If their minds were blown by the way Pargan had a sophisticated computer system with cutting edge software installed, one might imagine their blinking stupor when Pargan opened a closet door, removed the floor panel, and revealed a stockpile of small arms and other resources that he readily placed at their disposal. It never hurt to be prepared, the old man said. The others were forced to agree and asked no further questions.
They made the commute from L4-X2348 to L4-X1972, and from there through the colony streets to the outbound shuttle port on X1753. Such a populated, obvious transit portal put them on alert again, but they avoided trouble through their wary, cautious actions. Maybe they were lucky, and they had not been traced definitively to the L4 cluster, but if their adversaries were worthy at all, surely they would have alerted the authorities all over the sphere.
MO-18 was a small mining asteroid in the orbit of L1. The authorities in the area seemed a little more keen, as might be expected if there were something shady going on out there, but surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, Pargan moved to smooth their path forward, somehow booking them flight time on the small privately-managed shuttle they were currently using to coast into a position on the 'underside' of the asteroid, opposite the facility built into the rock.
"Still got it," Duo announced, pleased as he guided the shuttle to a smooth halt. "Still got the touch."
Obviously unimpressed, Heero unharnessed himself from the seat and drifted toward the rear of the cockpit.
"Hn. You won't stay so high and mighty when I use that touch on you, Yuy."
"Maxwell. Can't you do anything without sexually harassing me?"
"'Sexually harassing'? Damn, what deep dark pit of a stuffy old office did they have you locked up in?"
He didn't want to think about it. "We *are* working right now."
"Yeah? Then when do you get off?"
He was about to answer when he noticed the double entendre, and decided that perhaps he would be safer not answering the question at all. "Step one. We get inside." He unlatched the compartment in front of him and pulled out two EV suits. "Step two. We poke around."
"Heh, you gonna put that nasty flannel of yours on over the suit?"
He shoved the EVS in the smirking man's direction. "Just suit up, Maxwell."
The flannel shirt was removed and not put back on again, but to Duo's disappointment, the donning of the suit did not require any more stripping. In fact, it seemed to involving the strapping on of even more hardware. There wasn't much room inside a suit for a heavy packer, but they would need to be prepared after they got inside.
Duo made idle conversation as they made their preparations. "So, that's it to your plan? It only goes up to step two?" Not that he was particularly surprised. Heero had always had his own special way of throwing together a plan.
"Step three will be contingent upon what we find inside. Noin wasn't very specific about the threat."
"Great. I don't suppose step seven or so involves blowing the place up?"
A corner of Heero's mouth quirked upwards ever so slightly. "Only if you're a good boy, Duo."
Duo grinned. "I'll hold you to that, Yuy."
According to what information they had been able to find, MO-18 adhered to a fairly standard design for a mining facility. It was mostly tapped out these days, though, which meant that they would be able to gain easy access through the materials transport tunnel.
Once they were ready, they stepped into the airlock, waited for decompression, and finally pushed off into free space. It had been a long time for the both of them. They took a few indulgent moments to get accustomed to the near weightlessness before orienting themselves and pushing off in the direction of the shafts. They stuck close to the lay of the land, keeping a sharp eye out for the occasional observation camera set up on the surface of the rock. Fortunately, the strategic placement of the surveillance cameras for maximal viewing angles was predictable.
Heero got Duo's attention with a wave of his hand and started towards a suspicious rock formation on the surface of the asteroid. He continued to study it until Duo bumped up right behind him, getting their helmets close enough for the secured short-range transmission. "Test site?"
The tinny voice sounded loud and sudden when he had gotten accustomed to having only the sound of his own breathing to keep him company. The intrusion sent a shiver down his spine. "Looks like. But the diameter on the hole seems unusually small for mining purposes."
"Ultra-precise beams, then? Maybe they're developing new technology?"
"The blast pattern..."
"Definitely beam-based. But we already have weaponry capable of this. Doesn't make sense that they'd be experimenting with something that already exists."
He touched the edge of the blast site, watching as some of the pulverized rock shook loose and dispersed into the vacuum of space. "Maybe they destroyed something out here..." He looked around the area. "No, nothing to suggest a disturbance."
"Maybe they killed Zechs out here." Heero shot him an annoyed look, and he pouted. "What? I'm just saying. Coulda been someone else, I guess. But, you know, like an 'accident' or something."
"Hm." He left it at that and glanced over his shoulder. "Over there. You can see where the device was placed." He shook himself free of Duo and bounded gently to the point in question.
Duo caught up and resumed his position next to his partner. "That's bigger than it'd have to be for a beam this size."
"Testing the mount, perhaps?"
"Maybe." He shrugged, but the motion went largely unnoticed within the confines of the bulky space suit. "I think we've seen all there is out here. Let's get a move-on. I don't like it out here. Too exposed."
Heero agreed, and they moved out.
They entered one of the large caverns, hollowed out by years of elements harvesting. A track set into the ground and almost obscured by dust led the way into the darkness, the path lit only dimly by lights that were powered by cheap solar panels on the surface. The silence was an oppressive thing that almost left Heero longing for more of his partner's acidic sniping. The sound of his own life processes did little to ease the sense of isolation.
He breathed a little more easily when they reached the airlock at the end. Duo kept watch while he fiddled with the panel and got the doors to open. Scans of the area had shown that this section of the facility was still powered, but was not drawing enough energy to suggest that it was populated. The upkeep had been maintained, and they slipped inside without a peep.
The air was musty, but breathable. They took off their helmets and continued towards the manned section of the facility. If someone were to be held against their will for a significant length of time, it would likely be in the residential sector of the base. The great Milliardo Peacecraft, older brother to the lovely bride-to-be, would be held in civilized quarters, not a dirty silo somewhere.
Though access was more easily gained through the mining sector, it was an unfortunate principle of design that the living quarters be placed as far from the mining sector as possible. The empty, dusty corridors eventually turned into empty, sterile corridors. After the mining sector would come the central plants, the areas that kept the facility running. On the far side of that would be the residential sector. The chances of running into someone on that side increased greatly, despite it being night cycle on the base. One could never tell when someone would be walking the halls, using the bathroom, getting a midnight snack, returning from a late night tryst.
They stashed their suits somewhere secure and proceeded through the base. To be thorough, they looked briefly over each of the areas they passed, securing it before moving on. They were passing by the communications room when they were suddenly struck by the feeling that they must have missed something. There were any number of small sounds that had gone uninvestigated. Colonies and facilities like this one often made noise as their walls settled, their pipes rattled, the temperatures changed, but the presence they felt at their back was no mere creaking of metal joints. With a sidelong glance at each other, they turned as one, diving to each side down a cross corridor and bringing their weapons up to point at the threat, only to be confronted by a familiar face.
They stared at each other for a handful of seconds before they put their weapons down. Duo broke the tense silence. "Trowa?" he hissed.
"Duo," the man in question answered calmly. He added a nod of the head. "Heero."
Glancing suspiciously up and down the hallway before emerging from cover, they trotted the short distance back through the corridor to where their former comrade stood. Trowa had grown a bit, and finally gained a little meat to pad out his lanky frame, but overall, it was still Trowa, lean and quiet and self-contained. "What the hell are you doing here, man?" Duo asked softly.
Trowa tugged at a string around his neck and withdrew a keycard from beneath his shirt. It had his name and picture on it.
Duo chuckled wryly. "Back to doing what you do best, I see. How'd you get in?"
He shrugged, letting the keycard drop against his chest. "They approached me with an offer. I took them up on it. This seemed like an interesting place to be."
"Trowa," Heero interrupted. "Do you know what's going on here?"
He paused before answering, taking a minute to unlock a door not far from them and lead them out of the corridor and into a workroom. Pieces of machinery were scattered across a tabletop. A coffee maker. A handheld drill assembly. Something involving fan blades. "I come here sometimes at night," he said by way of explanation.
Heero's eyes swept the table, looking for relevant information. There was none. "Is this still a mining facility?"
"Nominally." He sat down in the rickety folding chair at the table and gestured for them to find themselves some clear space to rest against. "This rock will be tapped out soon, though."
"Then what are they doing instead?"
"Refinement, mostly. They ship in materials from other locations to be refined here. The infrastructure is already in place. It only takes a few adjustments to go from refining ore to refining metals."
"Metals? For what?"
"They've salvaged a bit of it from mobile suit flotsam still floating around."
"The supply's runnin' low, though," Duo observed. "There's only so much suit salvage to go around, bein' that we're not doing the war thing anymore."
Trowa shrugged again. Duo knew his salvage, but it didn't matter in this case. "Officially, they're aiding in the cleanup effort, and recycling useful materials."
Heero asked the obvious question. "Unofficially?"
"They're keeping some of the refined materials for their personal use."
"Suits are made from high quality stuff. Certainly no gundanium, but still manufactured to withstand extreme conditions. Extreme temperatures, high stress, hard impacts."
"Weapons?" Heero mused, thinking about the signs they had seen outside.
"Weapons casing," Duo corrected absently. "They'd be making stuff to house the weaponry with those materials. The particles themselves... the helium-3."
Heero turned again to Trowa. "Do you know anything about their operations on the Moon Base?"
Trowa picked a screwdriver off the tabletop and started twirling it around his fingers. "I heard about the helium-3 deposits that were found there. I suppose that could easily be enhanced by pulling the exhausted helium-4 from the old suit reactors and backtracking the reaction."
"Do you know what sort of weapon they're building in particular?"
He thought about it for a few seconds. "Not in particular. There aren't any assembly lines going up around here, if that's what you're thinking. They send the refined materials off to some other facility. Maybe something's going up there."
"Hm. Maybe. But back to why we're here. Do you know anything about Zechs?"
Trowa nodded. "What about him?"
"Why is he here?"
"They brought him here. I believe he may have seen something they didn't intend for him to see."
"What about Noin?" Duo inquired.
He shook his head, slightly displacing the long bangs he still kept swept to one side. "I don't know anything about her."
That one could go both ways, Heero considered. Either she was successfully in hiding somewhere, or she had been taken to another location. She had sent the message, so likely she was still in a fully operational state. "Where is Zechs being kept?"
"Residential block. Corridor B, room three."
"Can you get us there?"
Trowa stood as an answer, gesturing them toward the door. With him clearing the security checks for them and guiding them around the guarded areas, it wasn't long before they got to the room where Zechs was being held. Heero stopped him before he swiped the final door open. "How is it that you have such security clearance?"
"I'm his keeper," Trowa answered placidly. "It's my job to watch over him."
Duo laughed grimly. "Damn, you really know how to make yourself indispensable to the bad guys, don't you?"
His head dipped in modesty. "They find my skills useful."
Heero stared at the door as if he could see right through it to the sleeping man inside. "Will it inconvenience you if we leave with him in tow?"
"Nothing that can't be worked around." He ran his card through the reader, and the scanner's light turned green.
"Will the way out be clear?"
"It will be. I should get going."
"You're staying?" A wild pilot reunion was certainly not what Heero had had in mind, and yet... it was a little surreal to have Trowa materialize out of nowhere, only to fade back into obscurity after a very brief contact. It would not have been such a bad thing to increase their number from two to three. A few more, and then the odds would be back to what they were used to, about one to several billion.
"I have a place here for at least a little while yet. It was nice seeing you again. Good-bye." He nodded and turned away.
He was four steps down the corridor already by the time Heero stopped him. "Trowa, wait..." A moment of awkward silence passed. If their contact was to evaporate again, then best to milk it for what he could right now. Pity that time was limited, and that he wasn't very proficient at it. "How... How long have you been here?"
"Six months," Trowa answered without turning.
"And... how has life been treating you? Since the wars." He wasn't certain what he wanted to hear. Was it misery looking for company? Was jealousy prepared to rear its ugly head? Was long-term isolation driving him to seek camaraderie?
He should have known better than to expect a lengthy, rambling answer from a man of so few words. "It's been treating me the same as it always has. You should open that door before the lock times out." That was the last thing he said before striding soundlessly off into distance.
"I always thought that guy was weird," Duo muttered before unlatching the door. He poked his head cautiously inside before gesturing an all-clear to his partner. Not quite certain what the proper etiquette was for walking into a man's room in the middle of the night, Duo shrugged philosophically and just hit the lights.
With a strangled yelp, a figure shifted quickly on a narrow bed, throwing a hand over his eyes to shield them from the sudden illumination. "Don't you people have any manners at all?" he grumbled in a gravelly voice as he waited for the spots in his vision to clear. When it was finally safe to move his hand, he discovered the two visitors in his room. One leaned against the wall wearing a smirk. The other stood straight, arms crossed upon his chest. He recognized that one. A sleepy blink as he levered himself slowly upright informed him that he was not dreaming. "Well. This is a surprise."
"Hello to you, too, Zechs."
"I typically go by Milliardo these days, Yuy."
As if he cared. "Do you want out?"
Zechs blinked owlishly again. No, this couldn't be a dream. If it were a dream, someone infinitely more attractive, like his lovely wife, would be saving him, not his old rival. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"We came to see you. What are you doing here?"
That wasn't quite so mundane as he made it out to be. "I was on Moon Base for some business. I went poking around when I stumbled onto something I don't think I was meant to see. They panicked, tipped their hand, took us hostage to keep us quiet. I don't think they know quite what they're going to do yet. How did you know where to find me?"
"Is Noin with you?"
Absolutely Heero Yuy in the flesh. His own mind wouldn't come up with such abruptness on its own. "No, they kept her on Moon Base. Why? Has something happened to her?"
"She's safe. Probably." Oh, yeah, that made him feel so much better. He opened his mouth to demand answers, but Yuy cut him off. "She managed to send out an encoded message to Pargan relating your situation and location."
"Damn that stubborn woman," he muttered, wincing as he pushed himself out of bed. His ribs still ached, and the healing bullet wound in his leg still burned, but something around his heart unclenched knowing that his wife was still well enough to do that. He could only hope they hadn't caught her at it. "She shouldn't be worrying about me in a time like this. You should have gone to rescue her instead."
"Gee, sorry," Maxwell drawled snidely. Zechs had never spent much time with this pilot, but he recognized him all the same as Zero-Two. "Should we leave you here while we go fetch her for you?"
"I'll fetch her myself, thank you." He took a deep breath to steel himself for the limp over to his shirt, thrown over the back of a chair.
"You don't look to be in any condition to do so," Heero observed blandly.
Just for that, he pulled the shirt on over his head defiantly, and suppressed a hiss as he did so. "I put up a bit of a resistance when they came after me. They did not take kindly to that." He reached for his jacket. "Pargan sent you? Why you? How did he get in touch with you?"
"We just happened to be passing through the neighborhood."
He took Yuy's measure as he pulled his hair out from beneath the collar of his jacket. He didn't remember the boy being so snarky. No, the boy was a man, now. A hardened man, from the looks of things. There was an air about him, even more pronounced than it had once been, warning people to stay away. They didn't want to mess with this one. Zechs would agree. A critical part of his youth's purity had been lost. That was a tragic loss for the world. And, he thought with a pang of bittersweet nostalgia, he was quite certain Treize would have mourned deeply for it.
"Why would you do as Pargan asked?" And why would Pargan trust these two? he wondered as he began the painstaking task of pulling on his boots. Though the other two looked impatient to leave, he was glad they didn't look like they even considered helping him with the task.
Duo snorted with some hidden humor. "Probably because his little princess would get pissy at him if he left her brother here to rot."
"Relena? Have you spoken to Relena?"
"You've heard about this marriage of hers," Heero stated, disapproval dripping from his tone.
"Of course. They want to use her somehow, but I'm not quite certain how, yet. They forced me to pen her a note expressing my approval of the match. If I was merely opposed to it before, I'm absolutely against it now."
"So the Jurgensens were behind your kidnapping?"
At last, one boot on. Now to the next. "More or less. They've fallen in with some new faction. I haven't been able to figure out their real agenda yet, though Victor was reciting some skewed pacifist reasoning at me." It was really rather offensive. Granted, he had strayed from the pacifist flock, but he needed no fanatic to try and convert him to some form of pacifism twisted for convenience's sake.
"Victor Jurgensen. Friedrich's brother. Karl's uncle."
"This is a real family enterprise," Duo put in amusedly. "And who says families don't stick together anymore?"
Families from Sanq did, anyway. "Is Relena alright?"
"She's fine," Heero answered dismissively. "They won't hurt her."
That was one woman he loved out of harm's way. Now for the other. He tightened the strap on his boot and straightened laboriously. "We can talk later. We have to rescue Noin. They were using her as insurance against me. Who knows what they will do to her once they find me missing."
last modified : 1/7/2006 20:16:21 PST