walk out on me, all because you single-sex people can't tolerate deviance. You love to listen to it spill its guts on talk shows--"

"Dark, I don't--"

Dark overrode her easily. "You're thrilled to hear about its problems and its weird sexual practices, but you don't want it in your neighborhood. How many people out there would let someone like me date their kid? How many of you would tolerate me as a neighbor? Huh? This is exactly the sort of thing that drove Berg Katse crazy and got him to kill fifty million people! You want to know what it's like to be a freak? Read the book! And when you see yourself in the pages, don't say I didn't warn you!"

Ryan said desperately, "Dark, we have to go to a commerical break now. We'll be back after this." An advertisement for shaving lotion came on. Dennis knew, because Dark had told him, that Dark had shouted, "Fuck your commercial!" at Ryan and stomped off the sound stage at this point, thus proving that it was much more fun to be part of the studio audience.

Dark came back out of the bathroom with a towel around her head. "Did I miss it?"

"It was eminently missable."

"I'll say. I couldn't believe the nerve of that woman."

"Um, Dark. She was doing her job. You were out of line."

"What do you mean I was out of line? She--"

"You watch it, okay? Try to use some of that much-celebrated objectivity this time."

Dark rewound the tape and watched in uncharacteristic silence as Dennis went into the kitchen and got a bowl of ice cream. When he came out, the tape was over again. Dark looked at him. "God, I was an ass, wasn't I?"

"Yeah. You were."

"I mean, it was partially her fault-- I was on to talk about my book, not my sex life-- but I way overreacted."

"Yes. You did."

"Dennis? Am I scheduled for any more of these things?"

"How should I know? I'm not your secretary. Call your agent."

"My point is that if I'm scheduled for any more of these things, I want you to shoot me now."

Dennis laughed. "'Infamous Mutant Journalist Shot by Lover in Suicide Pact.' No thank you."

"Sure. Shoot me, and then write an article about it. It'll make page 3 at least."

"I'll let Galactor shoot you. That'll make the front page. 'Enraged Katse Has Father's Biographer Assassinated. Boyfriend Devastated, Swears Revenge.' 'Dennis Jaspers, Ikeda's bereft lover, threatens to write a biography of Alatan Katse in revenge.'"

"'Dark would have wanted me to,'" Dark said solemnly, playing along. "'She also would have wanted me to collect her Pulitzer for her posthumously.'"

"Right. That's it. Now all we need is for Galactor to shoot you."

Dark laughed. "Well, gee. That doesn't sound hard." She sobered. "Seriously, Dennis. I think I better move back home soon. I don't think Alatan Katse's going to come after me, but you never know. And if shit's going to come down, I'd rather it didn't come down on you."

"That's sweet of you, Dark." Dennis struck a pose. "'No, no, my love. I will brave the dangers of the Truth. You stay home and don't worry your pretty little head about it.' I swear, you can be so butch sometimes. If you move back home, I'm going with you."

"Dennis, I'm serious. These people play hardball."

"When you start playing Salman Rushdie, I'll go hide too. As long as you're riding your publicity, though, I don't see the point."

"The point is, I don't want you to get hurt."

"The point is, if Galactor wants to hurt me they will. Nothing we can do about that."

"Dennis, I can regenerate. You can't."

"You can't regenerate a bullet in the skull any more than I can. Besides, if something happens to you, I want to be on hand to get the story."

Dark threw a pillow at him. "You're incorrigible. Let's go to bed."

"Want to incorrige me some more?"

"Yeah, stud puppy, I want to incorrige you. Get your ass upstairs."

"Just my ass? Thought you were out of phase for that--"

Dark got off the couch and chased Dennis up the stairs. She caught him and tackled him just inside the bedroom. Dark was considerably shorter than Dennis, but he wasn't exactly trying very hard to escape. Downstairs, his ice cream melted.

"I like this," Alatan said, watching the talk show on videotape and studying Dark intently. "I like this Ikeda a lot."

She wasn't talking to anyone in particular, and Sosai apparently didn't deign to answer her. He'd been rather quiet in general lately. That was just as well. Alatan didn't need him riding her, complaining over her shoulder at everything she did. Better that he keep his mouth shut. Right now, Galactor operations were experiencing a lull-- the Syndicate was preparing the biomechs, GSI was getting itself back on its feet, and Alatan herself was making preparations for the Nightfall Operation. But the destruction of the Temple of Science had moved the timetable for everything back, and so Alatan really didn't have much to do right now.

She had read Ikeda's book, of course, and she was impressed. In the first place, the very fact that Ikeda had been able to translate the abominable handwriting and multiple languages of her father's journals was impressive. The book itself was a remarkably clear view of her father, showing finally how it had been society rejecting him and hurting him that had made him a murderer. And Ikeda's temper tantrum on network TV intrigued her. Here was someone who wasn't afraid to speak the truth, even if it was unpopular.

Dark Ikeda fascinated her. The mutant was short, about 5'5", with pretty, androgynous Asian features, long black hair cut in straight bangs, and pale gold skin. On stage, Ikeda's presence was dynamic, dominating, making Ikeda seem taller. Alatan watched the mutant hungrily, trying to decide what sex he/she was at the moment. Eventually, and somewhat reluctantly, Alatan concluded female. But it didn't seem to matter. Alatan had never before felt desire for a woman, but many of the men she liked best were pretty and androgynous. Dark looked just like a pretty, androgynous man. And the fact that she was like Alatan's father, a hermaphrodite capable of either sex, filled Alatan with a strange excitement.

Well, why not? She had nothing against women; she just had never desired one before. Alatan reread Ikeda's introduction.

"You were made for Galactor, Dark-chan," she murmured. "You were born to be one of us, but you got away. I think it's time you were reintroduced to your destiny..."

Dark was on the phone. "I don't care! Cancel it! I made a total ass of myself in front of 180 million people and I don't want it to happen again!"

"It'll help the book," her agent, Natirab Rajorni, said, still trying to placate her.

"I don't care! The fucking book can take care of itself! Have you seen the figures?"

"Dark, I was the one who pointed them out to you."

"Right. Well, good. The book is selling thousands already, and it just hit the stands three days ago. I don't need to put on a dog and pony show to promote it."

"How about the book signing?"

"Fuck that, too. I've got a career, you know. My workload's just tripled."

"Rolling Stone wants an interview."

"I'll give it. I have some respect for Rolling Stone. Who's doing it?"

"Rachael Armonk."

"Yeah, okay. Make it Saturday if she can do it."

"And you're not going to be a viper with her?"

"She's a real journalist. Sharon Ryan isn't. I--" There was a knock at the door. "'Scuse me, Natirab. Door." Toward the door she shouted, "Come on in, but be ready to wait, I'm on the phone."

The door opened and a man in a white bird suit entered. "That's all right, Ms. Ikeda," he said grimly. "I'm used to waiting."

Dark's eyes bugged. "Fuck," she whispered. "Um, Natirab? I got Gatchaman sitting in my office. I think I better call you back."

"Sure. Hey, Dark? See if you can get an interview with him."

"I interviewed him already."

"I mean, about himself."

"Yeah, right. Har de har har. Bye." She hung up and turned to Gatchaman. "Um, hi."

"Do you have any idea how stupid you've been?" he asked in an icy voice.

"You mean-- um. What do you mean, exactly?"

"Why did you choose to publish your book now?"

"It was done."

"You couldn't have waited for Alatan's defeat."

"Of course not. You publish when you're ready. Anyway, Alatan's existence makes Twisted Mirror very timely-- more current events than history."

"Don't you realize what Alatan's likely to do to you?" Ken exploded. "Ms. Ikeda, either you are every bit as stupid as Katse himself was or you are equally out of your mind!"

"Not Ms. Ikeda. I don't use sex-linked honorifics. Ikeda, or Ikeda-san. If you'd rather we had this conversation in Japanese, I'm fluent."

"Don't change the subject! I don't care what you call yourself, you've just set yourself up as a target for Alatan Katse!"

"I know," Dark said simply.

"You know?"

"It's a matter of principle, Gatchaman. I've been reporting on Galactor for eight years now, more or less. A lot of other reporters won't cover Galactor- related issues, because they're supposed to be dangerous. But you can't give in to thuggery like that. One of the fundamental ideals of America is the freedom of the press."

"I doubt Galactor cares about American ideals."

"They don't, but that's my point. It's easy to pay lip service to an ideal. Reporters in America take freedom of the press for granted. I'm trying to say that you can't give in to extortion and fear and censorship, wherever they come from, even if it kills you."

"You know Alatan might kill you for this and you don't care. Am I hearing this correctly?"

"That's right," Dark said. "It's a matter of principle, Gatchaman. The people deserve to know the truth about Berg Katse, Alatan or no Alatan."

"And they needed to know now. Not in a few years, when Alatan is dead or neutralized."

"Gatchaman, just because all her predecessors died in the end doesn't mean the same will happen to Alatan. Berg Katse suicided, and both Gel Sadra and Egobossler were killed by X, or Z, or whatever. According to the press releases Nambu's been giving us, X is dead and Alatan is working on her own. You've never killed or neutralized a Galactor leader. Am I supposed to wait five years, or ten? What if Alatan does conquer the world? Then the book would never be published, and she'd rewrite history to suit herself. This way it's out. Even if she kills me, even if she bombs my publisher, the book's been produced and thousands of people have read it."

"You really think Alatan might conquer the world?" Gatchaman's tone was slightly derisive.

"Frankly, I think she has a better chance than her predecessors did. I know that you have to stick to the party line about how she's going to be defeated, but I haven't just been listening to ISO propaganda-- I've been keeping my eye on Galactor itself as well, and Alatan Katse seems to have a better grasp on how to manipulate people. That's why I don't really think she'll go after me, Gatchaman. She'd know that would just make me a martyr and make my book even more popular. And if she does, well... I don't have any kids of my own. Every relative I ever knew is dead. I'm trying to get my boyfriend to go under cover, but even if he doesn't, there's no legal tie between him and me. Alatan'll probably leave him alone if she goes after me."

"You have no idea what you're talking about. Out of petty spite, after she captured and killed an ISO agent, Alatan tracked down the agent's daughter and chased her across half the globe, killing all her loved ones to get to her."

"Oh," Dark said, sounding chagrined. "I didn't know that."

"Yes. You didn't know. Well, you've screwed up royally, Ikeda. I'm willing to deputize an ISO team to watch you and protect you, but I can't spare any high-level people. Or, you can join ISO and take asylum. We have relocation plans, high-security residence complexes--"

"--and you're still hiding your name from the world. No thanks. I'd rather die free than live in a cage, and I doubt ISO or anyone else can hide someone like me-- there are a few things that stand out about me, you know. But... if you're willing, I-- uh-- I wouldn't mind having the first alternative. I'm willing to risk death, but I'm not downright suicidal."

"That's debatable. But all right." Ken took a deep breath. "Ikeda, for your sake and your boyfriend's, I hope having you watched will be enough. But if you're so bound and determined to martyr yourself for freedom of the press, I won't stop you. God knows, there are worse things to die for."

He left.

Dark watched him go, shaking slightly. She picked up the phone and called her agent back. "Natirab? It's Dark. Listen, move Armonk up to Friday if you possibly can. I may have to pull a disappearing act."

Kyoko was still tired and a bit shaky, but she was out of the hospital and moved into her own private quarters. She was lying in bed, reading, when Jun knocked and entered. "Kyoko? There's someone I'd like you to meet, if you feel up to it."


"Her name's Meghara. She's a year younger than you."

"Right. The Galactor defector. My brother told me about her. Sure, let me get dressed."

Since she'd come to ISO, nearly two months ago, Kyoko had not even seen anyone her own age. The only friends she'd made had been her "uncles" and "aunt" in the Science Ninja Team. She found herself excited at the prospect of meeting someone new. After all, Meghara wasn't going to intrude on Kyoko's privacy unless Kyoko wanted it; Denari Lake was still a big base, even if it wasn't the size of ISO HQ, right?

Kyoko got dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, nothing fancy, and went with Jun to the common lounge. "Her appearance is a little unusual," Jun said. "Don't let that throw you off."

"Unusual in what way?"

"You'll see."

Then they entered the lounge, and Kyoko saw.

Meghara was immensely tall for a girl her age, standing over-- it had to be 6 feet, at least. Her hair was purple, streaked with white, and fell to her waist. She was wearing a man's suit, but wore no shirt under the vest, and it barely managed to cover her breasts, which were quite large. The jacket was draped loosely over her shoulders, and unbuttoned. Her face was painted elaborately, and she wore a ton of jewelry. Her size and build definitely marked her as older than Kyoko-- at least 18, and her face matched the impression, Kyoko thought. She's a year younger than me?

"Hi there," the girl said. "I'm Meghara. Meg for short. You're Kyoko?"

"Um... yeah." Kyoko stared at Meghara, aware that she was being rude but unable to tear her eyes away. "Um... they said something about us maybe having the same private tutor?"

"Did they?" Meg grinned. "That'd be interesting, to say the least. You're Gatchaman's little sister, aren't you?"

"That's right. Aren't you supposed to be a Galactor defector?"

"A defector from Galactor, yeah. Galactor defector sounds like maybe I still am a Galactor at the core or something. So. You been around this base a lot?"

"No, not really..."

"Neither've I. I just got here. There some kind of regulation against exploring?"

"Not that I know of..."

"Well. Want to?"

Kyoko was not sure whether she liked Meghara or not. The other girl was definitely overwhelming. But she did want to explore the base. "Sure, why not?"

Jun smiled at the two of them. "You two have fun. I'll tell Ken where you are."

As they left, Kyoko said to Meg, "I don't mean to be rude or anything, but they said you were my age?"

"15. Well, 14 and 10 months."

"You don't look it."

Meghara seemed to-- melt, collapsing inward as her features blurred. Then she was Kyoko's height, considerably less busty, and looked like a 14-year-old. The makeup was darker on her face and looked slightly misapplied, and her clothes were too big for her. "This better?"

"You--" Kyoko stared. "How did you--"

"I'm a shapechanger." Meg's grin was back. "What I look like at any given time is more or less just what I feel like looking like." She blurred again and melted outward, expanding to become what she'd been before. "This is what I like to look like. I mean, would you want to look like a kid if you had a choice?"

"I guess not," Kyoko said. "I'm sorry I'm being so impolite--"

"I love it. If I didn't want people to stare at me, I wouldn't look the way I do. Don't worry about offending me."

"Are you-- I don't want to ask a stupid question, but what are you really? What do you really look like?"

"Seems like a perfectly good question to me. Just, the answer's tough." Meg opened a door. "Damn, just a closet. There any stairs in this place?"

"Back that way."

"Cool. Let's check out the other levels." Meg started off in the other direction, and Kyoko followed. "See, I don't have a true form. What I have, is three sets of genes where normal people have two. I can only have two sets total active at any time, but I can pick and choose what exact genes I want to use out of the three. It makes a little more sense to describe what I'm not. I'm not an animal. I'm not Asian. I'm not Polynesian. I'm not really, really darkskinned. My hair color is white, blonde, brown, black or red-- to get the purple I had to turn it white and dye it. I can be black or white, male or female, old or young. Asking what I really am, within the parameters of human form, doesn't make a lot of sense."

"But-- what you look like now-- is that what you think of as your real form?"

"Yeah. I picked it about 3 years ago. But it's only my real form the way that's your real hairdo."

"Oh," Kyoko said. "Were you a spy or something when you worked for Galactor?"

Meghara shook her head. "Information synthesis and interrogation."

"Interrogation?" Kyoko looked at Meghara, hard.

"I didn't torture anybody or anything," Meghara said defensively. "It was my job to figure out how to get stuff out of people without hurting them. Anyway, I hated it. That's one of the reasons I quit."

"They forced you to do all that stuff?"

"Yeah. They made me, you see. There's a rule in Galactor that if your parents are Galactors, you can never leave. That goes double if you were created by Galactor. Actually, it was my mother Galactor created, but she got away. I didn't."

"What do you mean, created?"

"How much do you know about Alatan Katse and her psycho father?"

"She killed my mother," Kyoko said darkly.

"Oh," Meg said. "Oh. Um, I'm sorry." She looked away. "Anyway, her father was a mutant created by Sosai X. My mother was the same kind of mutant. And so Alatan and I have the same powers and all."

"Really?" Kyoko gave Meghara a rather calculating look. "That might be useful."

"Useful for what?" Meg looked slightly disturbed.

"I don't know yet. I'm working on it." She shook her head. "It doesn't matter now. We wanted to explore, right?"

"What is it you want to use me for?" Meg asked coldly.

Kyoko sighed. "I want to kill Alatan. If you have the same powers, you can tell me her weak points. But it's not important now, Meg. That's for the future, if we decide to be friends and work together."

"I wouldn't mind helping to off Alatan," Meg said. "I've got some heavy resentments toward that bitch. But it all depends on what I have to do."

"Let's not worry about it now, Meg."

"Sorry. Tell me about yourself. I've just been blathering my whole life story--"

"Oh, my life's boring."

"So's mine. It just looks exciting to you 'cause you don't live it. Besides, your brother's Gatchaman-- how boring can that be?"

As they went down the stairs, Kyoko found herself telling Meghara about her past. Meg nodded and made sympathetic comments on Kyoko's resentment of her mother, which Kyoko expounded on, glad to have someone to talk to who understood. Meghara's resentment of her own mother, and of her mother figure Marriochio, was so powerful that Kyoko didn't feel at all bad discussing her considerably lesser resentments with Meg. It wasn't until later-- after they'd explored for hours and then gone back to their rooms, Kyoko making a tentative conclusion that they might be friends-- that she realized she hadn't told Meg she resented her mother before Meg mentioned it.

Dark Ikeda's apartment was practically unlived-in. Dark maintained the apartment for privacy, and to have a stable base of operations. After several unpleasant experiences with people following her home, sending her hate mail, crank phone calls and slashed tires, Dark had set the apartment up for maximum privacy. The lease was in the name John Money, a renowned twentieth-century researcher on sex ambiguities whose books had been Dark's bibles; Dark's mail was sent to a PO box, and her phone calls were routed through from her office phone by an electronic secretary. Most of the time, Dark lived in her current lover's apartment, and only came here to Change or to recuperate from the latest heartbreak. Few of Dark's lovers had ever even seen the apartment; none had ever lived there.

Until now.

"This is non-negotiable, Dark," Dennis said. "If you throw me out of here now, you can go looking for another lover."

"Dammit, Dennis, I'm trying to protect you!"

"I know you are and I don't give a damn. I'm staying with you."

Dark leaned against the wall, her arm pressed to her forehead. "I finally find someone as stubbornly loyal as I am, and it has to be now," she muttered. "Well, come in already. It's cold."

Dennis dragged his bags in, shut the door and looked into Dark's giant living room with amazement. The floor was carpeted, if that was the word for it, in tatami mats. There was no furniture. The walls were completely lined with filled bookshelves and filing cabinets, and had a few small knickknacks on the shelves. Mirrors on the ceiling amplified the two ceiling lamps, making the room brighter than it probably should have been. "Nice decor."

"I think so. Listen, the bedroom's this way." She opened a door onto a spiral staircase. "Bring your own bags, Mr. Macho."

The second floor was the same size as the living room, which took up the entire first floor. For a living room, the space was vast. For a bedroom, kitchen and bath, it was tiny. The bedroom was little better than a closet with a narrow bed and a desk. "Um. This isn't going to work," Dark said, re-examining her tiny bedroom. "Tell you what. I'll get out the double-size futon, and we'll use the living room as our bedroom."

"Dark, why is this place built like this?" Dennis frowned. "Usually if someone's renting half a house, they rent either the top or the bottom, not a cross-section of both. What's with the huge living room and the roach motel up here?"

"The living room's my practice area, also my library and reference storage."

"Practice area?"

"Kempo. Dennis, you know that. Sometimes you can be so thick." She squeezed past him, back onto the stairs. "You know, I have mixed feelings about all this."

"Can I leave my bags here?"

"No, bring'em back downstairs. See, this apartment is designed to be my private sanctum sanctorum. I hunted all over for a cheap place with a big enough living room to convert into a dojo, and I was deliberately not taking guests into account. I don't really like having my private space invaded like this."

"Oh." Dennis deposited his bags on the living room floor. "You had no problem with invading my personal space."

"You had a bigger place. Or-- not bigger, but set up for guests. Besides, I paid you half the rent--"

"That's not the issue."

"I'm just not sure you're going to be comfortable here. I mean, I like sitting on the floor to read, and I don't mind sleeping in a futon and living out of bags on the floor. But what about you?"

Dennis sat down on top of one of his bags. "You love throwing obstacles in the way of what you want, don't you?" he said. "No wonder none of your other affairs lasted more than two years."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I mean, the bottom line is this. You've decided to move back home because you're safer here-- theoretically, no one knows where you are. I think it's a silly idea, but whatever you want. Unless I move in with you, we won't be living together, and because you won't be going in to work we won't see each other. So do you want me to move in with you, or not? And don't give me any of that crap about the danger. That's my problem, not yours. Do you want me here or not?"

Dark sat down on the floor, legs crossed. "It's not that simple. I want to be with you. I'm not too happy about this privacy invasion thing, but I'm willing to live with it for a while. I don't want to be alone. I hate being alone. But I don't want you in danger, and I don't want to inconvenience you, and I don't want to inconvenience me. There's only one word-processor in the place, Dennis-- my laptop. What happens if we both need it at the same time?"

"I do most of my writing at the office. Don't worry about inconveniencing me, Dark. I chose this. If you want me here, I'll stay. If the privacy thing's too much for you, I'll go."

Dark sighed. "I'm going to regret this, but yes, I want you to stay."

Three hours later, after rearranging furniture and unpacking Dennis's bags in such a fashion that they didn't clutter up Dark's living room, Dark once more regretted her compulsion to tell the truth, whatever the cost. She should have lied to Dennis, told him that the privacy invasion was intolerable, to make him leave for his own protection. But the truth was that she did want him here, and she had never been able to transgress against the Truth.

There was something she could do, though. Sooner or later, she put all her lovers through the acid test of Change. Dennis was bi, of course, as all Dark's lovers had always been, but some of them couldn't handle the Change. It was never the sexual aspect per se that bothered them-- they just behaved differently toward Dark, as if anything had changed but the surface. She truly loved Dennis, and hadn't wanted to risk the test yet-- but it had to come sooner or later, and if he couldn't handle it, better they found out now, before he put himself into danger for her sake.

"But why now?" Dennis asked, when she told him of her decision.

Slave to the truth though Dark was, she had still learned better not to phrase her decision to Change in terms of testing her lovers, at least not to their faces. There were other reasons that would do. "I feel better afterwards. Smarter, faster. And if shit comes down, I might need that advantage. Besides, I haven't had anybody in-house to take care if me for more than five years, and I miss the luxury. Changing's a lot more pleasant when there's someone there to take care of minor details like food and water, not to mention hosing down the room."

"If you're trying to drive me away by grossing me out, it won't work, Dark. I told you at the beginning, I'd help take care of you when you Change. I just wanted to know why now."

"I want it out of the way. The last thing I want is to be in the middle of the Change when it hits the fan. Or to have the Change triggered by whatever happens. I mean, if I get a mortal injury I'll Change, no way around that. But I don't want to go through it for some broken ribs if I'm a captive of Galactor or something. All right?"

"All right," Dennis agreed reluctantly.

It was a week before Christmas when Director Nambu announced that he would be undergoing heart surgery over the holidays, and would be out of action for the first month or so of the new year. Dr. Kamo was appointed the Ninja Team's coordinator for the time being.

"A cybernetic heart?" Ken demanded of David. "Why?"

"Because of the implant Alatan put in the one he's got."

"Why didn't he tell any of us about this?"

"I don't know. Maybe he didn't want a panic, or something. He only talked to me because I'm the resident expert on cybernetic parts."

"And because you're his son?"

David sighed. "That had nothing to do with it, I'm sure. That never has anything to do with it."

Ken frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I mean I might as well be a total stranger as his son... skip it. I don't like complaining. Listen, Ken, I'm going to have to be up there most of the time to monitor how the heart takes, at least for the first two weeks or so. Would Ryu be willing to keep covering for me?"

"Sure. I'm just getting really nervous about Alatan. She hasn't done anything since we rescued you and the Director, and that's not like her."

"Maybe losing the Temple of Science was more crippling than we hoped?"


Ken left. David examined the papers he theoretically had to get done before he and Dr. Nambu took off for Ayalat. He was relieved that it had turned out that Marriochio hadn't gotten anything really useful out of him, but he was still shaken about the fact that Alatan had taken him down in the first place. I always knew, intellectually, I'm not the same caliber as Ken and the others. But to have the same kid Ken is always beating to a pulp take me down... that's scary. I can't afford to underestimate Alatan at all. He was rather glad to be taking a hiatus from the Ninja Team, actually. Before he faced Alatan again, he wanted to have some equalizers-- if he couldn't do hand-to-hand as well as she could, he could still devise a weapon to give himself an edge.

There was also the fact that he would be spending that hiatus in the company of his father, on his mother's space station, and Nambu would be on vacation as well. Maybe I can get a chance to talk to him, at last. Or something. Maybe I can do something about the fact that we seem so far apart... why? Is it just that he's naturally reticent, and he doesn't know me that well? Or something else? I want to know why he hasn't even tried to make overtures toward me... Or why I haven't toward him, for that matter. Does he really intimidate me so much that I'm afraid to try to treat him as my father?

He was hopefully going to find out. David was looking forward to this trip a lot.

A knock at the door. Both Dark and Dennis were sitting in the living room, reading. Dark was recuperating from his recent Change, completed two days ago, and hadn't been to work in five days, since she'd moved back home and decided to disappear. Dennis had been working those days, and it had been grueling, the more so because Dark's absence from the paper meant that someone else had to cover for him, and that someone was Dennis. Right now he only wanted to relax.

So it was Dark who went to the door, looked through the peephole, and froze. "Dennis." His voice was tiny and quiet. "Dennis, get upstairs and hide."


"Don't talk. Do it. They're here."

Dennis shook his head, his face pale. "I'm staying."

The knocking on the door resumed. "Don't be an ass. They have guns. I'm not even going to try to fight them off." The knocking turned into a violent pounding. "They'll break the door down, Dennis, get out of here before I knock you over the head and drag you to safety myself! Go!"

Dennis went. Dark waited a moment, until he was sure that Dennis was safely up the stairs. He then, with shaking hands, unlatched the door. If I don't let them in, they'll break the door down and search for me, and they'll find Dennis. I have to do what I can to protect him. He started to open the door.

It was slammed open, striking him in the face. Dark had trained in the martial arts since he was five, and his reflexes were fast enough to prevent himself from being stunned or knocked out by the door. It did, however, give him a bloody nose and hurt like hell. The two burly men with guns charged into the room. One covered the apartment-- oh, yes, gotta watch out for those dangerous books, Dark thought sarcastically-- while the other went behind the door and confronted Dark. "You're Dark Ikeda."

It wasn't phrased as a question. "And you're a Galactor," Dark said, holding his injured face. "So?"

"So you're coming with us."

"Are you going to kill me?" The pain in his voice, from his face, masked the fear. He hoped.

"No. Our leader wants to talk to you. You come along nice and you won't get hurt."

A number of inappropriate responses popped into Dark's head, among them Fine, earthling, take me to your leader and What sophisticated dialogue you guys get. He didn't say any of them, brains winning out over mouthiness at last. Or maybe it was just fear. His throat had dried up, and it was hard to talk. I wonder if that's an evolutionary survival mechanism to keep smartmouths like me alive.

As he stepped forward, the goon grabbed his arm and pulled him. Dark controlled the impulse to pull himself free. They had guns, he reminded himself. Guns beat kempo. Sounds like I'm playing rock, paper, scissors. Guns, knives, kempo... Shit, why did I publish that book? Why did I ever think this was a good idea? Please oh please don't let them get Dennis...

They propelled him out the door, and into a car. Then they drove off.

Dennis was upstairs, hiding under the bed. As soon as he heard the car start up, he cautiously climbed out from the bed and watched as they drove off. "Dark," he whispered, as the black car turned a corner and disappeared. "Dark..."

There was a telephone in the bedroom. He dialed 911. "My friend's just been kidnapped by Galactor. --No, this isn't some kind of joke... He's Dark Ikeda, the guy who wrote the biography of Berg Katse..." He gave the address, and the license number of the Galactors' car. "Yeah, I'll be here. No, I haven't touched anything... I'll tell them everything. Thanks."

San Frangeles' finest would be out of their depth, dealing with Galactor. A special squad from the nearest ISO base would be sent, according to the dispatcher, but it would be an hour or two. In an hour or two, of course, Dark would have disappeared completely. But if the police did go after the Galactors, they were only likely to get themselves killed.

Dennis climbed over the bed to the desk, where Dark had stashed his laptop word processor, and unfolded it, squeezing himself into the desk chair. Sitting here crying wasn't going to do Dark any good, and he had a job to do.

"San Frangeles-- At 3:15 PM today, renowned journalist and writer Dark Ikeda, currently famous for his biography of Berg Katse, was kidnapped from his Oldtown apartment by a pair of men with guns, presumed to be Galactors..."

The special squad had gone over the area with a fine-toothed comb. All they got was the make, color and license plate of the Galactors' car, provided by Dennis, and the coversation between Dark and the Galactors, also provided by Dennis. There was nothing else.

With Director Nambu up on Dawn Star, Dr. Kamo was supposed to handle things like this. He met with Ken, an information resources specialist named Janelle Bonet, and Wolf, the leader of one of ISO's many more secretive and conventionally trained backup squads.

"The license plate is a duplicate," Bonet was saying. "The plates are registered to a Morton Dox, living in the San Frangeles area. However, our agents have confirmed that not only is his car a blue '13 Chevy, not a black '19 Mercedes, but it was sitting in front of his house the whole time. I'd imagine the Galactors copied plates from people at random."

"So have we been able to find the car?" Wolf asked. He was a bit older than Ken, and had apparently roomed with Ikeda in college, leading him to volunteer for the rescue mission if there was going to be one. Certtainly Ken didn't want to take the Science Ninja Team out; this might well be a decoy operation on Alatan's part, with her true objective elsewhere.

"Satellite tracking lost it when it went under a freeway overpass," Bonet said.

"What happened to the agents we had watching Ikeda?" Ken demanded.

Kamo sighed. "Dead, all of them. I don't know how they did it, but the Galactors detected each one of them and picked them all off in one five-minute period."

"I know how they did it," Wolf said angrily. "Most of the guys you had on Icky's place were regular security, and regular security wouldn't know how to blend into a crowd if their mothers took them through it step by step. You should have had us handling it."

"Galactor's never been that good at picking out our regular security people before," Ken retorted. "What do we know about Galactor bases in the San Frangeles area?"

"Nothing," Bonet said.

"Great. Just great."

"We ought to check out that overpass," Wolf said. "They might have a tunnel underneath."

"Right," Ken said. "Do you want to take your squad and work together with a squad from Investigations? I'm getting really nervous about how quiet Alatan's been lately; I have a suspicion she's trying to lure us somewhere with this."

"We can handle it," Wolf said. "That's what we're here for." After the first few months of fighting Galactor, Nambu had realized that Gatchaman couldn't be everywhere at once. He had initiated training programs for large numbers of special corps volunteers, to do things like rescue hostages, investigate disappearances, and handle minor Galactor disturbances that were too small to bother the Ninja Team with but that the local cops couldn't handle. "What're we doing about Icky's boyfriend?"

"I want him taken into protective custody," Ken said. "If Alatan wants anything out of Ikeda that she can't beat out of him, she might target his, uh, his lover."

"Good idea," Kamo said. "I'll have someone take care of it."

"Right. Wolf, if you locate Ikeda and it looks too heavy for your guys to handle it, don't hesitate to call us. I won't have you losing people over this."

"I'll keep it in mind."

The meeting broke up.

So far no one had done anything to physically harm Dark. His guards were a little rougher than they needed to be, but then, they were Galactors-- by their standards, they were probably treating him with kid gloves. Dark had once gone undercover into Galactor, as part of his quest for his own origins and Berg Katse's history, during the reign of Gel Sadra. He had successfully gotten in and out, and published a six-part story on the inner workings of Galactor-- which he'd probably only gotten away with because Gel Sadra defected around the time the first part got published. An eminently successful operation. He still had nightmares about it. And from the things he'd seen and heard there, he knew that it might not be fortunate that they hadn't killed him. It might be very unfortunate, in fact.

They brought him to a shower, and ordered him to wash and dress in fresh clothes. Dark did so, nervously-- when he'd been undercover in Galactor, he'd been ambushed in the showers more than once before the others had realized that his slender androgyny was offset by a black belt in two disciplines and a fighting attitude. As he'd observed earlier, though, kempo was worthless against guns, and if his captors wanted to assault him there really wasn't much he could do about it.

But they merely watched him, and that with the cold harshness of jailors keeping an eye on a prisoner. It was probably lucky he'd decided to Change when he did, Dark thought; it was possible that his guards were leaving him alone because they had orders to, but it was also likely that they had sufficient access to women that a man didn't tempt them. If Dark had been female now, things might have been different.

The clothes they gave him made him very nervous. They were made of an opaque and stretchy red material that only fit because it stretched. It covered everything, while at the same time leaving little to the imagination-- a one-piece suit, with a pair of slender belts for ornamentation. He was also given thigh-high black boots with spike heels to wear. The clothing was tight and restrictive, the boots uncomfortable and unsteady, and Dark hoped that that was the point-- or more precisely that that was the only point. Dressed like this, he probably wouldn't be able to pull off an escape attempt even if an opportunity presented itself. But he was afraid that wasn't the only reason. The clothing had also been perfumed with a vaguely musklike scent that under other circumstances Dark might have found arousing. Under these circumstances, it scared him. Perfuming the cloth and dyeing it bright red would make it much easier to find him if he did escape-- but there was really only one reason Dark could think of why his captors would perfume it like that.

The guards escorted him through a labyrinth of corridors, until finally they brought him to a sumptuous office, with a thick plush carpet and expensive pieces of art on the walls. The woman behind the desk was familiar to Dark from newscasts and photographs-- the current leader of Galactor, Alatan Katse. She was dressed in a voluminous violet costume, a bit more like Gel Sadra's than the one she usually wore, and the design of her mask was subtly different, but she was easily recognizable. She was seated behind a vast expanse of obsidian desk with elbows on the desk, chin propped on fists, and a smile on her face. "Konnichi wa, Ikeda-san," she said. "I hope we haven't put you to too much trouble."

Dark's mouth was dry, but fear had always made him angry. "Of course you've put me to too much trouble," he said. "Why don't you cut the crap and tell me what you're going to do to me?"

Alatan's smile widened. She stood up and motioned to her guards. "You can leave now," she told them. Then she perched herself on the front of her desk, hands clasped in her lap, as they left. "Do to you? An interesting idea. I'm sure I'll think of something; I'm very creative that way. But actually, you're here because I have use for you."


"I was actually very impressed by your biography of my father, Ikeda-san. And by your career in general. Including your brilliant piece of investigative journalism dealing with Gel Sadra's Galactor. I wish I'd read that when it came out; it had a lot of useful information in it."

"So if you were impressed, why am I here? You want me to do your bio?"

Alatan laughed. "Not yet. That would be a bit premature. I was also very impressed by your honesty. You say what needs to be said, whatever the cost to yourself. You're in love with the Truth. Am I right?"

"Yes, so?"

"And you were born for Galactor, Ikeda-san. Your father was one of us; Sosai expended a great deal of energy in creating you. You owe us, Dark-chan."

"I think I'd rather you stuck with Ikeda."

"I think I will call you what I like, Dark-chan. I am, after all, your superior."

"Superior in what?"

"In Galactor."

"I'm not a Galactor."

"Oh yes you are." Alatan got up and walked toward Dark, her smile even wider, and predatory. "The moment you put on that outfit, you became a member of Galactor."

Dark stood. "You can kill me if you want, Alatan, but you can't force me to join Galactor."

"No?" Alatan sidled up to him and put her arm around his neck. Dark was only 5'6" as a male, and Alatan was a good three inches taller. Dark stood rigidly. "I need a press agent, Dark-chan. Wasn't you who pointed out, in your book, that a terrorist can get so much more mileage out of one act if the press cover it? I'll allow you to do stories about us-- interviews with me, press releases about our upcoming operations-- carefully checked by me, of course; some stuff can't be released to the public. But I want you to tell the real truth, as you see it." She released him. "I'm not so bad, Dark. I'm not half as bad as my father, and I have real goals, ideals I work for. I want people to know the truth about me."

"If I tell them the truth about you, you'll censor it, and probably have me killed," Dark retorted.

"No, no. Don't be narrow-minded. You'll tell them the truth as you see it, and since the truth is better than the propaganda my enemies spread, you'll benefit me and journalism at the same time. Think, how else could you get these stories? An insider's look at Galactor. Doesn't that excite you?"

"I did it already. And I'm not doing anything to help you. If it helps you to tell the truth, I won't write at all."

"Dark-chan. I'm not giving you a choice, you know." She stepped close to him again, grasping his arms. "What do you think will happen to your dear Dennis if you don't cooperate?"

"Dennis..." The color drained out of Dark's face. "Leave him alone. You've got me."

"I will leave him alone, just as long as you cooperate." Alatan let him go again and patted him on the butt, making him feel twice as vulnerable as before. "Go on. The guards will take you to your quarters and help you get settled in. And if they're rude to you, they'll answer to me." She walked over and opened the door. "Guards, escort Ikeda-san to his bedroom."

Dark left, feeling sick and terrified. He had expected torture, rape, death. He hadn't expected to be forced to prostitute his work for Dennis' sake. If he collaborated with Alatan, he was the worst kind of traitor, one who betrayed the Truth and everything he believed in. If he didn't, Dennis would suffer. Plus, Alatan's behavior toward him had been unsubtle. Not seductive, either; too much of the power was on her side. He felt like the heroine of a bad gothic, being menaced by the outwardly polite villain. Alatan wanted him, or wanted him to think she did; and having just spent six years studying her father, that scared the hell out of him. If she took after her father at all...

Oh, God. Let me get out of this. Please let me get out of this alive and sane...