Children of War
By: Ghost of the Dawn
Chapter Fifteen: Death of a Pacifist
This girl named Felicia was not the best travel companion, as Duo soon learned. After leaving the house of Preventer's Major Sally Po, they had traveled nonstop. Through the entire time, Duo did nothing else but follow Felicia where ever she went. There wasn't much else to do. After leaving Sally's house in the middle of the night, they got on a bus heading straight out of town and far away from any Preventer influence. It was three and a half hours to the next city. To Duo, it felt more like three days of nothing but silence.
This Felicia girl was no fun to travel with at all. It was just as bad as running around with Heero or Trowa. She wasn't very talkative and with his throat still a bit sore, Duo didn't push the issue too often. He had asked a few times where they were going, but Felicia's answer had always been the same. Something along the lines of he would know when they got there. That was it. Now Duo was forced to just sit back and wait. He didn't even get a damn window seat! Man, this ride was boring! What was he supposed to do? Just look at the ceiling until...
"Wait," Duo suddenly announced. A flash of the night he was rescued blinked in his memory. "Weren't you driving a...car or something when we busted out of the laboratory?"
Felicia looked over at him, a bit surprised that he remembered such a thing. Then a smile tugged at the side of her mouth and wouldn't let go as she turned back to gaze out the window. Duo was not amused. He didn't like that look at all. It was if she understood a punch line of a joke that he did not. It was very frustrating.
"Well?" he demanded. "Were you or not? And if you were, then where is it? And why are we going by smelly bus to where ever it is we're going? And when are we going to get there?"
Felicia turned to him again, this time her smile was gone.
"Honestly, it's like taking care of a child with you," she informed him, equally unimpressed. "How on earth could you possibly be a qualified Gundam pilot?"
"Ah, my charm and good looks, obviously," Duo shot right back.
Felicia made a noise that told she highly disagreed and that was the end of that conversation.
Once in the next city, the two got off and went right to the airport. Duo's stomach still wasn't feeling back to its usual yet, so he didn't fancy the thought of flying. He was also about to argue that they didn't have tickets or anything when Felicia shoved a passport in his face.
Dumbfounded, Duo opened it up to find a ticket with a passport that had his picture and all his information in it. Whoever was helping this girl get him really knew their stuff. Before he knew it, he and his new travel companion were soon on a plane with destination unknown. And he was still stuck in a damn isle seat while Felicia got the window!
"Why don't you ever talk to me?" Duo whined after they were in the air for a while. "We're obviously going to be together for a while, don't you think we should get to know each other?"
Felicia didn't turn from the window, but she did close her eyes as if a headache was coming on.
"No, I don't," she insisted.
"What? Well why not? It's not like we have anything else to do."
"And it's not like anything that happens here will matter," Felicia countered. "This is just business. Once this little venture is over, we will go our separate ways and most likely never see each other again. So what's the point?"
Duo slumped in his chair. It was like trying to rationalize with a machine. Feeling defeated, Duo picked up a magazine and pretended to read. Though all the while his mind was spinning over what could possibly lie ahead.
Felicia had said that those who she was working for knew he was a Gundam pilot and Duo felt it was safe to assume that he was being summoned because of it. But why just him? Why didn't she take Wufei, too? What was required of just Duo Maxwell and no one else? So many questions plagued his mind and into his dreams. Duo had not been aware he had fallen asleep until Felicia woke him later that evening.
"We've landed," was all she said as she got up.
Once off and out, the two got a taxi. Duo felt his heart race as they rode through this new city. Further into it they went until they were almost driving out the other side. There wasn't much here but old buildings, factories, and warehouses.
"Here Driver, that's good," Felicia announced.
Duo was wide eyed as Felicia got out and paid the driver
"Where the hell are we?" he demanded when they were left alone in the fading light. "We're in the middle of nowhere! Why did you take me out here? Are you going to kill me or something?"
Felicia smiled, showing the most humanity Duo had seen from her yet. She tugged on his sleeve as she started walking.
"Not too far now," she told him. "Then I hope you can find answers to all your questions."
Sitting on a road even further back than the one they had started on was a very large, square warehouse. Felicia walked up to the key pad on the door and punched in a series of digits. The lock beeped twice before the door fell open. Duo found himself holding his breath. It was indeed an incredibly large building; far away where no one would ever find him again. Just like the last one he was in. Was it worth the risk?
'Too late,' Duo thought to himself as he heard the door click shut behind him. Somehow he had already made it inside. How did that happen? 'I'm such a sucker for a pretty face,' he thought lamely.
Inside was dimly lit and spacious. The roof was several stories above them and not much else could be seen. Just a lot of empty space. Felicia wandered around in it a bit with Duo lagging behind her. Finally, she gave out a deep breath and put her hands on her hips.
"Now where are those two old–"
"Ah, so you're back," came a familiar voice that instantly grated on Felicia's nerves. "You're late."
Felicia spun around, not looking too happy.
"Yeah," she grouched. "No thanks to you. I'm the one risking my neck out there while you just sit on your ass where it's safe. You're lucky I made it back at all this time. Here's your damn pilot, as promised."
Duo squinted at the short figure in the shadows. This was the person behind it all. This guy seemed familiar to him somehow. Who was it?
"Duo, long time no see," Professor G said as he stepped into the light.
Duo's eyes grew wide.
"I–It's you again!" he exclaimed. "Damnit!"
"It's nice to see you, too," the old man smiled in amusement.
Duo was beside himself. What did a guy have to do to get these pesky old geezers to stop meddling in his business?
"What the hell do YOU want? I have a real life now. I'm not a Gundam pilot anymore."
The scientist was not convinced. "Oh really. Then look over there."
Duo looked as a few lights flickered on in a back corner of the place. What was illuminated in them was the one figure that floated about all his dreams and danced through his nightmares. Trance-like, Duo made his way over to it and just stared up at the familiar behemoth towering over him. The dreaded Deathsythe itself.
"No...way..." he breathed. "I-It can't be. I thought you were destroyed, Bug Guy. How did you make it back?"
Felicia watched the braided pilot with an eyebrow raised. 'Is he talking to that thing?'
"Well, it looks like everyone knows everyone," Felicia announced with a yawn. "So I'll be turning in now."
"Not so fast," Professor G said before she could go. Master O and I are very interested to see how all this has affected your response with the new ZERO System."
"ZERO System?" Duo repeated as he snapped his head around. He knew that phrase all too well.
"What?" Felicia whined. "Are you serious? I just got back!"
"And what better time for a test?" Professor G countered. "The System must be tested on all different physical conditions of the pilot. This is important. It will be just one simulation."
Felicia ran her fingers through her dark hair and sighed. "Fine. Just one and then I get to go to bed."
The deal seemed to suit the old man fine and he moved off to inhabit the controls. Now torn from his long lost friend by curiosity of other kinds, Duo momentarily abandoned the Deathscythe to run after Felicia. "What is he talking about with the ZERO System?" he demanded. "Don't you know that thing makes you crazy?"
"It's not a big deal," Felicia insisted. "I've done it several times before. It's just this thing here."
Duo felt a bit relieved when he just saw the small copy cockpit attached to the floor instead of a real Gundam. At least she wouldn't have any power to tear the place down if things got out of control. Still, Duo had learned that the ZERO System was not necessarily a good thing.
Felicia got in the small simulation chamber. Duo watched her strap on a curious looking helmet as the door closed her in and he could no longer see her inside. Thus, Duo opted to wander up to the control platform and observe from there. Both Professor G and Master O were already up there. A sight that didn't sit too well with the skeptical Gundam pilot.
Professor G glanced at the figure standing behind them with his arms crossed in disapproval over his chest. Duo had grown much since last he'd seen the young man. He was quite a bit taller now; six feet easily. A shadow of a smile graced the old professor's face as he idly wondered if Duo would still fit into the Deathscythe's cockpit.
There was a humming of generators as the system was switched on. Several lights blinked on the control panel as the two aging scientists began their current test.
"You can see what she is seeing in the simulation right there," Professor G said as he pointed to one of the screens.
Duo frowned at the insinuation of him wanting to see. He had been trying very hard not to appear curious when in all actuality, he was very much. Though not very happy with the old man seeing right through his facade, Duo still looked.
It seemed normal enough to him as the simulation started. Felicia was pitted against mobile dolls right off and she did fine against them, taking them down. They hardly looked a challenge from Duo's point of view. Perhaps he had been worried about nothing.
"Jump to the final level," Professor G ordered.
Master O moved to comply, pressing buttons and flipping switches. Duo continued to watch, wondering what this "final level" held. He had to admit, he was a bit surprised to see five familiar gundams appear on the screen. But then again, he then realized he shouldn't have been that surprised considering who had made the program.
"Turn on the audio," Professor G then said.
Duo listened as he could then hear a soft breathing. He easily assumed that it was Felicia in her tiny cockpit below. It was rhythmic, yet a bit uneasy. As if she were anticipating something.
"Go ahead and do it, you old bastards," Duo could hear her growl. "I know you can hear me and I don't have all night."
"Very well," Professor G said.
He pushed a button and the screen flashed the words "ZERO SYSTEM ACTIVE".
"Now," the old man then said. "Have the Gundam programs attack on their hardest level."
"Right," Master O said, typing on the keys.
Duo's attention was riveted to the different screens. "GUNDAM SYSTEM LEVEL 9" flashed on one of them before he saw what was projected in Felicia's simulation cockpit. There was empty space and then he saw picture replicas of the Gundams he and his comrades had flown nearly three years previous. It gave him a funny feeling down in the pit of his stomach to see them again.
There was a sharp breath over the speakers as the gundams attacked. The breathing grew heavier along with grunts and gasps as Felicia did her best to fight off the five Gundams all attacking at once. Duo's eyes grew larger as he watched the fight on screen.
"Holy shit! You copied our fighting styles! All of them!" he exclaimed. He knew those tactics anywhere, even in mere simulation.
"Yes, Duo," Professor G agreed. "We made a simulation program based on your data and designed the computer to think just like you would. It is the closest mankind has ever come to the real thing. Of course, they can still be beaten by a human pilot. That, perhaps, may never change even with a thousand more years of research."
Duo didn't know how to reply to that. He glanced over at the screen to see that the fight was now over. The five virtual Gundams had won over the pilot of flesh and blood.
"Well, it looks like even a copy of myself is still a force to be reckoned with.," Duo then announced with gusto.
"You're still a just a foolish young man," Professor G admonished. "You really have no idea what you just saw, do you?"
Duo blinked at him blankly.
"That girl down there has only been on the simulator for a few weeks. Before that, she had no previous pilot training whatsoever. She is at that skill level from the mental affects of the ZERO System alone."
"No way!" Duo argued. "That's impossible!"
"You'd think so," the old man chuckled. "Can you imagine what price this thing would go for to any organization? To be able to make an army of unbeatable pilots in only a month or two without years of training–the worth of it is almost unimaginable."
Duo stared at him. "You...that's crazy! There's no way that can be healthy for a person!"
Professor G smiled. "We'll see, won't we?" He turned to his fellow scientist. "How are the girl's vitals, Master O?"
"Her heartbeat is a bit above normal," the taller man replied. "Brain waves jumped a bit during the simulation, but are normal now."
"Good. She can go. I could use a bit of sleep as well."
Duo watched, a bit stunned as the two older men left. He was still trying to soak it all in.
'Man, I don't believe it,' he thought. 'I knew those guys were a bit off their rocker, but this is almost inhumane. What else have they been doing for their tests?'
His train of thought left when he noticed Felicia climb out of the chamber below. Duo hurried down the steps to her as she took off her helmet.
"Are you okay?" he asked her.
"Don't be stupid," Felicia replied with an unimpressed look. "Hell will freeze over before I let those geezers and their stupid programs get the best of me."
"Well excuse me for showing some concern," Duo retorted. Then he asked "Hey, is it true you really haven't had any pilot training before this?"
Felicia looked back at the simulation pod as she set her helmet on top of it. "Nope. And I'm not too interested in pursuing this any longer once their done with me. I hate machines."
Duo mulled that over in his head while he looked inside the mock cockpit. In the simulation he saw, she may not have been able to beat five gundams at once, but there were very few in the galaxy that could boast such at thing. All things considered, this new ZERO System had made her a better pilot that even some professionals from the military he had seen.
Placing his hand on the contraption, Duo idly wondered what it would do to an already highly trained pilot like himself.
Felicia seemed to sense what he was thinking for her entire attitude suddenly changed from annoyance to concern.
"You're not thinking of trying it, are you?"
Duo just looked at her.
"Don't," Felicia warned. "Whatever curiosities you have, they're not worth getting in there. Trust me."
Duo furrowed his brows on suspicion. "Why?"
"Didn't you just say to me earlier that the program makes you crazy? Or has it already messed with your brain too much?"
Duo dropped his hand with a sigh. "You're right. I should know better. I suppose I'm crazy enough as it is without this."
Felicia raised an eyebrow at him. This young man always said the weirdest things.
"Come on," she said. "Since those guys don't give a rip about us, I'll show you some place you can rest."
In another part of the planet, a meeting was being held. A meeting that would most likely determine the future of all mankind. At the head of the table was Relena Darlian-Peacecraft. The two names were given to her by two different families. To her, one meant peace and the other meant war. And somehow, she could not bear to part with either.
Her name, however, was the farthest thing from her thoughts at the moment. Right now, she was standing at the head of a long table full of several of the highest political leaders of Earth. To her left sat the commander of the Preventers, Lady Une.
Relena swallowed as the rest of the members of the room, all older than her, looked at her expectantly. Her mouth was going dry. She had discussed this plan with Commander Une for several hours, but now, she was fighting to keep the strength to repeat this plan again to all these people.
"Thank you all for coming," she began. Relena could hear her own voice tremble a bit and she fought to keep it steady. "As you know, we have gathered today to address the manner of action to be taken against the terrorist activities going on in the colonies."
"And what action might that be?"
Relena looked up. The Representative of the North American region, Jason Dawes stared her down. Relena clenched her fists at her side. She tried to be prepared for this–for him. Jason Dawes was possibly the second youngest one there. He was only a few years older than she, but he seemed, by far, the sharpest one in the lot. Nothing much got past him or those intense icy blue eyes of his that were now drilling Relena to the core. Though he had never right out opposed her on anything, Relena had the growing feeling that this young man was her biggest adversary in all of this.
"Right to the point, as usual, Mr. Dawes," Relena replied, steeling her gaze on him.
"I don't like to beat around the bush," he replied. "Now admit it, you want to send Preventer troops up in space to take back the occupied colonies."
"Even though the colonies suspect Earth to be behind the terrorist attacks in the first place," Jason continued.
"Despite the risk that the terrorist ploy might be a trick."
"I don't think--" Relena tried again.
"Are you willing to gamble on our men? Do you really want to send them out there with the chance that colony troops will turn on them?"
"I do!" Relena retorted, slapping her palms on the table. "Commander Unne and I are aware of the risks, but we believe this course of action to be the right one."
Jason just smiled his annoying smile at Relena's determined expression.
"But what's happening in space shouldn't matter," he insisted as he leaned lazily back in his chair.
"Young man, what are you talking about?" another representative spoke up. "This is an act of terrorism."
"Towards the colonies, not us," Jason continued. "The colonies have always been ruled by a force separate from and, more often than not, against Earth. Right now, I'm sure what's going on up there is a simple power struggle between two different leaders for control. When it is over, we'll still be back to where we started: the Earth against the colonies. Why waste our resources now?"
"Because the people are suffering," Relena cut in. "I don't care on whose ground it is happening. Innocent people are losing their homes and their lives and I cannot just sit by and wait any longer. I want to help them. The risk, I think, is worth it."
A few of the other representatives clapped at Relena's passionate speech. Jason held his say, but it was clear he wasn't too happy.
"Now," Relena continued. "I have spoken with the high officials of the colonies and they are prepared to sign a temporary truce with us that will allow us to combine our forces for the removal of the terrorists from the occupied colonies. Nothing more." As she spoke, several screens lit up around the room with a different colony official on each one. "I also hope," Relena added. "That in this opportunity to work together, it will open the door to bringing the colonies and Earth together."
As the other representatives voiced their agreement and enthusiasm for working together, Relena glanced back at the dark haired man who opposed her earlier. He didn't seem as put out as he did earlier. He was simply sitting in his chair quietly with a calm expression on his face. Had he accepted defeat? Or, Relena hoped, maybe he was beginning to agree with her idea.
As she wondered, something else struck her. It was that conversation she had a while ago with Dorothy Catalonia after a meeting such as this. Dorothy had spoken of a peace through war. "War makes way for new beginnings..." she had said. Relena was startled to realize she understood this phrase better now. In fact, it was her that was weaseling in a possibility of peace by making pacts through this war. Was this what Dorothy was talking about? And was that why Mr. Jason Dawes was now quiet in all his arguments? Was she playing into their hands or they in to hers?
At this point, Relena decided that she didn't care who was playing the puppet for whom. If she was being lead on a path that would ultimately bring forth peace, she would gladly follow whomever was pulling the strings.
The meeting went on better than Relena thought it would. The colonies were eager to help and Earth was willing to make a truce and get their troops up in space–for whatever reason each representative was hoping for. It still took a while to get the particulars of the truce on paper and have everyone agree with it, but Relena was very happy with the out come of it all. Now all that remained would be the press release the next day stating to the public what was going to happen.
To her surprise, Jason Daws was one of the last people to leave the meeting room when it was over. He hadn't said much after all his arguments had been vetoed and quietly held his peace throughout the rest of the meeting. Relena thought for sure he would have been one of the first to leave after that. But he didn't. In fact, the young man seemed in hardly any hurry at all. He continued to sit in his seat with a contemplative look for several minutes afterward before getting up. When he was about to leave, Relena finally approached him.
"Tell me, Mr. Dawes," she said to him. "Why is it that you seem to oppose every idea and purpose I speak for? Do you have something against me?"
The tall young man just looked down at her and smiled cryptically. "Every good leader needs good councilors, Ms. Peacecraft. Ones who force them to consider every option–even the ones they believe to be wrong."
Relena was at a loss. How does one reply to an answer like that? Could she even call it an answer? It didn't matter. As Jason exited the room, Relena still felt relief and a bit of happiness that she had won.
Another member of Relena's cabinet; Commander Grimaud of the Cinq Kingdom, however, was not happy. He had been trying hard not to look too concerned during the meeting, but now, he was mopping his brow in agitation as he got in his car. As the driver started off for the hotel he was staying at, Commander Grimaud wondered how long he should wait before reporting such news to his superior.
This wasn't good for their plans, to be sure. It had not been expected for the Earth's forces to unite and decide on a plan of action so quickly. Yes, the Earth and the colony leaders were opening channels of communication and offering help far earlier than it had been estimated. All because of that young girl who was hardly even legal age. Because of her past, Earth and outer space both loved her. She had a reputation of caring for everyone, for being honest and always working hard for the interest of the people. If Relena had not been involved, Commander Grimaud was sure that the two sides would still be distrusting of each other and possibly even on their way to war. Which is what he–they– wanted.
The Commander made these thoughts known when he called in to give his report.
"It's way too early, Mr. Underwood," he sweated into the phone. "I never would have guessed that little girl could get Earth and the colonies to work together so soon! It's uncanny!"
"And you were supposed to make sure she didn't," a deep voice seethed from the other end.
"I tried, sir!" Grimaud pleaded. "But she did it all behind my back! I don't think she trusts me."
"Moron! It's obvious she doesn't trust you! And if there is no trust, then I have no use for you!"
The commander swallowed and wiped his perspiring brow. He knew all too well that this was not a man to get angry.
"Very well," Mr. Underwood's voice then continued. "We have no choice now but to act fast. We must do something to rattle the masses. Something so heinous, not even Relena Darlian-Peacecraft will be able to put the pieces back together."
Grimaud swallowed again. "And what," he asked in a dry voice. "Would that be?"
He could almost hear his boss smiling on the other end.
"To get rid of her."
"Bu-but sir! I thought you wanted to keep attention on the colonies!"
"Oh, we are," Mr. Underwood insisted. "With humanity's favorite ambassador dead, fingers will quickly be pointed to the one place currently having terrorist problems. With the girl gone, you will be in charge and will be able to easily guide the people towards war. Earth will, with no doubt, follow in search of revenge for her death."
"Are...are you sure," the commander rasped out. "This is a big step. People are going to start looking for you with her dead."
His word of warning seemed to go unheeded.
"It was interesting to see her work. But now, she's worth more to me dead than alive. Go on to your business as ususal, "Grimaud". I will arrange it all."
The phone cut out without waiting for a reply. The aged man held the buzzing receiver to his ear long after the conversation was disconnected. This was a big step. But, in his line of work, there wasn't any room for hesitation–or mistakes.
"Yes, sir," he rasped to himself.
Felicia tossed in her sleep. Something was calling her; buzzing in her head. She couldn't pick out any specific words, but there was a presence. An annoying, overbearing presence that refused to let her rest. It shoved away her dreams and nagged her to action. Her eyes instantly popped open and Felicia was left in her dark room, wondering what happened.
She blinked a few times in the blackness. Her room was empty; though she could have sworn someone was there urging her to awake. Her first thought was that it might have been that annoying Duo guy. He hadn't stopped asking questions even as she led him to a room he could sleep and shut the door in his face. But he was not there. Nor was anyone else. The place was dead quiet.
No longer feeling tired, Felicia got off her cot and trudged over to the light switch. She idly thought about making herself something to eat as she flipped on the light. As the light bulb flitted on, a figure flashed next to her.
Felicia's first instinct was to scream. She tumbled backwards at the sight of the tall man in her room and tripped over a few odds and ends laying around before tumbling back to her cot. There she sat panting, still feeling the adrenaline surging through her body at the surprise. Her eyes were wide as she stared at the apparition standing before her.
"Did I startle you?" the man asked.
Felicia then frowned. "No shit, Sherlock. I still have your book, if that's what you've come for."
The man just smiled at her. It was a kind of sad smile.
"I know who you are," Felicia went on. "You're Trieze Kushrenada. You're supposed to be dead– killed in action. You're not real, you're a ghost. Mr. Kushrenada, are you aware of that?"
He was about to reply when there was a knock at the door.
"Felicia?" It was Duo's voice.
That idiot! "What do you want?"
Duo took that response as an invitation and let himself in. "I heard a noise. Are you okay?" Felicia just stared at the young man as he surveyed the room. He didn't seem to care that there were three people present where there should have only been two.
Doesn't he see him?! She panicked to herself. Is he frickin' blind or something?
The presence identified as Mr. Kushrenada continued to stand where he was and made no attempt to move or speak while Duo was in the room. Duo, however was looking at Felicia expectantly.
"Oh," she replied. "I uh...I just tripped when I tried to turn on the light. Sorry to wake you. You can go back to bed now."
Duo sighed. "I get the hint, I'm going. See you tomorrow."
His braid swished behind him as he turned and shut the door. Felicia waited a few moments before speaking or even moving a muscle from where she was.
"What the hell?" she hissed at the apparition. "Why didn't he see you?"
The ghost actually shrugged at this. "I'm not sure. You are the only person I've ever been able to establish contact with. And believe me, I've tried with several others."
"So, I'm not exactly your first choice then, huh?" Felicia wondered, sounding a bit cynical. "So then why the hell did you go through all this trouble to find someone to steal a blank book for you?"
Treize smiled at her as if he knew something she didn't. Felicia didn't like that smile.
"There is something you must see in there," Treize insisted. "But you are not ready to read it yet. I need you to keep it for a while until it's time."
Felicia glared at him. "So then what do you want from me now? And for that matter, why are you here to begin with? What's keeping a spirit like you, the great and admired hero, Treize Kushrenada, from passing on to the next world?"
"Unfinished business, of course," the man smiled.
"Of course," Felicia sighed.
"At the time of my death," Treize explained. "I thought my business here was finished. But as soon as my spirit left my body, I realized that I had left some things undone."
"And you want me to do them for you," Felicia surmised with a frown.
"You are the only one who can. Remember, I guaranteed you something in return. If you listen to me, I will lead you on a path that will bring you all your answers as well. I promise."
Felicia bit her lip. It was true, she was infamous for taking strange requests by anyone. It was a personal policy she lived by for a reason only she knew. Now, however, she was starting to regret it. If she couldn't put a restriction on requests from beyond the grave, then where could she put it? Still, the bigger question was, should the living be trusting the dead?
Wufei yawned. It wasn't too early, but he had been used to late night shifts. This one, however, was a special request from Major Sally herself. Events like these didn't happen every day so Wufei made this exception from his regular schedule.
It had been almost an hour since Sally had left to meet Lady Une and Relena. She had been given the privilege of leading a group of highly trained Preventers to serve as body guards during Relena's world/space address which she would be giving soon. This broadcast would be monumental and be on every television on Earth and within the colonies. Because of this, security was high priority. Nothing would be the same after Relena's statements to the world. The best soldiers the Preventors had to offer would be protecting her if anything were to happen.
Of course, Wufei easily fell into the category of which troops were assigned guard duty. However, Sally had a bigger roll in mind for him. In the Major's absence, Wufei was put in charge of the entire Preventer's base.
As awesome as it sounded, Wufei had to admit it was a pretty cake job when everything was quiet. Naturally, that would change in an instant were something serious to happen. As of right now, however, everything was quiet and boring. Hence, why Wufei yawned.
He then checked his watch. One hour and five minutes since Sally left. And he had nothing else better to do than watch a collection of satellite monitors for the rest of the day. How boring.
Wufei idly wished he had insisted on going with Sally and leaving someone else to do this job. At least then he would have a change of scenery. But as quickly as the thought entered his mind, he pushed it away. There had been a reason he did not offer and was still not interested in being there. That reason came in the form of Relena Darlian-Peacecraft.
Now, there was nothing personal between Wufei and the female ambassador. In fact, they had hardly ever had two words between themselves. Neither could Wufei put into words what it was that made him dislike her company. As a Preventer, his job had taken him across Relena's path a few times over the years. And though none of the times were they in direct contact with each other, Wufei was aware of a certain look Relena gave him every time he saw her.
What it meant or why she did it, he wasn't sure. All he knew was that he felt uneasy under the gaze of that woman. It was such a strange look. Like she was accusing him and expecting something of him at the same time. With that look came a tangible thickness in the air. It grated on Wufei's nerves and made him wish she would just take her glares and go away.
Though he didn't know what Relena wanted, Wufei did have a slight theory on why she would always look at him so strange. He was sure it had to do with his past as a Gundam pilot. Even among the Preventers, he would still get strange looks when the gossip went around about what he did during the war. The Gundams were legendary everywhere and he was only fifteen when that legend began. That alone was enough for much talk and speculation.
However, Wufei was sure Relena's motives were deeper than that. He suspected the reason was that his past coincided with another Gundam pilot. An individual Relena had far more interest in than himself.
A few month's ago, Wufei had been informed by Quatre that an effort was being rallied to locate Heero Yuy. Whether or not Relena was involved in the search, Wufei was not sure. What he was sure of was the fact that he would not want to be in Heero's shoes for the world. Nor did he appreciate this girl giving him accusing looks just because he had stuck around in society while Heero and made it his business to vanish off the face of existence. And for that, Wufei didn't blame him one bit.
"Sir, come take a look at this."
Wufei was jarred from his thoughts when a lower soldier called out to him. Over on the large communication consoles, three very confused soldiers were typing away and staring at the screen with blank looks on their faces. Wufei took his time getting up, sure it was nothing too urgent. He wandered over to where they were.
"What is it?" he asked.
The one who was typing replied. "It looks like some incoming message, but it's encoded. It's something we've never seen before. We have no idea how to break it."
"Maybe we should send it to the specialists division," another suggested. "They're pretty good. They should have it deciphered by the end of the day."
"Mmm, let me give it a try, first," Wufei offered.
The solider sitting quickly gave up his chair, curious to see if Wufei could make any sense of it all.
The Chinese man sat himself down and lazily punched a few keys. What he then realized, however, made his eyes go wide. He knew this code. It was the same encoding and the same frequency he and the other Gundam pilots had used during the war. Were one of them trying to contact him? If so, it must be important.
This message had Wufei's full interest now. He typed like crazy, quickly unlocking the puzzle which had, until now, held the information from them. The others looked on, amazed at how quickly words were popping up on the screen. Every set of eyes present read the message when it's entirety had been unlocked.
There was a long span of silence as the shock of what the message said sank in.
"Sir," on of the soldiers managed to whisper. "Is this for real?"
Wufei just stared. This wasn't from any of the other Gundam pilots. He somehow knew that deep down in his gut. The same sense was also telling him who it was really from and that this was very much for real.
"Stay here," Wufei ordered. "I've got to go look into this."
The three lower-classed soldiers saluted.
"Sir, should we contact Major Sally about this?"
"No!" Wufei turned and barked. "Delete that message and don't tell anyone. If anyone down there got wind of this, it may endanger the lives of our own as well. I'll take care of this myself."
He snatched up his jacket as he ran off down the hall. The three befuddled soldiers were still saluting after he was gone, not sure what else to do. This was big; overwhelming. If Wufei failed in this, only heaven and hell could know what the consequences would be.
Heero bit back a grunt as he hit his head. He had been repairing a car engine when Kade had yelled at him, startling him enough to bonk his head on the hood. He rubbed it, not voicing his discomfort as he looked at the child.
"Dr. J says to come right now. There's something on the tv," Kade informed him.
Heero huffed quietly, but set down his tools. What could be so important on the tv that he had to come right now?
Wiping the grease from his dirty hands on an equally dirty rag, he left the garage part of the building and walked into the living quarters. He and the boy that he saved from a mobile doll attack, Kade, had been living with Dr. J for almost a week now. Originally, Heero had just dropped by to get information from the old man. He was searching for information about who was behind the mobile doll attacks on the colonies and why. Unfortunately, the old man knew just about as much as he did, leaving Heero back on square one.
Not sure about what to do next, Heero decided to hole up with the old scientist for a while and take some time to plot his next move. In the meantime, he helped out with Dr. J's business. The old scientist ran a modest shop which bragged to be able to repair anything for a fair price. Though Heero wasn't much help with the high tech robotic appliances that sometimes came in, he found he was pretty good about fixing vehicles. In a small way, he also enjoyed the work. It gave him some quiet time to think and try to figure out where he should go from there.
He had been in one of his deep funks when Kade had called him. Hence, why he had been startled. Heero did not look too happy when he trudged into the main room where a few chairs and the tv was.
Dr J looked up at him as he came in. "I thought you might be interested in seeing this," the old man explained. "Miss Relena Darlain-Peacecraft is going to be on."
Heero's eyebrow twitched a bit at the name, but no other reaction could be seen on his face.
"She's going to give Earth's official standpoint on the terrorist incident and what their course of action will be," Dr. J continued. "This will probably change things both in Earth and in the colonies drastically. You know that girl; she can never do anything small."
Heero didn't reply, but apparently, he was interested enough in the topic to sit down and await the address to all mankind. This may have been what he was waiting for. Following this announcement just might help give him the direction he was looking for.
From her place behind the curtain, Relena was a nervous wreck. She could hear the media crowd only a few yards away. Before her loomed the open stage and the podium like a death sentence.
This was big; very big. Bigger, even than the time she was pronounced Queen of Earth for a short period. What she had done then changed the history of her time. What she was about to do now, was practically the same thing. But it felt different somehow. This time, it felt that the results of this speech would fling her forward into her destiny–or, put a nail in her grave. Perhaps either way one looked at it, it was about the same thing.
Relena knew what she had to say was going to make some people very angry; very dangerous people. But as much as it was dangerous, it was also the right thing to do. Relena had stared death in the face before and she wasn't going to back out this time either.
Next to her, Commander Une put a hand on her shoulder. She gave the younger woman a reassuring smile. Commander Grimaud of the Cinq Kingdom was now stepping on stage to announce Relena. Her time was almost here. Relena's heart was racing. She heard neither Grimaud's words on stage nor Commander Une's as she spoke into her com to the rest of her security unit scattered around.
Strangely enough, Relena's thoughts drew inward and she found herself thinking about only one thing. One person. Someone completely unrelated to this event; someone who had given her strength to go on for a long time now.
Relena finally heard her name and she stepped out on the stage with cameras flashing in her face. Deep down in her heart, she hoped he was watching her and that he would once again send her strength.
Everyone was watching this announcement. Everyone wanted to know what their future held. Even in a small circus camp site, two ex-Gundam pilots, a female knife thrower and a businessman's young red haired daughter were as eagerly waiting the announcement as the rest of the world.
However, though the meeting was held on Earth, it was up in one particular space colony millions of miles away that Heero stood up in his chair with alarm written clearly on his face. Even though he was so far away and all he had to see the event with was one television screen, as the camera shot around the media, Heero Yuy was the first person to see the gun.
Relena breathed out as she stared at all the faces before her. For a second, she wasn't sure if she could do this. But then her mouth started moving as if on its own and words were coming out. In these instances, it seemed her instincts always took over at times like these and this one was no exception.
As perfectly as she had rehearsed it, Relena gave her statement. Despite the amount of people attending and the cameras and the photography, the room seemed deafeningly silent to her. All she could hear was her own voice stating Earth's course of action. Their primary defense force, the Preventers, were going into outer space to help the colonies fight off the terrorist attacks and get their homes back. She heard gasps and a growing roar of questions from the paparazzi, but all of it was secondhand noise compared to what her senses were picking up.
How odd. In the crowd, someone was running towards her. He was a young man in a deep green jacket and he was making a bee line straight for her. Didn't anyone else see him? Was he invisible to them?
Turning her head, Relena saw someone else in the crowd. A man in a dark coat and hat stood up. In his hand, the shiny barrel of the gun winked under the bright lights. Relena's eyes went wide as time in her world slowed to a crawl. That gun was pointed at her.
Relena's next instinct was to turn to the person closest to her. That was Commander Grimaud. He was standing a few paces at her side and he met her gaze. He looked right at her. He looked at her and didn't move to help. It was then, Relena realized this man was never her ally and her heart told her that if a miracle didn't happen, she was going to die.
As he fought through the crowd, Wufei could see the man reach into his coat as he stood. He was almost out of time and he was so far away. He would never make it to the stage in time this way. Having no other option, Wufei jumped on the back of someone's chair and rebounded off it, nearly causing the poor woman sitting in it to fall backwards. With all his might, Wufei shot himself into the air and landed on the stage in front of a very startled Relena.
She looked like she wanted to say something, but Wufei didn't give her the chance. The second his feet touched the stage, he grabbed her arm, thrusting her behind him and shooting his own gun at the same time. The first bullet knocked the gun out of the offender's hand and the second hit the man in the heart, killing him instantly. Wufei's weapon then swung to point at Commander Grimaud who was reaching for a gun of his own. Wufei shot him in the shoulder before he could pull it out.
Relena stood there, gaping like a fish. The shots were so loud. There was so much blood.
"Run," a voice said to her. It was from the young man standing beside her. "RUN!"
Relena and Wufei were off like a shot past the curtains and through the back of the stage. Wufei had a firm grip on her arm as he fled. Relena was struggling to keep up with the faster young man. His pull was practically dragging her off her feet.
Down the hall they raced. Relena ducked as she heard shots firing after them. There were more assassins? Why wasn't any of her security trying to stop them? Where were they?
A door came up ahead and Wufei barreled through it, out into daylight. Relena gasped when they had only run a few feet before she was pulled down a hole in the street. There, in the sewer system below, she sat there as she watched Wufei replace the manhole cover above them. Her world was still spinning.
"Get up," Wufei ordered. "It isn't safe here."
Relena got up on shaky legs and was instantly pulled off again. The two were once again racing for their lives.
"What's going on?" Relena managed to ask.
"You have more enemies among you than you realize," was Wufei's answer.
"What do you mean by that?" Relena demanded.
Even though they were still running, Wufei turned his head to glance at her and Relena finally thought the face looked a little bit familiar.
"You have no idea what's going on and I don't have time to explain. From here on out, if you want to live, you better do what I say."
Something tight built in her chest as Relena came to a harsh realization. All her plans had gone horribly wrong and now, her life was in this young man's hands.
Duo sighed as he wandered around the big building. There wasn't a thing to do in this stupid place besides stare at his old Gundam. Of which, he still had no idea why those two old scientists had it, or even where they were at the moment. Felicia was gone as well. What was he expected to do around this place? He wasn't even sure where the door was to get out.
His meanderings, as always, took him back to the same spot and Duo frowned at it. Why did he always come back to that thing? It was the flight simulator. The one Felicia had used that supposedly had a ZERO System built into it. He had been told and he had verbally agreed it was a stupid thing to try, but why did he keep coming back to it?
Duo glared at the thing. It was taunting him; calling him to tempt his fate once more. He recalled when he had used it before; the extreme focus it had given him. That feeling of being able to do anything. Of course, it had never lasted. Once it reached its peak, it threw you into a void of insanity. It had done that to Quatre, once upon a time. And it was an experience Duo was sure his friend would never really get over.
So why then did he feel his curiosity building? What kind of idiot would walk into a trap, knowing it's outcome?
But there had also been Heero and Zechs. Two pilots who had supposedly mastered the ZERO System beyond its crippling affects. Could he possibly master it, too? And if he didn't, what was it going to hurt? He was stuck in a stationary flight simulator. What damage could it possibly cause?
"Ah, what the hell," Duo said out loud.
He opened the hatch and plopped himself in the seat. Once inside, he marveled how much the cockpit greatly resembled that of the Deathscythe. Probably the other Gundams as well. They were almost identical. Suddenly, Duo wondered why this thing had really been created.
Up above at the control panel, a hand reached out and switched the system on, closing the hatch and locking the pilot inside.
Felicia sat in front of the computer, curled up in the chair. She had been sitting there for quite a while, thinking about what had happened recently. After her late night visitor, she wasn't sure what to think any more. She especially didn't know why she had listened to the apparition or had done what it told her. She also didn't know what the message meant that she had sent out or how the ghost knew of that scrambling code.
What she did know, however, was who the message was sent to, though she wasn't sure why it was sent to him either.
Everything was just one big mystery and it left Felicia feeling out of sorts and wondering what she should do with herself now. Hence, why she was still sitting in front of that blank computer screen almost an hour later, feeling at a loss of her purpose.
In the silence, her ears began to pick up a noise. It was a whirring noise, like some sort of machinery powering up. The sound of it sent electric shocks through her veins. She knew what that sound meant.
Felicia was up off her chair and out of the room. She ran into the main area over to the awaiting flight simulation unit which was on, humming, and someone was inside. Felicia didn't ask, she knew exactly who was in there.
"Hey, what are you doing?" she demanded, pounding on the door.
"He stepped in it voluntarily," an old man's voice announced from above.
Felicia glared at the form of Professor G on the scaffolding above her.
"What level did you put it on?" she called to him.
"He is already a great Gundam pilot. He can take more than you can."
"I said what level is it on!" Felicia shouted at him, her anger reaching the boiling point.
The old man just grinned at her. "Now what kind of scientist would I be if I was afraid to push things to their limits?"
"Listen, you psychotic bastard! That guy's still recovering from his last ordeal. You can't go full force on him yet! Turn it off!"
"Not yet," the old man insisted. "I want to see how far he can go in that condition."
Felicia glanced over at the contraption. She could tell the person inside was thrashing around and she could hear muffled, startled cries. The system was having a field day, she was sure.
Felicia clenched her fists as she ran to where she knew was a crowbar.
"What are you doing?" Professor G demanded as he watched her. "Stop that!"
Felicia wasn't listening. She planted the bar in the seam of the door and starting putting all her weight and strength into trying to pry it open.
"You're ruining my equipment!" the old man yelled at her. "Do you know how long I've worked on that?"
"Then you better stop it or I'm smashing my way through any way I can," Felicia retorted.
She heard the old scientist grouch something under his breath before the machine powered down and the hatch came loose. Felicia hurried to open it and reached in, pulling out Duo's stunned body.
"Hey, are you okay? Say something. You alright?"
For a second, Duo looked like he was going to reply, but his only response came as he threw up out the contents of his lunch on the floor. Felicia frowned at the young man heaving on his hands and knees and then at the disgruntled, retreating form of the old man. He would not bother them for a while, now.
A thin look of pity covered Felicia's face as she squatted down next to Duo and patted him on the back. "All done?"
Duo's whole body was shaking and he looked almost as weak as the day she had found him. He moved his mouth as if to reply, but nothing would come out.
Felicia let out a heavy breath.
"You dumbass. I told you not to do it. Why aren't men ever satisfied with just a warning? Why must they always test it for themselves? Come on."
She put one arm around her neck and hefted Duo to his feet. Together, they made their way to the bathroom where Duo could clean up. His shirt was a mess and Duo was hardly any help. He seemed to be in a state of shock. Felicia has to help him remove his shirt and also help him hold the glass of water she got for him. Even after that, his eyes remained unfocused and his body was still trembling.
After thinking it over, Felicia decided it would be best just to put him to bed until he got over it. So, once more, Felicia hefted the taller body to his feet and half dragged, half led him to his room.
"Here you go," Felicia announced when they reached Duo's cot. "You can rest here until y–"
She was cut off as Duo suddenly wrapped his arms around her and they both fell onto the lumpy, grey cot.
"What the hell?" Felicia exclaimed.
What was this guy trying to pull? No man had ever put their arms around her before. Her body was stiff as a board in the unwanted embrace and she struggled and squirmed, trying to break free of the iron grip.
"Hey, let me go!"
Duo's arms were wrapped around her waist with his face pressed into her neck line. Felicia tilted her head to get a better view of him. Duo's eyes were wide open and dialated; fearful and unfocused as he clutched her. His body was still trembling.
He's not seeing a thing, Felicia thought to herself. And I doubt I'm going to be able to get out of this iron grip until he comes to his senses.
Reluctantly, Felicia sighed in defeat. There was nothing she could do about it and no one to blame for this predicament besides that stupid old man; who was probably still quite satisfied with himself in some other corner of the building.
It took a while, but Felicia slowly managed to make her muscles relax in the tight embrace. She still didn't like it, but she wasn't sure how long she would be stuck there and it made no sense to make herself sore over it. Minutes passed on and Felicia shifted, trying to find a comfortable position. She finally allowed herself to rest her chin on the top of his head. As her thoughts drifted off, she found herself stroking the thick head of hair.
She almost laughed at this. What was she doing? His hair was soft; like that of a little dog or something. And he did have those big puppy eyes. How funny. Felicia shook her head the best she could. Was she going soft or just crazy? Thinking about that, she hardly noticed when the grip on her began to loosen.
"Um...I feel kind of stupid now," Duo said into her shoulder.
Once free, Felicia pulled away and sat up on her elbows.
"Well you should," she lectured. "What were you thinking anyway?"
Duo rolled onto his back. "I dunno. I just wanted to sit in it. It was that old geezer who turned it on. I didn't even know he was there." He ran a hand through his bangs. "Don't worry, I feel like the world's biggest retard. I'm definitely not going through that again."
Felicia sighed. It was clear he felt very foolish about what had happened. It was no use to lecture further on the matter.
"Well, for what it's worth, you did a lot better than I," she offered. "It took me almost two days to recover from my first session. And it was on the lowest setting."
"Damn, that's tough," Duo sympathized.
Felicia nodded, then looked away, realizing she getting his sympathy. She didn't want any from him or anyone else. No matter what she had been through.
Duo breathed out loud as he turned his gaze to the ceiling.
"What the hell is that thing, anyway," Duo whispered. "It isn't like any ZERO System I've heard of. It's something new. I wonder if those old bastards know what they really have."
From the way he talked and the serious expression on his face, Felicia had to ask.
"What did you see in there?" she questioned in a hushed tone.
Duo never moved his gaze from the ceiling, but his face grew even more grave.
"You know how people say when you're about to die, your life flashes before your eyes? I saw the opposite. I saw my death and the time between then and now and how fast it's ticking away. A man who can count his own minutes cannot keep his sanity for long. It was the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced."
Felicia looked away. Duo glanced at her when she nodded slightly. His eyes went wide when he realized something.
"You know what I'm talking about, don't you?" he said as he sat up. "Those guys have made you do it a few times, haven't they?"
Felicia closed her eyes. What she had seen in her sessions still haunted her.
"It doesn't matter. I did it because I wanted to."
For the second time, Felicia was surprised to find Duo's arms around her. This time, he embraced her around the shoulders, pulling her to his chest. Felicia went stiff as a board again.
"Those guys don't care what happens to either of us," Duo said before Felicia could yell at him. "While we're here, we have to look after each other. If we don't, no one else will. So I promise I won't let anything happen to you, okay?"
Felicia almost smiled in spite of herself. How could someone who was just so deep and serious say something so childish? No one could really make a promise like that. It was like promising to live to be a hundred. There are just so many factors out of one's control.
"What makes you think you can keep a promise like that?" she asked into his chest.
From deep in his throat, she heard an ironic chuckle.
"I am a Shinigami whose days are numbered. I can bring about death where ever I go, but not my own. With this power, I can also let live those whom I wish. You will not die before me. I can't let you because I have to be there waiting when you cross over."
Felicia chuckled herself, relenting to his embrace.
"Why make such a promise to me? You hardly even know me."
Duo didn't reply. In fact, he didn't reply in such a way that, before Felicia fell asleep, she had to wonder if Duo had seen something else while under the ZERO system's influence.