Warnings and Disclaimers: I hereby dedicate this chapter to the brilliant Lachwen, for guessing the crossover!
Duo blinked and raised his head from its resting-place against the window to look around with bleary eyes as the van rolled to a stop. "We there yet?" he asked mustily, trying to bring himself out of the half-asleep stupor the long ride had buried him in.
"Not quite," Quatre replied quietly, unbuckling his seatbelt. "There's another mile or so to go, but we're walking from here."
The pilot nodded, stifling a yawn with one hand. The other slapped at the seatbelt release, freeing him after a couple of tries. He pushed open the door and stepped out into the night. The rush of cool air from the dark, forested night left him a little further along the road to wakefulness, but not as far as he would have liked.
"You awake, Maxwell?" Wufei asked with a quirked eyebrow as he pulled open the doors at the rear of the van to get to their gear.
"Not really," the American retorted, rubbing at his eyes, "but I'm gettin' there. I think."
Wufei snorted, pulling out Duo's bag and tossing it to him. The braided teenager reached out and barely snagged its strap before it hit the ground. "You'd best wake up fast, then," he said, grabbing his own bag and unzipping it. "It won't be long now."
Duo nodded as behind him Heero walked off a bit, holding a pair of night-enhanced binoculars to his eyes as he scanned their surroundings. He set the duffel on the ground, crouching down to start taking out his equipment.
The first of his two guns was already in its holster beneath his arm, but the second he tucked into the quick-draw at his waist. The ammo belt, dyed a mottled black and dark gray like the rest of his clothing, went across his chest, and the half-dozen knives he typically carried on missions found places just about everywhere that would be immediately accessible.
"Anything?" Quatre asked Heero as the pilot walked back to join the others.
He shook his head. "Everything's quiet," he answered, moving past him to the back of the van. "But all the same, no loud noises, nothing that could give away our positions."
Duo grimaced at the obvious glare his partner sent his way at those last words. Honestly, he was the goddamn stealth expert! If anything, it should be Duo warning them about making too much noise! Grumbling to himself (at least inside his head, if not out loud), he reached back inside his bag and pulled out the last of his equipment: the tight-fitting backpack that held his various and sundry explosives.
"Is everyone ready?" Trowa asked calmly, checking the slide on one of his guns. Satisfied, he tucked it into its holster and looked around at the others as they all nodded.
"Then let's move out," Quatre ordered. "01, take point, 03, cover our backs."
"Damn," Duo muttered a few minutes later in awe. "They didn't mention the emergency entrance was a freakin' mansion."
There was a quiet snort from somewhere behind him, from Wufei or Heero would be his guess. "I have a feeling there was a lot the doctors didn't put in their briefing," Quatre murmured. "02, you're up. We need to get past the security systems before we can do anything."
The American nodded, moving up next to the blonde in an ungainly crouch. He pulled out a small black box and fiddled with it for a moment. "Basic laser grid over the grounds," he murmured. "No sign of infrared, they'll regret that. Security cameras are…" He looked up at the enormous house, peering through the darkness. "There, there, and there," he said, pointing at the sites.
Heero frowned. "That's very light security for an installation like this."
Duo shrugged, putting the detector back in its pouch. "This is the backup entrance. And you know how OZ hates to waste money on extras."
"Maybe the security gets heavier further in?" Trowa suggested quietly.
Wufei looked around at the uncared-for grounds. "Or they just don't think they need it, for whatever reason." He waved a hand at the overgrown gardens and uncut lawn. "It doesn't look like they've ever expected to even need this place. I wouldn't be surprised if the security systems are older than we are."
"Close," Duo agreed with a grin. "These were top-of-the-line security systems a decade ago."
Quatre frowned, staring at the cameras. "Still, they'll catch us well enough if we're not careful. 02, you know where the laser grid is?"
The American nodded. "Yeah. If we time it right, we can get through the grid without being caught by the cameras, but it's going to be close."
"When is it not?" the blonde asked wryly. Taking one last look at the mansion, he nodded. "Alright. Head out."
Something was not right.
It was less than a moment's work to reroute command of the cameras from the automatic security grid to direct control. They showed nothing, at first, but then she, for so they had designated her, swiveled the camera as far as it would go to the side.
She was just in time to catch the barest of movements at the edge of the camera's field of view. Then whatever it was had passed, leaving only the silent night. The brief time it had been visible did not generate enough data for her to decipher what had caused the motion, whether it had been a human being or merely an animal.
There were no other cameras between that point and the building that housed the entrance to her facility. There had been no alarms from the other security features set up around the emergency access to the development, and so she allocated the incident only a small portion of her attention while she returned to the unceasing vigil of her facility.
Espying where a flask had been dropped in haste in a research laboratory, she dispatched a small janitorial automaton to clean it up, as per safety regulations. The tiny droid whirred quietly as it moved forward on sturdy treads until it reached the knifelike shards of glass, where it reached out a metal arm to begin sweeping them into the receptacle built into its body.
It kept at its task, guided by its own internal programming, locating each bit of glass with broad sweeps of a low-intensity beam of light. Once the space in front of it had been deemed utterly free of debris, it would move forward to cleanse the next bit of floor.
Only once was its progress even temporarily halted, when its scanners failed to warn it in time of the obstacle in its path. The little droid paused after it bumped into the object, sweeping its red light several times over the barrier in front of it and analyzing the data that was reflected back to its sensors. The thing in front of it was quickly judged to be too big for the unit to remove, and so it turned aside to continue its cleaning.
In its wake, the corpse of a young woman in an immaculate white lab coat laid perfectly still, an expression of horror and despair still present on her pretty face.
Duo dashed the last few feet to the house, fetching up against the wall with an almost soundless thud. The others arrived no more than a second later, and he had to hide a grin as he realized he wasn't nearly as out-of-breath as they were.
Well, all except for Heero, of course, but he didn't really count. The guy wasn't human.
"Status check," Heero demanded, one of his guns already ready in his hands.
One by one they responded, until he was satisfied. The Japanese pilot glanced at Duo, and nodded pointedly at a window only a couple of meters away.
Duo slipped silently over to the window. A quick check showed no more security on the thing than a simple latch on the inside of the sash, and a slower, more cautious one yielded the same results.
"This is getting ridiculous," he muttered, pulling a long, slender piece of metal that had a hook on one end from a pocket. He began working that end through the very narrow gap where windowpane met wall. "A daycare has more security than this. Either they're idiots, or they've got something up their sleeves."
Beside him, Heero frowned. "Do you know what it might be?"
The former thief gave him a disbelieving look, while still maneuvering the hook until it rested in just the right place. "If I knew what it was, do ya think I'd be this worried?"
The other pilot nodded ever so slightly, conceding the point. Bending his attention back to his task, Duo gave his wrist a sharp turn to the left, and the lock inside clicked open. Quatre and Wufei moved up behind them as Trowa continued to cover the grounds with sharp eyes, and with their help he levered the window open.
Duo peered inside, making sure the coast was clear. Even with his better-than-average night sight, he was only just able to make out sheet-covered furniture inside. "It looks like it's deserted," he murmured to the others. "Someone boost me up."
Almost immediately there were strong hands at his waist, lifting him up. For a moment Duo felt his insides squirm, not uncomfortably, at the realization that the hands belonged to Wufei; but then he was clambering through the window, and the hands were gone.
The whimper of disappointment that caught in his throat surprised even him, as he turned to help the next pilot through the window.
Wufei grunted as Barton hoisted him inside, landing softly on the thickly-carpeted floor inside. It was very nearly pitch-black inside the mansion, though neither Yuy nor Maxwell seemed to notice the darkness as they moved around shrouded furniture to the room's exit. He moved after them as quietly as he could, knowing well that he and Winner were the loudest of the Gundam pilots when it came to moving quietly.
Well, at least he had the satisfaction of knowing he wasn't the worst at sneaking around, even if it wasn't the most honorable feeling to have.
Rather like wanting to jump one of his fellow pilots whenever he spent more than a few moments in the same room with him, but he couldn't seem to stop feeling that one, either.
Yuy poked his head through the door, and after a couple of seconds waved them on. The door led into a hallway, and Wufei nearly flinched as he came face-to-face with a plastic-covered statue of a woman.
"This place is creepy," Maxwell said in an undertone as the American took in the various statues and "work of art" that cluttered the corridor. "I say we shoot their interior decorator."
Winner stifled a giggle, and Wufei smirked openly, knowing the darkness would hide it. The remark broke the tension that had been settling unnoticed around them, brought about by the troubling lack of security and the genuinely disturbing nature of the house's décor. The pilot could feel muscles relaxing that he hadn't even realized had tensed, and he felt sharper, somehow more ready to face whatever was to come.
"Where's this entrance supposed to be, anyway?" Maxwell asked, looking towards his partner.
"There's a false mirror in the dining hall, activated by a data pad hidden beneath a light switch," the Japanese soldier replied, beginning to move down the hallway, his gun pointed always to the front.
"Original." The dry comment came, surprisingly enough, from the taciturn Barton, and prompted a quiet laugh from the braided boy.
"Isn't it just?" Maxwell glanced back at them, and Wufei knew without having to see that his beautiful violet eyes would be dancing merrily.
"Quiet." Yuy's reprimand lacked the sting it normally would have held; he must have been feeling the tension as well, though you wouldn't have known it to look at him. "Concentrate on the mission."
The American threw a salute at the back of his partner's head that somehow came off as good-natured instead of sarcastic, but then, Wufei had never known him to do something actively malicious.
Well, except the last time the Peacecraft onna had come to visit, but he couldn't hold him to that.
Nothing else broke the silent stillness of the house as they made their way through the hallways to the dining hall. It was a large room, large enough to make the long, mahogany table at its center seem tiny. A crystalline chandelier hung from the ceiling above, dusty from long disuse, and mirrors lined the walls.
The pilots were less than enchanted. "Great. Did the docs bother to say which mirror it was?" Maxwell asked, looking around at the many panes of silvered glass.
Yuy shook his head in answer. "Spread out and check the light switches," he ordered. "One should be hinged."
It was only a couple of minutes before Winner called out quietly that he had found it. They all gathered around him, and Yuy studied the device beneath the switch. "Is everyone ready?"
"Just open the damn door already," his partner whispered impatiently. "Aren't we behind schedule as it is?"
The Japanese pilot nodded, and inputted the code their man inside had told them would open the emergency entrance. They all held their breaths as for a long moment, nothing happened; then, with a quiet hum of machinery, the mirror to their left spilt vertically in half.
"Well," Maxwell muttered almost to himself as he gazed into the blackness beyond the secret door, "Here we go…"
A/N: Well, that's a relief. I thought this thing would never get long enough to post… You wouldn't believe how tempting it was to stop after the bit with a body, but I decided even a cliffie like that wasn't worth posting such a short chapter.
As said at the top, this chapter is dedicated to Lachwen.
Our most sincere gratitude to crazy-lil-nae-nae, Lachwen, LassyD, and Mithros for reviewing.
28 June 2005