Chapter 2: Journeys
They stepped through one of the iris doorways, into a huge, zero-gee enclosed bay. Dominating the center of the bay was a large ship. Ken heard several of his teammates gasp, and Jun murmured, "Utsukushii nee..."
It was beautiful, in fact. After the New God Phoenix, Ken would never have guessed that it was possible for a stylized bird ship to be beautiful. This one, however, managed it. It floated in the weightlessness of the dock like a golden-red bird, with wings spread and a graceful arched neck - it looked like the Firebird Effect, as a matter of fact, but with green under-plumage and without the Firebird's eye-hurting brillinace.
"My own bird ship, the Asapei," Teriani said. "Shall we go in?" Without waiting for an answer, she pushed off and floated toward the head of the ship, followed by Gatchaman and her son. The mechanism for entering the Asapei was similar to the God Phoenix's bubble, but could never have worked under gravity - the iris doorway and bubble were upside down, on the underside of the head. On the bridge, perversely enough, there was gravity - they floated easily through the portal, but had to climb a ladder through another portal to get to the bridge. Despite himself, Ken was impressed - but after all, tricks with gravity should be a simple feat for a civilization that could conquer death.
The bridge was roughly spherical in shape, with the entrance portal in a center depression. The floor rose in steps from the depression, to a circular wall of consoles, and rising from that was a dome ceiling completely covered with viewscreens. Teriani stepped up to the consoles and touched something, and chairs rose from the second highest tier, in front of the consoles. Hanging on the back of the chairs were helmets. "I need to teach you to use the linkup," Teriani said. "You all have some experience with indirect neural link?"
"What's that?" Ryu asked.
"Mmm - your gripper, for example, from the war with Gel Sadra." Obviously Teriani had kept track of their careers. "Other weapons. They're operated by physical control, but they link directly to your nerves. The bird suits do it, too." Which reminded Ken that they didn't have activator bracelets. "You make a very subtle adjustment in the position of your muscles, an adjustment that couldn't possibly actuate much of an effect directly, and the nerve impulses of your decision to move that way, the same nerve impulses that move your muscles, affect the configuration of the weapon or device." Mass blank looks. Ken thought he understood- - that it wasn't their bodies governing some of the weapons, it was their brains, and their bodies' motions were just a side effect - but Teriani went on before he could try to explain to the others. "The linkup dispenses even with the need for muscle movements. The simplest way to describe it is mental control. You think something to be done, and the headset picks up the impulse and transmits it to the ship systems. The linkup also provides all sensory information - internal communication and outside navigational sensors process through the link - and it can also be used for speed teaching. I'm going to use it to teach you how to fly the ship. David, I want you as filter."
David shook his head. "Mother, I - can't. Not after you - not after all this - I can't run the link with you, I-"
"Stop it. You can't handle the truth? Go sulk then, after I'm done needing you. Or perhaps you'd like your father to stay dead forever?"
"It isn't truth I can't handle," David said tightly. "It's lies." For a moment he looked very much like his mother.
Teriani sighed. "David, I need you. Tamala ja heirsa shraha keil'bata."
Whatever that meant, it made David back down. Silently, he turned from his mother and sat down in one of the chairs, strapping on the helmet. The seats ranged in a circle around the bridge, and were rather widely spaced. They ended up sitting in as close to the order they were accustomed to as possible. Teriani had already strapped her helmet on - it was like an odd hat, covering her hair and forehead but exposing most of her face. Ken pulled his onto his head and was suddenly in total darkness and silence. Reflexively he reached up to shove off the helmet - and couldn't feel his hands moving. Relax, he heard David saying - but it was as if he were remembering it, not hearing it. And yet there was no sense of it having happened earlier - he seemed to remember it happening now.
The helmets directly interface your mind with the ship. Since ship systems are off, you can't perceive anything yet - except perhaps your teammates. In the manner of a dream, though Ken heard Dave's voice say the words, he knew it was Teriani that was speaking.
He heard Jun. Is everyone all right? This is eerie, isn't it - listening to each other think.
It reminds me of something, but I can't remember what, Ken responded.
This isn't telepathy, is it? From Joe. It won't help matters any if we can all read each others' thoughts.
You can't. Teriani/Dave. Whatever you want to say is all that the others hear. The signal is simply bypassing your throat and their ears.
How do you do that? Jinpei asked. Talk in sync like that. Which of you are we really hearing?
This time it seemed to be really Dave who responded. My mother wants me to run interference - to translate her perceptions into human terms. She doesn't think she's human. There was a deep anger in Dave's "voice", resentment and a feeling of betrayal. She talks to me, and I transmit to you. You'd have to ask her if she thinks she really needs to be translated.
You're really not human? Jinpei asked Teriani.
She ignored him. I understand this is a new experience for you, but we have work to get done. I'm going to turn on the ship systems, and start showing you how they work.
A door opening - a blindfold lifted - a screen turned on -
Ken's mind was suddenly on fire with information. The ship was his body - he could feel the power surging from her core, power coursing through her, and he wanted to be free, to be riding that power through the currents of space the way his jet rode the wind at home. The sensors were an explosion of sight and sound and sense, perceiving everything around with a brilliant clarity. Dave/Teriani joined him, showed him his place in the flood of sensory overload. It would be his mind that probed the surface of space/time, he would would find the currents to ride. Without even understanding what those currents were.
We've shown each of you what you're to do, Teriani/Dave told them. Ken and Jinpei are handling external sensors, Jun internal power flow, Joe and Ryu actual flight. When we set out tomorrow, there won't be any time to teach you what the things you'll perceive mean - so we'll run a simulation and teaching program now.
What came next was not words, but ideas, concepts. Many of them had no words in any language Ken spoke, but because they were passing directly from mind to mind, he understood them almost effortlessly. For hours, they were a gestalt again - again? where did that come from? - five minds working in tandem, seeing and understanding and doing far more than one could. And when it was over, all of them understood the principles of spaceflight, faster than light.
Space/time was made of riddled, wrinkled fabric. It was never possible to go faster than light - but it was possible to play with time, and use shortcuts. Earth, they had learned, was near only one convenient gateway to the space Teriani knew - and by coincidence, it exited less than five light-days from Keirai.
Keirai was an independent world, a major trade center and powerful force in the politics of the area, but affiliated with no major empires. Numerous alien races, both friendly and hostile, interacted with Keirai, as it sat near a vast inpouring of gateways. The most important of the other worlds was Keirai's ancient enemy, Selectro. The Keiraines knew of other worlds, other races, that were human like themselves. But the Selectrans had been able to find and subjugate almost all of them. Earth was the only such world neither affiliated with Keirai nor conquered by Selectro, due to its great distance from the Andromeda galaxy. A direct corridor of space stretched between Earth and Keirai, but didn't go anyplace else interesting, so the Keiraines rarely used it - and it was far too close to Keirai for hostiles to be permitted its use. For Selectrans to come to Earth would be an expensive, dangerous and long journey, which was why X had been sent alone. For the Keiraines, it would be relatively easy, which was why Teriani had fled here when she was exiled.
The Asapei was considerably larger than the craft she'd used to reach Earth, being designed for much longer journeys, and thus required more people to fly it. Joe and Ryu would do the actual work of flight, controlling navigational changes and speed. Ken and Jinpei would perceive the various curves and hazards in the path and feed the information into the link. Jun was responsible for ship gravity and time, as well as monitoring power flow and keeping bugs out of the link. And Teriani would oversee and govern, doing the math of navigation and giving it to Joe and Ryu, based on data from the other three, with David acting as her interpreter. By now they could guess why Teriani wanted an interpreter. During a lull in a long session, one had become so used to sharing thoughts that one might inadvertently let private thoughts slip into the link. And Teriani was a very guarded woman. She hadn't said so, but they were positive she had Dave there to keep her from slipping.
The question in Ken's mind was: slip what?
With the session over, David led them to their rooms. "There's five rooms," he said, his anger barely kept out of his voice. "My mother's got one, and I live in one, so two of you'll have to double up and one'll have to stay with me."
"I'll room with you," Ken said. If this was Dr. Nambu's son, there had to be more to him than met the eye. "Jinpei, going to stay with Jun?"
Jinpei rolled his eyes dramatically. "I'm almost 16, aniki. I'd better stay with Ryu."
"I'd rather you stayed with Jun," Ryu said. "What's the problem? She's raised you since you were two."
"I'm not two anymore. I'm almost as old as you were when we fought the turtle thingy."
"Turtle King," Jun said. "Ryu, if you don't want to room with Jinpei, then maybe with Joe-"
"Uh-uh. Not me," Ryu said emphatically. Joe grinned. Ryu snored - and they all knew what Joe did to noises that woke him up in the night.
"I think it'll be healthier for everyone if no one rooms with me," Joe said, still grinning.
"Oh, all right, Jinpei. If you really think you're too old to stay with Jun-" Abruptly Ken felt all patience for his team's banter leak out of him. "Where's this room?" he asked Dave. "I'm tired."
Inside was the least weird place Ken had seen since his return from the dead - a neat, spartan bedroom rather like his own at home, but with travel posters in place of the airplane stuff. As the door slid shut behind them, Ken said, "What's wrong? I know all this must be a shock to you, but-"
"I don't care about the shock," David said, suddenly emphatic. "I wouldn't have minded at all suddenly discovering that Keirai's an alien world, and I have a chance to see my father again - except that my mother lied to me. What excuse does she use? 'I wanted him to identify with the people of Earth.' So she hypnotized me, so I wouldn't even want to know about my heritage! You know how stupid that makes me feel? Sure it's s shock, but not because I'm half-alien - because I suddenly find out I don't know my mother at all.
"I hardly know how this is possible. I've lived with Mother constantly, almost every day of my life, giving up every chance I had to make friends and have a normal life so I could help her. Well, I don't regret that - somebody had to help her, and I've seen a lot more, learned more, than I would have otherwise. But in all that time, she never let on an inkling of this. It had to have been very important to her - you hear how she talks about her homeworld, she wants to go back so much - she even raised me to understand the language, when I'd never be able to use it with anyone but her - but she never talked about it. Never. What does that make me in her eyes?
"She couldn't even confide in me the truth about my father. I couldn't grow up proud of him, of his accomplishments - I couldn't even remember him! I thought it was something wrong with me, I could remember perfectly going to see my father, but I couldn't see his face, couldn't even remember his name. Did she have to eradicate him that completely? And why couldn't she have told me? I'm not a child, I'm 22. Did she think it would be some sort of betrayal to tell me who my father is? Who gave her the right to do this? I'm sorry, but I don't consider the excuse she gave to be enough. Ken, I've been completely loyal to her, and she still treats me as if I'm a little boy. What harm could it have done to tell me the truth now? Never mind me - didn't she think my father had a right to know? What'd she think, that all of a sudden Galactor would find out and take me captive? I've had intensive martial arts training, I can take care of myself, in the first place, and I'm a lot more discreet than that anyway. Why couldn't she have told me?"
Ken remembered his search for his own father - how he had been lied to for years, and how that lie had ended by making him abandon his team when they needed him - how they lie had ended by killing the very man he was looking for. The old pain resurfaced. Did Father and Dr. Nambu think I was such a fool, I couldn't be trusted with the information? Why couldn't they have told me? If they had told him, his father might be alive today...
"I know exactly how you feel," he told David.
He found himself telling Dave about his father, that whole chain of events with V-2. Before long, he was telling him about all the important things that had happened, over the course of the past nine years' war with Galactor, and David was telling him about the places he'd been, traveling around the world and into space on his mother's schemes. They talked half the night.
There was no way to tell time on the space station, actually. For the past two weeks or however long it had been, they had arbitrarily designated it "night" when they slept, and "morning" whenever they got up. Ken was the last to get up, the next morning, which, Jinpei commented, made it an official day - it just didn't seem natural if Ken didn't oversleep. Ken didn't respond.
On the bridge, Teriani spoke. "We'll be making the journey to Keirai in one flight - subjectively, it may feel like days, but only a few hours should pass for us. Jun, you'll have to monitor the time regulators carefully to maintain that."
"What will the trip be like?" Jun asked.
"David - misai tabekat nerian heil'basar, kan losai tata kan," Teriani said. David translated. "Something like - a roller coaster, I think would be the best way to say it in Japanese. Sorry. She doesn't always know how to describe things in Japanese."
"Or any Terran language," Teriani said. "Are you all ready?"
"We'd better be," Joe said grimly.
"Then take your seats and we'll be on our way."
The link was solid around them and the ship was alive. Joe lifted the ship as he would have lifted his body from a chair - he was the ship, he and Ryu together. It wasn't like piloting the God Phoenix - and with steady Ryu doing most of this preliminary work, he was freer to think than if he'd been helping to pilot the God Phoenix.
Teriani was basically a good woman. There was no doubt about that. Meaning that her underlying motives weren't for personal gain, they were for the benefit of humanity in general. But. She had proved herself to be secretive to an extreme when she admitted to hypnotizing her son. No one would go to such lengths simply to spare someone else the pain of being "so close, and yet so far." Joe didn't doubt her when she said she and Nambu had been married, but he was positive there was far more th matters than she had told them. If she was truly dedicated to fighting Sosai X, why hadn't she stayed with Nambu and helped him?
There were plans within plans here. Joe was not 100% positive they should be going to Keirai, Nambu's life or not. It was possible that the memory of Dr. Nambu was being used to lure them all into a darker plan...
But if that were true, he'd worry about it when the time came. Right now, they had left the dock and were speeding toward what Ken informed them was the gateway they needed. Joe locked his mind fully into his task, and was ready for the gateway when it came. At least, he thought he was.
Then - Whirlpool! Chaos! The ship shrieked as they plunged through the rip in space/time, and gravity fluctuated, time slowed, before Jun got control again. Watch it! she warned. Can't burn ourselves out this early!
Joe fought the chaos alongside Ryu, all the reflexes of a racer combining with those of a fighter pilot to pull them out of the whirlpool, down a running slide like a river rapid. Sharp turn at the bottom, Jinpei warned, and they banked according to timings from Teriani, momentum sending them shooting up a crest and down around a tunnel, circling as they dropped. Up, down - directions became meaningless, as the ship flipped over so many times - they found themselves perceiving the route as downhill most of the time, but Teriani told them it was a trick of perception, downhill both ways. Whirling anomalies sucked at them, forcing Jun to fight for control of their environment and Joe and Ryu to fight for control of the ship. They spun through unimaginable colors without time to look, shot through closing irises of space/time, never looking back. It was hours, endless hours.
Then, from Ken: Major anomaly ahead! The warning came with a full description.
Teriani/Dave: That's our exit! Joe/Ryu, aim there! With the complete mathematics for doing so.
Aiming for the heart of the anomaly -
The ship bucked wildly, gravity/time exploding in all directions. Jun fought madly to compensate, but time remained slow for Joe. He saw/heard the miniature whirlpools all around them, with cyborg reflexes steered around them, through, out... And space inverted and reverted, became normal again.
They all stripped off their headsets with extreme relief. How many hours had it been? Jun had clocked it at seven, but it felt like twice that, at least. All of them - even Dave, who'd had no part in actually flying the thing - were ready to sleep again.
"We're in realspace," Teriani said wearily. "We won't reach Keirai for about five days, and since we exited the tunnel and our lines are Keiraine, we won't be challenged for two at least. Go to sleep."
The next day and the day after that, Teriani taught them Keiraidi with the use of the helmets. Other things were explained as well. When Ken asked where their activator bracelets were, she said, "You don't need them. These suits operate on indirect neural control - all you have to do is think about switching, and you do." It didn't turn out to be quite as easy as that, but within an hour all of them had it under control. The uniforms' designs were slightly different, darker or brighter in places, and generally slightly more menacing. For the most part, the differences were very subtle - Teriani had however taken tremendous liberties with Jun's costume, the result being that there was no more miniskirt. Jun was annoyed. "Why did you change things around so much?" she asked indignantly. "I liked my costume the other way."
"How practical was it in the Arctic?" Teriani asked.
"It had thermal flesh-clored stockings - I didn't feel the cold-"
"This looks better on you. You look less of a child. Trust me." After Joe agreed with Teriani about the looks, Jun decided to keep quiet about it. She supposed she would get used to it.
The other bombshell Teriani dropped was that Selectro had not been destroyed. Jinpei protested, "But I remember - X said-"
"X was a moron as well as insane," Teriani said. "Selectro put up a light-absorbing scoopnet in the general direction of Earth about two million years ago - of course X thought it had mysteriously vanished, having seen it all along, never realizing quite how far he was from home and how long the light would have to travel." That didn't sound right to Jun - she remembered clearly that at the end of the war with Gel Sadra, X had stated that he planned to use Earth as a weapon against the planet that had destroyed Selectro. And he'd told Katse that he was going to check on Selectro's disappearance - wouldn't he have known whether his homeworld had been destroyed or not? Teriani, however, didn't believe it was possible to destroy Selectro - "You can't imagine how closely they guard the approaches to their home. It couldn't have been done." So Jun kept quiet.
As Teriani had predicted, they were challenged near the end of the second day. Teriani apparently answered to the challenger's satisfaction, calling the ship the Maizda since Asapei was a destroyed clan. "This doesn't mean anything, though. They've verified that we know where we are and we want to be here, but nothing about our personal credentials. Near Keirai they'll tell us to dock with a space station and present verification, and since there's a deathpaper out on me we'll have to run for it, then."
"Still?" Ken asked. "You said it's been twenty-five years. Why would they assume you were coming back?"
"They wouldn't. But time is so fluid - we can play with it, determine our approaches - that a deathpaper is never rescinded, once made."
"How active were you in this rebellion of yours?" Joe asked.
"There wasn't a rebellion - where did you get that i - Oh. No, we didn't fight the system that way. We were powerful politically - my clan proposed societal change, and when that didn't work tried to force it, with the Movements. We disrupted the caste system, treated majorias the same way we were treated, as techs. And we called for exploration of the Otherworld, Lareem and Keylen's pocket dimension. Not their private one, no one's ever been there, but the one they permitted access to. We exposed secrets the government would have preferred to be kept dark. But nothing like war or open rebellion."
"And for just that they killed all your family?" Ryu asked.
"Oh, no. Of course not." Teriani's voice took on a sarcastic note. "They were far more civilized than that - they only exiled most of us to the Lost Worlds. It was only coincidence that our clan leaders were killed by renegade drones. A tragic accident."
"Then why is there a deathpaper on you?" Joe asked. "If they were exiling most of your family and killing the others secretly, why is there an open death warrant on you?"
"ATTENTION MAIZDA." The voice on the loudspeaker spoke Keiraidi, but by now all of them were fluent in it. "YOU ARE REQUESTED TO SUBMIT TO CLAIRVOYANT SCAN AT THIS TIME. PLEASE STAND BY."
Teriani said a word that was not in the vocabulary she'd provided them with, but whose function, if not meaning, was thouroughly evident from her tone. "How did they - never mind. We can't take a clair-scan. We'll have to outrun them."
"We're still three light-days from Keirai, how can we outrun them?" Jun asked.
"We're going to use the time generators. Everyone into the link!"
Then, when they were linked and ideas could transfer in split-seconds, Teriani told them all her plan. It was practically suicidal.
Jun was the ship's internal systems, in full control of gravity and time regulation. The whole plan depended on her - and she didn't intend to fail. She touched the timeflow with her mind, and sped it suddenly by a factor of 3.
This was realspace, and realspace didn't like playing with time. Reality jerked madly, and for a moment she almost lost the timeflow. But already the ship was speeding toward Keirai, faster than any of the guard ships could draw on it. Jun sped the timeflow more, and felt the ship protesting.
One-chan! We're going too fast! Ken and I can't see the hazards quickly enough - we'll end up smashed into something!
Just hang on, Jun returned desperately. Just till we get to Keirai.
The enemy's sped up too! From Ken. The ship shook violently, and jun lost gravity control. They're firing on us!
Ignoring gravity and the nausea that acceleration pressed on her, Jun sped more. She felt Jinpei's desperation as hydrogen smashed into them, battering and slowing them. The strain of relativistic space was enormous. They were approaching lightspeed, and their time was too fast - the cosmos didn't like it. Jun had to work on gravity to prevent acceleration from killing them, but whenever she removed her attention from timeflow it jumped and tried to reduce.
Obeying Teriani, Jun slowed time to half normal speed. The pursuing ships rocketed past them, too fast to do anything, and as Joe and Ryu flung the ship in another direction Jun sped the time again. Sensors told her they were in danger of wormholing - Change course! she cried, and they swerved away from the imminent wormhole.
We're in-system! Slow dowm, one-chan, slow down!
No! The defenses are strongest here! Don't slow down until we reach atmosphere! Teriani ordered.
Keirai grew larger in sensors with unbelievable speed as the Asapei shot past a rain of laser-light, bucking and jerking. We're losing it! Jun, we need power! Joe shouted.
They dropped to normaltime and Keirai's atmosphere hit them like a wall. Full power to retros! Ryu shouted.
Can't - we'll squash ourselves! Jun shouted. We need gravity control -
We'll squash ourselves anyway!
Jun fed them full power, and deceleration smashed down on her, nearly blacking her out. Ryu amd Joe fought their speed frantically, trying to slow -
The Asapei jerked horribly and the link flickered. Deceleration stopped, and they went into free fall. We're hit - power's almost gone! Jun cried.
Teriani - Feed to nav and land where I order!
What little power there was, Jun fed to navigational. They were still going far too fast, speeding over the surface of the turning world beneath them - closer and closer and closer -
Full power to gravity control - reverse it! Suddenly Jun knew how Teriani planned for them to survive. She pulled power from all ship systems, except the link itself, and flipped gravity, fighting the pull of the planet. Its own gravity pointed away from the planet, the Asapei slowed, lifted slightly, velocity cut drastically -
Gravity control went out and full power transferred to the retrorockets. They were slower enough, slow enough to survive - but that wasn't ocean beneath, that was land, hard land, they'd crash, they'd die -
Cut link and everybody jump out!
Of course! Jun released power, snapped off her headset and ran down the steps to the exit. Her body was shaking, unsteady - she hadn't yet reacclimated to physical locomotion - but she made it without tripping. The others gathered, and they all transformed to bird style, including David -
- huh? -
- and they all leapt out, catching the wind with wings as the Asapei plummeted to her doom.