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The Mother and Child Reunion by Alara Rogers
The Mother and Child Reunion by Alara Rogers
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Author's Chapter Notes:
Editor's note - as submitted originally, too long for this site. Split at a natural break in the midde by me. Cathrl.

The Mother And Child Reunion (Is Only Emotion Away)

Perhaps it began with the schizoid split between the sub-brains of an alien, and the decisions that followed.

Perhaps it began when the radiant light enveloped the falling broken mutant, and he vanished before ever striking the lava. Or perhaps when his lost daughter awakened, screaming, with fire in her brain. All of those were beginnings.

But perhaps the most significant of beginnings was the child-woman's dream...

Moving through a big, incomprehensible place, with high walls, looking for the most important person in the world. Huge people strode by her, but none of them were the one... "Mama," she called. "Mama, where are you?"

And then blinding, terrifying light filled the sky, and she cringed back against a hard, unyielding surface. "Mama, mama," she whimpered. "Save me, mama!"

But her savior did not come...

The light filled everything, and she was blinded. Then she was pitching forward, falling into darkness, into dark water, screaming, as overhead a shadow woman reached out her arms and shrieked, "Sammie!"

And then, the water strangled her...

 

With a scream, Gel Sadra awoke.

The moon streaming in through the gauze curtains of her bed lent an aura of unreality to everything. She switched on the light. She was in her bed. Not drowning. "A dream," she whispered. "It was only a dream."

She had had that same dream before, but never so vividly as tonight. "What a terrible dream," she murmured. "Why do I keep dreaming the same thing, over and over? What does it mean? I'm so small in the dream... I must be a child. Thrown from-- is it a boat? And on the deck, over and over, the image of a woman, holding her arms out to me... Who *is* she?..." She thought about it, wondering. "Was I *ever* a child?" Gel Sadra was not stupid; she knew that normal human beings passed through stages of growth, from infant to child to adult. But she could not remember her own childhood-- her memory began to haze when she tried to remember farther than the day she took control of Galactor. "Why can't I remember?" Her whole life seemed no more than a year long. Surely she was someone else before this?

"Someone else...that woman screamed, 'Sammie!' Was that my name when I was a child? But then...who was that woman? She must have been my mother!..." Gel Sadra did not understand mothers very well, but she knew that all human beings had one-- why would she be an exception? "But if that woman was my mother...where is she now? Why don't I remember her? Mothers aren't supposed to leave their children... Why can't I remember anything else from my childhood? Where did it go?" She pulled her own hair in frustration. "Why can't I remember? Why can't I?"

She got up, pulled her costume out of the closet and began to dress. The clock told her it was late at night, but Sosai never slept...if anyone would know the truth of her past, it was him. What had happened to her childhood? To her mother? Why couldn't she remember?

 

Sosai X was not pleased. "GEL SADRA," he rumbled. "WHY HAVE YOU SUMMONED ME?"

"Forgive me, Sosai-sama," she said. "I had a dream--"

"ANOTHER OF YOUR STUPID NIGHTMARES? FOOL! WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I WANT TO BE BORED WITH SUCH TRIVIAL NONSENSE?"

"No, this is different, Sosai!" Gel Sadra argued. "I dreamed of my mother, Sosai. I dreamed I was a child, and there was a bright light and I fell into the water, and my mother was calling my name. Why did I dream this, Sosai? Why don't I remember being a child?"

"YOU FOOL! NOBODY REMEMBERS BEING A CHILD. CHILDREN ARE NOT REAL PEOPLE!"

"But Sosai! My men remember being children-- people write books about it-- why don't I?"

"I SEE WE HAVE A MISUNDERSTANDING HERE," X said. "VERY WELL, GEL SADRA. I WILL SHOW YOU YOUR TRUE NATURE."

The viewscreen that Sosai used to educate Gel Sadra lit, and she saw a tank in the center of a chamber full of eerie purple light. Deja vu and emotions Gel Sadra could not name assaulted her-- she *knew* this place! In the center of the tank was a child, a little girl. As Gel Sadra watched, with mixed fascination and horror, the child's body changed and grew. "YOU WERE AN INFANT, NOT EVEN TRULY HUMAN YET, WHEN I TOOK YOU AND MADE YOU INTO A MUTANT," X said, as the girl became a teen, reached the full growth of a human woman-- and contined to grow, in size and strength more like a man than a woman, no longer a normal human. "I TOOK SOMETHING THAT WAS NOTHING AND GAVE IT STRENGTH AND POWER, CREATING YOU, GEL SADRA," X said. "YOU OWE YOUR EXISTENCE TO ME."

"I understand that, Sosai-- but what about my mother? What happened to her?"

"FOOL! YOU HAVE NO MOTHER! YOU ARE THE IMMORTAL GEL SADRA, MY TOOL AND CREATION, AND *NOTHING MORE!* WHAT YOU USED TO BE IS *IRRELEVANT!*"

"What happened to her?" Gel Sadra screamed, begging. "Sosai, I must know! What became of my mother?"

"THEN WATCH, FOOL, AND LEARN THE TRUTH!"

Half of a cruise ship sank into the water. "YOUR PARENTS WERE ABOARD THE SAME SHIP AS YOU. IT SANK INTO THE WATER, AND ALL ABOARD WERE LOST, WHEN I CAME FOR YOU. YOU WOULD HAVE DIED, TOO, IF I HAD NOT SAVED YOU. YOUR MOTHER IS *DEAD*, GEL SADRA! FORGET ABOUT HER! I AM THE ONLY PARENT YOU HAVE!"

"Yes. I understand," Gel Sadra said humbly. She bowed low, and left.

But who *was* her mother, in reality? Gel Sadra was not disputing X- sama, of course-- but was it possible that her mother had survived? Gel Sadra felt certain that her mother wasn't dead. She had learned to trust her hunches-- they had saved her life often in the past.

So how would she go about finding her mother?

Though she had no clear conception of time, of the passage of weeks and months, everybody else in Galactor relied on them. She checked Galactor's records, trying to find out how long she herself had been in power-- about a year and three-foruths. All right. Then she looked up all the ships that had sunk within a year of that time. None of the names were immediately familiar to her, of course, but Gel Sadra had other ways of getting information. She closed her eyes, concentrating, and one of the names she'd seen began to tug at her mind. When she looked back down at the page, the name jumped out at her-- *Elizabeth Moore*, out of Seaside in North America. It did not occur to Gel Sadra to think this a strange way of getting information-- she had nothing to compare it to, and it worked for her.

The Seaside Police Department should have records of the survivors. That was where she would go.

 

Her daughter plunged into the dark water, screaming "*Mama!*" Pandora shrieked Sammie's name...

Her eyes opened to darkness, and a pounding on her door. "Dr. Pandora! Dr. Pandora!"

The voice was familiar, part of this reality, not that one. Pandora sighed in relief. "Ken, is that you?"

"Are you all right?" Ken's voice asked.

*I must have screamed Sammie's name out loud...* "I'm fine," she said. "Don't worry."

He sounded only slightly relieved. "Oh... well, all right. I'm sorry to bother you."

"Thank you anyway, Ken," Pandora called to him.

"Good night, Doctor."

But Pandora could not get the nightmare out of her head. It had been so vivid-- she had remembered once again her mad dash through the *Elizabeth Moore*'s corridors, she and Domingo screaming for Sammie-- had seen once more Domingo vaporized as the golden form of Sosai X smashed through-- crying desperately, she had reached the surface, in time to see her Sammie pitched overboard, and then, before she could jump in after her, being thrown back by the pitching of the bulkhead, away from her daughter, away--

"Oh, Sammie," she whispered. "I can't make myself believe you're really dead, no matter how many times I remember..." She turned to the photographs. Her and Domingo's wedding portrait, the three of them posed with Sammie, Sammie in the adorable little sailor suit she'd worn the day the water had taken her away.. It was that photograph she lifted now. "No matter how many times," she murmured. "Could it possibly be my gift, telling me the truth?... No, I shouldn't let myself hope. More likely it's just a mother's brokenhearted dreams." She put it back down. "I'll visit Domingo's grave tomorrow," she decided. "Perhaps he can help me to understand..."

 

"I'm looking for a survivor of the *Elizabeth Moore* accident two years ago," Gel Sadra said.

"The *Elizabeth Moore?* I don't think there were any survivors of that one," the clerk said.

"Idiot! There were. I'm the living proof." Gel Sadra had grown more certain with every moment that her mother lived. It was information that she did not question, coming from the shadowy realm of truths without facts that she relied on.

"Really?" The clerk looked at her. "Wait a minute. Now that I think about it, there was a lifeboat that made it to safety. Were you on that?"

"No. My mother was." Actually she had no idea whether her mother had been or not, but it made sense.

"Fine. Tell me her name, and I'll look her up in the survivors' list."

"You don't understand." Gel Sadra was getting irritated. "I came here to find *out* her name."

"You don't know your own mother's name?"

"I want you to look up all the female survivors."

"All right, then. Maybe we can backtrack from your name-- or don't you remember that, either?"

"My name wouldn't help and it's none of your business. Just look them up!"

"All right." The man began flipping through the book. "There was only one female survivor, I think-- ah, here she is. A mother with a child, too."

"That's her!"

"Did you have a younger sister?"

"No. The child's me."

"The child *can't* be you-- this must be the wrong woman. Look, this child's a little girl--" Gel Sadra was disguised as a man-- "and only three years old."

An infant... "Yes, that's me!"

The clerk burst out laughing. "That's ridiculous! Little children don't grow up into adults overnight." He tapped his forehead significantly. "Are you sure you're quite all right up there?"

Fury welled up, but it would wait. Her *mother--* "I'm positive. Just tell me her name!"

The clerk studied the book, which Gel Sadra could see had glossy passport pictures in it. "Ah, here we go. The name was... Pandora."

"Pandora!!" Gel Sadra snatched the book. 3 photographs were ranged on the page, a man, woman and child. "'Dr. Domingo Pandora'," she read, her voice shaking. "How..."

Oblivious to her reaction, the clerk was going on. "Yes, I remember them now. Both the woman and the man were famous members of ISO. I think they were... was it cyberneticists?"

Gel Sadra ignored him. "Dr. Sylvia Pandora!" It was her, it was her... And then Gel Sadra's eyes fell on the child at the bottom, and a terrifying sense of recognition flooded her mind. There was no doubt left in her mind, none at all. "This Sammie Pandora-- that's me, that's me!!" Sobbing, she slammed her fists down on the table. "I must have known this, known this all the time!"

The clerk had gotten out of his chair and was backing away from her, but Gel Sadra could spare no attention for him. She ran from the room, her mind reeling in shock. *Dr. Pandora-- is my--!* How often had she come so close to killing that woman? *No, it can't be, she can't be, she can't...* And yet Gel Sadra knew she was. That strange feeling that had come over her, seeing Pandora-- it had been recognition!

*Oh, what am I going to do? What am I going to do?*

The first thing she thought of was going to Sosai for advice. But hard on the heels of that came the memory of Sosai's anger at her for wanting to know who her mother was at all. Sosai would shout at her and call her a fool-- he wouldn't try to help her, wouldn't even try to understand how she felt. It had always been that way-- Sosai told her she needed to be hard and ruthless, to feel no emotions but anger. Her nightmares, her need for comfort in the middle of the night-- these were weaknesses, Sosai said, and had no place in the leader of Galactor. Even Berg Katse, pathetic fool though he'd been, had been stronger than she.

So her emotions were a weakness. And yet Gel Sadra could not help but want to be comforted, could not help but want someone to love her... Love. It was a strange word, a strange concept, one of the 4 motives Gel Sadra recognized. She did not understand it, but she used it. Love was a motive that made people sacrifice their own desires for the happiness or well- being of someone else. By that definition, Gel Sadra loved Sosai X-- she was constantly doing things she didn't want to do, for his sake-- and he loved her, sacrificing his time and energy to rescue her from Gatchaman and things like that. But Sosai's was not a comforting sort of love. Whereas the love between a mother and daughter was...

This presented an idea to Gel Sadra, and she reasoned it out carefully. She understood two motives for doing things-- power and revenge. Love was another motive, but not one she understood, and fear was very powerful but only came up in cases of coercion. Power was the one she understood the best, she thought. Everyone wanted power. All of Galactor operated on desire for power. Any sensible person would seek power... unless some other motive interfered.

As Gel Sadra understood it, ISO fought for revenge. Well, maybe not ISO in general-- she really didn't understand people like Nambu at all-- but the Gatchaman team surely did. She knew that Galactor had killed Condor Joe's parents, it was in the files, and a suspicion recorded by Katse, that Red Impulse was the Eagle's father, had been confirmed by one of her own operations. She wasn't sure about the others, but it seemed logical to her that they were *all* fighting for revenge. Galactor had hurt and humiliated them... and killed people they loved. Their parents, because the love between a parent and a child was the strongest in the world.

Excited now, she carefully continued her line of reasoning. Dr. Pandora was her mother. Mothers were very much like their children-- Dr. Pandora would of course want power. But the place to get power was Galactor, and she *couldn't* join Galactor-- because she thought Galactor had killed her child!

Of course! Dr. Pandora didn't know that little Sammie had survived, to become Gel Sadra; all she'd seen was the water closing over her daughter's head. So if Gel Sadra told her the truth-- her desire for revenge on Galactor would be gone. She would want power, as her daughter did-- and of course Gel Sadra would give it to her. The two of them could rule the world together. And because Pandora loved her daughter, she would want to help her, and comfort her, and give her advice.

And Sosai was afraid of that, because Sosai was jealous! Sosai was afraid Gel Sadra would love her mother more than him!

Well, Gel Sadra could see an easy way out of *that* one. Once she had recruited Dr. Pandora, it would be a fait accompli-- Sosai couldn't do anything about it, and anyway, she would be so useful to their plans that he wouldn't want to. Then he would praise her, as he did so rarely lately.

But how to do it? Sosai would stop her if she tried to have Pandora brought to any of their bases, and if Gel Sadra tried to go to Pandora, Gatchaman would take her captive. No, she needed somewhere else, somewhere where Sosai couldn't see... She had it. Berg Katse's old villa in France, that she'd inherited when she took control of Galactor. The place was decorated in the worst taste imaginable-- Gel Sadra kept meaning to redecorate, but never had the time-- and so she spent very little time there. But some of the rooms were nice, and it was out of the way. That was the best idea. She'd have Pandora brought to her by semibal and then she would tell her the truth.

 

Neither of their bodies had been recovered. Pandora had bought Domingo a headstone anyway-- she needed someplace to go, to commemorate his life-- but it had seemed too final, to buy one for Sammie. She could not make herself believe Sammie was dead.

She sat by Domingo's for half an hour, talking to him, telling him about her job, how much she missed him... and then she said, "You know, in some ways it was easier for me to accept that you'd gone, Domingo. I loved you-- I'll always love you-- but I can accept that you're forever gone to me. But I cannot believe our daughter is dead..." She began to cry, leaning her head on the stone. "Never... Sammie... my little Sammie..."

"Excuse me," a quiet, elderly voice said.

Quickly Pandora wiped her eyes. She turned. "Yes?"

"That name you were crying out-- 'Sammie'-- that is your child?" *What does he want?* "Yes... yes, it is."

"So I see... And you are Dr. Sylvia Pandora?" *If he were Galactor, he wouldn't bother to ask about Sammie.* "Yes..."

"Then I have some wonderful news for you. I was on the same ship as you and the man you grieve for, there. By the grace of God, I was permitted to survive... and I also saved your daughter. She is not dead!" *Not dead??* "Where-- where is she? Where's Sammie? My daughter--" She was practically on top of him in desperation. The man held up his hands.

"Be calm, please. I've been taking care of her, and coming here every day since I learned who her parents were. I've come to take you to her, if you want to go."

"Yes-- yes! Please, let's hurry!"

"There's no rush. Calm down, child." The elderly man put his arm around her. "Don't worry. We'll go to your daughter."

 

Gel Sadra received the report with growing nervousness. She had sought out Domingo Pandora's grave, in hopes that Pandora would turn up there, and sure enough, Pandora had. Now all she had left to do was wait, with anxiety churning her up from the inside. *What if she doesn't love me?*

*Stupid! Of course she will. I ought to be more worried about what Sosai will say.* she berated herself. She ran through a mental checklist once more. *Pretty dress-- on? Check. Makeup-- on? Check. Do I have the facemask for dramatic effect? Maybe I ought to put it on now.* She looked at herself in the mirror. Normally she wore her costume, to appear frightening, but today she wanted to look beautiful instead. So she had chosen to wear a lovely, feminine gown in blue and purple that she'd found in Berg Katse's closet. What it had been doing there, she'd never know-- it wasn't quite her size, but it would do. Because Pandora had never seen her without her mask, she planned to wear a simple facemask, to show that she was indeed Gel Sadra, and then take it off. For the first time in her life, she wished she had a higher, more feminine voice. She tried imitating one, and got a cracking falsetto. Well, it didn't matter-- her mother would love her, no matter what she sounded like.

Wouldn't she?

 

By the time the elderly man's car had driven into a semiballistic jet, and they'd taken off, Pandora knew that she was *not* going to meet her daughter.

How stupid could she be? If Galactor had done any research on her at all, they'd have discovered her loss. What kind of idiot went off with a total stranger in order to see a child that she *knew* was dead? It was amazing, the lengths to which people would go to fool themselves-- but this time, perhaps, it would be the end of her. She had little doubt that she was being taken to captivity in some Galactor base, and the prospect terrified her.

The jet shot up, terrifyingly fast, and came down with the same sort of speed, as semiballistics did. They landed somewhere, but before Pandora could get her bearings, they herded her into a helicopter. By the time the helicopter set down, it hadn't been more than 2 hours since she'd been taken captive-- far too soon for Dr. Nambu to start worrying about her. *They don't waste any time*, she thought bitterly, and looked around herself in surprise. They were at the base of a large hill. Galactors bases were usually set into valleys, and for a moment Pandora almost hoped she had been mistaken.

But then an "escort" of two men in Galactor greens arrived, and all doubt fled, along with all hope.

There was a stone wall around the base of the hill, covered with intricately carved gargoyles. It looked climbable, but of course there was no way to tell what lay on the other side. The Galactors led Pandora through an ironwork gate, up a winding path, through a beautiful and immense garden. Pandora recognized a good half of the plants as being poisonous. *Rappacini's garden*, she thought bitterly. *Whose daughter will I find in the garden? Certainly not mine...*

At the top of the hill stood a house-- it was designed like a villa, with open porches and crenellated balconies, but it was huge. There was a heavy hint of the dark opulence that had characterized many of the older Galactor bases, and the very fact that it looked like a house at all seemed to speak of the old days of Galactor. *It's a leftover, then.* They came up the steps, and the doors swung inward, admitting them to a vast and dimly lit hall.

As the doors slid shut behind them, Pandora's eyes adjusted. "It's just like you Galactors to use a mother's hopes against her," she said bitterly. "Why did you feel the need to deceive me? I was alone-- you could simply have pulled guns and done away with this subterfuge..."

The elderly man chuckled. "I was given specific instructions on what to say. Now my part in this is finished. If you have any more questions, you must ask the one who comes..."

As he spoke, the far doors opened, and Pandora was swamped with "that feeling" again. It was not a sensation she could describe-- perhaps deja vu, a feeling of almost-recognition. The light streaming from the far doors was brilliant, and at first hid the dim form walking through it, but Pandora knew who it had to be-- and then, as she approached closer, it was confirmed.

Gel Sadra.

The woman was wearing a purple and blue gown instead of her usual costume, and the mask she wore covered only the top of her face, revealing long, pale gold hair that spilled down onto her shoulders and mostly bared arms. For several seconds the two of them faced each other, staring, while a dozen possible scenarios ran through Pandora's head. Then Gel Sadra pulled off her mask, revealing a beautiful but somewhat childish face.

"Mother," she said into the silence. "You are my mother!"

"What??" Oh, it was too bitter. "What kind of game is this? You'll have to do better than *that*, Gel Sadra."

"This isn't a game! Mother, I am Sammie!"

"*Sammie??*" How dare Gel Sadra try to twist that name to her own perverted whims? "How do you know my daughter's name?" she demanded. "And how dare you come up with a ridiculous story like this? Do you think I wouldn't know my own daughter? My child was a *baby*, Gel Sadra. How gullible do you think I *am?*"

"Don't you believe me, mother? Don't you feel it, too? That recognition-- I know you've felt it, mother..."

"Don't call me mother!"

"But you *are* my mother! I'm Sammie!"

Did the poor deluded mutant actually *believe* it? "You *can't* be Sammie. Sammie was--"

"--a child, yes, I know. Sosai X had a glorious destiny planned for me, and there was no time for me to grow normally to adulthood. He took a child named Sammie Pandora and caused her to grow up, until Gel Sadra was born. That's me! I've only now learned that you are my mother..."

Could it be true? Could it possibly-- no, no! "You're lying, Gel Sadra! My Sammie was a sweet, gentle child, nothing like you!"

"Nothing?" There were tears in the Galactor leader's eyes. "Mother, I used to have nightmares, didn't I? And you would come in, and comfort me, and rock me to sleep... Sosai wants me to be hard and ruthless, and that's necessary, I suppose, to rule the world, but I need someone to comfort me.. I have such terrible nightmares, and Sosai doesn't help me.."

Horribly, Pandora was almost beginning to believe her. "I don't care about your nightmares! You're not my daughter!" she shouted desperately, trying to make it true.

"Look over here!" Gel Sadra said, getting angry. "I'll show you proof!" She walked to a wall and flicked a switch. Panels slid aside, revealing a viewscreen. Gel Sadra slipped in a tape, and the image of a child, a little girl floating naked and unconscious in a glass tank, appeared. Pandora gasped in horror-- the child was Sammie!

"Watch, mother," Gel Sadra said, and Pandora watched, unable to tear her eyes away. The child began to grow, her hair getting longer, her tiny body changing and elongating until Sammie as a young woman stood in the tank. Then her body continued to grow, reached Gel Sadra's size-- and the face, the face was unmistakably Gel Sadra's.

A hand fell on her shoulder. "Mother. Now do you believe?"

Pandora recoiled, struck Gel Sadra, who staggered back. "Why did you do that, mother!" Gel Sadra cried.

"You're not my daughter! Sammie is dead! I'd *rather* she be dead than be you, Gel Sadra!"

"What? No! Mother, we could rule the world together, the two of us..."

"Didn't you hear me? You're *not mine!* I have nothing to do with you!"

Gel Sadra's face transformed into a mask of unreasoning rage. "Very well, if you won't admit you're my mother, then I'll treat you like a prisoner instead! Guards!"

They stepped forward. "Haa, Gel Sadra-sama?"

"Take her down to the dungeons and lock her in. You can do anything you like to her!"

Suddenly Pandora remembered...

 

They were testing Sammie for psi, she and Mandy, and Sammie was being uncooperative. Sitting in the chair, with the electrodes taped to her, she squirmed. "You *promised*, mommy," she said. "You said, I get ice cream. Where?"

"Just *think* about it, Sammie. Just think about the ice cream, and see if you can tell what box it's in."

"No! Don't *wanna.* Want ice cream!"

"But if you just think about it--"

"Don't *wanna* think! Want ice cream! You promised! I hate you, I hate you!"

"Sammie!"

The readings spiked suddenly as Sammie tore free from the electrodes, going for the correct box, as Pandora dove at her. Sammie flipped the box open and grabbed the sundae cup. "Ha! I beat you," she said spitefully. "*My* ice cream!" And ran, Pandora pelting after her.

...After Sammie's death, she had not thought of the bad things. Sammie had been a *good* little girl, a beautiful sweet child-- there was no point in remembering her occasional tantrums. But when Pandora saw Gel Sadra's expression, she remembered-- and knew.

Gel Sadra was telling the truth.

"Sammie," she whispered under her breath, as the guards carried her off. But Gel Sadra did not hear her.

 

Back in one of the bedrooms, Gel Sadra put on her costume, except for the mask, and lay down, debating seriously whether to get drunk or not. The pain in her abdomen had gotten worse, though, like an animal gnawing at her-- it always did when she suffered a disappointment, and this one was worse than most. She quickly gulped down her pills-- and that let out getting drunk. She had been told that if she drank liquor after taking her pills, she would fall asleep and never wake up, and it was not an idea she appreciated.

As the pain abated, the feeling of well-being the pills brought flooded over her. Pandora could not keep rejecting her. She had to realize, sooner or later, that she and Gel Sadra were mother and daughter. She was just in shock now, or something. Gel Sadra could go back and try to convince her again... Yes, that was what she'd do.

 

Pandora's mind was racing, planning, as her guards "escorted" her roughly downstairs. If Gel Sadra was Sammie... The plan she was devising was dangerous, and ran a high risk of getting her killed-- but it was no worse than being a helpless prisoner of Galactor was, and she was the only one who could try this. And if she succeeded... Gel Sadra was Sammie. It tore at her mother's soul to admit it, but she believed it now. Gel Sadra was also desperate for Pandora to accept her, and that gave Pandora a weapon. If Sosai X had taken a small child and made her an adult, that adult would still have the emotions of a child. Gel Sadra must think of X as her father, protector, mentor, personal god, all rolled into one. That alone was why she served him. What could Sammie know of power? Nothing, but when X told her it was what she wanted it would sound good to her. Shock and grief had caused Pandora to mishandle the situation before. She was so used to thinking of Gel Sadra as an incarnation of evil, when the truth was that Gel Sadra was innocent, too innocent to understand the difference between good and evil. But apparently she valued Pandora's opinion. Apparently their relationship meant something to her. If Pandora could only *show* Gel Sadra that X was evil, that what she was doing was wrong...

Her mind was brought roughly back to her present circumstances by the guards marching her into a cell and pushing her against a wall. She twisted her head away as one of the guards leaned into her face and leered, licking his lips. "Gel Sadra- sama said we could do whatever we want with you," he said, his breath fetid in her face. "So that's what just what we're gonna do, and there's nothing you can do about it, bitch. Get it?"

Pandora tried to pull away, uselessly, as the other man closed in on her as well. Had she just been thinking Gel Sadra was *innocent?* She abandoned thought of her plan, sick at heart. If Gel Sadra was capable of ordering something like this... killing was one thing, but *this...* how could there be anything left of Sammie's innocence in her at all?

Both men were bigger and stronger than she was-- simply putting up a struggle would not save her, all it would do was whet their disgusting appetites. Fighting nausea and horror, Pandora forced herself to remain still, not squirming or resisting as they ran meaty hands across her body. *I have to let them get distracted-- I'll only have one chance and I don't dare waste it.* She only wished there was some way to distract them rather than putting up with this foulness. Hands fumbled under her dress, and it was all she could do not to try to yank free right then. She twisted her head out of the way of a slobbering kiss, and it landed on her neck. Where was her chance? She couldn't bear much more of this. One of the men pressed right next to her, pinning her arms with his weight, as he pulled his pants down-- and there was her chance. *Now!*

Her knee came up and struck savagely into the exposed region. He screamed and staggered away from her, clutching his genitals, as she grabbed the other man's swinging arm and used his momentum to throw him. He got to his feet, and she chopped at his neck, dropping him. The first man, the one she'd kneed, had recovered somewhat and was coming toward her with a murderous expression, hands outstretched. Her foot caught him in the same place her knee had. He shrieked in agony as blood spurted and stained her shoe, and Pandora felt abruptly sick. She ran from the cell, through the open door, collapsed on the floor and was violently ill.

When she could think straight again, she got to her feet, weak from vomiting. The man in there she'd kicked had stopped screaming, but his moans of agony were just as bad. Her shoe was stained with his blood, now, and she wanted to kick it off, to be rid of it-- but she'd need it to escape. She headed up the stairs, her spirit bruised and desolate. Sammie was beyond her reach forever. All she could do was to try to escape and report to Dr. Nambu.

 

Gel Sadra was startled to see the door of the cell wide open. What were those idiots thinking of? She stepped inside, and saw the two men lying on the floor. *What--* One man was lying in a pool of blood, his pants down around his knees. Gingerly, with one boot tip, Gel Sadra flipped him over. He was still moaning, and when she looked at his exposed crotch, she could see why. But what had his pants been doing down--

--oh. Of course. She was being naive again. When she gave orders that they could do whatever they liked, she meant for them to roughhouse Pandora a little, not to do *this!* With savage fury, she kicked the dying man-- how *dare* he try to do *that* to her mother! Animal! She pulled her gun and blasted him and his silent companion. Then she turned and pelted up the stairs. If those bastards had let Pandora escape on her--!

As she cleared the stairs, she headed toward the door-- and that was when she heard the scream.

 

Pandora found her way out of the base-- which was designed as if it actually was a person's home-- with relative ease. Outside, she took a deep breath and began running around the side of the house. She knew better than to cut through the deadly garden-- some of the plants there could kill with a single scratch. She didn't want to head directly down the path to the gate, though-- she could see a pair of guards there-- so she circled the mansion, finding that the deadliness of the garden decreased the farther she got from the main path. When the garden had begun to look tame, she found another path meandering down to the wall, and began running down it.

Abruptly the ground in front of her lifted. She tripped and sprawled, as a vaguely familiar, high-pitched male voice laughed. *What--?* Pandora spun, and saw what she had not seen before-- two posts, hidden in the foliage but with an infrared beam clearly exposed between them. The laughter was coming from speakers set into the posts, creating a stereo effect and making it actually sound as if someone was there.

"Welcome to my humble abode," the voice continued. It was too fast, the voice of a hypermanic person, and she abruptly recognized it from briefing tapes-- the voice of the late Berg Katse. "I don't really appreciate unexpected guests, but since it would be inhospitable for me to simply leave you to your own devices, I'll send my pet to entertain you until I get back! Hahahaha!"

At that point, a thing with numerous tentacles heaved itself out of the garden and shot its tendrils directly at Pandora. That was when she screamed.

 

Gel Sadra followed the noises around the side of the villa, to see with horror Pandora stumbling through the garden, desperately trying to outrun a small mecha. The tentacles were gaining on her-- they were going to kill her! *No!*

Pulling her gun, Gel Sadra raced forward with a cry and fired, the gun on its highest setting. One of the tentacles blistered and thrashed wildly. Gel Sadra fired, again and again, convincing the thing to turn and go for her. She stood her ground and shot at it, destroying tentacles and bruising the tougher armored body-- until her energy cell ran out. For a second, Gel Sadra stared at the useless gun. She pointed it again, pulled the trigger-- and nothing came out. And the thing was still active, and coming directly at her. Gel Sadra shrieked, threw the gun and ran, crashing through the flower beds and vine-entwined bushes of the garden. Fast as she was, though, even damaged the mecha was a lot faster. "Tasukete!" Gel Sadra screamed, forgetting that none of her men were close enough to hear and save her. "Help me!"

Pandora had stood frozen for several seconds as the thing began lumbering after Gel Sadra. *She's risking her life for me... Sammie...* Then Gel Sadra screamed for help, and all control broke. Pandora scooped up rocks, sticks, anything, and charged forward.

"Yaaa!" She hurled stuff at the thing, trying desperately to get its attention. What was this? Gel Sadra's discarded gun! She picked it up, flipped open the power cell-- which was too drained to operate the gun, but never too drained to explode-- and quickly pulled two wires loose, reattaching them crossed. Then she hurled it. "Duck, Gel Sadra!"

The gun exploded in midair, though, before it had quite reached the mecha, and so it didn't do as much damage as she'd hoped. Now it was after *her* again. She ran, and saw Gel Sadra frantically motioning at her. "This way, bring it this way! I've got a plan!"

Gel Sadra's plan had to be better than none at all, so Pandora circled, but she was tiring, growing more and more exhausted with every stride. Gel Sadra moved in to meet her, until the two of them were running parallel, the tentacles hot on their heels. "We're... heading... into the poison plants!" Pandora gasped. "Got to.. turn!"

"No!" Gel Sadra turned on a diagonal toward Pandora, intercepting and scooping her up while still leading the monster in the same direction. Pandora gasped as Gel Sadra lifted and carried her, still running, as if *she* were the child. "If... I throw you... toward that tree... could you catch it?" Gel Sadra panted, now struggling for breath with her added burden.

"Yes!"

"Then, *now!*"

With strength that was not quite human, Gel Sadra heaved Pandora up toward a tree. She grabbed a branch, pulled herself onto it, and watched as Gel Sadra knelt and pounded her fists on what looked like a tree stump. Gel Sadra shouted, "Jump down and get cover!"

Pandora leapt behind a large rock, and seconds later Gel Sadra fell over the top of the rock, almost on top of Pandora. Then there was an explosion, Both of them pressed themselves to the ground as shrapnel and a shockwave wind blew over their heads, the lee of the rock sheltering them. When the light and wind died, Pandora lifted her head. There was a huge hole in the garden, and smoking wreckage, but no mecha.

"Idiot Berg Katse," Gel Sadra said. "If Sosai hadn't made me study the defenses of this place, we could have both been killed." She turned to Pandora. "Mother, I saved your life. I killed the men who tried to do... *that* to you. Won't you believe me now?"

Even with the grotesque voice, Pandora could hear the plaintive words as if they were Sammie's. She looked at her daughter, and tears filled her eyes. Gel Sadra, the heartless leader of Galactor, had risked her life to save Pandora's. Didn't that make her truly Sammie after all? It broke her heart, to have to hurt her child this way-- but Gel Sadra had taken the mantle of an adult, and Pandora had to do what she had to do in order to save the world.

"Yes, I believe you," she said in a flat, monotonal voice. Gel Sadra didn't catch the hint.

"Then you'll join me!" she cried, overjoyed.

"No." Pandora got to her feet.

"No? What do you mean, 'no', mother?" Gel Sadra also stood. "You admit that I'm Sammie. There's no more reason for you to hate Galactor! You can join us now!"

"What makes you think I want to join Galactor? For that matter, what makes you think I don't still hate it-- Gel Sadra?"

"But... why should you? The only reason you hated us was because you thought Galactor had killed me..."

"What makes you think that's why I hate Galactor?"

Gel Sadra stood, lost in confusion. Pandora went on, "When I believed Galactor had murdered my daughter, I had a very personal reason to hate it, yes. But there are reasons less personal, not the least of which is that Galactor is *evil!* You murder wantonly, you care nothing for the lives lost in pursuit of your sick dream-- how many people have you personally killed, Gel Sadra? *You* are evil!"

"No! What do you mean, 'evil'-- that word means nothing! Anyone can make it mean what they want. What do people's lives matter?"

"*All* that matters is people's lives!" Pandora shouted. "You're too young to have experienced it, Gel Sadra-- but there are people who love each other in this world. There are good people, who help others. There are gifted, talented people who help the human race. But you don't care! You just go on, killing indiscriminately-- how many lives have you destroyed, Gel Sadra? How many children have you taken from their parents, as I thought you'd been taken from me? How many times have you repeated the misery I have suffered, to lose a child, to lose a husband? What about your father, Gel Sadra? Do you know what happened to him?"

"No, but I--"

"He was *vaporized!* He was destroyed, by your precious Sosai X! Your daddy, who loved you, who used to take you to the park on weekends, who showed everybody pictures of his little girl-- he was so proud of you--" Pandora's voice broke. "Gel Sadra, you're only a child. You were taken in by Sosai X's words-- one can hardly blame you for what you've done. But now-- Gel Sadra, if you wish to be treated like an adult you must act like one, take the consequences like one."

"I *am* an adult!"

"All right, then. Sosai X is evil! If you want my love, you must reject him. If you want me to care for you like a mother again, you must fight him, because I'm sworn to destroy him, and how can even a mother love what is evil? I *want* to love you-- you're my baby Sammie-- but as long as you are Galactor leader Gel Sadra then I cannot! As long as you serve Sosai X we must fight! Do you understand?"

Gel Sadra stared at her. "I don't know what to do," she whispered.

"You can--"

"Shut up! You've said enough!" At the expression on Pandora's face, Gel Sadra's face crumpled. "I'm sorry... but I *want* to rule the world! Sosai promised me... Perhaps I do have to be hard and ruthless, completely, as he said." Her voice turned hard, and Pandora's heart sank. *It didn't work... I've lost her.* "I'm too confused. You say one thing, Sosai says another-- perhaps I will bring you to Sosai and let you debate with *him.* Then I can decide..."

Terror ran like an electric shock through Pandora's body. "Gel Sadra, no! If you bring me to Sosai X, it's my death warrant, he'll kill me!"

"No, he won't. You're my mother! He wouldn't kill you. You don't understand him, Mother." Gel Sadra took Pandora's arm in a firm grip. "That's what I'll do. I'll bring you to him."

It was useless to argue. Pandora felt a wave of unassailable despair. Her daughter was gone forever, in a manner far more horrible than simply drowning, and she herself would be destroyed by Sosai X.

 

They hadn't been looking for Dr. Pandora.

The Gatchaman team had been dispatched to the Andean base because strange energy fluxes had been picked up there, energy that might indicate X's presence. They knew X was considerably more mobile now than he'd been during the war with Berg Katse-- they had already clashed with him personally, or as personally as one could get with a golden spaceship, once-- and so it was perfectly possible that this base was where he was located.

None of them expected to see Gel Sadra's round craft arrive-- unfortunately, they weren't in the New God Phoenix at the time, or they could have tried to shoot it down. However, it gave them an idea. While Jun, Jimpei and Ryu continued to look for another entrance, Ken and Joe headed up the cliffside and found the bay that the craft was entering. It was too late to get inside-- the doors had slammed shut before even they could leap. But Ken shook his head. "It's still too good an opportunity to waste," he said. "Gatchaman to G-3. Come in."

"Haven't found anything yet, Ken," she replied.

"We have. Come on up."

By the time the others got there, Ken and Joe had begun the laborious work of cutting their way through the bay doors. Jun, Jinpei and Ryu set their laser frequencies to heterodyne with the other two, and the work went much faster-- in minutes, they had melted a hole big enough for Jinpei to stick his head into and peer in. "There's nobody there," he reported. "Just Gel Sadra's escape ship."

"Okay," Ken said. "Get out of the way."

In another few minutes, the hole was big enough to permit even Ryu's entry. The five of them leapt down, and Jun motioned with her head at the craft. "Ken, what do you want me to do with that?"

Ken thought a second. "Rig the controls. I want her alive, so I want her to be able to get out, but after she's clear of the base the thing should land itself, so we can get at her. And check if there's anything valuable in there-- we'll be too occupied with Gel Sadra to check later."

"Roger." Jun vanished into Gel Sadra's ship, and the rest of them headed out.

 

"GEL SADRA, YOU HAVE DISOBEYED ME!" X thundered. "I ORDERED YOU TO *FORGET* ABOUT YOUR MOTHER!"

"But, Sosai..."

"ENOUGH!"

Pandora could see a drastic change in Gel Sadra's mannerisms as she addressed X. Here was where her little girl had gone, usually obedient, sometimes rebellious. It was precisely Sammie's obedient nature that X had perverted, making Gel Sadra obedient to *him.* Gel Sadra's voice rose in pitch and her whole manner changed, becoming more humble, self-abasing.

"I WILL FORGIVE YOU, BECAUSE PANDORA IS A USEFUL PRISONER. YOU WILL PUT HER IN A CELL, GEL SADRA, AND FORGET SHE EXISTS. I WILL CONDUCT THE INTERROGATION OF HER PERSONALLY. YOU ARE TO HAVE *NO* CONTACT WITH HER, FROM THIS MOMENT FORTH!"

"Hai. I understand, Sosai," Gel Sadra whispered, her voice breaking. Pandora stared at her emptily-- she was going to do it. She was going to let Sosai X torture and kill Pandora, and never question.

"Sammie," she whispered, already tortured.

Gel Sadra heard, and anger took shape within her grief. *He *is* jealous, isn't he? Why? I was loyal...* But she remembered Pandora's words, and wondered. Perhaps Sosai had been wiser than she'd thought, to forbid her contact with her mother?

And perhaps Pandora had been wiser than she'd thought, to warn her against Sosai X?

Gel Sadra turned, a plan already forming. She needed time to think, to consider her mother's words, and if Sosai locked Dr. Pandora up, Gel Sadra would never get a chance to see her again... and what if her mother was *right?* Gel Sadra would have betrayed her. But if Pandora were to escape-- well, Sosai would yell, he always did, but she'd live through that. And she would have time to consider her mother's words. But it had to *look* as if Pandora had escaped all by herself, and so Gel Sadra was forced to play it out. "You and you, take Dr. Pandora to her cell." Those two men were little better than hydroencephalic morons-- surely the person who had defeated those men back at Katse's villa should have no problem taking them out. She thought desperately at her mother, *This is the best I can do! Kill them and escape!*

Pandora turned astonished eyes toward Gel Sadra--

--and then the two men guarding her dropped dead.

"N-nanto?" Gel Sadra gasped, as the familiar laughter rang out. Several men moved to cover Pandora with their guns.

A shadow fell across the wall from a balcony. "Jittai o misezu ni shinobiyoru shiroi kage," a man's voice called out. The white shadow that slips in unseen... "Kagaku Ninja Tai *Gatchaman!*"

After that it was chaos. X was booming orders to his men, something about not letting Pandora get away, and Gel Sadra could see a tight knot of men herding her mother away. The ninja team had come in full force after their leader's dramatic appearance, and more men were shooting at them-- and getting killed for it. Gel Sadra leapt down, dodging the crossfire, heading for her mother-- and X's voice boomed, "SCIENCE NINJA TEAM, STOP!"

They stopped. A man was holding a gun to Pandora's head. "One move out of you ninjas and she gets it!" he snarled.

Abruptly Gel Sadra was swamped with an overwhelming sense of horror. Her heartbeat seemed to fill the room, and time slowed. As if watching a film, she saw the Gatchamen drop their weapons, transform out of bird style as they threw their wristbands to the floor, faces locked in expressions of grim anger and fear-- then a gunshot, spraying blood from her mother's head, and Pandora was falling, falling--

The real world came back before Gel Sadra had a chance to scream. It hadn't happened yet-- but it was going to, going to! She grabbed her gun and shrieked her denial as she fired, blowing away the Galactor's hand, then head. The dead man's gun clattered to the floor, and Pandora picked it up, as the Science Ninja Team went back into action and the chaos began again.

"KILL GEL SADRA AND PANDORA!" X was roaring, but Gatchaman was between them and the main body of the men. The ones that were in range to try fell to Gel Sadra's and Pandora's guns. Pandora began running toward her daughter--

--and a glass jar slammed down on her, stunning her. A hole in the floor opened like an iris, and the jar sank through--

--"*No!*" Gel Sadra cried, diving into the hole-- too late. The iris closed on her leg, suspending her over a darkened shaft, and her own shrieks echoed unbearably loudly in her ears.

 

*Why would Gel Sadra save Pandora?*

The question rang through Ken's mind as he ran toward the waving leg. Behind him, the others dispatched the last Galactors. Ken reached the hole in the flor with the black-booted leg caught in it-- he could hear hollow, echoing screams coming from within, and felt slightly sick. Not even Gel Sadra deserved such a fate. "Joe! Can you get this open?"

Joe was there in a second. "Let's-- see--" With a massive effort of strength, Joe simply tore out the metal plates that formed the iris, and Ken and Ryu hauled Gel Sadra out. The wound was terrible-- the contracting metal plates had cut deeply into Gel Sadra's flesh, and white glimmers of bone were visible through the blood.

"Mother..." Gel Sadra whimpered.

"Mother?" Ken asked, puzzled. He decided to ignore it. "Gel Sadra, you are helpless. You can either agree to let us carry you off peacefully, or we will knock you unconscious--"

"There's no time for this!" Gel Sdra shouted, seeming to regain strength. "We have to save my mother!"

"Your mother?"

"Dr. Pandora is my mother!"

"*What?*"

"Now wait a minute--"

"Dr. Pandora is--?"

"Shut up, shut up!" Gel Sadra shouted as they all began to speak at once. "I saw where Sosai took her, she's going to the magnetic acceleration chamber! We have to save her!"

Ken shoved doubt aside for the moment. If it was a trap, or a trick... well, with Dr. Pandora's life at stake, they'd take the chance. "All right, where's the chamber?"

"I can take you there-- AAAIeee!" She tried to lever herself up, and crashed with a scream as weight came on her bad leg.

"No, you can't! We don't have time, Gel Sadra-- give us directions!"

She was panicking. "We don't have time for me to give directions, either!"

"Ken!" Joe said. "I'll carry Gel Sadra. We're wasting time!" With enhanced cybernetic strength, he lifted the huge woman, who pointed.

"Fastest way-- there!"

They ran, Joe pushing himself to keep the pace with Gel Sadra in his arms. She weighed more than he did, even with his cybernetic components, and so it was difficult not to overbalance or trip-- but they made it into the room. A pair of Galactors were manipulating controls as a small craft with Pandora in it made its way onto a magnetic acceleration track. "No! Mother! You two, stop!" Gel Sadra shouted. They ignored her, one man pulling a gun to deal with the Science Ninja Team as another pressed the button that sent Pandora up the track.

"Kuso!" Joe dropped Gel Sadra and ran, as fast as he could, up the track himself. He caught onto Pandora's vehicle just as it blasted off.

"It's going to blow up!" Gel Sadra shrieked. "Mother!"

Ken didn't waste time questioning her. By now, the two Galactors were dead, and Ken had spotted another vehicle. "Gel Sadra! This one has pilot's controls in it! Will it blow up?"

"No, it shouldn't--"

"All right! How do you get it onto the track?"

Supported by Ryu, Gel Sadra manned the controls. "Like this!" She pressed some buttons, and the little craft came up onto the track.

"Ken! You'll pick them up?" Jun asked.

"Right! Gel Sadra, how do you fly this--"

"Let me do it! I can fly it, and it's faster than explaining--"

"We both go! Ryu, help me--" They got Gel Sadra into the ship, and then Ken squeezed in, practically on her lap. She whimpered as he accidentally bumped into her leg, but managed not to cry out. "Hit the green button!" she shouted to Ryu, and they began speeding up the track, several g's pressing them down. Then they were airborne.

 

On top of Pandora's craft, Joe-- having heard Gel Sadra's cry before the ship went out of range-- knew he had only minutes, perhaps seconds, to get Pandora out before it blew. He moved to the side Pandora wasn't leaning against, and pounded on it, cracking the transparent plastic of the window. A few more good pounds had it shattered. He pulled an unconscious Pandora out-- and looked down.

He *had* had a notion of simply jumping down. Now that they were several hundred feet from the ground, though, that was rather contraindicated. Not even he could jump that distance with an unconscious person in his arms and land safely.

The bracelet crackled. "Joe, jump! We're coming to get you!"

"Roger!" He leapt, holding Pandora's wrists in his, outstretched, as tightly as he dared without damaging her. Another small craft, with its top coming down, was rocketing swiftly toward him, and he angled to land on it.

That was when they discovered a minor problem.

The craft's trajectory abruptly changed, dipping violently. "Damn those idiots, they didn't put enough fuel in this thing!" Gel Sadra cried, panicked. "It's too heavy, I can't get control!"

"Too heavy?"

"We were shot out with force calculated for two people. Now there's four, and we haven't got the fuel to compensate. We're going down!"

Ken glanced at Joe, who nodded and leapt off the craft. They were still heading into a deep nosedive. "We've got to lighten more! Gatchaman, can you jump out?"

"Can I trust you to land safely?"

"I'm not a novice, Gatchaman! I won't let any harm come to my mother-- go!"

Ken went, hoping fervently that he was doing the right thing. Maybe when Pandora woke up, she could explain to him what was going on.

 

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