Shatter a Diamond Knife

Chapter 3: Lissandra

Get out and get what you can
While your daddy's at home sleeping
No time to understand
'Cause he lost what he thought he was keeping
--Jethro Tull, Sweet Dream

By the time Thursday came, Lissa knew what she had to do. She had not packed her bags, or shown any sign that she knew her father was coming for her. And when the assistant principal came in on Thursday, and said, "Lissa, your daddy's here," she acted surprised.

"Here? Why?"

"Well, uh-- well, he said he'd notified you. A family problem, he said." Mrs. Rubenstein looked very uncomfortable. Daddy must have told her that Mommy was dead, and that he'd written a letter to Lissa saying so. But since Lissa was pretending she hadn't gotten the letter...

"I guess I'll ask him," Lissa said. "He didn't tell me or anything. I'm really surprised. Usually Mommy calls me up and tells me everything." A look of pain crossed Mrs. Rubenstein's face. Good, Lissa thought savagely. Be sad that my mother's dead.

They went downstairs and into the office. Lissa stiffened as she saw him, exactly the way he'd been in the picture. He was smiling, stepping toward her. "Lissa, darling?"

This had to be done just right. Lissa stepped backwards, putting an expression of fearful anxiety on her face. She didn't have to fake it, much-- fearful anxiety was mostly how she really felt. "You're not my father!" she shrilled anxiously.

"What?" He lost the smile. "Of course I'm your father, Lissa, don't be ridiculous."

"No, you're not!" She looked up at the assistant principal. "He's not, Mrs. Rubenstein! Don't let him take me!"

"Lissandra, stop this!" Daddy was angry. Good. Maybe he would slip up and show Mrs. Rubenstein what a horrible creature he was.

"Now, Lissandra." Mrs. Rubenstein was the soul of long-suffering patience.

"That's not my daddy! He's come to kidnap me or something! Call Mommy and ask her!"

"Your mother's dead, Lissandra," Daddy snarled. "I know I notified you."

"She's not! I don't know who you are but you're not my father! I know my own father!" Lissa turned to Mrs. Rubenstein. "He's lying, isn't he, Mrs. Rubenstein? Isn't he? Mommy's not dead!"

"I-- don't know. He said she was, but... he's really not your father, Lissa?"

"Of course I am!" Daddy was furious. "Lissa, you know better than to oppose me. I don't know what you think you're trying to accomplish, but it's not going to work."

"You're not my father," Lissa said coldly, clinging to the assistant principal. "Make him go away, Mrs. Rubenstein!"

Mrs. Rubenstein looked at her, then at Father. "This is embarrassing," she said. "I don't want to say you're a liar, Mr. Moranis, but-- well, Lissandra's not the kind of girl who makes up stories. I don't suppose you can present proof that you're her father?"

"I don't have it on me." Furious eyes, dark and insane, fixed on Lissandra. "I wasn't aware my paternity would be called into question." For a moment, the madness flared in his eyes, and Lissa stepped back, suddenly afraid. She knew he was a killer. Would he kill her for this?

But then the mad light went out, as if a shutter cut it off. He looked back at Mrs. Rubenstein. "I'm truly sorry about the inconvenience, Mrs. Rubenstein. I don't understand Lissa's behavior myself. I'm afraid I have a very busy schedule-- it'll be a few days before I can come back with the proof of my identity. Please take care of Lissa in those days, and if you would, have her see a psychiatrist? She's denying reality, and that can't be a good sign."

"Of course. I'm terribly sorry for all this, Mr. Moranis. It's just-- well, you know. In a situation like this-- we wouldn't want anyone to walk off the street and claim the children, you see?"

"Yes. I understand perfectly. In fact, I'm glad of Rathis's security, even if it's working against me now-- that's part of the reason I sent Lissa here. And I will be back, just as soon as I can." He glared daggers at Lissa as he left.

Lissa sagged against Mrs. Rubenstein. She'd succeeded-- for now. But Daddy could get papers proving he was anyone in the space of a few days. Somehow Lissa had to find a way of proving he wasn't her father-- and with her being only nine, and him having the full resources of Galactor behind him, that seemed impossible.

Mommy, what do I do? What do I do now?

Katse stalked out of the Rathis School in a white-hot fury. How dare Lissa do this to him? She knew full well what she was doing-- she knew who he was. Not only had he sent her the photographs, but he was not in disguise-- she had seen him this way dozens of times. No, she was doing this deliberately, for some obscure childish reason. He couldn't imagine why, but then, he was no great fan of trying to understand children. All he knew was that she had made a fool of him, made him interrupt his hellish schedule to no good end... He had been tempted to gun down the assistant principal and drag Lissa off. He was still tempted, but he knew better-- if Lissandra Moranis' father was connected with Galactor, he couldn't use her in the fashion he planned to. Much as he wanted to, he couldn't use his muscle right now. Later, though. Later he could have his men kidnap Lissa, and when she was back in his hands he would...

Would what?

He was looking at this all wrong, he realized, breaking into a sudden smile. He was seeing this as if a 9-year-old girl had outwitted him. Which, of course, she had, but that wasn't the way to look at it. His daughter and heir had outwitted the leader of Galactor, the most dangerous and brilliant person on Earth. His daughter. Oh yes. Katse's smile widened. Rather than feel humiliated for himself, he should be proud of her. What a world ruler she'd make someday!

Of course, he would still have to punish her. He couldn't let her get away with defiance like that. But he would punish her out of necessity, not wounded pride.

His men were already emplaced around the school to protect Lissa. The moment she stepped out of safety, his men would beat the Chementrians to her, kidnap her, and bring her to him. And if she was prudent and didn't step out of safety, he'd bring his forged proofs of identity the next time he could make room in his schedule, and take her legally.

Satisfied with his plans, and quite taken with the brilliance of his only child, Katse headed back to base.

"I can convince him to do what you want," Jennifer told her captors desperately. She was naked and bruised, surrounded by hulking and vicious men, but she tried her best to project the old aura of control, to manipulate them. Hard to tell if it was working or not. "Just let me call him!"

"All you're gonna do is try to tell him where you are, so's he can rescue you," one of them said. Stone faces. Was she getting anywhere with these men?

"No, I won't, because you'll kill me if I do, and I want to live." She looked around, pleading. "All I want to do is live. Don't you understand? I want him to do what you say, so you'll let me go and I can live. I'll do anything. But I know him better than you do. Unless I convince him to do it, he won't do what you want-- he'll think it's blackmail, and he won't give in to blackmail. I can make him do what you want." Still stone. She wasn't going to die this way! "Look, what have you got to lose? If I try to tell him where I am, you'll kill me. I know that. If it doesn't work-- well, you won't have lost anything, will you?"

"Let her do it," the thugs' leader-- who she thought was a minor member of the Family holding her captive-- said.

"Sir? Phone for you."

Katse spun to face the viewscreen. "Who is it?"

"It's voice only, sir, and she wouldn't say. But she's got the right codes. She says it's an emergency."

She? Katse frowned. Marriochio? She'd say who she was. André? Was in male form a month ago-- Katse wouldn't have thought he'd Change so soon. "Put her on."

He sat down in front of his terminal, which went blank, and the voice came through. "Berg, you bastard. You were going to write me off, weren't you?"

Katse's jaw dropped. "Jennifer?"

She wasn't dead yet, of course. Logically he'd known that, but he had written her out of his life so completely that he'd almost convinced himself she was dead. Hearing her voice again, when he'd thought he'd never hear it again... for a second, a surge of hope, as if her life was something he valued. But he damped down the reaction quickly.

"Yes. It's me. Did you manage to convince yourself I was dead so quickly?" Her voice was desperate, edgy, but still strong, still in control.

"Jennifer, you are dead," he said coldly. "There's nothing I can do about that."

"That's too bad. Because years ago, I realized that if I died by violence, chances were it'd be at your hands. If I warned you ahead of time, you'd have found a way around it. But I could at least set something up to avenge myself."

"What are you talking about?"

"There's a folder in the hands of a lawyer somewhere. I've left a message on the lawyer's answering machine once a week, every week. If the lawyer doesn't get the message one week, they'll wait exactly one week more. And then that folder finds its way into Nambu's hands. Your psych folder, Berg."

"I--" Katse's throat closed. "You burned that! I saw you!"

"Burn it without making a xerox first? I was never stupid, Berg. Do what the Chementrians say-- it's not such a big concession for you-- and get me out of here, or Nambu finds out everything I know about you, in a little over a week. It's the only way. If you don't answer the Chementrians' demands, they'll kill me, and if I die, Nambu gets the folder."

"Which family has you? Jennifer!"

"I don't know, and I couldn't tell you if I did. Just do what they want, Berg. That's all."

She hung up, or her captors hung up for her, leaving Katse shaking with fury and fear. He checked the automatic trace, but the signal had gone through a trace scrambler-- no way to check it.

Was she lying? It was like her to lie, to do anything it took to survive. But it was also like her to prepare blackmail material. There had always been a disadvantage in dealing with Jennifer, similar to dealing with Tai, or André, or Selina. The latter three, all mutants like himself, were almost as intelligent as he was. But Tai had been easy to manipulate, once Jennifer had shown him how, and André had no ambitions, and Selina was fanatically loyal. Jennifer was a genius human-- though no more than human, she was also almost as intelligent as he was, smarter even than Tai. And she was ambitious, a skilled manipulator who knew far too much about him. Trying to outguess her was worse in some respects than trying to outguess the Science Ninja Team, because the threat she represented was more personal.

She could well have done exactly what she claimed, for the reasons she claimed. he couldn't take that chance. But he couldn't capitulate to the Chementrians' demands, either.

A dark fury filled him. To hell with the Science Ninja Team. He had something worse to fear, now. And that gave him the freedom to act.

What was the point to wielding so much power if he couldn't use it?

Katse got to his feet. To hell with the Pironellos, too. The other Chementrian families were about to learn what it meant to cross Berg Katse.

"I see," Nambu told the telephone. "Yes. Yes, I'll have the Science Ninja Team investigate."

After hanging up, he contacted the Ninja Team and called them in. While waiting, he went through his files to find a slide of the Rathis School and updated information on it.

Rathis was a high-security boarding school for the gifted, sponsored by ISO. Though it was theoretically open to any gifted student, over 70% of its student population were the children of ISO members. He explained as much to the team when they arrived. "According to the security guards there, a number of mysterious men have been observed hovering around the campus. They're afraid the men might be Galactors. There's any number of children at Rathis whose parents are scientists doing work that might be useful to Galactor, and also children of heads of state in various countries."

"So you want us to check if Galactor is staking the school out, and get rid of them if they are," Ken said.

"Yes, and find out who they are if they're not Galactor. There are other terrorists in the world, after all, and kidnapping children to use against the parents like this isn't really Galactor's style."

"What are you saying, Doctor?" Joe asked. "Galactor's kidnapped kids before."

"Surreptitiously. It does Galactor no good to kidnap a child if we know about it, because we can then put the parents under surveillance and mount a rescue expedition. Every time they've kidnapped someone, we haven't learned about it until some time after. It's not like them to tip their hand in advance like this."

"That's true," Jun said. "But who else could it be?"

"As I said, there are many other terrorist organizations, smaller and less powerful than Galactor. Organized crime, terrorists, national factions out of favor..."

"Well, we'll check it out," Ken said.

"You've stayed inside for three days!" Nadia complained. "Come on, Lissa! How come you won't come out and play? You're the best kickball player on the team!"

Because there's people trying to kill me. "I don't feel good," Lissa said. "I've been trying to call my mom, but I'm not getting any answer. And then this crazy guy showed up yesterday pretending he was my dad, and he said Mom's dead. I'm just worried, Nadia."

"That's awful!" Nadia's eyes went wide. "Um. You don't suppose it could be... you know.. the Big G?" It was bad luck to say "Galactor" out loud-- not a superstition Lissa shared, being what she was, but one all the other kids subscribed to.

Nadia's solicitousness almost broke Lissa's control. "I... I think," Lissa said, and choked.

"What? What is it, Lissa?"

"I think Galactor killed my mom," Lissa blurted out, her voice breaking. She couldn't hold back her sobs any longer.

Nadia sat next to her, awkwardly saying, "Don't cry, Lissa. Don't cry. That guy was lying, I'll bet. I bet your mom's fine." As comfort it was worse than useless. Lissa knew her mother was dead-- Daddy had no reason to lie about that-- and the kindness Nadia showed made Lissa weak and unable to control herself. Go away, will you? Just go away!

But Nadia wouldn't go away until Lissa stopped crying, so she controlled herself, forcing herself to stop. "I'm just so s-scared," she gasped, and clamped down on her own voice, forcing control. "I'll be all right, Nadia. I just want to sleep or something. You go kick their butts for me, okay?"

"Okay," Nadia said, obviously relieved she was no longer needed as a comforter, and left.

For a while, Lissa stared out the window, out onto the playground. It wasn't fair. None of it was fair.

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