"Sorry to interrupt your lunch, babe," Duo said on the other end. "But we've found the source of the plasma."
That had been troubling us for a while. We had turned a mole who had informed us of a courier job he'd performed. He didn't know what had been inside the case he had carried, but when he turned it over, we had it scanned and found traces of high-energy ionized gas and a storage field within. In conditions attainable exclusively at Lagrange points, that sort of plasma was used in the manufacturing of gundanium. Within Earth's gravitational field, such a thing was impossible, and of course strictly prohibited anywhere within the solar system, but it was possible to produce a lower-charge version of the plasma. Theories on its possible use in such a state were still being tossed around, but actual research on the matter was expected to be proposed and conducted within the next year or two. Someone was jumping the gun. "Where?"
"About an hour outside of the city. Soladyne. We have a guy we think is good for it. We're going to run out there and pick him up. Wanna come with?"
I glanced over the remains of our meal on the table. It was a Saturday, the first time Relena had been available to answer any questions I had about the nationalist movement within the Senate. Lunch had officially been over fifteen minutes ago, but I estimated that I had gotten as much out of her as I could for the moment. "Yes, I'm done here. I'll meet you back at the office."
"Alright. We won't start the party without you. Maxwell out."
I snapped my cell phone closed and slid it back into my pocket. "I'm sorry, Relena, but it seems my time here has come to an end."
Having politely averted her attention while I was otherwise engaged, she now turned back to me and accepted my apology with an amiable nod. Her words, however, were spoken in a business tone. "Has something come up?"
"Just an arrest to be made." Not one of many. We were keeping tabs on some of the other suspects we had, not wanting to tip our hand too early on in the game, but the plasma on the black market was too important to let go. "I hope my hasty departure isn't too unseemly."
She waved it off graciously. "Do you have any more questions you need answered?"
"No, I think you've answered any questions I have right now. I appreciate your time."
"Of course, Heero." She smiled as I got out of my seat. "And don't think that this counted as one of our regular lunches. I'm still counting the days from the last lunch we had."
"I wouldn't have it any other way." I bent down to kiss her cheek. "I'll see you later, Relena."
Soon enough, I was in a van with Duo and Wufei, on our way to the town that had sprouted next to Soladyne Labs. Formerly a French national laboratory, it was now run under the administration of the ES Bureau of Energy. While we were in transit, I shared with the others what I had learned from Relena. We had already done some research on the matter, which had led to some philosophical discussions within our team. Considering the chaos of years not long ago, of course we were in favor of global unity, but the nationalist platform did have some valid points. Only Wufei had any real sense of cultural identity, but we all agreed that global homogeneity was dangerous. We also agreed, however, that a global system of governance did not mandate monoculture, and that steps could be taken within the framework of the ESUN charter to prevent that from happening. Indeed, the coalition had already proposed some measures and had the Senate agree to some of them, but apparently that wasn't enough anymore.
Relena informed me that the nationalist movement within the Senate was getting more vehement compared to their quaint aspirations in previous years, but it still wasn't sufficient to bring any serious attention to the matter. Their support of the decentralization of global power had been present from the start, though a few more states had added their voices to the cause since then. The decentralization movement had gained some momentum with the growth of the world government. A global system was a nice theory, but it was a logistical nightmare to run. There were hiccups all over the place, enough to stir the flames of discontent. They had led to protests in some places, and even a riot in another. The nationalist movement was a handy rallying point, whether or not the problem could be fixed by downsizing.
The trip to Dr. Kapasi's apartment was a quick one. The complex sat next to a newly built one, looking a little small in comparison to the luxury living space that had taken over the landscape, but it wasn't actually that shoddy. It was probably nicer than the flat Duo and I rented. Of course, we liked to consider our place temporary. We had, in fact, considered it temporary for the last three years.
We kept things looking casual as Wufei knocked on the door. When no one answered after half a minute, he tried again, calling out the scientist's name. Still nothing. Duo went down to fetch the building superintendent, who let us in with a little bit of hand-wringing. It seemed like his first experience with responding to a warrant. I didn't think we looked that intimidating, but I suppose the badges compensated.
A quick search of the unit proved that Kapasi was indeed not in. A cereal bowl in the sink from breakfast and fresh milk in the refrigerator assured us that he was still a resident, but inspection of his desk and living spaces did not yield any information specific enough for us to determine his whereabouts. Luckily, his neighbor came out, cradling a fluffy feline in her arms as she craned her neck trying to see what the fuss was about. Duo slipped on an engaging smile and questioned her, and found out for us that Kapasi had left about an hour earlier, carrying the briefcase he normally took with him to work. He did that on Saturdays occasionally.
We thanked the lady, convinced her that we truly did not require any more of her assistance in the investigation, locked up behind ourselves, and drove out to Soladyne Labs. A security guard sat at the front desk. Wufei flashed his badge and made nice with him. "I understand that you have a Dr. Ephram Kapasi that works here."
The guard turned a wary look upon Wufei, and then the rest of us, his eyes flashing toward the pocket where Wufei had stowed his badge. "Yes, sir, that's correct."
"Has he come in today?"
He hesitated before checking the chart in front of him. "He signed in forty-five minutes ago."
"We'd like to see him."
"I can page him for you." His hand moved toward the phone sitting on the desk.
"We'd like to visit him in his office," Wufei explained firmly. We weren't about to give the man advance warning that we were coming for him.
"I can page him for you," the guard repeated, doing his job bravely. "It's authorized personnel only in the offices area."
Wufei pulled his badge out again, along with a little packet of papers. "We have government clearance to enter class three restricted areas, and we have complete authorization to arrest Dr. Kapasi. You can have someone show us to his workspace, if you don't want us wandering away, but if he's here, we will be going wherever he is and we will arrest him."
The security guard lost a little of his courage, faced with three people radiating utter confidence. "Um, I'll need to check your badges, if you don't mind...."
Actually, Duo may have been radiating something else. I turned to him after handing over my badge, and though his hands were tucked nonchalantly into his pockets, there was a bit of smugness around his eyes. He shrugged slightly when he caught my eye. What? he mouthed innocently. I let him know I was on to him with a small shake of my head before turning back to our victim.
As the guard was running our badge numbers through the system, he smiled apologetically. "Um, I hope you don't mind if I call my boss?"
"By all means," Wufei answered, ready to be accommodating, so long as it didn't cost us extra time. We would want this agency to be cooperative with the authorities later, when their security protocols were under review.
He got on the other line with his superior, and we listened as he ran our intrusion past the tinny voice. His boss wasn't happy and started saying quite audibly that he would be there *right* *away*, but by then the guard had received confirmation of our credentials. He called someone out from the back room to take his place, had us sign in on the list, and then led us to Kapasi's office. I wasn't sure if he was glad not to be there when the boss came in, or if he would have been happier not having to keep us company, but hopefully he was reassured when we kept our wandering eyes to ourselves and caused him no trouble while he walked us to our destination.
Kapasi wasn't in, and the guard got nervous, as if expecting us to take that out on him. Wufei dealt calmly with the man, and convinced him to lead us to the lab area where it was possible the scientist was doing his research. After promising repeatedly that we were only interested in apprehending Kapasi and absolutely were not interested in carrying away any top secret experimental data with us, we arrived at the doors to the lab.
Signs indicated that the lab was in use. After asking the guard if anyone else had signed into work this afternoon that would be working in this section of the lab, and receiving a confirmation that there was no one, we entered the lab.
The building's structure must have contained some pretty hefty shielding. Once we opened the door, I could feel the buzz of powerful equipment within. It grated on my nerves, but wasn't strong enough to impair my operation. The electrical hum was accompanied by real audible humming of generators, and this sound masked our approach through the lab as we searched the corners, looking for our target.
We heard voices at the back of the lab, two of them, and Kapasi was supposed to be alone. Throwing looks at each other that communicated our intent of a surprise attack, Wufei and Duo moved forward carefully while I quietly ordered our guard to stay where he was and keep quiet. He looked like he was about to protest, but when I moved in a different direction from the other two to flank our target position, he couldn't follow all of us, so I guess he decided not to follow any of us.
I slipped past a bank of spectrometers and was in position before Wufei called out to the scientist. "Dr. Ephram Kapasi?"
There was a tense silence before the man answered. "Yes?"
Before Wufei had finished displaying his badge and announcing our intentions, the man's companion took a few slow steps back. "Stay where you are," Duo commanded.
The man fled.
"Hey, stop!" Duo shouted, taking off after him. Meeting Wufei's eyes for a split second to agree that he would take care of restraining the scientist, I ran off in pursuit as well. The unknown man led us into the deep interior of the lab space, where thick piping transported gases and coolant to the dormant reactor chamber that comprised a good part of the core of Soladyne's research.
My path inexplicably turned into a maintenance passage leading to the reactor's giant vats of transformer oil, and I was forced to reroute. The sound of footsteps reverberated oddly among all of the metal, but Zero helped me sort out the direction of their source. A gunshot rang out, and I could hear Kapasi's distorted voice shouting madly, demanding to know what we were doing, but I knew it wasn't us. Duo wouldn't have pulled a weapon first, especially in a place like this, not unless he was being threatened by someone else bearing a weapon, and if he had been, the gunshot would have been followed by a sharp cry of pain and the sounds of pursuit would have come to a halt.
With a little luck, my path let out right behind our quarry. I grabbed the man by the back of the shirt as I crossed the corridor and slammed him into the side of a large power distributor. I couldn't do much more to him than that as I was forced to control my own momentum to keep me from both tripping over a large sheath of cables and running chest-first into a large pipe.
Duo blew past me as I caught the piping and jumped clear of the cables, relieved that I had correctly estimated the conduit's ability to bear my weight as I swung. The man had fallen to the ground, and Duo grabbed onto his ankle to keep him from slithering away, but was unable to secure a hold on the man's other leg and had to fall back to avoid getting kicked. Lunging toward the gun he had dropped when I flung him against the power unit, he leveled it in our direction and fired again. Duo dove for cover, and from the sound I heard as it hit, I determined it had impacted the floor. Duo was safe, but our target got away while we caught our breath and waited to make sure he wouldn't fire again.
Once it was clear, we ran after him again. Duo turned to me as we continued our pursuit, shaking his head. "This is no damn fun," he sighed as well as he could while sprinting.
I snorted as he mimed aiming his gun and firing. He knew as well as I did that the bad guys were allowed to do whatever irresponsible things they wanted to, but the good guys couldn't go haphazardly firing their weapons inside national labs. Not that we would miss and hit some of this dangerous, expensive equipment, but the paperpushers didn't know that.
There was a fork in the road, and he was gone by the time we sighted it. Duo went left and I went right, hoping in the back of our minds that our paths would merge farther ahead. Surely the chase would end soon. Our target was hopefully running out of breath by now, and he didn't seem to know where he was going. The large reactor room may have seemed a good bet earlier, when there were three Preventers agents blocking his way out through the front door, but unless he got lucky and found some sort of maintenance shaft, he was going to run out of space to run eventually, no matter how huge these rooms were to put distance between the machinery within and the rest of the lab. The shielding was fairly thick, but it wasn't perfect.
I heard the clatter of feet pounding up metallic stairs, telling me that Duo had gotten lucky. As I heard sounds of a struggle, I found them on top of a platform with a view through some thick windows that probably looked into the reactor chamber. I spied a ladder leading up to the platform from the other end and headed towards it, hoping to surround our target and force him to surrender. On my way there, a loud buzz protested in error as Duo was shoved back against the control panels that were no doubt tied into the reactor.
The flashing red light made things feel ominous as I scaled the ladder. I was halfway up, unable to see much of the fight, when someone fell upon the control panel again, setting off a series of three beeps. I registered a rise in the ambient buzz of the lab, and five rungs later, my senses erupted in a tangled golden mess.
::Emergency shut down procedures initiated,:: Zero kindly informed me as it hastily safeguarded its critical pathways. Through the disorientation I suffered as a result, I managed to pick out the relevant information, understanding what Zero had realized just a moment before the reactor did a dry run, releasing the electromagnetic pulse that would have jump-started the plasma's heating reaction, had the chamber been filled.
I clung woozily to the ladder, nearly loosing my hold on it when Duo and his opponent slammed into the railing near me. I was still battling the haze at the edges of my vision when I recognized that which I would always recognize and shouted out the warning to Duo. "Gun!"
They shifted, blocking my view. The gun was fired, and reflexively I tried to dodge, thinking to fling myself out of the possible path of a bullet. Only a moment too late did I realize that that was a really bad idea when hanging on to a ladder, especially when the ladder was the only thing keeping me upright. I felt myself falling in slow motion. I heard Duo shout my name. And then I hit the floor and was out.
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST