Portrait of Revenge and Fire of Hatred by Maya Perez
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Portrait of Revenge and Fire of Hatred

 

 

by Maya Perez

 

Based on Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman episode # 81 "Duel on Galactor Island"

some dialogue picked from episode translation by James Long and some by Wendy Dinsmore

Edited by Wendy Dinsmore

 

            Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.  I ask for your forgiveness though I have no excuse for my actions.  I willingly transgressed against another.  I have shamed the vows I swore to live by.

            Only a few days ago, I would have been horrified to think that I could ever contemplate doing as I have done.  With all my heart and soul I'd given my life over to You, to do with as You would, so that I might follow Your will.  Yet the very thing that had brought me to You is that which tore me away.

            Father, so much has happened to lead me to this.  So much has affected us all.

            A mere ten years ago, B.C. Island had been a thriving, growing community.  It had been a place full of life and laughter.  Everyone had just about known everyone else by name.  If the catch that year was poor, all were affected by it, even the few rich resorts growing on the southern beaches.  But when the catch was rich, all benefited as well.

            It wasn't Paradise, for that is Your domain, but it came close, at least to us -- and it was home.

            All that changed during that long agonizing year of blood and violence.

            Everything that had been good rotted away that year and we've slipped even further back a little each year after.  Gone were the gay voices of the tourists who at times poured into the villages from the resorts.  They came to be replaced by sour, somber faces.   With Men and women carrying papers and insignias as well as a thirst for depravity and pain.  Fear came to infuse every moment of everyday even as the land and the people were allowed to go into disrepair and ruin.

            Survival was a cursed gift.  Happiness and freedom turned to distant memories.  We became the slaves of cold masters, not much better than cattle.  Only the fact that they believe in lies and try hard to preserve them has given us what little we have.  It is such a thin lie...

            With our new masters came death, even after that first horrid year was over.  My Papa was drafted into one of Galactor's many projects and was never heard from again.  Mama slowly withered away with the city until it killed her. 

            My family was one of the lucky ones.

            Even Your churches suffered.  They were only allowed to survive to keep up the lie and to calm the masses.  Everything we got we tried to give back to the people.  Most ended up lining Galactor pockets just so we could remain to do what we could for those stuck here.

            That fateful day started out like many others before it.  The late summer sun had lit the streets, no clouds had covered the sky.  I'd just finished my rounds through the piazza, the old  marketplace, once more having staved off temptation and not spent what little I had of my weekly allowance to purchase one of Mama Rosa's sinful fried apple tarts.  The cunning woman knows they're a weakness of mine and I could swear that she goes out of her way to fan their luscious scent toward me hoping to break my resistance down.

            Business at the piazza was lively, yet muted when compared to other towns.  No one wanted to get too noticed, none wanted to stand out too much.  This had been the way with everything for years.  Even the old streets and buildings were muted, making the southern town of Taranti seem quiet and peaceful -- idyllic almost.  But the picture was a false one, just like so much else on B.C. Island.  How easily the quaint mix of European and Arabic architecture and the island's lazy breezes hid the misery and suffering of those living there.  Deep pain lay close beneath the gilded surface.  You had to know what you were looking for to see it.

            If you looked close, you could see the guarded looks of mothers as they watched protectively over their children as they played out in the streets.  The sunken, defeated casts on the men's faces.  The way everyone stared and shied from anyone they didn't know.  Rank in this made no difference.  No one on B.C. Island was immune.

            I noticed that the streets seemed quieter than normal as I made my way toward the Duomo of St. Maria.  I went to that grand church every Thursday to help out Father Frederico in the blessing of the Holy Bread and Wine for Sunday mass.  Mass there was always very crowded.  Not only did it do much for the people's spirits, but our portions of the Holy Bread were unusually large. 

            The Duomo of  St. Maria took my breath away as it did each time I saw it.  Rising like the tower of Babel in a sea of stairs, it stood at the summit of a steep hill, its large welcoming doors beckoning to all. 

            I pulled on my cassock to straighten it before approaching the stairs.  It was one of three I owned and my best.  Father Frederico tended to worry about me -- may You guard him and keep him -- and I put on my own facade for him to keep him from being concerned overly much.

            At the bottom of the steps, three beggars had set up shop and begged for money from passersby.

            I reached into my pocket for what money I had and smiled a little as I realized that I would now definitely be saved from falling to the temptation of one of Mama Rosa's treats.

            The closest beggar looked up at me with grateful eyes as I came to drop my money into his delapidated red hat.  This close, I realized that I didn't know any of the three men.  That surprised me.

            I blinked as a flash of light glinted into my eyes from the beggar's right hand.  A cold shiver worked its way up my spine as I saw what was there.  On his finger was a ring, a gold ring embedded with a red stone. 

            He had to be from the syndicate.  No beggar would have ever owned such a ring.  It was also highly probable that if he belonged to the syndicate, so did the other two. 

            If the syndicate was here, and playing games, something was up.  They had to be after someone, but who?  Only long practice in this harsh place let me keep my face and voice level.  "My church is not far from here.  If you are troubled, feel free to visit."

            I turned to go, my thoughts heavy with the question on who might be their target.  It was then that I spotted him -- a brightly dressed stranger coming out of the church.  I forced my eyes away before any of the beggars might notice. 

            As nonchalantly as possible, I started up the stairs my heart beating fast.  What had this stranger done to have these men staked out here waiting for him?  Not that Galactor ever needed a reason -- but they did seem to be going to more trouble over the stranger than was their usual want.

            Something about the man gnawed at the back of my mind as unexpectedly familiar.  It wasn't the white and blue checkered cap, the dark green coat, or even the light blue pants.  It was something more in the way the man carried himself, the air of self-confidence and mystery that hung about him.  I didn't dare look up again to confirm this feeling, only too clearly feeling the piercing eyes of the spies below.  It didn't pay to ever appear curious about anything here.

            I felt my pulse quicken as the stranger and I came close and passed each other on the stairs.  I forced my eyes to remain aimed straight ahead even as I did what little I could for him.  "Be careful of the three beggars at the foot of the stairs."

            Neither of us hesitated on our way.  This told me much.  I was sure then that the stranger was already aware that he had stumbled into an inhospitable place.

            I itched to turn around and see how he would fare, but I didn't dare.  I couldn't interfere any more than I had already.  I couldn't afford to be noticed by the men below.  I could only pray and hope that what little I'd been able to do would be enough.

            I'd just about reached the top of the stairs when a sudden flash of memory forced a small gasp from me and raised the hairs on the back of my neck.  The chiseled face, the dark sunglasses, that mustache -- I knew why the stranger had seemed so familiar.  It was an old memory -- one from my childhood, before the bad times.

            I turned around despite my previous resolve, needing to verify this strange coincidence.  My eyes widened at the sight that greeted me there.

            On the street, the three spies were sprawled on the ground, unconscious or dead.  The stranger kicked up a revolver that was on the street and fired it three times, dropping three Galactor's in green that had appeared from farther down the street.  A high whistle cut through the air.  Three other Galactors rushed him.  The stranger tore into them, mowing them down with ferocious speed.

            I stared, stunned, not only from the violent actions themselves, though they were sadly only a too common occurrence in this place, but at the fact that this stranger so closely appeared to resemble one of the old guardians of the island -- Guisepe Asakura.

            Asakura had been the leader of the mafia here at B.C. Island.  Unlike the current syndicate, Asakura and his followers had had honor.  They had cared for the people and the community just as those who'd come before them had done.

            In the western countries, the mafia was made to sound like a bunch of evil, unruly men coveting nothing but power and money.  That had never been the way here.  In the old country, the mafia had existed for so long that they'd become part of the fabric that held life together, as common and necessary as the air You gave us to breathe.

            Please, don't misunderstand me, I'm not condoning them or their actions, they did at times do evil things.  But they were civilized, controlled.  One always knew where one stood with them and what one could expect.  Not so with the tyrants of Galactor.

            More men in green rushed up the street from around a corner.  The stranger ran.  I just stood there and watched him go.

            Guisepe...  A strong, formidable man.  He and his wife had been the first of many to have their blood spilled on that year a decade ago.  Murdered by the butchers who had held B.C. Island in their grip ever since.

            Though not a role model You'd approve of, I'd looked up to him back then.  He'd been such an important man, with such presence and authority.  Everyone of us had admired him.  Many had even hoped for the privilege of someday working for him.  How long ago that seemed!

            I must confess, that back then, the idea had appealed very much to me as well.  But for me, it hadn't been just because of the man, his fairness, his honor, but also because of what I'd seen in his son -- my best friend Giorge.

            A bond had tied us together almost from the moment we met.  I'd looked upon him as a kindred soul that first day when we outfoxed those bullies who'd been dead set on beating the new kid.  I've only felt that kind of bond with but one other in my life.              Giorge and I were like brothers, inseparable.  So much so, that my family almost had no choice but to adopt him as one of their own.

            As You know, he and I got into all sorts of trouble together.  Though now I'm ashamed of it, we gloried in it then.  And after we got our gang together, we did it in mass.  Stalking the market place; stealing fruit when no one was looking.  Chasing Signora Delore's cat up a tree every week.  Throwing trash on passersby from rooftops.  We had felt we could do anything, that we would never be apart.

            We were wrong -- so very wrong.

            Ten years ago, Giorge was taken from me. 

            He'd been a witness to his parents' murder.  They'd then tried to kill him as well. 

            He'd spent a week at the hospital in a coma before they finally declared him dead.  They hadn't allowed any of us to see him.  Our parents forbid us from going to the funeral.

            The death spree that ran amuck on the island had already begun by then.  The danger had meant nothing to me.  All I'd known was that I had been forbidden from seeing my friend.  Not understanding, I had become so angry with my parents and that of the others that I ran away for three days.  All that had been on my mind then was how Giorge had needed me and I hadn't been there for him.  It hadn't helped that before his death, I'd managed to sneak into the hospital but hadn't been able to find him before I got caught.

            More murders sprang across the island like field fires.  Anyone with any type of connection to the Asakuras seemed to be a target. People disappeared in the night.  Bodies were found in the streets.  Rumors ran rampant.  It was only then that I realized that more was happening than I had believed.  It was what prompted me to go back home.

            When she saw me, Mama burst into tears, her face red and haggard, and hugged me as if she never meant to let me go.

            Once things seemed to calm after the first wave of terror, I sneaked away one night and visited Giorge's grave.

            I'd stood there for a long time, but had felt nothing.  I hadn't seen his injuries.  I hadn't seen him dead.  It hadn't felt real.  I was so sure I would have felt something if he had really died.

            And now, years later, my path had crossed with that of a man that could have passed for Guisepe's twin.

            Shouts on the street below snapped me out of my reverie as even more Galactor men rushed off down the street.  I quickly ducked into the church to get out of sight.

            I sighed in the vestibule's deep, welcoming coolness.  I felt almost feverish as my mind raced at a thousand miles an hour.

            "Alan, you're here!  Thank the Holy Mother!"

            I looked up to see Father Frederico hobbling quickly down the large aisle leading  from the sanctuary's high altar. 

            The Father's lined face was flushed, his eyes bright as he grabbed my arm with shaking hands, almost as if trying to reassure himself that I was really there.  "Did you, did you see him, Alan?  Did you see the stranger?"

            Goosebumps rose up my arm at his excited whisper.  "Yes, Father, I saw him."

            Frederico's dark eyes locked with mine almost feverishly.  I felt a touch of worry.  I'd never seen the Father like this.

            He asked, "did he not, did he not look familiar to you?"

            I hesitated, realizing that I'd not been the only one to think that the stranger looked like someone I'd known.  My own excitement flared into being.  Before daring to answer, however, I pulled myself and Frederico back into the shadows of a nearby alcove.

            "Yes, Father, he did."  I didn't say Guisepe's name.  I couldn't.  And I didn't have to.

            "Tito... Tito came by earlier."  The Father's eyes were wide and staring.  His hold grew tight on my arm, his voice heavy with emotion.  "I didn't believe him at first, but... but when I saw him..."

            "I don't understand." I was having a hard time breathing properly.  "What did Tito say?"   

Frederico's eyes stared into mine again and then looked away.  "This morning his two boys were playing close to St. Christopher's, to the old cemetery there.  They saw the Mayor there with guards and a strangely clad man."

            "The Mayor?"  The man never left the capitol under any circumstances.  He hated our island and our people and had never made a secret of the fact.    He was our jailor, a puppet of Galactor.  What could have made him go there?

            "Yes, that's what they told him."  Frederico's voice struggled to be steady.  "But there's more..."

            I had to strain to hear him.

            "The boys saw the guards digging at one of the old graves.  They pulled out a coffin from it, a child's coffin, and they opened it."  He quickly crossed himself.  Out of habit, I followed suit.  "When they did, instead of a body, all they discovered inside were a pile of stones."

            My head pounded at the words.  I felt a rush of heat flow through me.  "Whose, whose grave did they dig up, Father?"

            "It was Giorge's."

            My heart skipped a beat.  My mind clicked as if it had been waiting all along for this final piece of the puzzle.  It fit.  It all fit!  There was no question on who the stranger had been.  "Did you speak with him?"

            Again the Father's eyes turned away from mine.  He looked suddenly frail and weak as he pulled away a little.  "N-no, I couldn't."

            I couldn't see his expression in the thick shadows.

            "You know he and I didn't get along well when the two of you served here."  His hands tangled themselves in each other.  "You two behaved well enough when you were here, but I knew about what went on outside these walls.  I'd always felt he was a bad influence on you.  I'd never thought the best of him before, before that day...  I couldn't do it, Alan.  I hadn't felt I had the right."

            "Father..."

            "But you, Alan, you have every right.  He was your friend."  Frederico moved up close again.  "And you must warn him, warn him against this place, on what will happen to him if they realize that he is here..."

            This time it was my turn to look away.  I didn't have the heart to tell the Father that it was already too late for that.  "I'll, I'll try."

            "Yes, yes, go.  Find him.  Tell him that he's in my prayers.  Tell him how I've prayed for his soul and that of his parents all these many years," he said.

            "I will, Father.  I'll find him and tell him."

            He grabbed my hands, kissed them and quickly blessed me before releasing me to go on my way.

            Sticking to the narrow side aisles, I quickly headed toward the back of the sanctuary.  By one of the side doors, I slipped into the apartments in the back, reserved for the priests, and exited through the rear of the building.

            My thoughts raced as I tried to figure out where Giorge could be.  I rushed down the precariously small back concrete stairs at a reckless pace as soon as I was able to reassure myself that I wasn't being watched.

            With sure steps, I kept to what cover I could find, my senses taught as I made my way down the town's twisting alleyways.  A destination had come to mind.  There was one place it was very likely for Giorge to go to.  My blood sang with anticipation even as a part of me insisted I was a fool. 

            I slowed as I caught sight of more and more Galactors hurrying to and fro.  Biding my time, though impatience gnawed at me, I was finally able to make my way to the place I sought. 

            The dilapidated one story building beckoned to me as it came into view.  It's ragged, boarded up windows and slowly crumbling structure made the building look sad and forlorn.  Recently it had become but one of many to reach this state, though back when we'd found it had been a rarity.  Back then, the building had been mysterious, none of us knowing why it hadn't been torn down.  We didn't question our luck long, however, and quickly had taken it over as our own. 

            Ray's mother once told him that an old witch woman had owned the building and on her deathbed had set a curse to fall on anyone that touched the place.  Rather than makes us fear it, it had given the old place that much more of an allure.  We even hyped up the story to make sure that other rival gangs would stay away.

            As things had deteriorated once the slaying had begun, those of us left had clung to the old place as a refuge from the cares of the world.  I eventually had stopped coming here as we were each dragged down different paths and it became too painful to remember how things used to be.  Yet still, even after all this time, I found myself looking at the old place with eager eyes.

            The door in the front was gone, making going in an easy thing.  Still, though being seen standing there could bring undue danger, I found myself hesitating at the threshold.  What if he didn't come?  What if I had guessed wrong?

            I shook my head to discard the thoughts and went on in.  I would just have to trust that You would bring him to me.

            The floors and walls were bare except for the sad evidence of crumbling brick and mortar.  Gone were our treasured road signs, the shining hubcaps we'd used as shields of ancient knights, our prized collection of bottles and seashells that had sat so prominently in the southeast corner.

            The old place was dead, empty, just like our island had become in the last ten years.  The only thing left of the old times was the beat up punching bag that still hung from a rusted chain in the middle of the room.

            A sad smile tugged at my lips as I saw it, an echo of laughing, bragging young voices drifting up from my memory.  Life for us had been hard before we found this place, before Giorge had come.  We'd not even been a group then, but more like the dregs that none of the other gangs wanted and so we were used for chasing and pounding.  Giorge had helped us organize, got us together so we could be more than what we'd been.  He helped us learn how to defend ourselves and gain strength as a group.  We created our own little gang of irregulars and we were proud of it.

            We'd fought here, been filled with joy here, shared our dreams and fears here.  We'd learned to become men here.  Oh the plans we'd made!

            Tight pain constricted my chest making it suddenly hard to breathe.  Tears tried to crowd into my eyes.  I sat down by the steps in the back, knowing I should have come back here sooner.   So many things had gone so horribly wrong for all of us.

            A shadow crossed the open doorway.  Instinctively I inched back higher on the steps, my heartbeat loud to my ears.  I looked up and he was there.  I froze, as if I'd become a part of the shadows, not sure he would come in.  I held my breath, sure that this was some kind of illusion even as he turned away from the street and walked on in.

            My whole body shivered with anticipation as the stranger walked into the room, his eyes locking on the punching bag.

            Now that I could actually take a long look at him, I found his resemblance to Guisepe almost uncanny.  This could be no other than Giorge.  It had to be!  A miracle, a miracle stood before me.  And somehow, all along, I'd known he'd return to me someday.

            Giorge reached out and took hold of the punching bag's chain.  "It hasn't changed much.  Everything's stayed the same for the past ten years."

            I flushed with excitement at the sound of his voice, at his words.  It was Giorge.  It could be no one else!  I stared at the ground hoping to slow the flood of emotions inside me.  Giorge was alive!

            "I knew you'd come here," it was hard to keep my voice from shaking,  "Giorge Asakura, also known as ‘Bad Boy Joe.'"  I glanced up.  My heart sang with joy as I saw that he was still there and hadn't disappeared like smoke.  "I've been waiting for you."

            He stared at me in guarded surprise.

            "Don't you know me?  It's me!  The boy you played and fought with -- Alan."  He looked tense, ready to bolt.  Surely he remembered me.  "How I've wanted to see you again."

            Still no reaction.  My throat felt tight.  "They'd all said you'd died.  You have a grave in the community graveyard.  But I always believed you were alive."  Yes, alive!  "Your grave was opened recently by Galactor.  All that they found inside were stones."

            I watched in rapt fascination as Giorge slowly reached up and removed his cap, coat, mustache, and sunglasses.  The man before me was young, lean and strong as well.  I stood up, hardly daring to breathe, still not one hundred percent sure that I should believe what I did.  That is, until those familiar dark blue eyes locked with mine -- then all doubt was gone. "Giorge!"

            "Alan!"

            It was all I could do not to throw myself at him and hug him with all my might.  I'd learned long ago that unlike most Europeans, Giorge wasn't the overly sentimental or demonstrative type.  From his current pose and restrained manner, it was obvious that hadn't changed much.  Rather than be tempted into it anyway, I looked away and walked to the back of the room.  I knew that if I kept looking at him, whether he liked it or not, I'd do it anyway.

            I stepped out the back door and stared out toward the blue sea.  A long sloping hill led down from our building toward the far reaching waters.  The hill itself was overgrown with tall, lanky stalks of large blooming flowers, each stalk as tall as a man.  "These flowers only bloom once every fifty years."  I felt Giorge walk up beside me as I spoke.  "They're called Century Flowers."  I looked over at him not able to get enough of him but at the same time not wanting to stare.  "It can only be an omen of good luck that they've chosen this time to bloom."

            The stalks and their large white flowers swayed gently with the sea breeze.

            "Maybe so, but still, this island is a place of bad luck.  An island of the devil."

            The words hurt, though they were nothing but the truth.  Had the tragedy that had occurred to him here clouded what had gone on between us?  "After you disappeared, I was helped by a priest and he got me admitted into the local school.  I became a priest not long after that."  My cheeks grew warm as I waited for some sign of approval or disgust from him.  It seemed that even after all this time, I cared about what Giorge thought of me.

            "That's impressive, Alan."

            I glowed inside.  "I want to keep the children on this island from growing up like we did long ago.  Stealing, arson, fighting...  All I can recall are embarrassing things."  They may not have been the main reasons I joined the priesthood but they'd been reasons just the same.

            Giorge nodded.  "It was pretty rough in those days."

            "And all of us, with this broken down building as our stronghold..."  I glanced back inside the old place again and once more heard the echo of laughter from those times.  Still though, even those memories couldn't have been enough to bring him to this place, not if that was how he felt about the island, and not with the things he seemed to know.  "Giorge, why did you come back?"

            He looked away.  "To visit my Mother's and Father's grave."

            "Only that?"  I studied his chiseled face, sure deep down that even that wouldn't have been enough to bring him here, not after all this time, not with the way things stood.  I'd known him too well.  And certain traditions just ran too deep.  The concept of vengeance, like the mafia itself, was something that had existed in our midsts forever.  There had always been lines that people didn't dare cross because the concequences were already too well understood -- an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  It was a major part of what we concidered honor.  And one thing the Asakura clan had always had was that.  Giorge's parents' murder would have been like a stain that needed cleaning.  A stain against the one thing his family had held most dear.  "Did you come back to try and avenge them as well?"

            Giorge's eyes wouldn't meet mine.

            "If that's the case, don't.  Leave the island right now."  Surely he wouldn't be foolish enough to want to stay for that.  Not after what had happened to him earlier.

            Movement out of the corner of my eye brought my attention to the bottom of the hill.  A green dressed guard was moving through the tall stalks.  My heart grew cold with fear.  "I don't know what you've been doing up till now, but it's useless to fight Galactor in this village.  The Mayor and the police all belong to Berg Katse."

            Giorge's eyes got that old stubborn look I'd seen in them many times before.

            It didn't go away.  I wanted to grab Giorge and shake him, to make him listen to me.  Yet all I did was watch as his eyes followed the movements of the three Galactors we could now see below.

            "It's too late."  His voice was low.  "They won't let me leave this island."  Giorge pulled away, one last look saying all he hadn't spoken.  We were both only too aware of what would happen to me if I was seen near him.

            Fast as lightning, Giorge rushed down the hill at the three Galactors below us.              "Giorge!"  All I could do was stare, fear for him tugging at my soul, as he launched himself at them.

            I shouldn't have worried.

            With horrifying precision, Giorge dispatched the nearest of the three men.  With deceptive ease, he flipped one of the others and punched out the third.  I was amazed by the skill I saw.  What had Giorge done to get such power?  Before I realized what I was doing, I rushed down to join him.

            Giorge's eyes gleamed with pleasure as I came to a stop at his side.  "Alan, it was good to see you.  Stay well."  He turned to go. 

            "If things get too rough, come to the Duomo of the Patron Saints.  It's a small church outside of town."  I'd had to make the gesture.  I wasn't sure he'd take me up on it or even survive long enough to try, but it was all I had to give.

            He gave me a quick smile of gratitude and then left me like the wind.

            I stared after him as he disappeared in the field of flowers, a layer of guilt settling over me.  In the old days, I would have been at his side, holding my own.  Protecting his back as he'd be protecting mine.  But I couldn't do that.  I'd sworn away the violence.  And his way was wrong.  Still, though I believed this with all my heart, I couldn't rid myself of the helpless, bitter taste covering my mouth.  Worse, I had the feeling, just like ten years ago, that I'd somehow let him down again.

            A groan from one of the fallen guards quickly reminded me of where I was.  I knelt down and checked them and found that one of them was dead.  A wave of remorse at the loss of life swept over me even as in a deep, hidden place I'd often tried to destroy, a tiny voice rejoiced at seeing another of the monsters gone.  I sighed, long used to these conflicting emotions; things I'd prayed over and over for help against.  I made the two remaining men as comfortable as possible and then made my way to the old place.

            Feeling tired and cold, I sat once more in the shadows and prayed. I prayed for the soul of the departed guard, but as You know, I mostly prayed for Giorge.  Hoping that through You, he would be safe and that I might get to see him again.

            An hour had gone by before I got up and left.  I thought of going back and speaking to Father Frederico, but I dared not.  With the hunt for Giorge on, the Galactors would be keeping their eyes on everyone, looking for anything suspicious or out of the ordinary.  I didn't want to possibly endanger the Father for my own selfish needs.

            I followed the alleyways again, taking them carefully and slowly.  I headed for the marketplace to pick up on my normal rounds.  I was a little surprised at the smell of smoke that drifted toward me as I came close.  I moved a little faster.

            As I neared the last turn, the smoke got heavier and it now had a different smell incorporated into it -- the smell of charred flesh.

            I broke into a run.

            I rushed into the piazza only to be brought up short by a wall of rushing Galactor soldiers.  Cries of fear and pain echoed behind them but the soldiers seemed totally oblivious to them.  Dread and anger mixed inside me as I tried desperately to make my way around the large procession to see what had happened beyond them.

            What struck me first were the black marks and strange holes marring the streets in several places.  The butchers!  They'd dared use explosives in one of the most crowded areas in town?  Had they gone mad?  And all this over just one man!

            Trails of drying blood led from the blast areas to the side of the street.  A few of the uninjured had had the courage to move the wounded before the Galactors could trample them on their way past.

            All this over one man...  Giorge, what had you done?

            This was so senseless!  White rage flared inside me.  Every fiber of my being cried for me to run after the soldiers to shake them and to force them to come back so they could see what they had done.  I shook in fury as only the fact that such an act would be useless held me where I stood.  All already knew that Galactor didn't want to see.

            Feeling as if I would explode, I turned my fury to bark at those around me, to command them to fetch cloths and water, to fetch Doctor Veccio, if the old man could be found, even if he wasn't sober.  The people fled to do my bidding, their faces covered with shock and perhaps a little fear.  I didn't care.

            I moved through the wounded, not looking at their faces or listening to their pleas, sifting through them to separate the living from the dead.

            The cloths and water came within minutes, and an actually sober Veccio not far behind.  Only once he'd started to administer to those in need in earnest and others pitched in did my fury cool and I separated myself from them and moved to minister to the dead.  Only then did I allow my mind to register the identities of the innocents caught in this wasteful battle.

            Here lay Caroppe the grocer, who, when he could, passed along candies to the children to make at least a few moments of their lives more bright.  Here lay Bavido, disliked by many but dearly loved by those who'd actually taken the time to get at the soul beneath the brash exterior.  Here was sweet Anna Nuccio and her boy Estephan.  They would be leaving a loving husband and three other children behind.  And there were others...

            Blood stained my hands and tears my face as I arranged them as gently as I could and gave them their last rites.

            How could You abide such violence?  You should have let us die as a race with the Flood.  We would never learn.  We would never be worthy of Your mercy.  All we ever did was turn to this.

            I've striven to understand and not to question Your Will, but violence made no sense to me.  It was evil, a means for destruction and suffering.  No one ever won from using it.  And innocents always seemed to be the ones paying the highest price.

              Worse, the dead were the lucky ones.  They would rise to Your bosom and leave the misery of this life behind them.  But the survivors...  Pulvino had lost a leg.  He would never walk again.   Corazon would bear scars on her back for the rest of her life from the pottery, made with her own hands, that had exploded behind her and imbedded itself into her flesh.  The families of the deceased would bear the sorrow of the loss of their loved ones and would have to make do without them.

            Some kind soul brought me water so I could wash my hands, but I can't remember who.  All that was left of my rage was a cold, hard ache and a well of sorrow.  I took these with me as I finally set off for home.

            I followed the old cobbled street out of town.  Once it turned to a beaten dirt road, I knew I wasn't far from home.  The sight of my church in the distance was a welcomed relief.  It was the one thing that could still bring joy to my soul.

            The small building with its encircling wall and lone bell tower, the welcoming cross at its peak -- they were my anchors to this world.  They were my soul's shelter, a place wholly Yours.  And it was also a refuge for any willing to seek it.

            I entered through the back, directly into my quarters, not wanting to soil the sanctuary with the death and violence that still clung to me.

            I stumbled into the small shower stall, clothes and all.  The water soaked into my hair and ran down the back of my neck like chills.  My cassock clung to me, dripping from the water, tints of pink occasionally heading for the drain.  I stayed under the flowing spigot until the rationed hot water was gone and then some.  It wasn't my place to despair or condemn, not in my role as Your vassal, but it was hard, oh so very hard.

            I finally dragged myself out of the shower and changed into dry clothes.  My stomach complained that it'd not been fed since early that morning.  Sadly, I did nothing to alleviate its wants.  I had other more important things to do.

            I entered the sanctuary quietly and knelt down at my usual place -- my favorite place.  The large stained glass window had been masterly set into the wall in the shape of a cross.  Through it, the sun's rays would send its image to the floor and it would travel the room in the morning as the sun rose in the sky.  In the early morning hours, I always rose to pray there, the light slowly sweeping over me, caressing my hands, my face, my hair.  How many times I'd fancied that it was You, filling me with Your Righteousness.  How many times had I selfishly wished that those moments could last forever, especially after --

            An unexpected sound made me look up toward the doors.  Glancing over my shoulder, I gasped at who I saw there.  "Giorge!"

            He staggered in, leaning heavily against the open door.  "Hide me, A-alan.  Please."  His tired gaze locked with mine, sweat matted hair sticking to his face.

            "You're alive."  I stared at him not quite daring to believe it.

            Giorge took a step away from the door.  He swayed for a moment and started to fall.

            "Giorge!"  I lunged out and was able to grab him before he hit the floor.  Only now that I'd touched him, that I felt his weight leaning against me, was I really sure that he was actually there.

            "Sorry."

            I found myself grinning foolishly to his tired, apologetic smile.  "Don't worry about it.  I'm just glad that you're all right."

            Still supporting him, I used my foot to close the open front door.  "Let me help you to the back.  You can rest there."

            Giorge nodded slowly, his eyes closed.

            My gaze travelled over him as I helped him to my quarters.  His body sported small cuts and scrapes everywhere.  I could see a few places where he was already bruising.  His clothes were stained with grass, mud, and I cared not to know what else.  He'd given the Galactors a merry chase, of that I was sure.

            I steered Giorge toward my bed as soon as we made it to my room.  "Lay down a while.  Rest.  I'll make us some coffee."

            "Thanks, Alan."

            I sat him down on the bed and gently pushed him back until he lay down.              He didn't resist me.

            I took off his shoes and set them at the foot of the bed.

            Giorge was alive!  It was so unbelievable and so wonderful.  Yet, despite that, there was also anger inside me.  Though I had been thrilled to see him, Giorge had brought violence with him to the island.  I had already seen some of the people who'd had to pay the price for that.  The memory of their bleeding, burned corpses just couldn't be thrown away.  My stomach tightened into a ball.  "Do you understand now, Giorge?  This is not an enemy that you can take on alone.  It's useless no matter how much violence you use.  Leave Galactor to me and quickly get off this island."  My shoulders felt tense.  I kept my back to him as I spoke, keeping my hands busy with the coffee pot and water.

            "That's fine, but when do you expect to defeat Galactor?  Tomorrow?  A year from now?  A hundred years from now?" 

            My shoulders tensed even more.  They hurt they were coiled so tight.  I made myself pull the coffee can out of the cabinet as if nothing were wrong.

            How many times had I asked myself that very question?  How many times had I questioned Your wisdom?  Even with my doubts, though, I knew it was the right way.  "That's up to the will of God."

            I stared at the coffee in my hands at the ensuing silence.  It'd been a long day for both of us.  I quietly berated myself for even having brought the topic up.  It would have been much better for us to try and spend our time figuring out a way to get Giorge off the island alive rather than hashing out our changed philosophies.

            "Who's this?"

            I turned around to see who Giorge was talking about, sure that I already knew who he meant.

            He was sitting up on the bed, holding a framed picture in his hand.

            My throat got suddenly tight.  "She was my fiancée."

            "Was?"  His eyes rose to meet mine but I turned away.

            I'd told myself a million times that the wound had been closed and buried, yet that one simple question only served to show me the bleeding gash for what it was.  "She's no longer with us."  My mouth tasted of bile.  "She was killed by Condor Joe."

            "What?"

            I stirred the coffee.  It was strange how I could appear so calm and detached while a part of me raged inside in a whirlwind of pain and sinful anger.  Oh, Dalia.  "Poor girl...  Her siblings, her parents were all part of Galactor.  The Syndicate wouldn't let her go free."  Once a part of your family joined Galactor they all joined.  So many had been forced into the evil that way.  "She'd gone on what would have been her final active mission, only to be murdered by Condor Joe."

            The bribes had all been in place.  Dalia's father had finally seen the error of his ways and had been doing all in his power to take his daughter out of danger and away from the evil.  Still, it had all come to naught.

            Dalia, my dear, sweet, Dalia.  How I'd loved her!

            She'd had a strange acid beauty, the only face she allowed others to see.  Yet inside, she'd glowed with an inner loveliness and naivete no one could have guessed at from her exterior facade.  With her, for her, I had dared hope for all things.

            Something hit the floor behind me with a resounding crack.  I turned and found Dalia's picture on the floor. 

            Giorge moved to retrieve it, his face pale. 

            I stared at the obvious distress on his face and it occurred to me that not even he should have felt this strongly over my sorrow.  His apparent skills, his good health, the way Galactor was going to such lengths for him -- surely these things should all add up to...  No!  This was Giorge, my friend, my confidant.  My mind shied away from the realization it'd tried to grasp.  I had to be misreading this.  I was so tired.  Still, it shocked me at how unconcerned I sounded as I asked, "What's wrong, Giorge?  You don't look well."

            His eyes wouldn't meet mine.  I felt my jaw twinge.

            "No, I'm all right."

            I stared at him, strangely feeling nothing as if dulled, as he gazed intently at Dalia's picture.  "Here's some coffee."

            "Ah, thanks."

            I gave him a cup of the brew taking none for myself.  Rationing on some luxuries was harsh.  And I knew he needed the coffee more than I did.  It slowly brought some color back into his cheeks.

            "With that kind of grief, you still plan to leave Galactor to the will of God?"  Giorge stared at his cup as he spoke.

            I could see that he didn't understand.  He didn't understand at all.  "Giorge, this is hard on me too."  He had no idea how many times I'd been tempted to forsake You and pick up a gun.  The long lonely nights of doubt and self loathing.  The anger seething inside me like a cancer looking for some means of release.  "But you see, I don't," I forced myself to say it, "hate Galactor alone.  I also hate the Science Ninja Team."  My feelings for Galactor ran long and deep, but I'd learned to live with them, to side step them, the way You want us to do.  But the Science Ninja Team...  "The public believes that they battle Galactor for the sake of Justice.  But to me, Galactor and the Science Ninja Team are the enemies that took my fiancée away."

            "So, do you plan to kill this Condor Joe?"

            "What would that accomplish?"  I held onto my cross until the wood bit into my hand.  "Giorge, what would be the point in taking revenge?  The dead won't come back.  It's an exercise in futility!  Please, give this up."  Before it ate you from the inside.  Before it left you as a soulless shell.  Violence only beget violence.  It wasn't the way.  "Leave the island.  I beg you!"

            "I'm tired.  Please, I need to rest."

            I was tempted to argue with him.  To insist we find a way to get him off the island now.  But he looked so drained and he was so stubborn.  I'd have to find another way.  "All right, but at least think about it while you rest."  I turned to go.  "I'm going to the school now.  I'll be back in the morning."

            "The school," he asked.

            I almost smiled at his surprise.  "I collect needy, abandoned children and teach them to study.  I don't want others like us to have to grow up on the island."  I wanted them ready so that if we ever found a way to free them from this place, they'd have skills to make their lives better than they would ever be here.

            I picked up Giorge's cup and then left him alone so he could sleep.  Already, I planned to wake him when I returned, hopefully with some ideas on how to sneak him off the island.  With any luck, I would get a hold of old man Zappalas.  He smuggled things in for the church now and again.  He had connections to the inside and knew better than anyone what could and couldn't be gotten away with.  I wasn't sure what I could offer him, but maybe...

            I left the lights on in the sanctuary and closed the doors.  I slowly made my way back to town. 

            Giorge was stubborn, had always been, but sooner or later he'd have to listen to reason.  He had to have realized by now that there was only so long that he could hide from Galactor before they tracked him down and killed him.  Too much blood had been spilt already.  Surely even his need for revenge would let him see that. 

            "Priest."

            I stopped, startled as three forms disentangled themselves from a dark entry way.  "Yes?"

            "The island is under a strict curfew.  No one is allowed out on the streets tonight."

            Curfew?  That normally wasn't for another three hours.  "I, I hadn't realized there'd been a change.  I come through here every evening at this time.  I teach over at the school."

            One of the three men stepped haughtily forward, his rifle in hand.  "Well not tonight you're not.  And for breaking curfew, you're coming with us."

            "Oh?"  This would make things really difficult.  How was I supposed to ever get Giorge off the island if I was locked away somewhere?  "Is that really necessary?  You could easily verify my story."

            "No exceptions.  Mayor's orders."  The guard fingered his rifle as if he hoped I'd bolt and give him a reason to use it.

            I didn't.  "As you wish."

            Two of the guards led me away, leaving the third to disappear back into the darkness.  The streets were quiet and dark.  Even the crickets seemed mute that evening.

            Three blocks down, we turned up Il Palazo and passed two other check points of guards.  I was surprised as I saw that a veritable army was camped just outside the town's small police station.

            I was pulled through the throng and taken inside.  I was given no time to look around but was taken directly to the back of the building, to where the cells were kept.

            I stumbled when I was shoved from behind, having slowed to get a look at who was already there.  In one cell, the one closest to the door, was a sleeping woman and child.  The next held two burly looking middle aged men.  I wasn't allowed a close enough look to see if I knew them.  I was shoved into the third cell, the stone walls cutting off my view of the others.

            "You'll wait here until it's your turn to be interviewed."  The guard slammed the metal cell door shut.  "There'll be no talking."

            I felt a chill travel up my spine.  Interviews normally meant beatings or worse.  Surely they wouldn't go that far with the mother and child?  I felt numb all over because I knew better.  Such things never got in Galactor's way.  I knelt down on the cold stone floor and prayed.

            Now that I was here, my only hope lay in that Captain Valencia was still in charge.  The Captain knew me, and that alone might improve my chances for release.  It might also help the others.

            All this over just one man... 

            Hours passed.  I stared at the stained walls and tried hard not to think.  One by one I had heard the Galactors come for the others.  The mother had cried as she and her child had been dragged away.  I'd flinched as the sound of one of their fists connecting with her flesh had resounded quite clearly.  One of the two men had tried to struggle when his turn came and he'd been beaten for it.  I'd cried at them to stop, only to have one of the guards threaten me with his gun.

            None of them were ever brought back.  I prayed and tried to believe the best, but it was hard, very hard.

            Eventually, it came to be my turn.

            I gave no resistance as I was taken from my cell and led to the Captain's office.  As inconspicuously as I could, I searched for the others but didn't see them.

            What little hope I'd had for a quick release disappeared as I entered the office and found that the man behind the Captain's desk was not Valencia after all.  The familiar weathered features were nowhere to be seen.

            "Your name?"

            Cold eyes bore into me as one of the guards forced me down into the room's only other chair.

            "Alan Dicci.  Though I am known by everyone as Father Alan."

            The cold eyes didn't even blink.  "Why were you out past curfew?"

            "I, I hadn't realized that a change had been made.  I run a small church outside of town and hadn't been here for most of the day."  I couldn't read the man's expression so I pressed on.  "I come into town every evening to teach the children at the school."

            The Galactor's cold eyes never left me.  They roamed over me looking for weaknesses.  I quivered lightly inside, but dared not look away.

            "Have you actually been ordained as a priest or is that just a way to stay out of the labor details?"  The Galactor's tone was poisoningly sweet.

            I struggled to keep my voice level.  "Copies of my papers reside in the Captain's files if you wish that verified."

            "Oh, it will be, I assure you," he sneered.

            I got the distinct impression that they'd already been checked hours ago.

            "How long have you resided here?"

            "All of my life.  I was born here."

            "A native are you?  Then you must know a lot about this island.  Isn't that so?"  His eyes stabbed me with heated intensity.  "That knowledge could be very useful to us right now.  And it could be especially useful for you."  He smiled coldly.  "You see, Father, we're in search of a murderer."

            I made myself react.  "A murderer?"

            "Oh, so I should infer from your response that you had no idea on this just as you had no idea about the change in curfew?"

            My cheeks felt hot.  Was this man trying to trap me?  What did he know?  "As I said before, my parish is outside of town and I'd been there most of the day."

            He waved my excuse aside as if it were immaterial.  "This murderer must be found.  In one day, he's killed a number of my men as well as townspeople.  He cares nothing for anyone or anything."

            "I'm willing to do what I can."  For Giorge,  not for them.  Forgive me for the lie.  "I don't believe in violence."

            "Yes," he purred, "I'm sure you don't."

            I tried hard not to squirm as he just stared at me.  "Might I, might I ask as to the murderer's identity?  If it's someone from around here, perhaps I could give you some ideas on where to find him."

            My question was followed by an even longer pause of silence.  What was this man up to?

            "Very well, though I doubt you know him.  His name is Giorge Asakura.  He lived here as a young child.  He is the son of parents found to be traitors to the organization."  He leaned forward.  "Have you ever heard of him, Father?"  His eyes glued themselves to me.

            I frowned, not sure how to answer.  There were those in town even now who could have connected me to Giorge, but it had been a long time ago.  "The name does sound awfully familiar."  I met him stare for stare.  "You say he's come back and is killing people?"

            "Yes.  It's what he does."

            One of the guards by the door snorted at the comment.

            "I'm sorry.  I don't understand."  I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.

            The Galactor commander sat back, a smug look on his face.  "Of course you wouldn't understand.  Why would someone like you ever suspect that this stranger, this murderer, was in fact one of the organization's most hated enemies -- the deadly Condor Joe."

            I gasped.  No -- no!  That was impossible.  Giorge couldn't be Condor Joe.  Giorge was a man, the Condor a monster.  No, surely, I hadn't heard right!  How could that be?  It made no sense.  A part of me insisted that it did but I ignored it.  There was no way that the best friend I'd ever had was also the man I most despised in the world.  He just had to be wrong.

            "He's killed many good people in the last year."  The commander's voice was low.  "And if I understand correctly, this man was also responsible for the death of someone you knew -- your fiancée."

            My jaw hurt, I was gritting my teeth so hard.  Yes, Condor Joe had killed her.  He'd savagely murdered her.  And this man was trying to tell me that that was Giorge.  How?

            I knew Giorge was here seeking revenge.  I'd seen his skill at combat.  But was that enough to condemn him?  Was it enough that he'd survived a day in the depths of Galactor territory alone when he should have, by all rights, been long dead, to jump to the conclusion this man wanted? 

            "Did they ever show you the pictures of her remains?"  The Galactor's voice whispered over to me.  "I can get them for you if you wish.  Though I'll warn you, Father, they're not a pretty sight."

            I didn't want to see them.  My hands turned to white fists at my side. 

            I'd been told of Dalia's death by her weeping father.  The story he'd told hadn't been pleasant.  Of her actual mission and what she'd been trying to do, I'd been told nothing.  I was left in the dark.  Dalia herself never would speak to me of those things, no matter how many times I asked.

            Still, the story that her father had passed on to me about all the atrocities done to her by the so called "heroes" of the free world couldn't all possibly have been true.  I'd always known that.  Galactor was notorious for their flagrant use of propaganda and spreading of lies.  Knowing that though hadn't stopped the nightmares from coming.  It hadn't stopped the images of her being pummeled to a bloody pulp by the Condor's curled fists.  It hadn't taken away her screams as he cut her and raped her in the street.  It hadn't dulled Dalia's desperate pleas as she reached out to me, begging for help, as the Condor cut her throat and ended her life.

            If it hadn't been against everything You stood for, I would have killed myself.  I'd come to depend so much on her!  Only by throwing myself totally into Your Holy Work was I even able to find a modicum of peace or comfort.  The anger had been buried, the sorrow and despair rerouted.  All of it left unresolved.

            Still, even if revenge had been an option, I'd always known there would never be an opportunity for me to get it.  Yet this man said the slayer was here.  That Dalia's murderer was here

            "She'd been such a pretty girl," he murmured as if with true regret.  "Such a pity that she was so horribly mutilated.  It was a closed casket funeral, wasn't it?"  His cold eyes locked with mine.  "Help us catch this butcher.  Show your fiancée how much you truly loved her."

            My chest tightened until I could barely breathe.  Dalia!  He was here.  The destroyer was here.  I could only see a thin line before me as the pent up months of pain and fury raged abruptly loose inside me.  How long I'd secretly and shamefully hoped for a way to make the monster pay.  How long I'd craved in the dark hours to make him hurt the way he'd hurt me when he'd taken Dalia away. "The murderer..."

            "Yes.  Now you see why we've gone to the lengths we have.  This bastard must be caught!  And you can help us."

            Murderer.  Slayer.  Destroyer.  It was all I could see, all I could think about.  Dalia's blood staining the street.  Her eyes darkened forever.  The slayer was here! 

            The commander leaned forward a hungry look on his face.  "You can be the one to make him pay for what he's done."

            "Make him pay..."  All the pain, the questions, the sleepless night...  Dalia need no longer go unavenged.

"It's what he deserves."

            I rose to my feet not thinking only feeling, my body shaking with my hatred.  "I have seen the man you're looking for."  Slayer.  Destroyer.  "He's at the Duomo of the Patron Saints.  The small church outside of town."  Assassin.  Butcher.

            The commander shouted at the guards by the door.  "Get the men together!  We're leaving immediately!"  He rushed out from behind the desk.  "The bastard won't get away this time.  Move it!"

            The two guards left the room. 

            I barely noticed.

            The commander turned to me smiling.  It was an ugly thing to see.  He came up to me and placed his hand on my shoulder as if we were old friends.  "You've done well.  We'll catch this Asakura and make sure that this time he really is dead."  He chuckled.  "You've done Galactor a great service today.  I'm sure that Katse-sama will reward you well for what you've done."  He patted my shoulder lightly, the ugly smile still on his face.  He left chuckling.

            The blood flushed out of my face as the commander's parting words slowly pierced my wall of hatred.   We'll catch this Asakura and make sure that this time he really is dead... I'm sure that Katse-sama will reward you well for what you've done.

            My legs buckled out from under me and I fell to my knees.  The commander's words echoed over and over inside me, my hatred suddenly drowned out like a match thrown out into the sea.

            What had I done?  They were going to kill Giorge!  And I had given him to them.  What had I been thinking?  Was I mad?  And not even thirty pieces of silver to show for my betrayal.

            It was all I could do not to howl with my misery.  My head felt as if it would explode.

            Everything seemed so clear now...  They had played, played me like a fool and I'd given them everything they'd wanted.  I'd been so blinded by my emotions that I'd now set up a man to be killed.  So much for my protestations against violence!  I was such a fool.

            I hovered at the brink of a well of despair.

            No!  I couldn't allow this!  I couldn't just stand by and allow the only other person that truly meant so much to me to be taken away.  This had all been a terrible mistake.  I had to find a way to make the commander see that.  This was wrong!  I had to find a way to make them believe that.  Dalia was gone.  I couldn't let them take Giorge from me as well.

            I stood up, my legs holding now that I had a purpose.  It was irrelevant that I still had no idea on what I would do.

            The door out of the office wasn't locked.  The station itself was deserted.  I rushed out the front door a fever of urgency rising inside me.  There was no one there.

            Everyone was gone.  The soldiers, the vehicles; they'd all disappeared.  How could they have left so quickly?  It wouldn't take them long to reach the church.

            Desperate, I took off at a run. 

            All the guard stations I'd seen on the way were empty.  Each one I ran across made me that much more frantic to get to Giorge to rectify my error before it was too late.

            The sky was slowly growing lighter, signaling the approaching dawn, as I made it to the old road.  I pushed on harder, my breathing heavy and my sides on fire.  I soon spotted the church and the five large vehicles parked out in front of it.  No!  I couldn't be too late!  Let him be alive, oh please let him still be alive!

            I stumbled and fell to the hard ground, even as I spotted four bright blurs come out of the woods and head toward the church.  Gasping, I forced myself back to my feet and pushed on.

            The sanctuary doors stood wide open when I reached them.  I almost fell again as I stopped, struggling to catch my breath.  Sounds of raging violence assaulted my ears from within.  Tears rose in my eyes  -- I was too late!  I was too late!

            I bit my lip hard to force the tears and despair away.  Giorge had survived so far.  There was a chance it wasn't over yet.  I had to believe that!

            Just within the entranceway to the sanctuary, a dead Galactor fell at my feet.  An empty rifle crashed to the floor next to him.  Sorrow overwhelmed me as I realized a life had been taken inside Your house.  This was what became of hatred and violence.  This was what I had wrought.

            "Joe!"

            I looked up in the direction of the unfamiliar voice.  My body froze as I spotted Giorge's form sprawled on the floor of the sanctuary, his blood staining the floor.  Four strangers knelt down around him, each wearing odd bird beaked helmets and feathered cloaks.

            "You're bleeding terribly!  If you don't get treatment soon --."

            It was a woman!

            A flush of hatred flowed through me as I abruptly realized who these people were.  Yet, almost as fast as it had come, the emotion left me.  Shame cut through me at what I'd felt.  Hadn't hate already made me make enough mistakes today?  Would I always fall back into the same trap even after what I had already done?

            I couldn't see their faces, the faces of the monsters helping to terrorize the world.   The monsters that killed with such abandon.  And there they were, surrounding Giorge as they sat in their bright costumes, totally oblivious of the dead men they'd left around them.  Still, their postures and voices conveyed such concern for the man lying in their midst.  In his jeans and t-shirt, Giorge didn't look like he could be a part of them in any way.  He couldn't be.  Yet, when they spoke to him, they called him by his old nickname -- Joe.

            "Let it go.  The blood leaving my body is old Galactor blood...  It's being washed clean...."

            My face grew hot.  Giorge, how could you have said such a thing?  Had he learned nothing from all this death and destruction?  Surely he could see now how damaging his need for revenge was.  I had almost gotten him killed because of those feelings, because of hate.  There had to be a way to make him see that!

            I took a step into the vestibule.

            "Joe."

            I stopped again.  Was that a child's voice?  I'd known one of the members of the Science Ninja Team was small, but a child?  A child had been brought to create death and violence?  It was wrong!  They all had to be made to see that.  And words would not do.  I'd have to somehow show them.  But how?

            Not sure yet of what exactly I intended to do, I leaned down and grabbed the empty rifle at my feet. 

            They had to be made to understand. Even if I had to do something I'd sworn I'd never do.  Without pausing to think, I raised the rifle in my hands and pointed it in their direction.  "Which one of you is called Joe?"  They had to learn that violence was not the way.

            Four heads turned as one to look at me.

            "You're the Science Ninja Team, right? Which one of you is the one named Condor Joe?"  I let some of my old animosity stain my voice though it no longer had any real meaning for me.  Forgive me, Dalia, but what I had wanted to do for you was wrong.  "Hurry up!  I want to know which of you is the Condor Joe that killed my fiancée."  The old wound gave me pain at the words, but no hate was coiled in with it anymore.

            "A, Alan."

            I didn't look at Giorge.  I couldn't.  I wouldn't have been able to go through with my charade if I had.  And I had to make sure that he, of all of them, understood that what he was doing was wrong.  Vengeance would only end up destroying him.  And in the end, by sacrificing his soul, Galactor would have still won.

            "Giorge, you have driven me mad.  Your hunger for revenge has set my own hatred on fire."  It hurt to say it, but in a way, hadn't it been true?

            "Alan!"

            His voice held such pain.  It almost made me falter but I couldn't.  I had to save his soul.  I would pay any price.

            Of his friends, the one in white, the Eagle, the team's leader, stood up blocking  Giorge from danger.  "I'm Condor Joe.  What do you plan to do?"

            My heart actually felt joy at the Eagle's gesture.  It was good to see that Giorge had people that cared for him that much.  He wouldn't be alone. 

            None of this did I let reflect on my face.  "I'm going to kill you."

            Strangely calm, I raised the rifle a little higher and reached to pull the trigger.

            "Stop, Alan!"

            I heard the gun's retort as it went off.  Almost simultaneously, a strange burning sensation spread up from my chest.  I felt myself falling backward but I never seemed to hit the floor.  I had expected one of them to try to stop me, perhaps the Eagle himself, but it'd been Giorge.  And of that I was glad.  The same hand that had send Dalia to You was the one who'd let me join her.

            My vision went dark.  I wasn't able to get my limbs to respond.  But I could feel the sun's warmth as it spread across my skin.  I could feel Your light as it touched and filled me.  I knew I was free.

            Dalia, at last I will be joining you.

            This, Lord, is my final confession.  I know what I have done and will gladly accept Your Judgment.  All I ask is that for his sake, be lenient on Giorge when his own time comes.

            Goodbye, Giorge, my friend.  Please learn from what I've tried to teach you.  I will always love you.  We will meet again.

 

 

                        The End

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