Duo volunteered to fetch some food from the cafeteria for us while I continued calibrating the Taurus's beam field parameters. Moon Base was central enough that it had a decently supplied kitchen, although its population of on-site residents was relatively small. The base was also a distribution center of sorts for many of the Preventers satellite installations. I was sure we had crates full of military rations, if it came to that. If it was the rebels' intent to starve concessions out of us, they would be waiting a long time.
"How's it going?" Duo asked, setting a tray of food down on a table next to me before sitting on the table himself.
"The stability isn't one hundred percent yet, but it's nearly there."
"I talked to Brahms. He said we might as well just stay down here and not bother with the night shift. These suits might come in handy, and there's nothing we can do up there anyway."
I finished setting up the latest test of the field strength and took advantage of the lull to poke at one of the sandwiches Duo had brought. "Is that a good sign or a bad sign?"
He slapped my finger away. "Trust me, it looked better than the leftover macaroni casserole. Just eat it already." He took the initiative and pushed the ham sandwich in my direction. "We don't have the authority to browbeat anyone into submission up here, so... I don't know what it is, I guess. We got plenty of other bad signs, though. Leto Two-Thirteen's decided to take the lead in getting all martial-law-sy on their people. A couple of crackdowns later, and we've got a shitload of angry, net-savvy people going amok again."
"Leto..." I pried my sandwich apart to inspect its innards. It was more than an hour past lunch, and the sandwiches were looking a little wilted. "That's L3, right? Can we hope that we didn't just make the people that were already angry more angry?"
"After mass confiscations and stuff? Not likely. You geeks hate it when people touch your stuff." He took a bite of his tuna salad without hesitation. "Nice job on the BZC, by the way."
"I don't know what you're talking about." The sandwich seemed harmless enough, and filling one's mouth with food was a good way to appear nonchalant.
He snorted, but tilted his head in acceptance of my protest of innocence.
I didn't think my little hackjob would have made it onto his radar, nor did I remember Quatre mentioning it as a part of my 'undercover' story. Had Duo actually been listening when I'd noted how sad its file system was? "You don't like people touching your stuff, either."
After a brief pause, he realized he couldn't deny that in any particularly graceful way, so he conceded the point with another nod and moved on. "So Une knows our situation now. They're gonna try and get some people up here -- lord knows what they think they're gonna be able to do -- but they're playing things way too cautious. Seems like there are too many sensors and weapons on the lookout for shuttles exiting the atmosphere. I think if we get these guys up and running, we'll be sent out on escort duty or something."
"There are still surface to space commercial flights flying out to the colonies, aren't there?"
"Yeah. They just don't want the government. Naturally they don't mind the commerce." He made a sour face. "'Course, I guess there's people with family and stuff, too. They're not gonna piss their own people off. So yeah, they're flying some people up on commercial shuttles -near- some of the hot spots, but that's about as far as that can go. A lot of the carriers are restricting their flights these days, of course, and I think there were a couple of colonies in the reports that had sealed up their docks. Or have had their docks sealed up from the inside. I dunno, man, this whole thing's going all to hell."
"Well, then." I patted his knee congenially. "Be glad that you're stuck in here, then, playing around with some mobile suits."
"Heh, yeah. Makes me nervous, not being out on the front lines, but yeah, I keep feeling kinda guilty walking around up there since all those guys are running around like the sky is falling, and here I am, thinking to myself, 'Hey, you guys brought this upon yourselves...'"
"We're government agents, too." He liked to forget that whenever it was convenient. Sometimes, I did, too.
"Yeah, but hey, you warned them about an infrastructure collapse and all the network vulnerabilities months and months ago, and I've always thought that the government should stop trying to stick its nose where it don't belong." He paused only for a sip from his drink bottle. "And let's not forget that the guys upstairs thought it would be a smart idea not to let the guys dirtside know how bad things were getting up here. Maybe the Senate would have done some legislating, or maybe Relena would have smiled pretty at them and none of this would have gone this far."
A large part of me was being cynical. The Senate knew all the facts about the nationalist's cause, and they did nothing. And I didn't think it was fair to make Relena go in and clean up their mess. "It's impossible to say for sure."
He waved his sandwich at me dismissively. "I know. I'm not saying it for sure. I'm just saying that things turned out this way for a reason, and I'm not going to run around panicking and whining about it."
"You're not going to panic, Duo, because that's not what we do."
"Well, yeah, there's that, too, 'cuz it's kinda like, big deal, the world went all to hell, what, say, twelve years ago? Been there, done that, have the flight suit to prove it. Kinda wish I was on the other side of this little war, but hey, what can you do?"
"We win this little war. And then we take the time to sympathize with their cause afterward. That's when we can do something about it. They're not going to accomplish anything with this in the end. You know that."
"Yeah, I know. Doesn't seem like a forever ago that I did think that, though. Guess the princess has gotten it through my head. The other day, when you were waxing angsty about how they all learned to rebel from watching us? Too bad they didn't learn the other part, the part that came after with all the politicians and people that sat down and really made the change stuff happen."
"Maybe they'll learn it this time around."
"After we kick their butts, right?"
"Right. Humility is good for the soul." My workstation beeped, and I looked over in confirmation. "Calibration complete."
He wadded up the wrapper of his sandwich and tossed it into the trash bin. "Score. Nothing like talking politics during a working lunch to get me all fired up and ready to go. You never finished telling me what you thought about this guy's pump system."
I looked over at the other suit. "I don't think it's worth it, not unless we decide we really need two suits. Otherwise, I think it'd be more unreliable than I'd like. Take a look at it. Particularly at the dorsal converter."
"Will do." He disappeared behind the suit while I cleaned up our lunch, tossed it, and then went to disconnect the diagnostic equipment from our primary suit's regulators. We'd been aiming for two pilotable suits, one for each of us, but as of yet, there hadn't proven a need for two. If we decided not to go with the second suit, we could scavenge a couple of gyros from it that would come in handy in our repairs. We hadn't expected the suits stored at Moon Base to be in such sorry condition, but they had likely participated in the final battle of the war of 'ninety-five. They had been spaceworthy enough for their pilots to limp back to their docks, but more than ten years of corrosion and no maintenance had taken their toll.
"You're right." Duo's voice preceded him around the suit as he returned. "It would take too long to get that thing back to a state where I'd be willing to stake my life on it. Guess we should just concentrate on this one here, then, save that one as an emergency backup or something."
I nodded. "I'm going to pull some insulation from the other suits..."
"Hey," I said, announcing myself loudly enough for him to hear.
"Hey!" His answer was muffled, but clear. "Anything fun happening outside?"
"Nothing compared to the fun we must be having."
"What fun would that be?"
"You tell me. You're the one with your head in a robot's crotch."
"Ow! Dammit, Yuy! Don't make me laugh!" He pulled his upper body out from behind a piece of armor plating, rubbing the back of his head and trying to overrule his grin with a pout. "Not my fault that's the easiest access point to the bithermic valve."
"Never said it was."
"Though you gotta wonder why these things need such heavy duty codpieces, yanno? Heh, all of the external sensors happen to be located on the suit's head, but wouldn't it be funny if they were all hidden behind this thing?" He smacked the suit's pelvic plate. "Then we'd all go around aiming at each other's crotches, and damn, I bet there'd be more chick pilots, if that were the case."
"You know the interference from the core would kill the sensor readings."
"'If', man, I said 'if'. Anyway. What's the news now? Any colonies fall yet?"
"We've got probably half a dozen of them, ready to fall at a moment's notice. They've been like dominoes. The situation gets tense on one colony, and then the government steps in to try to control the situation, and then some other colony hears about it and starts causing trouble, and then the government steps in to try to control the situation..." I shook my head. "News of the various 'injustices' travels through the nets almost as quickly as they happen."
"So, uh, we get any victories at all?"
"They've located three cells and put them out. A variety of lesser offenders have been apprehended. But the news definitely travels more quickly than we do. We're losing ground. We've got four more colonies in complete lockdown, only one of which was at the decision of the local government. There's a nice conspiracy theory going around, a rather popular one, actually, saying that this is all a part of an ESUN agenda that's been years in the planning. They've even got names for it. 'Operation Twilight' is my favorite."
"'Daybreak' sounded way cooler."
"Well, OZ got to name the operation themselves, so they got the nice, positive name, and we get stuck with the mirrored, oppressive name."
"If we've been planning this for so many years, then damn, ESUN is really bad at this whole oppression thing, 'cuz they're getting their asses handed to them. Can't take speed alone and call it an 'planned operation'. A little organization would be far better proof."
"Hardly matters. It's a powerful rallying cry, whether or not it makes any sense, and if this pre-meditated action of ours is failing, they like to think it's only because they have so much strength and power when they band together for a righteous cause."
"Well... it's true."
"It's more like they're taking advantage of the very system they denounce in order to show us the righteousness of their cause. I like the irony of it all." Their side probably called it 'poetic justice'.
He threw up his hands in defeat. "Well, I'm convinced. Are you?"
"I was convinced months and months ago, remember?"
"No one likes a person that says 'I told you so.'"
I did us both a favor and ignored the fact that I was just saying what he himself had said not twelve hours ago. "Brahms wants us out in the field tomorrow, if we can manage it."
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure we can do that. Has Trowa made contact today?"
"I don't know. I think he might have his fingers in something big, though. There's some mumbling about the ridiculous speed of all this. Our analysts have come up with a counter-conspiracy theory. They're thinking that things couldn't have escalated this quickly on their own. ESUN can't have messed things up this badly. They're pretty sure that we weren't responsible for some of the 'evil offenses' attributed to us."
"Yeah, sounds like something Trowa would be involved in. Damn him."
"Thought you didn't mind being stuck in here with the suits?"
"Well, I don't 'mind', but... dammit, he's gonna get all the bragging rights when this is over."
"Well, if we get this thing out the door, we'll be allowed to destroy illegally seized government property in the name of defending the poor, innocent shuttles that ESUN's trying to send up here."
"Ooh, really? I could go for some of that."
He wrapped his hand around my fist triumphantly and gave me a victory shake. "Ha! Paper beats rock! Yeah, baby, I'll take you on a ride you'll never forget."
By now, his words were directed entirely at the Taurus. Of course, I preferred winning to losing, but I didn't mind it so much this time. I'd kind of wanted Duo to win, anyway. He seemed much more enthusiastic than I was about wrapping his fingers around the controls of a suit again. As glad as we were that that chapter of our lives was over, it hadn't been entirely without its bright spots.
He had, with some sweet talking, managed to convince the higher-ups that both of us should be out in the suit. They had already confirmed that we served no particular purpose while on base that no one else could fill, and if something came up in the field, then we would both be on hand to deal with it. The arrangements of stuffing the both of us into a cockpit meant for one were left to us.
It was possible. It just wasn't comfortable. But then, we'd been sharing an unspacious bed for the last few nights, so we weren't unfamiliar with close quarters. I waited for Duo to seat himself and strap in before grabbing onto the overhead bar and pulling myself in.
"You sure you know what you're doing?" he asked as I arranged myself over and around his seat.
"Of course. It's my first time, though." Thank goodness for zero-g. I kept one hand on the bar, planted another on the top of his head rest, and wriggled around until my legs found somewhere secure to rest. I leaned over the top of his head and smiled at him upside down. "Be gentle."
He flicked the top of my helmet. "Ha ha. Think this thing will protect you?"
"I can swing around into your lap if something comes up, but I'd rather not get in your way if I don't have to." I might not have hesitated, had this been Deathscythe, but the layout of the controls in this suit was different. We wouldn't be able to reach out blindly and know we'd hit our mark. "Besides, I've got a thick skull, remember?"
"Tell me about it. Okay, then. Let's rock." He flipped the switch to close the hatch, opened the bay doors, and maneuvered us carefully out of the hangar. Once out in open space, we took a good look around us, using the suit's sensors to gather the data on the mines that were blanketing the area. "Well. This oughta be fun."
I reached down, extended the small keyboard plug-in up as far as it could go, resecured my position, and input the course I had already charted with Zero. Our projections overlaid the displays. "There. That should be the best route through, given this suit's limitations."
He let out a low whistle. "Yeah.... yeah, okay, that works." He studied it a few seconds longer to fix its patterns into his mind before powering up our main thrusters. "You good?"
"Then let's get the hell outta here."
The acceleration of our takeoff rocked me back, but my positioning proved solid, leaving me in an adequate place to continue my careful scrutiny of the sensor readouts. We had cleared almost twenty percent of our flight plan when the blips of the mines on the monitors began to move. "On it," I muttered, reaching out to the keyboard with one hand again. I left the fine course adjustments to Duo and re-plotted our overall path, taking into consideration the probable pursuit arcs of the mines as we flew by and sent ripples through their network.
We rolled sharply, and I had to pause what I was doing to throw a hand out and stop myself from slamming into the cockpit wall. "Sorry 'bout that," Duo said, his words curt and intense as he concentrated on evading the incoming mines.
"Don't worry about me," I answered similarly, already back to completing our route. The sudden move hadn't surprised me. It had been the best way out of the space we had occupied. I'd just waited until the last moment to steady myself. I finished my input and got both hands back on the bars just as explosions rocked the suit around us. Two mines had collided, setting each other off and taking six more along with them in a chain reaction. We jetted away from them and continued our course. I leaned into each turn as it came, and when we finally got far enough away from the mines' set position, they stopped their pursuit.
Duo let out a loud breath. "Well. That was fun. You still okay?"
I relaxed my grip on the hand holds and worked on convincing the rest of my body to stand down. "Yeah. Mind if I sit down for a while?"
He moved his arm out of the way as an invitation, which I took him up on gladly, settling myself across his lap with a soft sigh. Raising the face plate, I let my helmet knock lightly against his. "Nice flying."
His face plate also came up, and suddenly it felt like we were breathing the same air. So close, and yet unable to touch. "Nice navigating."
I smiled and let my eyes close for a few moments, easing back from Zero's embrace. ::Come on, you think he did a nice job, too.::
::There were no significant errors in his piloting. He did not deviate from our calculated path.::
Duo shifted, activating the comm and notifying command of our status. They made the customary congratulations, which Duo handled with his usual good grace, and then directed us to our rendezvous point with two shuttles coming up from Earth. Our mission was to make sure nothing got in the way of a safe arrival.
It was an easy flight out. Duo got us going in the right direction, and then leaned back to wait. He didn't ask me to move, and I didn't volunteer. One of the side displays still showed the data from our trip through the mine field. He looked at it one last time before shaking his head and clearing the screen. "Heero..."
It took him a while to answer. "Back at ZenNet... in that control room. Hell, all over that building. You took all those people out, yeah?"
"Yeah." Not all of them, and not permanently, but close enough.
"Barely a scratch, you."
"I..." He fiddled with a sensor reading. "Guess it's good for something, after all."
It was the closest he would ever get to thanking Zero for keeping me safe. I curled a little more snugly against him and let his statement pass into comfortable silence before it could become awkward.
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST