“I hope you realise you’ll never get away with this. You might kill everyone in here, but one day you’ll find yourself in the same position as us right now.” the man said with a surprising calmness in his voice in spite of the scores of green-clad soldiers pointing guns at him and his co-workers.
The soldiers laughed, but their leader refrained from joining them. His expression was rendered inscrutable by that purple mask of his. Until then, his interest in his prey seemed to be vague at most.
They stood on the grassy outskirt of a tiny village in Africa. It was a beautiful sunny day. It has been a week since the rains have passed so the savannah was full of life. Every bush, every grass, every flower was in full bloom. The air was fragrant. Songs of birds and insects came from every direction. And here they were, a pack of predators, surrounding a herd of powerless gazelles.
“Oh. Is that so? So in your based opinion, what are we?” the lion asked.
“A bunch of savages.”
“And why is that?”
“You’ve just massacred sixty people. Boys. Elderly. Everyone. Sixty innocent people. You are nothing but scum.”
Hearing those harsh words, the soldiers exchanged nervous glances. They were quite sure that their leader would be pretty angry. And they didn’t like him being angry; mostly because they fancied themselves happier with bullets in their magazines rather than stuck in their skulls. Their illustrious leader, however, didn’t batter an eyelash. Well, at least not from what they could see.
“And you are…?”
“Thomas Everett, 42, member of ISO, peace activist, member of International Red Cross, distributor of humanitarian aid.”
This was recited rapidly not by Mr. Everett, but by another soldier, who stood behind Berg Katse. This one was clad in indigo and grey. His voice had a vague eastern-European accent.
“Well, don’t you sound like a goody two shoes…” Katse said and the soldiers laughed for no particular reason. “…in any case, I have some time on my hands and people like you intrigue me. Let’s see what more do you have to say.”
The engines of the huge, bearded vulture-shaped mecha lit up as if reminding everyone to hurry up.
“We’re leaving. Dispose of the rest.” Katse said, turned around, and walked towards the entrance.
The blue-clad soldier walked over to Mr. Everett, and pressed the muzzle of his gun between his shoulder blades, making him turn away from what shortly became a cacophony of gunfire and dying screams of his friends and colleagues, and follow the instigator of all this inside the enormous vehicle.
The mecha took off.
By the time Mr. Everett was brought to the VIP room, the ground had long since vanished under the cover of puffy white clouds. He couldn’t really remember just how did they get there. All he could see was that pile of human bodies leaking blood he glimpsed when he turned around one last time before the mecha swallowed him.
This was not happening.
Surely no one could be so evil as to execute a group of aid workers few hundred feet away from the already massacred natives, who lay sprawled in the dust with flies swarming on their lifeless bodies. Most of the villagers were below eighteen. At least there were no women among them, though God knows what happened to those. The stench of death was still in his nostrils. Under the influence of his morbid imagination he pictured the stench had seeped into his clothing, blended with his sweat, and penetrated every cell of his body down to the bones.
Suddenly he felt ill, but being brought to this room, where Berg Katse sat already, his nausea quickly changed into anger.
Nothing could be more different from the parched, poverty-stricken country with its brownish grass, dusty ground and glaring sun. This room was air-conditioned to perfection, there was a faint smell of flowers and cigarettes in the air, the view of the sky around them was perfect. The table, separating both men, was made out of a single piece of folded steel. A crimson-blossoming oleander enlivened its greyness with its vivid colour. On the wall behind Berg Katse hung a huge reproduction of Chirico’s Nostalgia of the Infinite. Soft, classical music was playing from hidden speakers. It was the moderato from Antonin Dvorak’s Serenade for string orchestra in E-major. An elating, serene piece.
Berg Katse was looking at some photos, taking them one by one out of an old-fashioned, brown manila folder, ignoring his ‘guest’ until one of his green-clad flunkies entered, bearing a tray with a bottle of wine, two wine glasses, and two shot-glasses filled with a clear liquid which was so cold they have misted over. Bowing, the soldier put the tray down. Katse shooed him away, grabbed the shot-glass and took a teensy little sip.
“Hmm… tastes like a job well done.” He said and downed the rest with one gulp.
“Drink up, Mr. Everett.”
Mr. Everett glanced at the alcohol. He had no intention of drinking anything this monster offered.
“You see, this vodka is produced by a family-run business in far Siberia. They don’t use charcoal for filtering, but they’ve developed an extremely precise form of distillation instead. They have to work very hard, managing their wheat and rye fields. The secrets of the distillation process are passed down from generation to generation. And because they are but a small business, they produce only very limited quantities of vodka. One bad winter or overly wet summer, and the harvest is gone. Surely you don’t want to be rude and disregard the hardships of these people by not drinking it.” Katse chided gently, pulling a sleek assault rifle from under his seat, flicking the safety off and pointing it at his drinking partner.
Mr. Everett gave the vodka a glare. Then he pursed his lips and emptied it in one go. It was ice-cold when it fell down his throat and hot as a furnace when it reached his stomach.
“If you are going to kill me then why do you bother with such a comedy?” Mr. Everett snarled.
Katse merely smirked, grabbed the bottle of wine, and dislodged the cork with an opener he seemed to pull out of thin air.
“This is Beaujolais from the region of C˘te d'Or in France. Grapes are Pinot Noir. Last year’s harvest. It was a good one. Plenty of sunshine, you see. The plants grew out of chalky clay soil and it really shows. When you taste it, it has a sweet edge to it with just the right hint of raspberries.”
Katse poured a bit in both glasses. He spun his, admired the viscosity for a moment, and took a whiff.
“Perfection.” He said, lifting his glass to Mr. Everett.
“Am I here to get lectures on alcohol?” Mr. Everett asked rather brusquely.
Berg Katse poured himself more wine, this time filling about a half of his glass. Then he leaned back in his leather chair and heaved a sigh. It sounded more of pleasure than irritation.
“No. I am merely interested in a little chat. You called me a monster. I’d like to know why.”
“Why? You really need me to tell you?” Mr. Everett asked in disbelief.
“Yes. Yes, actually I do. What is it that makes me a monster?”
“You’ve just shot all those innocent people! Christ! Don’t you have any common sense?”
“Asking a person such as me about whether or not do I have any common sense means that you yourself don’t have any. So I see you don’t like the fact that I’ve shot all those piggies down there… well, we’ll leave that for later. But first of all, Mr. Everett – I’ve been told you work for the International Science Organisation, which is an extension of the UN. Now tell me, Mr. Everett. How am I worse than they are?”
“The difference between me… no, between Galactor and the ISO-UN matrimony.”
“You kill people. We protect them.”
“Okay. I kill people. Well, do you know why I kill them?”
“You want to take over the world.” Mr. Everett said in a more restrained tone. Saying that sentence suddenly brought that song into his head. Yes Pinky, PInky and the Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain……Narf. It was funny, but he chased it away with all his might, as he couldn’t afford to be distracted.
“Yes. I want to take over the world. And do you know why?”
“Well… I assume you want to rule it.”
“Yes, but that’s just a by-product. Do you know what happens once the world has been taken over by us?”
“Mass executions and fascist regime?”
“Well, perhaps, but that’s also just a by-product. Look at the bigger picture. What will happen when the world is taken over?”
“I don’t know what you’re getting at. ” Snarled Mr. Everett. He hated being treated like a dunce.
“I’ll tell you what happens. A unified world happens.” Katse said with excitement almost palpable in his voice.
“I thought people like you would share my vision. You are different from the ones, who say that ever since the Iron Curtain fell, we live in times of peace. Or since the Second World War has ended, depending on whom you ask. I’m quite sure that you, Mr. Humanitarian Worker, don’t believe such silly talk. Low intensity conflicts, terrorist attacks, pirates, wars… the world is constantly at war. Two or more parties are at odds; they take up arms and slaughter each other. If the world was lead by a single fraction, if the people all strove towards the same goal, most of these conflicts would cease to be.
“But alas, we have the UN. These we-don’t-have-the-authority-to-intervene people. Yes. You protect the poor and injured from elements, and then you watch as they kill each other. Where was the UN during the Rwanda genocide? Where were they when Pol Pot slaughtered the entire intelligentsia of Cambodia? Where were they when Sarajevo was turned into a war zone? Or Kenya? Or Ethiopia? What do you do against people, who throw acid in girls’ faces just for the crime of going to school? Millennium Development Goals my ass.
“They always say things like – ‘We don’t have enough assets.’ Or ‘We can’t afford to send soldiers in.’ or ‘We will bring up the topic on the next meeting.’ Stuff like that. Everything is being suffocated by bureaucracy, just because they are anything but unified. They are more concerned with refraining from involving themselves in political matters of foreign countries rather than saving people. And then they go around saying that I’m the monster.”
“But you are. What about those people just now?”
Katse laughed and threw that manila folder of his in front of Mr. Everett. The photos spread themselves over a large portion of the table. Horrible, disgusting photos. Women, elderly and young girls, even girl-children. Some had noses and lips sliced off. Some have been raped. Some have been raped and killed. Their bodies were lying prostrate, bereft of clothes. Their skin might’ve been black, but the flesh underneath was white and the blood red.
Mr Everett put his hand in front of his lips. He felt like throwing up. Quickly grabbing the glass of wine, he emptied it and pushed the photos away towards Katse, who collected them and put them away.
“This is the work of the people I, the monster, have killed. Of the people you, the good guy, have defended. And you know why these women and children were slaughtered? Because you and the other aid workers were nice enough to bring them food and water. When they were still starving, that teenage militia had no reason to assail them.” Katse explained breezily and re-filled Mr. Everett’s glass.
“You know, I have been to Bosnia. I have also been to Uganda. And I have been to Chechnya. And Ethiopia. Everywhere it’s the same song over and over. If the UN is even present, they’ll sit on their hands because no one gave them any orders. Those who give orders sit on their hands because they are afraid that if they’ll seem too gung-ho, they won’t get re-elected in their seats.
“Do you know how does it feel like to be gang-raped in a war-zone? To have a knife plunged over and over in your chest? To eat maggot-infested meat and whore yourself out to scum stinking of sweat and shit for scraps from the kitchen because that’s the only way you’ll get to see tomorrow? No, of course not. You are a gentleman from a respectable background. You never had to kill others to save yourself. You never had to betray the very integrity of your body in order to tear off another bit of future for yourself. You and the other people from the UN never had to do any of that. You’ll just enter the scene riding on your shiny white horses, brandishing your shiny golden swords, and then you’ll point at me and say: Moonstuuuuurrrrrr!!!
“And this is the reality.”
“But… everyone at the ISO strives for one goal.”
“Oh? How so?”
“If it wasn’t that way, the Science Ninja Team would not be able to beat you every single time.”
Yes. The Science Ninja Team. When Mr. Everett thought of them, a part of his dented confidence returned.
“Ah yes. The Science Ninja Team… ISO’s shining star…”
“Yes. You never managed to beat them. Not even once.”
“But you should already know that this war we are waging is not about winning or losing. But it’s a good thing you mentioned Gatchaman and his flunkies. Recently I’ve realised I know another group of young people, striving towards the same goal, doing their best to protect their country and make their leaders proud. A group, where camaraderie and honour was above everything. Do you know who am I talking about?”
“These boys were then sent to defend their country and they did. As properly as they could. Without taking their own lives and safety into consideration. They won quite a few of battles in the process, but war spares no one, not even boys like them. The group I have in mind was called Hitlerjugend.”
“…what? How… how can you… you can’t just compare…” Mr. Everett stammered.
“Of course I can. I can and I will.”
“If… well, if it wasn’t for you wrecking everything up, then there would be no reason for Dr. Nambu to deploy them.”
Katse laughed jovially, amused just as much by what Mr. Everett said as by the expression he had in his face.
“Ah, good old Nambu-hakase… never getting his hands dirty, always watching from a safe distance… instead if doing something about Galactor when he still could, he preferred to grab a bunch of children and train them into killers. I wonder what kind of life they had because of him. If it was like ‘If you don’t kill this mean ol’ criminal, you won’t get any pudding. ’ I’ve noticed that when we had our first clash ever, they were pretty much used to killing. They never hesitated. Not even once. One has to wonder how did Nambu managed to achieve that. I assume he had the kids polish their shooting skills on the many child services workers that came to take them away or something… “
“And good thing we have them. At least someone can kick your ass. They might’ve been forced to kill, but they are also the soldiers on the front lines in the war on Galactor. And one day they will win.” Mr. Everett exclaimed, fired up by the alcohol. On the inside he was horrified, and the more horrified he was, the more he wanted to insult this man in front of him.
To his surprise, Katse burst out laughing again, this time so much, he touched the eye-pieces of his mask as if to wipe the tears away. It was quite a while before he calmed down enough to speak.
“You… ahahaha…. You said they are soldiers…. Fighting a war… Oh, that’s good. I’ve got to tell this one to Shiki…”
Nevertheless a second later the laughter stopped as if a brick fell on his head and he continued with a dead-serious voice.
“Soldiers, fighting a war. That’s actually not funny at all. That’s actually quite offensive. You call these people soldiers? You call what they do a war? They are called into action, they fulfil their objective, pat each other’s shoulder, return back to the base, go home. They don’t have to sleep in a trench. They don’t have to live with a crushing fear of a death which is all too real. They don’t have to shiver in fever or run to the nearest shithole every few minutes because they caught diarrhoea from filthy water. They don’t have to mercy-kill their comrades. They don’t have to treat maggot-infested, gangrenous wounds. They don’t have to sleep surrounded by moans of agony, death rattles, or the stench of festering wounds and shit and piss of those too weak to go and find a toilet. If they get a boo-boo, someone will put a plaster on it. They don’t have to fight their so-called friends over rations. Every day they go home, have a beer, a bath, watch movies, eat steaks and ice creams and chocolate and crisps, they have a commander who doesn’t seem them as mere numbers or insignificant fractions of statistics which are easy to replace. They might even know who and what are they fighting for.
“And that’s no soldier. That’s simply…” Katse paused, staring off into empty space, looking for the correct word “…an errand boy.
“I’m not one to defend humanity, as all humans are nothing but morons or monsters, but calling those children soldiers is like a slap to the face of every war veteran. If you don’t believe me just look at the photos taken by war journalists. See that grit and grime and blood. That thousand-yard stare. That is a soldier. Not those well-fed children in their bright, shiny uniforms and bright, shiny ideals.”
This time Mr. Everett had nothing to say. He knew exactly what Katse was talking about. He saw the pictures. He even saw the real-life versions. His own father was a Vietnam War veteran. It was pretty much a family secret, but he and the other pilots flew the choppers which dropped Agent Orange on unsuspecting civilians. The guilt over this was one of the reasons why Mr. Everett chose to be a humanitarian aid worker.
Perhaps Katse noticed the other man’s confusion, for he refilled both wine glasses, pulled out a couple of cigarettes, offered one and lit himself the other.
“You see, people are not actually bad. At least not that bad. They do most of the fucked-up stuff because they believe something good will come out of it. Or they want to protect something. So they butt heads and discard their humanity. But if the whole world was united, wars would cease to be. By now everyone ought to realise that pretty words and diplomacy just don’t work. There has to be someone forceful enough to conquer both wolves and the sheep. Sure. They will complain and quote the Bill of Human Rights, but with time they’ll realise that although paid by blood, the peace was worth it. We will stop pouring more and more money into the military and invest into research and education instead. Sharia will be abolished. There won’t be any mafias to make money from wars. There won’t be any corruption. We’ll have enough assets and brains to begin a proper space research. We might even see first-hand the outskirts of our solar system. Of our galaxy.”
Katse put his cigarette in the ashtray and took his gloves of. The hands revealed did not belong to a murderer. They were fine hands with delicate, long fingers. Hands which ought to play B÷sendorfer, not the fates of men. He walked behind Mr. Everett and put those beautiful hands on his temples, fingers over the eyes.
“Do you see it? The perfect world. A unified world where people like the two of us don’t exist. Me, because what made me who I am has ceased to be, you, because there is simply no need for you. A world, where humanitarian aid workers assist strictly the victims of disasters which are natural, not human-made. When all is said and done, the UN and ISO, in spite of their ideals and speeches, care little for places outside of their jurisdiction. I, on the other hand, think of the whole world. I realise I have killed many, but these hands of mine are stained by blood of thousands in hope of preserving the lives of millions in the future.”
“But… you can’t just end all the wars in the world on your own.”
“Sure I can. I am special. I know all the sorrow in the world and I know all the joy as well. The UN can never do what I am able to do. They care too much about their budgets. Along with the ISO they want to destroy Galactor, saying it will bring peace. But it never will. Even an idiot can see that. You can never destroy Galactor. As long as there is poverty in the world, as long as there is injustice, as long as there is conflict, we’ll always have enough manpower.
“I don’t blame people like you or Gatchaman for seeing me as the ultimate evil, for this is what you’ve been hearing over and over again. It is a fact engrained so deeply in your mind, you’ll never even think of doubting it. Especially the Science Ninja Team. They’ve been told that Galactor is bad. Over and over and over again, ever since they were little. And this is what they’ll believe. This belief is what drives them to kill countless of people. Not just soldiers, but other, non-combatant staff as well; and thus they create new despair and new anger for us to profit from.
“The UN accuses me that whenever I conquer a country, I build Galactor-oriented schools. But they are schools nonetheless. That I build Galactor training centres. Factories. Mines. If this angers them, it means they can’t see the trees for the forest. They only see Galactor this and Galactor that. Not the fact that I educate illiterate children, give them water and food and create new workplaces for their parents, which is more than they would ever care to do. When you have emaciated, sick children and a dying wife, do you think you care about ideology? No. You just want to bring home food and medicine. The UN does nothing but watch from the sidelines as everyone dies. They’ll only intervene if the violence gets flashy enough. They are nothing but documentarists, watching the lions eat zebras without helping the one or the other, citing neutrality. The people they claim to ‘protect’ are nothing but animals to them. Would you watch your own child starve to death or suffer from trachoma? No. Of course not.
“And the people know it. All those war orphans, and raped women, and mothers, who dig for food in trash dumps and bury their babies, and homeless hobos, and kids, who sell their own organs for money - they see it. They know that there are other members of their own species, who eat until their belly is full and kiss their children good-night and fall asleep with their spouses and worry about nothing but the weather or the cancelation of their favourite sitcom. And do you know how angry does it make them?”
Katse put his hands away and, crouching in front of Mr. Everett, he pulled his mask off. The setting sun dyed his crown braid a vivid, reddish hue. Blue-grey eyes were clear, oh so clear, oh so intense… they seemed to emanate a light of their own.
“Do you know how angry it made me?” he whispered.
“Do you know how angry I was at the ones who only stared with their cold eyes as I brandished my rifle in Sarajevo or Uganda or Chechnya, when I wasn’t even old enough to legally drink alcohol? Do you know how does it feel to see McDonald’ ads after spending the last week without a single bite to eat? No. Of course you don’t. But at least you know of my… of our suffering. You are trying to help, which is more than this famous Dr. Nambu would ever do. He and his kind can only point fingers and sent others to run their errands.
“Now, Mr. Everett, tell me. Am I really that evil? Do I really deserve to be put to a wall and shot?”
Mr Everett stared in those beautiful eyes.
“But… surely if you told them all this…”
“No. They’ll never listen to me. To them I am the ultimate evil. I am not someone worth listening to. I am Berg Katse. Therefore, in order to bring peace and prosperity to the world, I have to eradicate them.
“You know, one of the women on the photos I showed you, she was very kind.” Katse whispered into Mr. Everett’s ear. “She was very kind. Gave me her own food fifteen years ago. Embraced me and told me to believe in God. Shielded me from the ones who hated me from being white just like the ones who only stood at the sidelines. Thirty miles from the nearest UN outpost she was raped and mutilated and killed, three hours and forty-six minutes before I reached her. If I had any tears left, I would probably cry. Too bad for the treatment I gave your colleagues, but I wasn’t in the best frame of mind, I’m afraid.”
He said he would cry, but the tears that fell down the cheek were Mr. Everett’s.
“Well, I keep going on how Galactor and ISO keep on fighting, but in the end both of us want to make the world a better place; and I believe that the world slowly is becoming a better place. But the progression is too slow. Too many futures become warped because of this. For the sake of our descendants, I have to wash my hands in blood.
“But one day the world will change, though it’ll take a long, long time. Regardless whether it calls me a hero or a monster, this whole generation is poisoned. Some people know it, some don’t. Me. You. Dr Nambu. His children. My comrades. Our bodies. Our minds. If I manage to bring peace to this world, the next generation will be pretty much lost. Without the wars and their outcomes that define our lives, they’ll wander around blindly like ships lost at the sea, unable to rely on navigators, compasses or stars. The generation after that will gradually start to discover new values, new attitudes. Only the succeeding one will finally witness the advent of true peace. They will, quite possibly, denounce us as monsters; as murderous maniacs. They’ll distance themselves from us, but if they’ll be smart, they’ll leave our statues alone to serve as eternal monuments of our acts and failings. If this will come to be, then my work will be over.
“Now, Mr. Everett, now that you know what I fight for, tell me. Am I really in the wrong?”
“And if your answer is ‘No’, will you help me out?”
Katse asked and smiled a gentle smile. At that moment he seemed almost angelic.
“I… no, I could never kill…”
“But I’m not asking you to kill. I’m not asking you to harm anyone in any way. Just return to ISO, tell them you’ve retired. After the death of all your colleagues, no one will blame you. Get a desk job. It’ll be easy. You’re Nambu’s friend after all. And every now and then pass us some information. It won’t be a betrayal. After all, this matter goes beyond Gallactor or the UN. And if you’ll ever find yourself doubting your decision, then ask yourself this. The ISO has made many preparations for an all-out war with us, but have they made any preparations for peace?”
Mr Everett’s head jerked up. That was the truth. The truth he never realised. Everyone back at home only spoke of war. Katse’s arguments were legitimate. It was as he said. They never were prepared for peace, in spite of all their propaganda.
“But promise me I’ll never have to harm anyone.”
“That I can do. I promise you’ll never have to raise your hand against your neighbour. Now let us finish the wine. We’d be shaming the good name of the wine-makers if we would let this beauty go stale.” Katse smiled mischievously and filled the glasses for one last time.
He pulled out another bottle and lit a second cigarette. Two hours ago the vulture mecha had landed to drop Mr. Everett off near the site of the massacre and left shortly afterwards. Katse decided to enjoy the brief moment of peace and watch the evening progress.
He hardly took a sip when the indigo-clad soldier arrived once more. Katse wasn’t the slightest bit nonplussed to be seen without his mask.
“So? How was I?” he asked, while the soldier took a seat.
“You almost made me cry. Next time add some more ‘dying for your sins’ stuff to your speech. But all in all, I’d say you’d give Miss Diamonds a run for her money when it comes to bullshitting.”
Katse laughed happily and slid the bottle towards the soldier.
“Have some. And have Everett observed.”
“I prefer white.”
“Oh, don’t be such a fusspot, Svatopluk.”
The other man started to snigger.
“Fusspot. I believe this is the first time anyone ever called me that. But hearing him I do understand why you didn’t let Shiki deal with this. She’d paint this room red with his blood.”
“Indeed. And I am rather partial to this painting. She does hate idealists. I’m well past that. I just find them amusing. Besides, I need to polish my people skills somehow.”
“But I could see you did mean some of the stuff you’ve said. The question remains, when exactly did you speak the truth.”
“It sounds like an elegant game, doesn’t it?”
“And… according to my files, you have been to this place a long, long time ago.”
“I suppose I was.”
“Should… should I get some more alcohol, or something?”
“Yes, I suppose that would be nice.”
“Are we heading anywhere else, or is this RTB for us?”
“We’re heading off to a happy place now. Right after you bring the booze. So ride off, Sacred Regiment, ride off.”
“Yes, sir. Be right back.”
Svatopluk left and Katse gazed out of the window. They were flying away from the sun. The sky turned indigo. He heaved a sigh and leaned back in his chair. On days like these he just hated the clear skies, the sun, the starry sky, and the blue ocean. He hated them for being all brilliant and beautiful, never taking into consideration the ugliness of a blood-soaked land. The world was just unfair. And no matter how much he went through, that was one thing he couldn’t accept.