Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction. I made some of the characters up, but it basically belongs to Tatsunoko.
Thanks to Wendy, Sal, and Harvey for the great beta-reading!
The Search - Introduction
I should probably start by saying that I am very sorry that I never got to see you grow up. I can't tell you where I am right now, but I've been close enough to tell you that I'm OK. If I can watch over you, I will. Either way, know that I'm OK. It would have made me feel better to believe it when my own parents died.
I almost forgot - HAPPY BIRTHDAY! You're 18 - a real woman now. I imagine you're very beautiful. You were a beautiful child. When your brother turned 18 (2 years ago?!) I left him almost everything from my fighting days. Maybe that was sexist... you probably thought I'd forgotten about you. What I have for you is from a different time in my life. A time even I don't know well. I can leave you only so much myself -- you'll have to find a lot of it on your own.
I will see you again. Hopefully not soon.
I love you,
An inn, B.C. Island, 2025
"Beautiful day, isn't it?"
Sarah rested her pack on the front desk. She had learned Italian since she was a little girl, but she'd never had to use it before. She still had to translate the words in her head before speaking.
"Not for me, not really," she said.
Antonio smiled. It wasn't often his small inn hosted young women traveling alone. "What is it you're chasing after, anyway?" he asked.
Sarah sighed. "I spent the afternoon searching for a beach on the North East shore -"
"Oh, there haven't been any beaches there in - oh, I 'd say twenty years."
"I found that out. I thought, you know, maybe if I could get on the docks, maybe that would be close enough, but -"
"They don't let young ladies on the docks."
Sarah shook her head. "You think it was the 1900s."
Antonio nodded, and shrugged.
"And I spent all morning searching for my grandparents' old house - and it's gone, too. I can't even find the cemetery where they were buried. They either disappeared, or the map my dad gave me is bunk." She laid the map down on the desk.
Antonio looked at it. It was old, but nearly pristine, with markings on it - X's and circles - in red pen. "Oh, I see," he said. "You're chasing after ghosts."
"I guess you could say that." She paused. "I just don't want to disappoint my father."
"Well, you just tell him you tried your best."
Sarah sighed. "I wish I could.... He died eight years ago."
Antonio looked surprised. "I... I'm sorry..."
"It's all right."
"You must've been just a little girl."
Sarah nodded. "He sent me here for a reason. I guess... he wanted me to find my - our - past. But it's just gone. It's as if someone doesn't want me to find it."
Antonio paused, then lifted a finger. "Maybe...." He pulled a phone book out from under his desk. "Everyone on the island is listed in here," he said. "Tell me your family name - maybe we can find some long-lost cousins of yours."
Sarah perked up. "You think?"
"OK," Sarah said. "The name is Asakura."
Antonio just looked at her.
"It's A-S-A - "
"I know how it's spelled." He closed the book. "You're Asakura?" Her narrowed his eyes at her, as if she had just proclaimed herself from Mars.
Sarah raised her eyebrows. "Yes.... Aren't you going to look it up?"
"I don't have to," he said. "There are no Asakuras left here."
"You know about the Asakura family?"
"Well," he said, "I'm not an expert, but yes, of course - everyone here knows about the family, it's fall... the legend of the Condor...."
"The Condor's not a legend," Sarah said. "He was my father."
Antonio smiled. "Well, you've obviously never heard the stories told by the villagers," he said.
"There are stories? Can you tell them to me?"
"Oh, no, I couldn't.... I'm no storyteller."
"But... I've come so far, and I've spent everything I had to get here.... I have to find something..."
Antonio paused, then nodded. "OK... look, I'll help you learn of your family's past, but I don't know any of those stories." He flipped through the phone book. "I'm going to give you a name and an address. Go there. Use the map - there's nothing wrong with it, it's just a little old is all."
Sarah smiled. "Thank you..." she looked at the name as Antonio wrote it down. "So you think this man knows about them?"
"He's an expert," Antonio said, handing her the paper. He looked at Sarah closely. "Your father, eh? I hope you have proof."
Antonio nodded. "You're not the first person to come here saying they were a child of Condor Joe."
"Really?" Sarah paused. She knew her brother had never been here. Did people actually pretend to be them? It was a little unsettling.
"I can prove it," she said.
"Well, then, he should be able to help you." Antonio watched as Sarah headed for the door. "Miss," he called to her.
She stopped. "Yes?"
"All they say of the Condor - is any of it true?"
Sarah smiled. "I thought you didn't know any of the stories."
Antonio nodded. "Right. Good luck, then," he said.
It took most of what was left of the afternoon, but Sarah finally found the old house on the hill. Everything on this ancient-feeling island seemed hard to find, and everything looked as if it needed a new coat of paint. It was hard for her to imagine that any relatives of hers, let alone her father, had ever lived there. There was livestock in the streets in the town, and the cars were all so old the air smelled of exhaust fumes. But it was beautiful, and this little quest had allowed her to appreciate that, as she tromped up narrow pathways, through overgrown brush, with the Mediterranean Sea spreading out around her as she ventured higher. When she finally reached the top of the hill, surely one of the highest points on the island, the tiny house peeked out from beneath a fall of vines. Nearly hidden, but she found it. She looked down at the scrap of paper, where Antonio had scrawled this stranger's name, "Len Grifasi," and this address. The house was so quiet, it seemed empty.
Oddly, despite her nearly futile search, that didn't seem to bother her.
She knocked on the door twice, then once more.
She sighed, and turned to leave. This whole trip was a big waste, she thought, frustrated. I could have gone anywhere. I could have gone somewhere cool. I don't even care about these ghosts --
A voice interrupted her thoughts. "You there - what do you want?"
She spun around, and searched for the source of the voice. "What? I'm looking for a Len Grifasi." She paused. "Mr. Grifasi?"
"What do you want!"
Sarah took a step back. "I was told you could help me..."
"You lost? There's a police station about two miles down the hill..."
"No... no, I'm not lost." She took a deep breath. "I'm looking for information on the Asakura family, and -"
"Is that all?"
The door opened slowly. Sarah stood still as she got a glimpse of the man. He wasn't as old as she'd expected - maybe in his 50s. His graying hair fell limply to his shoulders. He looked as irritated as he sounded.
"What interest do you have?" he asked. "You a groupie?"
Sarah blinked. "What?"
The man studied her. "Are you writing a book?"
"No... I just...."
"Don't just stand outside, there, girl, come on in...." Grifasi turned, and disappeared inside.
Sarah sighed and considered it. The man might be crazy - he sure seemed a little off. She looked around. This place was isolated. Still, she'd committed to do this. She raised her eyes to the sky for a moment. This could be her only chance.
She followed Mr. Grifasi into the little house. The smell was musty and old, and there were papers everywhere, on every table, every chair, on the floor. She could see him in a small kitchen at the end of a narrow hall.
"What kind of work do you do?" she asked, entering the kitchen. There were papers everywhere in there, too.
"Read, mostly," Grifasi said. "Do you drink tea?"
Sarah shrugged. "Sure."
"I don't drink coffee. It wrecks with my insides." He lit the flame under a metal teapot. He looked at her sideways. "Where did you come from?"
"Oh, I'm staying in a hotel in town..."
"No," he said, "Where do you live? You're not from here."
"You speak terrible Italian..."
Sarah smiled. "Sorry." She paused. "I'm from a town called Odessa. It's about fifty miles from Utoland City."
"Figures," he said. "You look like a city girl."
"Well, it's not really the -"
"What do you care about the Asakuras?" he asked.
"Well," she said. "I am one."
Grifasi studied her face. "What's your lineage, then?"
"My father was Giorgio."
Grifasi dropped bags in two teacups. "Ah," he said. "I see." He poured water into the cups slowly, and turned. He handed one to Sarah, and walked past her to the next room. "If you take sugar, it's on the table. I don't keep milk."
Sarah looked into her cup, then followed Grifasi slowly into the drawing room.
"Let me guess," Grifasi said, sitting down. "Your mother had a brief but passionate affair with Condor Joe many years ago - or so she says - but his heart, his life, belonged to the Team, so -"
"No," Sarah interrupted, "that's not it at all..."
"Then what? She was an agent of Galactor who went into hiding?"
Sarah made a face. "No!" She sat down on a piano bench with a space free of papers. "My mother is a biologist - well, she was, anyway. She used to specialize in cybernetics... cybernetic biology... till my dad died..." she noticed Grifasi's expression soften slightly, so she continued. "Now she pretty much just lives off of my dad's pension... it's a lot. She helped to build new limbs for amputees for awhile, you know, because there were so many, after the wars..."
"Well, you've done your homework, anyway."
She sighed. "You don't believe me?"
"Young lady, you could have gotten that information from any number of sources. I applaud you for taking the time, though - most people come in here with these horrible romantic stories." He glanced at her. "The amputee part was a nice touch. I hadn't heard that before."
"That's because you don't know her."
Sarah opened her bag and started rooting through it.
"Here," she said, pulling out small photograph in a clear sleeve. "Look at this." She walked over to where he was sitting, at his desk, and handed it to him. "That's a picture of my dad, about nine years ago..."
He took it and looked at it with interest.
"That little girl is me, see?"
He flipped the photo over and looked at the back. On it was the date 5/20/16. He looked at Sarah again. He couldn't say the resemblance was uncanny, her features were much softer, but he could see one. Especially in the eyes. Most all of the phonies who came in with the Child-of-the-Condor claim had deep blue eyes, and she was no exception, but hers were different. He laid the picture on his desk. "That could be doctored," he said.
Sarah leaned towards him, her hands on his cluttered desk. "Mr. Grifasi, you know that he had a daughter... if you're so smart.... You probably know when I was born and where I was born, and..." she trailed off. "The least you can do is believe me."
She noticed Grifasi looking at her chest. She looked down, offended, then realized what he was looking at.
"Oh," she said, grasping the small tag around her neck. "See? How could I have this if I was a fake?" She pulled the chain over her head and stuck it in his face. "It's real, Mr. Grifasi."
He reached over to touch it lightly. Of all the artifacts he'd seen, this was one thing he'd never come close to. The Condor's ISO dog tag. If it was a fake, it was a very, very good one.
"I just want to know about my family, OK?" She paused, and pulled the necklace away. "You know, I don't even care if you don't believe me... you were going to tell me anyway, right? Let's just say I'm writing a book. Let's just say I'm a 'groupie'..."
Grifasi smiled lightly, and opened his desk drawer. Out of it, he pulled a flat box. "I spent about 20 years collecting these," he said. He handed it to her.
She looked down at it. It was gray, with a smooth finish, but it was made of cardboard.
"It's archival," he said.
She nodded slowly, and opened the box. She caught her breath. It was full of photographs. "Are these all -"
"Most of them are of Guiseppe and Catarena," Grifasi said. "Most of them. You'll find a couple of Giorgio. Not many - he wasn't often photographed."
She glanced at him, and ran her fingers over the photos.
"Most of those were found hidden beneath the basement in a church - one of the many - that burned in ... oh, around the turn of the century. It was quite a find. Nobody's quite sure who put them there." He paused. "But the family knew the end was near, so -"
"Oh, yes, they knew. Why would they have taken such a chance, to try and leave the Organization? They had nothing to lose."
Sarah held a creased photo of the young couple and a smiling, blond baby. "But they did," she said, "And they lost it all..."
"Of course they didn't," he said. "They saved their child - that was the important thing."
Sarah swallowed. "Jeez..." She touched the image of the baby in the photo. "So this is my father?" she asked. "I never knew he'd been blonde..."
"Oh, he wasn't. No."
"But this picture..."
Grifasi leaned forward and looked at the photo. "Oh," he said. "No. That's not Giorgio, that's Gianni."
Sarah looked at him. "Johnny?"
"Gianni," he said. "Gianni."
"This isn't Catarena and Guiseppe?"
"Of course it is. You don't see a family resemblance?"
"But... who's Gianni?"
Grifasi shuffled some papers on his desk. "The firstborn. You never heard?" He paused. "Hmmm... maybe Giorgi didn't know..."
"He always said he really didn't remember his birth family," Sarah said. "So, what happened to him? Is he still alive?"
"Gianni? Oh, no... that there is probably the last picture of him alive."
"Ohh... how sad... what happened to him?"
"Do you want the truth, or the legend?"
"The truth," Sarah said. "Wait - what's the legend?"
"Well," Grifasi said, "if you're to believe most of the... storytellers... on this island, Mr. and Mrs. Asakura awoke one morning, drew open the curtains," he stood up, and made a swift motion with his hands, "and there, hanging from a tree not ten feet from the window was the body of little Gianni."
"Oh my God," Sarah said. "Did that really happen?"
"I told you. That's the legend. Apparently it's more... dramatic... than the truth."
"Poisoning. At least that's the most likely theory. The boy had gotten some shots that day, and..."
"Oh, God, that's awful.... That's just as awful, Mr. Grifasi..."
"Perhaps," said Grifasi. "But it doesn't have the... visual, does it?"
Sarah thought for a moment. "I don't even want to think about it," she said. "So... was he killed by Galactor, too?"
"Of course. The family had wanted to leave for many years. When Gianni was born, they wanted it even more. But... they weren't careful enough about their plans that time. They stayed, obviously, out of fear. Then Giorgio was born, and... eventually the only fear they had left was for him."
"Hmmm..." Sarah pulled out another photo of a different infant. "That's so sad.... This one," she said, holding it up for him to see. "This is him, isn't it?"
"Yes, that's baby Giorgio."
Sarah smiled. "He looks a lot like my bother did, in his baby pictures."
Grifasi nodded, and looked at her. "You wouldn't happen to have any photos of your brother, would you?"
Sarah thought for a moment. "I have one... not a baby picture, but..." she pulled out her wallet and produced a small picture. "This was taken maybe a few moths ago," she said.
"So," he said, looking at it, "he's a soldier, too?"
"You Asakuras don't learn," he said with a grin.
Sarah smiled, and sat down, still sifting through the old photographs. "So, one thing I've been wondering for a long time..." She paused. "If Galactor was so bad, why did my grandparents join them in the first place?"
Grifasi sat back in his chair. "Well, let me ask you a question," he said. "Have you ever been hungry?"
Sarah shrugged. "Sure."
He shook his head. "No," he said, "I mean have you ever been hungry... and no idea where your next meal was coming from? Hungry enough to eat dirt?"
She made a face. "No..."
"Well, if you had been, you might understand. This island was so barren at one time that you couldn't grow field grass on it. Very few wild animals, and those that were here were depleted fast - people couldn't worry about what would happen if they all died out... "
"What about the fish?"
"Oh, the fish," he said. "This was a fishing community in its salad days." He shook his head.
"One day, there just weren't any."
Sarah paused. "Did Galactor do it?"
"That," he said, "I don't know. But when the Organization came here to set up a base and recruit people, it was like... like a gift from God... from the angels - that's what it was like. They promised jobs, lives... food." He nodded. "Galactor might have depleted the fish supply. But we didn't know that - we had no idea. And when they were here, they didn't let their people go hungry. Not ever. That was why they joined. That's why all of us did."
Sarah looked up. "You were Galactor?"
He leaned forward. "Don't look so surprised," he said with a smile. "Remember where you are."
"Well... what was it like?"
Grifasi shrugged. "I never made it up very high like Giorgio and Catarena did. I was just a kid. You know, I never left the island. I had all the training, but from what I can tell, it wasn't much different from any other military training. Maybe even a little more lax - especially if you weren't on the 'Officer Track'.... They were concerned about quantity. Especially here. They didn't want any civilians living here." He paused. "My experience with Galactor wasn't the stuff of legends, unfortunately - or... fortunately, depending on how you look at it. I did, uh, what you might call 'desk work.' And then, after ... years of it... it was gone."
"That must've been great..."
"Eh... it wasn't so great at first. We ... were back to nothing... and... it was tough. Rebuilding a whole world that hardly anyone who'd survived could even remember. We got UN aid, of course, but, that only went so far. It was a dark time. You have to realize, this was all we had. I mean, those of us who were lucky enough to have survived the wars were aware of what Galactor was. We knew how bad it was. After the fact."
He sipped his tea, and sat back.
"You know, people hated Galactor, but so many of us didn't know what we were doing.... We were supposed to be saving the Earth. We were restoring it back to it's purity. That's what we thought. It was a noble cause, and none of us thought we'd die if they succeeded. We thought we'd be rewarded with a utopian life, as long as we supported the cause. We didn't know of the Black Hole Operation - and those who did almost certainly thought it was a means to a better life. Of course, it would have been the end of everything. It was all a lie. But, that's what happens when people are so vulnerable. It's a fact as old as anything. They were smart."
"So ... if my grandparents thought what they were doing was good, why did they want to leave?"
"Ah, but, see, they doubted Galactor. They... learned something that was so big, so dangerous that just knowing it could have gotten them killed. It was a catch-22, really. They would have been executed even if they hadn't tried to leave the Organization - but if they hadn't, Giorgio would have been killed, too."
"I don't understand. If they knew something so dangerous why did Galactor wait so long? And..."
"Galactor didn't know what they knew -"
"The truth, of course. The Asakuras were good, powerful members of the Organization. They were valuable. And they didn't let on - to anyone - that everyone, Galactor, too, were ultimately going to be killed. At first, they made out like they were simply tired of the killing. Not that they thought the killing wasn't for a good cause. But they wanted a 'normal' life. They... were tired of the manipulation over their lives. Most people, that's why they tried to leave. Many still thought Galactor was trying to make things better. But, in the end, they signed their own death warrants by collaboration with the ISO. I mean, it wasn't a coincidence that Mr. - Dr. - Nambu was there, now, you know that."
"Well, I wasn't really sure..."
"Oh, it had all been planned. Now, the assassination in fact happened a day after Giorgio was rescued by the ISO.... The boy's death was faked, of course, as were Catarena's and Guissepe's. But they didn't get away with it..."
Sarah's jaw dropped. "Wait... wait a minute..." She played the sentences over in her head. "What are you saying? That my grandparents weren't killed that day? But... my father saw..."
"He had to see... that they were killed... or else he might not have gone willingly... he might have tried to come back to find them...."
Sarah shook her head. "No... no, that's just another one of your legends... it has to be..."
"The popular belief was that it happened the way Giorgio - Condor Joe - was led to believe, but there is overwhelming evidence -"
"Well, that evidence is wrong... I don't believe they'd do something so cruel..."
"It wasn't -"
Sarah stood up. "My father re-lived what he saw that morning every day of his life. Every day. It never stopped haunting him. You have no idea what he went through..."
"He suffered. That means he was alive. We all suffered, Sarah..."
Sarah paused. "Not that way. Not over a lie." She walked over to his desk, and picked up her picture from it. "I think I'm done here..."
Grifasi stood up. "Sarah -" S he turned to him. "I don't know you," She said. "You're not supposed to know my name. You're not supposed to know these hurtful things...."
"If you understood them you'd see."
Sarah looked at the box of photos she'd left on the chair. "You know, I don't think I really want to know them..."
"They were people," he said. "They were no different from you."
She shook her head. "No," she said. "They were a lot different from me."
"What they did wasn't a mistake. Look at all the things your father did in his lifetime... He saved countless lives ... he probably saved the planet... and what was he determination fueled by?"
"Oh please... they didn't know what he would go on to do... "
"They knew that it was the only way. And that Giorgio would fight for the Opposition. *If* he lived. Which he wouldn't have otherwise."
Sarah looked at the floor, the wall. "People... just don't do that."
Grifasi picked up the box. He fingered through it for a moment, then pulled out a photograph.
"Here," he said, handing it to her.
"What is it?"
She looked at it. "It's a girl." She studied it. The girl in the picture looked no older that she was - blonde hair blowing in the wind, a broad, open smile. She wore a yellow sundress. "Who is she?"
"Well, who do you think?"
"I don't know... my grandmother?"
Grifasi nodded. "She was seventeen when this was taken. Almost the same age you are now."
Sarah frowned at him. "Well. She was pretty."
"She was pretty... had her whole life ahead of her. This was... about two years before the Famine... before Galactor came..."
"She wouldn't meet Guiseppe for another three years... he lived in the town, you see, and she was a country girl."
Sarah looked at the photo again. "She had no idea..."
"At that time, I imagine, she saw herself living a quiet life, a couple of children, a nice husband... maybe a nice technological job." He paused. " She loved to swim. She was a fish. Do you like swimming?"
She paused. "Yes... we... live on the water."
He nodded. "Have you married yet?"
She shook her head. "No."
"Are you studying?"
She nodded. "Yes... um, in Technical Design..."
Grifasi leaned towards her. "You're not so different from Catarena. You're just - God willing - luckier."
Sarah looked down. Thinking of her grandmother as a person with hopes and dreams seemed strange. It had never really occurred to her, for some reason, that she had ever been a young woman like her. Her - and her grandfather's - deaths always overshadowed any thought of their actual lives, in her mind.
She looked at him. "So," she said, "how did she meet my grandfather?"
"Oh," he said, "they met in the Organization. Guiseppe was quite a catch, you know... he was very popular with the females. But he only had eyes for Catarena. Most of the details are lost, of course..."
She nodded. "It's just so sad, isn't it?"
"It's a tragedy...."
"It's sadder, you know, when you can see them. It's like... they were real - they were real people."
"I don't know what I expected." She looked at her own picture of her and her father. "But I think... I need to let it set in."
"Well," Grifasi said. "There's a lot more for you to learn. I didn't even tell you about the real assassination."
Sarah thought for a moment. "I think I'll leave that for another time."
"If that's what you want." He paused. "I should save it for collateral, anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you haven't told me any stories."
She smiled. "Oh, yeah," she said. "I guess I owe you."
"What was it like, growing up the daughter of the legendary Condor Joe?"
She shrugged. "It wasn't so 'legendary.' He was really just a person, too."
Grifasi picked up the photo of young Catarena, then one of her father as a baby and one of the family together. He laid them on top of the photo box, and handed the whole thing to her. "You take these," he said. "I want you to have them."
She shook her head. "No," she said. "I couldn't. These are originals..."
"They belong to you."
Sarah swallowed. "I... but, your research..."
He shook his head. "These aren't mine to keep. Take them, and share them with your mother and your brother, John."
She took the box carefully, and looked at him. "I guess you believe me, then," she said with a faint smile.
"Of course I do," he said.
She sniffed. "Here," she said, offering him her own photo. "I want you to have this..."
"No, take it... it's not the only copy, my mom has one sitting on her desk." She handed it to him. She paused. "And take the picture of Johnny, too."
"Well," he said, taking them. "Thank you."
"No," she said. "Thank you." She thought for a moment. "It wasn't all bad, was it, Mr. Grifasi?"
He shook his head. "No," he said, "It wasn't all bad. It never is."
"When I think about my dad," she said, "I feel sad... but I've got a lot of good memories, too. I'll have to share them with you someday."
She turned, and started to make her way through the hallway. He showed her out and bid her goodbye, and she stood there, looking out over the island. She took a deep breath. The air filled her lungs, and she suddenly understood what her father had meant when he'd said the air was different there. It wasn't the salt, or the trees, or even the exhaust - it was something else. The sun was getting ready to set, so after walking just a few meters she sat down on a rock to take it in from this high point. She didn't open the box she held on her lap. She had memories of her own to think about.