She paced restlessly in her room. It didn't make her feel much better, and in fact, just emphasized how much her back ached and how weak her ankles felt, but it was better than just lying down on the couch like a swooning pregnant woman. When the alarms first went on in the night, she'd woken instantly, hoping against hope that her message had been received and successfully decoded.
There were advantages to being a grumpy pregnant woman in a base full of mostly clueless men. She'd been able to browbeat them into allowing her a 'daily constitutional', a walk through various parts of the base. A glimpse here and an overheard word there helped flesh out her understanding of the situation. She'd gained access to the infirmary on several occasions for 'check-ups' with the base doctor, really a rather sympathetic bloke that was kind enough to advocate her cause and help ease the conditions of her imprisonment. A teary-eyed request or two to visit the infirmary during the off-hours for 'little things' or 'feminine matters' had given her some time alone with the equipment she had needed to record, encrypt, and transmit a message to the only person she knew was beyond suspicion that might be able to decrypt it. Unfortunately, she hadn't been certain what Pargan might be able to do, and she'd resigned herself to the worst.
The transmission had included Zechs' position, not her own. Her good sense informed her smartly that the personnel on the mining asteroid would probably be easier to penetrate. Her soft heart hoped that at least he would be able to get out. But if someone had come for her now, then maybe that was the best of both worlds. She dared not hope, but should the attempt be made to free her, or the opportunity arise for her to free herself, she held herself ready.
But then the alarms had been canceled. Mission failure? Captured? Killed? False alarm? She was worried. No one had come to see her, no gloating Spieler, no vengeful husband, no weathered old butlers, no doubled guards. For a time, during the alarm, two guards had joined her in her quarters, but they'd been told to return to their posts once the alert was called off, and she hadn't heard anything of significance since.
Unable to get much sleep, she paced. The more time that passed, the more she contemplated knocking her guards out and attempting an escape herself, only she hated to move when there were so many holes in her knowledge of the situation. If someone had been captured, she couldn't leave them behind. If someone was coming for her right now, she didn't want to be gone when they came. If someone had been killed... she might need to make a few stops on her way off the base.
She paused in her pacing. Had she imagined a noise outside? Was she a little too eager to be released? Had her rescuers just been disabled? She headed towards the chair by the small desk in the room and latched on to the top of it with a tense grip. It had already been tested and determined to be a suitable weapon in time of need.
The door slid open, and she could have used a seat in that chair. That was not whom she had been expecting. She blinked at them, aging the images in her mind until they confirmed that indeed, these were the people she thought they were. First, the amusement. Zechs was going to be so pissed that it was his old rival Heero Yuy saving his wife. Then, the fear. "Where the hell is Zechs?"
"I'm feeling unloved here, Yuy," Duo lamented as he dragged the body of the last guard into the room. They'd found some tranquilizer guns along the way. It was hard to hide bodies when there were blood smears all over the floor.
"He's safe," Heero informed her, keying the door closed. "How are you at escaping?'
"But where is he?" she insisted, though she quickly padded over to the table beside her bed and snatched up what few things of hers they had left. 'Safe' could have meant he was still in the hands of the enemy. "Is he alright?"
"There were a few injuries that made it a better idea for him to stay behind. How quickly can you move, and for how long?"
"Injuries?" A guy couldn't just say 'injuries' and leave it at that.
"Nothing major. How quickly can you move?"
If that was all she was going to get out of him, then that was all she was going to get out of him. "Do we have a minute?"
He threw a glance to Duo, then shrugged. "Preferably not."
"Trust me, we'll all be happier if we do." She hustled towards the small bathroom and shut the door behind her.
Duo snickered. "Well. At least she didn't have to do her hair or something."
"I heard that, Maxwell!"
"Don't pick on her, Maxwell," Heero admonished. "She can probably kick your ass--"
"Not until the kid is spawned," Duo retorted, then paused for a short double-take. Damn, did he just concede that Noin could kick his ass? Heero's echo of a snicker confirmed it. "Hey, she's hot. I'd let her kick my ass any day."
"That's... just... No, Maxwell."
"I heard that, too, Yuy!"
"Lt. Noin," he said crisply, returning to the business at hand. "How are you impaired by your condition?"
Pride told her to say one thing, practicality quite another. She sighed and let practicality win the day. "I won't be running any marathons, Yuy."
"Our shuttle is docked in A-ring. Morning shifts will start in fifteen minutes. Duo has amused himself by rigging a few of his favorite things to go off on our command. Does this sound doable?"
She emerged from the commode and went to her boots. "Why did the alarms go off yesterday? Did you go to ground, or were you captured?"
'Captured' was such an amateurish mistake. He breezed over that part. "We got out this morning. They'll likely notice us gone in about twenty or thirty minutes."
"If the base isn't on alert yet, it should be okay."
Duo bent down to help her with her footgear. She sat back up upright gratefully, if irritably, and maneuvered her foot into the boot being held for her. "Damn," Duo grinned. "A pregnant chick in army boots. You are so my kind of girl."
Feeling the need to speed things along, Heero knelt down to help with the other boot. Noin smiled. Two handsome, feisty young men at her feet. It made her pride preen a bit. "A girl could get used to this."
"Hey, once you spawn, I'm sure I'll be available. I'm not so into threesomes, though, so if Zechs would like to just go away somewhere, maybe you and me...?"
"Hey," Heero protested mildly.
Duo glanced incredulously in his direction. "What, *now* you're jealous?"
Hm. That didn't seem right. He was still musing thoughtfully when Noin stood and stretched a little. "Hand me that," she said imperiously, pointing at the sub-machine gun of one of the downed guards.
Duo cheerfully complied. "Damn, stop that, Noin. You're gonna make me cream my pants."
She took it and professionally checked the weapon over. "The other one, too," she ordered.
"Ahem," Heero interrupted, handing over a semi-automatic handgun he'd picked up earlier from another guard. "Perhaps you'd like to have this one, instead."
She glared at him. "Dammit, Yuy, I'm pregnant, I'm grumpy, my back aches, and I want my husband. Since he's not here, I'll settle for a sub-machine gun."
He picked it up and claimed it as his own. "You have one. Having a variety of weapons is more secure, don't you think?"
She made a face at him, but she took the gun, slinging the first weapon over her shoulder before checking over the new one.
Duo moved over to the door and peeked out. "All clear. Aren't babies supposed to listen to classical music or something? What kind of kid is it going to be if it grows up listening to semi-automatic gunfire?"
"It'll be mine," she growled possessively. "Alright. Let's move out."
"I'm going to tell Zechs you hit on his wife," Heero muttered to Duo on the way out the door.
Duo smirked. "That's a terrible thing to do to an injured man, Yuy. He wouldn't have a fighting chance."
They made it out of the residential block and slipped into a maintenance corridor, striving to avoid the growing crowds in the commons areas. This was an awkward time to be sneaking through the base, but they had to get as far as they could before anyone noticed that their prisoners had escaped. Duo blamed the poor timing on Trowa. The early morning hours were the least convenient in the residential block.
The alarms were once again sounded when they were threading their way through engineering block C. Duo swore as they picked up their pace. "Don't suppose they won't shoot at a pregnant lady?" he asked hopefully.
"Too bad we're not pregnant ladies," Heero pointed out dryly.
Noin took a few moments to mock them between breaths that were annoyingly heavy. "Babies, the lot of you. Since when you have two been afraid of a little gunfire?"
"Out of practice," Heero explained blandly. "I've gotten used to my skin being in one piece. How are you doing?" She just nodded tightly and concentrated on moving.
Duo made sure the corridor ahead of them was clear before he led them around the corner. "Hey, maybe this is just good practice for the birth thing. Like, the breathing thing? What's that called?"
"Lamaze," Heero supplied.
"I don't think this is what the doctors recommend as practice." She put her hand over the gentle swell of her belly and apologized silently to her baby for the rough ride. The doctors told her not to drink or smoke... but they never mentioned whether running for one's life would have adverse effects on a fetus. She figured that the death of the mother would be fairly negative, though. She, too, had grown fond of having her skin in one piece. Marriage had softened her.
A door opened, and four troops ran into the hallway. The trio took advantage of their surprise at actually stumbling across the escapees to take them out. As man on point, Duo had his weapon raised and took down two of them before they had the opportunity to get their hands on their own weapons. Heero got the third for their number before fire could be returned, and Duo claimed the fourth as he went for his radio to call the encounter in.
They slid to a halt by the downed men. "Save your ammo," Heero snapped, pushing Duo's arm down. He hit the still-conscious soldier over the head with the butt of his submachine gun, then salvaged the communicator from the fourth squad member.
"You are so a pacifist," Duo sneered, taking his turn at scavenging for ammo.
"I gave you a good reason, didn't I?"
"A reason I'm mitigating right now."
"Like you really wanted to kill that man when he was already down." They finished up and hustled on.
"I thought you were ready to do what you had to."
"What I have to."
"Is this necessary?" Noin snapped. Life dealing with young recruits had taught her to cut this sort of harassment off early.
"Shit, you're going to be one drill sergeant of a mom," Duo muttered.
"What do you know about mothers?" Heero retorted on her behalf. Two soliders materialized behind them, and as the man watching the rear, Heero shot them down efficiently. They didn't stop to see how long it would take for them to die.
"And what the fuck do you think you know--"
"Enough," Noin commanded. This was the last thing they needed right now. "I will not have my child exposed to this sort of language."
"But gunfire's okay?" Duo demanded.
"And suddenly you're an expert in--"
"Stop it." Noin slowed long enough for Heero to catch up so she could punch him in the arm. When Duo laughed, she did the same to him. "I see you obviously haven't grown up any in the last five years. In fact, I'd say the two of you have gotten worse! What the hell have... have..." She gasped to a halt.
The others stopped and supported her. "What's wrong?" Heero demanded worriedly.
"Cramp," she panted, hand rubbing her side. "Just a cramp."
"A good cramp or a bad cramp?"
She glared at him, grateful for the concern, but impatient with the inanity. Men were so clueless sometimes. "Just need to catch my breath," she clarified. She told herself that was all it was, too. It didn't feel worrisome. No more than any stitch in her side that she had ever had. The rest was helping. But the mother in her worried over everything. She wanted out of here, and back to Zechs, who made her worrying seem like just a drop in the bucket.
Duo pushed her back along the wall a couple of meters with a muttered apology. A small squad of men headed down the cross corridor towards them. He leaned around the corner and fired, sending them scurrying back the way they had come, back to the previous corner for cover. Then he pulled a small canister out of the depths of his jacket, depressed a trigger, and tossed it down the hall. The men on the other end cursed as the air filled with gas.
Heero was still presiding over Noin. "Are you good to go?"
She moved suddenly and shot at two soldiers rounding the corner behind them before nodding. "Let's go." Heero helped her to her feet and guided her on, taking the front man position. Duo fell in to the rear guard.
At one intersection in a long line of intersections, Heero didn't think twice about asking for directions. It was better than leading them astray. Duo saved himself the trouble and took the lead, snatching the borrowed communicator from Heero as well. He could react better to the comm traffic without the middle man. "Memory failing you, Yuy?"
"I said, stop it." Noin's voice didn't have to be loud to be commanding. "If you want to be idiots, I can go on from here without you."
"And be deprived of seeing Zechs grit his teeth and thank us? No way." Duo had never known the Lightning Count from the war, but it didn't take much of that aristocratic attitude to rub him the wrong way. At least Heero was arrogant, but earthy.
"That counts, too," Noin grit out. "From here on out, business talk only."
Duo bit his tongue on a multitude of comments. Much as he could have gone on about Heero's softness and how that related to his ability to keep them safe and watch their back, he was both miffed and privately relieved that Heero had been performing up to snuff. There had been that moment of mercy, but he supposed he could excuse that. As long as the bad guys couldn't follow them, it was probably enough. Not as if they needed to make sure they weren't followed. Heero was pulling his weight there, too, shorting out a key door or two on their backtrail and buying them some time. Hell, even Noin was pulling her weight. She had more recent knowledge of the base than either of them, and it hadn't been something acquired while fleeing from the base during the war.
He heard the pounding of footsteps down a connecting passage and tossed a preemptive flash grenade from the stock they had acquired from a weapons locker on the way to Noin's apartment. He felt like real grenades would probably have been more effective, despite the shouts and curses coming from the disabled soldiers that signified his action's success. Life had taught him to be better safe than sorry. Well, he still had the detonators to a couple of strategically placed devices in his pocket. They'd have to go off soon to try and throw their trail in another direction.
He enjoyed big booms, but honestly, setting off remote explosives blindly didn't appeal to him. Never knew what could change in the blast zone between setting the explosives and pressing the button. The charges could have been found. A convoy of fuel trucks could be moving through a supply depot. A field trip of church kids could be on their way through the base. Hell, maybe Trowa was wandering around in the area. He just never knew.
That was what they got for being on a base during a raid, he frowned darkly, clearing another corridor. It was on their heads to take responsibility for their actions and the decisions that had put them in harm's way. Their responsibility to live and die by those decisions and their consequences, regardless of whether they had been foreseen or not. No regrets, right? No regrets, no tears, no looking back. Only the shitty present moment that a guy got stuck with.
He noted the signs on the wall marking their location. Almost there. And admittedly, sooner than he would have thought, considering the pregnant lady in tow. He'd already had a good dollop of respect for Noin from the first war. She'd been a staunch ally on the Peacemillion, except maybe during the time she went after Zechs. But hey, they all believed in something. She just happened to believe in Zechs, and, well, misbegotten as that faith was, he was impressed she held on to it through all the shit Zechs put her through, and glad she had made it through unfazed. His respect for her had only grown during the Barton uprising. The unofficial exile to Mars in the aftermath seemed to have served her well.
"Alpha point, go," he said, fingering the button.
"Acknowledged," Heero answered, pulling Noin to a halt.
He hit the trigger, and the charges set off in a generator room went off. The explosion sounded louder than it was from the way it echoed and rumbled through the base's systems.
"We'll want to wait here for about half a minute," Heero told Noin, listening in satisfaction as that damn alarm fluctuated in tone. "Give the power some time to settle."
She nodded, and tried not to seem too grateful for the short rest. Obviously they were holding back on her account, and she appreciated it, but she was looking forward to that final leg of the journey. "Where to after?"
"We'll get you back to Zechs as soon as possible," Heero promised. "We'll just have to see how many roadblocks we hit along the way."
"It's about damn time," Duo sighed cheerfully when the alarm finally spluttered and died with one final knell. Its failure signified the collapse of an important subgrid in their sector. It was good to know he still had the touch. Explosives were tricky things on a space base. "Let's go."
Another explosion went off thirty seconds later. "Beta?" Heero inquired sharply. They needed to save that one for falsifying the trail at the corner of resupply shed Juliet and maintenance corridor gamma two nine.
Duo shook his head. "Not me. Side effect, maybe." Annoying though it was to have miscalculated something. He refused to think that possibly it was an ally, possibly even Trowa, helping them along.
"Hn." Heero acknowledged Trowa. He also hoped Zechs hadn't gotten impatient and gone looking for them. They weren't overdue for contact yet, but their momentary capture had put them behind schedule. Explosions weren't really Zechs' style, though.
Too simple to hope that the first explosion and its aftershock could divert all personnel away from their position. A crew of engineers emerged from a room and crossed their path, discussing the ways they thought the pulse rifles they had been issued when the alarm went off could be enhanced with a different battery configuration. There were too many of them to bull their way through, so they were forced to backtrack. A few of them stood their ground in the face of cover fire and actually figured out which end of their rifle was up, getting off some shots. Duo's reflexes kicked in, pushing Noin behind him and paying for it with a mild graze along his thigh. She laid down suppressing fire, deliberately aiming high, while he got himself back to the last corner and Heero occupied himself with keeping her alive. He blew out a panel behind them and dropped the decompression shields to discourage their pursuers.
"Damn," Duo muttered as Noin poked at the wound. It would be annoying, but not a problem. "I lost first blood."
"I think we scored a few of them," Heero judged modestly.
"I mean between me and you."
Competitive as always. He snorted. "You scored first blood on me a long time ago, Maxwell."
Duo perked up in remembrance. "Oh yeah, huh. Good. Let's go."
Their little detour did not cost them too much in time. Beta point went off as planned as they went through the intersection, the smaller charge destroying a relay that caused an explosion by overload two blocks over. The disconnection there would disable the auto defenses on that entire side of the base.
They didn't know if their shuttle had remained undetected. Surely the troops manning the station had searched for their point of entry after their capture. Maybe Trowa had even pointed out the likely hiding places. Then again, he was just as likely to have secured the shuttle for them. Either way, they weren't taking that chance, They bypassed the emergency docking they had done with their rented shuttle, hoping that Pargan had done something nifty that would avert financial responsibility, and headed towards one of the maintenance bays. The path they had laid with their explosions led toward the real fleet of shuttles and transports, but they were confident that they would be able to find something flightworthy in the maintenance pool. This was not a combat fleet. Nothing would be gutted and decimated. Most were dedicated to mining purposes. They'd probably find something where the pilot's seat had a squeaky sping.
There were three crafts waiting for them. The first was obviously in the middle of an overhaul. They headed towards the second, boarding and running a quick systems diagnostics. All lights showed green, though admittedly the internal cooling light didn't show up at all. The fuel gauge was full, and they hoped the shuttle wasn't in for an inaccurate fuel gauge. All systems were good enough for them, even for Noin, who had a little less of a by-the-seat-of-her-pants method of operation.
Duo was already maneuvering the shuttle out of the docking bay when Heero drifted up next to him and took the co-pilot's seat. "Noin's secure," he informed the pilot.
"Good. I've a feeling she'll need it. Wait. Hey, Noin!"
"What?" She was tired and achy and still trying to catch her wind. She made a mental note not to be taken hostage again in the next four months. Or maybe arrange for a nice and easy pickup next time.
"Anything I need to know before I start hotdogging it out of here?'
The doctors hadn't covered this case, either. "Just use your common sense," she settled.
Heero turned in his seat to shoot her an advisory look. "You know that's not a good idea, right?"
"Sadly, I think he's right," Duo quipped.
"Just fly, Maxwell," she growled.
He flew, starting off with a bang. The auto-defenses were down, but the manual posts were still fully functioning. The three fugitives had managed to squeeze their way past the foot soldiers, but now there were computers and sensor arrays to alert the base of their escape vector.
"Dammit, Heero, what do you mean, we have no weapons?" Duo grunted, pulling them smoothly out of a relatively slow barrel roll. "The light was green!"
Heero's fingers tapped the controls on the panel in front of him. They hadn't expected any mighty fire power, but they'd expected something standard, maybe. "Hm. It seems they've been bypassed."
"And that's not enough to make the light turn red?!" Maybe it was easier to shoot at a pregnant woman when she wasn't visible. He pointed the ship down and skimmed back along the surface of the moon to try and avoid notice.
"Apparently not." If the system had been co-opted, then where was it going? Heero continued to poke around the onboard systems, calmly leaning into the turns as Duo did what he had to to get them out of them. It was unfortunate that it seemed many of the power systems had been likewise diverted. "Of all the ships, Maxwell, did we have to steal the experimental craft?"
"What? Experimental in a good way or a bad way?"
"The power conduits have been burnt out. Looks like they overloaded. I'd guess they tried hooking that beam weapon of theirs to this thing and tried it out."
"Great. Just great." He pulled them out of a lunar canyon and checked their sensors. "At least we know it doesn't work well."
"Two Tauri on our tail. Sensors say they're running at half capacity." They were probably reconstructed from the salvage the base was reportedly conducting.
"Two tori..?" He glanced over to Heero's display and looked for himself, then veered off to the left upon discovering the nature of their pursuers. "Dammit, Heero, the plural of 'Taurus' is 'Tauruses'! Don't give me this 'Tauri' crap!" One took a shot at them, but it went wide.
"Is it really?"
"Yes, it really fucking is!" He pulled them off in a climb that was really nowhere as steep as he would have liked. "What the fucking hell is a 'Tauri'? I guess I'm really glad we never really worked together during our space battles."
"Your language degrades noticeably when you're angry."
"Just shut the fuck up!" The Taurus took another shot at them, and but also missed.
A choked sound from Noin's direction caught Heero's attention. She was suppressing a laugh, but she was also trying her hardest not to turn green from Duo's evasive maneuvers. Heero went back to being a good co-pilot and started scanning the space around them. "Debris field. May be our only chance to hide. If we cut power...."
Duo took a quick glance at the coordinates and ran through the calculations in his head. It looked like mining detritus, maybe the remains of their weapons tests. "Yeah... it's doable. I'll need to get these guys off our tail, though."
Mild evasive maneuvering, no matter how skillfully performed, could not outwit their followers forever. They took a hit to one wing tip and their port thrusters, and a rattling skimming burn along the body of their craft. It didn't fly very steadily after that. "Yuy..."
"I know." He didn't have very many tools at his disposal. "Okay, I've gotten some of the original systems back online. You have secondary fire at sixty-eight percent, and a somewhat maneuverable claw."
"Yee-haw!" It wasn't much, but he'd take what he could get. He pulled them around into an offensive position. Sixty-eight percent wasn't enough for a massive explosion and instant death, but it was enough for Yuy to target their clunky engines and send them spinning for a while. The power conduits weren't pleased with that, though, and decided to choke again. But it was still enough for Duo to do a flyby, and for Heero to grab the restored mech with the shuttle's mechanical claw, crush its sensor net, and toss it in the direction of their second opponent, which in turn was enough to distract the pilot and allow Duo to get in reasonably close again. Close enough to vent plasma from the toasted power conduits at him, which cooled them just enough to spout out one piddling little burst of beam fire, which was just enough to set the plasma aflame and cause an emergency onboard the Taurus more pressing to the pilot than shooting down the shuttle.
last modified : 1/14/2006 23:52:01 PST