I thought I would be strong
As strong as you
On the day you thought to sacrifice your future
I never believed
I had any reason to fail
But I ran and hid when adversity came
I drowned in grief and did not wake
Could not let you see me break
I was never worthy of you.
Let me shake the universe
Let me burn away
the weakness within me
the evil within the worlds
Let me make you a god
I will be worthy of you
my other half
my second soul
(Gatchaman IV story #6)
The others didn't know where he was, but they could easily reach him by radio if there was an emergency. David had checked that carefully before he left. He was very conscious of his responsibilities.
He hadn't done this since his mother's death, but he'd forgotten nothing. There'd been a time when he'd done this nearly every day, commuting between the Earth and his spaceborne home. The trip had lost the familiar edge of routine, now, and as Ayalat k'Mina grew larger on his viewscreens, his mind went back to the first time he'd seen it. His heart tightened at the memory.
That had not been the first time he'd been in space, nor the first time he'd piloted, and the novelty had begun to wear off. Not Phoenix Reborn, then, he'd been flying Minapai-- Starbird. Mother had instructed him to alter their orbit to intersect the Great Circle of longitude 95, and he'd complied, rather proud of himself for how well he was handling their ship. Then he'd seen it, lit by the dawning sun-- Ayalat k'Mina, Star of the Dawn: a space station like a spiderweb, flung against the stars and the growing sun. David had gasped. "What is it? It's beautiful!"
"Ayalat k'Mina," Mother had said, smiling. "Our new home."
The name had not been a mere conceit-- Ayalat orbited at the speed of the Earth's rotation, so it remined with the dawn always, caught between shadow and sunlight. The pragmatic reason for this had something to do with solar energy and darkside cooling, but it was a beautiful poetic concept anyway. It was also hell to deal with, the first time docking-- Ayalat rotated, to provide artificial gravity and to keep the sun from cooking the side turned toward it. David had never docked with anything else before, let alone something that rotated, and it had been quite a trick to get it in.
Even now, abandoned for two years, Ayalat still rotated-- but hundreds of trips had made David capable of docking with it in his sleep. Coming up from Earth's nightside, filters down over his viewscreen to prevent the sun from blinding him, he slid Phoenix Reborn into the bay-- which was still free-fall, as it had been when the seven of them left on the Minapai two years ago-- and left it behind, kicking off to the doorways.
A space station cannot afford dust. The cleaning systems, the robots and suction ducts, had kept Ayalat as bright and clean as the day when he'd first set foot here, as the day he'd left for what he had not known was the final time. He drifted through a free-fall corridor to a gravitated one, walked toward the living quarters with the step of one to whom this was a routine, and the wide eyes of a returning exile.
His quarters. Warm and falsely homey, filled with personal effects, they welcomed him, and at the same time made him uneasy, somewhere down deep. He sat down on the bed. The bedspring creaked like a dying cat, as it always had, and David grinned. Weird hw the little things brought an experience back to life. Now he felt as if he were truly home again.
And yet, not home, after all. He looked at the travel posters, the endless reams of sf novels in three different languages that covered his walls, the photographs of old girlfriends, and felt as if he were in a time warp. This room didn't belong to him, not really. It belonged to a spoiled, overgrown teenager who lived with his mommy and never ever questioned the strangenesses in his own past. It did not belong to a young man who himself belonged nowhere.
He had hoped this room would become home again. On Earth, he lived in an apartment with carefully chosen furniture and prints of great art decorating the walls. He had four friends who were closer to each other than to him, and always would be. He had a father with whom he had a cordial employer/employee relationship, not even as close as his friends were to the man. In his chosen family, he was-- not outcast, but not fully accepted.
Funny. When he was little, that had never bothered him. He had been a loner as a small child, perfectly content not to be very close to anybody much-- but then, that hadn't really been him. That boy had died, and David had risen like a phoenix from his ashes, with the same memories but not, he thought, quite the same personality-- not, he thought, the same soul. Since his, David Kymel's, life had begun, he had always sought friends. In America, when his mother had her labs there, he'd had a bunch of pals, a few girlfriends. In Chile, when they'd moved there, the same thing. Chameleonlike, he'd adapted to the cultures he'd found himself in, and everybody had liked him.
But there never, really, had been anyone close, anyone he could truly share his thoughts and feelings with. Maybe the moves had something to do with that. He'd stayed in America 2 years, Chile 3, and then space, commuting back to Earth to visit friends in both countries every so often, but spending almost all of his time with his mother. Maybe he hadn't really wanted close friends. Maybe the fact that he couldn't question the mysteries of his life prevented him from bringing anyone else in close enough to see the holes. But then what was his problem now?
Did he have a problem? He was well-liked in ISO, never had any difficulty finding some guys to go out for a few beers with or some girl to date. He had his four teammates, his adopted family, and if they weren't as close to him as to each other, well, they were still closer than anyone but Teriani had ever been. They would die for him, did they really need to share their feelings with him?
Maybe it was a cultural difference? Raised mostly in America and among the friendly villagers of the Andes Mountains, he'd been taught to believe you shared feelings with your friends. But he was dealing with mostly Japanese, more private people. Was that all?
But he'd never been close to anyone, by his own definition of friendship. Could that somehow be his fault?
He sat up, shaking loose the pensiveness of his mood, and began to do what he'd come here for-- to pack.
When he'd lightened the gravity in his room to moon-regular, 1/6th of a gee, the work went very easily, and the fact that he was trying to organize it left not much room for introspection. Which was what he preferred, actually. He was too bright to be able never to think about his own feelings, but he preferred not to do it. Which, come to think of it, might be part of the problem. If he didn't want to think about how he felt, how could he expect anyone else to share themselves with him?
Humming "Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places", not because he liked the song but because it seemed appropriate, he finished up. He felt energized by his work, not tired. Whenever he set to work on a problem and solved it, it charged him up for the next problem. It was one of the reasons he liked science so much, another reason being that he'd been apprenticed in it so many years he would hardly know how to do something else.
The next part of his task would probably be tougher on him. Steeling himself emotionally, he drifted into his mother's room.
If he expected a sudden surge of grief or nostalgia, he was disappointed. There was nothing of Teriani personally in this place. The decoration was spartan, part Japanese and part what he now recognized as Keiraine, and with nothing in it that felt like his mother to him. There were books, but very few-- she had scanned most of her library onto computer before they left Earth, to lower the weight allotment. What Teriani had were disks, hundreds and hundreds of tiny hexagonal chips that were incompatible with any Earthly system. The notion that all her work might be lost to disk incompatibility sickened David, and he tried to unhook the computer, but this particular module was built into the wall. Well, he knew there was a portable unit somewhere on board-- he just had to find it. He put the disks in a bag and packed them-- and then noticed another door.
Just when he thought his memories would stop surprising him, they threw him another curve. He could swear there had never been another door in Mother's room before-- but there it was, and denying it accomplished nothing. Palming it open, almost afraid of what he might find, he stepped inside.
This felt like Teriani. It was a lab, but a lab decorated with the personal touches the bedroom had lacked. The motif was similar-- Japanese/Keiraine-- but there were far more knickknacks and little things, stuff he remembered from the childhood he'd never truly had. There were several photographs of Nambu, and several of a boy David recognized as himself/his predecessor, and of a little girl David did not recognize at all. On one wall was a computer-generated color portrait of a woman with white-blonde hair, golden skin-- that had to be computer error, didn't it? No one had skin that color-- and a face similar to Teriani's. He drew closer, curious, but the picture bore no legend. Another computer portrait showed a blonde child that, startled, David recognized as a young Kelgari. Had the other woman been one of the dead Asapei then? Someone Teriani had cared about enough to reproduce from memory, using the computer, for she had not owned for years anything she'd brought into exile from Keirai....
Other objects abounded, like a stupid papier-mache bird he'd made for her-- or the other David had-- in first grade, and other pieces of "art" he remembered David making for her, as well as one or two he didn't. There was a computer with no keyboard-- instead, there was a slate with a light pen and some control keys. Disks were stacked neatly by it. He put one in, accessed it-- and it came up with a screen full of handwritten Keiraidi, in his mother's hand.
"4th month, 10th day, 23rd Earthyear. The Minapai is finally completed, Lareem and Keylen be praised! Assume now 2, 3 years to fuel, stock and calculate appropriate trajectories. After that, 2 weeks in transit to Gateway Earth-Beta. Must hope David has found a trustable mate or two by then, preferably female if I want to refound Asapei with the equipment I have here. Any children will have to be natural. However, more preferable he's found someone-- it will be a long journey.
"Another world-- what if I found one! What if I could return and present it to ISO's space program? Would that redeem me? If I do so much, could he forgive me my cowardice?
"But Galactor will have to be defeated before that day, or we will be targets again. They must be destroyed by the time we return from the other side of the gateway! That would be, what 8, 9 Earthyears, more?
"What if I return and find Kozaburo and his team have been killed? That Selectro has won this world? By my cowardice?
"It isn't my battle. It isn't. I mustn't think of such things..."
David stared. An expedition to another gateway? To search for another world? That was what the Minapai had been made for, and not the mad dream that had claimed his mother in the end?
Without warning, a sob welled up in his throat. He wiped tears away, forcing control. When had it happened? When had she snapped?
He reread what the screen said. "What if Kozaburo and his team have been killed... by my cowardice..." Then he began to read through diary entries, feeling like a ghoul but needing to understand. Gradually the picture came clear to him.
Teriani blamed herself for Nambu's death. Terrified of Galactor, of what it had already done to her children and herself, she had thrown away her dreams, singlemindedly pursuing narrow goals, tormented by guilt at abandoning the man she loved. When he'd died, she had not been able to bear it. She'd believed that she'd killed him by not aiding him. And perhaps she had...
It must have been easy to pin her hopes on a legendary machine that could return the dead to life. Years ago, when she'd lost her clan, she'd thought to use the machine to save them-- and she had been exiled. Over time, during her life with Nambu, she'd come to understand that to use such a machine for any purpose was flirting with a terrible danger. But when Nambu had died, she could not accept that there was nothing she could do, and she'd dreamed of the Eternity Matrix again... How to redeem herself? Even if she brought Nambu back to life, how could she make amends to him for the cowardice that killed him? Why not use the machine to eliminate all the evil in the universe? David read the final entries in the diary, that detailed with logical clarity his mother's growing madness, with tears rolling down his cheeks.
If only she had not been so afraid... That was why she had trained him as a Science Ninja, when he'd likely have never needed half the training if he hadn't joined the team, and why even then she'd feared for him. Her phobia that he would be hurt was entirely out of proportion to reality. Perhaps her madness had begun when the first David and his sister Mitsuko had died, and Teriani had begun to believe she could cheat death... But no, the seeds had been there already, hadn't they? Hadn't she been half-insane with grief when they exiled her from Keirai? Teriani had never accepted that death was permanent, never. Perhaps it had been the destruction of her family that planted the final seeds of her destruction? After losing so many people she loved, she could not bear to lose anyone, ever again...
David had always thought of his mother as a strong woman, even remembering how she'd snapped at the end. But the woman he could see now had been terribly fragile, ripped to shreds inside by the twin dogs of guilt and fear while she kept a perfect facade of calm competence up for him and everyone else, until the stress that broke the facade loose destroyed all the supporting props of her sanity. If only someone had seen her phobias and guilt for what they were, if only someone had been able to help her... But who had there been? She had kept David from probing too deeply into her feelings, and who else had there ever been?
It suddenly struck him how terribly lonely his mother had been-- exiled from her homeworld and the man she loved, truly close to no one at all, not even her son. She had loved David, and had listened attentively to his problems-- at least, when she wasn't working-- but she had never shared any of her own demons with him. That was dangerous, so dangerous, and he had it on both sides of the family. Nambu never confided in anyone, either. Which was all right, as long as things went relatively well-- but some major stress might very well shred his father to pieces, as it had his mother.
And what of himself?
He had told no one of his loneliness, how he felt he was not truly part of the team. Actually, he'd told no one anything at all. He'd bantered with his teammates, and hit the bars with Ken and Joe, and explored strange new countries with Jun and Jinpei as part of Free Bird, and played with Ryu's daughter, and fought alongside all of them-- but he'd never made an overture since that night when he'd learned part of how his mother had deceived him, and spent the night here, at Ayalat, talking with Ken about parents. They'd never shared anything with him, because he hadn't with them, Was it surprising then that he felt isolated?
He finished packing everything he was going to take this trip. He did want to come back, and perhaps invite one of the others to help him-- perhaps, too, Nambu would want to come. Maybe especially Nambu should come. If David ever wanted to form deeper ties with any of these people, he decided, he had to let them into his past, into himself.
By now, day had fallen on Utoland. Phoenix Reborn soared out from the Dawn Star into the brilliant sunside of Earth, returning.