Maze Games 2

(Gatchaman IV story #12)

Lara Remington almost didn't recognize Director Nambu. It wasn't just that he wasn't wearing his glasses; as far back as she could remember, he had styled his hair the same way and worn similar clothing. Seeing him with hair grown out to below his shoulders and a dark suit instead of the light one he usually wore made her seriously wonder, until he got close enough to be sure of, whether it was in fact Nambu or not.

"Director Nambu?" she asked.

He nodded. "I'd heard you were getting out of the hospital today, and there are a few things I'd like to discuss with you. If you don't mind, Dr. Remington."

"No-- no, not at all."

They left the hospital lobby and walked out into the dull winter sunshine of Utoland's downtown area. "Actually," Lara said, "I've been well enough to leave for a few weeks, but... I didn't want to go home. I work at the hospital anyway, and they had an extra cot I could put in my office... but they need it back now, so I guess it's time to face going back." She laughed nervously.

"I don't think that's such a good idea," Nambu said seriously. "I'd rather have you staying at our new headquarters. Alatan knows where you live all too well, and if she ever decided you were a danger to her..."

"I never thought of that," Lara said, after a pause. "But why would she think of me as a danger to her?"

"In fact, that's related to what I want to discuss with you," Nambu said. They waited for the light to change at a street corner. "There's no genetic reason Alatan should follow in her father's footsteps, right?"

"Definitely not. Schizophrenia can be inherited--" oh, how well Lara knew that-- "but the specific type isn't. If Katse was schizophrenic, and I don't think he was, Alatan might suffer from a form of insanity, but it's very unlikely to take the exact same form as her father's did." The light changed, and they crossed.

"Then Alatan had no intrinsic reason to become leader of Galactor."

"I told you, I'm sure Sosai X talked her into it. Maybe Zed survived somehow, inside her..."

"We know that X was capable of communicating with Berg Katse and Gel Sadra telepathically," Nambu said, nodding. "There's no reason it shouldn't have been capable of communicating with Alatan throughout her childhood, as you suspected. From the accounts you give, Alatan-- like many bright children-- thought of herself as superior to her classmates, but didn't fit in with them very well, am I right?"


"And Alatan was different from you. Whether or not she knew she was adopted, she knew she had powers you didn't, powers no one she knew seemed to have. She was brilliant, but very isolated-- in the beginning, all the other students hated her. She had only one parent figure-- you-- and you were rarely home. Sosai X must have filled the void better than any imaginary friend, and what he must have told her about herself confirmed her difference-- she was a superhuman, destined to grow up and help her father rule the world. Have you ever seen how children hero-worship parents that aren't there, Doctor?"

"Alatan never admitted to such a thing more than once or twice... I can't really say I have, personally."

"Well, I saw it happen with Ken, and to a lesser extent Joe as a child-- a dead or absent parent can do no wrong. Especially not a little girl's father, especially when she has reason to resent her mother."

"Resent me?" Lara was stung, but controlled it. "I-- I suppose she did, but I don't understand why. If anything, I spoiled her."

"You weren't there." As Lara opened her mouth to speak, Nambu put his hand up, as if to stop her. "Don't misunderstand-- I'm not blaming you. You did the best you could. But... what was your relationship with your parents like when you were 14, Doctor?"

"I-- well, my mother was ill. It... wasn't a good time."

"I... see. Well, I remember my older sister being constantly at odds with our parents from the time she was 14 until she went to college. Joe and Jun both went through violently rebellious periods when they were 14-- Jun's ended about a year later, but I'm not sure Joe ever quite grew out of his. Even Ken got a little out of hand when he was 14." They crossed another street. "The point I'm trying to make, Dr. Remington, is that I think Alatan has decided to take over Galactor as a form of adolescent rebellion against you."

"Against me? Isn't taking over Galactor a bit... extreme?"

"For an ordinary girl, yes, it would be very extreme," Nambu agreed. "But Alatan is no ordinary girl. She's a mutant, with powers no human has; she's spoiled, yes, and that, her brilliance, and the fact that she's a mutant all combine to make her think of herself as significantly superior to humanity. She's lonely, isolated from other people; she hero-worships a dead father, who happened to be an infamous terrorist. And Sosai X groomed her for the role all throughout her childhood. Even if X is truly dead, it's easy to see why Alatan would join Galactor."

"But she was such a sweet little girl-- and she hated violence--"

"It's been my experience that `sweet little girls' are usually expert manipulators in disguise. The ones who grow up to be sweet are usually terribly shy as children. As for hating violence, she still does. I believe Alatan is idealistic, and truly wants to make the world a better place-- but hasn't the wisdom to know that the ends don't justify the means. The fact that she has such a horrible role model in her father doesn't help. I believe her major reason for taking over Galactor, however, was to get back at and assert her independence from you. And, perhaps, from all humanity. She isn't actually running the organization, you know-- her seconds, Galliente and Marriochio, do all the real work, and so she keeps her hands clean. But it's only going to get worse. Surrounded by people who treat human life as worthless, what morals Alatan has are likely to erode." They turned down a side street.

"If we can capture her," he continued, "we may be able to reverse the process and save her. That's where we need your help, Doctor."

"She doesn't trust me anymore-- I can't lure her away, or anything."

"You don't need to. You know Alatan's mind better than any human being--"

"Obviously not well enough! She ran Galactor out of my house for two years!"

"Still, you're her mother. If she has any weaknesses, you'd know them best." Nambu looked straight ahead. "What I'm going to ask you to do may seem very cruel, Doctor. We need to break Alatan. Only then, when we've stripped away her armor, can we save her."

"I didn't know you were so concerned about saving her." There was a bitter note to Lara's voice.

For a few moments Nambu was silent. Finally he said, "I've read Berg Katse's journals. He was not born a monster. He had as many talents as Leonardo da Vinci-- a genius on the order of Einstein, with musical gifts, a talent for mimicry, for acting, for absorbing information. If someone had caught him in time, when he was a child, before he turned irrevocably toward evil, and gotten him to use his talents to humanity's benefit, there's no telling what he could have accomplished. Instead, Sosai X perverted him and wasted his talents on destruction.

"Or take Gel Sadra. She was the daughter of two brilliant scientists. From her test results as a small child, she would have been a genius, with psi-talents; from the ability she demonstrated as Gel Sadra, she could have been a great architect, an actress, a scientist herself, or an explorer of space. Instead, her short life was twisted to serve Sosai X, and she died at 4 years old, all of her promise wasted.

"X has already destroyed too many of his genius mutants. I don't want to lose Alatan as well. If there's any way to turn her talents back to the cause of good, I'll use it."

"I see... Well, of course I want Alatan to come back. I'll do anything I can to help."

"Thank you, Doctor. I--" Nambu suddenly stopped, and stood still. One hand went over his heart, and his expression rapidly changed, becoming pained and fearful.

"Director! What's wrong?"

"Get an... ambulance," Nambu managed. "I think... it's a heart..."

He never finished the sentence. Instead, he gasped and pitched forward. Lara grabbed him and lowered him gently to the pavement, looking around desperately for a pay phone. Would she have to run all the way back to the hospital? So close, yet so far...

"Do you need any help?"

It was a girl's voice asking the question. Lara looked up-- a college-age woman was in a station wagon with three football player types, dressed in sweatsuits. "Yes-- can you get this man to the hospital? Fast!"

The woman's expression changed when she looked at Lara for the first time, and she made a tiny gasp of surprise, but Lara didn't notice. The sweatsuit jocks got out and got Nambu into the back seat of the car. Lara climbed in next to him, and two of the jocks went to sit in the back compartment, while the third took the wheel from the young woman, as she scooted over to the passenger seat. The doors shut and clicked, automatically locking, and then the station wagon roared off in the wrong direction.

"Wait! The hospital's that way!" Lara shouted.

"Oh, don't worry, mother. Dr. Nambu will be just fine," the young woman said in a totally different voice-- a voice Lara recognized immediately.

"Alatan!!" She screamed, and lunged forward, but one of the jocks-- no, one of the Galactors-- in the back grabbed her shoulders and pulled her back.

Alatan had shifted her appearance back to her standard form, the form that was still alien to Lara-- fine blonde hair instead of her daughter's thick dark brown, pale skin in place of swarthy, blue eyes rather than brown, and the face and body of a young adult instead of an adolescent child. But the voice was still the same, still her daughter's....

"Surprised to see me, darling mother? I know I was surprised to see you-- it was Nambu we were after. You were a free gift, I guess."

Nambu was beginning to stir, normal color coming back to his face. "Are you all right, Director?" Lara asked anxiously. "Can you hear me?"

He groaned and opened his eyes. "Uhn... Dr. Remington?"

"Don't worry, Dr. Nambu will be quite all right," Alatan said cheerily. "I only stopped his heart for a little bit. Hardly enough to do any real damage."

"Alatan Katse." Nambu tried to sit up, but couldn't quite manage it yet. "I suspected you had a trick in mind when you released me so easily, back in July. How did you arrange to stop my heart from a distance?"

"You are a genius, aren't you," Alatan sad, and giggled. "You caught on very quickly. Congratulations." She held up a box. "We implanted a transmitter/pacemaker in your heart. It's completely invisible to every kind of scan you have when it's not transmitting-- the only way to find it and remove it is to go into your body and find it manually, and that could end up ripping up your heart quite a bit. But as long as it's present in your body, I can find you whenever I choose, and with this box, I can use it to speed, slow, or stop your heart."

Lara snatched at the box. One of the young goons grabbed Lara's hand, and Alatan pulled the box out of reach. "No-o-o, naughty mama. Mustn't grab."

"What are you going to do with us?" Lara asked shrilly, beginning to lose control.

"I could always beat you up again..." Alatan said, and giggled. "No. I'm going to take you home. You're going to be my guests at Cross Karakoram."

Throughout the trip to Cross Karakoram Nambu was quiet, saving his strength. He had tried transmitting a distress call to the Science Ninja Team, but the signal was jammed. So. He didn't intend to let himself be hauled in and his mind played with, but resisting at this point would accomplish nothing-- he had to wait until the time was right.

It was not that Nambu feared death. Once, the thought that an enemy held a device that could shut off his life would have made his heart slam and his throat go dry. Not that the fear would have ever influenced his behavior, but it would have been there. Having died once, however, he did not particularly fear death-- it was just that death would be an inconvenience and a disappointment, and it would hurt the Ninja Team. He had many things left to do before he died, and there was no one he could really trust to do them for him. So he had no intention of throwing away his life, either. Besides, Alatan might well let slip some useful information.

He had underestimated his opponents. Even if Alatan Katse was naive enough to let him go without a struggle back in July, her assistant Marriochio certainly was not. He ought to have guessed they had a plan set up when they let him go so easily-- and if it was his fate to die for underestimating the enemy, so it would be. It would be his own fault. He only wished Dr. Remington would calm down. He understood how awful this was for her-- to be faced with her beloved child turned enemy, her own child who hated her-- and he understood that Alatan was deliberately trying to make her upset, but her loud,

emotional arguments with Alatan were not helping him think.

They were transferred from a car to something that looked like a cross between a helicopter and a rocket, shaped sort of like a bumblebee. There was no opportunity to try to escape while they transferred, since the Galactors kept guns on them at all times. Nambu and Remington were seated apart from each other, with a Galactor on each side. There was a pilot already aboard the mecha, and Alatan sat in the front, next to him. There was an intense acceleration, shoving Nambu back against his car with great force, and then they weighed significantly less. It was a semiballistic, Nambu surmised, designed for

rapid travel from one side of the planet to the other. He also noticed that the Galactors had seemed to suffer much less from the acceleration, and that they had little dials on the side of their chairs that they'd turned before they took off.

After about 45 minutes, they descended. Their deceleration was even harsher than the takeoff had been-- they ended up coming almost to a stop in mid-air, and then they began traveling horizontally at the speed of a helicopter. Now the viewscreens flicked on, and Nambu saw a mountain range surrounding them. A single mountain dominated the viewscape, a mountain with a rushing river running down its side.

"Cross Karakoram Base," Nambu murmured.

Alatan nodded. "Isn't it beautiful?" she asked, her own tone of voice almost awed.

"An amazing piece of work," Nambu agreed. "It's a terrible shame that its creator wastes all her talents on Galactor."

Alatan turned, irritated. "And I suppose you'd prefer I spent my days working for the benefit of humanity," she said in a sarcastic singsong.

"Of course."

"Well, I am, anyway," Alatan said, turning back. "Eventually, all this will end up being to humanity's benefit."

"How can it be to humanity's benefit?" Lara shouted. Nambu looked at her.

"It's not necessary, Doctor," he murmured. "She won't pay attention to you."

A broad plain opened up, and the bumblebee lowered into a vast hangar underneath, filled with various vehicles of all sorts. None looked like a war mecha, though most had the standard Galactor animal stylization.

"What are all these mecha?" Nambu asked. He did not entirely expect to get an answer, and was slightly surprised to get one.

"For travel," Alatan said. "We're Galactor HQ, after all. We do a lot of traveling."

The group of them left the bumblebee and crossed the hangar to an elevator on the other side, the Galactors keeping Nambu and Remington carefully covered. The elevator seemed to rise forever. When finally it opened, they stepped out into a giant laboratory, full of white-coated people going back and forth. A familiar dark-haired woman with her face painted white approached them. "Alatan. You found him." Nambu noted an uncanny similarity in appearance between Selina Marriochio and Lara Remington, and it made him think. What was Marriochio to Alatan? Perhaps he could use this...

"Of course I did. Did you doubt it?"

"Who is the woman?"

"My moth-- Dr. Remington. I got her as an additional bonus." Alatan smiled. "Haven't decided what I'm going to do about her yet."

Lara tensed. Nambu took her hand. Before she could be surprised at the gesture, he began tapping on her hand in kana Morse. "Get gun, cover me, at signal," he tapped, as Alatan prepared to hand her box over to Marriochio so the scientist could take Nambu in custody. He was only going to have one chance. Remington had been a cat burglar in her teens-- she had a good chance to get a gun away from their captors, who were young men in their prime but who would not be expecting an older woman to attack them. Alatan herself had the reflexes of a martial artist, but Nambu was willing to bet that Marriochio didn't. So as the box went into Marriochio's hand and Alatan's pulled back, he made his move.

"Now!" he shouted. His leg snapped up and knocked the box out of Marrichio's hand. Lara grabbed a gun and fired it toward Alatan, missing deliberately but forcing her daughter away from the flying box. Nambu had the box and Marriochio in a headlock before Alatan could regain her balance.

"Kuso--!!" The Galactors trained their guns on Lara. Nambu's arm tightened around Marriochio's neck.

"Alatan! Call off your guards or Selina Marriochio dies!" he shouted.

"Don't fire!" Alatan cried. "Damn you, Nambu--"

"The tables are turned now, Alatan," Lara said. She pointed the gun at the guards. "Drop your weapons!"

"Do it!" Alatan said.

"Alatan," Marriochio strangled out, "don't--" Her words were cut off when Nambu lifted her almost off her feet by her neck.

"Don't kill her, please!" Alatan shouted pleadingly. Nambu thought to himself that this confirmed his suspicions. Marriochio was indeed a surrogate mother for Alatan, one who would aid and advise Alatan but who would obey Alatan completely. Marriochio's welfare was truly important to Alatan-- and that was a weakness that could be used against her.

"Let her go!" Alatan said.

"No," Nambu said. "We're going back to the hangar, Alatan, and you'll pilot us back to Utoland."

"I can't fly those things."

"Then you'll assign one of your men to do it, but remember that if we're doublecrossed, Dr. Marriochio-- aah!" The awful pain returned. He tightened his grip on Marriochio neck with all the force left in him, trying to snap her neck, but it wasn't enough. He slipped free and fell, his arm numb, the rest of his body rapidly becoming so. Then darkness claimed him.

"Director!" Lara started toward him, and suddenly Alatan was there. Before Lara could fire, the gun was out of her hands, and she was flying toward the floor, fast. Marriochio was kneeling next to Nambu's unconscious form, gasping for breath. An assistant carrying the back-up box that had just taken Nambu out came running up to her. "Marriochio-sama! Are you all right?"

"Yes," Marriochio rasped. She took the other box from Nambu's limp hand. "Turn it back, quickly! We don't want to lose him!" She held Nambu's wrist, but could not feel the returning pulse. "Get him to the emergency ward, now!" Several white- suited techs moved to obey.

Lara got up from the floor, still slightly dizzy. Several guns were pointed at her. "Don't move!"

"Alatan, you nearly ruined everything!" Selina said to Alatan. She couldn't quite shout, but it was obvious she would be shouting if her voice could bear it. "You should have attacked him and gotten the box from him."

"He'd've killed you!"

"I'm harder to kill than that," Selina said hoarsely. "Remember, I am not an ordinary human, either." Lara focused on that. If Marriochio wasn't an ordinary human, what was she? Marriochio continued. "If Dr. Myzsky hadn't thought to get the spare box, you might have lost them both again."

Alatan sighed. "Selina, instead of complaining about me saving your life, why don't you go and see if you can resuscitate Dr. Nambu? I don't want him to die-- I need him."

"Very well."

Marriochio started to walk off. Lara shouted after her, "Why do you take orders from a child young enough to be your daughter?"

Selina turned and looked at Lara, her face utterly cold. "Alatan Katse is the leader of Galactor," she said, turned back, and walked out. Dr. Myzsky followed, still carrying the spare box.

Alatan looked down at her mother. "That wasn't a terribly wise thing to say," she said coolly. "I don't think I want you around where you can tell everybody my secrets. I'll lock you up in a cell until I decide what I'm going to do with you." She waved at the guards. "Take her away, but don't hurt her."

It was very cold and dark. He began to walk, remembering that he had walked this path twice before, and twice returned. Perhaps he would return this time, perhaps not. In either case, he was not afraid.

A voice hailed him with bitter laughter. So you finally walk this path, Nambu.

"I have walked it twice before, and returned," Nambu said.

Perhaps I walked it fifty times before there was no return. Do not be cocky about your chances.

"I am not. But I don't fear death."

You should. Laughter again. But I forget, you're not likely to be bound as I am, are you? For you, death might not mean hell...

"Hell? What do you mean?"

When I lived, I never believed in an afterlife at all, much less the ridiculous Christian or Buddhist notions of heaven and hell. Now I know better. But they were both wrong. Would you like to learn what hell truly is?

"Yes. Please tell me."

At the end of this path is a radiant light. Perhaps you have been there before. It radiates warmth and happiness and love, all the things I scorned in life because I needed them so desperately. I do not know what lies beyond it-- Christian heaven, Buddhist reincarnation, or something entirely different-- I only know it is a glorious place. But I can never go there. When I stepped onto this path for the final time, I almost got there. But I was cast back for my crimes, bound to this plane, and that is hell. The words became twisted with grief and despair. Do you know what it's like, to watch, but never be able to influence anything? To walk unseen by most people, hated and feared by the few that can see me, no matter that I mean them no harm-- nor could harm them, even if I desired? Oh, it is a fitting punishment for me... Bitter laughter.

"Do you regret... what you did?"

Regret? Softly. That is not the word. There is no word strong enough. Even were I to live a thousand times again, there would be no way to repay what I've done, to... make up for all I destroyed. There is nothing I can do here but watch the world helplessly and review my own life. I have relived my crimes, over and over, and I.. I know I deserve this. But that cannot stop me from hating it, from railing against my fate... if there were only some way, some way I could make some small effort, however tiny, to repay what I've done...

"If that's how you feel, it must truly be a torment to watch Galactor. Why do you stay?"

I can't leave. I'm bound to the place of my death. And besides...


It is the most awful torment of all I suffer... but I cannot look away. My child...

"You care for her? I didn't know you knew of her, in life."

I didn't. I know of her now. I see how she worships my memory, and how that leads her farther and farther astray... Stop her, Nambu. Tell her. Warn her.

"I've tried. She won't listen."

Tell her it comes from me. She's being deceived.

"By Marrichio?"

No, no. Selina is obsessively loyal. Sosai X yet lives...

"Where is X? Can we destroy him?"

He holds Alatan's spirit captive. She doesn't understand-- she thinks she rules him. Stupidity is obviously hereditary. The voice was bitter. I try to tell her-- she can see me, she knows I'm here, but she cannot hear me, she cannot hear me...

"What would you tell her, if you could?"

Turn back. Turn back, before she comes to this place. Don't listen to X, he will betray her. Almost weeping. Is it not enough I was corrupted, ruined? She was all I made, in all my time alive, I who lived to destroy... all I could have been proud to leave behind... I was never allowed to know her, and now she, too, is being corrupted... was I not enough? Please! I cannot bear to see him destroy her, as he destroyed me...

"It was your own choice to be 'corrupted.'"

Laughter. Are you truly so narrow-minded? Yes, it was my "choice", but there was never truly an alternative. Which would you choose? To be above humanity-- or below it? To crush-- or to be crushed? I committed great evil, willingly, gladly-- I sold my soul to the darkness without looking back-- but I was not born a person who would do such things.

Power corrupted-- and the only alternative to power I was offered was helplessness. I am guilty, I do not deny it, and I can never make amends for all I've done. But Sosai X bears all my sins as well, for making me a person that would commit them.

"If it consoles you any, I do agree with you. I have since I learned what you were. And I've suspected all along something was perverting her, though I didn't know it was X. But she won't listen to me, either... and I do not know if I'll be returning that way."

If you return, tell her anyway. Tell her I have said this. She will believe me... Where are you going?

"I am being called..."

Please! Don't leave me! I can't bear this loneliness...

"I'm sorry..."

He fell further along the path, rushing toward the light at the end. He had been here before, but never gotten beyond that brilliance. Desperately he wanted to pass beyond this time, to see what was there.

But another voice stopped him at the gateway.

Koza-chan, go no further. The lease I paid for you has not yet run out.

"Teri-chan? Let me by! Let me join you..."

Not this time. You must return. You have a message, after all.

"I'm so tired, Teri... please, let me..."

I cannot. Go back. We will meet again, someday...

Dr. Nambu lay on a table in the emergency ward, hooked to various machines. Alatan hovered nervously behind Selina Marriochio. "I want to ask him what it was like!"

"Alatan, be quiet," Selina snapped. "We have many important questions to ask!" She checked the levels on the monitors. Nambu should be coming around about now, and she'd put enough truth drug in his system that he should start babbling the moment he woke up.

"But I want to know--" Alatan cut off as Nambu's brown eyes blinked open. "He's awake," she whispered.

"Alatan Katse, I have a message for you from your father," he said in a flat, toneless, hollow voice. Selina put one hand to her head in exasperation as Alatan shoved her way to the side of the table.

"From my father?"

"Turn back, he says. Because of his crimes he has been condemned to be a ghost, to watch without being able to affect anything. He does not wish the same fate to befall you. X will betray you. Turn back."

Marriochio adjusted a dial, and Nambu fell silent again, his eyes closing. "Why did you do that, Selina?" Alatan cried. "He saw my father! I want to know--"

"Yes, you want to know. That's your weakness, Alatan," Selina said sharply. "Nambu can manipulate you far too easily with that."

"I thought you said he couldn't lie."

"He wasn't supposed to be so lucid, either. He's throwing off the drug, I suspect, but I don't know how." She turned. "Alatan, I understand how you feel. But it's too easy to fool you. If he convinces me that he actually spoke to your father... things will be different then. But I need to learn the truth before we can make one decision or another. Do you understand?"

"Yes," Alatan muttered sulkily. "All right, Selina, do what you want." She left.

"Will you require our assistance anymore, Dr. Marriochio?" one of the techs asked.

"No," Selina said. "You did good work, resuscitating him. I don't want any mention of what he told Alatan Katse, to anyone, all right? You can all go."

They left, and Selina brought Nambu back to consciousness. "What did you mean, saying that to Alatan?"

"Why did you stop me?" Nambu's voice was hollow, echoing, as if he was not quite attached to his body. "Were you afraid that if she believed me, she would leave Galactor, and your power over her would end?"

"No. I simply didn't believe you. Are you telling the truth?"


"I have difficulty believing that."

"Believe what you like. I have no reason to lie to you."

"And you were truly restored to life by an alien woman? Who is herself dead now?"


Up until now, Selina had been a confirmed atheist, with no belief in either an afterlife or a God. This changed things. "Did you also meet with any deities?"

"I didn't get that far."

"I see..." Selina said softly.

She looked down at him. A few simple words, and her worldview was shaken so hard it might never recover. She respected Nambu a great deal. He would have nothing to gain by lying to her about something like this-- and if it was the truth he was speaking, then everything she believed was a lie. But she could not refuse to look at the information he offered, simply because it conflicted with her worldview. What sort of scientist would that make her?

Selina put Nambu out again. This was far too dangerous to let Alatan hear. Selina was skeptical enough that she would not accept Nambu's words as truth unless there was absolutely no way she could discredit them, but Alatan was faddish, and would believe what she wanted to believe. Selina would have to keep the girl from questioning Nambu privately until she understood what this meant...

"This is the plan."

Galliente and two Dancers, a Masque and a Doll, were in the strategy room with Alatan. Marriochio hadn't seen fit to show up, apparently, so Alatan wasn't bothering to wait for her. "You two will impersonate Nambu and Remington," she was saying. "Learn all you can, in three days. On the third day, you send the Science Ninja Team back here, to

the trap we've prepared for them. You, Galliente, will be there, with 5 dancers and a squad of Wrestler Commandos. Take them captive if you can, kill them if you can't. Any questions?"

"Yes." Galliente looked hard at Alatan. "What are you going to do with Remington?"

"I-- I haven't decided yet."

"I respectfully suggest killing her. She knows nothing of value to us, but far too much about you to be harmless enough that we can afford to let her live."

"Your suggestion is noted, Galliente, and declined; I may not like the woman much, but I am not a matricide. I'll think of something." She looked around the roon. "Any other questions?"

There were none.

"Good. Let's begin."