And to think, just a few days ago, I had thought I wanted to break the stalemate he and I had reached a year ago. Maybe two? I hadn't wanted to break the balance, but... I felt I had been na´ve and foolish, a few days ago.
In the meantime, there were still plenty of systems security checks to run. The day before had been spent confirming the reports I had turned in to Une earlier. It didn't seem much had changed in response to them over the last eighteen months. A couple of organizations had fixed some of the easiest security flaws to correct, but unfortunately, the ones that were easy to fix were the ones that weren't the most serious. I had hardly expected everything to be resolved by now since many of the problems were fundamental and would require significant man-hours and downtime to completely re-implement, but it would have been reassuring to see some sort of action in the right direction.
The whole thing made me gain a bit of sympathy for the nationalist cause. Not only the part about breaking things down to a more manageable scale, but the part about the resolution being such a key measure in their minds. Maybe the half-hearted and possibly empty gestures that they would make would ultimately yield no progress for their cause, but it would at least prove that the government had paid them some attention, acknowledged them even if they didn't agree.
I spent the rest of the night prodding for more holes in the world's nets, between bouts of brooding and contemplation, and a brief, unrestful nap on the breakroom sofa. The following day was Monday, and I made sure I was out of the office before anyone else came in in the morning.
Rather than being the first back into our conference room, this time I stalled, burning off some of my frustration in the gym. There was something almost comforting about losing myself to the mindless repetitions of the workout, but it left me with no particular satisfaction. Freeing myself from the bad thoughts, however temporarily, also meant a suspension of any good thoughts. Few though they had been as of late. But since the negative seemed to be gaining ground most of the time, maybe I came out ahead after all.
We continued our work from the previous day without any explosions of temper, though I was sure I wasn't imagining the tension in the room. I tried to convince myself it was a good thing, that when Duo was truly furious, he burned with an icy-cold sort of rage, the sort that crept up on a man and then struck without warning and without mercy. Maybe he just hadn't reached that point yet, but while that point of no return was still off in the distance, there was a chance.
There was anticipation in the air as well, which perhaps took the edge off of our little concerns. The vote in the Senate was conducted at eleven-thirty. Quatre decided to pay the Senate building a little visit to survey firsthand the results of the session. He took Duo with him, and with a trace of shame, I was relieved. Quatre was far too savvy to take sides in our disagreement, but no matter what was said or not said, surely it could not make the situation any worse.
They reported back at thirteen-thirty. As predicted, the resolution had failed. There were a good many senators that had gone off to lunch without any qualms, but the more observant noticed the whispers in the halls.
At sixteen-thirty, Relena showed up in our office, her face grim. "We have a bit of a problem, gentlemen," she announced, handing a sheet of paper to Wufei, who happened to be sitting closest to the door. "I just got an anonymous e-mail from someone claiming to be a member -- or former member, perhaps -- of the radical wing in the nationalist party, informing me that members of this person's organization seem to be ready to start violent action against the world government for their refusal to concede to a nation's right to self-preservation."
It was what we had feared, so our reaction was not overly alarmed. "Was that a warning, or a threat?" I asked.
"A warning. This person -- a woman, I thought, judging from some of the phrases," she added, gesturing at the copy of the e-mail that Wufei was handing off to Trowa, who sat beside him. "She said they're not quite there yet, but it won't take much to push them over the edge. She asked me to stop it, if I could."
"Didn't you vote against the resolution?" Quatre asked her.
She hesitated briefly. I pointed at an empty chair next to her, and she took a moment to drag it closer before sitting down in it. "Yes, I voted against the resolution. I feel a little guilty now, of course." She laughed a little nervously.
"Don't be silly," Quatre reassured her. "The vote was two to one against. Your vote wouldn't have a difference."
"I know that. But that doesn't mean that I wasn't a part of the problem. I understand their point, and I even want to support it in many ways, but I don't think that this resolution is the way to do it. It seemed more a result of impatience than anything else, and something so vague would have been dangerous if it had passed, both for the world government, and for their cause. They would have been stuck with whatever the Senate decided worked within the boundaries of the resolution, and since it was so open, there's a good chance it would have been nothing helpful, but they wouldn't have been able to protest. And as for the government, while I do agree that strong reforms are becoming increasingly necessary, I don't think it would be wise to suddenly reverse the policy-making philosophy of the last ten years. Those changes came into effect gradually, and they need to come back out just as gradually, or else the system will collapse. Proposing one sweeping resolution to cover everything is simply not the way to go about it."
"Why would this person contact you?" Duo asked pointedly. "Wouldn't you be the enemy?"
Relena frowned slightly. She didn't like seeing things in terms of allies and enemies. "I've spoken my views. I'm not unsympathetic to their cause. I do think that there are a lot of things that can be done to preserve their identities on the local level."
"Legislating it would be global, wouldn't it?" I interrupted. "Not tailored to the individual regions, which makes their attempt to pass this resolution rather ironic, don't you think?"
Her frown faded in favor of a wry smile. "I've thought so myself. In any case, this anonymous person represented him or herself as a strong believer in their cause, but not a person willing to go so far as to commit actual acts of large-scale terrorism. I'm not sure what they were doing in that organization to begin with, then, but maybe they thought it would never go this far. I'm a pacifist; maybe it seemed obvious that I would try my hardest to put a stop to this threat. It's also well-known that I have connections here. And what made me think this was a woman was the fact that this person said that she admired me as a woman on the world stage. Men don't say that sort of thing."
"You buy all that?" Duo said skeptically. "Like you said, you're the kind of person that would do something about this. And it's known that you have connections. A little buttering up, and it's a done deal."
Quatre shook his head slowly. "I don't see any traps here. There may be a bit of shadiness here and there, but it hardly matters: either way, we need to take this warning seriously. Were they specific about the threat?"
Trowa passed the e-mail on to him. "Not really. It hasn't become a 'threat' yet, after all. But she does say they're gathering more and more people with 'special' skills. With the wars, there are probably a lot of those people lying around. Wouldn't be too hard to find a few with something against the government. There are a lot of ex-soldiers that aren't getting their benefits because their organization doesn't exist anymore."
"The world government is..." After her strong start, Relena trailed off uncertainly. She finished with an apologetic smile. "...trying to do something about that."
We would kindly not point out that it wasn't doing a very good job of it. "Probably more than a person willing to use a gun, then," I mused aloud. Sadly, that wasn't a very 'special' skill these days. "This problem seems a bit too wide-spread for an assassin or a strike team to be effective. Information theft, and consequently extortion, doesn't qualify as violent, though it'd probably be effective."
"Explosives," Wufei declared. "Bomb-maker. It's splashy, a favorite of terrorists everywhere. Makes everyone pay attention, not just a few politicians. And maybe some people that know their way around the system, to help get the bombs where they need to be."
"Hmmm." Quatre finished scanning the message and put it down. "Sounds about right. It'd probably have to be something fairly outrageous to make a former believer change her tune. No time frame given. To make an effective statement, they'll move quickly after they're provoked. They'll want to demonstrate that they're organized, powerful, and a force to be reckoned with. It won't look good if it seems like they were late to the party. Location would be determined by what set them off."
"We should try and get our hands on this anonymous informant," Duo proposed.
"She was anonymous," Relena pointed out.
I snorted. "There's no such thing as an anonymous e-mail." I nudged my laptop in her direction. "Log in to your account and show me the original copy of the e-mail."
Relena gave me a dry look. "You told me to always download my mail instead of leaving it on the server where anyone could get their hands on it."
I blinked at her. "You actually listened to me?"
"Of course," she answered primly.
"If only everyone else would," I muttered.
"I value your opinion quite highly in matters of security. Don't you have remote access to my office computer? I remember you set that up to patch my machine once."
I returned her earlier look. "I removed it once I was done. You think I leave that sort of thing lying around where anyone could get their hands on it?"
Duo made a derisive noise. "Outsmarted yourself, didn't ya?"
I threw him a withering glare, which he returned challengingly. We stared at each other a bit longer than was polite before I turned back to Relena. "We'll need to stop by your office, then." I shut my laptop and stood. "I'll report back as soon as I find something."
"Do that," Quatre responded authoritatively. "We'll start digging on our end. Relena, thank you for bringing this to our attention."
"What else could I do?" Her shrug was entirely rhetorical as she got to her feet. "Apparently, I'm the perfect person to buy into this sort of thing."
We took our leave of the others and started walking out of the building. While we were waiting for the elevator -- I noted with approval that her footwear seemed sensible enough for stairs, though it seemed impolite to force her into my preferred path of travel within the building -- she turned to me with an odd look on her face. "Perhaps this is an inappropriate time to be asking this, Heero, but... things between you and Duo seemed a bit... strained?"
My somewhat irritable silence was answer enough.
She touched my arm lightly. "What happened?"
"We... " I wanted to tell her, but suddenly things seemed so complicated that I didn't know where to start. "Duo... There was something I never mentioned to him. But... it came up, and I did, and now he's... now things are strained."
"He's not happy with what he found out?"
The elevator dinged, the doors opened, and we stepped into the empty car. "Do you remember when I came back, five years ago?"
I debated for a moment whether I should tell her or not, but then realized that I wanted -- almost needed -- to know what she thought about the matter. "And that time I spent in the infirmary?"
She nodded solemnly, familiar with the reasons behind my stay there. She had come and visited a few times, once in the infirmary, and then later at the corporate suite Quatre had lent us during my recovery. I'd been staying at the barracks before that, and that place hadn't seemed appropriate for me as I slowly got my brain back in working order.
A faint echo of nostalgia swept through me as I remembered that time. Despite the fact that I had been so out of it for a while, it had been a good time. Duo had decided to stay with me, though he had a place on Wufei's couch, when he hadn't been sharing a mattress with me in the barracks. My convalescence had passed with a gentle sense of relaxation and contemplation.
I quickly dismissed the thought that perhaps Duo didn't remember those days the same way I did, and pressed on with my story before I changed my mind. "The 'treatments' that the doctors did... they didn't quite work."
"The nanos are still in me, along with a version of the Zero system."
She gave me that searching look that everyone seemed to use on me, as if they thought they could see the circuitry if only they looked hard enough. Or perhaps they sought a sign of madness, or something inhuman. Relena, at times my most ardent supporter... would she turn away from me now?
Her eyes narrowed. "He's mad at you for that?"
I almost sighed in relief, premature though it probably was. "He thinks I'm not the person he thought I was."
"Have you been hiding it?"
"Not really." There was nothing to hide, if no one had ever suspected a thing.
"Then that's absurd. If it's been in there pretty much since you got back, then it's been there the entire time he was getting to know you again. The entire time he was falling in love with you."
It was comforting to hear someone echo my thoughts for once, but it still wasn't very reassuring. She didn't have any true understanding of what the Zero system was, not even the half-understanding that the others had. Minus Quatre, perhaps. "He worries about how strong the system's influence is on me."
"Well, that would make him worried, not angry," she pointed out quite rightly.
"He's not worried about my health." That would have been easy enough to deal with. If only things could be so simple, so... easy to understand. "He's worried... he's worried about how much of the me he knows is... I don't know, contaminated? by it."
We reached the lobby floor and exited. "Is that something he should be worried about? If you've never mentioned it..."
I shook my head firmly. "No, it's not. Not in my mind, anyway. But he seems to be... well... he had a bad experience with the system, see..." I paused uncomfortably, wondering for how much longer I would be making excuses for his behavior. "And given the choice, if he'd known, he wouldn't have chosen to..." Have such a reviled entity as an extra roommate? That was where I had expected that sentence to go. I hadn't expected where it ended it up, though, and whispering the terrible epiphany didn't make it any less real. "...to fall in love with that."
She had to stop and sign out at the front desk, returning her visitor's badge with a polite smile before she took my arm as if I had offered it and drew me out of the building. "Don't be absurd, Heero," she told me softly. In my mind, I imagined condolences. "Maybe he wouldn't have 'chosen' it, but one doesn't choose whom one falls in love with, and he fell in love with you anyway. The fact that you have some microscopic machinery inside of you doesn't change who you are."
Steeling myself with a deep breath, I patted her hand as if I wasn't the one struck numb, choosing shamelessly to soak in her support even knowing she didn't have all the details. "I know. We'll just wait until he knows it, too, and then everything will be alright."
Everything would be alright.
I tried to turn that into a mantra instead of a plea, and turned my thoughts inward for a moment. ::Hush, you. I don't want to hear it.::
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST