Our initial objective was to connect with the Preventers station at Moon Base to get a briefing on the situation. From there, we'd see what there was to see. I was also planning on looking further into the results of the MinFa challenge. After the hack, all activity had become 'by invitation only', one earned through participation and proven skills, I assumed. I'd missed my chance to get in legitimately, so now I had a lot more legwork in front of me.
Surface to space travel wasn't so simple, despite our great advances in technology. There were only so many launch sites, with the schedules being strictly observed, so we were flown up on a commercial shuttle flight. With a majority of Moon Base devoted to government facilities, its port was used by passengers most commonly as a jump point to the other colonies. We separated ourselves from the herd of civilians and were met by a local Preventer.
We allowed him to give us the inane tour-guide speech as we strode down the corridors of the shuttle port. As we passed through one of the waiting areas, we saw the usual monitors displaying ETAs and news broadcasts. It was obvious which shows were local and which were being received from Earth, based simply on the amount of interference in the signals. Because of their placement, the sound was muted, but the words were subtitled. In theory. The automated captioner spit out almost nothing but gibberish.
"How long have the comms been like this?" Trowa asked our guide.
He shrugged, indicating that he thought nothing of it. "It's been pretty bad starting this last week, but it's not like the connection's ever been super. It goes in and out regularly. It could be poor maintenance, as they say. It could also be solar flares or some ship doing a flyby that dumped its waste between one end of the line and the other."
Duo engaged him in conversation casually, disguising an interest in finding out what the troops on the ground thought about the current anti-government atmosphere. Our guide seemed young and chatty. "I don't remember the colonies ever being dependent on the groundbounders for their maintenance."
"You from the colonies?" the agent asked, perking up a little. He was obviously a native.
"Yup. All of us are, actually. And we'd have all been dead long ago if we had to rely on people to come up from Earth to take care of things."
"Well, obviously, we can take care of colony maintenance by ourselves, just as we always have. It really bugs me to watch Earth media sometimes, the conservative reports, you know? When they blame all of this stuff on us, like we aren't worth our independence or something." He glared at a monitor relaying a signal from Earth. "We should be glad the reception's so poor, anyway. They were really pissing some people off."
"So what's causing all this stuff, really?"
"It's a simple matter of resources, if you ask me. We only have so many qualified engineers, and they're always busy. Everyone used to take care of their own stuff, but once Earth started claiming stuff up here, they just started expecting us to take care of all of it for them. We don't have the manpower to take care of our stuff *and* their stuff, and they haven't figured out that they need to hire more guys, and naturally, colony maintenance is going to be higher priority than some comsat, so..." He shrugged. "There you go."
"Global community and all that, right? Seems kinda janky, don't you think?"
"Tell me about it. Share and share alike? Seems like they're taking a lot more than they're giving, if you know what I mean. They get technology and resources, and what do we get?"
"Yay." We stepped onto the moving walkway that would take us to our ride to local Preventers HQ. "Anyway, if you look out this window, you can still see the scorch marks on the side of the silo..."
They weren't traitors, though. They believed in running a tight ship to minimize planetside interference, which was probably why Une tolerated their sympathies. Nevertheless, there was a failure to communicate that was inexcusable. After being told many times that the colonies could take care of themselves, we excused ourselves and decided to seek out the records on our own. There were a large number of incidents that Moon Base had not reported to HQ, on the grounds that they were 'internal matters'. Had we found out about them earlier, we would have come up here far sooner.
For the last few weeks, ESUN operations in space had been experiencing disruptions of various magnitudes. A few government computer systems had been hacked and vandalized. Government property had been defaced with separatist remarks. Two projects had been sabotaged, setting their progress back by months. Local broadcast frequencies had been hijacked for the distribution of anti-government rhetoric.
Those were the obvious incidents. We dug further to create a folder of possibly related incidents. Two weeks ago, an ESUN observation satellite overheated when its internal monitoring equipment became faulty. The explosion of its core propulsion systems had destroyed its functionality, rendering it just another piece of space junk. At least there hadn't been any crew on board, which was not the case of the mining asteroid, MO-17. Its environmental filtration systems failed for some 'undetermined' reason, causing eleven people employed by the government to be hospitalized for severe respiratory distress.
Duo threw himself back in his chair in disgust. "How could they have thought this stuff wasn't important enough to report?"
"Colony business is colony business," I reminded him. "Earth business is Earth business. It probably doesn't occur to them that there could be a connection between the two."
"And what," he answered disdainfully. "They thought they could deal with this all by themselves? What were they planning to do? It's an Earth-based movement, so it's not like you can ignore the whole Earth side of things here. If you're just going to deal with the symptoms, then you're screwed. Not like they want to go back to Fed-like martial law or something."
"I wouldn't think about it too hard, if I were you. This whole situation would have blown up on them, sooner or later."
"It already has, Yuy. We've got, what, twenty-four people now that we think have been harmed by their stunts, and that's just physically. Once the comms level out, I'm so calling Une and delivering the news personally. I want a front row seat for when the eviscerations start."
"She's had a tough week, Duo," Trowa commented mildly. "Don't go handing her more trouble."
"She's had a tough week, Trowa," he mimicked. "Don't you think she might enjoy a little evisceratin'?"
"Let's see if we can put a stop to this first, shall we?" I interrupted. "These attacks have escalated. We need to get a handle on the situation on the ground before we can determine if there's a central authority running the show, and if we can stop it."
"I have contacts," Trowa volunteered. "I can start talking to them."
Duo stifled a yawn. "You were going to hunt down the hacker angle, right?"
I resisted the urge to echo his action. "Yes. The intercolonial network still seems to be working, so I should be able to plug in and poke around."
"You don't have anyone you can contact?" Trowa asked.
Just because he traveled around everywhere and talked to lots of people, didn't mean everyone did. I shook my head. "Not for this."
"You never did find out who sent that e-mail to Relena, right?"
"No." When would I have had the time to, anyway? "But it was sent planetside."
"I read your friend's report. What about her contact, the one that was helping her into the MinFa trials?"
I coughed awkwardly. "No help there. That was me."
An eyebrow rose. "'BeingGreen'?"
"Long story. From a long time ago."
Duo laughed suddenly. "I think I remember that story. Do I? God, yeah, I think I do." He laughed again. "Whatever happened to that guitar?"
"One of the strings broke. Didn't seem worth it to replace."
A nostalgic smile. I hadn't thought I'd see one of those again. I dropped my eyes to the screen in front of me to hide the tilt of my own lips.
We let the comfortable silence stretch for a bit before turning in for the night. We couldn't talk to any contacts until morning. Quarters had been assigned to us on base, so we headed on out to the dorms and paused outside our rooms, each of us looking at our respective doors.
"Well," Trowa remarked. "This is awkward. I'll see you two in the morning."
We both blinked at him as he entered his own room as if he hadn't a care in the world, leaving us to stand uncomfortably in the hall. "Is it just me," Duo asked slowly. "Or does he seem not quite right in the head sometimes?"
I just snorted, and left it at that.
We continued to linger uncertainly in the hall, counting the seconds as they ticked by without resolution. Finally, Duo shook his head impatiently, ran his key card through the scanner, and moved as soon as the door was clear. He reached out, snagged my wrist, and pulled me in after him. "This is stupid," he muttered. "I'm not going to get any sleep anyway, knowing you're on the other side of the wall, so you might as well be on this side of the wall, where I can get slightly less no-sleep."
At the time, I couldn't have cared less what his reasoning was. I was just glad he was choosing to keep me with him. We'd been sharing our bed back in our apartment, but the beds in the dorms were a snug fit for two. Of course, we'd done it before, but the air had been clearer between us before, too.
I put my duffle down by the door and tried not to make things stranger than they already were. I didn't have many options, so I looked around the room. It seemed oddly familiar, though I knew I'd never been there before. All of the Preventers' dorm rooms looked just about the same. There was a desk built into the wall, a chair, a side table, a sink, and a bed. It was a small room, and somehow we managed to stand so far apart. One of us could have volunteered to sleep on some other piece of furniture, but there wasn't much to work with.
Duo sighed ruefully. "History sure does like to repeat itself, doesn't it?"
He was no doubt thinking the same things that I was. "Does it?" I asked, following the memories all the way through. He hadn't knocked on my door this time, but here we were anyway. Would we talk? Would we kiss? Would we fall asleep, comforted by each other's presence? When I saw those thoughts reflected in his expression, I shook my head apologetically. "Sorry. I didn't mean to..."
"...to what, Heero?" he asked softly.
"To..." I shrugged, not knowing the end of that sentence for sure. "Push?"
He closed the distance between us, the Moon's gravity allowing him to cross the gulf with a few light bounds, distorting my perception of it. "I could have slammed the door in your face, you know."
He'd been holding on to my hand at the time. That wouldn't have been comfortable. "As you said, Duo.... That's not your style."
"Oh? You mean I like creating difficult situations for myself?"
"No, not at all. I..." I trailed off as I caught the amused, self-deprecating look on his face. My hand rose, possessed by the urge to touch his face. I stifled that instinct halfway to completion, and as my hand fell back to my side, it brushed down the length of his arm.
We stared at our hands for a little while, before he sighed lightly. "About your handle, Heero..."
I found somewhere else to look. "What about it?"
He hesitated, then pushed forward. "I... I don't remember the lyrics, really. I remember it being kind of depressing. And... I remember thinking that for some reason, it made me uncomfortable."
"You teased me about it," I noted softly. "Didn't stop for two weeks."
"Yeah, I..." The small smile that had bloomed briefly on his lips faded into a shame-faced look. "I was probably just being an ass again. I mean, you said you really liked the song, and it sounded like you meant it, and there I went, teasing you for it, just to cover up--"
I put a finger on his lips and shook my head. "It was a strange, obscure song choice. There's no denying that. It was very tease-worthy, so let's not go overboard with the sensitivity, okay? There's nothing wrong with banter. Banter is healthy."
He crossed his eyes for a second, as if he could see my finger on his lips, but gave up the effort shortly thereafter to stare at some random point near my elbow. When he parted his lips to speak, he found my finger still there, quite reluctant to move. Closing his mouth created an impromptu kiss that stole my attention for a few heartbeats. When it returned, I remembered where my finger was and let it drop. It resisted, slowing its descent to trail down his chin until at last the contact was broken.
It took a pregnant pause for him to put his thoughts back into order. "I remember it ending different than how it started. Kinda zen, kinda... you. I guess...." He smiled tentatively. "Maybe when we've got some time, I'll look up those lyrics again. See if... see if they mean something different to me now."
"I'm sure I have them on the computer at home," I offered neutrally.
::Lyrics: It's not--::
::Hush, you.:: Yes, I was sure Zero could dig the lyrics out of my brain easily, but I didn't want to press them upon Duo.
"Yeah...." His eyes went distant for a few seconds. "You... you had three monitors hooked up to your computer, back when you were in school, right?"
"Yeah." I still did.
"I always thought... that was kind of ADD for you. But I guess if you had them back then, then that's just you, and..."
Not Zero. I smiled for him. "I'm not ADD. I just like maximizing my work space."
::The ability to efficiently multitask should not be confused with a psychological disorder.::
"Maximizing your work space," Duo echoed wryly. "Yeah. Sure. Well... I guess it's not really that different from our Gundams, with all the different displays."
He sighed again, one of those heart-heavy sighs that I wished had no reason for being. "Kinda wish we could go back to those times, sometimes. Not the whole war thing, of course, but, you know... things were just simpler back then. You fight, you survive. None of this happiness, personal fulfillment crap. Never had to worry about any of this."
"I found it a refreshing change, actually," I admitted. "You know I don't like things that are outside of my control. I thought it was sort of nice to have this thing that I was responsible for, and the only person that would really be affected by it was me, and the only person that could really affect it was me. I... don't really run into that sort of thing very often."
"Guess that's why you... Zero wasn't under your control at first," he ended up saying, startling me with his sudden change in direction. "...Was it?"
"No," I answered immediately, not wanting him to think for even a second that I had volunteered to have Zero in my head. After I had established that, I slowed down to consider my answer more carefully. I realized that I had never really given anyone a full accounting of my time at Olin Base. No one had ever really asked. They'd all focused on the simple fact that Zero had gotten into me. "You know... when I first woke up in that room at Olin, and I realized what had happened... I didn't like it. Of course I didn't like it. And I couldn't do a damn thing about it. I fought it at first. Went over that room, over and over, trying to find a way out. Argued long and hard with the voice inside my head, trying to convince it that this wasn't the right path to take. If you think I'm stubborn, you should try arguing with Zero sometime."
"You should have more sympathy for me, then," he joked softly.
"Yeah. I do. Got kind of batty, after a while. Got a little bit better, after I convinced it to pipe its output through the speaker system, a little bit less like I was going crazy, but... then it was just a disembodied voice, and it wasn't that much better. Sometimes, it felt like the voice of God... making an executive decision and forcing me into the Rapture or something. I started losing time when Zero went through my memories. And then you called, and Zero answered, and... and I think after that, it... it became clear that I wouldn't be able to do anything to stop it. I thought it was kind of like hell, actually, being trapped like that, unable to do anything useful."
He reached out to take my hand, squeezing gently. "God? Hell? People really do get religious when they think it's the end, don't they?"
I made a quiet sound resembling a shadow of a laugh, squeezing back. "It got even worse, actually, after you came for me. I was happy, of course. Relieved. Whatever. I knew you'd be able to find me. But then I couldn't even watch your progress through the base. I wanted to see you so badly, to help you, but I couldn't, because if I paid any attention to what you were doing, I would start thinking about what you must have been planning, and then Zero would pick up on it and use it against you. Yeah, that was hell right there. Not just knowing that I couldn't do anything to help you, but knowing that I couldn't even try. If I saw Zero doing something, I could work against those things, but other than that... about all I could do was hope and... well, pray, sort of... that all of you would get through the base safely."
"You gave up on us finding you?" he asked, tightening his grip on my hand again as he read between the lines.
I knew they would find me. I just thought they wouldn't be able to save me. "It stopped mattering. It just didn't matter, so long as you all could get back out safely. I put you in that situation."
"You're such a damn fool, Yuy."
"I have my priorities straight. I don't know if it worked or not, if I wanted it enough to get factored in to Zero's calculations, but... well, you all made it through safely. That's all that matters."
"You've... never mentioned this before."
"Everyone made it out alright. That's all that matters."
He tugged my hand angrily. "Dammit, Yuy, you weren't alright...!"
"Yes, I was. Granted, I was... still suffering some side effects from my incarceration..."
"Side effects," he repeated flatly.
"But I made it out. You made it out. Everyone made it out."
"Stockholm syndrome?" he asked hopefully.
I couldn't help it. The idea was absurd, and I chuckled. "You know I had a soft spot for Zero, even before..."
"Dammit, Yuy...," he sighed. "Here I was, kinda ready to just give up on this whole thing and accept the fact that you're just out of your mind, and here you go, bringing it up again..."
That certainly hadn't been my intention. And I could wish it wasn't his, either. If I had to be 'out of my mind' for him to accept me, I'd take it. He was just that important to me. But I didn't want it to be that way.
::I also accept your persisting instances of irrationality when it comes to your mate. There is no explanation for humanity's illogical, aberrant behaviors. It is simply a flaw in your programming.::
Interesting point, I conceded ruefully. Maybe my expectations were too high. "I just wanted to tell you what happened. I want to try to not 'fail to mention' things."
He made a wry sound. "Well, yeah, okay, as full disclosure goes... I appreciate that. I know I asked you this before, though. I followed up with you on this... didn't I?"
"Yes." My brow furrowed as I thought about it some more. "I think you did. Sorry, my memories from then are a little bit fuzzy. I think you did. I don't think I really answered you, though. My capacity for stringing together complete sentences was rather limited for a while, and all that really mattered to me was that you were safe, I was out, and... I got to be with you."
A small half-smile snuck its way onto his face. "Yeah, I remember. You kinda kept repeating something along those lines, and you were so spacy, and... like you said, I was just so glad you woke up, so... I let it drop."
"That was probably the right thing to do, anyway. I don't think I would have known what you were asking, if you'd asked me then. Not because my brain was scrambled, but because... well, now we've gone through all of this, and I know better what I'm missing."
"So you're coherent now... and you know what you're talking about now... so..." His fingers shifted around mine nervously, reminding me that we were still holding hands. "Why did you take off after Zero on your own? Five years ago, you said, 'Sorry, just happened,' and I let it go. Even though it was a pretty crappy answer. Why didn't you wait? Let somebody know where you were off to?"
The question caught me off-guard. Again, it was just another one of those things that I hadn't thought about much at all. Another one of those things that he needed to understand if he wanted to be able to accept my decisions. A lengthy silence passed before I gathered the words for something resembling an answer. "I... It did just sort of... happen."
I made an apologetic sound. "I was out for a walk at the time, just to clear my head, when I got that text message. When I figured out that it was from Zero, and that it was telling me to go to Olin, I went. I was half-way to the car before I remembered that I was a part of a team."
"And then you just kept on going."
"I..." Well, it was true. What could I say to that? "I can give you the normal reasons. That I wasn't sure if anything would pan out, so I'd just go and check it out quickly, call for backup if I needed it. But... it just seemed... right. That it be settled between me, Zero, and..." I paused for a ironic chuckle. "...and whoever was behind Zero. I guess I was too close to things to see what was obvious in hindsight."
Duo blinked at me. "You so did not just give me some sort of cosmic destiny excuse. That's even more crappy than 'it just happened'."
"Ah. Sorry." It was true, though. I'd always seen Zero as 'mine' to deal with, even though Quatre had been the one to reconstruct the system, and all of us had used it at one point or another. That was one illogical little quirk of mine that Zero never turned his nose up at. At least Zero had the numbers to explain why he thought I was 'his'. I just had empathy and sympathy on my side. "Maybe... I was just being selfish. Let's face it: you all wanted to stop Zero. I wanted to save it. So maybe it was a variation on, if you want something done right, you do it yourself."
His hand twitched as if to run itself through his bangs irritably, only to find that it was still engaged with my own. He lifted the two, studying them intently before uncurling my fingers to run his thumb over calluses long faded. "Damn those Gundam pilots for being such annoyingly independent, bull-headed, full-of-themselves people, anyway."
I felt lighter, and I didn't know if it was because I found his assessment amusing, or if I was just relieved that I just maybe had couched it in terms he understood. We'd all done things like that in the past. Some of those instances had just been more spectacular than others. "Well, you said something about the good ol' days. This is just my way of bringing you back to those times."
He chuckled. "Gee, thanks. You're just an eager-to-please little puppy, aren't you?"
The hand holding mine shifted, then withdrew, leaving me hanging. He made it clear that we weren't done yet, though, by the reminiscing look on his face. "Heh, you remember this one time? Nah, you probably don't. But I was over at your place, back when we were 'dating', and after a nice long session of after-dinner sofa-snuggling, I said I was in the mood for some dessert, and you half get up and say, 'Oh, I've got a pint of ice cream in the freezer. If you don't mind that I've eaten out of the carton.'"
I laughed. I wish I could say that I'd been new to those things, but even now, I had my lapses. I just had fewer of them. "Yeah, I remember."
He tried to suppress a helpless grin, but wasn't quite successful. Failing that, he hid it by turning his face down. "I thought you were the cutest, most clueless little puppy there ever was."
There were far worse things to be in this world. "At least I figured it out after a few seconds."
"Yeah, only after I stared at you for a few long, loooong seconds."
"I figured out the spoon part."
"Yeah, because I warned you ahead of time that I was only going to get one spoon, and no, that wasn't a mistake."
"At least I..." I hesitated, crossed my fingers, and hoped I wouldn't ruin the mood. "I figured out what you meant. Zero was way off."
"Oh?" he responded after a very deliberate pause. "It tried to figure it out, too?"
"I was trying to figure it out. Zero likes to try to help me figure things out. That's what it does." It was an eager-to-please little puppy, it was.
"Ah. And, um, what did it figure?"
"Zero figured that, uh, we were licking the insides of each other's mouth regularly, so sharing ice cream probably wasn't much of a concern."
He covered his face with his hand for a few moments. "You two..."
"Hey, I figured it out."
"Yay. You're better than a computer, then."
I winced when he hit that nerve, but he didn't see it. "I am. I'm much, much better than a computer. When it comes to this stuff." Our exchange trailed off into silence, each of us probably contemplating very, very different things. "Am I really that robotic, Duo?"
"Wha--?" It took half a second for his brain to catch up to his mouth. His expression slowly slipped from confused to morose. "I... I was being hurtful, Heero."
"And now you're dodging the question."
His eyes narrowed slightly at the accusation, but he didn't deny it. The sour look remained while he considered his answer, easing into something uncomfortable. "...No. No, you're not robotic. You... get really focused on things sometimes. And you seem to like pushing the limits of human endurance for fun. But that's not being robotic... because you do that stuff because you're so... so... not-robotic. So... passionate about what you do. It's one hundred percent for you -- one hundred ten percent. You don't do things half-assedly. Sometimes... that may come off as... inhuman in some way. But it's not. I should know better than that."
I stared down at my toes for a while. "I know I don't get things sometimes, pick up on things that other people would..."
"That's just being clueless. And even that's just... no, not robotic, but sometimes, Heero... sometimes I swear, you live in a different world than the rest of us."
"Oh, 'alien', then." I looked up with a twist to my lips that skirted the edge of bitterness. "'Alien's better than 'robotic', right?"
He punched my arm lightly, not really giving me a clear answer on what he thought about the matter. "Sometimes, I think your world's not a bad place to be. It's gotta be a much tidier place than this one, that's for sure."
"But this is the 'real' world, Duo. And this is where we operate." I'd never been an advocate for ignoring reality.
"So? People can live in one place and work in another, right?"
I nodded slowly. "Yeah..." I liked that notion. It grew on me. "Move in with me, Duo."
He blinked. "Huh?"
"Move in with me. There's plenty of room here for two."
"Move in with you? Heero..." His fingers grazed my cheek, somehow telling me that he wanted to say yes. "...I barely even know you."
"Fair enough. But it's a big place. Enough for us to each have our own space. Or if my place is too weird for you, we can find somewhere in between. Hm, though maybe that's not the best idea. My place is frustrating, and your place is depressing, and I'm guessing we don't really want to live somewhere that's half-depressing and half-frustrating."
"Yeah..." The response sounded automatic. He still looked a little shell-shocked, but eventually he overcame it with a lopsided smile. "Heh, I hear it's nice in Wufei's neighborhood."
"Yeah? We'll have to look into that."
"Yeah... Yeah, we will."
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST