Darkangel pt. 2: The Fighter
(Gatchaman IV story #13)
Kyoko was working out on the parallel bars, swinging out, over and under and in, when Ken came in. He watched her for a few moments without speaking, then called to her. "Kyoko!"
She swung around a bar and landed neatly on the mat. "Niisan?"
"Dr. Nambu's sending us out. There's a Galactor base in Madcheren, and we're going to deal with it. While I'm gone, practice gymnastics and katas, like you're doing now."
"How long will you be gone?"
"Probably no more than a day or two, but maybe longer." He turned to leave. "See you later."
"Good luck, niisan, and I'll see you when you get back."
She waited until he left before leaping back onto the bars. Her arms were still not as strong as she'd like, and she had to keep moving, distributing her weight differently with momentum, to stay up. Kyoko had been practicing gymnastics, martial arts, and strength-building techniques singlemindedly for a month now, under her older brother's direction. She had improved a good deal, she thought, but she still had a long way to go-- Ken wanted to train her to be as good as he was, and that was years away. It was just that she had nothing else to do. Meet with her tutors, do her homework, and train. There wasn't anyone her own age here, and while the Science Ninja Team were kind to her, they were also usually busy.
It was impossible to spend any length of time at ISO HQ and not be affected by the war with Galactor. Kyoko had started out planning only to become capable of defending herself, and had grown over the past month to develop a tremendous hatred for Galactor. Not that she hadn't hated them before-- she always had felt they truly deserved to be destroyed, but now she wanted to help do it. Lately she had been filled with dreams of bloody vengeance-- the ambient hatred and dedication against Galactor around her had helped engender them, and probably the fact that her brother was Gatchaman didn't hurt, either. But there was another reason.
Often, she would go to Dr. Kamo's workshop to look at all the weapons he had built or was building. Three weeks ago, she had found a sword hilt, tossed in a bin with a great deal of junk. It was an unremarkable sword hilt, and yet there was something compelling about it. Without knowing how she knew, she knew that it had belonged to her brother, so she'd taken it out of the bin, dusted it off, and experimented with it.She discovered that she could press a toggle and cause a blade to appear; a blade that looked and felt solid, yet was unbreakable and would vanish again when she toggled it off.
Alone in the gym, late at night, she practiced with it. It guided her hand, so that even though she had never held a sword before, she knew exactly what to do with it. And it seemed almost to speak to her, a soft whispering of duty and vengeance. Would she let her mother's murder go unpunished? Would she deny the shades of her parents, her sensei, her obachan? There was something she had to do, and the sword whispered to her of how to do it.
Kyoko had been gathering information from various sources to try to understand just what Galactor was, nowadays. In the old days, Galactor had had plot after plot for world domination in rapid succession. Alatan Katse had apparently decided that was not the way to do it-- though there had been several mecha attacks, Ken said he was beginning to believe they were all a smokescreen for something else. The trouble was that he didn't know what.
Kyoko spent some time in the Intelligence Department, talking to people who'd known her mother. There were certain things that anyone in ISO could have access to, such as her mother's report, and so they let her see it. That was when Kyoko realized what her purpose had to be. She wouldn't tell Ken until she was ready to do it-- he would want to stop her, and she couldn't allow that. Inside her there was a cold and implacable purpose, fueled by the whisperings of the sword. She had to carry out her mother's mission.
Though she'd told Ken nothing of this, she felt she might have to talk to Dr. Nambu. He was dedicated enough that if her plan made any kind of logical sense, he would go along with it and tell her when she would be ready. And now would be the best time to talk to him, with the Science Ninja Team dispatched and briefed. Kyoko left the gym, showered and changed, and padded to the stairwell.
It was one of her little games, the things she did to stay in practice. She wasn't taking the elevator because she was trying to be unobtrusive. Kyoko had a talent for being unnoticed. It didn't do her much good behind store counters, but it was very useful for a would-be ninja. She climbed 20 flights of stairs as fast as she could, to build her stamina, and did all her gasping for breath on the stairwell, where no one would hear. By the time she stepped out, her breathing was soundless again.
Pretending that she was trying to lose a tail, she took roundabout long cuts through rows of empty office blocks, and doubled around to Dr. Nambu's. The door was shut, but it would defeat the purpose of the game to knock. Rather, she pressed her ear to the door, listening intently. If he had a guest or something, she would wait until his business was completed.
There were voices inside. Very well, she'd wait. Kyoko sat down beside the door silently, crosslegged, and listened. It was eavesdropping, and none of her business, but there might be information she could use. She was not the daughter of a pair of spies for nothing. She kept her other senses alert, since she didn't want anyone to catch her eavesdropping.
A tinny voice inside was speaking English. "...sent the Science Ninja Team?"
"Yes, ma'am. They're on their way."
"And they don't s...k anything?" Kyoko couldn't quite make out one of the words. The speaker was female, though, and probably on the videophone.
"As far as they're concerned, I'm Nambu. They didn't suspect a thing. Why should they?" Sound of riffling papers as Kyoko's blood went cold. As far as they're concerned... didn't suspect... "I've got the codes you wanted, Alatan-sama. Do you want me to deliver them now?"
Alatan-sama... The voice on the other line was her mother's murderer. Kyoko pressed her head against the door, desperately trying to make out the woman's words.
"Not over the phone, it's not a closed channel. After you and Ashley take over ISO HQ, I'll want the codes. By then, the Science Ninja Team should be dead..."
Kyoko had heard all she needed to. She stood silently and walked away. If she ran, it might alert the man inside, and she well knew how willing Galactor was to kill to protect its secrets. She had to warn somebody, and the first person that came to mind was Dr. Kamo. Dr. Nambu was an impostor. He'd sent the Science Ninja Team into a trap.
Kamo's office was down two flights of stairs from Nambu's. By the time Kyoko reached the stairwell, she figured it was safe to run, and fairly flew down the stairs, with her hand out to round corners without slowing. She charged into Kamo's workshop. "Dr. Kamo!"
"Kyoko! What is it?"
"Dr. Nambu's an impostor. He just sent the Science Ninja Team into a trap," she panted. "We have to warn them!"
"Wait, slow down. How do you know he's an impostor?"
"I was outside his door-- I wanted to talk to him-- and I heard him talking to Alatan Katse by video or something. He said the Science Ninja Team didn't suspect anything, and should he give Alatan the codes, and she said wait until him and Ashley have taken over ISO HQ, whoever Ashley is."
Kamo frowned. "This isn't a game, I hope..."
"No, it's not. I don't joke about things like this."
"Then it's bad." He sucked in his breath through his teeth. "Very bad. You see, we can't warn the team-- the channel to call them opens into a receiver in Dr. Nambu's office, too. We need to deal with the impostor, and if he is who I think he is, there's no way we can do it alone."
"Who do you think he is?"
"One of Galactor's Dancing Masques. They're highly trained fighters as well as disguise artists. We wouldn't stand a chance." He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again. "There's one chance. Ryu might be able to deal with a Dancer. Maybe not, but it's our only shot. Kyoko, here's what I want you to do." He looked about for a scrap of paper as he talked. "Dr. Nambu can monitor phone calls from this building. He doesn't usually, but we can bet the impostor will. So we have to carry the message by hand. You go to Ryu and tell him the situation. He'll know what to do."
"Where can I find him?"
"That's what I'm writing, right now." He handed Kyoko the paper, on which he'd written the bus routing one would have to take to reach Ryu's address on the outskirts of Utoland, near the waterfront. "You have bus fare?"
"Good-- I don't know where I put my tokens. Now you go on, and hurry up back with him. We don't know when the Science Ninja Team will get there, so every moment counts."
"Right," Kyoko said, turned, and sped on her way.
She wore a red wig and white makeup on all exposed parts of her body, just in case the Galactors were still after her, and she changed transportation several times. After taking the bus, the subway, the bus again and a taxi, Kyoko felt reasonably sure no one was following her. She got off on the waterfront and went the rest of the way on foot, taking off her wig and makeup as soon as she was on Nakanishi property. Any Galactors hanging out here would have to be so incredibly stupid that they probably wouldn't recognize Kyoko in the first place.
The house was set back from the water some. Inside, she could hear a baby squalling. Kyoko knocked, at first hesitantly, then loudly and firmly when no one answered the first knock. There was a slow tugging at the door, and finally it opened sufficiently for her to see a small, plump child with big eyes and dark curls standing in the doorway. "Hi," the child said.
"Is there a grownup here I can talk to?" Kyoko asked.
"Kaa-chan is changing Aka-chan's diaper," the child said. "Aka-chan smells. Akiko is a big girl. Akiko goes potty."
From this Kyoko deduced that the child's name was Akiko. "What about your daddy?"
"Tô-chan gone fishing. He catches big, big fish for Akiko and Kaa-chan and Aka-chan to eat. Onee-chan dare?" Who are you, big sister?
"My name's Kyoko. I have to talk to your daddy."
"Akiko, dare?" a woman's voice called from inside. Who is it?
"It's Kyoko. She wants to see Tô-chan."
"Ah, Ken no imôto-chan!" the woman's voice exclaimed-- Oh, Ken's little sister! Kyoko winced. The cuteness factor of the conversation here was enough to put a diabetic in a coma. The woman came out with the baby, and Kyoko's eyes widened. The red-haired mother of two looked barely older than Kyoko herself. "Is something wrong?"
"I need to talk to Ryu."
"He's out on the boat--"
"It's very important."
Kyoko nodded, as Akiko tugged at her mother's shirt and said, "Kaa-chan, if she's Ken Oji-chan's little sister, should Akiko call her Oba-chan?"
"No, no, Onee-chan is fine," the woman said distractedly. "Um. Well, we could all go out on the other boat and try to catch up with him..."
And so Kyoko found herself on a motorboat with Joni Nakanishi, her 2-year-old daughter Akiko, and her infant, who so far had only been called Aka-chan, meaning Baby. Perhaps because her conversational partners had mainly been said children for a long while, Joni used more "chan's" in a few sentences than Kyoko had used in recent memory. Kyoko had been nervous about going out on a boat with two small children and such an obvious airhead, but Joni was well-practiced with boats, and Akiko actually had more boating experience than Kyoko did. She took it upon herself to continually advise "Onee-chan" on proper boating procedure. In ten minutes, they came within hailing distance of another boat, and Joni began shouting at the top of her lungs, incongrously loudly considering her feminine speech patterns. "ANATA! ANATA TO AITAI'N HITO GA IRU WA!!" Dear, there's someone here who wants to see you!
"DARE DAI?" Ryu shouted back. Who?
"KEN NO IMOTO-CHAN NO WA!" Ken's little sister!
"AH, SOO KAI! JAA, SUGU ITTE KURU ZOI!!" Oh, really? Then I'll be right over!
The boat came zipping over toward them, and Kyoko got a good look at Ryu. She had seen him once before, when it seemed everyone Ken had ever met in his life was being introduced to her, but since then she had seen several pictures of him from the old days, and had forgotten what he looked like now. He was actually fatter than before, but because he was clean-shaven and had short hair, he looked better kempt. The acne problem visible in a few of the pictures was gone, and he had a dark tan. Unlike Bright, who had been fat, unkempt and emanated hostility, Ryu was a jolly fat man, clean and radiating friendliness, like Santa Claus or everybody's favorite uncle.
As soon as he was close enough that Kyoko could speak to him without shouting, she said, "There's an emergency. Dr. Nambu's been replaced by an impostor and the Science Ninja Team is headed for a trap."
Ryu went bright red. "What??"
"Dr. Kamo thinks the impostor is one of Alatan Katse's Dancing Masques. We can't warn the Science Ninja Team until after we've gotten rid of the impostor, and nobody but you stands a chance of beating him."
"I'm on my way!" Ryu shouted, and revved up the motor on the boat. He sped back to the dock with foam in his wake.
Joni looked ashen. "That's terrible!"
"Is the Doctor in trouble?" Akiko asked.
"Yes," Joni said to her. "Tô-chan has to go rescue him and all the uncles."
"Could we go back to the dock?" Kyoko asked. "I need to go report to Dr. Kamo."
"Oh! Of course!" They headed back in Ryu's wake.
By the time they reached the dock, Ryu had gone inside, painstakingly shoved himself into his costume, and transformed. The Bird Style compensated for the change in his size, and was no tighter on him than ever. Kyoko caught up with him climbing into his car, a giant gas-guzzler built like a miniature tank. "I need to report to Dr. Kamo, so could you take me with you? I can tell you what's happened on the way."
He nodded. "Okay, get in." She climbed in on the passenger side, and Ryu stuffed himself, wings and all, behind the wheel and started the car up.
"Is it okay to go driving through Utoland in Bird Style?" Kyoko asked.
"Well, no one's about to give me a ticket this way, are they?" The car pulled out of the driveway and onto the winding road off the property at a speed that really seemed dangerously fast. Kyoko clung to her seatbelt. "Where's Dr. Nambu?"
"No one knows. I heard the person I thought was him talking to Alatan Katse in his office--"
"Alatan Katse was in his office?"
"No, no, it was by videophone or something. I didn't look, but her voice was tinny. He said he'd sent the Science Ninja Team into a trap, and that he had codes for Alatan, and she said to give them to her after he and someone named Ashley had taken over ISO. I told Dr. Kamo, and he said that the impostor was probably a Dancing Masque--"
"-- and we can't warn the team, because the impostor would know..."
"Shit, shit, shit. I hope Dr. Kamo's got a plan, because this sounds really, really bad."
They turned a corner at an impossible speed and were nearly slammed by a 16-wheeler in the opposite lane. Kyoko decided that if she closed her eyes, maybe she wouldn't have a heart attack. "Can you fight a Dancing Masque?"
"I dunno. Never tried before. I don't think so-- I do best with people who stand still. I think maybe what I better do is sneak up on him. Maybe I'll have a chance then."
"How about if you pretend you've dropped by to talk to Dr. Nambu about something?" she suggested.
"Yeah, maybe that'd work. He'd have to pretend he's the Director, and then maybe I could get the drop on him."
They pulled up at the ISO building. "Here goes," Ryu said. "Let's go talk to Dr. Kamo."
Inside, however, there was no receptionist and the elevator didn't work. "What the hell?"
"We'd better take the stairs," Kyoko said.
"Up 40 flights? I'm not in the shape I was once, you know. Where's the receptionist?"
"I'll check the women's room," Kyoko said, and did so. The receptionist wasn't there. This was beginning to look bad.
"Well, we better take the stairs, I guess," Ryu muttered. "I don't think my plan about just showing up to talk to the Director is going to work." He opened the door to the stairwell. "Stay behind me in case there are any traps."
I couldn't exactly squeeze past you, Kyoko thought, noting that Ryu took up most of the stairwell's width. They started up the stairs, Ryu setting a much slower pace than Kyoko was comfortable with. She was pressingly conscious of time, terrified that they would be too late, and she wanted to bolt up the stairs as fast as she could go. But Ryu moved at a slow, steady pace all the way up. He never needed to pause for breath, and when they reached the top he wasn't winded at all. Kyoko would have been exhausted had she followed her inclination to run up, and he might actually have gotten them there faster by pacing them, but she still felt frustrated.
Kamo's laboratory was on the 40th floor. Cautiously, Ryu opened the door. There appeared to be no one at all in the corridor, which was very unusual. "You said they were planning on taking over ISO?" he whispered. "'Cause I think they've done it."
"Maybe we should go to one of the control centers and find out what's going on?"
"No way to get there without passing security checkpoints. The cameras're usually on a sweep-- if we keep moving, they might never hit us. But if we go past the checkpoints, they'll make us for sure. No, we better head for Dr. Kamo's office and be sure he's not there." Ryu snuck out of the stairwell and crept along the walls, unusually stealthy for such a big man, and Kyoko followed.
Dr. Kamo's office was empty. But he'd left his monitor on, open to the auditorium channel, with the pickup disabled. They could see the auditorium on the screen-- the huge central chamber where ISO held its meetings. Sloping up from the large center space in the middle of the auditorium were 2 floors' worth of of mobile seats on tracks, where the members of ISO normally sat. But today they were empty, and all the people were down on the bottom rows. Kyoko could make out the tiny figure of Dr. Kamo. Two people stood in the center of the space, a man and a woman wearing garish clothing, and Ryu swore. "Two of them. And they've got Dr. Kamo hostage, and all those people... Shit! Damn Galactor!"
"Well, if they've revealed themselves, can we call the Science Ninja Team? If they get back here, they can deal with two of them..."
"The trouble is that if they're monitoring, they'll pick up the signal, and they'll know I'm here. That'll blow any chance at surprise, and with all those hostages, there won't be much I can do..." He looked at Kyoko. "Okay, if they don't pick this up I'm going to sneak in. If they do... well, they don't know about you. I don't know if you can do anything, but I'll be occupying all their attention." He lifted his bracelet to his mouth. "This is G-- uh, this is the Owl. Gatchaman, can you hear me? Come in!"
"Ryu! Ryu, is that you?" Ken's voice crackled slightly over the distance, but was still reasonably clear.
"You're going into a trap. Dr. Nambu's been replaced by a Dancing Masque, and him and a Dancing Doll have taken over ISO HQ. Everyone but me's a hostage. The mission's a trap, pull out!"
"Ah-- all right, Ryu. We're turning around and heading for ISO HQ. ETA 3 hours, can you hang on until then?"
"I don't know. We'll see." Ryu lowered the bracelet.
An announcement came over the PA system, in a voice that was not quite Dr. Nambu's. "I think you can hear us, Ryu. We're in the auditorium. 10 minutes-- then we start killing the hostages. We know you're alone-- come unarmed as well."
Ryu turned to Kyoko. "Yoshi. Ato wa tanomu." All right. I leave the rest of it to you.
A chill went down Kyoko's back. That was what you said when you thought you were going to die. "You're going to go? They'll kill you..."
"Probably, but I'm gonna bust some heads before going." He smiled lopsidedly at her. "Tell Ken he better take care of Joni and the kids for me."
As he left, she wanted to cry out, Don't go! But it wouldn't do any good. The Science Ninja Team were on their way, but there were hostages. He had to go.
Only-- a sickening thought struck her. There was no good reason for Galactor to let the hostages live long enough for the Science Ninja Team to show up. From their point of view, they should probably kill Ryu and all the other important people, save the rest as hostages to force the Science Ninja Team to surrender, then kill the Science Ninja Team and the remaining hostages. Blow up the building while they were at it, and give all the codes and information to Alatan. ISO would never recover from the blow. Galactor would win.
On the viewscreen, she saw that Ryu had arrived. They tried to take him captive, moving away from the hostages as they did so, and he attacked them suddenly. Heart in her mouth, she watched as Ryu grabbed the man, swung him around without letting go, bashed him against the wall, and threw him at the woman. But she dodged, and flung shuriken at Ryu. They bounced off his visor or dug into the fat of his stomach. Not even slowed, he rushed her, startlingly fast for his size-- but not as fast as her. She moved, and brought her foot cracking into every vulnerable point on his body. That slowed him, but not by much. He grabbed her leg--
"Look behind you!" Kyoko screamed, knowing, helplessly, that Ryu couldn't hear her. The man had gotten up-- amazingly tough, to get up so soon after the treatment he'd gotten from Ryu-- and leapt onto Ryu's shoulders, wrapping arms and legs around Ryu's neck. Ryu tried to tug him off, lettting go of the woman and stepping on her arm, but the woman twisted her legs into position to pummel Ryu's chest with them. Attacked from two directions, unable to use his brute strength and endurance against the man's superior leverage, Ryu began to visibly weaken. He put all his weight on the woman's arm, apparently breaking it, and then fell on top of her-- or would have, had she not twisted out of the way at the last second.
Kyoko's eyes darkened with impotent fury and sick fear. Then she remembered, and the fear changed to grim determination. There was something she could. She'd planned to take out Alatan this way, but this was more important. Her own room was down 12 flights. She slid down the banisters, ran out onto the 28th floor and silently padded to her room. The sword hilt was under her mattress, where she always kept it.
When she touched it her rage leapt, like a cold flame burning brighter, destroying. She flicked a toggle, and a sword flared out, a thing of brilliant light and death. The cold flame of the sword burned inside her, whispering to her of her enemies' obliteration. Kyoko turned off the sword, stuck the hilt in her waistband, and went running down the stairs. It was effortless. The sword fueled her, magnifying her rage, magnifying her speed and stamina and skill. The auditorium went from the 5th to 7th stories. She fairly flew down the stairs, leaping half a dozen at a time.
On the 7th floor she left, and entered the auditorium from the balcony. She could see Ryu in his green bird style down there-- he was bound unconscious to a pillar. Apparently they had decided to do something dramatic with him. She also saw that Dr. Kamo and all the other top people were bound into chairs. The Dancers's costumes, at this distance, looked like karate uniforms made of circus costume material. They were turned at right angles to her.
Kyoko moved silently around the balcony until she was behind the two Dancers. Then she stepped off the balcony, onto the steps down, and laid herself flat, inching down bit by bit on her back.
It took about 5 minutes to slide herself all the way down. She could hear the man, the Dancing Masque, talking to Dr. Kamo. He was saying that he had decided to take Ryu captive, since Galactor could use one living Science Ninja for study and this was obviously the most useless. If he's so useless, how come he broke your girlfriend's arm? Kyoko thought. The man continued, saying that if Dr. Kamo would tell him how to get at Nambu's private files, the Owl could be granted the mercy of a clean death, and would not have to be dissected by Selina Marriochio. Everything Kyoko heard made her rage burn hotter, and she decided not to wait any longer. Time enough.
She activated the sword and stood, pushing herself up from one of the lower steps. Then she climbed onto an unoccupied chair and leapt. Time seemed to move in slow motion. She was flying through the air with the sword out and she was burning, rage like fire inside her. It felt as if the sword was an extension of her arm, or as if her arm was an extension of it. The man who'd impersonated Nambu was turning, oh so slowly. He flung up an arm to catch her in the stomach as he dodged his body out of the sword's path. She was in flight-- there was no way she could change her trajectory to avoid his attack.
The sword swung under her, at an angle no human girl should have had the strength and speed to direct it at, slashing his arm off. She landed, flipping, and swung the sword without even taking time to regain her balance. It was hungry for blood, guiding her aim as she drove the sword into his body and dragged up, using the slight resistance of his flesh to support her as she regained her footing. There was still disbelief on his face, and blood everywhere.
There was a woman's voice, screaming, but Kyoko had no time. Ryu had regained consciousness. She slashed him free, then turned away. There was still the Dancing Doll alive, and the bloodlust wouldn't let Kyoko stop. The woman was in the air, flinging shuriken with her good arm. The sword moved Kyoko's arm, deflecting each dart perfectly. It was her brother's hand guiding her, her brother's voice telling her what to do. When the woman landed, Kyoko charged at her. A split-second later she wasn't there, she was in the air again, and Kyoko had to deflect her spikes once more.
Then the woman was behind a scientist, with a short blade pressed against his back. "Surrender, or he dies!"
The sword would not surrender. The sword didn't know the meaning of the word. Its blade was thirsty for Galactor blood. Kyoko's hand moved up, and the whispering voice told her to fling it, to throw the sword with an aim far truer than Kyoko's alone could ever be. Before the woman had time to react, the blazing thing had imbedded in her head, and she slumped, leaving the scientist nicked but otherwise unhurt.
It was suddenly very cold. There was a roar of sound in Kyoko's ears. It had been strangely quiet while she held the sword, except for the whispering voice and the ringing in her ears. Now sound washed over her in a crashing wave, and she felt cold and sick and faint. She wanted Mommy, she wanted niisan... she crumpled.
Ryu had freed Dr. Kamo as Kyoko had fought the Dancer, and the two of them had freed everyone else. Most people hadn't been tied, but held by the threat to the ones who were. Now they all milled about confusedly in the blood-splashed arena, demanding to know what had happened, where were Drs. Nambu and Remington, and so forth. Kamo switched on the main mike. "QUIET!"
"We don't know where the Director and Dr. Remington are at the moment. The Science Ninja Team will be arriving in a few hours, and they'll make all attempt to find them. In the meantime, go back to your posts. The threat is over."
They went, except for two of the medical personnel, who bent by Kyoko's body. "She's breathing," one reported. "But her skin's clammy, and her pulse is erratic. We'd best take her to the infirmary."
"Good idea," Kamo said, and they left carrying her.
Ryu had lifted the sword out of the dead woman and deactivated it. Inert, it was just a beaten-up sword hilt. "I didn't know you'd given her a Gatchafencer, Doctor," he said. "I thought, after what happened to Ken, we weren't ever going to use that weapon again."
"We weren't," Kamo said grimly. He took the Fencer from Ryu. "This was supposed to have been destroyed with Z. I didn't build a new one."
"Then who did?" Ryu asked, turning toward him.
Kamo stared at the object in his hands. He'd seen how it had plunged the girl into a furious bloodlust, at the same time gifting her with skill equal to Ken's. "I don't know," he said, turning it over and over in his hands.
What is this thing?
Dear God, what am I supposed to do now?