Chapter 2 : AC 199, June 13th
"That won't be possible ; she's in a meeting with ministry officials."
Wufei frowned at Une's secretary. Heero and he had allowed themselves exactly ten minutes to wake up, wash their faces, jump in their clothes, and get out. They'd gotten to work twenty minutes early -- and she was already unavailable? Damn. He could have slowed down and bought himself a coffee. "Which ministry?"
Heero and Wufei exchanged a mildly puzzled look. There were probably things the Preventers could do for such a ministry, but none that were immediately obvious. The Preventers were first and foremost a peacekeeping organization.
"All right. We need to see her sometime today. It needn't be very long, fifteen minutes at most." Hopefully, with limited time to argue, Une would choose not to.
The neat little man behind his desk nodded. "Of course," he said, like he heard that excuse all day and never believed it. "I'll page you when Director Une is available to see you. It might not be today, though -- how about I call you at six PM to reschedule in case she couldn't fit you in?"
Wufei sighed and nodded his assent. That was the best they would get. "Thank you."
They turned away and went back to the elevator. Wufei could see Heero watching him push the button for the office floor ; he might have put more strength than necessary in it.
"As if you need to ask," Wufei groaned, and trudged his way to the machine after him.
He was so tired. Surviving the jungle, the enemies, and the guerilleros he pretended to share ideals with ; fulfilling his mission and orchestrating his escape ; and then that mess with trying to prove none of the clues he'd uncovered meant Maxwell or Barton were involved... Two months of stress on not enough sleep were starting to take their toll.
The only reason he hadn't fallen over for an impromptu nap was his daily caffeine intake.
He really, really wanted his coffee. Needed it. Craved it.
That was his excuse as to why he didn't notice Sally swoop down on him until he had the note demanding he report to the infirmary under his nose, blocking his view of the perfect inky blackness inside his plastic cup. The note was wrinkled from Wufei stuffing it in the pocket of his to-be-laundered disguise jacket and still had a little piece of adhesive tape at the top.
"Hi, Wufei," she said brightly. "I see you're not terribly busy this morning."
Wufei drew himself up. She still was a little taller than he was, curse her. "As a matter of fact--"
"We're waiting on Une to get free," Heero said, and took Wufei's betrayed glare with placid neutrality.
Sally gave the two of them a pleased smile. "And I have it on good authority that they'll be at it for a few hours at the very least. Great! I'm kidnapping you."
"We have reports to submit--"
"Heero can do that, can't you, Heero?"
"No problem," the traitor agreed easily.
"Yuy, damn it."
Heero looked at him as if he had no clue what he'd done wrong. Wufei might almost have believed it -- hah, right. Heero wasn't that socially clueless, he was just good at pretending he was. Wasn't he?
"... Whatever." Wufei drained his cup and threw it in the wastebasket. "Let's get this over with."
He followed Sally up the stairs to the second floor. They crossed a glass-walled corridor showing a half-dozen technicians in masks and gloves fiddling with what Wufei presumed was some kind of biological evidence before reaching the infirmary proper. Wufei had expected her to lead him to the usual consultation room, but she directed him all the way to the back and a discreet door.
"Oh, it's Gail's turn to play doctor on call today, so he gets the front room." Smiling, she pushed the door open and let him in. "I hold another first-aid class at ten, so once I'm done with you I'll be out of the infirmary all day."
That room was smaller, without any windows ; the equipment looked a little more dented as well, but he doubted Sally would still use it if the damage was more than cosmetic. Wufei walked in with only a hint of reluctance.
"You know, it would be nice if next time you came to me before you gave everyone in the building some exotic jungle disease."
"I don't have any jungle diseases," Wufei grouched. "You trained the medic with the extraction team yourself, don't you trust his judgment a little?"
"Oh, but I do," Sally replied pleasantly. "I just trust my equipment more than his."
Wufei gave her an unconvinced look ; nevertheless, he took off his shirt, sat on the examination table, and allowed her to feel him up for swollen ganglions, to check his pupils, wrap a blood pressure cuff around his biceps, and prick him with a syringe. Her readings taken, she left him on the table to rest with electrodes stuck to his temples and chest, fiddling with her centrifuge and her microscope, which, he admitted, looked significantly more impressive than the medic's.
"So how much sleep have you been getting recently?"
Wufei sighed and reclined on the table. It was easier to talk to Sally when she had her back to him and seemed so neutral and unconcerned, when all he could see was the white lab coat and not the worried, compassionate eyes.
"About four hours a day for the last couple of weeks. Often less." When he got any sleep at all.
"Hm. I don't need to tell you how to use your in-between-missions time, right?"
He groaned. "Ancestors, no. It's not as if I like being sleep-deprived."
Sally laughed lightly. "I'll give you some pills for that. Anything else? Soreness, headaches, dizziness...?"
"Nothing worth mentioning." She looked at him ; he added reluctantly, "A couple of fatigue headaches, nothing bad."
"Hm. Pretty appropriate, in your state. Well, you know your own body," she added, distracted by beeping machinery. "Warn me if you notice any symptoms."
Wufei grunted an acknowledgement and closed his eyes. He wasn't going to spit on an occasion to rest his mind and body. He would probably fall asleep if he didn't watch it, though.
"What did you read about that newtype affair?" he asked, eyes still closed.
He could hear soft little clinks as Sally worked on the blood samples. "That's right, you were incommunicado when the news broke. What do you know so far?"
"There's a new gene, it is found mostly on people whose families have been Colonists for a few generations..." His tone went a little ironic, "And it enables them to predict symbols on cards, which is obviously something people should riot about."
Sally made a rude noise under her breath. "It's not a new gene, it's a combination of genes that just didn't happen or didn't express themselves on Earth. Being conceived and carried to term in space apparently only changes their -- ah, I have scientific journals, maybe you'll like looking at them."
Wufei made a little 'listening' noise. "I might take you up on it. Not surprising that the newspapers would dumb it down, though."
"That, and there are several counter-studies, and of course they're not done yet and none of them agree." Sally chuckled ruefully. "There are some really fascinating things if you hunt down the more detailed reports, though. For example, some people could guess the card all the time, even chosen by a machine, but some could only guess it right when the person supervising the test looked at it first."
Wufei opened an eye. "... That is interesting. The implications alone -- it's not the same talent at all."
Sally threw him a quick grin over her shoulder. "It has a slightly different gene sequence, too. They're still cataloguing all the permutations and trying to tie them to specific talents. It's hard to find enough test subjects for the rarest, too, and there are some potential gifts that are difficult to quantify."
Sally gave a faint worried frown. "Charisma, for one. It's something that people have spent centuries trying to define. How do you tell when it's perfectly natural and unique to the person, and when it's boosted by something in their genes?"
Wufei stretched his legs comfortably and smiled. Mmh, academic debate. Now that was a lot better to think about than vendettas and vigilantism by old allies. "You could argue that's the definition of natural charisma, too. Physical appearance and voice are largely defined by genetics, and I suspect even someone who has the newtype genes for it wouldn't go far if their personality was too horrid to support it. It's not a brainwashing kind of ability, is it?"
Sally's back hunched a little, her tone of voice a little more somber. "Not as far as we can tell. But we don't have a wide enough research pool to test for that one. And, of course, the very idea that they could be robbed of their free will and made to unconditionally adore someone is already starting to panic people."
Wufei frowned. "And even if researchers never find someone strong enough to do that, it still won't be enough to prove that they don't exist somewhere."
"Yes, exactly," Sally replied with a frustrated huff. "It's easy enough to prove that something like that exists, you just have to find it -- but that it doesn't..."
They lapsed into silence, Sally thoroughly testing his blood for jungle parasites, Wufei brooding over the propensity of the human race to scare itself silly and turn on itself over unproven conjectures.
"... Anyway... You might find it funny, there was a subject who got every single answer wrong. How likely is that?"
About as likely as getting them all right. Wufei gave an amused snort.
"Which means he'd actually be pretty high-level, because very few of them had a success rate over ninety percent. And by very few I mean perhaps a half-dozen people at most out of the thousands tested. It's a relief, isn't it?"
Wufei grunted his assent. "Good to know they still have an error margin. ... Will this be done soon?" He tapped the electrodes.
"Oh, no, I need a full reading. I'd say at least two hours."
"That long?" Wufei scowled. "I have things to do."
"If it's research for your new case, Heero can do it. And if it's paperwork for the old one, it can wait," she said firmly.
Wufei frowned, suspicious. "Why do you need a full brain and body reading anyway? I understand a short EEG to make sure the lack of sleep isn't causing problems..."
Sally chuckled as she powered down the instruments she'd been using. "Don't you trust me?"
Ah, so that was it. "Of course I trust you." Wufei didn't bother hiding his cynicism. "I trust you to make bogus excuses to make sure I take a nap today, amongst other things."
They stared at each other for a few seconds, Wufei with his eyes narrowed in wariness, Sally with a casual and innocent expression that didn't suit her much ; and then she laughed again, a little chagrined. "I really would appreciate a full reading..."
"... For comparison purposes, in case something happens at some point."
Wufei scowled, unconvinced. "So it doesn't need to be now."
"No, but it's one of the rare times of the year I can catch you where you're not too busy to afford it. I'll come get you when I get the result for the blood tests, how about that?"
Wufei glared at her.
"Thank you, Wufei." And with a last smile and a friendly wave, she was gone, closing the door behind her with a soft click.
Wufei opened his mouth to protest, but of course she would pretend not to have heard him, and then chastise him like a child if he went and freed himself. With an irritated huff, he lay back down on the padded table.
Meddlesome woman. At least she could have brought him to one of the rooms that had actual beds. She had better wake him up in two hours tops ; he didn't want to waste all morning. With some luck, Une would see him during lunch, and it wouldn't hurt to have a little more dirt on Kamenov to convince her with.
"Oi, Yuy, food time!"
Heero looked up from the report he was checking for mistakes and gave the young man leaning through the door of his cubicle a weird look, complete with eyebrow arched quizzically. "Dietrik. The panel won't support your weight for long," he pointed out.
The man just laughed and stepped inside, all six foot three of him plus linebacker shoulders, considerably shrinking the rest of Heero's already small space. "Aw, you do worry for me! Come on, I'm sure you're hungry. It's noon already."
Heero didn't bother checking his computer clock. "Still ten minutes to go for that."
Another head popped in sight, hair dyed green and purple and twisted into strange loops, on top of an exceedingly proper woman's business suit. "You know what they say, the early bird gets the worm!"
"You can have my worm," Heero replied blandly. In his opinion, it hadn't been terribly funny, but the two laughed anyway. At least they recognized it as an attempt at humor, which was better than many of his other coworkers. His supervisor, Heero knew, would have stared at him with faint horror and believed he really was that ignorant.
The forty-something woman with the weird hair gave him a mock-stern look. "Stop it, we know you're not that busy or you'd have just pretended we weren't there. My treat?"
Heero lifted an eyebrow. "Generous." Mostly because the meals were practically free, and she owed him anyway.
He'd planned on having a sandwich with Wufei as they discussed the results of his search on Kamenov, but Wufei hadn't reappeared. Heero briefly considered the likelihood of Chang Wufei, Gundam pilot 05, getting kidnapped on the second floor of a high-security building full of armed and intensively trained policemen, and decided that he was probably being debriefed on some minor point of his report. That, or Sally had locked him up for incubating some strange jungle sickness.
Heero noticed that Sofia had been giving him a narrow-eyed glare while he'd been thinking, but the second he looked at her she switched it for an affable smile. "We've got a puzzle for you."
Heero blinked. "Puzzle?"
Smugly, Sofia rattled out a list of computer specs and security measures -- both on the computer itself and in the building it was housed -- that would have made even Heero think twice. "There was no internet. There was no intranet. The computer wasn't even equipped for wireless. The next Monday, the info had been sold to three separate parties."
The woman's smugness went up a notch. "Not in that case."
"... Give me thirty seconds." Heero speed-read the rest of his report, didn't find anything worth correcting, and keyed send, close-program, and shut-down in under five seconds. Two seconds later, he was out of his chair and slipping between Dietrik's imposing frame and the wall. "Let's go."
They were almost to the cafeteria when Sally's voice called his name. Heero paused and turned to look for her, finding her emerging from a conference room. Sofia and Dietrik took another dozen steps before they noticed he was gone.
"Heero!" Sally crossed the growing flow of people emigrating to the cafeteria. "Just the man I wanted to see."
Huh. "Sally," he acknowledged, neutral. She was smiling, but it looked more like habit than amusement or happiness.
"Reassure me -- you managed fine without Wufei?" she asked briskly.
"Good! So I won't have to feel guilty. Your partner is taking a nap in the infirmary, room 10-C. Will you wake him up? I'm not going to be able to get away for a few more hours here."
"... Sure. Did you drug him?"
Sally let out a laugh that was more surprised than amused. Though knowing her, Heero didn't think it had been such an unreasonable supposition.
"I thought about it, but he must have been more tired than I believed ; he barely protested. I hope he won't be annoyed at me for messing up his sleep cycle."
Someone called her back from inside the conference room, and Heero nodded. "He'll deal. Just go."
"Alright. I'm counting on you!"
Sally strode away and disappeared. Heero turned around to find his two colleagues waiting a few polite steps behind. It wasn't far enough not to hear anything, though, and Dietrik made disturbingly anguished puppy eyes at him. "You gotta go?"
Sofia nodded sadly. "Such a shame, I bet by the time we get this mystery unraveled you won't even be back yet."
Wufei came before irrelevant computer mysteries, of course ; but he also needed all the sleep he could get. Heero shook his head and started walking toward the cafeteria again. "I'll go afterward."
The cafeteria was already filling up, though due to the absence of three field teams it wasn't packed as thick as it could have been ; but the rest of the Geek Squad -- the Computer Crimes Division -- had decided to gather at one table instead of spreading onto two. Dietrik dragged an extra chair to sit at a corner, and they started debating.
Heero didn't say much at first, listening with one ear as he read over the case file. Without being able to inspect the computer itself, Heero couldn't rule out external tampering. Still, it was an intriguing mental exercise. And contrary to his other headache -- the case he and Wufei were working -- it didn't suffer from lack of theories and difficulties to prove or disprove anything. Either something was doable or it wasn't.
The table was animated, and a few of the guys were noisy. Heero disliked trying to speak over someone else, but Sofia and Matthew from Accounting didn't see anything wrong with digging their elbows in people's ribs to make them pipe down. Of course, elbowing too hard provoked short spats that were even noisier than the rest. Vaguely annoyed, Heero reclined in his seat and tried to ignore them -- and that was when he noticed Commander Une making the rounds.
Stiff and stern, she led a pair of men in beige suits through the floor ; a secretary trailed after the three of them. Heero had known Une for quite some time now, and while her expression was still that of long-practiced neutrality, there was a tilt to her chin that reminded him more of the ex-OZ colonel than the ex-ambassador. The two men -- no doubt the Health Ministry envoys -- chatted amiably at her as they looked around. It seemed like she was introducing people here and there on the way out of the cafeteria...
Looking back at her guests, she waved her hand toward Heero's table. Huh. She didn't look at Heero, only at a blond guy with floppy hair who was busy making sure one of his coworkers knew exactly why he was right and she was wrong.
"Agent Ling, if I could..."
"--Are you blind or what, it would blow up in your -- oh, Commander."
Une's eye twitched a little, but she didn't say anything, only waving at the two men following her. "Agent Ling, Eric Madison and Cliff Branforth from the Health ministry. They're heading a world-wide effort to chart some unknown parts of the human genome. Director Madison, Mr. Branforth, Edward Ling, biochemist."
Human genome, huh. Considering the current news, there wasn't much of a question as to what this was about. Heero's gaze sharpened. Now the real question was why would people researching Newtypes stress Une out so much.
Madison had cropped, graying honey-blond hair, and a winsome smile. Branforth was older, fifty perhaps, and with a sharper, more prominent bone structure ; but the graying haircut was about the same, and the suits matched, apart from the nuance of blue of their shirts. The discussion at the table died down as the two newcomers flattered Ling and joked about trying to tempt him away from the Preventers and in one of their own labs. Une looked quite unimpressed ; thankfully Ling didn't seem to be all that interested by the offer.
They did a token effort at being polite by introducing the rest of the members. Sofia stretched out to shake hands over the table, but Heero only nodded his greeting, unwilling to bend over and unbalance himself. He hadn't expected Director Madison to take a couple of steps between the tables to get closer to him. It was hard to refuse to shake hands now without being grossly impolite.
"Agent... Yuy, was it?" Madison said, glancing down at Heero's badge.
Heero frowned a little ; it might have been paranoia, but he had a feeling the man's glance had only served to confirm something he already knew.
"Heero Yuy, huh. Like the great pacifist? That's strangely appropriate," the man joked. "A relative perhaps? Where are you from?"
Une hadn't told them his first name when she introduced everyone, and the badge only had his last. "The Sank Kingdom," he replied blandly, declining to laugh along. Madison's chuckles died down.
"Ah. ...Well. I heard you were partnered with an agent from L5?"
They definitely were too aware of who he was, who Wufei was. And perhaps even of what they had in common, apart from currently being partners. Was it about their shared past? "...Yes."
"Would you happen to know which specific colony he's from?"
Heero frowned. "No. Why do you want to know?"
Madison chuckled. "Nothing bad, nothing bad. We're conducting a little survey, and we would be very interested to have more participants from the L5 cluster."
At least they hadn't looked deep enough to know that while Heero's ID listed him as a Sank citizen, it was just as likely he'd been born there as anywhere else in the Earth Sphere.
"We don't have time for surveys." Heero caught Une's eyes. "We're waiting for orders to leave on a mission."
Une's eyebrow twitched upwards in an interrogative fashion, but Branforth looked at her and her expression smoothed out again. Madison was still talking at him.
"--wouldn't take much longer than it takes to get a blood sample. One of our projects deals with correlations between an individual's genetic predispositions and their chosen career, you see."
Heero arched a doubtful eyebrow.
"So you want to know if Newtypes have favorite jobs, then?" Dietrik said hesitantly.
Neither Heero nor Madison acknowledged him. "The same kind of correlation between people with good physical coordination and people who practice sports," Heero suggested, expressionless.
Madison and his colleague laughed, and the rest of the table gave a polite chuckle, though Ling and Sofia's expression was attentive and Dietrik's a little worried . "I suspect as much," Branforth said from where he was standing beside Une. "But we have to make sure anyway."
"All genetic samples are to be anonymous, of course, and we welcome all kinds, but I thought it might be especially interesting to get Agent Chang's. For reasons which you're no doubt aware of, samples from a few specific areas of that cluster are, ah, something of a rarity."
Due to the cluster not being very large even before the Dragon Clan colony self-destructed, and the sole Dragon survivors being people who had been stranded on Earth or other colonies at the time of its self-destruction ; yes, Heero was aware.
"I'll pass the invitation along," Heero promised neutrally. Except that by invitation he meant warning. Even if those men's project came from innocently academic motives, the last thing Newtypes needed was to end up on a list -- and field agents already at a risk of being attacked just for doing their job needed it even less than the rest. Even anonymously given, a genetic sample wasn't untraceable ; if it were, the forensics department would be out of a job.
Une apparently had had enough ; she checked her wristwatch briskly. "Gentlemen, we're going off-schedule. I suggest we proceed to the next department."
Madison laughed, of course ; Heero wondered if he ever truly stopped. "Ah, of course, of course, my apologies. Well, Agents, nice meeting you. Agent Ling, don't forget about our proposition, eh?"
Madison waved genially, Branforth nodded a salute to the table, and they left with Une, whose eyes had a steely glint Heero found a lot more Colonel than Lady.
"Well, uh." Dietrik frowned worriedly and gave Heero a puzzled look. "I'm sure they mean well, but it's kind of a silly idea, isn't it? What with how messy things are out here."
"Yeah," someone else agreed. "Also you need just one dirty official -- and voila, a whole convenient list of Newtypes in the government, complete with name, address and position, for them to do god knows what with. Oh, you lost your job? Sorry, just budget cuts, you know how that is. No, nothing to do with that innocent blood test at all."
"Yeah, or... 'use your mind powers to kill the President or we out you!'"
There was laughter. "You read too many comics!"
Someone started teasing Ling for flirting with big manly men for money ; Heero decided he'd socialized enough.
"Yuy?" Sofia asked, when she saw him get up with his tray in hand. "You're already leaving? You haven't eaten anything..."
"I've got to get Chang."
But when he was in the corridor, he wasn't sure anymore that he needed to rush. Wufei was in the infirmary, in a room out of the way. If he was still sleeping, good ; he needed it. And even if he woke up at the wrong time and met those men, what could happen? They wouldn't get much past the confirmation that he existed and a marked lack of interest in participating. They weren't going to force a blood sample out of him right on the spot ; besides, in the unlikely event that they were crazy enough to try, Wufei would bleed them right back.
Wouldn't be impossible to borrow a lost hair, though.
Heero had a tendency to paranoia. He knew that. So instead of going straight to Wufei, he went to his desk first, to get the files he was supposed to work on.
He could work on them just as well in the infirmary.