Father and Son by UnpublishedWriter
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Story Notes:
This is part of an AU I've developed. I gave Joe an Italian surname.
The woman stood immobile in the shadows of the cabana, rifle hung over one shoulder by its sling, face covered with a red-streaked mask. Giorgio, hands barely fitting around the grip of the revolver he had taken from his father’s dead hand, lifted the weapon and advanced on her. Both sights lined up between her eyes. He did not think to pull the trigger. He was only eight years old.

Then she threw something. Sunlight flashed on red flower and green stem, but it flew straight as a dart towards the sand at his feet.


His last memory was pain.

***** ***** *****


Awareness came slowly. Machines beeped and whirred in the darkness. Something was strapped across his face and up his nose, and there was something else – down there – and there were things in his arms. His chest, hands, and face stung.

“Mamma! PapÓ!” They were dead on the beach. The Galactor assassin had killed them. She had --- He whined in fear.

“Ssh. You’re safe now.” A man’s voice, gentle, speaking English. His large hand stroked Giorgio’s hair as he switched to Italian: “It’s okay. You’re safe.”

He opened his eyes. A stranger sat beside his bed, a man with alert, kind eyes, and a moustache much larger and fuller than PapÓ’s. “Who are you?” he asked. His throat felt raw.

“Doctor Kozaburo Nambu. For now, just call me Dr. Nambu.”

Funny name. “Giorgio Accurso.”

“Are you thirsty?”

Jesus and Mary, was the sky blue? He nodded, and Dr. Nambu adjusted the bed and arranged the pillows so that he could drink without spilling. There were so many tubes in his arms, and his hands were so covered with bandages, that he had to let the stranger hold the cup. “Not too fast. You’ve been unconscious for a week.”

A week? What about his parents? He had a horrible vision of them left slumped over the beach table, with flies buzzing about them just like this dead dog he had once seen in the street.

“Your parents were properly buried,” Nambu assured him before he could ask.

And him? He was supposed to die, that’s what the bad people did killed everyone as a warning -----

His rescuer pulled him close. “It’s all right, Giorgio. As far as they know, you’re also dead. You were brought to the mainland and died on the operating table. When you’re able to travel, I will take you somewhere safe.”

Giorgio clung to this stranger who could read his mind and had saved his life. Tears welled up. Dr. Nambu didn’t smell like PapÓ: he smelled clean, of sunlight and fresh air, like the meadow behind the church. “I want to go, now.”

“You were hurt badly in the explosion. You’re strong, but you must become stronger.”

Annoyed, he pulled away and tried to tug the things out of his arms and off his face. He was plenty strong enough; all he had to do was to ----

Spots danced across his eyes and he fell backwards. Nambu caught him and eased him onto the bed.

“You have the strength of will, Giorgio,” the doctor said, chuckling with sympathy and admiration. “All you need is the physical strength.”

He wanted to ask what had happened, why he had to wait until he was stronger, why he hurt, but he was tired, so tired….

Dr. Nambu smiled sadly down at the boy as he checked the IV sites and straightened the lines. This child should be playing with friends and driving his parents crazy, not here, full of tubes and covered with graft matrix.

***** ***** *****


“What happened?”

A simple question, but not such a simple answer. The bomb had hurt him, so they had to take off some of his skin and patch him with fake skin. The fake skin worked like real skin, so that he wouldn’t get infected and become sick. As he healed, it would look more and more like his real skin. He suspected that it was much more complicated than that.

When he first saw himself in a mirror, he screamed. His face was unnaturally streaked with smooth pink that blended at the edges into his normal color, and his hands and chest were smooth like the dummies in store windows. If it weren’t for his shirt and jacket, Nambu explained, he would have been hurt even worse.

He worked to get strong. BC Island was a bad place to live. Galactor controlled it. He wanted to get away.

Giorgio had his own ideas of how to get strong. They involved weights and a punching bag.

Dr. Nambu’s ideas of getting strong involved plenty of vegetables and long walks.

For the first few days, he barely managed to walk unaided from his bed to the toilet (let alone back). Then he made the round trip unaided. After that, longer walks, usually in a room full of torture machines. Only when he could walk unaided for longer than half an hour did Nambu even let him touch the weights.

He barely slept a full night. Nightmares woke him constantly. If anyone other than Nambu tried to soothe him, he resisted. Only after many patient discussions did he stop fighting when a nurse responded to his cries. He finally got it through his thick head that Dr. Nambu was trying to help him, and he couldn’t do that if he never got any sleep.

All through his physical therapy, Dr. Nambu was present, encouraging him, scolding him, arguing with him. He never talked down to him, never patted him on the head as if he were a clever dog (as some of the other doctors and nurses did).

He had loved his parents, but hadn’t wanted to please them. His father had been too demanding to ever satisfy, and his mother had never asserted herself, so he never knew what she wanted.

This foreigner with the funny name and gentle strength gradually replaced his parents in his heart. He wanted to please him. He wanted to learn to pronounce that name properly.

The off-tone pink faded from his face and hands, leaving only a few patches of too-smooth skin. His chest and abdomen (another funny word) would take longer. Over time, he was assured, the skin would not look so smooth.

He learned to pronounce Dr. Nambu’s full name properly. Japanese was a weird language. Half of it sounded like sneezes and the other half like someone mangling the alphabet.

The plan was that he would accompany Dr. Nambu to Utoland City, where he would be taken in by an Italian couple called D’Amato. They would adopt him and he would be safe.

He had his own ideas on that, too.

The night before they were to leave Rome, Nambu handed him a passport. “You’ll be my nephew, Joe Asakura.”

“You said I was safe. Galactor thinks I’m dead.” But the organization was tricky.

“We must keep up the deception. It wouldn’t be good for us if a Galactor agent happened to be standing nearby and heard your real name.” Nambu put a hand on his shoulder. “I picked it because it’s close enough to your real name that you’ll remember it.”

“If I sneeze.” He looked up into the doctor’s face. “What happens in Utoland City?” As if he didn’t know.

There was a strange look in Nambu’s eyes. “The D’Amatos will take you in. It will look like a regular adoption.”

“No! I want to stay with you!” He grabbed Nambu’s hands. “Please?”

He’d taken this man by surprise. The doctor knelt so that they were eye-to-eye. “I trust them. They will keep you safe. They’re looking forward to meeting you.”

“No.” Giorgio knew only that he wanted to stay with this man, but not entirely why. Any elaborate explanations based on psychology would not only fall on deaf ears, but be wrong. “It has to be you.” He threw his arms around the doctor’s neck. After a few seconds, Nambu returned the hug.

***** ***** *****


He had no idea what effort it took for Dr. Nambu to get him safely to Utoland City. Like any eight-year-old, he knew nothing of bureaucracy, documents, and regulations.

The sun wasn’t so bright and hot, here. At his old home, only the sea-breezes kept the island from baking at midday. He didn’t have to squint so much against blinding reflections.

He saw real hills, and mountains in the distance, huge trees older than God that he thought he might climb, and people with hair of yellow and red, and not so much black and brown hair.

It was also larger than he ever imagined. What he’d seen of Rome dwarfed BC Island, and he saw more land on his way from the airport to Dr. Nambu’s summer house than he thought could be found in one place.

***** ***** *****


After the narrow, exciting, twisting driveway, the modern house with the brown-orange roof was an anti-climax.

“When I bought the property, there was a burned-out mansion on this site,” Nambu said. “It was exactly what you would expect. I couldn’t save it. The workmen found some secret rooms off the basement.”

“I bet they’re full of science stuff, now.” He now knew that Dr. Nambu was a famous scientist.

“They are.” A serious smile. “I know you’re curious. Much of the equipment is dangerous, even for adults, so I keep the doors locked. When you want to, ask, and I’ll show you around.”

Not ‘if’, but ‘when’. Because there would be a when. After he got settled. After he got his fa – Dr. Nambu – to keep him. “Yes, sir.”

As the doctor parked the car, a woman emerged from the house. For a moment, Joe felt annoyed, then relaxed. “Is that the housekeeper?” he asked. Nambu had mentioned a housekeeper.

“That’s Clarice Mason. She comes over three days a week.”

The housekeeper greeted them and helped unload the trunk.

Joe (he liked that name, so now he was Joe) carried his new suitcase, with its new clothes, himself. It was large enough for him to fit into, and if it weren’t for the wheels, he could never have managed.

“For now, you’ll sleep in one of the guest rooms,” Nambu said. “If you want to change anything, or if you want something, let me know so I can help.”

Joe didn’t know what a guest bedroom should look like. That it had a bed was a given.

That it should be larger than his room on BC Island was not a given, or that it should have such a great view of the mountains.

The few books on the shelves were for adults. There was a television, and a remote. His few possessions, including the new clothes, barely filled the closet.

Dr. Nambu tapped on the doorframe. “May I come in?”

He should barge in, like a father. “Sure.”

“It is rather adult. Ken’s the only boy who spends any time here, and he brings his own things. We could go to town and pick up a few books or games.”

Ken. The son of one of Nambu’s friends. “Will I meet Ken?” He wanted a friend his own age.

“When you get settled.”

Okay. “Well, how about some books?”

“Then, let’s go.”

On the drive into Utoland City, he asked, “Is the rest of the world this big?”

“Bigger.”

Bigger?

“Was there any place where you could see the whole island, and the ocean around it?”

“From the church, sort of.” The ocean had seemed to stretch forever.

“Imagine that, instead of ocean, you saw this.” A gesture encompassing their surroundings.

Joe looked at the houses and shops that increasingly lined the side of the road. Rome had looked enormous, with buildings taller than the church steeple and its crowded streets. The airport at Rome seemed larger than BC Island.

“You’ll get used to it, eventually.”

Such confidence in the voice that Joe believed him.

The bookstore was larger than any shop on BC Island. Besides Italian, Joe knew some English. As he browsed the titles, he turned from the painful memories that the Italian titles brought, and looked to the books in English.

After their purchases, he wanted something to eat. It seemed he could never have enough. He wondered why his appetite amused Nambu.

He couldn’t stop looking around. This was all so different from his old home. People laughed easily, without fear. Men and women had their heads together for love, not secrets. The children played easily with each other. Not like the island, where a simple game of catch could end in a beating.

“Koza!”

A woman’s voice. Joe latched onto Dr. Nambu’s hand. Go away. Then he felt ashamed.

“Eileen.” Warmth and friendship in the doctor’s tone. “Joe, this is Eileen Washio, Ken’s mother. Eileen, this is Joe.”

Joe held out his hand. Eileen gave it a good squeeze and said, “Dr. Nambu wrote me about you. How are you?”

“Fine.” She was pretty, in a way. Red-brown, wavy, hair, blue eyes.

“I have a boy about your age. Ken. Would you like to meet him?”

Not sure what to say, Joe nodded. Size up the competition.

“I’ll see you at work, Monday?” she asked Dr. Nambu.

Work. Si, he had to share the doctor with the world.

***** ***** *****


He’d shut the blinds, but the full moon still peeked through the gaps. The window, the sky itself, was too large. The bed felt enormous in the dark, the room itself a vast plain between bed and door.

Stop being silly. You’re acting like a little girl. It’s just a bed. Go to sleep.

I can’t.


He’d had a full day, and was tired, but he could not sleep.

He wanted to find Dr. Nambu. But he was a big boy, not a baby.

After an eternal forty-five minutes, the need for comfort overrode eight-year-old bravado. Besides, he was certain his new father wouldn’t scold him.

At the entrance to the living room, he hesitated. The doctor, as always, had at least three things going at once: television news, something on his laptop computer, and an amazing-looking thing made from bits of wood, string, and other small objects.

All of which he ignored when he saw Joe. “Can’t sleep?”

He wanted to run over. The ‘big boy’ wasn’t about to.

“Come here.”

He pressed against the doctor, who curled an arm around him. “My parents moved around a lot. It was always hard to adjust to a new bedroom. Too big, too small, and sometimes, just wrong.”

“What’d you do?” Relieved that he wasn't being a baby, that it was normal.

“Different things. Stay up until I had to fall asleep. Read a boring book. Practice my kata. I even closed my eyes and let my mind drift.”

“What’s ‘kata’?”

“A set of moves in martial arts. I had lessons in karate and jiu-jitsu as a child, and I still practice.”

“Wow.” He wanted to see that. “Were you ever scared?”

“A few times. In Ameris, we rented an old house. It was full of noises.” That wonderful, warm, self-deprecating laugh. “I was twelve, and I knew the noises were because the house was old, but it didn’t help. The housekeeper had told me the place was haunted. And I knew there were no such things as ghosts.”

Joe snickered, but still couldn’t imagine this strong man hiding under the sheets at any age. “What did you do?”

“I built an electric ghost barrier. It ran up the electricity charges so much that my father investigated. He made me take it down. I wasn’t bothered by the noises after that.”

“What other times were you scared?”

“During a bad storm in Japan. It felt like the roof would blow off.” He tipped Joe’s face up to meet his eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with being afraid. You’ve been through a lot. I’ll do everything I can to help you.”

“Can I stay here for a while?” Joe burrowed closer.

“As long as you need to.” Nambu shut off the television.

“You can keep it on. Just, not on the news.” He didn’t need the reminders of how bad life could be.

“All right.” A science channel.

Of course. He didn’t remember falling asleep.

For an hour, Nambu sat with the sleeping boy. This felt right. He could not think of any way to explain it to another person.

He picked Joe up and carried him into the bedroom. Had he looked so small to his father? he wondered as he tucked the sheet around the boy.

***** ***** *****


Two minutes after meeting Ken Washio:

“BANZAI!” Thud!

They rolled down the hill. Joe landed in a crouch, fists up, eyes blazing. He’d pound that punk into the ground!

Ken’s laughter died as Joe swung. “Hey, hey! What’s wrong?” He dodged, fear and confusion chasing across his face. “I didn’t mean anything!”

He heard Dr. Nambu call his name, Eileen Washio’s worried voice. “Joe, stop it.” The doctor skidded down to him and grabbed his arms gently. “He wasn’t picking a fight. He was playing.”

Playing?

“Uncle, I’m sorry.” Ken shifted on his feet.

Uncle? Playing?

“I should be the one apologizing. I didn’t think.” Nambu put one hand on the side of Joe’s face. “I should have realized that you weren’t used to real play. I’m sorry. The atmosphere on that island wasn’t healthy.”

The regret and sadness in those eyes was too much for him. Joe threw his arms around Nambu and buried his face in his chest.

“It’s okay,” Ken said. “Uncle, tell him it’s okay.”

“I know. I know.” Joe turned to look at Ken. Confusion filled the other boy’s clear blue eyes. “I’m sorry I got mad. He’s right. Where I come from, there’s always a fight somewhere.”

“That stinks,” Ken declared.

Awkward silence.

Then, as boys often do, Ken let it slide. “Want to know where the world’s best climbing tree is?”

Play. For Nambu, he’d try it. “Sure.”

A grin of pure delight. “Last one there is a rotten egg!”

***** ***** *****


It was a marvelous tree. Gnarled branches stretched in all directions from the knobby trunk. Ken scampered up like a squirrel. Not familiar with the holds, or such a large tree, Joe was slower.

At the highest safe place, he gasped and clutched the bole.

The ground seemed to drop away, down and down, covered with trees. Low mountains stretched away to the northeast.

“Is this a great view, or what?” Ken asked, leaning out just a little too far for Joe’s comfort, a mountain-wide grin on his face.

“Si --- yes. Be careful.” Great view. Really long fall.

There was no mockery in Ken’s question: “Have you ever climbed a tree?”

“Not one so large or so tall. No large trees on BC Island.” Just skinny things, shrunken by heat and lack of rain.

“Oh. Hey, don’t hang on like that. Let the branch do it. That way, you won’t get tired.”

It took some scootching around (long fall, long fall) to find the sweet spot. Once he did, Joe slowly relaxed.

After a few minutes, he asked, “Is Dr. Nambu your uncle?”

“I just call him that. He doesn’t mind. He’s helped Mom with me since Dad went away.”

“Died, or really left?” He regretted his blunt words.

“His plane went down near New Zealand. They never found him.”

Ken’s mother was still alive. His father might be alive, or might be dead. Joe envied him.

“Bad people killed my parents. Dr. Nambu saved my life.” Then he kicked himself. “I’m sorry I said that.” They talked like that on BC Island.

“He told Mom your parents were dead. He didn’t say how.” Ken reached around the tree. “I know there are bad people. I know they hurt other people. Mom says we have to help those who get hurt. I agree.”

Joe looked from the proffered hand to the sky-blue eyes. No trickery, no treachery. No angles. Not like --- that place. Tentatively, he took Ken’s hand. “Are you helping me?”

“I guess so. I want to be your friend.”

A friend. “Okay.”

An eagle wafted past. Eager to change the subject, Joe said, “Your last name is Japanese for ‘eagle’, right?”

“It is. You speak Japanese?”

“I’m trying to learn it.” He felt shy about the reason. He wanted to talk to Nambu like a real son.

“Mom thought I should learn. I speak Hontwarl lingua franca, English, and Japanese. Dad was from Hontwarl, but his father was Japanese. We can practice together.”

“Okay.”

They watched the eagle float on the air currents. “I’m going to be a pilot, like my dad,” Ken said.

“I – I don’t know what I want to do.” I just want to be Dr. Nambu’s son.

“You’ll figure it out.” The invitation grin. “How about caves? There’s one not far from here.”

At least it was on the ground.

***** ***** *****


Monday, Dr. Nambu went to work at the ISO. Clarice had offered to keep an eye on Joe.

He channel-surfed until an automobile race caught his attention. BC Island was so small that anyone in a car was either a tourist or a government employee. The police drove in small carts large enough for three people. He’d been so overloaded in Rome that he had barely noticed the number of automobiles in the streets.

The engines sounded powerful enough to uproot BC Island as the vehicles sped around the track, swerving and twisting to gain advantage or avoid collision. He watched the skill and daring displayed by the drivers, paying close attention to everything that happened.

Clarice looked in on him, and smiled. Boys and cars. It had to be a genetic thing.

She cleaned the house, an easy job since Dr. Nambu was neither a stereotypical bachelor nor an absent-minded professor. He knew how to run a washing machine, and could cook a decent meal if he wasn’t too busy. Really, she was more a house-sitter than a housekeeper. This was his home, yet he could be gone for weeks at a time on an ISO project.

At noon, she found Joe engrossed in a television show about automobile engines. “Do you want some lunch?”

His stomach growled at him. “Sure.” But he wanted to see the rest of the show. “Could I eat in here?”

“I suppose it can’t hurt, this once. Come in here and tell me what you’d like.”

Something he couldn’t spill. He was pretty sure Nambu would scold him about that.

As Clarice prepared a chicken sandwich, he asked, “What’s it like, working for the doctor?”

“Easy enough. You see how tidy the place is? I’ve had employers who thought a housekeeper was an excuse to be a slob, and others who would follow behind me just looking for things to find wrong. He trusts me to do my job.”

“I guess you stay out of his lab.”

“I do. I know enough about what he does to know that those things could be dangerous, or that I could accidentally ruin an experiment.” She gave him a look. “You aren’t thinking about going down there, are you?”

“Only with him. He said I could ask.”

“You like him?”

“Yeah. Do you like him?”

Clarice smiled. “I do. But not in any goopy way, if that’s worrying you. He’s a good man, but I do think he works too hard, sometimes.” She’d moved a few pens and coffee cups out of the way after he’d fallen asleep over his work. “Here.”

Sandwich, a sliced apple, and a glass of milk. He carried it carefully into the living room.

***** ***** *****


Joe heard him in the foyer: “How is he?”

“Glued to cars all day. Curious about you.” She didn’t sound angry or distressed.

Mutter of conversation, and Clarice left the house.

Joe went to greet Nambu. “Hi.”

“How was your day?” Now for Joe’s version.

“I watched too much TV,” he admitted. “She made me lunch.”

“Cars.”

“Yeah.”

A smile. “I design cars.”

No way. “You do?”

“It’s one of the many things I do for the ISO.”

He thought of the locked rooms below. “Do you have any here?”

“I have the plans, and a few models. Do you want to see them?”

“May I?” Joe felt a mix of anxiety and anticipation.

“Come on.”

The doctor unlocked a door and led the way down a short corridor. “I have stairs and an elevator.”

“Why do you have stairs if you have an elevator?”

“In case the power goes out. Even smart grids can fail, and the generator could run out of fuel.”

He’d first ridden in an elevator at the hospital in Rome. The tiny space had bothered him, and then he’d grown used to it.

The hallway the doors opened onto was well-lit, unlike the movies. Nambu led him to another door. “My design lab.”

There was an old-fashioned drawing table, in addition to a computer and a printer. From racks hung what looked to Joe like giant metal folders, and on shelves were models of vehicles from automobiles to aircraft to ships.

“What catches your eye?” Nambu asked.

Joe kept his eyes on the models as he approached. There were so many of them. He understood that these weren’t toys, so didn’t rush over and start poking and pawing at things.

A sleek blue automobile drew his attention. It looked like it could fly. “This one.”

“Bring it over.”

He almost didn’t, but trusted himself to carry it without dropping it.

“Here are the plans.” Nambu picked out one of the metal folders and opened it on a large table. He moved a chair so that Joe could stand on it. “I designed this for a challenge put out by the ISO. Design a car that was safe, had excellent mileage, and could be easily and cheaply repaired.”

“Did you win?”

“It was one of three finalists.”

He hadn’t been certain what he would see on the plans. The first few pages were full of writing, which he didn’t appreciate. Then there were drawings, with letters and numbers and mysterious symbols. “What’s all that?”

“Measurements and notes.” The doctor explained the nature of blueprints, and how a car had to be designed down to the smallest fasteners so that the builders could assemble it.

Joe drank it in, asking questions until he realized that he could ask all night and still not know everything he wanted to know. He wanted to design and drive fast cars. “I want to learn how to do this.”

“You’ll have plenty of opportunity for that.” Nambu checked his watch. “It’s late, young man.” He showed Joe the time.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’ve lost track of time before this, all on my own. I have to remember that you need your sleep.” He closed up the prints. “We can come back whenever you want.”

They returned upstairs. Because of the late hour, Nambu made stir-fried beef and peppers for supper.

This night, Joe fell asleep immediately.

***** ***** *****


Mario and Christina D’Amato sat in the bleachers with Dr. Nambu, watching the children happily getting dirty. The ISO picnic was winding down, but no-one wanted to admit it, yet.

“I’m sorry it’s taking so long,” Nambu said to the D’Amatos. “He refuses to leave me. After all he’s been through, I don’t want to force him.”

“Were I him, I wouldn’t,” Mario said. He and Christina had visited Joe at Nambu’s house, and Joe had been to their house, over the past several weeks.

Christina flicked her husband on the side of the head. Men. “He already has his family, Doctor.”

For a brilliant man, he was slow to comprehend her meaning. Mario also looked blank. “Wait --- You don’t mean --- me?”

Mario goggled at her.

“I’ve watched you two together,” she said. She had wanted to adopt this boy, but she was not going to insist on it. Joe’s happiness was more important.

“Chris,” Mario began, then understood what had been before him. Cell cultures, he was good. People, he wasn’t so good.

An unseen weight lifted from Dr. Nambu’s heart. “Then I suppose we’d better head home.” He smiled. “I have things to do.” Strings to pull. Favors to call.

He climbed down the bleachers and called to his son.
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