New Year's Day
(Gatchaman IV story #16)
They had come to Ayalat just after Christmas, as they couldn't get any surgeons to do the operation during, and Nambu had had too much work to do before. For close to a week now, Nambu had hovered on the perilous line between life and death as Dr. Kestin, David, and a team of top surgeons and surgical assistants had worked to persuade his body to accept a cybernetic heart. Now the first hurdle was past-- the heart was in, and working, and showed no signs of being rejected yet.
"So far so good," David said.
He was sitting in a chair in his father's bedroom, on New Year's Day. It was close to dawn, Utoland time, and so Ayalat k'Mina, Star of the Dawn, a satellite whose orbit was synchronized to the terminator between night and day, would be passing over Utoland soon. The Science Ninja Team was supposed to call when Ayalat was overhead, since the distance would otherwise make the call staticky and troublesome.
"Yes." Nambu was sitting in bed, propped up by pillows. "So far." He turned his head toward David. "How long before I can go home?"
"I'd give it at least another month before you can take the stress of space travel." As usual, David felt slightly awkward around Nambu. The man was his father-- but his mother, the alien genius Teriani Kymel, had, for reasons not entirely explicable by sane standards, chosen not to let him remember his father. There was a vague blur in his childhood memories where Nambu ought to have been. Since they'd come together again, on Keirai, his mother's homeworld, where Teriani had brought Nambu back to life and then died herself, they had somehow not managed to get any closer. It was as if they were avoiding dealing with each other as father and son. David had wanted to discuss that here-- but the old awkwardness had taken over.
So here they were, in the same room together, waiting for the team to call them, and neither of them were apparently going to broach the subject. David didn't have the nerve. He'd wondered if Nambu had even noticed the situation. Or cared.
The screen crackled to life. It was not, however, one of the Science Ninja Team. Dr. Kamo's face filled the screen.
"Kamo?" Nambu leaned forward in bed. "Has something come up?"
Kamo nodded. "I didn't want to worry you, but since you're expecting them to call... Alatan attacked yesterday afternoon, with three mecha. The UN forces dispatched one of the three, but the team went to deal with the other two. They reported late last night that the third mecha wasn't a typically incompetent Alatan mech, so they're following it to its home base. They said they regretted missing you and they'll call tomorrow."
"Why didn't they call me?" David asked, startled.
"They said your place was with the Director. Ryu's with them."
"But Ryu has a family! He ought to be with his family now--"
"There wasn't time to call you," Kamo said. "Dawn Star was on the other side of the planet when the attack came-- by the time they could have picked you up, anything could have happened. Don't worry about it, Dave."
"We should have guessed," Nambu said grimly. "Alatan's not a native Japanese, but she is a Utoland citizen. She doesn't celebrate New Year's as we do, but she knows how important it is to us. To be honest, I was expecting her to attack on Christmas."
"But this would be worse for us," David said, nodding, following up on Nambu's train of thought.
"Exactly. Also, Alatan seems to be trying to humanize Galactor-- and she's only a young girl. Christmas might still have some mystique for her. New Year's, since it's not a big holiday among her people, doesn't."
"Do you think she might have done it in part to irritate the Science Ninja Team?" Kamo asked.
"I'm sure that factored into her decision." Nambu sighed. "Call and let me know when they get back. This is probably just one of Alatan's standard harassment ploys, but it might also be one of her elaborate traps."
"That's what Ken thought. I'll be sure to let you know when they call me." Kamo signed off.
"Damn." David clenched a hand into a fist. "Alatan would attack at the worst possible time."
"Naturally. It's good military tactics. No doubt Galliente advised her to do this."
"To what extent is she an independent agent? Do we know?"
"The Angel of Death reported that Alatan herself is not to be underestimated. For a figurehead, she's very powerful. One can think of her as a crown princess, soon to reach maturity and become queen. She is respected, loved and feared in her own right, as royalty. As far as real power is concerned, her regents wield most of it in her name, but she must put her authorization on all major policy decisions. They advise her and attempt to get her to do what benefits them. And the older she gets, the more true power she concentrates into her own hands." He leaned back. "From all our reports, her father was the real power in Galactor for six years before he took the title officially-- making him about 22 when he became the unofficial head. These children that Sosai created defy our expectations of what a child can do. Alatan is effectively 18, not 14, and the gap between her true age and her mental age widens more and more as she gains knowledge and experience."
"But there's a flip side to that, too, isn't there?"
"How do you mean?"
"Burnout. From the reports, Katse was at his best between 22 and 28. When he hit real adversity, he burned out on it."
"Well, yes. But we don't have fourteen years to wait until Alatan burns out."
"It's proportionate, though. Listen, Father, these are people who never failed at anything in their lives. Then they run into a stone wall with the Science Ninja Team. If you've never failed in your life, and all of a sudden you start to..." David shrugged. "I know the feeling. It burns you out fast. So far, Alatan's won enough minor victories against us to keep her ego bolstered. But if she gets a string of total failures like her father did, she'll crack like he did."
"Unfortunately, it was while he was cracking that he won some of his greatest victories against us."
"Well, that's a problem-- getting really frustrated can make people work harder. But also, I think most of the reason for that was that the team was burning out, too."
"But we run the same risk this time."
"I don't think so," David said. "I mean, I wasn't there, but from what I hear, that was when everybody was expecting the war to end quickly. I think Ken did burn out in the war with Egobossler, from what people say, but he's okay now-- everyone's had a chance to rest and start lives that have nothing to do with fighting Galactor. That's going to save us in the long run, I think."
Nambu blinked. "That's very perceptive. I--" He hesitated. "You're not very much like her. Sometimes I almost forget... you were her son."
"I used to be," David said. What the hell. Take the plunge. "I guess I should say, the other one was."
"The other one?" Nambu's eyebrows went up, inviting him to explain.
"Yeah... How much do you know about souls?"
"In terms of religion, or Keiraine science?"
"Not enough, I'm afraid. Teriani explained a good deal to me, but... metaphysics isn't a comfortable topic for an Earth scientist."
"Right. Well, the body and the mind create a haven for the soul, and so even after death there's a link. That's how we were able to recreate your body from the template of your soul, by moving back in time to the moment of your death. And that's how we saved the Science Ninja Team. But the longer you wait after death, the more tenuous the link gets.
"If you create a cyborg copy of someone and activate it shortly after its original's death, it will probably have the same soul as its predecessor, because the similarity of mind and body will pull it in. But if you wait several months, chances are you'll get someone else's soul. We never figured out how to determine where souls come from, or where they eventually go, but every sentience, including advanced cyborgs and artificial intelligences, has one.
"Anyway, my point is that David Nambu died when he was 10 years old. Mother cloned him to make me, force-grew me to 10 chronological years, and dumped his edited memories into my head-- over a year after he died. The link was almost certainly broken by that time."
"So you think you're not the same person."
"I've got reason to think that. Do you remember what I was like as a kid?"
"Not as well as I should," Nambu said softly. "I wasn't around as often as I should have been. If I had been, perhaps Teriani couldn't have edited me out of your memories so easily."
"You blame yourself for that?" David asked, surprised.
"Who else should I blame? Teriani was mentally ill. Besides, it is my fault that I wasn't around enough when you were a baby."
They had gotten off the topic David had been talking about, but this fascinated him, and he wanted to follow it up. "What was happening, then? I mean--"
"It was... a strange time. In the beginning, we were still in hiding... Did she ever tell you the story of her arrival on Earth?"
"I didn't even know she was an alien until just before the mission to Keirai."
"I see. Well, I may as well tell you the story from the beginning, then."
"Teriani... was in exile from her homeworld and found ours by chance, though I didn't know that then. She crashlanded just off the coast of Japan. I was in the Ministry of Space then and a colonel in the Aerospace Forces; when we saw her come down, we knew she had to be a sentient alien. Her ship entered Earth's atmosphere faster than a human ship could without burning up, and she changed trajectory to avoid hitting Tokyo, so we knew she couldn't be a meteorite. I assigned myself to the contact team.
"At that time, Earth had never encountered an alien... well, we hadn't, at least. X had arrived something like ten or fifteen years previously, but we didn't know that at the time. We expected... I'm not sure what we expected, exactly, but it wasn't a woman who looked as human as us. We brought her in. The medical team learned that she was genetically identical to us, but had been raised on an alien world-- for example, her intestinal flora weren't E. coli, as all Terrans have-- and there were a few other minor differences. Her blood type was something we'd never seen before, for instance-- it worked like blood types A and B, but it wasn't exactly either of them. Still, she was more or less human, and the government had great hopes that once she learned to speak our language, she could teach us the secrets of her advanced technology. I started to teach her Japanese. After a month or two, she had learned enough to communicate to me that there was a language-learning device aboard her spaceship, which the Ministry had impounded. I took her there and we used the headsets to learn each other's language."
"The headsets aren't for language learning, they're for mind-to-mind communication," David said wonderingly. "For her to learn your language, you'd have had to open up to her completely-- and she would've, too." Even in the link, Mother had always been guarded-- it was hard for David to imagine her opening to anybody enough to learn a language.
"I know that now. Not then. I would never have consented to open my mind to her so totally if I'd known; but she couldn't speak enough Japanese to get more than the basic idea across to me."
"So what happened?"
"Well, we realized what we each felt for the other, and Teriani was able to persuade me to help her escape. We were both afraid the Ministry would misuse Keiraine technology. World War III was over, no one wanted war again, but... with the secrets of Teriani's ship, Japan, or anyone, could have quickly conquered the world. I was loyal, but I thought that was too much of a temptation for any government. Of course, Teri didn't legally exist, and I was legally a deserter from the Aerospace Forces, so we had to hide. We went to America, which was too disorganized from the war to notice a pair of expatriates. That was where you were born.
"Then we developed the nuclear shield, and offered it to the UN if Japan would make Teriani a citizen and drop the charges against me. We argued our case in a public court and won. Being genetically identical to human-- your birth proved that-- Teriani had all the legal rights of a human being, and so it was a violation of the human rights codes to confine her or impound her property without her having committed a crime. They tried to claim she was an illegal alien, but crashlanding by accident in Japanese waters isn't a crime, and it was the Ministry itself that brought her onto Japanese soil. I was a little more difficult; I had disobeyed orders, whether or not the orders were illegal. Our lawyer used a reversal of the war crimes defense; if saying "I was just following orders" isn't sufficient justification for criminal acts, then disobeying criminal orders is justified. The Aerospace Forces wouldn't take me back, but they did drop the charges, and ISO asked for me then.
"Even still, I felt almost as if I had something to prove. I was legally cleared, but there's still something in the Japanese psyche that subscribes to the samurai ethic. I knew that disobeying my orders was the only right thing I could have done, but it felt somehow dishonorable. I wanted to show ISO that I wasn't really like that, that they'd made a good choice in asking me to work for them, so I threw myself into my work-- and unfortunately left poor Teri to fend for herself. She was trained to do original research, but we hadn't the facilities to let her improve on her science-- all she could do was train Terrans, such as myself and Kamo, in the principles of her science. I left her home with a child-- she, who grew up in a society where children are borne in machines and raised by servants-- and expected her to stand behind me and never complain. And she didn't. She was the sort of woman who never talks about what's bothering her."
"I know," David said. "I know."
"I wonder sometimes if that was part of it. I was so occupied with my research, investigating Galactor, plotting out the Science Ninja Team-- I relied on her when I needed her, as when I constructed the Bird Styles based on her designs-- but I'm afraid I didn't pay enough attention to her as a human being. Or to you and Mitsuko, I'm afraid. And sometimes, I wonder if I... was partially responsible for how she broke, in the end."
"I wonder the same thing. I mean, not about you. About me. If maybe I could have seen it, and caught it in time..."
"She dominated you too completely, David. I remember what Teri was like. She wanted everyone to believe she was in complete control, 100% of the time-- and she usually managed to fool me, and I had been in her mind. As well as being her own age and her peer in all respects. If she didn't want you to see her madness, you didn't have a chance, David. You were her son."
"I was the only person close to her!"
"But even you weren't close enough. No one was. She wouldn't let them be," Nambu shook his head. "She was so strong, so brave, when I knew her... I don't understand how she could break so completely."
"She saw Mitsuko and me killed in front of her."
"Even that shouldn't have done it. She saw her whole clan on Keirai killed, and she didn't--"
"Didn't she get exiled in the first place for trying to steal the Eternity Matrix? And wasn't that what drove her insane in the end? Did you read her diary, Father? The seeds were there from the beginning. She never believed death was permanent. She was always looking for a loophole... and that's what drove her crazy. Sure, when you knew her she was fine. Maybe by then she'd been able to put the Asapei clan's deaths out of her head. But when we died..."
"You could be right. But that reminds me-- there's something I still don't understand about that accident." Nambu looked at David intently. "You know the story?"
"A truck broadsided us. Mitsuko and the first David were crushed in the back seat."
"You were indeed crushed... but it was a head-on collision. And three bodies were found, burnt and mangled beyond recognition. Three. Not two."
David frowned. "But there couldn't be-- there--"
"I didn't want to believe she was dead, when it happened. Or that you were. I had them go over the wreck with a fine-toothed comb. Three separate bodies-- an adult woman and two children, a boy and a girl, related to her in the first degree. Either her siblings or her children, in other words."
"Then Mother--" David hesitated. "No, it can't be! Who could have cloned her? Who would have had the technology, or the motive?"
"I don't know, David. I don't know, and there's no proof she was cloned. What if the three... what if they weren't the three of you at all?"
"I don't understand. How can that be? She remembered--"
"Memories can be altered! David, you know that better than anyone!"
David winced. True enough-- but he'd never thought of anyone tampering with Teriani's memory. "But who would have? What would the point be?"
"I don't know. Again, as you pointed out, who had the technology, or the motive? But three people died. I haven't been able to reconcile it, or understand it. Was the Teriani who died on Keirai a cyborg, perhaps, programmed by the first Teriani to awaken to life if she should die? Was she a clone, under the same circumstances? The laserpolice vaporized her-- we didn't see any blood, any organs. There was no evidence one way or another. Or-- could someone have decided to kidnap the original David and Mitsuko in such a fashion that I would believe Teriani to be dead, and she would believe them to be dead? Or is there some other explanation that I can't even imagine?"
"Why didn't you tell me this before?" David asked incredulously.
"I-- it's not something I understand, so I'm not comfortable talking about it. And I didn't want you to worry--"
"Oh, that's just great!" David exploded. "My mother wipes my memories because she wants me to be happy. My father avoids telling me that the mother I knew may have been a cyborg replica, because he doesn't want me to worry! When-- when-- will you start treating me like an adult?"
Nambu seemed taken aback. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't think-- no. That's no excuse. But I didn't realize your feelings ran so deep on the subject." He ran a hand through his hair. "If the truth be told, David... it's hard for me to remember you're an adult. I know you're Jun's age, but... well, I don't think of her as an adult, either. And because you... because you haven't had the years of seasoning..."
The pause went on so long David felt compelled to say something. "I'm listening."
"I'm trying to think how to say this... When I think of you as my son, you're a 10-year-old boy, frozen in my memory. When I think of you as a Science Ninja, you're the newest, greenest recruit, without the years of experience the others have, and so in some respects you seem even younger than Jinpei. When I think of you as one of my children, all the team-- well, all of you are still youngsters to me, except when you're going into battle. And when I think of you as a scientist, you seem like a graduate student-- assisting in my work, but doing none of your own research yet. I have no mode, no way to think of you as an adult."
"And because I'm not an adult, it's all right to lie to me?"
"I've never lied. Failed to tell all the truth, yes."
"And is that why we seem so far apart sometimes?" David asked softly.
"What, because I haven't told you everything?"
"Because of the everything that you didn't tell me. Because you didn't know what my mother was, and it scared you."
"In part. In part, yes." Nambu hesitated again. "David, I... I've never been good with feelings. When I came back, on Keirai... it was a new lease on life, and I thought... I thought I would repair the mistakes of the past. I thought I would be closer to you all, but... I'm old, David. I was 55 when I died and came back. Physically, I may be in my 30's again, but... it's hard for an old man to change his ways. I made a lot of resolutions, but... I never fulfilled them." He looked up at David for the first time in several minutes. "You have to understand-- there was always something that needed doing. Get my position back, reprioritize ISO for peacetime, respond to the rebirth of Galactor-- always something to do."
"But that's just an excuse-- isn't it."
"Well. Unfortunately, you're probably right. In large part, probably it is just an excuse. But I... I raised the Science Ninja Team from early childhood onward. I lost out on that chance with you."
"Are you saying it's too late, then? That we'll never be like a father and a son? Father--" The frustration of the past months spilled out. "I can understand you being closer to them than me. But it seems sometimes you shut me out so completely, I can't even begin to get close to you. I'm not expecting you to confide in me, or anything like that-- I didn't get that from Mother, I don't expect to get it from you. But-- you nearly died, when Galactor captured you last month, and I just kept thinking, 'I should have pushed it, I should have asked him to let me in', and I didn't, and I was kicking myself. If you'd died--" He was wobbling on the edge of tears. David sucked in a deep breath to calm himself. "If I'd lost you too, after I never really got a chance to know you..."
"I understand. I do understand." Nambu's own voice was slightly shaky. "I-- we can work on it, David. I can't promise anything but that, but we can both try to work on it. All right?"
"It's a start," David agreed. He took another deep breath. "So. As long as you're going to be stuck on Ayalat, we may as well make the best of it. I can lower the gravity so you can walk around without stressing yourself, in a day or so, and I can show you around the place, and tell you about what Mother was like after she left you. Maybe we can figure out the answer to that question about the three bodies, together. Okay?"
Nambu smiled. "Okay," he answered, a degree of self-consciousness in his voice. "Let's do that."