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Marionette by Alara Rogers
Marionette by Alara Rogers
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Marionette

**Fifteen years ago.**

The summer sun beats down hot on the filthy city. A girl of tender years, 13 or 14 perhaps, walks warily through the thronging crowds on the sidewalks. Blond, hungrily skinny, with eyes too intense for a child, she walks near the alleyways to avoid the press of human flesh in the heat.

Hands grab her, pull her into an alleyway. Four men, and she is one girl. A knife appears suddenly in her hand. Gleam as it flashes through the air, and blood spurts. Then a hand strikes her wrist, and the knife clatters to the ground.

Her eyes fill with horror as the men press her to the wall.

A dark-haired young man walks along the summer streets. His head lifts, listening to something no one else can hear.

-No. It's wrong,- he says softly. -I won't allow it.

He turns and runs, pushing his way through the crowds.

In an alley, four shapes bend over a broken, bleeding body, playing a brutal game. The dark-haired man stands in the mouth of the alley for a second, then moves. Fists and feet fly, until four corpses lay where they were thrown.

The man picks up the girl's bleeding body and looks at it sadly. **The present.**

A vast hall has been spread with a red carpet, and men in stylized black and gray uniforms with masks and red symbols on their chests stand at attention on both sides, flanking it. At the end, a fat dark man with piggy eyes waits with growing impatience, and standing behind him are a woman and a youth with wine and refreshments.

Then the doors at the other end of the hall open, and the person awaited strides in. Tall, slim, clad in purple and red, with a stylized mask covering the chin and the upper part of the face; all that shows is pale creamy skin and blood-red lips, curved in an arrogant smile. Beautiful and terrifying, moving with the grace of a predator hunting- the leader of Galactor, Berg Katse.

The ice-blue lenses hiding Katse's eyes fall on the fat man's face, and for a moment the arrogant smile fades. The expression under the mask cannot be read. Then it returns, and Katse strides to the middle of the floor, followed by men in green and grey uniforms, to be met by the fat man, who bows deeply.

-Ah, Katse-sama!* You do honor to my humble base!

-From what I have heard, Arash- Katse's smile widens, but it is a plastic, politician's smile. -the honor is deserved. Sosai X speaks very highly of you.

-I am overjoyed to hear that.- Arash motions to the two behind him; a sultry, sexy woman, all curves and roundness, and an ethereal boy with smoldering hot eyes, both clad in as little as essential for their sex. -Will you take some refreshment, Katse-sama?- Arash asks. -Wine, pastries, crackers, anything? I've assigned these two to... ensure that your desires are satisfied.

Katse looks at the two with interest, but it is the interest of calculation, not lust. -Thank you, but I must decline. It's my policy never to accept... refreshment, of any sort, outside my own secured bases. You understand, my enemies are everywhere. And while I would not accuse *you* of trying to kill me, Arash, my enemies may well have infiltrated your security. I cannot take the risk. My men have brought with me all the food and drink I'll require.- The voice turns cold. -As for these two.... get rid of them. They're distracting me.

-As you wish.- Arash sounds disappointed. He claps his hands, and the two leave sulkily.

-May I show you to your room, at least, Katse-sama?

-Have my men sent there to deliver my things.- Katse looks at the Galactors. -You, you and you stay with me. The rest of you go to the room and secure it.

They salute. -Yes, Katse-sama.

-Business first.- Katse turns to Arash. -Show me your base. **The past.**

The dark-haired man sits by a bed, on which is lying the pale, bony form of a young boy, 13 or 14 perhaps, with long tangled blond hair and features remarkably similar to the girl who was attacked. The boy stirs, opens his eyes.

-You're safe now, little cat,- the dark-haired man says. -No one's going to hurt you.

-Wh-wha?- The boy sits up, staring at the dark-haired man. - Who are you?

-My name's Danaan, and I saved your life.

-Saved me? Then- The boy's expression hardens. -You saw me Change. You know.

-Yes, so?

-So you *know!*

Danaan's voice is gentle. -I know, yes. But I don't think any less of you for it, little cat. It wasn't your choice to be born as you are.

-So what do you want?

-What do you mean?

-As payment for saving my life. I haven't got any money, so is it sex, or do you want me to work for you, or what?

Danaan is incredulous. -I don't want anything from you, little cat, not like that.

-You must! There's gotta have been something in it for you, or you wouldn't have saved me. Just tell me and get it over with!

-You wouldn't believe I did it just to be a good Samaritan?

-What's that?

Danaan sighs. -Do you really want to know? If you really need for me to have an ulterior motive, I can give you one. But you must give me the benefit of the doubt and believe me, no matter how freakish my explanation sounds.

The boy laughs bitterly. -If I can believe in myself, I can believe in anything freakish.

-All right, then.- Danaan breathes deeply. -I can see the future. You're a nexus, little cat, poised on the edge of a hundred possible paths. You have tremendous potential for good or evil; you could be the savior of the world, or its destroyer.

-I'm going to be somebody important?- the boy asks incredulously, his eyes shining with a hope he hardly dares feel, yet cannot help feeling.

-Most probably. I won't lie to you; there are many paths that end with your untimely death, where you never make a mark on the world. But most of them lead to you becoming somebody, yes, the kind of person who shapes the world.

-I- I don't believe it! Me?

-Yes. But if you continue the way you're going, if no human ever shows you kindness, or treats you with anything but contempt... it will be evil you serve. I want to change that. I want to show you, with kindness, that human beings are not all evil, and so you needn't show evil to them. I realize you don't trust me yet, but I'd like a chance to win your trust. If you want, you can stay here. I'll pay for your education and make sure you get transferred to a new school when you need to. But only if you want; I'm not holding you here. You're free to go any time you like.

-If you're telling the truth...- the boy whispers, his eyes shining, and there is no doubt that he will stay. **The present.**

Katse stands, flanked by Galactors, at the door of a sumptuous bedroom, fit for a king. -Is everything secure?

-Yes, Katse-sama.

-Good. I'll be retiring; you know the rules. Don't let anyone in unless you know without a doubt I've got my mask on.

-Yes, Katse-sama.

Katse steps into the room and shuts the door. From a bag on the bed, Katse withdraws a spider-like machine, the size of a person's hand, and sets it on the wall, smiling. -Go on, little spider, earn your keep. Find all the bugs in here and eat them up.

The spider crawls about and destroys a hidden camera, and a microphone. Sated with its meal, it crawls back to Katse's waiting hands.

-So it's safe to get out of this godforsaken outfit, then? Good; I'm beginning to feel as if I can't breathe.

The mask is pulled away first, and long blond hair spills out messily, to frame an androgynous face. The rest of the costume- the cape, the gloves, the blue-violet overtunic and the purple and pink latex girdle- is stripped off, and a lavender nightgown pulled on in its place, revealing Berg Katse as the possessor of a woman's body. Still tall and slim, her figure is spare, but unmistakably female. Seating herself crosslegged on the bed, her comparatively tiny feet bare and poking out from under the gown, she pulls a laptop computer terminal onto the bed, then a hairbrush, and commences brushing her hair with her right hand while she types with her left.

*Who is Arash? Why do I feel as if I recognize him?*

She wants to learn his entire career, his origins, his past successes and failures, and so she types the commands that should give her access to his file. As leader of Galactor, she should be able to access everything on any of her underlings.

But the screen flashes ACCESS DENIED.

*DENIED? It can't be denied to ME... I'm Berg Katse!*

She tries every code she knows. None of it works. Arash's history is denied to her.

There is only one being in Galactor with the power to deny her anything...

Katse stares at the ceiling, cold. *Why? Why doesn't Sosai want me to know about Arash?*

*Who is Arash? Who IS he?* **The past.**

A montage of scenes from a happy life. Danaan and the boy he calls "little cat" play games together sometimes, and sometimes they go places, and the boy tells Danaan eagerly about his life at school, happy for the first time now he knows he can keep the friends he makes.

Six months pass, and the boy begins to grow uneasy. -Danaan?

-Yes, little cat?

-If something bad was going to happen... would you know it?

-It depends.

-On what?

-On whether I'm involved or not. I can't see my own fate.

-Can't you? Why not?

-It would create a paradox. By seeing, as clearly as I do, what I will do, I could change what I was going to do. But since I wouldn't have seen that timetrack, I would be creating a paradox. To maintain both free will and the continuity of time, I can't see my own fate.

-That's horrible!- The boy's eyes are wide with horror.

-Not really; I'm grateful for it. I don't want to know what's going to happen to me. When I see someone who's about to die, I *know* it, and that spoils my enjoyment of that person's company. Suppose I knew I was about to die?- Danaan shakes his head. -I never want to know that...

-But then... you'll never know if you're in danger!

-Why? Do you think I'm in danger?

-Someone...- The boy is uneasy, trembling. -I think... someone's been following you around. Or following me around, but I never see them when I'm alone.

Danaan places his hands on the boy's shoulders and looks seriously into the fear-filled blue eyes. -What do they look like?

-Just people. Some men, a few women.

-Then how do you know they're following?

-I just know!- The boy moves free of Danaan's hands and paces frantically. -I don't know *how* I know, I just do!

Danaan is quiet for a moment. -You may well have some small amount of the gift yourself. In your case, it'd be more like a sense for danger than a kind of vision. Or it might just be the survival instincts they built into you...

The boy is too distraught to notice the implications of the comment. -Well, what are we going to do about it?

-Probably it's nothing. Don't worry, little cat.

It is the first lie Danaan has told the boy. **The present.**

Curled in a tight fetal ball in the bedsheets, nothing visible of her but the fine hair spilling out from under the blankets, Berg Katse sleeps, or tries to. There is a knock at the door.

-Katse-sama, are you awake?

If the truth must be told, she is, but she does not relish the prospect of admitting so. There is a dream she wants to hold to... something to do with a dark-haired man...

She pokes her head out from under the covers. -What is it?

-Arash wants to see you. He says it's important.

-Important enough to wake me up?- There is irritation in the sleepy voice.

-It's time to get up anyway, Katse-sama. It's nearly 11.

-Tell him half an hour.

She throws off the sheets with an effort of will and sits up, her long legs dangling over the side of the bed to brush the floor.

*Thank the fates I have SOME men loyal enough to trust with my secret. If I had to bring typical goons on a mission like this, I'd never get any sleep at all... Or else I'd have to try to sleep in that accursed outfit, and I'd NEVER be able to take the damn thing off... Of course, I'm paying enough for the privilege, they must make as much as fourth-level captains, and they usually live to collect.... but what use is money if I can't use it for my own comfort? Too bad I can't buy off Arash- I do NOT want to put that damned outfit back on. Wonder what would happen if I walked out of here like this...*

It is the sort of thought that she only entertains briefly, and immediately puts aside. The world is out to get her, and she dares admit to no one what she is- neither that she is a woman, nor the deeper truth, that she is both man and woman- or she will be destroyed. It is the creed she lives her life by, and though she can bend the rules slightly, as with the men and women she pays so highly to guard her when she is vulnerable and unmasked, she could never display her face to a group of people she is not secure with, anymore than she could run around in the nude. Her mask is her face.

Katse pads into the bathroom, where she showers, applies lipstick, and pins her extremely long blond hair into a flat cap around her head, where it will not stick out of her mask. Then she struggles into the latex girdle that changes her shape to that of a man's, and puts the rest of her costume over it. Lastly she puts on the mask, checks in the mirror to see that it's sitting properly on her head, touches up her lipstick, and leaves.

-Katse-sama, you said half an hour.- Arash is agitated. - It's been almost fifty minutes!

-Twenty minutes here or there... what difference does it make?

-We believe in punctuality here, Katse-sama.

-How noble a virtue. Subordinates should always believe in punctuality; I like to see it in them. What was important enough to warrant my getting up?

-They woke you up? Oh, I'd never have asked to see you had I but known; I'd assumed you would be up hours ago. After all, it ill befits a leader of men to lie about in bed while the day is wasted away.

-Oh, I agree,- Katse says. -At headquarters there is a rumor among my men that I never sleep. I usually have so much to do that I wait for working vacations like this one to get any sleep at all. Now, I *do* have a few things planned to do today, so what was it you wanted to talk to me about?

*Beneath me, probably, to play the cat with him, and insinuate he is unimportant to me... beneath me, but I find myself doing it nonetheless. I was ready to dislike Arash out of jealousy before I arrives... he was a valuable servant of Sosai even before I joined Galactor, apparently, and it is true that Sosai speaks highly of him; I cannot turn around without Sosai complaining that I'm not as clever as Arash, lately. But it isn't just jealousy... now that I've met him, I have a nagging feeling that I have known and hated him before... why?*

-Katse-sama, you tried to investigate my files last night, didn't you.- Arash is sweating profusely.

-And if I did? It's my right, you know.

-It's not your right to probe into things Sosai doesn't want you to know. For your own sake, desist, I beg of you.

-If Sosai doesn't want me to know something,- she says coldly, -he can take it up with me.- She is conveniently forgetting that the laptop terminal she brought is not designed to accomodate communication with Sosai. At the moment he cannot take it up with her.

-Katse-sama... for your own sake...

-What are you, Arash, that Sosai protects your identity even from me? Hmmm?

Arash does not answer. Katse does not expect him to.

She stands smiling, watching the sweat roll down Arash's face, and wondering where she has seen him before. **The past.**

Danaan leaves the house late one night, sneaking out. But the boy is a light sleeper, hears him, and follows.

Two men with guns, standing by the corner, point them at Danaan, who puts his hands up in a peacemaking gesture. -I'm here to see your boss.

-Come with us.

His heart pounding, the boy follows a discreet distance behind as the men lead Danaan into an old warehouse. Standing in the center of a mostly empty room is a fat man with dark skin and piggy eyes. -So you've come.

-I got the invitation, Arash. I'm here. What do you want?

-You've been interfering. Your mission was to *observe* the child, Danaan... not to wreck everything we've worked so hard to do with him!

-You don't understand, do you?- Danaan stares hard into Arash's eyes. -We're dealing with a human time bomb here! If we do as the Commander says with that child, we're playing with the destruction of the Earth! At best, the deaths of a nearly a billion people! I *see* it!

-You see it... but you're notoriously shortsighted when it comes to your *own* future, Danaan. It wasn't your place to question the Commander.

-It ought to be *somebody's* place! What kind of entity can genetically engineer a child genius, and then manipulate its life so it grows up warped and insane? Answer me that, Arash!

-The same sort of entity that gave me orders to kill you if you interfered.

There is a gun in Arash's hand.

Danaan moves like lightning, throwing himself out of the way of the gun, but it tracks his motion and finds him anyway, and all a mutant child's dreams go bursting out with the red red blood and leak away...

-Danaan,- the boy whispers. The only person who was ever nice to him, ever...

He is a genius, but he does not ponder the implications of what he just heard, does not even realize there are implications. All he knows is the grief and despair at seeing Danaan die, the only person he ever cared about... The grief gives birth to rage, and he grasps his knife and leaps from his hiding place, no longer caring if he is killed. -You killed Danaan! Die!

Men's guns train on him, but the fat man holds up a hand. - No, he's too valuable, I'll stop him!- he shouts, and then,

-Berg Katse. "Absiviquel!"

The boy's mind shatters-

Standing like an animal caught in the headlights, he is frozen, eyes blank, reflecting only Arash. Arash begins to speak in a singsong, droning voice, as the words bore into the boy's brain.

-You will forget all incidents connected with the name: Danaan. You will forget that anyone has ever shown you kindness. The world is out to get you, and you dare admit to no one what you are, or they will destroy you. You will once more forget the usage of the code word, "absiviquel", and when you awaken, you will not be curious as to what happened to your memories of the past six months. You will forget... **The present.**

It is very late at night.

A slender, androgynous form dressed in a black stealth suit examines the papers in Arash's study with a pocket flashlight. Then bright light illuminates the room. Startled, the masked, hooded figure bolts for the door, shoving Arash, who stands in the doorway, aside.

Arash falls to the floor and shouts, -Berg Katse. "Absiviquel!"

Frozen in mid-motion, the figure stands stock still. Dark blue eyes, revealed by a mask that leaves only them uncovered, are blank, shattered, reflecting only the image of Arash as he slowly circles and approaches.

-Damn. I was hoping that wouldn't work. I was hoping it wasn't you... I helped train you to be what you are, I helped bring you into being, but you are my leader. You surpass me, as you were born and bred to do. I never wanted to have to control you again... but if you learn the truth of your past, you may become disloyal to Sosai, and then you would have to be destroyed. This is for your own good, Katse-sama...

Arash stands directly in front of the motionless form. -You will forget that you invaded my room tonight, and why. You will once more forget the usage of the code word, "absiviquel". You will fall deeply asleep, and when you awaken tomorrow, you will be free of this trance, awake and alert. But you will not remember what happened tonight, and you will forget your intention to learn my secret. **The past.**

A blond boy awakens in an alley, in the chill of winter. He has no idea how he came to be here. Shivering, he wraps his slim body with his arms and staggers to his feet.

*Where am I? What happened last night?*

*Doesn't matter, does it? Nothing important ever changes.*

*I've got to find someplace warm...*

He walks off, hunched over in the cold, and some distance away, watchers with binoculars smile. It's proceeding according to plan again. **The present, now and forever**

Berg Katse is lying in her bed, in her nightgown, staring at the ceiling.

*What happened last night?*

She remembers nothing. Nothing but a dream, faded to the point where she remembers only one thing from it- the name Danaan. And of the reality of last night, she can recall nothing, nothing at all.

*Who is Danaan? Or what?*

*Who is Arash? When have I met him before?*

*And what happened last night?*

Her nerves are too finely strung today to lie in bed; she rises and costumes herself rapidly, then summons her men in.

-What happened to me last night?

They look at each other and nod. The one with the most seniority speaks. -We're not sure, Katse-sama, but we think maybe Arash drugged you.

-What? Why?

-We saw you go to your room last night, and we guarded your door, like we always do. But then we were called by Arash, or at least me and the other guy on the door were. So we called our relief to come guard your door, and we went upstairs, and Arash gave you to us. You were wearing a black stealth suit with a hood and a ninja-type mask, and it didn't look to us like he'd touched the mask, or we'd've killed him. You were unconscious. He said you fell asleep, and when we wanted more precise information, he said, "The doings of your superiors are not your concern." We wanted to wait till you woke up to ask you, but if you don't remember either...

-Drugged me? Why? What was I doing in a black stealth suit?

-We don't know, but we know you were trying to get information on Arash the other night, and it didn't work.

Suddenly she remembers that. Why would she have forgotten something that important? -Hmm. The security cameras view everything, don't they? And make a tape?

Another of her men speaks. -We tried to get into the tape room to see what happened to you, Katse-sama. But we don't have clearance. Only Arash and his own personal security do.

-Arash is a brilliant man,- Katse says musingly. -But a little too dependent on his toys, methinks.. I have a plan. You-- She motions at one of the men. -take my disguise kit to the natural caves near the base, and find one with no hidden cameras. Use my spider to detect the cameras, it's better than your equipment. You, locate Arash and warn me by radio if he comes near the tape room. The rest of you, come with me. I have a sudden craving for fresh air; we'll go for a walk.

* * *

Outside, they walk through elaborate gardens, heading in the direction of the natural caves. Katse's men trail behind her.

-Katse-sama, we're being followed...

-Are we? Good. That means he can't track us on camera as well as he'd like. I knew he couldn't have *that* many out here. Take care of our guests.

She slips through the trees, holding her cape under her arm rather than wearing it, to increase her mobility. The blue fisheye lenses of her mask change the world to strange colors, and squeeze a panorama into a point, improving her peripheral vision, while her large ears, set with sensitive microphones in the bases, pick up all the sounds around her. She hears her men and Arash's fighting, and smiles. With any luck, they'll create enough commotion that no one will notice she has disappeared for a few precious minutes.

A rock wall looms before her. She puts the cape back on to free her hands, and climbs the wall expertly, to the cave her men have hidden her things in. Then she strips off her outer costume, and with the aid of the malleable latex girdle, and the disguise kit they left here, mimics the body of a fat man.

She has become Arash.

Katse in the guise of Arash uses the interconnected caves to come out directly near the mansion. She strides in, and heads for the security center. The men inside, Arash's personal minions, look up.

-Arash-sama, Berg Katse has disappeared!

-Well, we shall have to look for him, won't we? I would like to see the tape of our meeting last night again, privately of course.

-Yes, sir.- They set up the tape at a headphone/eyepiece viewer, for privacy. Katse checks over the controls, familiarizing herself with the fast forward, pause and other such functions, and then puts it on.

She sees herself creep into Arash's room, and memory returns. She had garbed herself in her stealth suit to slip into Arash's quarters and try to find the secret of his connection to Sosai. Now she watches herself search in vain.

Arash comes into the picture. She bolts, knocking him down, and he shouts, -Berg Katse! "Absi-"

In sudden nameless terror, Katse pauses the scene before he can finish the word. Even the fragment, "absi", seems to echo in her brain. She turns off the sound, rewinds, and fine-focuses on Arash's lips, reading the word from them. "Absiviquel."

In the picture, she stands frozen. Katse turns the sound back on and listens in growing horror as Arash orders her to forget; orders she must have obeyed... That phrase- Berg Katse, "absiviquel"- must be something that can hypnotically control her. Something Sosai has put into her.

*-If you learn the truth of your past, you may become disloyal to Sosai, and then you would have to be destroyed....*

What could make her disloyal to Sosai? What is the secret of her past?

It is said that cats are curious, to the point where it may do them harm. The cat whose first name is Berg is no exception.

She stands up. The men look at her. -Arash-sama? Have you found him?

-He's probably in his rooms. There are no cameras there; he destroyed them all. I'll go speak to him.

In her room, she removes the Arash disguise and sits on the bed with a tape recorder. Saying the code word to herself has done nothing, but she wonders if she can regain control of her own mind with it by using a tape recorder. If she records instructions to herself and plays them back, it would not be the same as saying it to herself, would it? Perhaps it will work. Or perhaps it won't, but she must try.

She turns on the recorder and speaks into it.

-Berg Katse. "Absiviquel."

-You will remember all incidents connected with the word, "Danaan". You will remember all incidents connected with previous use of this code word.

-From this day forth, only the sound of your own voice on tape speaking the code word will induce you into trance. No other voice speaking the word "absiviquel" will have any effect on you.

-Wake up.

She turns off the tape and rewinds it. For several seconds she stares at the recorder.

Then she presses "play."

**The boy opens his eyes to see Danaan there/a laboratory, a child on a table, answering questions/ "You will forget this ever happened"/Arash looming over the child/Danaan and the boy talking about things/scientists clustered around a child with shattered eyes/"I don't know what the Commander expects out of a freak like this"/"The world is out to get you, and if you tell anyone what you are, they will destroy you"/Danaan dying, and Arash/"You will forget..."**

Katse opens her eyes with a sense of vertigo.

She has been *used.*

The memories are there, a kaleidoscope in her brain. She wants to deny them, but she can't, she can't...

*Sosai manipulated me.* She stares into nothing. *Since I was a child, I was monitored, and every time it looked as if I might be able to settle down, I might be able to be happy, to lead a normal life, they pulled me out and made me forget it. And Danaan was one of them, but he wanted to stop them, because he knew what I would be... so they killed him.*

Bitter tears burn her eyes. *Sosai, why? Why?*

The answer is obvious, and her face hardens. *So I would have nothing but you. So I would hate and fear humanity, so I would be completely isolated, so I would need you. So I would become as ruthless and inhuman as you.*

Then she begins to laugh, mocking and bitter through the tears. *Well, it worked, didn't it? Danaan failed; I'm quite definitely the monster he hoped I wouldn't be. And you won, Sosai. Your vision proved the stronger. I salute you, and your choice of servants in picking Arash to mold me. You really did make me, didn't you.*

*And now all I am, all I am is what you wanted me to be...*

She laughs and laughs, because she can no longer cry. She was not made to be able to cry.

Arash is in the hall, his heart pounding, as Berg Katse strides in with men and baggage. -I thought you have planned on staying a few days longer, Katse-sama...

-Ah, no. I've seen all I need to see. You are quite a brilliant man, Arash; this base of yours is the best-run I've seen in a while. Even I could learn from you.

-Thank you, Katse-sa--

She interrupts. -But then, for one entrusted with such an important task as the shaping of the Galactor leader, it's only to be expected.

-You- The color has drained from Arash's face, leaving his brown skin a pasty gray. -You know?

-Everything.- Smile, like a predator, a cat playing with its prey.

-I- I hope you don't mean to hold it against me, that I did as Sosai commanded...

-Of course not!- Katse makes an expansive gesture, and her smile widens. -You are responsible for making me what I am, Arash. You formed me into Sosai's Chosen One, and made me as ruthless and hard as I would need to be, to rule Galactor. You obeyed Sosai perfectly; how can I fault you for that? In fact, knowing what I do now, I should *reward* you.

Arash is suspicious, his eyes darting here and there. The Galactors have not drawn their guns; perhaps Katse does not mean to kill him?

-I see...

*-But-* Katse's smile is pure malice. -there *is* the fact that you used a code word to control me. I can't have that. You understand?

Lightning-fast, there is a gun in Katse's hand.

Arash shouts, -Berg Katse. "Absiviquel!"

Katse stands frozen, and Arash sighs in relief.

Then Katse laughs, and her finger tightens on the trigger. - That doesn't work anymore, Arash.

A roar, and blood spurts from Arash's body, as it spurted from Danaan's so long ago...

Arash's men pull their machine guns. Katse's men are faster. Katse glares around the room. -Arash tried to brainwash me. He was a traitor to Galactor, and he has been duly executed. Any other traitors want to show yourselves and die?

Nobody moves.

-I thought not. Somebody else will be assigned to command this base; in the meantime, the man with the highest rank should take over. I have more important things to do.- She steps over the bloody body and toward the door.

*I can't be what you wanted me to be, Danaan. It's too late for that; you failed. But I can avenge you.*

*It's simply myself I cannot avenge...*

Katse kneels before Sosai X. -Yes, Sosai-sama. I was forced to kill Arash; he tried to control me with a code word.

-A code word?

-He said it was a hypnotic signal designed to take over my mind.

Sosai's eyes bore into her bowed head, as if they can see the chaos of her thoughts. -I see. Regrettable. But you have learned to duplicate what he could do, so I suppose he is no longer necessary.

-Yes...

Silence. Then, -Is something wrong, Katse?

-Nothing, Sosai... nothing at all.

-You are dismissed, then.

In her quarters, she strips off the mask and collapses into the chair by her desk. *How can I trust him? How can I bear to take his orders, knowing how he has used me?*

She picks up the mask and looks at it. *I thought this was me, this was Berg Katse... but no. Sosai made this mask; Sosai made this face-* Staring into the mirror, she slams a hand on the table. *What's left of me, then? What is there of ME?*

*IS there anything of me? Or am I nothing but Sosai's shaped creation? Nothing but a tool? And if I'm nothing but a tool, will I EVER be free? Sosai promised to give me the world... but will it ever be MINE? Or will it be his, and I nothing but his hands and feet, the way I've always been, the way I'll always be-*

She looks at the mask again. *I mustn't think such things! If Sosai finds out, he'll think I'm disloyal...*

*Maybe I AM disloyal. Maybe I don't want to be a puppet anymore.*

*Maybe I wish, I wish, that Danaan had won, and changed my future...*

Hard-eyed, she looks into the mirror again. *No. I'm a fool. I don't dare think this way; Galactor is all I have. I wouldn't know how to live any other life... I am what Sosai made me, and nothing else. And if I tried to win free...*

*He'd kill me. I don't want to die...*

Her eyes fall on a tape recorder. Resolutely she lifts it and places it on the desk.

*I'm sorry, Danaan. But it's too late for me to change, and I can't afford to know the truth...*

-Berg Katse. "Absiviquel."

-You will forget all incidents connected with the name "Danaan." You will forget the details of previous manipulations using the code word, "absiviquel". You will remember that Arash used the word to try to control you, but you will not remember that Sosai allowed this...

-You will forget how you have been manipulated... You will forget all disloyal thoughts...

She finishes the take and rewinds it. Tears fall on the desk blotter. She ignores them.

For a second, Berg Katse looks down at the tape recorder. Then she presses "play".

And blank blue eyes stare, shattered, at nothing.

end

-- Alara Rogers, Aleph Press

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