The Growing Darkness

(Gatchaman IV Prequel #3 )

I was such a lonely little girl. When I was very very small-- and who says I can't remember that far?-- I remember Mommy playing with me. We used to hide under the blankets and sing so that the Hombagomba-- that was the monster-- would go away. And we went for walks, and we danced sometimes...But then Mommy always had meetings, and research. She brought me to the corridor places, where I couldn't run or yell or the men in the suits would say, "Stop that. You can't do that here!" So I used to explore for fun, but then Mommy would run around searching for me, and then she would be angry. So I couldn't even do that.

That was when the light in my head came to me. He was like a person, except not. He was a light, inside my head, and he talked to me. He told me his name was Sosai, and that I was his chosen one. He would teach me things.

And he did.

When I explored the places where Mommy took me, he was there, pointing out to me what the different things were. He explained to me the research, in terms I could understand. Other things he taught me, too-- we dissected a cat, and he showed me how it worked inside. Mommy caught me doing that, and she didn't like it. But it was easy to keep secrets from her. All I had to do was act normal, and she never noticed. Sosai showed me how cars worked, and flowers, and he told me about things smaller than the eye could see. He made me read, too. I wanted to do that. I read books, and he explained them. Or I read Mommy's papers.

It was when I was reading that I realized I must have a daddy. It took a mother and a father together to make a child. I would have asked Mommy who my daddy was, but I began to see him-- I don't know how, but there was an image of a tall, beautiful man who looked something like a lady, with long blond hair. That was after I had started to learn, with Sosai's help, how to change my face and body into something else. I experimented with making myself look like him, but only when Mommy wasn't around-- I knew she was afraid of my special ability, to make my hurts go away, and I knew she would be afraid of this too.

I asked Sosai, "Who is my father?"

"Your father is my chosen one, as you are. He is working for me, to take control of this Earth and become its king. And then you will join him, and when you are grown you will be Queen of the Earth."

"Why can't I see my daddy now?"

"There are people who are trying to kill him. They would kill you to reach him. I cannot risk your life, and I cannot allow your father to be distracted."

One day Mommy came into the garden with me. She came to tell me about a horrible organization called Galactor, but I could not see what was so horrible. She said that its leader, Berg Katse, was ruthless and cruel and trying to take over the world. I asked, surprised, "Is he trying to be king of the world?"

"Yes, that's one way to put it..."

"What's so bad about that? When I grow up, I will be queen of the world..."

Mommy laughed and told me there was no such thing as queen of the world. "You could be Secretary-General of the United Nations, maybe..."

I was angry. Either Sosai or Mommy were lying to me..."But Sosai promised me I would be queen of the world!"

That was a mistake. Mommy asked who Sosai was, and I had to tell her he was a light in my head, who taught me things. And he told me my daddy would be King of the Earth, and Mommy was furious. "You have no father ! Your father is dead! I'm the only parent you have!"

So I knew that my mother was lying. Sosai was angry too. He shouted at me for revealing his existence to Mother. I was afraid, because Sosai and Mommy were saying two different things. I asked Sosai if my father was Berg Katse. He said I was very perceptive, but when I asked why my father would do the terrible things Mommy said he did, he yelled at me and called me a fool. "Who will you listen to, your mother or me?" I told him I had to decide...

Then I had to go to school, which was awful. The teachers made me stupid things and act like the stupid other kids. But I learned how to make the teachers love me. It was easy-- I just had to act like I cared what they said, and do what they wanted me to. When I was good, they let me have what I wanted. So I could never throw tantrums like I used to anymore. I could never want anything too badly that it made me lose emotional control. Control became the most important thing, because if I could control my feelings, I could control other people...

I became so tired of control! Of keeping secrets, of lying...If I were with my father, I wouldn't have to do that. Sosai couldn't understand the way I felt, couldn't comfort me when I was disappointed-- all he gave me was of the mind. And I didn't dare share my secret world with Mommy. I wanted to, but since the day I learned that my mother and my father were enemies, I did not dare. But my father would understand me. He would be just as busy as my mother-- I knew I would not have very much time with him-- but I would be able to share what little time he did have completely, because he would understand how I felt. I would not have to keep secrets from him...

I was in second grade on the day of the earthquakes. All the usual schools were closed, but the special school for ISO children was open, because many of the scientists were working harder than usual and could not take care of their children. It was also a place of safety, because it was built on a relatively stable piece of land. As the earthquakes got worse, the children got more and more frightened, and though the teachers tried to cheer them up, I could see that they were very afraid too. But I was not afraid. There was a joyous feeling in me of excitement, of impending triumph. Each earthquake brought me closer to-- to what? I didn't know, but I felt I wanted it. I waited impatiently, excitedly, for the vague goal to materialize... surely it would be so wonderful when it did...

And then it changed. I had not talked to Sosai since the earthquakes began, but I had sensed his presence. Now I felt it fading, vanishing, like a light going dim. I reached for it-- and then I felt an enormous sense of misery and despair, sweeping over me. Something I had wanted terribly had been shattered, leaving me with nothing, and I wanted to die.

Crying, I ran from the room and outside. The teachers called to me to stop, but I didn't care, didn't want to hear them. I wanted the Earth to swallow me up and take my grief away forever. I knelt on the ground as it shook with earthquakes, sobbing, and hoped that a quake would open the ground under me and take me away. But it didn't. Instead, the horrible despair faded, leaving behind nothing but an empty grief. The teachers took me inside as the earthquakes stopped, and when Mommy came she hugged me tightly and said, "It's all right. It's over. No one will hurt you anymore." Which proved she just misunderstood my feelings, but her arms around me were more comforting than any words could have been.

After that, it seemed my control had gone. I was infinitely lonely. I was a superior being, as Sosai had told me, and I shouldn't need anyone...but I did. Because I had no one to talk to at all, I had to learn how to be with the other children. It was very difficult, and I made mistakes all the time. For instance, the day that the boys taunted me and called me a bastard. I said scornfully, "You don't even know what that means."

"Yes I do!" the boy who said it shouted. "It means you haven't got a father!"

I was enraged. "I do too! My father is going to rule the world someday, and when I grow up I'll rule it with him!"

They laughed...

So I learned. I discovered how to make the other girls do as I said-- after all, I was bred to seek power, and this was the only route. I volunteered for everything-- to help in cleaning up after school, to help decorate for holidays, to have a part in the play-- and invariably, because the teachers liked me best, I would be put in charge of whatever it was. I was such a sweet, friendly little girl, they could not imagine that I could do wrong. The children knew better, but what could they do? It's very important to little girls that everybody be friendly and like each other. They are capable of the subtlest wounding cruelties, but so was I-- and because I had become a leader in the class, they had to include me, or incur my retribution. So I was invited to slumber parties, and ice cream outings, and they shared their petty confidences with me.

It was harder to win the boys. They had discovered my weak point, and taunted me constantly about my father. I hit them, but they laughed and said that girls couldn't hit, and then they hit back, harder. I had been taking martial arts classes, as well as the classes in singing and dance that I had begun. Now I began to focus on the martial arts as something desirable, rather than something my mother had stuck me with-- and a whole new world was opened to me.

To move! To be graceful, and swift, and execute moves with such beautiful precision! I saw the beauty of my sensei's movements and yearned after them, hungered to move the same way, so swift and beautiful and flawlessly inhuman. I wanted to fight so that my enemies were dazzled by the beauty of the moves that took them down. To dance, let the music sweep me away-- to perform katas or fight a foe so that everything I did was a poem in action... And there was music, too. To sing, and fill the world with my voice... oh, these were my passions. Then I thought nothing of grand destinies, only of my arts.

Because of this, I began to beat the boys, and so they feared me. The girls drew back from me-- I was so different from them-- but they valued my talent, and I defended them against bullies many times. The boys came to respect me, then, and I learned to defeat them at everything they did, and so I became their master, despite being female.

That was also the time I began taking advanced classes. Someone had recognized that I was a genius-- my IQ was 170 on the old-style, 200 scale used in the Americas, and 265 on the modified 300 scale used in most of Europe and Japan. Other tests told them I had a faster reaction time and a quicker speed of comprehension than any others my age, as well as an ability to see patterns-- and what else is genius, after all? So they taught me languages, and science, and I devoured voraciously everything they had to offer me.

It must have seemed as if I had it all. I was bright, I was talented, the teachers loved me, the boys looked up to me, girls asked my advice and vied to be my best friend... But I was terribly lonely. Secrets are so important to a girl of 8 or 9. It was how we made friendships and kept them, by sharing secrets-- but I never dared share mine. Theirs were trivial in comparison to mine. I longed to have someone I could tell everything to, but even Sosai was gone... To test my mother, I asked her who my father was, and she lied to me. She told me, first, that she wasn't my natural mother, but I don't know whether that was a lie or not. It made sense at the time-- otherwise why would my mother and father have produced me, if they hated each other? It was surely against the natural order of things... But I was naive then. I do not know if this was truth or not... But there were three things she told me after that, and I was sure they were all lies. She said my father was a normal human man named Bert Kelly, with no special powers, and that he was dead. I knew that my father was named Berg Katse and that he had some powers similar to mine-- he, too, was a superior being-- and so I assumed that the third was a lie as well. And I knew that he had to be lonely like me. After all, Sosai had left him, too... If I were with him, I could tell him everything. I could share everything with him, and then neither of us would be lonely any more.

And we would rule the world together! It was such a lovely dream. Even more than my loneliness, I was conscious of being a superior being, a genius. There was so much suffering in the world. Poverty, and war, and race prejudice...I could see so clearly that this world needed someone to fix it. Someone with my intelligence and insight. When my father and I ruled, we could create a utopia...

Then one day the light in my head returned, summoning me. "Alatan!"

"Sosai?" I sat up in bed.

"Come to me, Alatan. I'm waiting outside."

It was during the summer, a warm moonlit night. Mommy was at the lab, as usual-- I could easily go to Sosai. But I remembered how Sosai had abandoned my father and me before, and I wanted confirmation. So I asked, "When will I see my father? I won't come unless I can see my father."

"Your father's out here, waiting for you."

I was so happy! I got dressed and ran outside. There was a round, golden ship in the sky, and I was sure my father was there, waiting for me. Finally I would meet him! I ran through the streets and out to the boys' soccer field, where the ship came down. Believing I would see my father at last, I went in, and the door shut behind me as the craft lifted up.

"Sosai," I said. "Sosai, where's my father?"

"He's not here. You're going to become leader of Galactor, Alatan."

"No! Where's my father? You promised!"

"That was simply so you would come. I have need of you, Alatan."

"Where's my father?!"

"Your father was swallowed up by the earthquakes and died, Alatan! Forget about him! You will take his place as ruler of Galactor!"

"No. You're lying!" But I remembered the strange grief I had felt that day-- had that been my father's death I'd felt? "You promised! You said I would get to meet him and he would be king of the world and I would be queen with him and I could meet him someday and you lied!" I was sobbing then. "I won't be leader of Galactor for you, I won't do anything for you! You promised me!"

"How will you stop me?" Sosai asked angrily.

So I showed him. I yanked open the panels and pulled out the wires. It hurt my arms and burned them, but the pain went away quickly, as it always did. Sosai was screaming at me, but I didn't understand him until it was too late. "What are you doing? You fool! You're destroying the ship! You'll kill yourself!" And when the ship went out of control and headed for the ground, I knew that what he'd said was true, and I was very afraid...

When I awakened, there was an angel holding me, and for a while I thought I was dead.

He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, all in white, and even after I heard him talking to friends, I wanted to simply lie there and be dead. But I wasn't dead, and I realized as they talked-- about real concerns, like how did I survive a fall from such a height, and could this be the Galactor move Dr. Nambu had warned them to expect-- that not only was I not dead, but my rescuers were the Gatchaman team, the enemies of Sosai and my father (o my poor dead father, how could I bear to know the truth?) The beautiful angel man was actually the leader of Gatchaman and so I had to resolve to be careful.

When they asked me what had happened, I had already assembled my story. I told them that Galactor had tried to kidnap me, which was true, and that I didn't know why, which wasn't true. I told them that I had pulled the electrical wires out, and they stared at my unhurt arms and talked about how lucky I'd been.

Later, as the weeks passed, I realized what a fool I'd been. How could it be Sosai's fault that my father had fallen into an earthquake? Perhaps that had been why Sosai had left, because his chosen one was dead and I was too young. I was born and bred to be leader of Galactor, and I had thrown it away-- because I'd lost control. I called to Sosai in my mind, but he had already found a more willing servant, Gel Sadra. So I would read the papers, about Galactor defeats and Gatchaman victories, and I would burn with envy and anger. I could make a better leader than this Gel Sadra person. It was what I was created for, after all. I could do better... and didn't I deserve it? My envy caused a bitter anger at Sosai, who had never given me a second chance, and I began to secretly plan that someday, I would reclaim my birthright. I would take control of Galactor from Gel Sadra, and Sosai would serve me...

Planning for this day, I conducted information-gathering operations. I began memorizing the location of ISO bases and making maps, of learning as much as I could about ISO security. I snuck in to watch the Gatchaman team in their practice room, and applied myself diligently to my martial arts studies, trying to duplicate moves I'd seen them do. I learned as much as I could about them and about Dr. Nambu in preparation for the day they would become my enemies, and I studied everything they had on Galactor, so I could learn from past mistakes...

It was in this way that I found about my father's journals. Nambu had three or four notebooks' worth of them, but I only found the one in his office at G-Town. He had begun a translation, with annotations like, "Can't this poor fool see X is using him?" and "Schizoid megalomania." I didn't like Nambu, or his annotations. So I snuck into his office, the one day I had a chance to get to G-Town, and began translating it myself. Even though I understood most of the languages being used, the handwriting and the mixing of the languages made it difficult to comprehend. And then Nambu returned, before I'd gotten farther than ten pages, and so I was forced to flee without it. He chased me, but I was wearing my blond hair and sunglasses, so he never knew it was me. I never got to go to G-Town again, though.

And then came the day when my mind shattered, and everything changed...

Mom wasn't home. She was never home. I was just sitting in my room reading when I heard a shriek of agony in my head.

"HELP ME!!!"

The pain was like a bubble-- it seemed to grow bigger and bigger inside my head, crushing my brain against my skull and grinding me to bits. I could hear my own voice screaming, but I couldn't feel my voicebox working, couldn't feel anything but the pain...and something else. It was like a light, but strobing, full of bizarre colors, stabbing into my mind's eye again and again. My arms and legs were floating away from my body, all I was was a head full of pain...

When it died finally, I was in a daze. My mind and body could not seem to connect right. When I moved, I could feel the pressure of the ground on my feet-- it was as if I was insubstantial, walking on air. I could not understand why doors presented barriers to me-- in the dream-state, it seemed as if I should be able to just flow through them. The appliances in the kitchen and the computer and TV all made hums in my brain, and I thought I could just reach out and make the hums go differently... But nothing was connected in my brain, and so I couldn't try. I fell asleep, still without comprehension of the world.

When I woke up, I knew what had happened. I could feel him, bright in my mind-- Sosai X.

"Why have you come to me?"

He was very weak, and could neither dissemble nor hold back the answer. "Gel Sadra... Gatchaman... have destroyed my body... You are my refuge, Alatan..."

"If you're going to use my body, you'll help me and do as I say. Otherwise I won't let you."

"How...could you stop me? I am already here..."

"How could you stop me? You haven't the strength to resist my questions."

It was the fulfillment of a dream. To have Sosai under my control, answering my commands...He was very weak all of the time. Most of the time, he was sleeping, and not even my greatest efforts could wake him. But at other times, I made him tell me things, and so I arranged for everything to be as I willed it.

I had less need of sharing secrets-- I saw no reason to be any other than I was, a superhuman among humans. I saw also no reason to let humans stand between me and my desires. With Sosai's help, and a second burgling of Nambu's office at Gatchaman Base, retrieving one of my father's journals, I found my father's bank accounts. Berg Katse had been one of the wealthiest people on the Earth, and as his daughter I was entitled to inherit his fortune. So I withdrew small amounts of money for my needs-- never enough to make Mom suspicious, but enough to get the job done. Wearing my blond face, I hired a gang of boys to do my bidding, causing "accidents" and such to get me what I wanted. I practiced subtlety in this fashion-- nothing could ever be tied to me-- and I never seriously hurt anyone. Why should I stoop to human violence? There were better ways to get a job done. Of course, I had violent things done-- but never permanent things; it wasn't their fault that they were only humans and couldn't hope to compete with me.

I knew that a man named Egobossler was now leader of Galactor, and trying to rule the world, but Sosai had nothing to do with him. Sosai told me that a piece of his old self had lived, rebuilt itself and was now calling itself Z. But that piece and my Sosai were only in occasional communication, and it was insane. For a while, I was very afraid, because Z planned to destroy the Earth. And then Z was destroyed--

In some ways, the pain was more terrible than that night when Sosai came to me. Z was a part of Sosai, who was a part of me, and its agony was felt by us as well. I awakened from pain-delirium, sobbing, with my mother's arms around me...

The next day made up for all the pain-- I learned that Nambu and Gatchaman and Egobossler had all died in the destruction of Z. I was overjoyed-- in one swoop, all my rivals had fallen! All those who could oppose my ambition were dead now.

That was when I became Alatan Katse.

It was slow going. I slipped into Director Nambu's home-- since he was dead, there was little to stop me-- and took the rest of my father's journals. I also broke into ISO's computer files on Galactor, and I had information firsthand from Sosai. So I learned what my angle was to be.

My father had held personal control of a third, at least, of Galactor's total monetary assets. When he died, no one knew how to get at them, and Gel Sadra wasn't anywhere near as good as he was at raising funds, with the result that she squandered most of Galactor's money by the time of her death. Egobossler had a personal fortune, which he'd used to finance his Family's operations, and when he changed the Family's name to Galactor and took over Galactor operations, it was his money that kept it going. With his death, Galactor had been shattered-- not because their leader was dead, but because there was no more money.

Several men were jockeying for control of Galactor's impoverished remnants, hoping to rebuild. I contacted the sanest and smartest of them, Vincent Galliente, and offered a deal. I was the daughter of Berg Katse, I said, and heir to Katse's fortune. I would provide Galliente with the money to outfight his competitors and rebuild Galactor, but when the time came, he was to turn control over to me and become my second-in-command. Galliente did not like the idea of taking a child's orders, especially not a female child's, but I suspect he thought he could use me as a figurehead, and so he agreed.

Selina Marriochio was another case-- she was a mutant like my father, and had been personally loyal only to him. In a conflict with Gel Sadra, she had quit Galactor, bringing with her the more elite organizations of my father's time, and disappeared from Galactor. From Galactor, but not from my sight-- with my access to ISO and Galactor files, I tracked her down and offered her a chance to be my second, to assist the daughter of Berg Katse as she had he himself. She accepted, and gave me invaluable assistance and advice, especially on dealing with Galliente.

It was very exciting-- rebuilding Galactor, and right under my mother's nose, too. I do not think I am a particularly cruel person-- but I wanted to do this so close to my mother, to humiliate her. If she hadn't lied to me, I might have known my father was dead, might not have wasted my passion on empty hopes those two years. If she had ever had time for me, perhaps I would not have been so crushingly lonely...

Now, I will soon take the reins of Galactor openly. I will earn my mother's hatred, but that doesn't bother me. Nambu and Gatchaman are alive when they should have been dead, and this annoys me-- but I have been careful. Neither Nambu nor my mother suspect anything. Nambu is watching me, but he sees only what I want him to see-- two of his agents are in my pocket, and the rest are as deceived as the world has always been, concerning me. Gatchaman and Nambu are dangerous, but I have learned from my predecessors' mistakes-- and I have more information than they do. And I do not fear what Galliente warned, that a young girl will never win the loyalty of the tough men of Galactor. I specialize in making people love me-- and if they won't do that, to fear me. It is a trait of my father's as well...

I still don't really have anyone to talk to. Sosai is still weak, and Galliente is not to be trusted, and Selina is cold...But it doesn't matter. I'm not a little girl anymore. I have new dreams. It no longer matters that I am alone...