Aite Chp. 5

At 10 that morning, Ken went and knocked on Nambu's door.

"Who is it?"

"It's me," Ken said.

There was a delay of a few moments, and then Nambu opened the door. He'd obviously been working-- there were papers everywhere. "Ah, yes. Ken," he said. "Exactly whom I wanted to see. Do you have something to tell me?" He was standing with his arms folded, looking at Ken with eyes that were somehow very stern. Was he angry with Ken? Why?

"As a matter of fact, yes, I do," Ken said, getting slightly defensive. "Kyla remembers who she is. She broke into the Records Room and looked up Berg Katse's past history. Doctor," he blurted, as Nambu showed no reaction, "don't you think it was stupid to give her a position of so much trust?" Still no reaction. "She remembers who she is. She's Berg Katse! Doctor, don't you care?"

"Last night," Nambu said, "Kyla attempted to throw herself off the Carlin Bridge."

"What?" Ken's eyes widened.

"She was rescued by the police, and held in protective custody until this morning, when I went to pick her up. To say she was distraught would be an understatement. She was consumed with guilt, weeping hysterically, and insisting that she should die for her crimes. Tell me, Ken, is this the sort of thing you remember Berg Katse doing?"

"Well, no, but--"

"She explained to me, once she was somewhat calmer, that two things had led her to seek out knowledge of who she was. The first was a slip of the tongue on my part, two months ago, in which I speculated that Gel Sadra might be a hermaphrodite. The second was the continual suspicion she felt from the entire Science Ninja Team, excluding Joe, of course, but most especially from you. When she looked up hermaphrodites in the computer and got Berg Katse's name, she told me, she didn't want to explore the matter any fur- ther-- but she had to, she felt, because she had to know how to combat your suspicion of her."

Ken swallowed. So this was why Nambu was angry at him. "Well, what was I supposed to do?" he asked, very defensive now. "It would've been stupid to trust her completely--"

"Of course. But it was also extremely stupid--" Nambu's voice rose to a controlled shout-- "for you to grab her, hound her, repeatedly accuse her of wanting to destroy us all, and in general make her believe that you are convinced she is evil! After you attacked her in the air vents, you destroyed any chance that she would believe the story I told her in the beginning, that she simply reminded you of a Galactor. Over and over, you showed her that either you were a paranoid fool, or she was, in fact, a Galactor. she would probably have preferred to believe you a paranoid fool, but the man she loves is your best friend, and did his best to convince her that you are a good and sensible man. Which for someone of her intellect led to the inescapable conclusion that she had been a Galactor. And then, when she found out the truth about herself, you tore her apart. Didn't I tell you not to act suspicious?"

"But Doctor! She could be dangerous!"

"She could be. And I was not asking you to tell all your secrets to her. I've had her computer accesses kept under constant monitor. The only information she has access to is what we know about Galactor; names of our agents, locations of our bases, and so forth, are all beyond her clearance level. If she were to run off to Galactor today and tell them all she knows, the only thing she can give them, aside from your identities, is the knowledge of how much we know. As for knowing your identities, there really wasn't much that could be done about that-- there was no way to bring Jay back into the team and keep it secret from her. I did not and will not blindly trust her, Ken-- she's under the same surveillance everyone with access to sensitive information is under, no more and no less. But you must learn, one cannot make a person more trustworthy by treating them as if they could turn traitor any minute. We're all very fortunate that when she did learn her identity, she turned the anger and resentment at your mistrust against herself rather than against you or ISO. You could have driven her back to Galactor. You very nearly did drive her to suicide."

"I nearly drove her to suicide?"

"I'm sure what you did to her didn't help stabilize her any. Ken, you must realize. Kyla's mind-- is fragile. We should know that already. Berg Katse was thoroughly insane. Kyla is not-- but we know that the tendency is in her. We should be protecting her, not attacking her, because if she destablizes again, the best that could happen is what happened last night. And the worst doesn't bear thinking about. I've said it before and I'll say it again: don't treat her like an enemy, Ken, because then she will see you as an enemy-- and we may lose her to madness again." He sighed. "In any case, it's done now. I want to talk to the other three about this, but not Jay for obvious reasons. Can you think of a plausible reason to exclude him when I summon the others in?"

"Why obvious reasons?"

"Because learning that Jay was Condor Joe didn't restore either of their memories. But learning that she was Berg Katse restored Kyla's. I'm afraid that if Jay learns that, he will regain his memories--"

"What would be wrong with that?"

"Joe hated Katse, Ken. And Jay loves Kyla. Can you imagine what it would do to him to have a conflict like that in his mind?"

"Right." Ken shuddered. "Maybe if you were briefing us on a change in procedure from last time, and since he doesn't remember the way we used to do it..."

"Mmm. That's more fragile than I like. I'll think of something." Nambu began to pace. "When I picked Kyla up this morning, as I've said, she felt she deserved to die for her crimes, and nothing else could absolve her. I persuaded her that on the contrary, the only way she can make amends is to actively help us. Admittedly, things have changed since her time. But now she possesses all of Berg Katse's memories, while retaining Kyla's personality. I believe she can be trusted to help us. So I'm going to increase her security clearance and have her work directly with some of the agents."

"Are you sure that's wise?" Ken asked, his eyes wide.

"Yes." Nambu turned to Ken. "Her memories are back. If anything could cause her to fall back into the old patterns, that would do it. Instead, she feels guilt over them, to the point where she wants to kill herself." He began to pace again. "Now from the journals I've obtained, Berg Katse did occasionally suffer bouts of suicidal depression-- however, these were triggered by loneliness and self-pity, not guilt. I don't think Katse was capable of guilt.

"There's another thing. I've long had reason to believe Galactor brainwashes its members. I don't mean that it turns them into zombies with no free will-- I mean it takes ordinary people, people with some good and some bad in them, as we all do, and trains them, conditions them so that the good is suppressed and the bad is made to flourish. How else could mercernaries be persuaded to kill themselves for such a corrupt organization?"

"Are you trying to say Katse was brainwashed?"

"I've talked to people who knew Katse as a child, though not by that name. There are conflicting reports, but several have said she was a good, quiet child, even sweet. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood Katse changed, terribly. And yes, I think she was brainwashed. Galactor-- or rather, Sosai X-- conditioned her to suppress the good, enhance the evil. It wouldn't have been difficult-- Katse was desperately eager to please X, and had never been raised with a strong moral sense to begin with.

"I'm not saying this excuses her crimes. Far from it. What I am saying is that Katse wasn't born evil. She was twisted, perverted into that shape by Sosai X. By giving her amnesia, Teriani was obviously able to deprogram her, to recover the good that may have been in her once. Kyla may be Katse, but she's not the Katse we remember. She's not insane, she has great respect for human life, she hates Galactor and Sosai X, and she loves Joe. Instead of being constantly suspicious and fearful that she might slip back, we should recognize that she's been cured, and we should be happy for her and thankful for the world's sake."

Ken sighed. "I did feel sorry for him-- for her-- once."

"There's no need to now. There's no need to fear her, either. With Kyla's help, we may be able to smash Galactor before it can do anything." He walked to the door. "Get the others one at a time, spaced about ten minutes apart. Tell them I want to talk to them one at a time, Jay last. We'll have our discussion once everyone but Jay is here, and then when I call him in separately I'll discuss something innocuous."

"All right." Ken left.

Jay had noticed that nobody who left came back. First Jun went with Ken. Then Jinpei was summoned, before Jun had returned, and then Ryu, before either of them had come back. If he was inclined to be a bit more paranoid, it looked suspiciously like the others were having some kind of meeting without him. Especially since he had already had to wait longer than any of the others had, and there was still no sign of Ken coming to get him.

A truly wicked thought occurred to him, and he grinned. Kyla wasn't the only Samonetti who knew how to be sneaky. Leave him out, would they? Well, he'd just practice his stealth and espionage maneuvers, then. He transmuted to Bird Style and slipped out of the training room, following on shadows, crawling on the ceiling, until he arrived just outside Dr. Nambu's office.

"Now that all of you are here," Nambu began, as Ryu arrived, and was interrupted by Jinpei.

"Joe's not here."

"No, he's not. What we have to discuss is not for him to hear; that's why I claimed to be meeting with you separately." Nambu opened the side door from his office. "Kyla, come in," he said.

The three Science Ninjas stared as Kyla came into the room, wondering. What was Dr. Nambu going to say?

"Last night," Nambu said, "Kyla regained her memories." Shocked looks. "For various reasons, I have become satisfied that she no longer thinks like Berg Katse, and that she sincerely wants to help us."

"How can you be sure?" Jinpei asked.

Kyla looked at him. "Jinpei, did you ever do something you were ashamed of? So terribly, horribly ashamed that you would give your life if you could just reverse time and prevent yourself from doing it?"

"I think we all must have," Jun said, tactfully not mentioning that what Kyla had to be ashamed of was considerably greater than anything any of them could muster up.

"That's how I feel. I-- you don't know how horrible it is, to remember-- doing... those things. If I could go back in time and shoot myself before I did it, I would. But I can't, so the only thing I can do is destroy Galactor, with what I know about it, to prevent this from happening again."

"Well, talk's cheap," Jinpei said.

"Yes, it is. Especially coming from me, I can understand how you feel." Kyla sat down on one of the couches, as they all looked at her, encircling her. "I tried to kill myself last night."

Jun gasped. Ryu said, horrified, "But what about your baby?"

"I figured it would be a freak like me, and better off dead. Some police stopped me, and Dr. Nambu talked me out of it. I don't have the right to kill myself, you see. I have to use my knowledge to stop Sosai X, to atone for what I've done."

"Excuse me," came an angry voice from outside the door, "but was I ever going to be told any of this?"

Jay stepped through the door in Bird Style, looking furious. Kyla went white, and stood up, looking ready to bolt, with one hand placed protectively over her stomach and the other to her face. "Jay..."

Jun stepped in front of her, and Ken got between the angry Condor and his wife. "What're you doing up here? You were supposed to wait!"

"I got bored. And I'm sick of getting left out. Besides, I'm glad I disobeyed. Exactly when was I going to be told that my wife tried to kill herself?"

"How much did you hear?" Kyla asked woodenly.

"Oh, I heard enough, and I'm pissed about it. If you got your memories back, maybe I'm going to get mine, too. Maybe I'd like to know that. Anyone think of that?"

"Jay," Nambu said sharply. "There was a reason I didn't want you here--"

"Yeah, you didn't want me to know Kyla used to be Berg Katse. That's the big secret you've all been tiptoeing around for two months, trying to keep me and Ky from finding out, and now that Ky remembers you don't want me to know, because it's so horrible, right? You wanna know something? I. Don't. Care. I don't give a damn who Kyla used to be, unless it's hurting her now. And I'm sick of you people trying to keep secrets from me!"

"You mean that?" Kyla said. "That you don't care?" She pushed past Jun and Ken and went to Jay. "I-- I told them not to tell you. I was afraid you-- you would--" She bit her lip. It looked like she might start crying again.

Jay gathered her to him and enfolded her in his cape, so that only her legs and head on his shoulder were visible. "Hang on," he whispered. "We'll talk about it later. Get a hold of yourself first." He knew the last thing she would want would be to break down in front of the team.

"Thanks," she whispered back.

Ken said, "We were afraid you would hate her and want her dead if you knew. You used to have an obsessive hatred of Berg Katse."

"Yeah, well, in case you hadn't noticed, I used to be obsessive about a lot of things. I'm not anymore." He looked around at them all. "Listen, guys. You're all thinking of me as Joe still, but I'm not really. I'm Jay Samonetti now, and I don't want the knid of life Joe had. I want the good stuff he had in his life, but I don't want his obsessions. I don't want to go around full of anger and hate all the time like he did. I like myself fine the way I am now. I'll kick Galactor butt, all right, but I want to do it because they're assholes and they need their butts kicked, not because I feel like I have to do it for my parents or something."

Ken abruptly grinned. "Years, I've been telling him this. Years. It takes amnesia to make it sink in."

"What can I say? I've got a thick skull."

Everyone laughed, even Kyla, who moved back from him slightly. "I'm okay now," she whispered. "Thanks."

"Good." Jay didn't release her completely, though-- he held her still cradled in one arm, one wing draped over her shoulders, to emphasize his claim on her. She was his, and he wanted all of them to know that. The past was never going to change that.

Nambu explained to them that Kyla would begin giving them information from the past, knowledge about Galactor and Sosai X that they could use to destroy Galactor before it got started. Then he let Kyla tell them about X.

"I don't know everything-- Sosai never exactly sat me down and told me stories about his childhood. What I do know is that he's not native to this world at all. He's not our form of life at all, either. Sosai is an energy being, with control over electromagnetism. He houses himself in a golden spaceship, which used to be under the Cross Karakoram mountain range, I don't know where it is now. This spaceship has the ability to teleport."

"Can it teleport people? Such as you?" Ken asked.

"Or giant ape mecha?" Jinpei asked.

Kyla winced slightly. Even though she could no longer sympathize with her memories, it was still embarrassing to remember being brought down by Jinpei, of all people. "If you're talking about that time in the Himalayas, yes, he teleported me and the ape mecha. We were within 136 miles of Cross Karakoram, and therefore of him, that's how he did it. He can ionize the air to generate a 3-dimensional image of his icon--"

"His icon?"

"What he chooses as his representation. The flame being with the glowing eyes was just an image he used to represent himself, not what he really looked like. At any range, he can create the icon hologram, as long as it's near one of his power nexii. I used to build the nexii into all the bases, and likely Gel Sadra does too. However, he can only teleport someone when they're within 136 miles or so of him."

"Was he within that range when we unmasked you in Utoland?" Ken asked.

"No. That's why he didn't teleport me-- I ran. He generated an icon to cover my escape. He also had limited telepathy--"

"Mindreading?" Ryu asked, wide-eyed, and Jinpei shivered, saying, "He can't read our minds, can he?"

"If you'd let me finish-- as far as I know, he could only communicate with me, and then it was a very directed exchange of thought. He couldn't read my mind, but he could read the messages I projected at him, and send messages back. We usually only did this in an emergency, since it gave me a splitting headache and apparently wasn't terribly pleasant for him, either. He may have the same ability with Gel Sadra. He can also take over machinery in areas where he has a nexus, and he manipulates magnetic fields on a very intense scale at his core."

"What is he, precisely?" Nambu said. "You said, not native to this world."

"No. He comes from the planet Selectro, in the Andromeda galaxy, and they sent him here to conquer Earth. That's all I know. I'd wager that's all Gel Sadra knows, too."

"How can we destroy him?" Ken asked.

Kyla shook her head. "You can't," she said. "As far as I know, you can't."

The discussion lasted a few more hours, Kyla telling all of them things they'd never known about Galactor. Then Kyla went to work with Nambu and some Intelligence people, telling everything she could remember, while Jay went to pick Kyla's car up off the side of the bridge-- miraculously, it was still there-- and then returned to continue training. It wasn't until rather late that they both got off work and Jay drove Kyla home, since he'd delivered her car to their house.

"It really doesn't bother you?" she asked. "Who I used to be?"

"Why should it?" Jay asked practically. "I don't remember that person. Far as I know, you are who you've always been."

"Even the fact that I was once male-- that doesn't bother you?"

"Well, you're not a man now, are you?"

Kyla looked down at her swollen breasts and rounded belly. "Somehow it doesn't look that way," she murmured.

"Well then. Why should I care? I mean, yeah, if you turned into a man right now, I admit it'd bug the hell out of me. But that's what you take those pills for, right?"

"Right," Kyla said. It was suddenly sinking in that she'd never be a man again. Before she'd gotten her memories back, she hadn't known what she was missing. And since then, she'd had other things on her mind. But now, she fully realized that she would never, ever be male again. That part of her life was gone forever, and it saddened her somewhat. As a child, she would have given anything to be one or the other, forever. After becoming sexually mature, however, she had discovered advantages to the duality of her nature, and it came with a sense of loss to give them up.

On the other hand, she wasn't really sacrificing anything she hadn't chosen to sacrifice. She'd known for a very long time that she was bisexual-- marrying Jay hadn't made her blind, and she could appreciate the charms of both men and women when she looked at them. But she had willingly ignored her attraction to women, as she'd ignored her attraction to any men but Jay, because he was the one she loved and she wanted to be faithful to him. It was the same principle here. What she would miss was having sex as a man-- nothing else was really that different between phases to miss it. And since the only partner she ever planned to have was Jay, who was relentlessly, completely and totally straight, there would never be any point to being a man. The happiness she felt with Jay far outweighed the sense of loss. If the price for happiness, sanity and love was her manhood, so be it-- it was a small enough price to pay. She leaned on Jay's shoulder.

"It really doesn't matter to you," she said.

"Nope. Not a bit."

"Lots of men would be bothered if their wife had ever been a man."

"Well, they're dickheads. Right now is all that matters, and right now you are an incredibly beautiful and sexy woman--"

"Why, thank you."

"--who just happens to be married to the hottest stud in Utoland." Jay grinned widely.

Kyla grinned back and unbuckled her seat belt. "Okay, Mr. Hot Stud, you asked for it," she said, moved over, and proceeded to nuzzle his ear. He didn't protest until she slid her hand onto his leg.

"Hey, stop that. I'm driving!"

"You don't really want me to stop, do you?" she purred in his ear.

"I don't want to get us both killed, either!"

"Oh, I trust your driving skill."

Jay couldn't pull away from her or push her off without being more forceful and unpleasant than he really wanted to be. "Dammit, Kyla, do you know what you're doing to me?" he moaned.

"Oh, yes," she purred. Her hand slid all the way up his leg. "I know exactly what I'm doing to you."

"That's it," he growled, spinning the wheel and pulling into an empty parking lot. He parked and turned the ignition off. "You could have waited until we got home, to a nice soft bed, but no, you couldn't wait, could you?"

"No, I couldn't," she said, grinning. She pressed a button and moved the front seat as far back as it would go, away from the steering wheel. "What are you going to do about it?"

He didn't bother answering her-- merely grinned ferally at her, slid over and grabbed her, proceeding to smother her with kisses as they both started losing articles of clothing. When he finally came up for air, he whispered in her ear, hoarsely, "So soft... you're so much softer nowadays. Much nicer. I think you're sexy when you're pregnant, Ky, I'm going to have to keep you this way all the time."

Kyla tweaked his nose. He tweaked hers back, which resulted in a mock wrestling match, which led to other joint endeavors, and in the end it was a long time before they reached home.

A week later Nambu stood in front of an unassuming front door, contemplating an encounter of a different nature with his wife.

He, Kyla and some of the top-ranking people in Intelligence had been working hard all this week, getting names and locations and the plans to bases. Kyla had inside information on most of the people they had confirmed as Galactor captains, knew everything there was to know about Selina Marriochio, who was Galactor's Executive Scientist and the only high-ranking female besides Gel Sadra left in the organization, and could break into several of Galactor's databases. She said her personal code might work still, and that would get her in anywhere, but she was very reluctant to use it, as it would identify her beyond doubt to Sosai X. She knew lesser codes that were still useful, however, and using them they had pirated a great deal of information from Galactor. In a few weeks, Nambu hoped, they would have enough to make a series of lightning strikes that would destroy Galactor completely.

But Kyla had gone on break for the weekend, as had the Science Ninja Team-- they needed days off on occasion, or they'd burn out. So Nambu had decided to take the weekend off, too, for once. There was something he had to do.

He knocked at the door of the address Kyla had given him. A young man answered, and a lump caught in Nambu's throat. He knew that young man-- or had known him, 10 years ago.

Was this how Red Impulse felt, seeing Ken for the first time in 12 years? But then, Kentaro had chosen to leave. And Kentaro had not believed his son to be dead...

"Hello?" the young man said.

He doesn't know me, Nambu thought, and it wrenched at his heart. But he had come for a different purpose today. The reunion with David would wait. "I'd like to see your mother. Is she in?"

"I'll have to check. Can I have your name?"

Nambu almost smiled. Oh, no, Teriani. You don't fool me that easily. "David, you know perfectly well that she's in. My name is Kozaburo Nambu of the ISO, and I've come to see her. Where is she?"

David stood his ground. "What makes you think she's in?"

"You would have said she wasn't if not. You're screening unwanted visitors. A commendable job, but I have the right to see her if anyone does. Where is she?"

"How did you know my name?"

Because I'm your father. "I was acquainted with your mother once," Nambu said. "I'm not going to hurt her, David, but she's made a man I trained amnesiac and I want to know why. Now. Where is she?"

"Downstairs in the lab," David said defeatedly. He tagged along as Nambu searched for and located the staircase, but after Nambu glared at him, he stopped before going down the stairs and waited at the top as Nambu descended.

The lower level was a different world-- almost literally. The technology covering the walls had the crystalline precision and beauty of pure Keiraine tech. Things like the Bird Styles, the Firebird effect, those were bastard hybrids of Keirai and Earth. They worked, but much of the original beauty was gone.

"Teriani," Nambu called, in a language he had mostly forgotten. "Ki arrath?" Where are you?

There was a startled cry from around a corner. Nambu turned, rounded the corner, and saw her, looking hardly older than the day she'd-- well, obviously, she hadn't died. The day whatever had happened had happened. The day he'd thought she was gone forever.

"Lareem and Keylen," she swore, pale, her hand pressed to her mouth. "It wasn't a hallucination. That was you."

"Yes," he said quietly, looking at her. Drinking her in. She was just as beautiful as she had been then-- small, with what looked like an Asian cast to her features, except that her cheekbones were high and the epicanthic folds were on the wrong side of her eye. Her skin was paler than it had been, with a faint sallow tinge to it-- her melanin, her skin pigment, was gold, not brown, and when she tanned she turned a gloriously impossible gold, like wheat or golden metal. She hadn't been in the sun much lately, though, he could see. Her hair was straight and black, with the faintest tinge of blue to it, and her eyes were as black as a starless night. And she looked no older than 30. The serum she'd given him, years ago, meant that he looked 40, now that he was 50. But she herself had aged only about 5 or 6 apparent years in the 20-odd since they'd first met. She'd looked young then, and she looked impossibly young now.

"Teriani," he said. "We need to talk."

Her face was blank, which he knew to mean defensiveness. "About what?"

About you, and why you did these things. "About Jay and Kyla", he said.

"Oh, yes. I heard they were settling in nicely," she said, her face taking on a cheerful, relieved aspect. Her face lied. She was as taut as piano wire.

"When was the last time you talked to them?"

"Two weeks ago, when Jay came in for a check-up."

"Ah. Things have changed since then. Kyla's regained her memories."

The color drained out of Teriani's face, and she looked sick at heart. Nambu knew well she could have hidden that-- made her face go blank and calm, or acted unconcerned. The fact that she hadn't meant that she wanted him to see her emotion. She was trying to manipulate him. The emotion was real, but she was using it. "Why?" she asked.

"She did some research on hermaphrodites, came up with Katse's name, and looked him up. That triggered the memories."

"What then?"

"She tried to kill herself."

"Good," Teriani said, visibly relaxing. Nambu's eyes narrowed.


"You know what I mean, Kozaburo," she sighed. "You said 'tried'. She didn't kill herself, or you would have said so. And the fact that she tried, as opposed to trying to kill you, or me, means the conditioning held. Is she all right now?"

"Yes." There was a moment of awkward silence. "Why did you do it?"

"Do what?"

A thousand things he could be asking. "Why did you save them?" he asked, but that wasn't it. That wasn't the real question.

"They were dying," she said, deliberately misunderstanding. "I had to."

"Why amnesia? That was your doing, I take it."

"Well, what do you think?"

"I think the odds against it happening by accident are so ludicrously high that it had to be you."

"I'll defer to your judgement on that one," she said, a smile in her eyes.

"Why amnesia?"

"The fastest way to heal them."

He knew she didn't mean their bodies. "What was wrong with Joe?"

Teriani stood up, lifted a string of beads off the terminal, and began to spin it around her finger as she paced, without looking at him. "I have a device that permits me to read someone's mind," she began.

"I remember it distinctly."

"I thought you might. Normally, as I'm sure you remember, the sharing is 2-way. When sharing an unconscious man's mind, that doesn't happen. I used the device to read Joe and Katse as they lay unconscious in my laboratory. Let me tell you how they died."

"Which reminds me-- what were you doing at a Galactor base in the first place?"

"An associate of mine and I were attempting to gather information on Sosai X, and that was one of their main bases. I believe you thought it might be their headquarters."

"Yes. Kyla now says their headquarters used to be in the Cross Karakoram mountains, in the Himalayas."

"Well, we were there because we thought Sosai X might be there, and we found Joe and Katse. My associate helped me with the cybernetizing surgeries on Joe; Katse needed only minimal surgical intervention, since X had built the ability to regenerate into him. I kept them unconscious after I'd saved them, and I probed their minds.

"Joe was consumed with hate. Always consumed with hate. It raged inside, it never gave him a respite. He lived for his hate. Much of it was focused onto Katse, who actually had had nothing to do with the deaths of his parents, but Katse was a powerful visible symbol of everything he hated about Galactor, and it burned within him. He wanted Katse dead. So when Katse was torturing Ken, he snapped. The plan had been to blow up Katse's escape ship and take him captive--"

"I remember. Those were my orders."

"--but Joe didn't care anymore. He followed Katse through the labyrinth of escape passages and out into the snowy night. Then he shot Katse in the chest with his cablegun.

"Katse would have bled to death in a matter of minutes anyway, if Joe had just let him alone to die. But Joe's hate wouldn't let him do that. He had to savor Katse's death, squeeze out every last drop of it. So he reeled Katse in, hauled him to his feet, and gloated at him. Katse proceeded to gut him, to slice open his abdomen with the last of his strength. Then they both collapsed.

"And the last thing Joe thought was that he was glad. He was glad to be dying this way, to go down taking Katse out. It was a noble sort of death, and it would finally put an end to the hate. The burning within him was almost more than he could bear. He had wanted to die for some time-- maybe that's why he took a risk like that. And his body was damaged, falling apart on him already. His face was known to Galactor. He was suffering from brain trauma. He wanted to die for his hate, to quiet the demons in him."

Now she turned her dark eyes on Nambu and spoke with a chill in her voice. "Tell me, Kozaburo, what sort of monster twists a boy so he can only be free of his hate in death?"

The words were a knife, and he was bleeding and gutted as Joe must have been, watching himself die. He knew why she had done it, though-- she was fearful and defensive, deflecting the question he hadn't put into words yet. She was hurting, so she had struck first. And no, he was not infinitely understanding-- he would stab her back, but later. If he did it now, it would be revenge, and escalate into war. Later, he could use it to remind her she had as many weak points as he did. He breathed deeply, knowing she had seen his blood on her knife. "I didn't twist him, Teriani. Galactor did that when they murdered his parents. I would have had to brainwash him to eliminate the hate."

"Perhaps he'd've been happier brainwashed."

"Obviously you thought so."

"So you let him live with that rage, eating him alive?"

"I had to use the weapons given me. He hated Galactor. I needed someone to fight Galactor. I tried to get him to tone himself down-- I tried. But if I'd done all I could have done, his effectiveness as a fighter might have been destroyed."

"Lareem and Keylen forbid."

"You know why he had to fight, Teriani. You know what he was fighting."

"Yes. Better than you, I think."

"That means--?"

She ignored the question. "But I'm a doctor, a healer. Not a fighter. I wanted to heal him."

"Why couldn't you have told us he was alive?"

"If you were a doctor and received as a patient a child who'd been abused, would you patch him up and send him home to be abused again? Or would you take him away from the abusive family, even if it hurt them?"

Another stab wound. "I'm not a child abuser, Teriani."

"No, Kozaburo, you're a dedicated and ruthless man. Far more ruthless than I could ever be."

'That's right," he said coldly. "I play with people's lives. You only play with their minds."

Her face blanked. He had hurt her. He could see the blood. "I saved him from pain."

"And made him fall in love with his enemy."

"Made him?" She shook her head slightly. "As it happened, Katse was male when Joe killed him, and so regenerated as a woman. A man and a woman, amnesiac together--"

"Who've been told they died in each other's arms."

"That was the truth. They did."

"But the reason was hatred, not love."

"Hatred is very close to love," she said softly. "The other person is constantly in your thoughts. All your plans revolve around your next meeting. You hunger to see the other again, so you can hurt and kill them. You analyze what the other does and says constantly. It's very close. Besides, Katse was strongly attracted to Joe and always had been, and Joe was grateful to Katse for killing him. Not consciously, no, he'd've denied it till the end of time and believed the denials. But it was there." She looked at him hard. "Those who are not capable of hate aren't truly capable of love, Kozaburo."

That comment hadn't been referring to Jay or Kyla. "Is that what you think? Do you have so narrow a vision of love?" he asked, anger tingeing his voice. Perhaps the two of us are more like Jay and Kyla than I ever thought. My partner, my opponent; is this love or war we're engaged in now? Or both?

"Is that all you wanted to know?"

"No." Of course not. I've been asking a question for the past half hour and you still haven't answered it. "What did you do to Katse to make her Kyla?"

She relaxed. This was straight information, not charged with the undercurrents of unspoken questions. "Her kind-- Gemini Linkages-- have very malleable minds. That's why creatures like Sosai X use them, because they can easily be-- influenced. Brainwashed. Programmed. Conditioned. I used that to implant deep subconscious commands-- roughly, the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not kill, steal, or covet thy neighbor's husband if thou hast a perfectly good husband of thy own. On major issues, she's very moral. Not much for obeying other people's rules, mind you, but the rules in her own head govern her behavior."

"But you programmed those rules. She has no real free will."

Teriani sighed. "She never did, Kozaburo, not like we do. She was created and sculpted to a single purpose. Her entire early life was shaped so she would be vulnerable to X-- laying down the foundation so he could twist her later. All of us are shaped by our lives and circumstances, Geminis no less so. They're designed to be programmable people, but if no one programs them they program themselves with the random flotsam of their lives, the same as we do. The trouble is that if they're not given the opportunity to do that in childhood, they lose the ability to do it. Or at least, to do it as freely as human children do it. A human being-- a Gemini Linkage-- isn't a computer. You can't erase a program and leave them with nothing. The only way to get rid of something is to first erase the previous program, then plant another on top. If I had just given Katse amnesia, she would have drifted back into the old patterns from force of habit, most likely. She had to be specifically reprogrammed with a moral sense, or the deprogramming wouldn't take. Free will just wasn't a choice. The only choice was in the motive of the programmer, and I wanted her to be happy."

"Oh, I'm not saying I disapprove of what you did with Kyla. I would have been ready enough to kill Katse or shatter his mind into very tiny fragments to prevent his evil. The fact that you were actually able to redirect his-- well, her-- talents toward good is a far superior solution. That's not the problem."

She didn't ask what the problem was, then. They both knew what the problem was.

"But what I want to ask," Nambu said, "is why didn't you tell us Jay was alive? I know you think he was miserable as Joe and so you had to give him amnesia, but why couldn't you have told us he was alive, at least?"

"Because you would have sucked him right back into your war," she said. She wasn't really talking about Jay. Neither was Nambu.

"Wasn't that his choice to make?"

"Of course it was, but you wouldn't have given him a choice. By hook or by crook, you'd've seduced him back. I didn't tell him about you, but I didn't go out of my way to prevent him from finding out, either. As far as you're concerned, there never is a choice. People work for you if you need them. There's no way to say no to you."

"It's not me they're saying yes or no to, Teriani. It's the future of the world. And the world needs Jay."

"Kozaburo, he died for you! How much more can you ask?" There was a sudden fury in her voice. "You don't know when to quit. You can keep going until the end of time, and you can't recognize that other people burn out. Once someone has given all they have to give, you still demand more and more, until they're an empty shell with only ashes inside. You ran your Science Ninjas perilously close to that point, Koza, and that's wrong. If someone dies for you, if someone loses their loved ones for you, that's enough! You can't ask any more!"

And now she was answering the question he'd been asking all along, but they still would not admit who they were talking about. "I can and I must, if they're necessary to the safety of the world."

"No one is that necessary. You can always find someone else and train them to fill that spot. No one is unique."

"Some are," he said softly, looking at her. "Some people are the only ones that can prevent certain things from happening, or stop them-- or at any rate, the only ones who can do so quickly enough that there's no loss of life."

"It doesn't matter how unique or necessary you think someone is," she said in an anguished voice. "Once they die for you, you can't expect them to give any more! Even if some miracle brings them back from the dead, you can't change the fact that they died for you! They gave everything already-- there's no more left to give!"

"So how did you die, Teriani?"

There. He'd said it. He hadn't phrased it as it was phrased in his head, but he'd finally asked the question. Why did you leave me?

"There was a car crash," she said distantly. "The car crashed into a wall of force and was crushed... and David and Mitsuko were squashed and burned in the back seat..."

"I saw," he said, his voice numb. "And your body, or something much like it, brunt beyond recognition in the front."

"Really?" She looked at him with oddly fearful eyes. "I remember crawling from the wreckage, knowing what had happened to my babies, and knowing Galactor had done it... Then I woke up in a hospital, and they told me I was lucky to be alive. Lucky, when my children were dead. They didn't know who I was, and I didn't tell them. I bribed a doctor to have me declared legally dead."

"Was it you who stole your spaceship back from the Self Defense Forces?"

"Yes..." She frowned slightly. "I don't remember how I did it, but I know I did. I was out of my mind with grief for a while; there are gaps in my memory."

"And if David is dead, who's that out there?"

"Oh... David died. Never mistake that. But I cloned him-- I had his tissue and a recording I'd made of his memories, made a year or so before he died. He's not the same David-- he has a different soul. But he's still my son-- even moreso, I suppose, since he's my creation as well as my flesh and blood. But I hadn't any tissues for Mitsuko. So I edited out the memories of you and of her, because I couldn't clone her. I thought he'd be happier that way."

Something in Nambu exploded then. "There's nothing you'll leave untouched, is there? There's nothing you won't edit, and cut, and program, for the sake of people's 'happiness'. Do you want to edit my mind, Teriani? Do you want to cut out my memories of you?"

"If it would make you happy," she said.

"Dammit!" He slammed a fist into the nearest available surface that wasn't covered with crystals, a small section of the wall. "Happiness isn't the only thing that matters! Cows in the field are happy! What about mental integrity and free will? What about people's right to make decisions for themselves?"

"Have you ever been happy, Kozaburo?"

The question threw him off balance. Once. With you, he thought. "Why?"

"I would be a cow in the field, to be happy. But who watches the watchers? No one can take the memories away from me, and I would give anything to forget... No, when one is deeply unhappy, mental integrity doesn't matter, Koza. It doesn't. You take happiness where you can. But you-- you've never trusted happiness. You'd rather have your mental integrity. I wouldn't. Who are you to deny others happiness if you don't want it for yourself?"

"Did it make you happy to leave me, Teriani?" he asked, bitter alkaline burning in him.

She looked away, and he knew she was hiding tears. "Leaving you was one of the most horrible experiences in my life," she said. "But it would have been worse to let you know I was alive. I loved you. I love you. But you would demand of me what I can't give anymore, and I didn't want you to know I couldn't give it, because I didn't want you to know what a coward I am... and now you hate me. Or at the least, have lost all respect for me. And I am bleeding to death, dying of your shame. But there's nothing else I can do. I'm too afraid."

"Of what?"

"Galactor killed my children--"

"Teriani, be realistic. Galactor didn't know who you were."

"All X needed to know was my race. Keiraines and Selectrans are hereditary enemies. I learned what he was after they died, and that's why. That's why I let myself be believed dead. Because X would've stopped at nothing to kill me."

"ISO can protect you--"

"Not if X finds out I exist. Eventually, he would destroy me. Just as eventually, he'll destroy you. If you want someone to help you fight X, I can give you the contact frequency of my associate-- for reasons of his own, he blames himself for Sosai X's presence here. I've given him some mindscience and information on Selectrans. But I myself don't dare help you openly."

"What about secretly?"

"I'm still Jay and Kyla's personal physician. For now, I'll have to help you secretly, with them at least." She looked at the floor. "If I can help you without compromising myself-- rather, without risking my life and David's-- I will. But I am not brave, Kozaburo, not anymore." She looked back at him. "You were always so brave and noble, I can't expect you to understand... Someday Galactor will kill you for your bravery, and you will die nobly and accomplish much by dying. But you'll still be dead. And I will be alone here, with my demons, and I will know I killed you, and I will know my own life is a worthless, empty thing. I will know you died for my cowardice, and it'll drive me insane. But there's nothing else I can do. Don't you understand? I'm not strong enough anymore. There's nothing else I can do."

There was no resolution to this, no neat and happy ending. Something inside him crumbled to ash as he looked at her. She wanted him to say he forgave her, he still loved her, and it wasn't true. He had loved her for her mind, and her body was beautiful, yes, but he had also loved her for her courage. Once, she had been willing to die to be free, to do as she willed and not be used. That was gone. She was a broken thing now, and the woman he'd loved was dead. He had his answers, and they made him no happier than the questions had.

"I don't understand," he said, "but I will accept. I suppose I have no choice." He closed his eyes. "Anything you can do to help would be appreciated. I will stay in contact with you."

He turned and left. The words he had not said, the words that would not be true if he'd said them, were palpable by their absence, making a presence, a thick miasma of pain unalleviated. But he could not ease her pain without lying, and she would know a lie. He had lost all respect for her, as she'd known he would, and he couldn't love her anymore.

He didn't say he was sorry, and neither did she. That would never be enough, for either of them. The silence clung to his skin, staying even after he'd left, even after he'd gotten in the car.

Chauffeur service was one of the few ISO perks Nambu utilized regularly. Cars had it in for Kozaburo Nambu, and he preferred to let someone else drive them whenever possible. This time, though, he wished he'd come alone. As the chauffeur drove him home, he wanted to weep for Teriani and how she had broken. But he could not weep with someone else there. He had to hide the tears as best he could, control himself as best he could, until he was home and there was no one to see the chink in his armor.