Raison D'être Section 2
She stood at the command of a giant mecha, laughing, as the dragon she commanded spat fire at the population, and they screamed, and ran in terror, and burned. Call me freak, cast me out, and now who has the power? Whose name is on your terrified lips, who do you plead with at the end of your miserable lives? Who will you remember forever?
Except that they were all burning. All around the countryside was in flames. Cities toppled, burning, and she bit her nails in sudden fear. Who would remember her if they all burned? She turned and spoke to her viewscreen. "Sosai, we should stop this."
"WHY SHOULD WE STOP?"
"If they all die--" She hesitated. How dare she defy Sosai? But surely he hadn't meant to take from her her inheritance? "If they all die, who will remember me?"
"But then-- what will happen when I die?"
"YOU WILL BE UNREMARKED, FORGOTTEN. YOU WILL LIE IN AN UNMARKED GRAVE JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER PATHETIC CREATURE OF THE STREETS."
"Sosai, that isn't what you promised! You said you would give the world to me! You said I would-- you said I would be remembered forever, and all the world would know my name, and I would live forever..."
"But then-- what was the point of any of it?" she screamed. "I served you, I threw away any chance for personal happiness so I could serve you. You made me a mutant, you made me a freak, you took away my humanity so I would serve you. You told me I was special, I was destined! If that wasn't true then what was the point to any of it? What was the point to my being alive?"
"NO POINT AT ALL, KATSE."
And then she was standing outside the dragon, standing in the firestorm as the world burned, and she screamed, trying to command the dragon as it turned and spat its flame at her, but it would not hear her. She was nothing, just as she'd been born, just as she'd always truly been. Her failures had destroyed the world, her misplaced trust had destroyed her life, and now, knowing that all her pain meant nothing, she died in flame.
Berg Katse awakened screaming.
The cry died in her throat as the shock of consciousness hit. Only a dream. She was weak from the change, lying limp in a bed in some sort of silent hospital, no one else around, with the bedsheets hopelessly tangled around her body. Memory seeped back in. This was a space station, owned by the man who called himself Magneto and claimed to be a mutant like her. And her dream...
Not a dream. A symbolic representation, not a literal memory, but no less real. It had happened that way. Sosai had betrayed her, and the world had burned.
A keening wail rose in her throat, not quite under her control. Dead. All dead. They were all dead, the people she'd hated and the people she'd lusted after and the people she'd wanted to serve her, the people who'd been kind to a strange child and the people who'd reached out awkward hands of friendship to a person who would have to abandon them in another year as time worked its Changes, all of them dead. Sweet Andre of the deliciously changeable body, loyal Selina-- all her loyal men and woman, the elite few she'd culled who would willingly die for her-- dead. Dead.
I wanted to rule the world! Not destroy it! I wanted them to remember me, not to-- not to-- all dead, ah gods, all dead...
She huddled on the bed and screamed, anguish tearing itself free like lumpen birds in her throat, pecking and clawing their way out to fly free into the air, and always more where they came from. All dead, all dead, all dead...
Someone was there, someone was touching her, arms imprisoning her. She flailed out, breaking the hold of the imprisoning arms. The weight on the side of the bed retreated, but she still was aware of presence there, hyperalert senses rubbed raw by the sensation of someone looking at her. Katse turned blindly and screamed at him. "Go the fuck away! I didn't ask you to come in here!"
She was unconcerned with any possible effects of her words on Magneto, noticed nothing except that he obeyed her, and left her to her hysteria. For a long time she howled, keening for her world, destroyed by her blind stupidity and her trust in Sosai. I never wanted-- never wanted-- ah, gods--
And then, when eventually the tears were done, she was left with a still small voice in the blackness. You killed them all. Even Andre, who you wanted to rule by your side; even those you owed a debt to, for their loyalty. None are left to remember you. None are left at all. You trusted in Sosai, and you killed them all.
There had never been any point, had there? No point to any of it. No point to her existing at all.
She got to her feet, shakily. Her eyes raked the room, looking for weapons. There, a locked cabinet. Surely he kept the medical tools in there. She could find a scalpel and end her miserable existance.
The burned remains of her clothing lay in an unlocked drawer, but there was a conspicuous absence of her lockpicks, or her gun, or her miniature bombs, with them. Only one of the lockpicks remained, and it was plastic, not the ideal choice. Still, on the average lock it would do. Katse walked over to the locked cabinet, fiddled with the mechanism, and quickly came to the conclusion that this wasn't an average lock. It was probably-- and then when she realized what she was thinking, she began to laugh hysterically. Probably a magnetic lock. Well, of course it was a fucking magnetic lock. She was on a space station designed by a man who called himself Magneto, what the hell else would it be? No way to pick it without specialized tools.
But she was on a space station. There were airlocks on a space station. Katse left the hospital room, wandering through the corridors of the station. The gravity was light, allowing her to walk comfortably despite her weakness. Assuming that the gravity was generated by spin, given that it felt about twice lunar gravity and therefore couldn't be a natural property of this place, she found stairs and descended down them, heading down toward the outward surface.
An airlock turned up not much longer after that. It didn't even appear to be locked down. A simple switch operated it. Katse stepped inside, closed the inner door, and threw the switch to open the outer.
Frustrated, she used her lockpick and overlong fingernails to unscrew and pry loose the paneling. There was a very simple mechanism there, a switch connected to a power cord which fed gears. The gears, however, were welded to one another. She thought at first they might be stuck, and tried to pry them loose from each other, but no. The metal was actually fused along the edges, so the gears could not possibly turn.
"What kind of asshole makes an airlock with gears that don't open?" Katse shouted at nothing.
The inner door opened. "The sort of 'asshole' who expects no guests from the outside, and would prefer that his guests from the inside do not leave," Magneto said dryly. "Katse--"
"You broke your airlock just so I couldn't use it?" She stared at him, not sure whether that was the ultimate in consideration or intrusiveness. "How-- how did you know I was going to do this?"
"I always keep the airlock disabled unless I plan to use it. It's simple enough for me to adjust at will, and I prefer to avoid having uninvited guests boarding. But-- you did warn me you might do yourself harm. It's a precaution I would have taken nonetheless."
"No I didn't. I never said anything like that."
"When people tell me I should have let them die, I generally consider it a possibility that they plan to rectify the situation. Katse, you should not be here. You're weak, you're distraught, and it's the middle of the night. Things always seem bleakest in these hours, I've found."
"What, so I'll go to sleep and when I wake up everything will be just fine? I won't have destroyed my entire homeworld?" Her voice trembled. Goddamn it, I won't cry! He already thinks I'm some sort of pathetic weeping girlie, I'm sure. I won't break like that again.
"You cannot blame yourself--"
"How the hell would you know? You weren't there! I did it, I built the machine, I-- I obeyed Sosai's orders, I never questioned..." The blackness was threatening to overwhelm her again, the screams threatening to tear free. The world dimmed, and she felt her knees starting to buckle, her throat starting to close once more. "I k-killed-- he said I would rule the world, he said I would-- said I was destined, and then-- and then he s-said, the plans have ch-changed--"
When she stopped being able to breathe normally, when the sobs tore loose again and echoed in the spare metal chamber, when her knees did indeed buckle and she doubled over, poleaxed by the force of unfamiliar guilt, he caught her, carrying her back inside with no more apparent effort than if she'd been a child. She didn't struggle this time. The darkness had her completely, and she hadn't even the attention left to flail out at an imprisoning threat. Katse retreated into herself and howled, sobbing.
She came to herself in a large, well-stuffed leather chair, sitting on Magneto's lap in a comfortable, thick-carpeted study lined with books. Tiredly she lay where she was, her head leaning against his shoulder and her torso resting sideways against his. Though they were nearly the same height-- she would outsize him in her male form-- she was all leg, and he wasn't, with the result that, sitting, she was shorter than him. "Why are you bothering?" she asked softly, too exhausted from her grief to get up, or resist him. "I deserve to die."
"That isn't my concern."
"Do you know what I did? Do you have any idea?"
"Only what you've told me."
"I'm a terrorist," Katse said, the black exhaustion robbing her voice of any strength, any emotion. "For the past 12 years I've been a member of an organization called Galactor, that seeks to conquer the world. For what, six, seven of those years?, I was Galactor's leader. Second only to Sosai X-- his title, it doesn't translate well, it literally means 'governor' but it always sounded to me like 'god'. Sosai created me. My dual sex, my being a mutant. He made me, to rule the world for him. I was standing on a bridge, 18 years old and it was never going to change, I was never going to be anything other than a freak that had to hide, all my life... I'd never get to make anything of my life, never be remembered, never use a fraction of my gifts. So I was going to jump. And he appeared to me. He told me I'd rule the world, he told me I was destined. I was special. He told me he'd created me for a great destiny."
"I can imagine the effect that would have."
"Can you?" She turned her head slightly to look up at him, but it was painful and tiring so she dropped it again. "I lived on the streets. I was a thief, a prostitute, a beggar, whatever it took. I spent the first five years of my life in an institution, being a thing, and I swore never again. So I never-- I could never stay anywhere longer than a year, before my body changed, and I had to run and hide and change identities again. I lived all over Europe, barely managed to scrape together an education for myself. I'd never have been anything without Sosai. A freak, living in the gutters, without even the ability to make a decent living out of that because to succeed at anything, you need to deal with people, and the single-sexes would never accept a hermaphrodite freak. They'd take me apart, study me to find out how I regenerate. I knew."
"And when this Sosai appeared to you and told you you were better than human rather than lesser, destined for greatness, you found it compelling. I do know. I... have had my own battles with megalomania. Go on."
"I joined Galactor. Worked my way up through Intelligence. I killed without mercy, without conscience, to further our goals. I clawed my way to the top, because Sosai could only give me the opportunity to win, he couldn't actually give me the top job. I had to earn that. Four years ago I was the Enfant Terrible. Everything I touched turned to gold. I couldn't lose.
"And then four years of failure. Failure after failure. These people-- a team of snotty Japanese teenagers trained to defend the status quo, to keep the poor oppressed and the rich on top. To 'fight for peace', like you can fight for peace. I couldn't beat them. I couldn't figure out why not. Except total incompetence on the part of my men, but I expect incompetence. It's just, both sides should have been incompetent, and theirs wasn't. And in the end, after four years of these failures, they found out what I am, and they broadcast the news all over the world.
"Everyone in Galactor thought I was two people. A man, the leader of Galactor, who always went masked, and a woman, who was his assistant. A woman couldn't rule, you see. The idea was laughable. When they knew-- I'd led them for seven years, and they turned on me. I had to fight to keep my power. I actually had to fight hand-to-hand, an unarmed duel to the death to prove I was tough enough to lead Galactor. As if the ability to kill hand-to-hand proves a damned thing. So Sosai told me he'd take care of this newest plan for me, and I... I let him. I was always hands-on, I always reviewed all the specs myself, the designs for the mecha and the weapons--"
"Terror machines. Instead of traditional tanks and planes. You put a lot of money into building a single devastating military weapon-vehicle and use it to create maximum terror. We had governments paying us huge amounts of money, even though theoretically we were outlaws and no one was supposed to negotiate with us, just to stay away. Actually brought the world to the brink of surrender several times. If it weren't for the fucking Science Ninja Team... oh, but even they couldn't save the day, in the end. Sosai told me he'd take care of everything, and this time, this one time, I let him-- I was stretched so thin, fighting so hard to keep my power and I knew that if I failed, I'd be toppled. There was no way I'd survive another failure, and I trusted Sosai. I gambled everything I had on him, on the destiny he'd promised me."
She drew a choking breath. "And then he told me the plans had changed. He was just going to destroy the Earth and leave. I didn't have any independent control mechanisms-- I had no way to shut it off-- and he left, he left without me, he left me to die and the whole world with me--"
This time she managed to hold the darkness back. She breathed raggedly, painfully, but did not let herself weep or keen again. His arms shifted, holding her. It should have been an intrusion, a caging, but she was too tired to fight being caged, and the warmth was somehow comforting. Not a reaction she was used to in herself, but then, no one had ever touched her when she lay on the brink of the abyss before.
"Did you have reason to trust this Sosai?"
"He made me," she whispered hoarsely. "He gave me everything."
"And all along, the plan had been to conquer the world, not destroy it?"
Dr. Nambu, the Earth will be destroyed. That is its destiny. Until that day comes, I will need Katse.
Her breathing grew ragged. "I couldn't-- I couldn't believe it. He said some things, some things that should have made me question, but I couldn't believe it. I'd served him for twelve years, and that was always the plan... I couldn't believe it when he said it had changed, I thought he was just upset about something, he was always upset at me and threatening to kill me, but I never believed it-- I thought--" Her voice caught on a sob. I thought he loved me.
"Why did Sosai decide to destroy the Earth? It seems insane."
"I don't know! No, I do know. His homeworld-- Selectro, he said-- had been destroyed. He wanted to conquer Earth for it-- I guess; he never talked about his home. When it was destroyed, he had no reason to conquer Earth-- so-- so he said, he'd just destroy us, and go--"
"So you could not have known. There was no way you could predict that this Sosai had changed his mind. You trusted in one you had reason to trust, and were betrayed, and paid a horrible price for it. You have every reason to grieve, and rage, and burn with guilt. But what you have done is not reason enough to die."
"How do you know?"
"Death accomplishes nothing," he said softly. "It could redress the scales if you had killed one, or two. But how does killing yourself atone for the death of billions? If you had consciously and wilfully killed them, you would be the sort of mosnter who must be killed for the sake of everyone's survival. People who choose to commit genocide must die, not because it is justice-- I learned long ago that there is no justice possible for such crimes. If Adolf Hitler had been murdered ten million times, it would never have brought back the dead. No, such criminals must die because they must never be in a position to commit genocide again. It seems to me that you did not choose the destruction you were part of, that you will never make that mistake again. And if that is the case, the only way to redeem yourself for death is to serve life. To try, in whatever ways you can, to atone by using your experiences in a cause that is right."
She felt him shrug slightly. "I'm not you. I cannot tell you what cause to serve. Why were you trying to conquer the world in the first place?"
Because Sosai wanted me to. "Because I'm an evil, power-hungry coward, " she said mockingly. "Why else would anyone want to?"
"I'm not interested in what the world thought of you. Why did you want this?"
He sighed. "That is not an answer. Power exists to be used. What would you have done with the power once you had it? What drew you and those that served you to fight for your cause? Were you all loyal to the alien? You say he promised to give you the Earth, once you'd won it for him. What did you want with the Earth?"
"I wanted to be remembered, " Katse said, unsure even of why she was confiding all this, except that, thus far, he had not judged or condemned her. And he did claim to be a terrorist himself. Maybe he understood. "I suppose... it was the people in power I hated, the smug rich assholes in their ivory towers, congratulating themselves on how they'd solved all the world's problems. The war decimated ethnicities, drove women back into second-class citizenship, collapsed the infrastructure of the superpowers. People were still starving in refugee camps or living in squalid ruins, and the UN wasn't doing a damned thing about it, because it was the poor that took the brunt of it-- as usual. So why shouldn't we get our own back? They're secure in their safe little middle-class enclaves, they can forget about the rest of the world.
"Galactors came from the rest of the world. We had our ideals... we never lived up to them, no, but we had them. We gave women jobs, as tough and challenging as men got. We didn't care if you were black or white or Asian, we didn't care if you were dirt poor, we didn't care if you'd never had an education and supported yourself by running drugs to the kind of fools who'd buy. When we conquered the world... I always thought I'd reorganize the power structure. Take everything away from the people who'd always had it all, and redistribute it to the people who'd never had any. As long as they'd work for it, I wasn't running a charity. But level the playing field to begin with."
"It sounds rather Marxist."
"Marx was full of shit. The state would never wither away. But if you flattened the effects of being born in a powerful nation, to a rich or middle class family, of the correct color and gender and language, and let everyone compete on merit, what you should have gotten was a pure meritocracy." She thought of the philosophies she'd studied in college, the worldview she'd crafted under the tutelage of Sosai, and laughed bitterly. "It didn't work that way. We got the dregs of humanity. Mostly. Some of our people were absolutely brilliant, but the rest... I don't know. By the end, I was only doing it for Sosai anyway..."
He was silent for so long that Katse thought perhaps she had, finally, convinced him of her own evil and selfishness. It didn't really matter. Nothing really mattered. She felt empty, burnt out, as if her grief and her sense of betrayal had overloaded and burnt out her ability to feel. Perhaps he would kill her-- she didn't care anymore. The physical, tactile comfort of warm skin and soft bodywarmed fabric against her exhausted flesh, the support of firm muscles holding her, was a surprising pleasure, perhaps because she was too tired for the contact to trigger the usual fight-or-flight response that nonsexual contact always did. For this brief moment of comfort in the wasteland of her heart as it was now, she would be quite willing to die.
"Your reasons could have been better," he said finally, "but I have encountered worse. And I have no moral high ground to condemn you from. Still. The forcible redistribution of wealth has never done anything but to create a new privileged class out of a small fortunate group while the rest of the poor and disenfranchised suffer as they always have, if not worse, and terror and instability sweep the land. It's always the different who die in these unstable times, those considered freaks or less tham human by the common man. Superstitition and mob violence tend to take hold. I was in the Ukraine in the 1950's, and suffered extortion, arrest... I was never able to prove it, but my daughter was murdered in a fire, and I am sure it was arson... all for no crime greater than being a stranger. The Holocaust was set off when instability and loss of wealth triggered violent anti-Semitism... I will never forgive the German people what they did to me and mine, but I can understand the historical causes well enough. In the sort of social upheaval you wanted to orchestrate, Katse, people like you-- the marginal figures, those condemned to lie outside the mainstream through accident of birth or belief-- are the ones who die."
"I wouldn't have allowed it."
"You'd have had no choice. There are limits to power." He sighed. "I tried to rule the world once, myself. To ensure that mutantkind would not be enslaved and exterminated, I thought to make us the rulers. It would never have worked, though I didn't see that until years after I'd quit for other reasons. We'd have had to crush them utterly to maintain our dominion, and what I didn't know then is that we don't breed true-- my own son's daughter is human. I would have turned parent against child, brother against brother. It might have taken the human race centuries to drag itself out of the dark age my new world order would create."
"You can't know that."
"How could I take the risk?"
She was about to retort that life was about taking risks, and then remembered that her own gamble had ended in the destruction of her entire world, and shuddered. No, he was right. Some risks were not worth taking.
"So what are you doing now?"
"What do you mean?"
"You gave up on trying to conquer the world. What did you do after that? What are you doing now?" She couldn't ask what she really needed to know-- is there a life for me now that Sosai's left me, and Galactor's destroyed? What can I do, what can I be, when the reason for my being is gone?
"That is two different questions."
"So? I wasn't aware there was a limit."
He hesitated. "I... have done a number of things. I've continued to fight to protect my people, and I've tried... many ways to do that."
He stood, setting her on her feet. "And now, it's past time for me to get some sleep, and you should have food and more rest yourself. Do you need my help in returning to the infirmary? I can carry you there if you feel too weak to walk."
She felt quite strong enough to talk, or run if she had to-- weakened, hollow, and now that he'd brought it up, ravenously hungry, but she could walk easily enough. "I can do it myself. Only show me where the food is."
"Not far from the infirmary," he assured her, and set off. She had to consciously walk fast to keep up with him; though ordinarily her striding pace was faster than anyone's she knew, she was weak now. In the kitchen, he showed her how to operate the stasis banks, put a casserole into the microwave for her, and pointed the direction to the infirmary. "If you need me, call," he said, and started back out the door, as if he couldn't get rid of her fast enough.
The food was not enough to distract her from the burn of anger. "Magneto!" she called as he was halfway through the door.
She smiled one of her trademark mocking smiles. "Why are you so eager to see me take up a cause worth living for, when you've given up on your own?"
In the bright lighting of the Asteroid, it was easy to see skin as fair as his redden-- with what? Embarrassment? Rage? His expression turned stony, and he stared grimly at her a moment, then turned and left without speaking. Having scored her point, Katse didn't call to him again.
Instead, she ravaged his food stocks. The body didn't care that she had no real desire to live. The Change was on it, the main tidal wave washed over but the ripples and aftertides still eddying through her, and while her black despair had depressed her appetite for several hours, it simply couldn't any longer. She went through four of his pre-stocked meals, portions designed to satisfy a large and healthy man barely denting the hunger, and when at last she managed to sate herself she was so tired that she could barely keep her eyes open. Unable to make it back to the infirmary before the nigh-narcoleptic pull of sleep took her back, she simply pushed her plates to one side of the table and curled up to sleep on top of it.