By Maya Perez (GO)
The day was warm, the sky clear and an amazing blue. Soft waves lapped gently against a white, picture perfect beach. The resort, nestled on top of a gentle hill, was quiet.
Giorge stared at the sandcastle he'd just finished building and sighed. Today would have been such a perfect September day if only he didn't have to be here. Mama had made him wear a new suit so that he would look respectable for the man they were going to meet. And it itched! He'd like nothing better than to rip it off and throw it in the water. He wanted nothing more than not to be away, playing with his friends. But they had no idea where he was. To make matters worse, Papa had warned him that there was a chance that he and his mother would have to leave with the man they were waiting for. If that happened, everything he knew and loved would be left behind, with no one the wiser. He wouldn't even be allowed the chance to say good bye to his friends, not even Alan. Why?
His Mama and Papa had tried to explain it to him. Not that they'd really said much that'd made sense. Last night he'd found out more about it when he'd accidentally eavesdropped on their conversation. But that hadn't helped much either. It wasn't fair! He was happy here. He'd been accepted; he felt at home. And now they were going to move -- again. He knew that his Papa had to move around due to his job, but still. Giorge scuffed at the white sand with his shoe.
The idea of leaving wasn't the only thing he hadn't liked. Papa - he'd sounded scared when Giorge had overheard him talking last night. He'd never heard his Papa sound like that before. Not even that night on the yacht when they'd been caught in the middle of a terrible storm about a year and a half ago. Giorge had been sure they were going to die that day. His Papa, though, had kept everyone together and kept them safe. What could be scaring him now? What could be worse than that horrible storm? Giorge scuffed at the sand again.
He glanced for a moment toward the hill where his parents were patiently waiting - waiting for the man that would change his life and take him away from everything he knew. Though he'd never met him, he was already sure he wouldn't like him. Nowhere he could take them would be better than this. Giorge sighed and looked out towards a sailboat floating in the distance.
Two, quick, sharp sounds drew his attention back toward the hill. Did someone just call his name? Giorge's dark, blue-gray eyes narrowed against the glare from the sun off the beach as he stared in their direction. He knew that sound. He'd practiced with his father enough to know it. But it shouldn't be here!
A dark fear settling over him, Giorge ran in their direction. Hadn't his Papa mentioned the possibility of danger? He had to find out if something was wrong. "Mama! Papa!"
His parents were still at the table on the hill but they were slumped over it and weren't moving. With a chill, Giorge realized how empty the area was. None of the servants and guards Mama and Papa normally surrounded themselves with were here. They'd been all alone!
A bittersweet smell swirled around him as he got close. He ran faster as he realized he'd smelled it before -- it was blood.
"Mama! Papa!" Neither of them responded to his call or even moved. They were too still!
Giorge stopped before their table fighting not to accept what his eyes were telling him -- his parents, they were dead. Dead, just like the man Tony had found in the alley. Dead, like old Senora Valencia after her heart attack.
Who had done this? Giorge couldn't look at their lifeless faces, but stared instead at the blood that slowly dripped onto the sand beneath them. Who had done it? Who would dare? Welling sorrow and anger warred inside him. He had tried to do his best to prepare himself to leave here, but he had not expected this, never this!
Giorge snapped around, looking for whoever had dared do this, his anger winning over his sorrow for the moment. Anger seethed inside him like never before in his eight years of life.
Over there, by the pavilion! A shape stepping out into the sun. It was a woman! Or so he figured by the shape of her body. The stranger wore tall gray boots and a pink body suit trimmed in black fur. Her hair had been dyed blue and her face lay hidden behind a green mask with yellow diamond eyes. Hadn't his Papa said that his enemies dressed up in costumes? All doubt was wiped away as Giorge noticed the rifle slung over the woman's right shoulder. His anger turned to rage.
A rifle! His parents had never had a chance! They'd been killed from a distance like game. There was no way they could have protected themselves. She'd spat on their honor by killing them like this. She would pay for that!
Giorge turned his back on the woman, looking for the gun he knew his father always carried in case of an emergency. He focused his mind on the goal, not allowing himself to really look at the dead bodies for who they were, knowing that if he did so, all his resolve would turn to nothing.
He found what he sought in his Papa's hand, which still gripped it in death. They'd never had a chance! He leapt forward to pry it away from the quickly stiffening fingers. Shuddering but with gun in hand, Giorge turned around to face his parents, murderer.
"Now you're going to pay!" He cocked the revolver and held it in both hands, his feet apart, just like Papa had taught him. Papa had made sure that Giorge was well aware of the power and danger of guns. He'd made sure Giorge respected them. And Giorge did; even feared them a little after he'd seen the dead man in the alley not long ago -- a slug in his head and two through the heart. That was the kind of thing guns could do.
Giorge took a step forward, no longer caring about any of that. All he wanted was to watch the woman before him bleed and die as she had watched his parents do. For what she'd done, she deserved no less.
A small part of him didn't miss the assassin's unconcern at his approach. The costumed woman twirled a lone pink rose in one hand. As he came closer, she casually threw it towards him as if offering him a gift.
Giorge ignored the rose, his mind and soul intent with only one thing. He stopped, and was about to pull the trigger when the rose landed less than ten feet from him. It exploded.
The blast picked a surprised Giorge up into the air and tossed him about like a rag doll. The revolver fell from his hand as he landed face first on the sand. Pain smothered him like a blanket and he found that he couldn't move. His rage and a growing sense of fear kept him partially conscious as the assassin sauntered toward him. Her harsh laughter cut into his heart.
"This is what happens when you betray Galactor." Giorge struggled to answer the gloating voice but couldn't. "The sins of the parents are also those of the child. So you shall go with them to Hell for that betrayal..." He could hear the mockery in her voice. "Do not blame us for this, but blame your parents for your fate."
As more laughter poured over him, everything abruptly went black.
Bright white walls greeted Giorge's gaze as his eyes flickered open. His young brow furrowed as his gaze settled on a large wooden cross hanging on the wall before him. His thoughts were muddled, he didn't who where he was or why, but that didn't seem important. The cheerful chirping of birds came to him from the left. His eyes automatically followed the sound to its source.
A large recessed window lay open to the outside. Thin shafts of sunlight littered the floor from it, having made it past the laden branches of an olive tree that obscured part of the window. Several sandy-colored birds fluttered from branch to branch, and even onto the windowsill, calling to each other, seemingly totally oblivious to his presence.
Giorge watched them play, thinking of nothing, until the heaviness that lay over him dragged him back toward sleep.
Giorge awoke his heart racing. He stared around him in the dark, fear running its thin fingers up and down his back.
He tried to sit up, knowing he wasn't in his room at home, but not knowing how he knew. His body responded sluggishly to his commands. He felt dizzy, and he could see nothing but the outline of a window on his left. A faint memory of whitewashed walls and singing birds flickered through his mind. He definitely wasn't home. The fear grew gripping him a little more strongly.
"Mama?" The tentative call echoed through the room but wasn't answered. His dizziness grew until it finally forced him to lay back down. He felt sore all over, and tired, so tired. His throat hurt. He could see bandages over parts of his body. What had happened to him? The fear spread a little more.
Had Mama and Papa brought him here? Why would - The thought stalled. Something had happened to them, something horrible. A thin beam of pain cut through his head. There had been an assassin? His head began to pound. His eyes grew round as the memory resurfaced. They were dead. No!
The fear that had been building inside him was suddenly drowned out by a wave of loss and sorrow. They were gone! He couldn't quite remember everything, but that one point was very clear. His eyes filled with tears that then spilled down his face. "Mama."
A horrid vision of blood and death filled his mind. A sob wracked through him and brought him pain. He couldn't stop it. One followed another until he lost all control. He wept until the darkness mercifully took him again.
Giorge opened his eyes as something moist and warm caressed first his forehead and then his cheeks. He jerked away as all that had happened flooded back into his consciousness.
"Ah, don't be afraid, bambino. You're among friends here." A kind, round face with a bright smile moved into his field of vision. "It's good to see you awake. We've all been very worried about you." A strip of white framed her face, which was surrounded by black cloth. A large rosary hung from the woman's neck.
Giorge found himself relaxing despite the fact that he still had no idea where he was. "Sister?"
The nun gently moved a stray lock of hair away from his face. "How are you feeling?"
Giorge looked away. It wasn't really something he wanted to think about. "I'm, I'm fine, sister."
"Good." Her face filled with even more warmth. "I'd like to leave for a minute to tell the doctor that you're awake, if that's okay. I won't though if you don't want me to."
Giorge nodded, not wanting to seem weak, though in reality he wanted her to do neither of those things.
"Everything will be fine." Her voice was sweet. "I'll only be gone a moment." She rose from her stool. "The doctor has worked very hard to make you feel all better." She patted his shoulder gently, bestowing him with another bright smile before taking her leave. "I'll be right back."
Giorge watched her leave trying to tell himself it didn't matter. Hadn't he been alone before? Only babies never wanted to be alone.
It didn't make the fear go away. To distract himself, he studied the olive tree and its happy occupants sitting outside his window.
Several minutes later, the nun returned with a man that was obviously not Italian. He was tall, well built, and had a look of seriousness about him that he'd occasionally seen his Papa use when dealing with unpleasant business. The doctor's features were chiseled and hard. Rimless glasses hung precariously on his nose and drew his attention to the man's large brown eyes.
The doctor sat down and smiled at him. Giorge got the distinct impression that he didn't do it often. "Hello, Giorge. My name is Kozaburo Nambu."
Giorge said nothing. His eyes flickered to the door as the nun left, closing it behind her. He felt tense and unsure.
As he continued to smile, the doctor opened a small medical bag on the bed and withdrew a stethoscope. "I need to listen to your heart for a moment," he said. "I'll warm this up so it doesn't feel too cold." He blew on the metal end of the stethoscope and then rubbed it in his hands.
Giorge lay very still as Nambu pulled back on his covers a bit and placed the instrument on his chest. He felt himself tense some more. He didn't like doctors. All they ever did was prod you and give you shots.
Going slow, and explaining everything before he did it, the doctor checked on Giorge's vital functions. "Your heart sounds good, and your pulse is steady. Your eyes are clear and you even look to have a little more color this morning." He put his instruments back in the bag. "These are all good signs, it means you're recovering. But just to make sure I haven't missed anything, why don't you tell me how you feel?"
Giorge frowned, not caring how he felt. There were more important things to worry about. He clamped down on his previous uneasiness and asked what he wanted to know. "Where am I?"
Nambu's brow rose slightly at the evasion and the unfriendly tone accompanying it. "You're in Costa Bella, a small town in southern Italia. You're in the Convent of Faith, where the nuns have been gracious enough to let us stay these last few days."
Southern Italia? Giorge frowned again. "How, how did I get here?"
The doctor met the query head on. "I brought you."
"Why?" The question wasn't gently put.
Giorge saw Nambu's brow rise again. "You'd been injured, fallen into a coma. I cared for you at a hospital at B.C. Island for a week until your vitals had stabilized. After that, I moved you here. There were some problems with the facilities and personnel at the island and I felt you'd be safer here."
Giorge eyed him with growing suspicion. "I don't believe you. Who are you, really? What do you want?"
"Why don't we let the questions wait for another time?" Nambu suggested. "You've been through a lot, and right now the most important thing is to make sure that you're healing all right."
Giorge sat up anger and fear mixing inside him as Nambu tried to put him off. His hand ached for the familiar comfort of his switchblade. "Who are you? Why am I here?"
The doctor looked startled for a moment, but then smiled at him again. "All right, there's no need to get so upset over this," he said. "If you really want me to, I'll answer your questions now."
Giorge nodded, but didn't let Nambu's seeming acquiescence make him drop his guard.
"As I said before, my name is Kozaburo Nambu. I am a doctor, an administrator, and my personal favorite, a research scientist. I work for the International Science Organization." The doctor stared at him expectantly.
"Who are they?" Hadn't Papa said that their troubles would come from an organization? The details all seemed blurry, which seemed strange, but he had no time to worry about that now.
"The ISO is an international group of scientists that have banded together to share resources and information," Nambu explained. "Our main goal is to jointly create doable solutions for some of the world's most pressing problems."
The ISO? Papa had mentioned them hadn't he? Wasn't that the group the man they were supposed to meet came from? "You're him!" Giorge's voice rose with the accusation. "Where were you? Why didn't you come faster? You let them die! Why didn't you save them?" Giorge beat the mattress with his fists. Anger flared inside him. If it hadn't been for him, his parents would have never been at the beach. If it wasn't for him they might have never died. Where had he been?
The nun stuck her head in the door, her face concerned. Nambu quickly told her everything was fine and waved her back. Reluctantly, she shut the door again. Giorge glared at him.
"You're right - I'm him." His voice was soft, his gaze subdued. "I was supposed to meet with your parents that day. Unfortunately, I was late. The ferry from the mainland had been delayed by engine problems. I only arrived in time to save you."
He was late? The words fell bitterly to his ears and made him want to cry. They'd died because he was late? "What did you do with them? Are they here too?" Giorge's face was set.
"My parents, what did you do with them?" Giorge bit his tongue to fight the tears that threatened to come. The metallic taste of blood filled his mouth.
Nambu looked away as if avoiding Giorge's pain. "I had them buried at the cemetery next to St. Christopher's. Do you know it?"
Giorge nodded suddenly feeling too overwhelmed by everything to speak.
“There’s an empty grave for you there as well. It seemed the best way to comply with your father’s wishes. No one should be coming after you now.”
He was dead too? Did Alan know? The others? What if he came back, would they think he was a ghost and run away? Surely not Alan. Alan would wait long enough for him to try to explain. He would. And once he explained, he would tell the others and then Giorge could live at the gang’s clubhouse and have his friends again. No one would ever look for him there. And he had to go back. How else would he be able to find out who killed his parents and give them what they deserved?
Giorge threw off his covers and swung his feet out of the bed. “I’m going back. You should have left me there. I’m going back now.”
The stone floor was cold. His knees shook as he stood. He tried to take a step forward. Nambu grabbed him as his legs buckled and he fell.
“Let me get you back into bed.”
Giorge fought him. “No!” He pushed away from the doctor and tried to walk again.
Nambu unceremoniously picked him up and dumped him back on the bed. “That wasn’t very smart.” He didn’t sound impressed at all. “You’ve been hurt. You need to rest and heal.”
The fact that he’d thwarted him to easily only made Giorge more angry. “You can’t make me stay! You can’t tell me what to do either. I’m going home!” He had to fix things. The pain would never go away if he didn’t.
“And how do you expect to get there? You have no money. You’re a minor.”
Giorge avoided Nambu’s cold stare. “It won’t stop me. I’ll get there.”“All right then, let’s for a moment assume that you do somehow find a way to get back to B. C. Island. What then? What good would it do you?
You'd only be putting yourself in danger, and your father didn't want that. The people who murdered him would never stop trying to hunt you down if they realized you were still alive."
Giorge started to protest; Nambu stopped him. "You'd also be placing everyone you know in danger as well. I doubt they'd stop with just your death if they thought anyone there had helped you. They consider aiding and abetting a treasonous act. They'd kill everyone you came into contact with, including your friends. Do you want that?"
Giorge said nothing, understanding just enough of the doctor's words to know what he was saying. His fists coiled in frustration at his sides.
"I can guess why you want to go back," the doctor's voice grew more gentle. "But the risk is too great. You don't even know who killed your parents or why. They won't have left a trail for you to follow either. How would you find them?"
"Shut up!" The logic of Nambu's words hammered at him, letting despair try to crawl into his heart. He couldn't let it! "Believe what you want, but I'll show you! I'll do it. You'll see!" Giorge started to get back out of the bed but Nambu held him back.
"Giorge, there's another way. A more sure way to get what you want."
He stopped struggling and snarled at the doctor instead. "I'm listening."
Nambu let him go, his gaze never leaving the boy's face. "There are many changes happening. Most of them bad. Your father knew this. That's why he was willing to listen to me.
"The ISO doesn't have the means or resources to stop what is happening - at least not yet. But we do know, thanks to men like your father, where it is that this evil is heading. In order to stop it, we're creating special teams to counter anything they might try for once they're ready."
"What does this - "
"Let me finish!" Giorge flinched at the steel in Nambu's voice. Who was this man? "Because of what has happened to your parents, and the fact that they were willing to help in our cause, I can promise to allow you to join one of these teams, perhaps the most important one, but only if you have patience and prove worthy."
Giorge frowned. "Why should I believe you? What if you're trying to trick me to make me behave until you're ready get rid of me! How do I even know you're not with them?"
Nambu nodded his features relaxed. He took a moment to push his glasses farther up the bridge of his nose. "I can't make you believe me. Though I can say that what little I've told you could put the whole plan in jeopardy if they ever learned of it. You see, our dream is to incorporate the best science has to offer with proven tactics and techniques. We want to create a small force of highly trained individuals that can overcome any threat posed by these people to the world. It would be a science ninja team."
Giorge's frown deepened. "Sounds like a bad movie." The same words echoed in his mind but with his father's voice. Had he said that too? His head started to pound.
Nambu smiled. "Yes, I suppose it does, come to think of it. But, regardless of that, the situation is serious as you well know, and the team is necessary."
Giorge looked away.
"So that you'll know, and so we have something further to base our trust, I'll give you the name of the organization that killed your parents. It's name is Galactor."
Giorge's eyes widened at the name as it echoed in his mind. Rage flared through him. There was something familiar about that name! His headache grew more intense. Nambu prodded him gently to lie down. Giorge didn't resist.
"Just have patience," Nambu said. "I can guess at how important this is to you, but it won't happen overnight. Through the ISO, however, you'll gain the experience and knowledge, and have the resources to get what you want."
Giorge nodded. He was having a hard time thinking through the pain.
"You look tired. Why don't you rest now and we'll talk again later." Nambu stood up to go.
Giorge lunged forward and grabbed his arm. "Wait!" Though jumbled thoughts clashed in his mind, one screamed louder than the rest. It's too good to be true. You need to make sure! "I'll - I'll believe you, but only if you swear before God that it's true, that he'll strike you down if you lie. I want you to swear that I'll be part of your team and that I'll get my chance to avenge my parents." Giorge held onto Nambu's arm with all his might, staring the older man directly in the face. He'd know if he lied to him. He'd know!
Nambu's face softened. "All right. I swear in this place, before God, that all that I have told you is true. Before him, I also swear to give you every possible chance to be part of Galactor's downfall, as long as you prove worthy."
"I'll hold you to this, I'll hold you to it..."
A small, sad smile settled on Nambu's lips as Giorge let go of him, his own eyes sparkling with unshed tears. "Yes, I know you will. Now rest, you need to get your strength back. We're going to be traveling as soon as you're well enough."
Giorge made no comment as Nambu moved towards the door. He felt better with Nambu's reassurances, but still didn't think he should trust him entirely. Surely there would be something in it for him as well. No one ever gave something for nothing. Yet he seemed to understand that he had a vendetta against Galactor and that was good. Giorge would set things right no matter how long it took. Blood would flow for what they'd done to his family.
Giorge slept most of the time for the next couple of days. But his sleep wasn't always restful. His dreams were often filled with blood and death. Mercifully, however, it was rare when he could remember much about them when he awoke.
Sister Consuello took him under her wing and watched over him constantly. Though he would never admit it, Giorge was glad of her attentiveness, it kept him from feeling totally alone and adrift. Yet, though she was very sweet and motherly, he never told her of his dreams. He also never told her of his growing doubt in God. Surely God had deserted him and his family. Why else would He have used his powers to keep Nambu away so that he couldn't save his family from danger? His Mama had been very devout and had raised him as a proper Catholic, whether he'd liked it or not. Yet, He had forsaken them! And Giorge just didn't have the heart to tell the sister that, not since she was a bride of God. Worse though, he was half-afraid she'd tell him that his parents had deserved it, that they were being punished for their sins. Some of his dreams had told him this... They just had to be lies!
Nambu checked in on him sporadically. He always told Giorge how he was doing and that soon he would be ready to travel. Giorge didn't miss the fact that the doctor seemed quite eager to get them going on their way. This only made him that much more hesitant to go.
As his strength returned, so came the irresistible urge to get up and roam, to be anywhere but in his bed. Though she gave in on almost all things, Sister Consuello would not budge in her insistence that he wasn't ready yet. In a compromise, she found a wheel chair for him and took him out into the courtyard outside his window to sit out in the sun every day. Unfortunately, she was with him the entire time so though he was tempted into mischief, he never had the chance to carry any of it out.
At night, however, the sister left him alone, and as soon as he could he started walking around the room to try and get his strength back. He tired easily, which bothered him a lot, and once or twice he fell and got bruises for his trouble, but he pushed himself anyway. He wasn't about to let anything get in his way.
Late one evening, feeling unusually restless, Giorge rose from his bed and searched every nook and cranny of his room looking for some clothes. He found no trace of any, he couldn't even find his switchblade. He didn't like that at all. What had Nambu done with them?
He thought of going outside as he was anyway and had half climbed into the deep window to sneak outside when Nambu's words came back to haunt him - ... as long as you prove worthy... To prove himself worthy a grown up term with grown up rules. It was only too easy for him to guess that Nambu would never approve of what he wanted to do. With hunched shoulders, Giorge made himself get back into bed.
The next morning the sun sent rays of bright sunshine into his room, daring him to come out and play. The chirping birds double-dared him. They had half convinced him to do it, when Nambu entered the room.
"Ah, you're awake." Nambu appeared almost jovial. Giorge frowned. This couldn't mean something good. "I've got good news for you. We're going to be leaving late this afternoon." Nambu set a shinny new pair of shoes on the floor by the side of the bed. He set out a light blue suit with matching cap, and a white shirt on the bed.
Giorge stared at him suspiciously. "Leaving?"
"Yes. I think you're well enough to travel now. Don't you?"
Giorge frowned. "Where are we going?"
"To Utoland, where ISO's main headquarters are located."
"So we're going to go against them now?" Giorge's eyes were eager.
Nambu raised an eyebrow. "No, not quite yet." Giorge's expression soured. "I warned you that you'd have to be patient. Projects this size can't be made ready in a day." Their eyes met.
"I've arranged for you to stay at a children's home for a while. They'll take care of you until matters have been readied enough for you to begin your training."
"No!" An orphanage, that's what that meant. Nambu was going to dump him in an orphanage! He knew what those places were like. He'd seen the hungry, dirty children staring at him and his friends from the other side of rusty chain link fences with hate and envy. He wasn't one of them. He wasn't! "I'm not going there!"
"Giorge - " Nambu took a step toward him.
He leaped off the bed keeping it between them. "Why do you want to take me there? You swore you were going to help me!" His fists coiled at his sides. He'd run away rather than go there. He'd find a way to make it on his own. He would!
"You'd only have to stay there for a while. I have a lot of work to do and you can't join me until it's finished. There are other children there, which would be good for you, and also, you would be safe. I'll be doing a lot of traveling to ready things for you, and I just can't take you with me."
"I'm not going." Giorge's face was set. He readied himself in case Nambu tried to make a grab for him. He gingerly eyed the window.
Instead Nambu sat down. "All right then, don't."
Giorge stared at him first with surprise and then with rising suspicion. What was he up to?
"However, our bargain will be canceled if you don't." Giorge frowned. "I need help in fighting the organization, not more problems. I don't have the time. If you don't want to be on the team, I'll find someone who does and is more willing to do what it takes to get there."
Giorge looked away from the hard stare, a touch of panic in his eyes. Though he hadn't wanted to think about it before, he really had no idea on how to find Galactor. And though he was sure Alan would help him no matter what, he didn't want to put him or any of the others in danger. If he lost anybody else he loved... "I'll, I'll go. I want to be a part of the team." His throat felt tight. He had no choices. "Please."
Nambu's gaze softened. "Good, I'm glad to hear it. I'll come for you in a few hours and then we'll get going. It's going to be a long trip, so I suggest you get all the rest you can before then." He got up to go. "It won't be as bad as you think."
Sister Consuello helped Giorge get dressed after he took a short nap. She even combed his unruly hair for him. Giorge accepted the help with mixed feelings. Though grateful for the company, he found that the attention reminded him too much of home - and home was never to be again.
After he'd gotten dressed, the sister brought him an early dinner. Giorge ate without much enthusiasm, more disturbed by what he saw as his immediate future than he wanted to admit. The fact that he was having to pin all his hopes on a man that he didn't entirely trust didn't sit well with him either. Sister Consuello badgered him until he'd eaten every bite.
As promised, Nambu came for him in the late afternoon. Sister Consuello held Giorge's hand as the three of them walked slowly through the convent and its adjacent clinic, giving Giorge plenty of time before they made their way outside. A dirty pick-up truck was waiting for them there.
"You be good, bambino." Sister Consuello hugged Giorge close. The boy nodded, knowing he would miss her, but could find nothing to say. Nambu placed a couple of suitcases in the back of the truck and then rushed Giorge into the cab. Giorge never looked back.
They drove through the dirt roads leading from the small town of Costa Bella and out into the unkempt countryside. A half-hour later, Nambu turned into a small strip of an airport surrounded by fields of fruit trees. An old cropduster took up part of the runway, but didn't look as if it had been used in some time. This didn't raise Giorge's confidence on Nambu's abilities. This was the man who would help stop Galactor?
Nambu parked the truck next to a small hangar on the left. He hurried Giorge inside even as a gruff looking farmer opened the door for them. Giorge's excitement picked up a bit as he spotted a black, shiny helicopter waiting inside.
His eyes were wide even as the helicopter's blades started to spin on their arrival. Nambu hurried him forward and then strapped him into a seat as soon as they'd gotten on board. The farmer he'd seen moments before, opened a locked panel on a wall and then pressed a button. The top of the old hangar opened up into a darkening sky. Giorge's gaze moved from the open ceiling to the doctor and then the farmer-spy, for the first time truly starting to believe that just maybe Nambu could do as he said.
Giorge eagerly stared out the side window as the craft rose and then moved forward. The quickly darkening landscape blurred around them as they picked up speed. He couldn't get enough of it. There was nothing better than going fast. It almost made him forget why he was here.
Ten minutes into the ride, they crossed some calm waters. Giorge was able to spot the lights of moving ships as they went past. An hour later more lights lit up the darkness below them growing into a city.
After another ten minutes, the craft landed at a mid-sized airport. Giorge recognized the language the signs were in - it seemed that they'd just landed in Greace.
After the helicopter landed, Nambu rushed Giorge from there to a lone Lear jet not too far away. Men in uniform met them along the way, but after Nambu had flashed a number of papers and ID's in their direction, they turned away and left them alone. It definitely looked like Nambu might be all he said he was and more?
Nambu strapped Giorge in a plush, comfortable seat by a window and then moved forward to the cockpit. He returned a couple of minutes later when the plane started to move.
Giorge stared at the view of lights out his window until it was finally obscured by clouds. It wasn't long after that that the comfort of the chair and the exhaustion of activity finally caught up to him and dragged him towards sleep.
"Giorge. Giorge. Wake up, we're here."
His eyes snapped open. Giorge found Nambu sitting beside him looking patiently down at him. Giorge sat up straighter, his sleepy brain not knowing what he was talking about.
He yawned and quickly rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. A little more alert now, Giorge realized that they were no longer in the jet. They were in a car and it wasn't moving. He had no idea how he'd gotten there.
Nambu gave him a quick smile and then opened the car door. He signaled for Giorge to follow as he slipped out.
Giorge moved to do as the doctor wanted, feeling a little stiff. The excitement that had been with him during the helicopter ride was gone. Dread took its place. They had arrived at his final destination.
The building before them was squat and rather bland. It looked ancient, in a tired sort of way. Five large trees dotted the short lawn in front. All the branches that had grown beneath a height of six feet had been cut away. Giorge shivered as he stared at the stumps that had been left behind. He didn't like it.
Nambu guided him to the thick front door, bringing with him a small suitcase Giorge hadn't noticed before. He took off his cap as they walked inside, just like his Mama had taught him. A middle-aged oriental woman with a small round face met them inside.
"Nambu Hakase, I'm so happy to see you again. It's been much too long."
"Yes, unfortunately my work has kept me away, as usual, Koku-san." It was obvious the two knew each other well.
Nambu's friend led the two of them down a plain hallway on the left to a small, crowded office. So far, it was the most welcoming place that Giorge had seen in the building so far. Koku asked them to sit, but Giorge chose to remain standing. Neither of the adults seemed to take note of it.
Koku moved to sit behind her cluttered desk and smiled brightly at both of them. "So, Kozaburo, who have you brought us this time?"
Giorge glanced sharply at Nambu at the question. What did that mean?
"This is Giorge." Koku didn't seem disturbed at the lack of a last name. Instead, she picked up a small notepad and wrote the name down. It sure looked like the two of them had done this before. Giorge shifted uncomfortably. "As I mentioned before on the phone, Giorge is eight years old, almost nine. He is bright, stubborn, a bit impulsive, but he can accomplish almost anything when he sets his mind to it. He speaks fluently in Intalian and Japanese, and does passably well with English."
Giorge stared at Nambu as if he were a venomous snake getting ready to strike. How did he know all that? What had his parent's told him? A shiver slowly crawled up his spine.
Glancing back at the woman, Giorge found her intently staring at him. He thought he saw a bit of understanding in her soft smile. "Kozaburo, why don't you let me show Giorge around a little bit and start getting him settled in before we get too far into this. We can finish this in just a little while, ne?"
Nambu glanced over at Giorge for a moment and then nodded his agreement. Giorge wasn't sure what to make of it all.
"I'll have Reika bring you some tea while you wait." Nambu frowned as she stood up. "Come on, Giorge." Koku picked up the small suitcase and had gone out the door before he could think to protest. Giorge hesitated a moment longer before following her out. Koku closed the door behind him.
"Well, Giorge, my name is Akiko Koku and I'm the main administrator here." She steered him to the left. "I know the place isn't much to look at, but I like to think that if we all try hard enough, we can make it home."
The hallway had turned right and she approached a set of double doors. As they went through them, the drabness of the front part of the building was instantly dispelled by hundreds of colorful drawings that had been taped to walls on both sides of the hall. Koku led Giorge down the colorful gallery until they'd reached another set of double doors on the right.
"This is the dining area. We serve breakfast, lunch, and diner here as well as a morning and afternoon snack. There's a loud bell that will announce lunch and dinner. Snacks aren't mandatory, but the other meals are." She took him inside. "We also use this area for doing craft, and school, basically anything we do as a group."
The dining area was a large open room filled from wall to wall with small, sturdy tables set in a free for all. On the right of the long room was a set of shutters. She steered him in that direction.
Koku san called out, "Reika-san!" A metal door swung open and a wrinkled old woman stuck her head through. From the flour on her hands and clothes, Giorge figured that the area behind the shutters was a kitchen. "Nambu-san is here. Would you send some tea for him to my office?"
"The handsome one with the money? Oh, yes! He's such a hunk!" The old woman's eyes had filled with undisguised glee. "I'll do it personally!"
Koku smiled broadly as the old woman ducked back into the kitchen. She led Giorge back the way they'd come.
"Everyone lines up in the back yard before coming in to eat. Once you get your food, you can sit anywhere you like. We don't, however, allow any pushing or shoving while in line, and no rowdiness. Definitely no fighting." She took him back down the hall to a large stairwell.
"We work a lot with trust here. And everyone is expected to do their share." Her brown eyes met his. "There is not enough money for everything we'd like and some tough decisions had to be made. You'll notice that there aren't as many adults here as you might expect. We did that in order to have more to give to you. And in order for things to continue that way, everyone has to do their part. If they don't, things will have to change, and I don't think you'd like that." She gave him a pointed look.
"This is not a prison, and we try our best not to make it seem like one. But, we do have rules, and penalties for the breaking of those rules. So if one of our charges breaks our trust..." Koku left the rest unsaid, her face grave. Giorge looked away, his mind working on the horrid possibilities implied by her tone.
"Ah, here we are!" Koku had led Giorge up the stairs and down a hall, stopping before an open doorway at the end. "This will be where you'll sleep during your stay with us. Luckily, space hasn't been one of our problems, so you will a little more privacy than you might have expected." She took him inside. "You'll be sharing the room with only three other boys, and they're all around your age. They're very nice, and I expect that you'll make friends with them in no time at all."
The room was long, but not very wide. Four thickly framed beds were set equidistant from each other against the right wall. Three shelves took up the space above each bed. They held mostly homemade toys and little knickknacks. The shelves over the bed on the far side of the room, however, were empty. It was on the bed beneath them that Koku set down the small suitcase she'd brought along.
"All this is yours. You'll be responsible for keeping them neat and clean. The sheets on the bed are to be changed every week. And there'll be other chores, but we'll get to all that later."
Giorge stared at the hard bed and sighed.
"Why don't you unpack and then maybe get a little rest. I know you've been traveling long and might be tired. If you want though, after unpacking, just take the stairs back down and go left. There's a door at the end that will let you out into the playground. I think you'll like it. And there'll be all those new friends waiting for you there!"
New friends - yeah. He didn't want new ones, he'd just settle for getting his old ones back. Giorge sighed again.
"We'll finish your orientation later after I've finished with your paperwork." She smiled.
Giorge nodded, not really listening anymore. Koku waited a moment to see if he had any questions and when none were forthcoming, she went on her way.
Giorge's eyes roamed over the plain room and all his roommates, attempts to make it better. How could he ever think of such a drab, orderly place as home? It was nothing like it! Mama and Papa weren't here. Alan wasn't here. There were no servants, no guards, just a bunch of strangers who understood nothing. Even Alan's house had become more his home than this place could ever be. The gang's shack close to the beach with its treasure trove of street signs, hubcaps, shells, and rocks was more of a home. He hated this place.
Giorge sat on the bed covered by his misery. He missed his friends; he missed his house, his room. He missed the sea air ruffling his hair. But most of all he missed his parents. Why had Galactor done this to him? It wasn't fair. His eyes filled with tears. Giorge fought against them. Tears were for babies and wimps and he was neither! He also had a plan, he had a debt to call in. He would make the bastards pay!
Giorge held onto his anger and quickly stoked it towards hatred. The force of it made him feel strong. It took away the doubts, the bitterness. It kept the tears from coming. It would help him get what he wanted.
Giorge unpacked his suitcase after a while, and looked at all the new clothes he found inside. Each was his size, and everyone of them had his name embroidered on the label. They were even in styles and colors that he liked. Who was Kozaburo Nambu?
After he'd put his clothes away, Giorge looked around the room once more. As he stared at the walls, he suddenly got the distinct feeling that they were getting closer. The room was too quiet. Anything could happen to him in this silence. The thought sent goose bumps running up his arms. Not wanting to stay and watch the room get any smaller than it already was, Giorge put on his cap and headed out the door.
He turned left at the bottom of the stairs like Koku had told him and followed the hallway until he found the door he was looking for. Sitting by the door was an old rickety desk with an old man behind it. His eyes were closed and soft snores filled the air. Quietly, not sure what would happen if he woke him, Giorge opened the door and sneaked on through.
The area outside was huge, almost twice the size of the building. A third of the area, that closest to the door, had been covered over with concrete and split into courts for a number of different games and sports. The other two thirds of the yard was filled with grass and autumn touched trees. Both looked like they'd seen better days. These trees, like the ones in the front of the building, showed stubs where all the lower limbs had been cut away like wounded soldiers.
Surrounding the play area was a ten-foot brick wall. Climbing over it would be hard enough, still Giorge wasn't surprised to find tall metal spikes running along the top of the tapered wall. None of the trees were set anywhere near the wall. This was a prison!
Boys were running everywhere, ranging in ages from three to fifteen. A few adults dotted what he could see of the area, but not enough of them to keep an eye on all of them. He could see now why Koku had decided to talk to him about trust - they needed it.
Unhappy, Giorge stuffed his hands in his pockets and moved away from the door to walk over to the brick wall. He stared up at its immensity for a moment, feeling it tower over him, laughing at him, before deciding to follow it around.
About halfway, Giorge noticed that he'd picked up a number of tag alongs. That wouldn't have normally bothered him except these kids were his age or older. That normally meant only one thing - trouble. Great.
He really hated first meetings. He'd had enough of them, moving around as he had, to last him a lifetime. Giorge stopped walking, and acting as naturally as he could he leaned up against the wall. He pulled his cap down to cover his eyes and quickly scanned the area for rocks or sticks. Other than the fallen leaves of the trees and trampled grass, he found nothing he could use as a weapon. His fingers itched for the feel of his switchblade.
Giorge cursed under his breath. He'd gotten pretty good at that - bad words had for some reason always been the easiest to pick up in a new country. Though if Mama had ever heard him, she would have washed out his mouth with soap and made sure he couldn't sit down for a week. Giorge had never allowed himself to be caught. And though he knew she didn't like it, everybody knew that to be a real man, you had to know how to swear. Right now though, he'd put up with having to have his mouth washed out with soap at least a hundred times if it would only bring his parents back. He would do anything...
Giorge glanced up at the antagonistic tone, still keeping his cap low. Here it was, just as he'd know it would be. It always went this way. But unlike before, this time he wouldn't have anywhere he could escape to, he wouldn't have a place to go where people loved him. All he had now was this place. So why did this still have to happen? Was all of life this stinkingly unfair?
The boy before him looked to be around twelve. He was short, a little stocky, and had that air about him that screamed bully. Five others that looked pretty much the same stood not far behind him.
"We've never had a foreigner in here before. Kinda funny if you ask me," he snorter. "Just like you." Several of the boys giggled at the comment. It wasn't a friendly sound. "What are you anyway?,
Giroge could try and make a run for it, but that would only delay the inevitable. They had no weapons that he could see, so he might have a chance if he fought for it - maybe. He felt something starting to stir inside him. "I'm a Sicilian." Though he preferred not to have to use it, he would still have felt tons better to feel the weight of his switchblade in his pocket. He really missed it. Besides, the intimidation alone might have bought him a few points.
"A shishirian? Are you lying to us, gaijin? There's no such thing. I know I've never heard of it. None of us have. You're just making it up." The boy glared at him.
Giorge sighed. At least this time he hadn't been called a sissy like he had that one time in America. "I'm not lying. I come from Sicily. It's an island, south of Italia." Giorge put on his nastiest grin. Alan and he had practiced those a lot. "You know, the country, the one in that big place called Europ. Anyone who's worth anything's heard of it." A couple of the boys laughed. The large boy's look turned nasty.
He really shouldn't have done that. He just hadn't been able to help himself. He'd be in for it now for sure. But hell, he was so tired of their kind. All they ever did was cause misery to everyone around them. Yes, he'd met Alan because of group just like this, but some of the things the other gangs had done to some of the younger village kids before and even after he and Alan had made their own gang... The stirring inside him sparked.
"Well, gaijin, it really doesn't matter what dump you came from - you're here now. And you'll be stuck here, with us, for the rest of your life, cause nobody'll want an ugly gaijin like you." He grinned. "And since we were here first, we made the rules. And you're gonna follow em."
"Oh, is that so?" Giorge tensed. It was cruel bastards like these that had made life miserable for so many of them on the island. And it would have been grown up bastards just like these that would kill people's parents without honor. The spark inside him flared into anger.
"You'll start at the bottom." The boy puffed himself up with his importance. "And, cause you're at the bottom, it'll be your place to do anything we want. And you won't tell Koku-san about it neither."
Giorge's anger grew. Nobody pushed an Asakura around.
"From now on, you'll do my chores, and take turns doing Seki's and Kato's. And you'll like it!"
"Is that all?" Giorge's eyes had narrowed to slits, his fists bunched at his sides. The anger grew towards rage. It was all he could do not to fling himself at them. His master, seemed oblivious to this.
"No," his voice was smug. "From now on you have to call us all sir., And you're gonna give me your cap as a present so that I don't kick your ugly butt." He took a step towards Giorge, extending his hand out for the prize. "It'll look better on me anyway."
That was the last straw. Before any of them could guess what was happening, Giorge launched himself from the wall straight into the leader's midriff.
After a moment of startled surprise at seeing their leader attacked, the other five boys rushed in.
Giorge punched the bully in the face as soon as they'd hit the ground. A fist hit him from behind. Without thinking, he snapped around toward the source of the blow and started punching wildly. His rage roared as they fought against him. All he could think of was striking back, making them pay; fleeing to safety never even entered his mind.
One of the boys tripped him and he fell to the leaf-strewn grass. Snapping his fist to the right, he was able to smash one of them in the groin even as the others started kicking him. Giorge grabbed legs and pulled, making a number of them fall as he struggled to regain his feet, trying not to give in to the pain.
Sweat poured down his face. His joints ached. It was horribly obvious that he was still weak from the injuries that had nearly taken his life. But he didn't care! They wouldn't take him down. He had to make Galactor pay!
One of the boys yelped behind him. The others hesitated for a moment as they looked in that direction. Giorge took advantage of the distraction and kicked the knee of the biggest of his attackers. As the boy fell, he jumped to his feet. Using his rage to replace the energy he was quickly losing, he smashed his fist into the nearest boy's face. Blood spurted from the boy's nose and he didn't get up from where he'd fallen. Giorge never noticed. He'd already moved on to his next target.
The other boys crawled or ran away from him. Giorge turned around, his rage demanding more victims. He found a boy, with dark brown hair that he'd not seen before, smiling sheepishly in his direction. One of his tormentors lay curled up at his feet.
"Hi." The boy came closer. He had some of the clearest blue eyes Giorge had ever seen. "Are you okay?"
Giorge's breath was hot and rapid. He ignored his discomfort as he glared at the new boy. "None - none of your - business!"
The shocked expression in the boy's clear blue eyes gave Giorge a moment of satisfaction. He wanted more. "And who asked you to butt in anyway!" Giorge whipped out both his arms and pushed the startled boy to the ground. "I was taking care of them! I could have done it all myself!" The dumbfounded look on the boy's face was priceless.
"I'm - I'm sorry. I was just - I thought you needed - "
"What's going on here?"
Both boys looked to Giorge's left. A large woman he hadn't seen before was glaring at both of them. She had a wooden paddle in one hand.
The dark-haired boy rushed to rise to his feet and then bowed towards her. Giorge did nothing. "We're sorry, Kana-sensei. But they started it."
The portly woman's gaze intensified. "You know better than to participate in this kind of behavior, Washio."
"Yes, Kana-sensei. But I had no choice. Ten and his friends were attacking him." Washio quickly glanced in Giorge's direction. His eyes were guarded.
"That's not true! The gaijin started it!" The bully leader showed himself from where he'd been hiding behind a tree. His lips were swollen. "We were just talking to him and all of a sudden he was trying to kill me! For no reason! I swear!"
Kana glared at all of them. No one dared move. Finally, her gaze focused on Giorge. "Is this true?"
Giorge glared back, his anger still raging inside him with no outlet in sight. "What do you care? I'm just a stupid gaijin!"
Kana's eyebrows rose. "Is that so? Well then" She smiled. There was no warmth in it. "I guess that everyone will have to pay for this then. Three licks a piece."
Groans rang all around. Ten glared at Giorge and Washio, promising great amounts of pain. Giorge ignored him.
"Washio, you're first."
The boy glanced over at Giorge, but found the look unreturned. Washio obediently walked over to Kana. He turned around and then bent over, hands on knees, his eyes shut. His young face twisted with pain as each of the blows landed. The whacks echoed in the trees, but Washio never made a sound.
"Washio, get inside. Koku-san is waiting for you," Kana said. "You have a visitor."
"Thank you, Kana-sensei."
She slapped his rump with her free hand as he waddled past.
One by one, Kana dealt out their punishment. Many of the boys cried as the heavy blows fell, their faces covered in tears. She left Giorge for last.
"Come here, boy. You've seen what you need to do." She beckoned him over, her expression softer than before.
His anger somewhat dissipated by the punishments Kana had dealt to the others, Giorge came forward. He glared at her one last time in defiance, before turning around and bending over for his share.
"Since you're new, I'll take it easy on you - this time. Don't expect this kind of generosity from me if I catch you doing something like this again."
When the first blow finally came, Giorge held in the yelp of pain that tried to follow. He wasn't willing to give Kana or the others the satisfaction. As far as the whacks were concerned, they didn't feel as if she were taking it easy on him.,
When Giorge stood up, his buttocks were throbbing.
"All right, the rest of you quit gawking, unless you'd like some too. As for you boys, come along to the infirmary to get checked out. Now." Her tone left no doubt that this was a command.
It was at this time that Giorge noticed the crowd that had gathered to watch their misery. After picking up his cap, he walked as proudly as he could towards the building and never looked back.
So much for breaking the ice.
Unlike the others, Giorge didn't go to the infirmary. Instead, he stiffly wobbled up the stairs to his room.
Everything was just as he'd left it. He somehow doubted that after his run-in with Ten and the others though that it would stay that way for long. His new "friends" wouldn't be able to live down the trouncing they'd taken from a gaijin, especially since all the other kids had found out about it. Giorge grinned nastily for a moment, looking forward to their next match. The exercise would be good for him.
He threw himself on the bed and immediately regretted it as his abused buttocks smacked against the hard mattress. Grimacing, Giorge quickly changed positions and lay on his side. He stared at the fanciful drawings on the wall and tried hard not to think.
Still, the fight kept nagging at him, repeating itself over and over in his mind. So did the fact that as things stood now, he wasn't capable of completing his vendetta. Bitter as it was, he knew that without the help of the brown haired boy, he would have lost, just as he would have probably failed if he'd been able to make it back to B.C. Island. If he couldn't take care of a few bullies on his own, how would he ever be able to avenge his parents? He wasn't worthy of his name... His heritage.... He'd have no right to any of it until he'd avenged his family honor and the only way to do that was to fulfill his vendetta against Galactor... And right now that might be never.
Giorge's eyes filled with tears. He roughly wiped them away. He had to be a man now, not a crybaby. It just wouldn't do! He wouldn't give up - never. They would pay. And pity to anybody who stood in his way!
"He - hello?"
Giorge looked over his shoulder towards the door. The blue eyed boy was standing outside the doorway. Giorge's cheeks colored remembering his earlier bitterness at his inability to beat a few bullies and the fact he'd needed help. He looked away. "Go away. Leave the gaijin alone."
"My name is Ken, Ken Washio." He heard the boy hesitate. "I'm sorry about what happened before. Not everyone around here is like that."
Giorge humphed but didn't otherwise acknowledge what Washio had said.
"The man who brought you here, Nambu Hakase, he brought me here too. He was the visitor Kana-sensei was talking about." Giorge's curiosity was roused by this, but he did nothing not wanting Ken to know. "He - he told me about you... about your parents. He said your name was Giorge and that - "
"Shut up!" He flipped over into a sitting position. Giorge glared at Ken. "Don't you ever use that name again! Do you hear me? It's not my name anymore. I don't deserve it! If you call me that again, I'll kill you!" The vehemence in his voice surprised Giorge as much as it did Ken.
"Now go away!" He stared angrily at the almost pretty face of his would be savior. It made him want to bash it from his sight. Ken looked everywhere but directly at him, his face full of uncertainty.
"I - I just thought..."
"I don't need you! Leave me alone!" Giorge lay back down with his back towards the door.
"I - okay. Sure. Sorry."
After several minutes, Giorge glanced carefully over his shoulder to make sure Washio had gone. He didn't need him. How dare he? He didn't need his pity or his help. Only Alan understood him, only Alan might have been allowed to help - only him! But he had no way to reach him. Damn. And damn Galactor! Giorge slammed his fist against the hard mattress.
He closed his eyes, despair trying to wash over him again. All at once, the exhaustion he'd accrued from the fight dragged him down. Without being aware of it, he succumbed to it and slept.