(Gatchaman IV story #9)
"Whatever it takes, find the spy!"
This was the reason for psuedonyms, for abandoning children. The nightmare every spy lived with. The Angel of Death crouched in the shadows of Cross Karakoram Base, as the pursuit passed.
The report must get to Nambu.
She couldn't call ISO directly. Galactor phone systems monitored calls, and any ISO number might be known. And she couldn't escape Cross Karakoram. The base had been sealed, the vast move-in project halted, all to find her.
There was only one other way.
"Mom? Is it you, Mom?" Kyoko's voice was breaking.
"Kyoko-chan, there's no time-- they've caught onto me, and they're going to go after you. Listen. I have to give you a list of contacts--"
"You swore to me--" Kyoko was crying-- "you swore you'd give up the business! That you'd stay home! Mom--"
"Kyoko, there's no time!" Maryla's voice was sharp. She heard Kyoko quiet. Kyoko had her priorities straight, a brilliant sensible girl. It hurt so much to leave her behind... But Kyoko had ruthlessness and strength, dedication and efficiency, from both her mother and father. She would survive.
She gave her daughter the names, all but one. If Katse found out Kyoko was connected to him, she would never cease to seek Kyoko's destruction. Then Maryla gave her the hypnotic code words, and delivered her report.
If Kyoko reached the unnamed one, she would reach Nambu, and be able to give him the report. And if she didn't...
Maryla could not bear the thought that she might not. So she didn't think about it. When she hung up the phone, the Galactors were outside, waiting for her.
"17 of my men murdered..." Alatan stared at the carnage. She turned to Galliente. "Anything?"
"We've tracked her down. Her real name is Maryla Szejrani, and she has a 15-year-old daughter living in the States."
Alatan had no particular weaknesses regarding 15-year-old girls. "You deal with the child, Galliente, but don't take time away from the mother. I want the Angel of Death found!"
Cross Karakoram Base was a maze, that only Alatan Katse fully understood, if even she did. Certainly Maryla didn't. She hid on the floor where civilian families had just moved in, using the children of Galactors as her shield.
Then they began checking ID cards. Maryla went elsewhere, hiding in the cracks. Only about a third of the people and equipment that were supposed to be in the base had gotten in yet. It gave Maryla the advantage of empty places to hide.
The advantage was not enough.
When they turned on the cameras, she disappeared into the Shaft. The central core of Cross Karakoram Base had once been the hole Berg Katse had drilled in the Earth, to the magma. Alatan had had it made a volcano, creating the mountain that became the base. The tunnel the lava had made was the pivot for the whole base, but inside, it was empty, with nothing more than climbable walls and ledges for a weary Angel to sleep on. There was no food or water, either-- sooner or later she had to return to the base. No choice.
But she vowed she would bring down as many Galactors as she could, before she fell.
Vincent Galliente was always surrounded by bodyguards, Selina Marriochio was locked out of the base, and Alatan Katse herself regenerated. Maryla had to select lesser targets. But that was after all what she was best at.
After two of her night runs into captains' bedrooms, all the sleeprooms were placed under heavy guard, and Alatan's quarters vanished. They still existed, Maryla knew, but Cross Karakoram's interior was infinitely malleable, and the control box Alatan carried governed its transformations. Alatan could put a wall across her door as she slept if she so chose.
Maryla could tell her opponent was growing irrational in her fury. An entire floor was flooded with sleep gas. If Maryla hadn't fled into the Shaft in time, she would have fallen. Then several men followed her into the Shaft. The Angel sent them plunging to the force field at the bottom, where their bodies turned to ash next to the heat of the magma trapped underneath.
"Didn't I make myself clear on that? The Shaft is off-limits at all times."
"Alatan-sama, she's in there. She could stay there indefinetely. I thought her capture was your top priority!"
Alatan didn't know why the thought of people being in the Shaft disturbed her so deeply, but she didn't question. "She can't stay there indefinitely-- there's no food or water in there. And five men have died pursuing her there! It's off limits, Galliente! Don't argue!"
Vice-commander Galliente watched her, disturbed. Alatan Katse's attitude about the Shaft was even more irrational than her attitude about her men's deaths. But he nodded. "As you command, then."
"We'll wait until she comes out. This is an order, Galliente!"
Maryla needed a new disguise.
The word "disguise" set her thinking. This was Cross Karakoram, shrouded in superstition. It would be easy for the Angel of Death to use death as her disguise.
In a chamber on one of the higher floors was a shrine to those who had died for Galactor's Cause. There were lifelike wax statues of the past three leaders of Galactor, wearing replicas of their costumes. Maryla stripped the Berg Katse model of its costume, pulled the three statues together, and burned them.
Berg Katse's costume possessed a purple rubber bodysuit/girdle that could be molded into different body shapes, to permit a woman to look like a man. No one had ever mentioned how much pain that woman had to go through. Perhaps Berg Katse, never the bustiest of women from all reports, had been able to manage it and still breathe, but Maryla had to wrestle with the damn thing for half an hour before she got a configuration she could remain in without fainting from lack of oxygen. The high heels were another matter-- how had Katse ever walked, let alone run in them? Maryla needed the height, she didn't dare shave off any of it, but she had to practice for three hours before she could fight in them, and then her feet ached fiercely. With white makeup, lipstick, and a bit of spray latex around the nose, she managed to approximate Katse's lower face, and then when she got the mask on it was finished.
Maryla had always wondered how Katse had seen in his mask-- she had worn Galactor masks, and they completely cut off peripheral vision-- but the blue lenses were constructed differently than the ones in those masks. They turned the world lightly blue and squashed it together somewhat, but she was used to wearing mirrorshades for weeks at a time-- she could get used to this. She ended up with a slightly wider range of vision, in fact, and her hearing improved remarkably. Katse had known how to construct masks properly.
The disguise was not perfect-- she was several inches shorter than Katse, and couldn't imitate his voice for anything-- but since no one had seen Katse in years, and no one expected a ghost to talk, the discrepancies would not be noticed. It was good. Time to go demoralize Galactor.
"I know what I saw," the man argued. "It was your father's spirit, Alatan Katse-sama, as sure as I'm standing here."
"My father," Alatan said quietly, "would not murder half a dozen Galactors."
"Begging your pardon, ma'am, but you didn't know him! Berg Katse-sama used to shoot people just because they had stains on their costumes, or something! If his spirit's around, it makes perfect sense that he'd be killing the living out of spite--"
The man shut up.
"In the first place, you exaggerate. My father killed Galactors when it served Galactor's purpose to do so. You're thinking of Gel Sadra. In the second place, if my father's spirit were haunting this base, he would not interfere with my plans." Alatan refrained from mentioning that she'd seen her father's spirit, and knew he would do nothing to harm her. She'd made the mistake of mentioning this to Sosai, who'd told her she was an idiot, that it had been an illusion generated by X's presence in her mind, and was she sure she was eating and sleeping properly-- she had both their existences to maintain, after all. If Sosai, who lived in her head, didn't believe her, certainly no one else would.
"The so-called 'ghost of my father' is an impostor. Probably the spy. Concentrate on catching her, and the 'ghost' will take care of itself!"
Once upon a time there was a girl who lived in the country of Huntwall. Her father discovered corruption in high places, and died for it.
Once there was a young woman who burned to avenge her father. Like all the young, she was impulsive and reckless, and took one risk too many. She might have died, but a single man saved her from her folly.
Once there was a man who recognized in a certain young woman traits he had had as his youth. He told her of his work, and gave her the name of a man who would train her.
Once a woman, now a trained spy and assassin, met up with that man again. He had renounced his wife and family to dedicate himself to his mission. But she was as dedicated and ruthless as himself. His wife had died, was lost forever. When the woman fell in love with him, he accepted that love, as long as it interfered with neither of their missions.
Eventually, of course, the result of that love did interfere with the woman's work. But that was a risk she'd been willing to take. She never let the man know. It had hurt him enough to abandon his son. She didn't want to hurt him with a daughter he also had to abandon.
She tried to make the daughter love his memory, and succeeded. But the child only knew her mother. She loved her father in an abstract way, but it was her mother she clung to.
Her mother who had to abandon her now.
Maryla Szejrani felt, now as her life drew toward an end, that she had made all the wrong choices, that she should never have had a daughter to hold something of the father, because the daughter held something of her as well. If she had wanted to fight Galactor, she should not have left a child behind; if she wanted a child so badly, she should never have continued to fight Galactor.
Instead, she had tried to balance both, and now was left with the worst of all possible choices, leaving her child behind to Galactor's fury; but how could she have chosen differently? Except for that short time with her lover, back then, her duty and her love had always torn her in half; how could she deny her work, when her conscience was her soul? But how could she deny her heart?
I'm sorry, Kyoko, she thought.
Still dressed as Berg Katse, she went to the generators and threw in several glitches. She tried to break down the force field and let the lava come surging up, but it had too many backups. Some men came in, but they didn't move to stop her-- they cowered back, as if expecting her not to notice them. She turned toward them and smiled, an explosive in one hand.
Berg Katse's polarized lenses kept the light from hurting her eyes, but the explosion was the last light those men saw.
Shortly afterward the power failed, and she took off the costume, wreaking havoc in the darkness, for the two hours it took to get it back online. Once more she tried to escape, but the base was still sealed, and she couldn't find Alatan's escape ship.
"My father is not causing these murders, idiot! It's the spy!"
"But why do bullets go through this spy, then, and don't hit anything?"
"Because she's a ninja, and she's playing tricks with what passes for your mind! FIND HER!!"
Eventually Maryla found one of the secret passages Alatan used, and took it into Alatan's bedroom. This was such an unexpected opportunity that she couldn't not take it. She hid in the closet and waited for Alatan to come in and go to bed. The knife in the Angel's hand would open Alatan's throat and keep her from fighting back, and the grenade, placed in her mouth, should surely kill her.
The Angel of Death waited for a long long time, while Alatan Katse came in, did paperwork, practiced dance routines, and read before finally turning out her light and going to bed. The Angel waited longer, while the young Galactor leader's breathing changed with sleep.
Then the Angel crept out, knife ready. Soundlessly she moved to the girl's bed--
--and Alatan swung up and grabbed her knife hand, cruelly twisting it until the knife fell from Maryla's hand.
"Fool. Did you think you could surprise me?" The voice was far harsher than Alatan's voice was normally, and the cadences and language were much rougher.
"You were asleep," Maryla answered tightly, and snapped her arm up in a move that should have broken her free. Instead, she broke her arm. Gasping, she staggered back, Alatan holding her wrist in a death grip.
There was nothing childlike about Alatan's laugh, and in the darkness her eyes glowed faintly. "When Alatan sleeps, I wake. You cannot surprise us both, Angel of Death." The grip tightened. "You have caused Alatan considerable harassment. I think I will wake her up and let her deal with you."
"If you're not Alatan, who are you?"
The grip suddenly weakened, and the girl jerked as if startled. Maryla snatched her opportunity-- she wrenched her broken arm free and ran, flying out the way she'd come. Suddenly there was a grinding of gears, and the floor tilted, sending her stumbling, sliding into a wall. Up became down, the wall she lay against becoming the floor, and more walls slid shut, trapping her in a room with no doors. Maryla controlled her panic. She'd known Alatan had the capacity to do this.
Then the world suddenly spun, and numbness overwhelmed her. Maryla fought to get to her feet. Damn Katse and her habit of using gas! she thought, as a wall slid aside and Alatan, with numerous guards, entered.
"Fallen, the Angel," Alatan said, her voice cold. She stepped over to Maryla. "It was you who masqueraded as my father, wasn't it?"
Maryla forced a smile to her face past the dizziness and numbness. "You'll never know. Maybe it really was your father's spirit."
"No," Alatan said decisively. "I've seen my father's spirit, and I know he doesn't wish me ill."
Maryla stared. She'd seen her father's spirit? God help this Earth, this power-mad child is totally and completely insane, she thought, and said, "And I suppose he told you to go forth and conquer the world in his name?"
Alatan's fist smashed across Maryla's face, sending her flying back against the wall, and drugged as she was she couldn't hope to fight back. She lay on her back, unable to get up, as the Galactors surrounded her.
"Take her and lock her up securely," Alatan ordered. "Keep her drugged. She'll be given to Selina, and then Galliente." Alatan looked down at her captive. "I have no stomach for torture. But you caused the murder of many of my men and women, including one of my precious Dancing Dolls. Because a person like you can hold out against torture, I will have Selina use scientific methods to drag your secrets from you. And then I will have Galliente use brutal methods to dispose of you."
Kyoko... get the report to your brother and Nambu... I can do no more.