Quatre and Wufei had been onboard one of the shuttles. 'It was about damn time,' as Duo had said. After the loose ends had been tied up on the Earth side of our investigation, the shuttle routes had closed up. Although Preventers had sent a few agents up on commercial flights, it probably would not have been economical to send the two special agents up in such a roundabout manner. Quatre and Wufei needed to be where the action was, not commuting from colony to colony, making it out to some satellite installation.
We exchanged a few words with them, then communicated our mission success to base and stood by for further orders, taking the opportunity to patch in to external transmissions and listen in on the newswires. The situation in the colonies seemed to have stabilized at a low point, but it was better than continuing to degrade. A number of colonies were under something resembling martial law. Three local governments had lost control of their people and were hunkered down against assault. Four more comsats had been destroyed. Two mining asteroids had been 'reclaimed'. Six government databases had been hacked and vandalized.
Nine colonists and fifteen government employees had been killed in the last thirty-six hours. Many more had been wounded.
"Shit," Duo muttered. "Trowa out there twiddling his thumbs or something? No way in hell we suck this much on our own."
We couldn't gain access to the Preventers channels from here, but from the last updated report that we had gotten before leaving base, we knew that our people had zoomed in on what sounded like a corner of the widespread conspiracy against the government. From there, it was just a matter of painstakingly following the thread back to its origin. The most important factor now was time. "Trowa's a good man to lead the investigation. He isn't fazed by deadlines."
"Man, he's not even fazed by Quatre in full-scale rant mode. That guy just isn't right in the head."
"Maybe." Weren't we all? "But he'll get the job done."
"Eventually," he answered darkly. Duo didn't get fazed by deadlines, but he did feel them.
"Everything's done remotely these days up here," I justified, as if that could make things better. "It's hard to track down."
"Would someone please just tell me whose ass I have to kick? I want my vacation. You and me. Now." His foot tapped impatiently against the pedals for all of two seconds before he got twitchy enough to pull the keyboard back out and start running through our accumulated data. "Lessee, if I were a terrorist, what would I do next...? Correction, if I were -still- a terrorist..."
My position across his lap was making his typing difficult. I nudged his hands out of the way and took care of the information access for him. "Correction. Freedom fighter. Resistance. Self-image is a key factor in our decision making processes."
"Okay. Fine." With his hands freed, one curled up along my back and settled on my shoulder. The other sat on my knee. "So we've got this escalation thing going. They want ESUN out of here. They're forcing the timeline forward, despite the negative effects on their own people. Why? They're willing to sacrifice their freedoms in the short-term, if it gets ESUN out of here even one day sooner. If ESUN's taking too long to get all hard-core uber-mean government on them, or if they're not heading that way, then these guys are going to make 'em that way, or make 'em look that way, because... they're planning some hard-core stuff, but they can't do it unless ESUN threatens 'em first. Bad PR if they're the aggressors... Whoa, slow down there, buddy." He touched the edge of the keyboard. "Not all of us can read... that..."
I didn't slow down for him, but I did lean against him briefly. "Sorry." The apology was both for the rate at which I was moving through the data, and for what had him trailing off before he could finish his sentence. He had no doubt realized that Zero was helping me speed things along. "I think I can put something together..."
His hand slipped off the keyboard, to land tentatively on my knee again. "Well... way to make a guy feel obsolete here."
"No, keep talking. I'd like to hear your ideas on the matter. It helps me think." When his silence stretched for a few seconds, I requested a few seconds of my own from Zero. After he decided that he could spare a few, I turned to give Duo my full attention. "Really, Duo. I'm fast when it comes to crunching the data. Doesn't mean anything if I'm not even looking at the right data. You have good ideas. You understand people. You have a certain flexibility of thought. Help me narrow things down."
He shrugged a little uncomfortably. "I'm just thinking out loud, Heero... Just..."
"Even better. Then I can see how you got from A to Z. Gives me more to work with."
"Well..." He fought some internal battle in the space of several heartbeats before he started up again. "Bad PR, was it? So... I guess from there... they've already got Moon Base nailed down. It's kind of unlikely that they'd be able to boot every last groundbounder out, and I don't think that's their goal anyway..."
I factored in his evolving theories as I worked my way through the data, identifying our points of weakness and correlating them with the resources the 'resistance' had on hand. What would they likely do? What could they do? What did they want to do? When I needed more information, I asked Duo to find it for me. Zero happily chewed his way through our newly expanded list of possibilities, and branch by branch our search tree was pruned as the three of us worked together.
"...stupid history, always repeating itself, and are you sure you're listening to me, Heero?"
"Yes," I answered promptly, closing in on a final conclusion. "In fact... I have the terrible feeling history is trying to do just that... There."
He inspected my side of the monitors as I finally took a moment to work the kinks out of my hands. After a puzzled silence, his fingers started to fly over his keys, and ten seconds later, he confirmed my findings. "You're fucking kidding me. It didn't work last time. It didn't work the time before that, either. And if history really, really repeats itself, it's not going to work this time, too. What the hell?"
"Third time's the charm?" I proposed, charting the satellite's trajectory through space. I pointed to a spot on its arc. "We should intercept it here."
"What? Why us?" He complained, but he was already turning our suit in the necessary direction.
"We're comsat engineers, remember?" I answered wryly. "If we don't know how to stop a satellite in its tracks, who does?"
Our new acceleration vector pushed me into him. "Not just comsat experts, but 'stopping large objects from crashing into other large objects' experts, too, huh?"
"Makes us perfect for the job, don't you think?"
"Not to mention that we're 'have no problems with boarding said large objects despite the fact that they're on a collision course with other said large objects' people, too, right?"
"Right. Though we'll get there with plenty of time to spare. We should alert Moon Base, though."
"Heh, sooo tempted to say, 'What they don't know can't hurt them.'"
"Brahms or someone would find out afterwards. If that happens, -you- can be the one to deal with them."
"'What!?'" he shouted, his voice lowered in imitation of the AD, with the faint L5 accent. "'Someone's dropping a comsat on us!?' Bleh, reaction's gonna be about the same, before or after."
"Fine, I'll tell them." I left the driving to Duo and contacted base. I broke the news to them gently, starting with the fact that there was plenty of time until they were in actual danger and that we were well on our way to dealing with it before letting them in on the fact that there was a satellite heading their way. It wasn't large enough to decimate the entire base. Preventers HQ would just be rather unuseful afterwards. We gave the rebels enough benefit of the doubt to suggest that perhaps they would allow the occupants of the base time to escape before wreaking havoc. That made the most sense. Earth would never leave them alone if they decided to kill everyone on base. Command handled the news gracefully enough, gave us another update, and then left us to our business.
It would be another twenty minutes before we reached the comsat in question. The one closest to the Moon Base had already been destroyed by the insurgents. This one was next in line. Trowa and the others had tracked down the next link in the rebel plans, but even once they were found and the greatest violence halted, the underlying problems would still be in effect. Hopefully Relena and her allies in the Senate could step in then and take care of the rest.
"You're good at that," Duo said to me, a peculiar smile on his face. "When did you learn to stop being so blunt?"
"I'm still blunt," I answered almost defensively. "I don't believe in pulling my punches. I still say what needs saying, regardless of whether or not someone thinks I ought to. I just... I've just learned that sometimes people get irrational after I get blunt, and then they don't listen to anything else I have to say. So doesn't it just make the most sense to start out with all of the things they wouldn't hear otherwise, and then hit them with the big ones?"
He rubbed at a smudge on one of the consoles. "It's... smart, I guess. I know I... I probably wouldn't even be here if you hadn't done that with me."
"I think I'll keep putting in the effort to do it that way, then." I bent my attention to checking our long-range scanners. "I'm sorry it didn't turn out better."
"Yeah, well..." He started clearing out some of the data we had been sorting through. "I appreciate the effort. Just a, uh... unfortunate combination of circumstances, that's all."
"Yeah." The union of his neuroses and my neuroses had proven volatile indeed. "I want my vacation, too."
"Good." I heard the smile in his voice. "Glad we're on the same page about something."
"So," he started, making some conversation to pass the time. "This is what you do down in tech support all day?"
"Sometimes," I answered. "Minus the dropping-a-satellite part."
"But that's the fun part, isn't it?"
"There are other fun parts. What was the last deployment I had before this? That weapons sting? That was interesting."
"Oh, wow..." He sighed nostalgically. "This case kind of started out with black market weapons, didn't it? Trippy."
The weapons had stayed mostly on Earth, to the best of our determinations. That was something small we could be grateful for. Of course, that was because the colonists preferred to hijack our weapons and use them against us. "Une thought I should join the tactical analysis group."
There was a brief pause in his typing. "Yeah? Not field work anymore? You taking her up on that?"
"We decided that there was no reason for me to be making any decisions right away. I don't see the point, really. She's always had me on field work and tactical analysis on the side, on a case by case basis. I don't see what difference it would make if I were permanently assigned to those units."
"Don't let her bully you into leaving a job you love, Heero."
"I would never bend for Une. She doesn't mean that much to me."
"Don't let anyone bully you into leaving a job you love, Heero."
"I don't let anyone bully me into anything."
"Don't bend for--"
"Duo." I asked Zero to hold that last thought and crossed the small room to Duo's side. When he didn't turn, I embraced him from behind. The bulk of the EV suits around our waists from where we had peeled ourselves out of the upper half made it awkward, but the simple fact that it was a hug removed any discomfort from the action. "I may take strange things into account that no one else would when I make my decisions, Duo, but they're always my decisions." I pressed my lips chastely to the point right under his ear. It wasn't a real kiss; we hadn't had one of those since I'd fallen off that damn ladder. "I appreciate your concern, though."
::Memory address overwrite at 0x32DA8270 likely caused by overflow of command buffer at--::
::Thank you. I'll get back to the console in a few seconds. Tell me again then.::
I squeezed Duo once, and then let go. He turned around finally, but I was already stepping back to my work. I threw him a wink over my shoulder. "I'll still let you bend me over, though."
His eyes widened before he took a small lunge forward to try a swat at my butt. He missed, leaving him only to shake his head. "Dammit, Heero... Here I am, trying to be considerate..."
"And here I am, trying to give you one less thing to worry about. So, who's going to win this one?"
He held out a fist. "Rock, paper, scissors?"
I chuckled. "You won the last game. Why don't we just give this round to me, and we'll call it even?"
"Hmpf. I'll think about it."
I got back to my buffer overflows, and he got back to the stabilization system. Zero's deduction was correct, and I patched the hole. While I was going over what else the hackers may have tampered with via that exploit, I found some other things that they had left behind. "Stop what you're doing for a sec, Duo."
"Hm? What's up?" He appeared by my side a second later.
"They left some alerts in the system. They're monitoring the satellite's progress."
"Well, yeah, makes sense. If your crazy theory about them actually allowing Moon Base to evacuate is right, then they'll need to know when to call off the mines. I don't see where the problem is in letting them know that their plans have been foiled."
"They've also left some of the ports into this comsat open. They've been routing communiqués through here. When the comsat is destroyed, they won't have to worry about anyone tracing their messages back to the source. They're all encrypted, of course. Standard protocols, but that still means we can't crack them without a significant investment of time."
"Can you pull anything out of them?"
I skimmed the rest of the log quickly, stopping when I found a data attachment. They weren't typically encrypted with the same level of security as the text. It was forwarded in several different instances. I broke them out and pried what I could of them open, assembling pieces from each into a broken whole. It was in an unknown binary format, so most of it wasn't human-readable, but we could pick out a few string fragments here and there.
Duo scanned the encrypted lines of data until he jabbed his finger to one in particular. "What are these, addresses?"
They were in the proper format. I ran them through the comsat's tables to get a general idea of what sector they were in. "They're all public institutions. I can't tell which ones, though, not from here."
"Well, we should write those guys down, then."
"I got it."
There was a brief silence on his part, presumably as he waited for me to take some action. And then it dawned. "Shit. You're even more eidetic-memory than you were before, aren't you?"
"Um... it means I'll always carry a picture of you with me, wherever I go?" I grinned with a false brightness.
He elbowed me for my troubles. "Whatever. Hey, does that mean we could hook you up to a printer and never have to use a camera again? That's just wrong, man."
"You were the one that just came up with it."
He ignored me blithely. "Those look like timestamps, don't they?" he asked, pointing at another section of the file.
"Those look... like... they're very soon." I glared at the files until I pulled enough content out of them for Zero to work with. "This is a distraction. The satellite's not going to hit for some time. Too much time for things to go wrong, considering this is probably the capstone in their grand campaign. They're going to distract the government from noticing that the satellite is off-track until it's too late, and they'll do it by making a concerted push against these points. It'll be more than just for show, too. They'll make a real effort to disable ESUN operations in space."
"When you say 'they'..." He scratched the side of his nose thoughtfully. "We're talking a lot of people. Spread out all over. It's not just going to be these guys in charge of making the government look like a bunch of screwballs. This is going to be anyone they can recruit. The guys from your little hacker contest thingie?"
"Rumor did have it that they would be taking largescale action against the government. This certainly fits the bill."
"Whee. We should probably call this in-- But not from here, right?"
"Yes. They could be monitoring anything that comes in and out of here."
"Let's finish up with the collision course thing, then, get back to the suit, call the bosses, and oh yeah, there are also some explosives on the outer wings that we'll need to deal with."
They would give the satellite a little extra push to get it up to speed. I nodded. "Anyone pretending to be a repair crew could have been buzzing around these satellites. No one would have asked any questions."
Duo snorted. "Maybe they really were the repair crew. We don't know whose side those guys would be on."
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST