Five Empty Graves
A Battle of the Planets Story
This story is based on characters and situations from the 1970s anime series 'Battle of the Planets' (produced by Sandy Frank Entertainment) which was in turn derived from the series 'Science Ninja Team Gatchaman' (created by Tatsunoko Productions). Characters are used without permission, and not for profit.
As you can probably guess from the title, this is one of those stories which deal with the emotional aftermath of something catastrophic. I'll admit I was in a gloomy mood when I wrote it! Don't read if you object to that kind of thing. It isn't really meant to fit into any kind of continuity, just one stray glimpse of a possible future. Rated K+ for one scene with some violence.
Many thanks to Virginia for answering a random geology-related question out of the blue. Apologies to anyone who knows more about such things than I do for any factual mistakes. Comments or suggestions would be very welcome.
The evening sun cast long shadows. Its scarlet light illuminated the figure of a man, sitting motionless on a granite bench. He stared fixedly ahead of him, his eyes on the five gravestones that were fading into the growing gloom. Each was a simple stone, adorned only by a single word - the name of one of his children.
The counsellors had said this would help. He needed closure, a private monument not the ornate memorial that was even now being constructed not far from ISO headquarters. That was the symbol of the world's gratitude and grief - paid for by a public donation fund that had provided triple its cost within the first two days. As executor for all of the team, Anderson had donated the remainder to five charities. The world's press corps had been surprised by his choices - a wildlife charity, a collective of seafarer's benevolent funds, a women's education initiative in the third world, a charity for the victims of street violence, and a scholarship fund for orphaned children. Anderson had watched the press speculation about his motives with a kind of dull regret. No one would ever remember how passionate his wards had been in their own ways, how much the pressures of their past weighed upon them. His children's lives had been shrouded in mystery, and, even in death, their given names had been concealed from the public. President Kane had felt that the team should be remembered as the heroes they had always been, their anonymity making them emblematic of every life lost in the battle of the planets.
Only here, in the grounds of their childhood home were they remembered as individuals.
Anderson stood and walked forward a few paces. He rested a hand on the central stone, his finger tips tracing out the deep groves of the letters: MARK.
The wait had been interminable. The absence of the Phoenix always unnerved Center Neptune.
Outside, the rest of the world had begun to relax. It was over a year since the last time the fading power of Spectra had struck at Earth. Over recent months, even the raids on distant planets had become rarer and weaker. There were rumours that Zoltar had been pushed back to one last base, that he was gathering all that was left of Spectra around him.
And so G-Force had been sent, to winnow the truth from the chaff of speculation.
For half a decade now, the team had gone out to fight the good fight, and every time they had returned. But any time could be the last. Anderson knew that when he sent them out, and he thanked God every time they returned safely to him.
He prayed harder still when they didn't.
He slept in his office that night, slumped over the desk, his head resting on the paperwork he was staring at when exhaustion finally overcame him. The next day his aides forced him to move to a proper bed, but even then he used the room set up for him here in the Center.
It was two weeks before President Kane was flown out to the submarine complex - coming to Anderson because the chief still refused to leave G-Force's fortress. The president was a gruff man, not given to displays of emotion, or tolerant of them in others. Nonetheless, he seemed taken aback by the sheer deadness in Anderson's expression. He sat in the chair opposite Anderson's desk, and tried not to notice the way the man trembled when they shook hands. He'd never imagined this strong personality so close to total collapse.
"Anderson, I know the search teams you sent out returned yesterday. Why haven't you reported their findings?"
"Their findings?" Anderson repeated dully. He squeezed his eyes shut, as if trying to block out a mental image. Slowly, he reached into his desk draw, pulling out a folder and tossing it across the desk to Kane before standing and striding to his office's ocean window.
Kane picked up the folder carefully, almost as afraid of its contents as Anderson seemed to be. He pulled out the first photograph and stared at it, trying to make sense of the contorted greyness it showed. He pulled out the second photo, and the third, only then realising that they formed part of a single jigsaw of images.
The crater was huge, its diameter difficult to guess accurately but certainly no less than ten miles, to judge by the bulky vehicle and radiation-suited figure in the foreground of one shot. Within the tall, encircling cliffs nothing remained but a sea of glass, and lying on its surface a scattering of teardrops. Kane stared at them, confused, until his vivid imagination provided an answer. Molten rock and metal had been thrown into the air, gravity distorting the large drops before bringing them back to the still-soft surface. Kane closed his eyes briefly, and thought of the young G-Force team that had saved his own life so many times. For a while, glass tears had rained down on their grave.
He swallowed past a lump in his throat. "What ... what caused this?"
Anderson's voice was still neutral, as if he were speaking the words without hearing them. "No fewer than ten bird missiles. Maybe the Phoenix's entire arsenal. There was enough energy to vaporise the ship, the Spectran base, everything that was there."
"They are dead then," Kane said flatly, not making it a question.
"I ... I can't believe that. Not until I see them lying in front of me. Not until we know what happened."
Kane looked from his distraught security chief to the photos lying on the desk. He knew that no one ever would.
The president didn't announce the news at once. Even with Spectra's power on the wane, the loss of their premier defenders would send the people of the Earth into a panic. It was only when two months had passed with no sign of Spectra activity anywhere in the Federation that the press started asking for answers. It seemed too good to be true. When the lull had lasted ten weeks, when rumours spread that one of Spectra's subject worlds had actually asked for admission into the Federation, the rejoicing started. No one ever actually stood up and declared peace, it was simply that one after another, groups all over the world decided that the war must be over. There were impromptu street parties, thousands gathering in city plazas to share their hope for the future.
Somewhere in the midst of the celebrations, the call began; bring out G-Force, let the world toast its heroes.
Anderson didn't watch the television broadcast in which Kane explained that G-Force had never returned from their mission to Spectra's last stronghold. He had tried to bury himself in paperwork at ISO headquarters, but even in his office, far above the city streets, he heard the moment when the buzz of celebration turned into a murmur of dismay. The teardrops that struck his keyboard were just the first of many.
He'd tried not to envisage what happened, but the dreams had refused to stop coming. Each built on the one before, growing in clarity, going that little bit further.
Zoltar stood surrounded by his bodyguards, the cream of Spectra's survivors. Anderson gritted his teeth as the Spectran threw back his head and laughed at the four surrounded figures below. He saw Keyop thrown hard against a wall, his body broken and crumpled as it slumped to the ground. He saw Princess turning in horror, and falling prey to a Spectran garrotte wire as it was thrown around her neck. He saw Jason and Mark making a last stand in the midst of the melee - tears on their cheeks, a wild rage into their eyes - until Mark went down under a pile of Spectra's strongest, cleverest fighters. He saw Jason, mortally wounded, calling to Tiny in the waiting Phoenix, telling him to get away. Was that when Tiny chose to blow the Phoenix and die with his teammates? The dream hadn't reached that far ... yet.
But perhaps mutual annihilation had always been the only way this war could end. Even at this last, Zoltar would have had some way to escape. He would have had a plan to rebuild, coming back stronger and more venomous than before. It would need something huge and sudden to finally catch him. G-Force had provided just that.
Anderson caressed the smooth coldness of Tiny's headstone. Not even a full day's sunlight had warmed it. He felt as if touching the stone should ease his pain, but he couldn't find any release. The five empty graves could never be filled, and until they were how could he let his children go?
"Anderson." The gruff voice was familiar, rousing Anderson from his frozen contemplation.
He slowly raised his bowed head, lifting his hands away from the stones that remembered Princess and Keyop. Kane was about as welcome as anyone could be in these times. He had known G-Force, had visited them here at Anderson's mansion more than once.
The president's expression was lost in the fading gloom, but behind him, Anderson could make out the uniforms of five Center Neptune personnel, each of them rigidly at attention, each of them holding something in front of them.
"You've come to arrest me? Relieve me of duty?" Anderson demanded.
Kane chuckled softly. "Your deputies took over most of your duties a month ago. You didn't even notice." He shook his head. "No, I've come with a gift for you."
Anderson looked at him blankly, and Kane waved to the nearest of his escort. The man marched forward, his entire attitude respectful. As he approached, Kane flicked the switch on the electric torch he carried, casting a circle of light in the twilight.
Anderson's eyes locked on the metal box the Center Neptune officer held, noting its weight, and the small radiation warning symbol engraved on its catch. Wordlessly, the man stopped in front of his chief, holding the grey metal casket up. Anderson flicked the catch open, both longing to see and dreading what might lie inside.
A gleaming glass teardrop caught the light of the fading sun where it nestled in the padded interior. The dark blue-tinted obsidian seemed almost to glow with an inner warmth. Anderson didn't need Kane's warning not to touch it. The lead-lined box couldn't even be left open for long. The combination of bird missiles and dirty Spectran technology had left the crater a sterile, radioactive wasteland.
Anderson gazed at the box holding the teardrop, and at the four others being held by his men, and then down at the five empty graves.
Soon they would be empty no longer. Soon there would be peace.