Heero conceded that he had a good point. All they had with them were the guns they'd brought in. Granted, they could probably raid Hawkins' weapons locker, but a stodgy old guy like him? Boring.
They were hustled along with a sense of bemusement until they finally ended up in the hands of Zechs and Noin. Duo got right to the point. "Where are the toys?"
Noin sighed dramatically. "Alas, this is a pacifist administration, Duo. They have not been encouraging weapons development."
He pouted, eyes getting wide and puppied. "No boomsticks?"
"Well, no new kinds of boomsticks. We still have the standard array of armaments. On the plus side, there have been other advances in technology. We have new communicators, locators--"
"But no boomsticks?"
"Damn." When she shuffled through some files, he leaned over to whisper into Heero's ear. "This is where you're supposed to tell me about how you got plenty of boom in your stick, or something along those lines."
"That's disgusting, Duo."
He just shrugged. "Hey, I don't make this stuff up."
"Really. Then where do you get it?"
"Um. Bathroom stalls?"
Zechs cleared his throat in a gentlemanly fashion. "Do you two mind?" He'd heard the story from Noin, and had been strongly advised to cut off any bickering between the two before it truly started.
Heero focused his attention on his old rival, and the two of them stared at each other measuringly, even challengingly, before Heero smirked. "GSW still got you down?"
Duo chimed in. "Ooh, maybe it's the ribs."
The aristocrat looked down at them from his superior height. "These were injuries honorably attained. If I were in better shape, I would be going on this mission myself."
"Aren't you mostly just a pilot?" Heero meant it more as a matter of curiosity than as a slight, but apparently he was very good at the self-righteous bastard thing.
"Ooh, honorable," Duo picked up. "Maybe he should talk to Wufei. Maybe there'd be some honor between, erm, honorable guys, and Wufei'd actually do something useful."
"No, we tried talking to him, remember? Didn't work."
"Chang?" Noin cut in. "What did he say?"
Duo shrugged again. "Nothing. I think Mariemaia broke him. He was, like, totally government brainwashed, but then she busted out a freaky-cool war and revolution and defeat and somethin' speech and wow, I think his brain just broke."
"Cut him some slack, Duo," Heero chided. "The government treated us the way it did because it was worried we would rebel against their authority. Imagine how much worse it was for him since he actually did rebel against their authority."
"Meh. Sure, I'll cut him some slack. 'Bout as much as I cut Trowa."
"How was Trowa, by the way?" he asked the others.
Duo snickered. "Yeah, did Heero break him, too?" All things considered, maybe Duo had gotten off lucky. Compared to all the others Heero had touched, at least he was still standing. Or maybe he'd broken, too. Sometimes things just had to break before they could be put back together again.
"He didn't stay long," Noin told them. "Dropped off the evidence, gave a statement, and then disappeared."
"Yup, that sounds like classic Trowa to me."
"And how are you doing, Noin?" Heero asked. "Everything check out okay?"
"Everything's checked out just fine." She smiled at him. Even when he'd been his most snarky with Duo, he'd always been very solicitous of her. "But back to business. Unfortunately, advances in communications and locators also mean that encryption and other security devices have advanced as well. We're still working on tracking down where all of them have holed up."
"How many are we talking here?"
"We know for certain that there are four of them running the show with the weapon and the threat and the messages. There were other members of the EUW that have gone into hiding, but we don't think that they were important enough to merit hanging out with the bosses and managing this coup."
Zechs handed them fact sheets with attached photos. "These are the men in charge. We're still running a check on all of their assets, combined with the strategic analysis, to try and pinpoint their locations."
"What about the weapon?"
"If we had the time, we'd get you up there and you could just smash your way through, quick and easy. Unfortunately, the crews we have up there right now are insufficiently armed. There are a few pilots up there, but nobody with anything that could get them past all of the defenses."
Noin picked up the narrative. "We've tried tracing the satellite signals, but they were clever enough to route them around enough, with enough false leads, that we haven't been able to narrow down their position much at all.... Duo. You look like you have a question."
"Yeah," he answered, frowning. "Where are all the gadgets?"
They were taken to the gadgets and weapons and briefed on the way. The room was filled with the rest of the team that Zechs and Noin had assembled, checking over their equipment while the guys got their choice of armaments. In the room were also other government officials, who hovered nervously on the fringes. Two whispered loudly to Zechs, protesting the degree of freedom that had been given the two pilots.
He stared coldly at the hand-wringing bureaucrats. "They are volunteers, not conscripts. Therefore you do not have any such authority to restrict them as you please."
"But how can you trust them with--"
"I trust them." Certainly more than he did these soft worker bees. "What are you so afraid of?"
"They're unpredictable! How do we know they won't just turn on us?"
"Maybe you shouldn't have given them a reason to turn on you."
"We absolutely must have a way to regulate them in the field."
"Yuy, Maxwell," he called out. "Take two communicators with you. I'll expect regular reports from you on your progress." Maxwell saluted him mockingly, but picked up two of them and tossed one to his partner.
The worker bee buzzed agitatedly. "Mr. Peacecraft! Surely you're joking. There's no--"
"The communicators have GPS locators in them," Zechs interrupted impatiently. There was a reason why he had renounced his role as Peacecraft's heir. No one shipped out to Mars unless they were serious about their work. "You'll be able to tell if they skip out on you."
"By then it'll be too late!"
"I ask you again, Mr. Williams. Just what do you expect them to do with their freedom? Stop in a bar on the way out?" He ignored Duo's murmur of interest at the suggestion. Didn't the boy know how not to provoke someone? He was suddenly reminded of the parting gift Duo had left him. If there was time when this was over, Zechs would have to pay him back somehow.
"But the people that will be in their way!"
"Will no doubt be idiotic villains. We are not letting them into a civilian population to have an old-fashioned shoot-out with their enemies. We are asking them to inflitrate a base and stop the leaders of this rebellion."
"And who knows how they'll choose to carry that out."
"Mr. Williams," Zechs snapped. "If you continue on in this manner, I shall have you removed from the room."
"You can't do that. I'm representing the government in this matter. We have every right to see to it that our interests are being upheld. Ah, finally. We can put an end to this." Williams sighed in relief as one of his men walked into the room carrying a box.
The two pilots didn't pay attention to the others until they were each handed a device. "Put these on," the leader of the troop commanded.
Duo took a glance at the necklet and raised an eyebrow. "You're fucking insane."
The sound of guns being leveled in their direction backed up the commander's statement. "No, you're insane. So put them on."
Zechs stepped forward, only to be pushed back by two other members of the government team. "What are you doing? What is the meaning of this?"
Williams did not look the least bit apologetic. "I told you, we cannot simply let them walk out of here. They still have a government contract to fulfil. We have to take steps to see that they come back after they're done with the job."
"And you can't just accept their word? You have to lock them up with those prisoner's collars? This is entirely uncalled for! I'm going to call Emerson--"
"Go right ahead." Williams sounded a lot more confident now that he was being backed up by a roomful of gun-toting soldiers on his side. "I'm acting on his orders, so he'll tell you the exact same thing that I'm telling you. Unless you'd like to consider putting one on yourself, perhaps you would like to cooperate."
"Those sick devices are reserved for only the most dangerous of criminals."
"Which is what they are, aren't they? We need a way to make sure they stay in line. This is what we have on hand."
"You would rather hit the killswitch on them than let them do what they have to in order to save your government? You're the ones that are insane. Of course they don't trust you."
"Calm down, Zechs," Heero said, taking the necklet that was handed to him. "Did you know they planted a tracker on me after the Barton uprising? Did it while I was out." He tapped the back of his neck. "I've sometimes wondered whether there was a killswitch included as part of it. It was conveniently located near my brainstem, after all. I guess this answers that question."
"We're supposed to be making progress here," Duo complained. "Not go right back where we started."
Williams smiled, sure that he now had the upper hand. "You will put them on, or you won't leave this room. The two of you represent just as large a threat to the government as the EUW and its philosophies."
"Whatever happened to pacifism, man? You sure you guys aren't working with the enemy?"
The man turned an unsightly color. "How dare you? We are trying to protect our society; they are trying to ruin it."
"Yeah, but what with the whole selective disarmament thing..."
"Only the most disruptive elements of our society are outfitted with these devices. If they get out, they can be taken care of cleanly and simply, before they harm anyone, and without any collateral damage."
"Clean and simple? I wouldn't call having your head blown off by an explosive strapped to your neck clean and simple. But hey, that's just me. I'd also say that that's the exact same theory I heard those EUW guys spitting out. But I guess in the battle of us versus them, it's the us that always wins with the moral superiority, isn't it?"
"Just put them on," Williams gritted out, obviously displeased by the comparison. This case involved mere individuals, while the EUW was holding a whole body of people hostage. Of course it was different.
In light of all the guns being pointed at them, Heero decided to be rational. He asked Duo with a glance to please cooperate, rubbing his wrist as he did. Duo's eyes flickered in that direction before he sighed and nodded minutely. With Duo's cooperation promised, Heero shrugged philosopically and snapped the collar on. They would have the opportunities to remove them later.
Duo pouted as he hefted his pack. "It's not nice to be smug, Heero. I mean, come on. Even you thought they would have cooler shit than this."
He shrugged his own bag on. "Let's go in."
"Can we blow it up just for fun?"
"Let's save what we've got for when we need it, okay?"
They jumped the fence into the Jurgensen estate and headed inside. Since the government had been so unhelpful, they'd struck out on their own to find their clues, and figured the Jurgensens to be prime players in this drama. Surely they would have something lying around that might interest them.
Making their way across the grounds, the estate seemed oddly empty. The family had fled, leaving behind the house like a snake leaves behind its skin. After speaking to Relena about her time there, they decided to start with Friedrich's study. She had not been allowed inside.
They rummaged through his desk, Duo releasing locks at will, but with conspicuously empty spots in some drawers where it was obvious items had once laid, it became clear that Friedrich had cleaned up behind himself. Ashes in the hearth confirmed it. On the off chance they had missed something, they searched the rest of the room as well, finding a wall safe behind a large painting. It, too, had been emptied.
A sound bounced down the hall, one that neither one of them made. They looked cautiously at each other and drew their primary weapons, heading toward the door. Two men were walking away from them, carrying boxes and holstered guns. They quite quickly picked up an extra set of shadows that followed them down the corridor and a flight of stairs.
The pair of infiltrators stopped short of following their targets all the way to their destination. When the two armed flunkies opened the door to the large study, they heard another voice float through the air.
"--all done. Was there anything I missed?"
Heero's lips curved upwards in satisfaction. "Karl," he whispered softly to his partner in crime.
"Then we're almost set here," the jilted blond continued. "I'll finish up and join you soon. Okay. Okay. Of course. Yes, I know. Alright. Good-bye, Father." He presumably shut his phone and turned to the others. "Put those with the rest."
Heero took the honor of the point position and went in first, gun at the ready. There were three other men inside the room, other than the three they had already noted. They shouted in surprise and fumbled for their sidearms. Letting muscle memory take over, Heero neutralized two of them before they were a threat. Duo got a third. The final two managed to take shots at them as they dived for cover. Heero played the age-old game of duck and shoot, laying down cover fire while Duo snuck around the furniture to approach the enemy positions from the side. One of them died with a gurgle when Duo knifed him quietly from behind. The other exposed himself when he turned to deal with the sudden threat on his right, and Heero took him out with a well placed bullet.
The only one left unaccounted for was Karl, so he must have been the one scrambling out the far door before the last man fell. They ran after him in quick pursuit, clearing corridors with brisk efficiency as they followed the sound of his shoes on the hardwood floors.
They caught up with him as he was running through a large practice room. One wall was covered with mirrors. There was a piano set off to one side, with racks of equipment off to the other, but otherwise the floor was left quite clear and free of cover. "Karl!" Heero shouted before the young man reached the other side.
Karl reflexively ducked, expecting a shot to go whizzing over his head at any moment. When he chanced a glance up, he saw that Heero had leveled his weapon at him, but was making no move to approach or fire. He slowly straightened to face his nemesis. "Heero Yuy."
"Where is your father?" Heero demanded. The elder Jurgensen would definitely be in on the coup.
Karl's chin lifted defiantly. "I won't tell you. You'll have to kill me first." His loud words echoed slightly in the large room.
The boy had obviously watched too many bad movies. "Don't tempt me," he threw back dryly. "You're nothing, Karl. No one cares if you live or die. That's why you're here, and not with the rest of them. Where is he?"
"What I'm doing here is important."
"Oh yeah, we saw the boxes."
Duo snorted. His gun was also drawn, but he hadn't put it up, not wanting to steal Heero's thunder. "Packing up your mommy's fine china?"
The boy had, apparently, sprouted some manliness during these hard times. "How ignorant of you. You wouldn't know fine china from disposable flatware."
"You eat off of both of them. What's the difference?" Karl blinked at him, unprepared to deal with Duo's brand of humor.
Heero sighed impatiently. "I can shoot you several times in various non-lethal places, Karl, and leave you bleeding to death in here as you contemplate the rest of your miserable life and I go back to that other room and go fishing through those boxes and computers you conveniently gathered in one place for me, looking for information, or we could just do this the easy way. It's up to you."
Karl considered his options, and surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, came up with a third alternative. "I challenge you to a duel!"
It took a few seconds for that to sink in. "You have got to be kidding me." Who did he think he was? Treize?
"Fencing," Karl answered. He strode over to the racks of equipment, with Heero's gun tracking his movements, and took two sheathed swords off the wall. They came from a different set than the practice foils. These were two real rapiers.
"You aristocrats are out of your minds. Must be all the inbreeding."
Karl ignored the insult in favor of others that had been dealt to him. "I challenge you to regain my lost honor."
"Honor," Heero repeated flatly.
"You stole Relena away from me on my wedding day, you dishonorable cur! Such a vile act demands retribution."
"Let us finish the duel we started six years ago."
It took a moment for Heero to remember what he was talking about. "We finished that duel. I won. You lost. Pretty badly, as I recall."
This answer did not please him. "If you win, I'll tell you what you want to know. If I win--"
"You do realize that, even if by some bizarre chance you manage to defeat me, I have a friend here that'll wipe the floor with your ass, right?" Duo waved hello.
He scowled. "Though you may choose to kill me in such a crude fashion, at least I'll have regained my honor. Now will you accept the challenge or not?"
Honestly, Heero was tempted to just shoot the boy where he stood. He seriously considered the option for a few seconds before shrugging. Bleeding from bulletholes or sword thrusts didn't much matter to him. Either way, Karl would give up the information. "Fine. Whatever."
Duo snickered. "I am so telling, golly, pretty much everyone that you accepted a challenge to a duel."
Karl sniffed disdainfully. "You wouldn't understand."
Heero rolled his eyes as he handed Duo his pack and took off his stuffed vest. It wasn't the smartest idea to walk into a swordfight with grenades and flashbombs attached to one's torso. Before he turned around again, Duo spoke softly to him. "Hey, remember what I said about being possessive?"
"And how that included not wanting anyone else to watch your back?"
"That also includes not wanting anyone else to poke holes in your skin."
Heero smiled faintly. "I appreciate your concern. But seriously, I beat this guy with a flick of my wrist the last time around. But feel free to shoot him if he cheats."
The last time he had fenced was probably against Karl. That was a while ago, but they weren't being judged on style and points. He would take the weapon and make it effective, even if Treize would roll over in his grave to watch him. He accepted the proffered sword and pulled it out of its sheath, checking its balance. He had to admit that it was an elegant sword, and not as decorative as he had first thought. Running a finger lightly across the tip, he tested it and found it sufficiently sharp.
When he looked up, Karl threw a helmet at him. He caught it deftly, but shot his opponent an incredulous look. "Armor? What kind of duel is this?"
"Just making sure you stay honorable, Yuy. Now, en garde!"
He resisted the urge to simply throw the helmet as a distraction and dutifully put it on. The moment it settled, Karl attacked. "You've improved," Heero observed after their first exchange had come up even.
"I've been practicing," the blond snarled. "I haven't forgotten our last match. I've used it as inspiration for self-improvement."
As their blades crossed yet again, Duo threw an amused jab into the ring. "See, Heero? You inspire everyone you touch, even him."
"Oh, shut up."
"We...," Karl huffed irritably, parrying a bored thrust from Heero. "Are." Feint. "In the middle." Block. "Of a duel. Do you mind?"
"Yeah, whatever. You're the one that's talking so much. Why don't you make yourself a little less of a waste of air and tell us where your daddy is?"
"Duo," Heero scolded him mildly, voice muffled by the helmet. Block, block, strike. "You're distracting him."
"So? Oh, wait, I wouldn't want to invalidate the results of the duel or something, would I? I mean, if I'm too distracting, can he call a foul or something?"
"I don't know. But we're under a deadline here, so let's not find out, shall we?" A twist of his wrist sent his opponent's rapier skittering across the floor, and a spurt of dramatic irony sent the tip of his rapier through the face plate of his opponent's helmet.
Karl froze instantly, staring cross-eyed at the length of blade not three centimeters from his face. "Well," he breathed nervously. "Déjà vu."
"Hn." It was distractingly tempting to just push those last few centimeters and put an end to this nonsense.
Karl reached up and pulled his helmet off slowly, very aware of the blade's every motion. He practically threw the mask off once he was clear of it.
The rapier went wide for a second, but Heero quickly flung the mask off and raised his sword back into a threatening position. The piece of protective gear flew into the equipment rack and swords clattered to the floor. Karl backed up a step, then two, wincing at the racket, but Heero followed, pulling off his own stifling mask. "Well, Karl? You going to hold up your end of the deal?"
His lips trembled, and he got a sense of why people often did dishonorable things before their end. He had given his word as a gentleman on the outcome of this duel, but he also had a family obligation to uphold. Stumbling back another step, his feet got confused and he fell gracelessly on his butt.
Heero watched as he scuttled back another meter. "Hmpf. Fine. We'll do this the hard way." He turned back toward Duo. "Guess I'll be needing my gun."
"You could just poke him a few times."
Karl looked nervously around the room, seeking his escape, but what could he do? Maxwell could shoot him down before he got anywhere. He spied the fallen equipment on the floor next to him, close to hand, and desperation formed a plan. Snatching up the main gauche that went with his rapier, he pulled it from its sheath and sprang to his feet charging.
Heero heard the commotion behind him and turned, rapier still in hand to meet the attack, but bullets flew faster than men and swords. There was a loud bang as the shot was fired, the sound echoing ominously through the large room, and then it was as if Karl just tripped. He fell, and then he didn't get back up again.
Heero turned to his partner, a little disbelieving. Karl was down for the count. Maybe not dead yet, but bleeding out all over the quality hardwood flooring of the practice room. Who would have thought? And what would Relena say? "I could have gotten him."
"I know," Duo answered calmly, putting his gun away. "But remember what I said about being possessive?"
"Hm. You really meant it, didn't you?"
"Yeah. Still think I should have a thing for you now?"
"If it means you'll be watching my back? Sure."
A ringing sounded, breaking their exchange. They were both startled into action, turning quickly to scan the area before they realized it was no alarm or warning. Heero hurried over to the mess of equipment, underneath which was the place Karl had laid his jacket in preparation for the match. He fished out a cell phone from a jacket pocket and checked the number and caller ID. "His father." The ringing stopped as soon as he made the announcement.
Duo patted his pockets down, looking for a certain piece of equipment. "We can trace it."
"Only when the signal is active. Not that pocket. The one next to it."
"Thanks," he muttered, pulling out the signal scanner. "I know, but he'll probably call back, probably in a few minutes. You know, just in case Karl was indisposed or something. Which I guess he is. This father of his doesn't strike me as a patient character."
"From what I've heard, no, he's not."
"Then we'll get him," he answered cheerfully, wiggling the scanner at him.
"I'll call it in."
"Aw, come on," Duo pouted. "You're really going to play by their rules?"
"I don't want to get my head blown off quite yet. I still need it."
last modified : 1/19/2006 00:27:14 PST