(Gatchaman #IV Prequel #1)
Chapter 1: Awakenings
He fell backwards, a violent wave of dark vertigo assaulting him. The waves of Z's dying mind faded against his own, and he was left alone and cold. Fear for his team welled inside him- would they get out in time? Had Z killed them, or only stunned them?- but for himself there was no fear. Z was dead; the Earth was safe. He had done his job. He could go now.
The darkness welled up around him, an overeager lover hungry to claim him. Ken clutched the pendant Dr. Nambu had willed him and his team...
Ken focused blurrily. There was- wasn't that Dr. Nambu in front of him? "Director!"
--Listen to me, Ken. Destroying Z was never your only duty. There's still something left you have to do. You have to live, Ken. Go back toward life, and return to the Earth you've saved. This is what I ask of you: go forth and live. Stand up and walk, Gatchaman! You are the Phoenix; you are immortal!
And he faded. Ken reached for him, screaming, "Director!" The real world came back then, and hit him hard, imminent death clutching every cell in his body. There was a wave of pain-
Awakening from darkness, he saw a glowing light. There was no pain anymore, and he felt light, lighter even than he would be in weightlessness. He flew up toward the light, and saw that it was his teammates, linked partway into a Phoenix. Joyfully, Ken joined them, merged with them, completing them.
Once, the Phoenix link had brought pressure, heat and pain. Now there was heat, raging flame, but it felt good, natural, not painful at all. There was no pressure. Ken was not aware of having any separate body to suffer the strain. He was the Phoenix, and his teammates were the Phoenix too, and there was no division between them.
The Phoenix flew free of Z's corpse, crying in joy as it took to the open dark of space. Free at last-
Then something snagged it.
Ken/Phoenix screamed, as the Phoenix was torn apart and the individual parts separated by force. Darkness and cold wrapped their fingers around Ken, prying him loose from the others. He felt their despair and anguish as they, too, were pulled away from the gestalt. No, please- don't!
Then darkness and cold swallowed him again, and he was falling...
Noise, without meaning, but with the rhythms of human beings.
Awareness of muscles/ache, lying in warm sheets.
Blink- bright! Ow.
Arm/lift- weak, aches. Sleeping for how long? Bring onto face.
Blink/shield. Light seeping around arm's edge. Voices.
Ken carefully moved his arm, squinting against the brilliance. A sense of terrible loss seemed to tug at him, but he couldn't remember why. He didn't know where he was. Then a face moved into his line of vision, looking down at him with concern, and for a second Ken thought it was Dr. Nambu. But the face was too young, had no glasses, no mustache, and-
-and Dr. Nambu was dead-
The face spoke in Japanese, but the words were babble. It was several seconds before they resolved themselves into meaningful concepts. "How do you feel?"
Ken started to answer, but his voice died before he managed the first syllable. How did he feel? He couldn't seem to translate his sensations into words. "Who... are you?" he said instead.
"David Kymel," the face said in a young man's voice. "You're aboard my mother's space station, Dawn Star. How do you feel?"
"I..." Ken fell silent.
"Do you understand? Can you hear me?"
"Confused," Ken said weakly. "I don't understand- how am I here? I-" I'm supposed to be dead. Memory stabbed through him- the burning as he brought the sword down, the unholy scream beating against his mind- seeing Dr. Nambu, and then falling beyond the pain into darkness... "I'm dead!"
"Not anymore," David said. "I'm going to have to have my mother explain it, but no, you're not dead. We saved you. Can you tell me how you feel physically? I mean, do you hurt anywhere? Do you feel dizzy, anything like that?"
Ken felt stronger the longer he was awake. He answered in a voice still weak, but firm. "I feel... like I've been lying in bed all my life. Other than that... no, it doesn't hurt. But my muscles ache. How long have I been lying in bed?"
"Mmm... about a month."
"And what do you mean... 'not anymore'?"
"I don't think I should be the one to explain it. I mean, I don't think I can. My mother has to do it. I need to go get her..."
"What about my teammates?"
"You'll see them soon. They're all right. But my mother has to run tests on you first. Let me go get her."
David receded from Ken's field of vision. Slowly, painfully, Ken struggled to sit up. His muscles confirmed that he could well have been in bed a month. Dizziness overwhelmed him as he sat up, and he had to bend over to let it pass or risk falling back again. He pushed his pillow against the wall and propped himself up against it, with it supporting his back and his head resting against the wall.
The room he was in was a tiny hospital room, colored pale blue. The walls seemed to be of metal, not plaster- he could see a blurred and dim reflection of himself in their pale blue expanse. There was no apparent source of light, and yet the room was lit clearly, with some diffuse glow that cast no shadows. On the ceiling there were rows of TV screens. A small table by the bed had a pitcher of water and several plastic cups by it. Ken started to reach for the water, when the door opened.
The woman who entered the room was small- no taller than Jun- with thick black hair, extremely pale skin and oddly shaped, not-quite-Asian-but-not-Caucasian eyes. She wore a tight black bodysuit, red boots and gloves, and a lab coat. Behind her was David, dressed in blue jeans, a green t-shirt, and a lab coat. When Ken had first seen him, he had thought David looked like Dr. Nambu, for some reason. Now he could see that it was the woman, his mother, that David resembled. His face was more rugged, being male, and his hair was not as dark as hers- hers was black, while his was merely the dark brown that was often mistaken for black- but he had the same black eyes, the same expression. The faces were different, but they moved the same way. It was obvious that she was his mother, even though she looked ludicrously young to have a son his age.
"I'd like to run a few tests on you," the woman said with no preamble, "so if we can get started-"
"Wait. Who are you?" All Ken knew was that she was David Kymel's mother, and since he'd just met David, that wasn't a lot of help.
"Asapei no Kymel Teriani Hakase," she replied- Dr. Kymel Teriani, or Dr. Teriani Kymel, of Asapei, or the Asapei, or of the Asapei. David had introduced himself Western-style, family name last, or so Ken had thought. This Dr. Kymel put her name Eastern-style, yet it was far more a Western name than an Eastern. She pronounced Kymel with a highly plosive K and a strongly defined L, and her accenting on Asapei and Teriani was not a Japanese accent pattern. Yet she had pronounced Hakase, and the sentence about running tests, with a perfect Japanese accent. She wasn't Japanese, but what was she? What was "Asapei" supposed to mean? A city, a country, an organization? "You've met my son David. You may call me Teriani or Doctor, whichever you please. Now I want you to look at the ceiling viewscreen. Don't do anything, just look."
Ken obeyed, bewildered, as images began to flash across the screen. He couldn't detect any pattern- photos mixed with cartoon drawings, abstracts with painted landscapes, kanji with kana with romanized words, everything mixed together. Then it vanished. "Good. No brain damage," Teriani Kymel said.
"What was all that about?"
"David, you stay here and answer his questions. I have the others to deal with."
"Me?" David said. "I thought you were going to answer him."
Ken was focused more on what Teriani had said. "My teammates- are they-"
"Except for Joe, they're all in better shape than you. I have to go get back to work on Joe." She turned and left.
Ken looked at David. "What's wrong with Joe?"
"Um. Well, he's not in very good shape. His cybernetics didn't translate across, so my mother's been working like a dog trying to build him new ones. I mean- well, he's still unconscious, and he's going to stay that way for a while still. But he is alive."
"Weren't all of us dead?"
David sighed. "I wish she would've answered your questions," he said. "I'm not as good with this kind of stuff as she is."
"Yes. Yes, you were dead. At least, I think so."
"So what happened?"
"That's kind of difficult to explain..."
"Try," Ken suggested. "Look- I'm completely lost. I wake up here and you tell me this is your mother's space station. What's one woman doing with a space station? Who is she? I know her name, but I don't know anything else about her. What's Asapei? What was all that about the viewscreens, where are my teammates, and how is it I'm alive when I was dead before?"
David looked pensive for a moment. "Where to start... Okay. My mother. You heard her say she's Dr. Teriani Kymel." He put it in Western order. "Forget the 'of Asapei' part- it's some sort of clan title from Keirai. I don't-"
"Wait a minute. Keirai?"
"The country she comes from. Somewhere in Asia, I think." David dismissed Keirai with a shrug. "To tell the truth, I'm not sure how to explain my mother- 'genius' doesn't even cover the territory. She's a freelance scientist, I know- I think she did work for your ISO a long time ago, but I'm not sure. I might be confusing her with my father. We've lived all over the place, but mostly in the Americas, at least since Galactor killed my father. Before that, we lived in Japan, which is why I speak Japanese. That answer the first question?"
"Galactor killed your father?" Ken shook his head. "Those bastards. Sometimes it seems everyone I meet lost a loved one to them."
"Don't worry about it- I hardly knew him before he died. He was some kind of high-powered scientist in your ISO, I think. I don't even remember his name. When I was 11 or 12, my mother told me he was dead, and we moved to the US." David shrugged. "It doesn't bother me anymore." Ken could tell that was a lie, but he said nothing. "Anyway, next question. Like I said, this is my mother's space station, Ayalat k'Mina, which means Dawn Star. She-"
"Where did your mother get a space station?"
"Oh. She built it. Well, had it built. She and some scientist named Rafael were working together, five or six years back. They pooled funds and had independent contractors build them a whole bunch of stuff. We had several run-ins with Galactor around that time- she'd been training me to fight since I was 12, so she gave me a bird-suit like you guys have, and I took care of it. In any case. Your teammates are in the lounge downstairs, waiting to come see you. You'll see them soon. My mother's still operating on your friend Joe. The bit with the viewscreens was a test of your mind's ability to image process, to check for brain damage. You don't have any. And why you're alive... could take some time."
"Well, if I have a choice, I'd rather see my teammates now, and let the explanation wait."
"Okay," David said with relief. "I'll go get them."
"One thing- why are they up and around already, and I'm not?"
"You were deader than they were," David said. "I mean, that Hypersuit really screwed you up. Your friends Jun, Jinpei and Ryu were hardly injured, they were just dead."
"Like I said. It'll take a while to explain."
Ken sighed. "Get my friends, please," he said. "I'd rather see them first."
"Right." David left.
Ken was by now strong enough to reach the pitcher of water by himself. He sipped at the glass he'd poured, less thirsty than simply wanting something to do. All this unnerved him somewhat, he had to admit. Dimly, he remembered dying. More dimly, he remembered something- a unity, a... transcendence. And a loss. And after that- nothing, until this.
So Teriani Kymel had worked with Dr. Rafael. Ken had been burned too often ever to turn off his suspicion completely, and he remembered quite well that Rafael had admitting to having been a Galactor once. But no, he didn't think Teriani was a Galactor. Her son appeared too innocent... and yet. There was no country Keirai, of that Ken was sure. His grasp of pre- and post-war geography was rock-firm. There was a mystery here, and Ken was determined to find it out... but later. Right now, he wanted to see his teammates.
The door burst open. "Ken n'aniki!" Jinpei shouted, and flung himself at Ken's sitting form. Startled, Ken couldn't get his glass of water out of the way in time, and it went sloshing all over himself and Jinpei. Jinpei didn't appear to notice. "Oh, aniki, we thought you were dead! We thought you were dead!" His voice was almost a sob.
"Well, I seem to be alive now," Ken said. He folded one arm around Jinpei's still-small frame and looked up at the other two. Jun and Ryu stood in the doorway, both looking hesitant and somewhat awed. Both said, softly, "Ken!"
"Jun, Ryu." Ken looked down. "Jinpei." Jinpei looked up at him. "You don't know how relieved I am to see all of you."
"You relieved to see us?" Ryu said. "You're the one who's been a coma for two weeks!" He came over to the bed, sat down on it, pulled Ken free of Jinpei and squeezed him in a bearhug, then released him. "Hey, you're all wet."
"I was holding a glass of water when Jinpei attacked me," Ken explained.
"Oh! I'm sorry, aniki, I..."
"Don't worry about it," Ken said, and messed up Jinpei's hair. He grinned up at Ryu. "Careful with those bearhugs. I'm an invalid, you know."
Ryu pounded him on the back, making Ken cough. "You, an invalid? If you're up and talking, you're in better shape than any of us, probably!"
Then Jun approached, somewhat shyly. "Ken..."
"Jun." Ken looked up at her- and just like that, the other two ceased to exist.
They had first become lovers in the interregnum between Katse and Gel Sadra's reigns over Galactor, when they had dared to hope that perhaps Sosai X was truly gone, that perhaps they would really have peace. Jun had had an uphill battle all the way- Ken had wanted to love her, but had been psychologically damaged somewhere. He couldn't accept love, not that way, not when there was some chance it could be consummated. And he hadn't been entirely sure what his orientation was, anyway, though he'd never admitted that particular problem. It had been six months before Jun had finally gotten Ken into bed, and though he'd enjoyed it, and though it answered at least some of his questions, he feared what he enjoyed. The moment it looked like Sosai X had returned, he broke off their relationship. As long as they were at war, he had a profound distrust of his own pleasure, fearing that it made him a lightning rod for catastrophe. Those he loved, died. Hadn't his actions killed Red Impulse? Hadn't he been unable to save his mother? And Joe's death had accentuated that fear. He turned cold to Jun, fearing that to love her was to give her death, as he'd given Joe.
Joe's return didn't alleviate anything. Ken was fairly sure, by now, that he was straight, and that he wasn't actually in love with Joe, something he'd wondered about for the three years of the war with Katse. But he became convinced, in a creeping paranoid fashion, that Jun and Joe had taken up together. He tried very hard not to be jealous of either of them, and went out of his way to try to convince Joe that their relationship was no different. But he misinterpreted Joe's furtive secrecy as indications that Joe was hiding something from him- which he was, but it had nothing to do with Jun. Even when they learned Joe was a cyborg, Ken was not entirely convinced. He tried to persuade himself that it didn't matter. Didn't Joe deserve it? Hadn't he died for the cause? For that matter, didn't Jun deserve it? Ken certainly wasn't capable, then, of giving her what she needed. Who was he to stand between them?
Finally, Joe had taken him aside and flat-out asked him why he wasn't Jun's lover. "If you keep on rejecting her, maybe she'd turn to me, sooner or later. And if you didn't exist, I'd jump at the chance. But she's yours, Ken. She'll always be yours. And as long as you're alive, I'm not going to go near her." Ken had felt a profound and incredible relief, and that made him realize just how much he'd feared a relationship between the two.
But he still wasn't capable of coming back to her, then. It wasn't until after he started using the Hypersuit that his attitudes changed. For one thing, the violent emotional upheavals he experienced while using it made his sex drive go through the roof, and he wasn't able to sublimate it totally anymore. For another, the fact that he was suffering, that he was so close to death, made it permissible for him to have pleasure. Things were balanced again. So he asked Jun to take him back. And Jun, sweet loving Jun, gave him far more than he deserved when she agreed.
He looked at her now, and the reticence and fears of the past seemed ridiculous to him now. Did he have to dance on the edge of death before he could love? They had a second chance now, and he intended to make the most of it.
Jinpei and Ryu, unnoticed, got off the bed as Jun knelt on it. "Oh, Ken," she said softly, and hesitantly reached for him.
He met her more than halfway, and kissed her, with, finally, no awkwardness or guilt. Her arms went around him tightly, more tightly than he could manage to return right now, and when they finally broke for air she whispered, "I was so afraid... Oh, Ken, I'm so glad you're back!"
"What happened to us? Do you know?"
Jun moved back slightly, settling herself. "No. Dave- you met him, just now, right? explained where we were, but not why we're alive."
"I remember... being dead," Ken said slowly. "And-"
"Yes. All of us do. We were together, as part of the Phoenix."
"Onechan remembers it best," Jinpei said. "But I do too. Remember being dead, I mean. At least, I think we were. I don't remember what killed us, though."
"Z did," Jun said. "Z's dying energies were too much for our systems to handle, after we'd been so weakened by the battle."
"What's it matter?" Ryu asked. "We're alive now, right? Isn't that all that matters?"
"And Joe," Jinpei said.
"I wasn't forgetting Joe."
"What's really wrong with Joe?" Ken asked. "Have you seen him?"
"No..." Jun said.
"By viewscreen." Jinpei's voice was graver than usual. "I insisted. He was in bad shape, aniki- he was so covered in tubes and wires it was like there wasn't anything there of him."
"I told you," David said. Ken started, realizing that David had been in the doorway the whole time, unnoticed and forgotten. "His cybernetics didn't translate across."
"You said," Jun said, "you were going to tell us how we came back from the dead when Ken woke up."
"Well, I'll tell you," David said, "but I'm not entirely sure you'll understand the explanation. I'm not absolutely positive I understand, myself." He pressed a button on the wall, and chairs came out of the floor, enough for all of them to sit. Jun didn't take a chair, but stayed on Ken's bed. The chair David seated himself in was closest to the door, and faced the others.
"There was a device your Director Nambu gave you before you left Earth," he began. "I don't know how my mother knew about it, but she did. It was a pendant of some sort... Let me begin at the very beginning."
Jun looked at Ken. "The memento the Director left us?"
"What did that have to do with bringing us back to life?" Ken asked.
"I'll get to it, but I have to explain the background. First off, I'm going to ask you to accept that souls exist. They're a form of energy that 'traditional' science hasn't been able to discover yet, but my mother's developed techniques that prove their existence."
"How can you prove a soul exists?"
"A lot of complicated math. For now, just take it on faith, okay? Souls exist, generally in... um., let's simplify this. Generally in two parts, more or less. One part can be considered to be a recording, which has a template of the body down to the genetic structure, the memories, and the personality. The other part is the immortal part, the part that can't be created or destroyed. That part can be merged with other souls, or divided, but you can't destroy it. You can destroy the other part.
"While it's not possible to create a soul, it is possible to create an energy field powered by souls, which sort of- well- combines the souls that fuel it. On one level, the Phoenix Effect is a result of plasma energy sheaths. On another, the Phoenix is an energy field, powered by a combination of your five souls- or whoever happens to be aboard when you do a Phoenix Effect, but it's mostly just the five of you. When you would merge into the Phoenix, the recordings, the parts of you that were your memories and personalities, stayed in your bodies- but the immortal parts of your souls would combine into a new soul, the soul of the Phoenix. You might not even really have been aware of it, since the parts that were 'you' were mostly undisturbed. but as a result, this energy field began to develop a recording of its own.
"Recording souls can be created and destroyed, like I said. They happen whenever a soul interacts through a vessel, such as a body or an energy field like the Phoenix, to influence the real world. As a result of you five linking, you created a Phoenix entity. It was only alive when the five of you were there, linked into it-"
"That doesn't make sense," Ryu interrupted. "Dr. Pandora flew the first God Phoenix once by herself and did a Phoenix Effect. You're saying it needed the five of us."
"No, no. The recording was originally created by a combination of the five of you, because you were the ones who did it most often. Once that recording was created, another person's soul could power the Phoenix- though how only one person could manage it... It'd take a person who was very spiritual and very in touch with themselves to power the Phoenix all by themselves, without you, and not be consumed by it. Maybe that's what happened. Anyway, the Phoenix is just one example of the energy fields. The Gatchafencer was one as well, this time powered by Ken's soul alone. And the pendant, to get back to the point, contained the recording of the Phoenix soul, taken from the old God Phoenix.
"When the five of you died, your true souls, deprived of their physical bodies, took on the other configuration that seemed natural for you- you formed into the Phoenix, pulled together by the recording of the Phoenix soul. Soul recordings attract their true souls, and vice versa. Your own soul recordings were pulled along for the ride- eventually they'd have burnt away, and the five of you would be the Phoenix, with nothing left of your individual selves. The Phoenix, being a creature of an energy field, latched onto the Gatchaspartan, which was designed to feed the Gatchafencer's field through the Hypersuit. It pulled the 'spartan together and merged with it.
"Now like I said, souls are a kind of energy. They can't be created or destroyed, but they can be intercepted and captured. Your physical bodies all died inside Z, but your true souls had merged into the Phoenix, which had merged with the Gatchaspartan, and your recording souls were being dragged along for the ride. My mother intercepted the Phoenix and divided it, destroying the linkage the pendant had created. The five of you separated into individual souls, each with a recording soul attached. Then she used the blueprint of the recording soul to recreate your bodies, using- anybody here seen Star Trek?"
"All six versions," Jinpei said proudly. "In Japanese and English."
"Okay, you know the transporter? It makes a plan of a human body, encodes the plan in energy, and then reintegrates the energy into matter. Well, what a recording soul is, is this plan of a body, plus the mind. My mother has the technology to build a human body, based on the plan of the recording soul. Then the soul is drawn back in. Mind you, if all there is is a recording soul- it happens sometimes, in the case of certain types of ghosts- the body won't be animate. It won't live. The fact that all of you are alive proves that your true souls all went where they were supposed to go."
"What about Joe?" Ken asked.
"Okay. See, the recording soul doesn't just record what the body would be like if it were perfect. Disabilities affect the mind, and therefore the recording soul. The recording soul is a plan of the body, the exact way it was when it died. When we translated the three of you-" he looked at Jun, Jinpei and Ryu- "all we had to do was fix the immediate cause of death, which was neural paralysis due to the energies Z put out when it died. When we did you-" he looked at Ken- "we had to fix the damage to your cellular structure, and that took over a month. It didn't help that you have a genetic predisposition to leukemia. But Joe- well, simply put, his cybernetics were not recorded, any more than your clothes were. He came across as a brain and a heart and not much else, and my mother has been working around the clock to build him a new body."
Jinpei whistled in grudging belief. "This is weird," he said. "But is Joe gonna be okay?"
"Back from the dead." Jun said the words as if tasting them, or checking to see how they fit on her tongue. "We're back from the dead. Ken, do you believe it?"
"Why?" Ken asked David. "Why did your mother go to all this trouble for us? I mean- even if she did work for ISO once, even if she worked with Dr. Rafael- why? I'm not complaining, mind you, but I'd like to understand."
"If you had the technology to bring people back from the dead, wouldn't you?"
"Of course- but that's not the point. Your mother doesn't go around bringing everyone back, does she?"
"Well, you had the pendant and the Phoenix-"
"How does she know so much about us? To know about the Phoenix Effect is one thing, but to know more about it than we do-!" Jun said.
"And how did she know about that pendant?" Ryu asked. "I mean, we didn't go around telling people or anything, and Dr. Kamo knew, but no one else."
"Yes," Jun said. "Dave, we're not criticizing you, or complaining about what your mother's done for us- we'd just like to know why."
"And where she learned so much about us," Jinpei added.
"I don't know," David said. "I honestly don't know. Maybe if you ask her-"
"She's not exactly the most talkative person in the universe," Jinpei said.
Ken grinned. "Was she as abrupt with you as she was with me?"
"I've been trying to get straight answers out of her for a month now, aniki, but no luck. She pretends like she doesn't hear the question, or she says to ask Dave. Who wouldn't give us too many answers before today, either." He looked at David.
"Hey. Hey. I do my best, okay?" Dave put his hands up in a placating gesture. "Mother said to wait until Ken woke up to try to explain how we saved you. You guys can explain it to Joe- I'm not going to go through all that again."
"But Dave," Jun said winningly, "we didn't understand it well enough to explain it to Joe. Maybe if you explained it all again..."
"Arggh!" Dave tore his hair and went wild-eyed, while the other three laughed. Ken could see that his teammates were on a reasonably friendly basis with David- well, they had been awake longer, and certainly had had plenty of time to interact with the young man. Seeing him play along with Jun's teasing, Ken decided that Dave was probably more or less a good sort, but that he was incredibly dominated by his mother. He seemed to understand what he was talking about- and Ken had actually understood his explanation, though his mind boggled at the thought of a technology so advanced it could capture souls. But Dave's hesitation to commit to an explanation, his constant self-deprecation and references to his mother as the absolute authority on everything, struck Ken as the sign of one unmanned by a domineering mother.
And the mother was still a mystery wrapped around an enigma. Where did she come from, and what was she doing with so much knowledge of the Science Ninja Team? Not to mention- Ken knew enough about science to know that scientific discoveries didn't come out of nowhere. Even the greatest geniuses had to work from the basis of what was known. Yet Teriani Kymel's scientific knowledge was more advanced even than Galactor's, if she could restore the dead to life. Where had she gotten such godlike knowledge?
"Will we get a chance to sit down with your mother and talk?" he asked.
"Probably not until after Joe recovers, but yeah, you'll get your chance, I'm sure. She's just a bit- well, she's always doing something, and she doesn't always want to take the time to explain."
"You can say that again," Ryu said.
"She's always doing something," David began with a straight face, "and she doesn't always want-"
Jun removed Ken's pillow and handed it ceremoniously to Jinpei, who swatted Dave with it and ceremoniously handed it back. David grinned, and almost against his will Ken found himself grinning back. "They're so violent," David said to Ken. "I'm glad you're finally awake to put some restraints on them- they've just been abusing me right and left."
"You love it," Jinpei said. "Admit it. You beg to be abused. You have a T-shirt that says 'Whip Me, Beat Me, Make Me Write Bad Checks'."
"Yes, but you're taking shameless advantage of a poor defenseless masochist. You ought to be ashamed of yourself." He stood up. "And speaking of shame, it would be an awful shame if Ken had a relapse because we bugged him to death. I'm leaving now- I'll leave you guys alone with him for half an hour; then, assuming he's still alive, you'll have to leave and let him get some rest."
When Joe first came to consciousness, he was aware of his body as a leaden, inert thing, weighing him down. His own heaviness seemed almost unbearable- a sign of severe energy drain, he knew too well.
There was a woman's voice, irritated. "You're not supposed to be awake yet."
Joe opened his eyes. For a second, the light was blindingly bright; then it was as if a polarized film slid down over his eyes, making the brightness manageable. A small, dark-haired woman in a tight black bodysuit with a lab coat over it was leaning over him. He couldn't seem to focus well enough to make out any of her features.
"Where..." he slurred. It was an incredible effort of will simply to talk.
"Where are you? Having your life saved aboard my space station. I'm Dr. Teriani Kymel, you're Joe Asakura, your teammates are all safe and alive and you can see them just as soon as I decide your health can tolerate it. Which is not the case, at the moment." She was doing something in the vicinity of his chest. He couldn't see what.
"Why won't your body move? Because your power pack isn't hooked up yet. You were supposed to stay unconscious until I did that. Now be quiet. This might hurt at first, but you'll feel better in a few minutes." She did something that he couldn't feel, and something else that produced a distant but grating ache, like the feel of a dentist's drill when you've been shot full of Novocaine. And then something that hurt very much, like an explosion of fire in his belly. Joe gasped in shock, without strength to scream.
"That did hurt? I'm sorry. But your systems should be coming on-line now."
He was on fire. The burning spread from his chest and stomach throughout, running molten lava in his veins. With the pain, perversely, came strength. It was like charging himself up with electricity, like an injection of stimulants into the vein. He was a Phoenix, burning and being reborn from the flames.
...a Phoenix? Something about that...
The woman looked down at him with concern. "I'm sorry. Nothing can be done about the pain. It'll pass quickly."
"I don't... care... about the pain," Joe grated out in gasps. As strength returned, he sat up. The world spun dizzily for a second, until the circuits implanted in his brain compensated. The pain proved he was alive, he could feel. He had expected to be dead.
"My teammates. Where-"
"I told you. In good health, aboard my space station, and eager to see you, which they won't do until I've judged you fit."
Joe could see himself now. He was lying- well, he was sitting now- on a yielding surface that happened to be completely invisible. It felt solid to him, and yet electrodes snaked through it without being impeded, attaching all over his body. There was an odd scar on his chest, three sides of a square. He was also naked. "I want clothes," he growled.
"Fine. Stay still." She pressed a button and all the electrodes removed themselves from his body, sliding back into the equipment from which they came. "You've got to be ultra-careful. You're not used to your new body yet, and so you may end up moving faster than you mean to."
"What did you do to me?"
"Built you a new body. The old one, I'm afraid, traded in its warranty aboard Sosai Z. This one is more organic than the one Rafael built you- that was a bare step up from android- but also more efficient." She opened a closet and withdrew jeans, briefs, and a T-shirt. "No shoes yet, I'm afraid- I'm still working on them. But since you're on a space station, you'll have no real need for shoes for a while."
Joe took the clothes from her, annoyed. He knew it was hardly her fault- she was saving his life- but he didn't like being nude in front of female doctors. As far as he was concerned, there was only one situation in which a woman ought to be looking at his body. Attractive female doctors made him especially uncomfortable. And while this Dr. Kymel was no teenage sex goddess, she was not exactly an asexual, withered-up crone, either. "Why won't you let me see my teammates?"
Kymel picked up a sponge from a table, turned toward him and threw it. "Catch!"
Joe's hand snapped up to intersect the sponge's trajectory, but he found himself grasping air before the sponge reached him, and he could not unclench and grab again in the milliseconds before the sponge went past. "Damn!"
"Jumping the gun," Kymel said. "Remember that, from when Dr. Rafael first woke you up? Your mind had to learn to compensate for your new speed. Your reflexes are faster than you think they are."
"How do you know about Dr. Rafael?"
"I helped him. Just because he called Sosai X to Earth didn't mean X taught him everything. I was the one who told him how to destroy X, and he implemented it in you. You don't have a black box anymore, by the way."
"How did you know how to destroy X?"
"That's not important right now-"
"Yes it is." He stepped forward, boxing her in. "I want to know."
Kymel didn't appear to fear his implied threat. "I'll explain everything to you and the rest of your team when you're well," she said. "But I really don't feel like going into it twice. You can wait."
"Oh, don't be ridiculous. Do you think I'm a Galactor, or something?" She looked up at him, her eyes directly boring into his. "Do you?"
"I don't know. All I know- is that I don't know anything, except what you decide to tell me. And you could be lying."
"Why exactly would a Galactor take the risk of saving your life, Joe?"
"To trick me into working for them, by pretending they weren't Galactor."
"Well, I don't need you to work for me. I saved your life because of an obligation I owed to Director Nambu. I'm not a Galactor and I never have been- far from it."
"Then why won't you let me see Ken and the others?"
"Because!" She threw up her hands in exasperation. "Your reflexes aren't properly calibrated and neither is your strength. If you have some kind of emotional reunion scene, you could end up hurting them. And do you want them to see you in poor health? We can get you calibrated in two days, if you work at it. Then you can see them, I'll explain how all of you survived, and I'll answer all your questions. All right?"
"All right." Joe backed off slightly. "Let's get me calibrated. But if you're lying to me-"
"Condor Joe, you are the last person in the universe any intelligent being would want to lie to. Now. You remember the exercises Rafael taught you?"
"I think so."
"Well, let's go over them again."
Once Ken was well enough to walk, a matter of days after his awakening, Dave took him on a tour of the station. Jun went with him, more to be with him than any desire to see the station, while Jinpei and Ryu stayed behind.
"It's laid out in a spiral," Dave said, leading them through the corridors. "Artificial gravity is generated from the floors. In the center of the base, we keep the hangar, with our spaceship, the Minapai."
"Let's see it," Ken said.
"Sure, why not?" Dave led them to a doorway. "There are free-fall cross-hatches that lead down there. Faster to go that way."
The passageway beyond the door had no gravity. As soon as they entered, there was a sensation of floating, gently drifting in free fall. Dave pushed off the wall, toward the ceiling (or what would have been the ceiling, in the corridor orientation- now it was just another wall), and proceeded down the passageway, pushing off various walls in diagonal jumps. Ken and Jun, trained in free fall maneuvers as well, followed.
Then David grabbed onto a ladder on what had been the floor, and oriented himself so he was now climbing up it. He opened the hatch above his head. "Careful," he said. "We're coming out into gravity."
They followed him up the ladder. Now they were coming out through a hatch in the floor of an immense hangar. The room was spherical, with light fixtures spaced at regular intervals in the floor and ceiling. "Why are there lights in the floor?" Jun asked.
"Spherical room with the gravity projected from the floor. We can walk all the way around it. Look over there."
Jun gasped. "Oh, it's beautiful!"
It was beautiful, in fact. After the New God Phoenix, Ken had thought it was impossible for a stylized bird ship to look anything other than crude. This one, however, was beauty and grace and all the things the New God Phoenix had not been, to the point that it hardly looked like a spaceship. It sat on its cradle like a golden-red bird, with wings spread and a graceful, arched neck- it looked a lot like the Phoenix did, actually, but it was a solid creature, with green underplumage and without the Phoenix's eye-stabbing brilliance.
"Minapai. It means Starbird," David said, grinning. "We came here in that three years ago."
"How- where did you build that?" Ken asked, amazed.
"On Earth. Somewhere. I don't know where Mom got the work done."
"Is it really a spaceship?" Jun asked. "I mean- can it go to places like Mars and Venus?"
"It could go to the stars, if we wanted to take it that far," David said.
Ken shook his head in wonder, staring. It shouldn't surprise him that people who had to power to bring the dead to life should be able to travel to the stars- but none of it made sense. Where had Teriani Kymel gotten this kind of technology?
While the others went on their tour, Jinpei and Ryu sat in one of the lounges, snacking on potato chips and discussing their host.
"No, I'm sure she's not a Galactor," Ryu was saying. "Mind you, she doesn't feel quite right. There's something she's not telling us, you know what I mean?"
"Yeah. I know." Jinpei reached for more of the chips.
"But I don't think she's Galactor. I mean, why would she bring us back to life, if she was?"
"Well, I don't really think she's a Galactor, either," Jinpei said. "I'm just worried. All our lives're in her hands, and that makes me nervous."
"Ken doesn't seem too nervous."
"Sometimes aniki's not paranoid enough for his own good."
"You can't be too paranoid, either." Ryu poured himself a cola.
"I know. I know. Listen, you know what she reminds me of? Dr. Rafael. Like, she would sacrifice anyone and anything to do what she thinks is right. Something like- like the Director was, but now- I don't know. Maybe it was just because we knew the Director so well, and we don't know her at all, but it seems to me that she's more ruthless than he was. More like Rafael. And Rafael was going to let Joe n'aniki blow himself up to get to Sosai X."
"Well, you can't know that," Ryu argued. "I mean, about Dr. Kymel. She hasn't done anything ruthless."
"I don't know, Ryu. Sometimes I get feelings about people, and there's something seriously strange with that woman..."
"But you don't think she's evil, do you, Jinpei? I think she's a good person."
"You thought Berg Katse was a hot babe once, if I remember right."
Ryu went red. "How do you remember that? You were a kid!"
"My memory's better'n you think."
"Well, he was a hot babe. It was a really good disguise. You were just suspicious 'cause you're suspicious of everybody. And it worked out okay, that time, but..."
"No, I guess I don't think she's evil, exactly. But- well, will you look at Dave?"
"What's wrong with Dave? Seems like a nice, friendly guy to me."
"Me too. But his mom leads him around by his nose. He acts like she's God. Like- like Gel Sadra used to act around Sosai X, that's how he acts toward her."
"Well, you don't think she's one of Sosai X's kind, do you?"
"No, no- aren't they all dead? Their planet blew up. All I'm saying is, that woman controls Dave totally. Don't you see it? I mean, I never had a mom myself, so maybe I'm off base, but you never acted that way toward your dad."
"I see it," Ryu said, "but I don't think there's got to be anything really bad there. She's a strong woman, and he's her only son. Maybe it's just natural that she'd lead him around so much like she does. Jinpei, I think you've been fighting too long. You've forgotten how to trust people. You're getting to be a lot like Joe."
"Maybe I am," Jinpei said. "I don't know."
"If you don't know," a familiar male voice said, "maybe you shouldn't talk so much."
"Wha-?" Jinpei and Ryu both spun around. Standing in the doorway of the lounge was a very familiar figure, one they hadn't seen in a while, grinning.
"No 'Hello'?" he asked, since the two of them were too dumbfounded to speak.
"Joe!" Jinpei shouted. Suspicions forgotten, he broke into a wide smile and flung himself at the older man. "I've missed you so much, Joe n'aniki!"
Ryu came over and pounded Joe on the back as Jinpei hugged him. "It's great to see you again, Joe! We were starting to think you'd never show up. How d'you feel?"
"I'd feel a lot better if the two of you weren't strangling me," Joe said, but he was still grinning. "It's good to see you again."
Jinpei stepped back from him. "What happened, Joe? How come it took so long?"
"It was necessary to retrain his reflexes," Teriani Kymel said, stepping from behind Joe into the room. "He's actually been conscious a few days now, but I thought it was too dangerous not to wait."
"Dangerous?" Jinpei's eyes had a cold edge to them. "What do you mean?"
"She was afraid I'd crush you accidentally," Joe said flatly. "Where's Ken and Jun?"
"On a tour. We didn't know you'd be getting up now," Ryu said.
"They're coming back. I summoned them here," Teriani said. "'The time has come, the Walrus said/To talk of many things.'"
"What?" Jinpei was the one who said it, but Ryu and Jinpei looked equally perplexed. They knew enough English to understand the words of the sentence, but it still made little sense.
"It's a quote from a 19th-century children's novel. Written in English, obviously," Teriani explained. "You may have noticed a few mysteries floating about the place. I plan to clarify everything."
"About time!" Jinpei said.
Another door irised open. "Are we missing the party?" Dave asked, as he stepped through the door with Ken and Jun behind.
"Joe!" Jun shouted. She slipped past dave and ran to Joe, hugging him. "Welcome back, at last! Oh, Joe, we missed you so much!"
And then Joe and Ken faced each other. "It's been a long time, Joe," Ken said. "I've missed the hell out of you."
Then they were embracing each other and laughing, pounding each other on the back. The rest of the team got involved, and there was a huge five-way hug, while Dave watched cheerfully and Teriani with a look of amused indulgence on her face.
Teriani spoke, finally. "When you all feel ready, I'm willing to answer your questions."
The five-way hug broke up, and they separated into a half-circle, taking the seats scattered around the lounge. "All right," Ken said. "To begin with, how did you know about the pendant? Why do you know so much about us? Where did this-"
"Wait." Teriani shook her head. "Let me explain in order, from the beginning. That should answer all your questions. If you have any others afterward, we can discuss them then."
"Right." Teriani took a deep breath. "In the first place. I am a native of the planet Keirai, several million light-years from here."
"WHAAT?" Dave stared at her. "Mom- it's not funny. I thought you were going to give them an explanation, not play mind games."
"I am giving them an explanation, Dave. And you as well. I haven't liked keeping you so ignorant of your heritage, and now I no longer need to. My name in my own language, Kymel Teriani ji'Asapei, means Teriani of the Kymel line, the Asapei clan. My sole parent was Kymel Sathari ji'Asapei, and David here is my sole child, half-Keiraine, half-human."
"You can't be," David pleaded. "I- I'm not an alien. I'm human! I-"
"Keiraines and Terrans are genetically identical," she said. "There's a few minor differences between us, but only fractionally greater than the differences between the subtypes of humanity, not enough to prevent cross-breeding. You never wondered about the fact that you never heard of a country called Keirai, because I planted hypnotic blocks. But think about it now. The blocks shouldn't have that much inertia."
"You hypnotized your own son to keep him from wondering about these things?" Ken asked. "Why?"
She looked oddly sad. "I wanted him to be happy," she said. "So he wouldn't be an exile, like me. This is his world, and I thought it would be best if he never knew any other. I never thought we would be going home."
"You're going to go home?" Jinpei asked.
"One thing at a time. Keirai is one of the most advanced planets in the universe- at least, we've never found anywhere more advanced than us. There are several planets in your galaxy and in ours with humans and human-like beings on them- either genetically identical, as Keiraines and Terrans are, or very similar in appearance. As far as we know, they all evolved separately, though there's a theory that Lareem and Keylen may have had something to do with it. A number of the worlds were conquered by the Selectran Empire, as were many worlds of non-human races. Keirai has managed to stay free by the intervention of our- founders, our gods, our avatars, Lareem and Keylen. Two of the greatest geniuses known on any of the worlds, they manipulated space and time to create pocket dimensions, built the technological base of Keirai, and molded Keiraine society to be a perfect, stable utopia."
She sighed. "Unfortunately, they've been dead for nearly three thousand years, and in all that time, very little has changed. The eternal war with Selectro meant that all our creativity, our originality, was channeled into weapons of war. In everything else, we are stagnant, stopped, our civilization declining into decadence. My clan, the clan of Asapei, saw this and fought it- which is why David and I are all that remains of them. There was a deathpaper- a warrant for my assassination- put on me for my political activities, and I was forced to flee to your world. I thought this was far enough from Selectro's sphere of influence that the evil would never come here..." She shook her head sadly. "As you've seen, I was wrong."
"If your world is a million light-years away, then how did you get there? Even if you have faster-than-light travel, it seems a little far," Jun said.
"No, not really. You see, we do have faster-than-light, or more precisely a method of warping time, but that's not what we use for traveling, primarily. There are- holes, in the fabric of space-time. If there are four dimensions to the universe, you can imagine that these holes poke out into the fifth dimension. As if space were folded, wrinkled. There are gateways through time and space, which is what we tend to use. And there's no correlation between distance and the likelihood of a gateway connecting two points. There's a gateway that leads directly to Earth from Keirai. I came through that, and landed just outside Japan, where I met a man as intelligent as I myself. The man who became David's father."
"Who?" Ryu asked. "Anyone we know?"
"Yes. Kozaburo Nambu."
David had been staring at her throughout her recitation. "What?" he asked, softly, as if it surprised him and yet could not, as if his capacity for surprise was burned out.
Teriani ignored him. "Since he was your mentor, it might seem strange to you, to think of him this way- but we fell in love. We were married, and David was born. Then we learned of the threat of Galactor, and their knowledge of alien technology. At the time, I wasn't sure it was Selectro- there are other imperialist powers in space. But this was my adopted world, and I had no desire to see it fall to any alien imperialists.
"Keirai forbids those of my caste, the Techs, to teach our secrets to anyone who is not a Tech. But Keirai had exiled me. Kozaburo and I worked to find a common ground for our science- since, of course, I knew as much about your technology as you know about medieval blacksmithing- and once we found one, I taught him a good bit of Keiraine science. Most of the most advanced principles were beyond even his understanding- he'd have had to study them all his life, as I did. Other things turned out to be impractical. But I taught as much as I could to Kozaburo, an engineer named Saburo Kamo, and a few other people you've never met. Together we designed the Bird Styles, the Phoenix Effect, and other things."
"That was you?" Ken asked incredulously. "I asked Dr. Nambu where he'd gotten the technology for the Bird Styles, and he said an agent of an advanced race that had battled the Selectrans for centuries had done it."
"Why did you tell me he was dead?" Dave burst out. "He didn't die until two months ago or so, but you said he died when I was twelve! Why?"
"We decided that when Galactor finally surfaced and the Gatchamen began to fight them, his future position as coordinator might put you and me in danger. So we- divorced, and I encouraged you to forget him. But it was still dangerous. Galactor attacked us in a car, and... nearly killed us."
"I don't remember that."
"I know you don't. The trauma disrupted a lot of your memories. I arranged it so it looked like they'd succeeded, that we were dead. Then we moved to America, where I told you he'd died." She looked away from David, whose eyes were bright with grief. "Ashorei dai..." The words were alien, but from the tone, it sounded as if she meant "Forgive me" or "I'm sorry."
"Is that why you saved us?" Jun asked gently. "Because you loved him?"
"No- well, yes, in a sense, but it's more complicated than that-" She took another deep breath. "On Keirai is an extremely sophisticated- computer, I suppose you could call it- called the Eternity Matrix. It was created by Lareem and Keylen, and it has the power to warp through time. Using it, I can draw in the wavefront of Kozaburo's departing soul, at the moment of his death, and use it to recreate him- to bring him back to life, the same way I did you. But I can only do this if I can get access to the Matrix. It's protected by Lareem and Keylen's codes, to prevent usage by unscrupulous people, but I can break them, given time. However-" she looked at each of them in turn- "as I said, there's a deathpaper on me out on Keirai. I'll need your protection, or I won't live long enough to bring him back. This must be your own choice, because it's very dangerous, but- will you come with me to Keirai? To save your foster father's life?"
Something about the notion of such a powerful device in anyone's hands bothered Ken, but- to use it to bring Dr. Nambu back to life? Back from the dead, as Ken and his team had been, to be given a second chance? Ken hadn't been able to save him, when Egobossler had shot him- it would be a second chance for him as well. How could that be wrong? And how could he refuse to help? "Doctor- I won't speak for all my team, but if there is any way Director Nambu could be alive again, I'll sacrifice anything I have for that chance. I'll come with you."
"That goes for me, too," Joe said.
"Yeah, and me-"
"Count me in-"
"I think Ken spoke for all of us," Jun said. "We'll all go with you."
"And when we succeed," David said, his voice on the edge of cracking, "when he comes back, will you let me be his son? Will you let him know the truth?"
"He'll know you the moment he sees you, David," Teriani said. "And when he does, there'll be no way I could keep you apart, even if I wanted to. There's no need to hide anymore- Galactor is dead, there's no need for us to be apart anymore-" Another deep breath. When she next spoke, it was more calmly.
"If you're all agreed, come with me. I'll show you how to fly faster than time itself."