Darkangel part 1: The Victim

(Gatchaman IV #10)

Kyoko Szejrani stepped out of the train and into Utoland's Circle Station with a tremendous feeling of relief. For a month she had been traveling, had been all over America, China and Japan. Now she had only one more contact left. One place to go, and then freedom and peace. Peace... Shouldering her heavy knapsack, she wandered, searching for a cheap place to eat, looking-- under her wig and behind her sunglasses-- for all the world like one of the Japanese tourists who poured through here every day.

A greasy burger joint turned out to have the cheapest food, and that was defining "cheap" relatively-- even by Japanese standards, the prices at Circle Station were gougingly high. And by the American standards Kyoko had grown up with, forget it! The burger was basically a tasteless hunk of slime, but she wolfed it down and headed for the restrooms. She'd been here frequently three years ago, and thought she still remembered her way around. As she headed down a deserted corridor, full of darkened former shop windows, though, she wondered if her memories were entirely reliable.

Confused and tired, she stopped in front of one of the windows, looking at herself. The long, straight black wig melded with the darkness, and her dark Mediterranean skin didn't help any. Nor did the sunglasses. Kyoko tilted them off her face, looked at herself, and came to the conclusion that she looked like grim death.

Her paranoia made her notice the men standing in the edge of the mirror's range. Nervous, she took a lipstick and mirror compact out of her pocketbook. Watching them carefully as they approached, she started to apply powder from the compact-- and saw in its tiny mirror as they pulled guns.

Kyoko held the compact from the bottom and snapped it at one of the men, sending the mirror-blade out to cut his throat. With the other hand, she popped a blade out of the lipstick and flung it at the other man's throat. The mirror-blade found its mark, but the lipstick knife missed. The man she'd missed had his gun out and was firing. Panicked, Kyoko dodged wildly as she threw the whole compact at him. It blew up satisfactorily, shards of plastic driving into the man's body and killing him as Kyoko threw herself to the floor.

The blast still ringing in her ears, she ran down the corridor, then, just before coming within sight of other people, began to walk calmly. She expected police to swarm over the area in any second-- it was an effort to try to keep the calm pose-- but if she ran, wouldn't she attract attention? Then she realized this was a train station, and mentally kicked herself for stupidity. There were people all over running to get places! So she glanced up at the clock, said-- obviously to herself, but loudly enough that she could be heard-- "Shit, the time!" and broke into a run, half-dragging her bag behind her, moaning, "I'm late, I'm so late, I'm gonna be late, oh God I'm late!" in Japanese, until she reached the taxis. Recklessly she hailed one by running alongside it-- Utoland taxis hadn't a chance against someone raised in New Jork City-- and gave the driver the destination. He looked at her askance.

"That's the bad part of the city, miss. Are you sure you want to go there?"

New Jork taxi drivers would take you to Hell without comment, if Hell was in the city limits. Kyoko wasn't sure she appreciated the politeness/meddlesomeness of this driver. "I have to go there," she said. "I'm visiting somebody."

He shrugged. "If you're sure."

As they drove, Kyoko removed the wig and the expensive touristy jacket and stuffed them in the bag, along with the sunglasses. She put on a faded, patched denim jacket with New Jork biker gang patches on it. With her neutral turtleneck, faded jeans and old sneakers, she was suddenly transformed from a rich tourist to a streetwise teen with her hair short and curly. Her money was low, almost gone in fact-- she watched the meter nervously, and was very glad when the taxi stopped while her funds could still cover it.

As she got out of the taxi, she loaded the knapsack onto her back and headed for Bright's house. The last stop, finally home... as if anyplace could ever truly be called home, anymore... since her mother died. She had been running for a month.. Bitter rage and grief welled up in her again, as she remembered. Mother had promised...

Kyoko's mother had, once upon a time, worked with the legendary group of fighter pilots and spies, Red Impulse. When Kyoko had been conceived, however-- daughter of Red Impulse's captain, Kentaro Washio-- Maryla Szejrani had vanished, run to America to raise her child in safety. But safety and Maryla were not two concepts that fit well together. Kyoko had mostly been raised by Shirotsuke Asaki, her sensei, and his wife, Midori Obachan, Auntie Midori. Maryla had continued the battle against Galactor, coming home to be with Kyoko when she could after absences of weeks or months. They would practice disguises, or go to movies and amusement parks together, or discuss Kyoko's lessons, or play games, and many times, Mother would tell Kyoko stories about her father, or about her own adventures, or anecdotes from the war or the battle with Galactor.

When Kyoko was little, it seemed like it was just the way of things, that Mother was always off to fight. But as she got older, and realized that it didn't have to be that way, she began to resent her mother's work powerfully. She began following the news of the wars with Galactor, and rejoiced when it looked like Galactor was finally destroyed. Now her mother would be able to stay home. And Mother had promised to give up being the Angel of Death, to retire and live in peace with Sensei and Obachan and Kyoko. Kyoko had actually believed her, even when "police work" for the detective agency Mother claimed to have joined took her away for days or weeks... until, finally, the night when her mother called her. "Kyoko-chan, there's no time-- they've caught onto me, and they're going to go after you. You'll need contacts to escape. Take these down," and then Mother had given her a list of people to go to, and instructions to give the note to a doctor she would meet at the end of her journey, a very important man. Kyoko would know him when she met him, and he would recognize the significance of the word at the bottom of the paper, "la aguilita." She had made Kyoko memorize certain passwords and proofs of identity. By that time, Kyoko had been reeling from shock and grief. She couldn't even remember the rest of the phone call. The next thing she remembered, she was telling Sensei and Obachan, and they were equipping her for her journey.

In the newspaper she'd picked up the next day, when she was already a hundred miles from home, she'd learned that their house had been bombed. Both Shiro and Midori Asaki had been killed.

Kyoko forced the memories away before she began to weep. Her mother had died and left her-- if she didn't want to follow suit, she had better concentrate on the job at hand. She lugged the knapsack to the apartment building-- which was cheap and slummy, and had no security whatsoever-- and up the numerous stairs, to the apartment where Bright presumably lived. The sight of the dingy surroundings didn't exactly fill her with confidence. When she knocked at the door, a dirty-looking woman answered. "Whuddya want?"

"I'm looking for a man named Bright," Kyoko said nervously.

The woman scowled at her, squinting. "Nobody named that here. Geddouta here."

"Wait," Kyoko said desperately, wondering if she could have copied the address wrong. "It might not be his real name-- isn't there any man living here at all?"

"I'm callin' the police, right now, if you don't--"

"Just tell him the Angel of Death sent me!" Kyoko shouted.

A male voice bellowed over the sound of the TV, "Let'er in, Gudrun!"

Gudrun? Under other circumstances, Kyoko might have giggled. Now she was too beat even to smile. She headed past the woman, who moved aside with bad grace, and into the apartment, which smelled like cat urine. In the living room a chubby, beery man in a T-shirt lay on a rotting couch, watching a baseball game and holding a can of brew. This can't be the place, Kyoko thought in numb disbelief.

He looked at her. "Got anything to say to me?"

Kyoko groped for the memorized formula. "The Angel of Death sends belated greetings, and regrets that she forgot the saké again." She bowed her head slightly, then looked at him again. "Are you Bright?"

"Not very," Gudrun snorted.

The man glared at Gudrun, then got to his feet. "How much you know about the saké?"

"The Christmas party the year that Shin had a townhouse," Kyoko replied.

He nodded. "You pass. Come on."

He had a prosthetic right leg that made an odd clanking sound as he walked through the kitchen, to a stairwell that led down. Kyoko followed, down to another door, which opened into a world she recognized-- inside a concrete-lined, air-conditioned room were computers, and radios, and video screens, and all the other things Sensei had had in his "office". If anything, this room was even better equipped than Sensei's had been. Kyoko longed to ask why a man with equipment like this would choose to live in such a dingy hole of an apartment with such an unappealing woman, but held her tongue out of politeness. She suspected she knew anyway-- it was probably a cover.

As they entered the electronics wonderland, Bright's manner changed-- although he was still paunchy and unshaven, his manner was that of someone much better groomed. "I've been expecting you, Angelita," he said. "Dr. Wheels told me you'd be coming."

"My name's not Angelita. It's Kyoko."

Bright shook his head. "Not on the net, it's not. If you want me to change your netname, I'll put out the word."

"All I want to do is find out where I'm supposed to go," Kyoko said. She took out the crumpled piece of paper, looked at it, and pocketed it again. "My mother gave me a list of contacts, and you're the last. I thought maybe that meant I was supposed to stay here, but..."

"No," Bright said, shaking his head. "What it means is that your mother didn't want to compromise whoever's at the end of the line." He sat at the computer and began typing furiously. "All the people you've been in contact with-- we're kind of a loose net of anti-Galactor operatives. It works on the cell principle-- we don't know the others, except by their netnames. But real ISO agents usually know a lot more. To send you someplace safe, she'd have to send you to ISO, probably a specific individual-- and if you were caught with that person's name and address, you could compromise them."

"So how will you know who it's supposed to be, that I'm supposed to go to?"

"Your mother probably put a name into the net on a contingency plan. That's my job, retrieving from the net-- otherwise she wouldn't have sent you to me. Okay. Here we go. Take this down. Ken Washio, Utoland Air Park, Rt. 18, or else you can contact him at Free Bird Travel Agency, 6407 España St, Utoland."

"Ken Washio?"

"Is there a problem?"

"No... no..." Hope surged in Kyoko. If he was an ISO operative, her mother had referred her to him, and his name was Ken Washio, there was only one person he could be. Mother had never told her her father had a legitimate son... but it had to be. He would get her to safety. Her only family in the world-- he had to be, had to be her brother...

Back in the more frequented areas of the city, Kyoko waited for a bus. The travel agency sounded like a better bet-- it was in the city, not on the outskirts like the Air Park. And she thought she remembered how to get around Utoland by bus from the summer she'd spent here, 3 years ago.

The bus was crowded, but not terribly so, and Kyoko found a seat near the back exit. She sat. There was quite a bit of a wait before the stop near España St. came up. Halfway there, all hell broke loose.

Kyoko had subconsciously assumed she was safe on a bus. She didn't particularly like the big man who sat next to her on the bench-seat, but she didn't suspect danger from him, even after she felt the poke in her ribs and turned angrily, until he whispered, "Not a sound, Szejrani. Move or make any noise and I'll blow you away right here on this bus."

She stiffened, her eyes flickering over his body. She didn't dare turn her head any further, but she had already twisted it far enough that she could see him. He was a big, burly man with piggy eyes and a filthy heavy jacket, concealing the gun pressed against her ribs.

"Stand up and press for the next stop," he instructed her in a hoarse whisper. "And I'll blow you away if you try anything."

Why hadn't he killed her already? He must not want to attract attention on the bus, she guessed. But once they were off the bus, he could force her to walk into some deserted alley and kill her there. On the other hand, Kyoko couldn't fight back on the bus, for fear innocents would be hurt-- as well as the fact that there was no room to maneuver. She obeyed, and held the standing pole as the bus pulled to the next stop.

The man with the gun followed close behind, as Kyoko went down the stairs to the exit-- and that was her only chance. She leapt, throwing herself to the side of the bus. The gun fired, but struck her knapsack and not her. She ripped the knapsack off and threw it at the gunman, knocking him back onto the bus, as she pelted toward España St.Deutschland St, France St, Italia St-- España! She raced down the two blocks to the 6407 address, and found the agency, where she tugged on the door, swearing viciously, for a good five minutes before the CLOSED sign registered on her.

Furious, she turned away. She'd thrown aside the knapsack-- to save her life, certainly, but it had had all her money. Now how was she going to get to the Air Park? She stepped away from the door and headed down the street.

The first shot whizzed past her ear. Kyoko spun. The gunman from before was down the street-- he had followed her! She turned to run, and a bullet smashed through her arm. Kyoko screamed, and half-ducked, half-fell around the corner of the nearest building, into an alley. Shock enveloped her, and she felt as if she was going to faint. Agony rippled down the arm. It was all she could do not to scream again.

And the gunman was approaching...

Only one chance. She found the knife under her jeans, strapped to her calf. Calling on all of her training to defeat the pain, for just a little while, she flattened against the wall. The gunman stepped into her range, and met her knife in the side before he registered her presence. He tried to bring the gun to bear, but he was too close-- she kneed him in the groin and stabbed him again in the throat. Blood spattered her, and the man toppled.

The pain returned, full force, and Kyoko staggered, fighting sudden violent dizziness and nausea. She lost the fight, and threw up all over the dead body, but it didn't make her feel any better. Weak and in agony, she leaned against the wall and tried to figure out what to do next, making small moaning noises deep in her throat. She couldn't go to the police, with a murder on her hands-- she had no way of proving the man was a Galactor, and it would seem very implausible to the police-- it even seemed implausible to Kyoko herself, and she had lived it!-- that a vast and powerful organization like Galactor would squander so much of its time and resources to chase a powerless 15-year-old across the globe. Why would it matter that her mother had been a spy? Her mother was dead! No, Kyoko couldn't understand it, and so she certainly couldn't expect the police to. All she could do was find her brother. He would help her. Somehow she had to reach him, and then he would take care of her arm, and she would be safe...

Morning. Ken Washio opened his eyes sleepily, as the rays of the noon sun tickled his face, and wondered why on Earth he was even considering getting up so early. The mission yesterday had ended up finishing at 4 AM, Utoland time, and he hadn't gotten to bed until 5-- he shouldn't be opening his eyes until afternoon at least. What had woken him up?

Then he heard it again- a banging on the door outside.

Ken was awake in moments. He pulled on his clothes and headed for the door. If there was going to be trouble, Ken was ready. The pounding resumed again, and he opened the door. A teenage girl, shorter than Jinpei, stood framed in the doorway. One arm was covered with vast dried blood stains, and her face was grey with shock.

"Oniisan," she whispered. "Yatto... anata ga... hakken shite ta..." Big brother.... at last I've found you...

Then she toppled forward onto the wooden floor.

"Shimatta!" Ken caught her before she could quite hit, and laid her on the floor. "Kimi, shikkari shite! Shikkari shiro!" Wake up, miss! Wake up!

But she didn't. Ken cursed quietly and carried her into his room, laying her on the unmade bed. There was a filthy, blood-soaked strip of denim wound around her arm. Ken cut it loose, and the sleeve, and discovered a day-old bullet wound beginning to fester. Carefully he washed the wound, tearing the scabbing loose so it could bleed freely and help get rid of the infection. The bullet had gone straight through and missed the bone, which was good in that there was no bullet to remove, but bad in that, in effect, it gave the girl two wounds.

As he worked, Ken wondered at her words. It wasn't unusual for a girl her age to call a strange man Ken's age "oniisan"-- big brother-- if she didn't know his name; but that didn't fit with "at last I've found you." She had been specifically looking for Ken. Presumably she knew his name. So why had she called him oniisan?

Unless he was...

She stirred slightly. "Uhn... o...oniisan?"

Ken didn't quite know if she were conscious or not-- her eyes hadn't opened. "Kimi wa ittai dare..." he whispered, not really meaning it as a question. Who on Earth are you?Apparently she was conscious-- her eyes flitted open, the same brilliant blue as his own. "Kyoko to môshimasu," she whispered. "Imôto desu." I'm Kyoko, your younger sister.

"Imôto?" Ken asked disbelievingly. Younger sister?

"Anata no..." Yours... And then her eyes closed, and she fell silent again. Ken stared at her.

"Imôto... Ore no imôto ka?" Sister... my younger sister? He frowned, looking for a family resemblance. God help him, there was one-- she looked like him. "Imôto ga nai hazu datta ore da ga..." I wasn't supposed to have a younger sister... but...

He knew this was no child of his mother's-- even if he'd thought for a second such a thing could be hidden from him, this girl looked to be 14 or 15-- born after his mother's death. But Red Impulse... Ken himself believed in celibacy, or monogamy at the very least, and channelling everything else into the cause. He'd assumed his father felt the same way-- but he'd never known for certain that he had. The existence of this Kyoko-- if she was telling the truth-- argued for a side of Red Impulse Ken would rather not have known about.

But whether she was telling the truth or not, she was an injured little girl, and until he saw reason to do otherwise, he would treat her as if she really was his little sister. At least until he got some more answers out of her...

He was about to call Nambu and tell him of this development when he heard a car pull up outside. Curious, Ken looked out the window, and his blood froze. A bunch of unsavory-looking men in blue suits were getting out of the limo, with guns in their hands. There was no time to worry about whether they'd reached this place because of Kyoko, or if they'd come for him-- he glanced at Kyoko to make sure she was still unconscious, then switched to Bird Style and headed out to the roof.

From the top of his shack, he saw the men approach the door. He heard one of them say, "Are you sure she's here?"

"That's what the tracer says," another said. "Kick down the door."

"What do you think you're doing?" Ken called down to them.

They recoiled. "Gatchaman!" one of them shouted, providing all the confirmation he needed that these men were probably Galactors. So he laughed.

"Did you think we would let you murder the daughter of Red Impulse?" he asked. "Did you, Galactor?"

One of them yelled, "Shoot him!" Ken leapt down, oblivious to the few bullets that actually hit him and bounced off his bird suit, and proceeded to bring the Galactors down, one by one.

Meanwhile, inside, Kyoko stirred to consciousness. Startled by the fact that Ken wasn't there, she pulled herself out of bed, fighting dizziness, nausea and fever, but unable to make herself believe she was safe. Had she heard gunshots? She wouldn't feel safe until she could find her brother...

Then her eye was caught by the window. She turned. And stared. And half-staggered to the window to watch. The Eagle was fighting off a group of Galactors. Enraptured, Kyoko watched through the window. The laws of coincidence permitted only one explanation.

Her brother was Gatchaman.

Kyoko was too weak to get up from the window. She leaned against it, smiling, as she watched Ken defeat the Galactors, then question one of them. She was curious as to what he had to say, in an intellectual sort of fashion, but it didn't seem to be terribly important. After all, with Gatchaman as her older brother and protector, she had to be completely safe-- didn't she? She drifted in and out of consciousness until Ken came back in, out of Bird Style. "Kyoko! You're awake?"

Jolted back to a kind of delirious wakefulness by his voice, she turned her head. "Oniisan.. you're Gatchaman, aren't you?"

"What makes you think..." Ken started, but trailed off at the happy expression on her face, like a child who'd found her mommy after hours of searching.

"I saw you. Fighting. You'll protect me, won't you, niisan? And it'll be just like before Mom was captured... won't it?"

Ken frowned. "Of course I'll take care of you," he said. "But you don't look well-- let me take your temperature." He didn't even need to-- her skin was burning hot to the touch. Kyoko didn't resist as Ken put her to bed, with strong admonitions to stay still and rest, but she didn't stop talking, either.

"I'm just so tired, of running.. ever since Mom called, that was a month ago... she said Galactor had got her, and they were coming after me. She promised me... she said she wouldn't be the Angel of Death anymore, that she would--"

"Your mother was the Angel of Death?" Ken asked, startled.

"You knew her?"

Ken nodded. "So that's what she meant, by knowing my father..." he murmured, almost to himself. He felt simultaneously a kind of relief, that his father's lover had been a dedicated fighter herself, not some bimbo, and a profound sense of loss as well. If the Angel of Death had ben a connection to his father, news of her death was like the loss of the Red Impulse team all over again. "How did it happen?"

"She just called and said they'd caught onto her.."

"Oh, God..." Ken's head jerked up as he realized. "A month ago? They must have found her just as she notified the team where I was..." He broke off suddenly, filled with guilt. It was his fault the Angel was dead. She had blown her cover to tell the team where he was, when Alatan Katse had captured him, and she had died for it... "Goddamn you, Alatan Katse!" he shouted at the air. "You're going to pay for this. You're going to pay!""Who's Alatan Katse?" Kyoko asked.

Ken looked down at her, rage and grief and sorrow for her in his face. "The girl who murdered your mother. Daughter of Berg Katse, the man who caused our father to be killed. She's the new leader of Galactor."

"Mother..." Kyoko whispered brokenly.

"Get some rest, Kyoko." Ken wanted to ask her some questions, but later. He turned to go.


"Yes?" He turned.

"I won't have to run anymore, will I?"

Ken felt suddenly fiercely protective of this child. She was so young, younger than Jinpei was now, to have her life torn apart like this. Clearly, she had had a lot of resources, to stay ahead of Galactor for a month, and clearly she had used them all up.

"No, Kyoko. You're safe now." He waited until she sank down into the bed, pulling the covers over herself, before he left.

Later he went through her clothes. The Galactor he'd questioned had told him that they'd been tracking her with a tracer sewn into her denim jacket. That, too, filled him with a murderous rage. Someone she'd trusted along the way-- no way to tell who, now-- had betrayed her, making sure she couldn't escape Galactor, no matter how hard she tried. He took the tracer out and destroyed it utterly.

Then he called Dr. Nambu.

After a few days in the hospital, with proper antibiotics to treat the infection in her arm, Kyoko felt considerably better. She told the whole story of her life with her mother and her flight for her life to Nambu, Ken and the rest of the team.

Most of Kyoko's contacts had helped her, one way or another. A woman named Shiko had given her a number of weapons that masqueraded as ordinary objects, such as keys or her mirror compact and lipstick. Two different people had repaired the denim jacket. The agent Kate the Cat-- Joe started at that name-- had given her her disguise equipment, and someone known as the Professor had given her an air gun, which she'd had to ditch after running out of ammo but which had helped her a lot.

She described her arrival in Utoland, and the circumstances that had led to her being shot. After she'd killed her attacker, she said, she'd bound her wound in the sleeve of her blood-soaked jacket, carefully, selecting parts that weren't covered in blood. She'd stuffed the jacket into a plastic clothes bag she'd found in a nearby garbage can and carried it-- ironically, since if she'd lost it Galactor wouldn't have been able to trace her to Ken's-- and proceeded to make her way to the outskirts of Utoland, walking. She didn't describe how much pain these actions had to have caused her, but they must have been considerable. It had taken her the rest of that day, all of the night, and most of the morning to walk to Ken's-- she had barely gotten any sleep, and hadn't dared hitch a ride, for fear it would be Galactors who picked her up. All of them marveled-- some more openly than others-- that a 15-year-old girl who hadn't had the kind of training they'd had could have had that much endurance, and Joe told Ken later that he thought Ken's little sister was a more than worthy addition to the team's extended family.

After she had told her story, Nambu questioned her separately, trying to find out what the Angel had done with her report. Kyoko didn't know.

"Did she give you anything?" Nambu asked. "A code word, a hint, anything?"

"I don't think so," Kyoko started, and then hesitated. "Wait. That thing-- on the piece of paper I was carrying she made me write down a word. I don't know how to pronounce it, but she told me to give the piece of paper to a doctor I met at the end- that must be you. Maybe that was a code word."

The jacket was brought to Nambu, with Kyoko's battered list in it, buried under several layers of crumpled receipts. "It's on the bottom," Kyoko offered. "Lagwila or something like that."

"'La aguilita'," Nambu read. "That's Spanish for 'the little eagle', feminine, isn't it?" He looked up-- and startled in surprise. Kyoko was staring straight ahead, her eyes blank. Frowning, Nambu asked, "Kyoko?"

"Dr. Nambu, when is Ken-chan's birthday?" Kyoko asked in an even, flat voice, remarkably like her mother's.

Ken-chan? Did she mean Ken? Warily Nambu replied, "May 16."

Kyoko sighed and relaxed, her body language doing an uncanny mimicry of her mother's. "I'll have to assume that if you gave the date correctly, you are in fact Dr. Nambu," she said. "This is the Angel of Death, Director. I'm sorry I have to give you this report through my daughter, but I'm afraid I won't be able to get out in person."

Nambu swiftly located a tape recorder and flicked it on, as Kyoko continued to mimic her mother. "Over the past three years or so, Alatan Katse has been building a vast headquarters at Cross Karakoram, on top of the ruins of Galactor's original headquarters. This is possibly one of Galactor's most ambitious projects ever-- she has actually built a mountain and hollowed it out, building a city into it. She had moved 30,000 men, women and children into this base-- in fact, she seems to be setting it up similar to Galatown or the Castle Egobossler region, with a large proportion of "civilian" Galactors living in the lower levels.

"The interior of the base is constructed on a unit transformation basis. All, or almost all, of the walls and floors are mobile. Rooms and corridors can be shifted around, and frequently are. There is a central, unchanging core called the Shaft, around which is built a skeletal scaffolding throughout the mountain, on which plates that form the walls and floors move freely.

"Alatan Katse claims this base is practically indestructible. So far I haven't been able to disprove her. Even the relatively stable regions of the base are built on a cell-by-cell basis, and protected by concrete and energy-absorbing forcefields. If you plant a bomb in a certain area, you will only take out that area-- the rest of the base will be unhurt. The power system-- which relies on mantle energy-- has so many multiple redundancies it makes the Black Hole mechanism look like a toy designed by a child. The original Cross Karakoram Base could withstand an earthquake up to 9 Richter-- this one, I think, could withstand anything short of a megaton nuclear explosion. The water supply is fed by an artificial river, purified by bioengineered bacterial agents-- perhaps it can be poisoned, but I can't figure out how. There are even at least 3 separate ventilation systems, every one of which can be closed off in specific areas-- it's impossible to gas the base as a whole.

"Cross Karakoram-- also known as Karakoram City or Galactor City-- is Galactor's main administrative headquarters. It does not build mecha or oversee particular plans. The Galactor base that governs whatever plan is currently high priority is called Galactor Mobile Headquarters, and it changes location whenever Alatan feels like changing it.

"Galactor's structure is now bipartite. Two separate organizations have ben merged into one group-- the Syndicate, led by Vice-Commander Vincent Galliente, is the direct heir to Egobossler's Galactor, and is pretty traditional. A few of Egobossler's old elite groups are still around in this group. The other half, Galactor Science Institute, is led by Selina Marriochio, and governs the Techs, the scientists, and most of the elite groups, such as the Dancers. Galliente and Marriochio supposedly hate each other, and can only work together with Alatan as an intermediary. There are three generalized groups of Galactors. Soldiers are the usual cannonfodder, mostly loyal to Galliente. About 5 percent of these are women, concentrated in the lowest and highest ranks-- there are quite a few high-ranking women captains, and a lot of female grunts, but because Gel Sadra and Egobossler didn't recruit women, there aren't any in the middle ranks. Techs wear grey or white, and include maintenance, engineering, construction and applied research. This group is about 15% female. The third group, known either as Support Services or the Pastels, covers support work such as food provision and cleaning as well as troop morale, internal spying, and sexual services. Galactor has recently drafted all the wives, lovers, sisters and daughters of its male members, and this is where most of them ended up-- the Pastel group is over 65% female. A good number of the Galactor women also run the businesses located in the civilian sectors of Karakoram City. Most of these businesses are nominally owned by Galactor, since Alatan has strong socialist leanings, but it is their woman managers that run them and profit from them.

"Alatan Katse is the linchpin of all this. She seems to have brought much more of a human consciousness to Galactor, taking aspects of modern psychology to try to improve her organization's efficiency. A good number of her men resent her for this-- they still subscribe to the macho ethic of deprivation and being nothing but a cog in the machine. Others, however, like it. This orientation, and her charisma and ability to manipulate people, are about all she does for Galactor. She comes up with grand general designs as to what direction she wants to go, but it's Marriochio and Galliente who actually determine how it gets done. Alatan is either more cynical than any 14-year-old has a right to be, or amazingly naive, with no idea of how brutal her advisors are in pursuit of the goals she decides. Despite the viciousness of the organization she leads, she claims that she hates to kill, and in fact doesn't even directly execute incompetents, but puts them in highly demeaning or dangerous work. A good number of Galactors do resent her, but most of them are unbelievably loyal to her-- she has made herself into a goddess on a pedestal, and they will willingly die for her. Alatan seems to be very naive, and very easily influenced. If she were to be captured, it would probably be an easy matter to turn her against Galactor. However, if she is killed, Galactor will immediately divide into feuding factions, whereas the process would be much slower if she were merely captured, and the longer she remains in Galactor, the more corrupt and dangerous she will become. She has already acquired a reputation for sexual excesses. How long will it be before her morality completely breaks down, and she begins to enjoy murder as well? My recommendation is to kill her as quickly as possible.

"The Angel of Death, September 15, final report."

Kyoko sagged, like a puppet whose strings had been cut. It was almost as if for a moment she had been her mother, and then relived her mother's death. Nambu looked at her with profound sadness. The report had been a brilliant piece of work, like everything the Angel had ever done-- she had deftly sketched the general structure of Galactor and catalogued a large number of tensions and exploitable weaknesses, in less than 15 minutes. She had been an excellent, dedicated agent, and her death was a terrible loss. Nambu had lost many, many agents in the years he'd been fighting Galactor, but he'd never be able to accept it with equanimity.

Slowly Kyoko's eyes opened. "M...mom?"

"I'm sorry, Kyoko," Nambu said gently. "She's not here."

"Wh-- what happened?" Her voice became firmer, less vacant-sounding. "Did I fall asleep or something? I... I remember hearing my mother..."

"Your mother implanted her report in you hypnotically," Nambu said. "Probably on the telephone, after she gave you the list on contacts. She-- Kyoko, what's wrong?"

Kyoko bit her lip, fighting the tears that burned her eyes with all her strength. "N-- nothing," she managed.

Nambu shook his head, not taken in. He was about to ask her if she wanted to be alone with her grief, but she was only 15, and she had been alone so long... "Perhaps you would feel better if you talked about it," he said quietly.

The words broke her control. Kyoko was filled with guilt, for how she felt, but her anger and grief were greater, and they wouldn't let her be silent. She began to sob, forcing the words out. "She u-used me," she choked out. "The last thing she s-said to me was fo-for her work. Always-- always-- her work! Always-- th-the Angel of Death and nev-never Mom,-- not even when she was g-going to die!"

Having been the one to send the Angel to her death, Nambu didn't feel he could adequately comfort her. "Would you like to talk to your brother?" he asked.

Kyoko didn't answer-- she was too busy fighting to control herself. Nambu picked up the intercom. "Ken, would you please come to my office," he said.

"You d-don't need to--" Kyoko tried to say, but Nambu shushed her.

"No need for polite objections. You need to talk to somebody, and I think Ken can best understand how you feel."

When Ken came in, Nambu quickly and quietly explained the situation to him, then bowed out. Ken felt somewhat at sea, faced with a crying teenage girl who, somehow, he had to comfort. But he knew how it felt, to lose a parent, having lost three-- his mother, his father (twice), and Dr. Nambu, back during the war with Egobossler. "Kyoko?"


"Do you want to talk about it?"

She didn't, really. Her feelings were unworthy of her, unworthy of her mother's daughter. But the resentment of her mother had been bottled up too long. "Why?" she screamed suddenly, uncontrollably. "Why couldn't she stay home? If she was going to spend her whole life fighting Galactor, why did she ever even have me? Why was it that the last thing she d-did--" she couldn't speak coherently for several seconds-- "the last thing she ever said to me, was her report for Dr. Nambu!"

Ken was so used to the necessary ruthlessness of those who fought Galactor that he'd forgotten how it felt to first realize that your own life meant less to the people you loved than their duty. He'd taken that for granted for as long as he could remember. But for a 15-year-old child who hadn't grown up with that knowledge, it must be shattering. "Kyoko..." Softly. "You and I've been unfortunate enough to have very ruthless parents. In fact, you ended up with 2 of them. After you've lost your mother, it isn't much comfort to hear the old saw about 'I couldn't love thee so much, loved I not duty more'... But it's the truth. Your mother loved you, probably more than anyone in her life, ever. But she felt she had a duty to humanity. Without her... without her I'd still be a prisoner of Alatan Katse, or dead."

"But why did she have to b-be a fighter?" Kyoko cried. "Why couldn't we ju-just have lived, peacefully? If she wasn't going to be able to take care of me, why'd she h-have me?? Or at least why couldn't she give me up for adoption?"

Ken was silent for a few moments. "Perhaps because she wanted to protect you."

"Pro-protect me?!"

"Don't make the mistake," Ken said quietly, "of assuming that you'd have led a safe, peaceful life if your family weren't fighters. It doesn't work like that, Kyoko. Galactor kills innocent and warrior alike. In fact, as a terrorist organization, Galactor makes it its business to kill the innocent, because they're the ones who will be most frightened and demoralized. Perhaps, at some point, your mother's connections saved your life. Perhaps she prevented you from going someplace, once, where she knew Galactor was planning to attack. You don't know." He sat next to her on the bed and put a comforting, brotherly arm around her shoulder. "If you're looking for safety, Kyoko, you've come to the wrong planet. As long as Galactor exists, no one in the world can be safe. The only way to insure that you won't have your peaceful life shattered by Galactor... is to not lead a peaceful life. To dedicate yourself to the battle. That isn't safe-- it's a terribly dangerous life. But you won't die as a victim. You won't die in confusion, wondering why. If you die, you'll die fighting, and you'll pay Galactor back for your own death, and you'll know why you're dying. You won't be a nameless statistic, you'll have accomplished something by your death. But if you're an innocent, leading a peaceful life, and Galactor kills you, that's entirely a Galactor victory." Her sobs had begun to abate. "That's the way I see it, and I think that's how your mother saw it. If you've come here to be a safe little child again, Kyoko, snug in your older brother's protection-- well, I can't give you that. I'd love to, but I don't have any peace to give you-- it just isn't there. But if you've come to learn how to defend yourself, how to pay Galactor back for killing your mother and your teachers and shattering your peace... I can give you that. That's the only kind of protection I can give you. Is it enough?"

Kyoko looked up at him, her eyes streaked with tears. "I'd never have a child in a world as unsafe as this," she said, still accusing her mother.

"Neither would I." Ken stood up. "Sometimes... sometimes I resent our father, Kyoko... sometimes I resent him so much, for leaving me behind. I'm old enough that I can admit that, now. And I'd never want to bring a child into this world full of danger, either... not until Galactor's destroyed, and I can be a father. I understand how you feel... but that obviously isn't how your mother felt. What are you going to do? Hate her for letting you be born? It's all right to resent your parents a little, Kyoko... but don't let it get out of control. Remember that you wouldn't be feeling this resentment if you didn't love her terribly. What you really want to know is not why she let you be born, but why she had to die and leave you... and, well, that's just a warrior's child's lot in life. You've had more of a childhood than some. You've also had childhood end more violently than most. But you can't go back. You can't be a child in your mother's arms again. Somehow you've got to become an adult, as fast as you can, Kyoko, and protect yourself, because you have no parents to protect you anymore."

"Then... yeah." Kyoko wiped her eyes. "All right. I want to learn how to protect myself."

"All right." Ken nodded. "As soon as you're completely well, we'll begin training."