Gundam Wing

Wizard Of OZ

By Red Rose

EPISODE 1

Chapter II

CHESS

Duo

I had no idea how long I drifted. Part of me recalled the boat beaching in the reeds when the tide went out, but I was too out to care and too hurt to do anything about it.

Hours later, the boat was afloat again. By some miracle, I managed to regain consciousness long enough notice I was drifting past a familiar village. To ground my little boat, I was forced to drag my anguished carcass into the water. The biting cold ripped though my body, alerting every cell and cooling the hot searing of my wound. Despite the effort, I tried to ignore the flares of injury and began to wade to the beach. It wasn't far, but by the time I crawled up onto shore, my leg was so sore, I couldn't move it without tears. The wound had swollen so large, it filled out my baggy pants so that they were skin tight, like a sickening puss filled balloon.

It was night time and very dark. The jungle around me lived with squawking exotic birds and chattering night creatures. Monkeys squealed in the distance as I pitched forward onto moist sand. The lower half of my body laid in the cold water.

My tourniquet held and I hadn't lost anymore blood, but the pain was so unbearable, I couldn't stand. I gave a grunt and lay still, face clammy against a pillow of beach. I was very cold and yet, perspiring heavily. It seemed too soon for a fever to set in.

Perhaps one of the villagers would find me in a couple of hours when they came down to the river to set their nets.

With extreme willpower, I hauled my torso up and edged my legs from the cold water. With my injury, I'd attract piranhas if they were around and become instant fish food.

I clumsily moved my arm and examined my wristwatch. It was midnight. I had been shot close to twelve hours ago. I frowned. I was hungry and hopelessly immobile. My injuries ranged from severe to minor, but still they were enough for any night predator or scavenger to notice. I had to find shelter, if I were to survive the evening.

I studied myself, squinting in the dark. The moon peeked from the canopy of trees and the faint flickers of fire in the distance gave me enough light to realize the shape I was in. My arms were scratched and bruised from my escape through the dense jungle. Mosquito bites covered me and seven leeches had hitched a ride on my right arm. There was no telling how many of the little buggers were hidden in my clothing. They must have attached themselves when I went for a swim.

"Well, don't I feel like the little smorgasbord." I said, trying to cheer my mood some. "Some little rat or crab will have lots of fun on my dirty bloody carcass tonight." The night air was cool. I shivered. I didn't like the idea of dying but was too damn weak to make the effort to crawl up the path and into the village. "Well, at least I'll die under the moon..."

My head ached in flashes and thuds, reminding me my medication had worn thin. I needed more drugs. The stuff was addictive. I'd have more than repressed Newtype abilities to worry about. I'd have to up my dosage as well. It sort of reminded me of the good old days when I did lots of angel's breath and the occasional crack dose just to drown my misery. I lost control once and spent a month in rehab. I swore off the heavy narcotics. I never imagined then, that I'd be forced to addict myself to a medication in order to maintain my own sanity.

I moaned, dropping my head into my arms. Already, my Newtype abilities were beginning to awaken. Unfortunately, because the drug repressed them, they hit me with full blinding force. I heard the faint whispers of thought voices. It happened this way all the time. The telepathy and pain settled in first, followed by empathy shortly after. If I was really negligent with my medication, I'd develop uncontrolled clairvoyance and loose all sense of reality.

For the sake of my mind, I'd have to struggle my way up the path. "Oh shit..." Unfortunately, my body wasn't compliant. Exhaustion dragged my heavy lids down once more. I'd sleep a little more and try to regain my strength. Hopefully I'd be coherent enough to wake up later and move. I let my mind wander.

Someone thought about a good midnight snack...

A couple tangled their attentions with the passions of making love...

A kid was laying in his bed thinking abut fishing...

Their minds were comforting in a way. I felt alive with them.

I weakly smiled, eaves dropping on others was sort of fun. It almost made me forget about my leg. I hated pain. There was only one other time I felt this sucky.

I began to drift. Funny how those memories creep up on you like a bad dream.

I was on side two again, young face staring back at me in a shop window.

**********

I sighed. It was the first time in weeks I had a bath and it felt very good. I liked the feel of clean skin and clothes. I was lucky and happened on a residence where the owners were away on business. It was easy to pick the lock and stay the night in a warm bed. There wasn't much in the way of food there but I did find some valuable jewelry and other trinkets to trade with.

Then there was the tub.

It was a big deep tub with a shower. I took a very long bath and washed my hair. It was getting rather long now and in need of attention. I tried to stay away from the kids with bugs these days, unable to stomach cutting my hair because of infestation.

Well, I was fine now, and would be long gone before the people who owned the house would return. They'd never find me, even though I left enough hair behind for DNA typing. Because of the war, the Federation had better things to do with their time than look for a petty thief.

"Heh." I tilted my cap down so the rim shaded my eyes and began to walk down the sidewalk. There were several cafes and delis along the strip. Across the street, I spied a few wealthy dress and clothing shops. Even though the Fedies patrolled regularly, the shop owners managed to maintain their businesses and other civilians attempted to keep their standard of living as normal as possible. Men and women worked regular hours and ignored the occasional gunfire and the increase of violent crime. Crimes, in my opinion, committed by the Federation and their policing

I was rather lucky. I survived the massacre years ago when I was a kid and managed to dodge most of the street pimps and punks roaming around in search of war orphans. I did get my share of beatings and remembered very vividly every face I encountered.

Being small, I could easily hide from anyone who wanted to pick on me.

I stuck my hands in my pockets, feeling the jingle of a gold chain and diamonds. The fence was three blocks down on Fulton Street. I had only visited him once. I managed to pick a solid gold watch off a soldier. He gave me a good price for it, and was so pleasant, he didn't bother to turn me into the Fedies. Nowadays, not even a good fence could be trusted. The Feds put the squeeze on all the businesses.

If I got enough money for this stuff, I'd invest it on a ticket to Side One, or even Earth. Perhaps what I needed was a change in scenery.

I smiled at the idea of finally having a ticket off this dump.

I then frowned, remembering how Sister Helen and Father Maxwell died for it.

They'd be very ashamed of me, but I couldn't help what I was. The Federation made me.

After stealing a few apples from a local grocery store unnoticed, I crossed the street and headed in the direction of Fulton Street.

About a block ahead of me, I spied three soldiers standing outside a local bar and grill. I slowed my walk, feeling the impulsive urge to check out one of their wallets. I made it a habit to steal from Feds. Not only did they have good salaries, it was my way of donating to the Duo Maxwell War Orphan Fund. They deserved it. It was child support and this twelve year old boy needed all the help he could get.

I smirked. They didn't look too bright. Two of them were fairly tall and thin, while the third was plump. All were dressed in uniform and spoke in loud voices. I smelled the pot and alcohol on them from where I stood. From their conversation, they already saw a few parties that evening and were out for an early breakfast with a few drinks. A buddy of theirs was harassing the barkeep to open up for them.

"Creeps." I whispered to myself. They were on shore leave and getting close to the end. Partying it up to stay your guilty consciences, I thought quietly at them. One of them looked strangely familiar. I was sure I'd had seen him the day Sister Helen died.

Yeah, the fat guy. I recalled him shooting at children during the rebellion. "Hmmm, Mr. Blimp. Yes, I do think I will accept your humble donation."

I tucked my chin so my gaze kept to the cement sidewalk and I passed them. Nimble, my fingers slipped into his jacket pocket and removed a very thick wallet and ring.

In a blink I was past Mr. Fat and sprinting down the block, wallet and ring visiting the other resident stash in my clothing.

"Hey, Jack." A voice said, coming from the pub behind me. "That street rat just ripped you off."

God damn it! I didn't think the fourth guy would come out of the building just as I fished out Fatso's earnings. I picked up my pace and skidded into a local alley filled with garbage cans and crates. Just behind me, feet clapped against hard pavement. From the sound of it, all of them were dashing after me.

And the day started out so well. Sadly, things often changed for the worse in my life. I bounded up several cardboard boxes and scampered up a fire escape. Frantic, I scrambled up, feet just getting a foothold on the second story ladder when a gunshot bounced off the steel just left of my fingers.

I lost my grip and fell backwards.

My fall was broken by several empty boxes and a few soft garbage bags.

Well, there goes my bath down the drain. I rolled down off the trash onto the concrete. It was there I found my feet and stood up...

...with my nose just touching the barrel of a Federation issue pistol. The man holding it had a head full of dark brown hair and the coldest blue eyes I ever saw. Frozen, all I could do was gape at the gun.

Well, it wasn't the first time I'd been put into a Federation prison.

They always let me out after a scolding and a severe beating. They didn't have time for juvenile delinquents and thieves. Still, I didn't like the idea of a gun pointed directly at my nose.

"What do we have here?" The man said in an almost warm fatherly tone. "A little Angel?"

Stupidly, I blinked. I was no angel, but I was often called that by Father Maxwell and Sister Helen. These days, I was called Maxwell's Little Demon.

The four Federation soldiers turned the corner, then came to an abrupt halt. Red faced with embarrassment, they stiffened and quickly saluted my captor. "Sir!"

The man smiled thinly at the soldiers, but kept the gun close to my head. If I dared move, he'd fire. He wasn't in uniform, yet I assumed he was their group leader or some other superior in his civvies. "Has this little Angel been up to some mischief, my friends?"

The fat one nodded, but still kept his attention. "My wallet sir. The little bitch stole it."

Figures. Everyone was convinced I was a girl with my hair. It was one of the reasons why the local pimps made it an effort to harass me so much.

"I see." Cold eyes captured my own. The gun cocked, its hammer echoing endlessly in my ear. "Is this true?"

I kept my lips tight and stared at him undaunted. They already had me hung.

"Well Sullivan, I don't think he is talking. I think you should search him, don't you?"

The overweight soldier nodded uneasily and stepped forward.

I knew the routine well and didn't fight it. If I did, my beating would be worse.

Sullivan spun me to face the wall and lifted my hands to the top of my head. My cheek rubbed brick as his pudgy hands groped my legs, crotch and hips. It didn't take much for him to locate his wallet or the other merchandise.

For further insult, he continued the probe up my waist and around my chest. When he finished, the bastard turned to face his buddies. "Hey man, this is a guy."

"No way!" The startled voice of one of the thin men said. "Are you sure?"

Sullivan spun me to face the others and grabbed my arms. I felt the twinge of pain as he dragged them up my back. "Feel for yourself. He's got quite a prick.

Beating or no beating, no guy was about to feel me up.

I stomped on Sullivan's foot with my heel.

The large soldier screeched and let go. I was just about to sprint away, when the butt of a gun crashed into my jaw. The blow sent me spinning into the brick wall where I bounced off and landed into a heap of trash cans. The cans spun and clattered as I rolled between them, blood spluttering from a cracked lip.

"I'd advise you to behave, boy." The blue eyed man spoke calmly. He holstered his gun and shot a glare to the other men. "This boy's been rather busy. In fact, I think I recognize him. He's been around for quite some time and hasn't learned his lesson on the moralities of stealing."

Clumsily, I sat up, head spinning from the blow. Spots bounced in front of my gaze when I moved. Dizzily, I sagged back, the back of my hand rubbing away the blood oozing down my chin. "I'll make a deal." I said narrowing my eyes. "You stop killing, and I'll stop stealing."

All five of them laughed.

A cold chill clutched my chest. With an effort, I struggled to regain my feet. Something told me, if I hung around, I'd be in for a lot more than a work over by the local law enforcement.

"You are in no position to make deals, Mr. Maxwell. Am I right?"

Once more, cold blue eyes captured mine and held me hostage. I swallowed, fearful. He knew me very well, but how? I shrank back, suddenly unable to move.

Weakly I nodded. "Yes, I'm Duo. Who the hell are you?"

"Someday, I will be your salvation, my little Angel." Affectionately, he reached over and stroked my chin, fingers delicate and warm against my bruised flesh. "But I think you need to be taught a lesson. Stealing is wrong, especially when it's from your superiors. Understand?"

I went to deck him. I propelled myself, legs like the coiling of a spring, and bounced up, fist a millisecond from his chin.

Effortlessly, he stepped out of the way.

Something connected with the back of my skull.

**********

"Duo?" A boy's voice called from oblivion. Weakly, I opened my eyes to focus on a dark skinned face and a pair of very large blue eyes. Patrick, one of my children, stared down at me. A mixture of worry and terror reflected on his boyish face. "Christ, Duo! You're a mess."

He was dressed in a simple nightshirt and my black cap. His shaggy black hair hung unkempt in his face. The boy must have gotten out of bed and found me. His thoughts assaulted me with concern and panic. Patrick feared I'd die on him like so many others.

I wanted to reassure him, but couldn't find the words. After all, he didn't willfully tell me what was on his mind. I lifted it.

I guiltily tried to ignore the boy's thoughts. How in God's name did the kid know I was here? "Yeah, I'm a big mess...Lucky you were up, eh?"

"Haven't been sleeping well since you vanished a day and a half ago." He said, scooping an arm about my shoulder. I sensed he knew I was here on the beach and that was why he came down. He heard me thinking.

His mind was still muddled with sleep. For a moment, he debated whether he should try and carry me himself or if he should run for help.

Frustrated I was unable to control my emerging telepathy, I again tried to focus on what was at hand. A day and a half; I had been missing for a day and a half. I buried my face into the sand. No wonder I felt so weak and exhausted and the wound swelled as big as it did! I had a fever and the leg was infected. "Damn it! That's the last thing I need, some God forsaken jungle bunny disease!"

"Duo?" Patrick tried to lift me up, but his slender eight year old frame was unable to budge my weight. He made a face. He gave up trying to move me. "I can't lift you. Can you stand?"

"No." My body felt heavy. To think of moving was an effort. Still I tried, lifting myself onto my hands. I waved him towards the path and slumped back down. "Get help...I ain't moving. Had no idea that much time went by. Must have been beached a lot longer than I thought."

"Yeah." The kid came to his feet. "I'll get Hilde and Doctor Jim."

The boy vanished as quickly as he magically appeared. I smiled in spite of my discomfort. He was a good kid; a lot like me when I was his age. By God, I'd die before anyone ruined him like they ruined me.

The world around me faded.

The dream returned.

**********

I woke up, hands tied behind my back. I was nude. I lay in a vacant dusty old room with peeling pink wall paper and a battered dirt covered mattress in the corner. There was one window on the back wall and broken strips of wood lay scattered on the floor near a fairly long oak table. The door was sealed shut, leaving the window as they only escape route.

The four bastards stood around me, laughing. Bottles lay at their feet. I could smell the rot of fresh liquor breath. They were drunk. Their boss stood in the distance, watching with his dead cold eyes. His laughing gaze seemed to smile when he became aware I was conscious. "Hello Angel."

He mocked me and my love for Sister Helen. I was her angel only. My head ached and I vaguely felt the throb of a sizable bump on the back of my skull. Mr. Sullivan must have clocked me with his gun when I tried to take out his buddy. Now I was hog tied and helpless to any of their whims.

I prayed it was just for a beating.

Word had it on the streets soldiers sometimes took street kids and raped them.

My mouth went dry and I tried to speak, but to my surprise I only squeaked out a muffle.

A thick cloth gag was bound about my face and in my mouth. I couldn't call for help.

Shit.

The day was getting worse by the minute.

"He looks sooo much like a girl." said Sullivan mockingly. His chubby foot nailed me in the gut. I doubled over, screwing my eyes shut against tears. There was no way I planned to cry or scream. It was what they wanted. Instead I bit my lip.

"Maybe he should be put in his place like one." another soldier said, cheerfully tapping his hand with a piece of slender door molding. I widened my eyes, noticing the thin nails poking from its surface.

My legs were tied. I couldn't run. It would take time for me to squirm out of the ropes. I could do it, but I'd have to concentrate.

Unfortunately, these guys didn't plan to let me do so.

The burning of hot wood dug into my curled up form. I gasped, not ready for the digging nails scraping across my flesh. Again, I felt another blow. This time I was prepared and focused on the floor.

"Hey, he's all balled up. I can't see his pretty little face. Let's cuff him to the table." A voice said above the searing pain of my lacerations. "Got to see his face."

There were murmurs and I felt myself being hauled up by the arms. I tried to keep tight in a ball, but their strength combined pried me so my body was stretched out. I twisted in their grasps and was so wild, three of them had to hold me down while Sullivan untied my arms and feet.

All along, those cold blue orbs watched, not once looking away from me. The man smiled smug as if pleased at my shame.

With my legs freed, I took the opportunity to kick the legs out of one of the thugs holding my arms.

With a thud, the blond guy crashed to the floor. The door molding in his hand dropped, but not before it drove a nail into his palm. I still wasn't free, for there were still two, one on each side, but I had more leverage to fight. I planted my feet firmly on the ground and jerked to the side. Skinny with brown eyes lost his balance and some of his grip on me loosened.

Unfortunately, Mr. Fat Ass Sullivan was in my face and laid a few not so delicate punches in my gut.

I gasped and tried to double over, but the hands holding my arms reaffirmed their grip. Something pulled my hair back, jerking my head violently. "You little shit wad! I'm gonna make you pay! You made me slice my goddamned hand!"

Yeah, I'm gonna do a lot more than mess up your hands, I thought back angrily. The back of my head ached and I felt him rapidly yank at my hair.

"Pretty, pretty boy! How about scalping you..." He said malevolently.

Their boss lifted a brow and spoke. "No, don't touch the hair. It would be a shame to destroy him like that. Let it down. Lets see how lovely he really is."

Sullivan chuckled. "Yeah, that's right. Let the girlie boy's hair down. Let's have a little fun."

I felt a tug on the end of my braid and my hair wound free of its confines. Longer than hip length locks rustled over my back. The fellow behind me roughly sized it and pulled at the strands. "Ain't this nice. So you like looking like a girlie, kid."

I chewed my gag annoyed. All my life I despised being mistaken for a girl. I also hated being referred to as pretty and wanted to slug anyone who dared touch me in anyway other than a tap on the shoulder. In the past, I had been molested by countless dirt bags and I suppose this wasn't any different, but unlike the other times, these guys scared me.

I expected it from the drug dealers and pimps. It was a part of the street. But these guys, they really wanted to hurt me in a particularly violent and humiliating way. I tried to lift my leg to step on Blondie's foot, but Sullivan kicked my knee.

"Hey, he's feisty! Let's take the bite out of him!" Sullivan shouted, almost gleeful.

Common sense said stay still and let them work me over. This way I'd conserve strength, but my pride wouldn't let me. I jerked my arms and shook my body in an attempt to free myself.

A second later a crack slammed against the back of my shoulders, immediately followed by one to the buttocks.

The attack continued repeatedly until I stopped moving and hung limp in their grasp.

By the time it was over, my back, rear and legs were covered with swelling welts. To move sent blinding pain all over my body and blood dribbled from multiple wounds. I hadn't been worked over this badly in my life.

My hair was untouched and hanging in my face.

I refused to cry, but it hurt so damn much I almost whimpered.

Hands seized my hair and pulled my chin from my chest. Sullivan's tiny piggish eyes studied my features, amused. "Had enough boy?" With a manic grin, he made my head shake back and forth. "No, no, I want more."

The bastards laughed once more and I felt the sting of cold booze spill over my back. I bit into the gag, stifling any screams threatening to come out. God, it hurt!

"Look, I just cleaned his poor boo boos." Blondie cheerfully said from behind.

Sullivan's free fingers stroked my cheek and ran down my chest to my belly. "You're a skinny little runt, aren't you?"

"Fuck off..." I muffled incoherently into my gag.

The hand holding my hair jerked, pulling more strands, then dropped away.

Immediately following, his fist pummeled into my gut. The anguish of snapping ribs pierced me. My vision blurred and I closed my eyes tight.

He was still watching. I felt those eyes burning into my back.

"I getting bored now..." his voice said from his perch in front of the wall. "I thought you guys were going to make this interesting."

There went any delusion this was just an ordinary routine work over by the local constabularies.

I was hoping they'd forget about that.

My body trembled.

Sullivan lifted my chin with his hands once more.

I opened one eye a crack, just enough to make out his ugly red cheeked face and greasy black hair.

"We're getting there." he said to Mr. Voyeur. Then to me he smiled. "You're so pretty, I can forget you're not a girl." His fingers slipped into my hair and behind the back of my head. I tried to turn away, but he held me fast. "Give us a little kiss sweetie and maybe I'll go easy on you."

The gag dropped away.

I spat in his eye. They hadn't broken me yet. "Kiss that, you cum sucking perv....!"

The man's face leaned and pressed against mine. I felt his tongue intrude on my mouth. It was kind of rough for my first kiss... But then again, I expected it to be with a girl.

**********

"Oh my God...!" Hilde's voice called my mind away from the memory.

I forced my eyes open. I lay in the arms of Doctor Jim Wilson at the entrance of the monastery. Pat stood off to the side, a step back on the stairs, and Hilde stood in the doorway, horrified.

"Hey hon... Sorry I missed dinner..." I whispered weakly as she reached and touched my face.

She was angry, worried, scared and thankful, all at the same time.

Why do you do this to me, Duo? Why can't you stay out of trouble. I don't like seeing you like this... Her thoughts rang out, clear as a bell in my mind.

Wearily, I tried to grin and flopped a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to get in trouble. It was just a bad couple of days, that's all..."

Startled, she stared at me blinking and touched my face. Her mind questioned how I read her thoughts. "You read me."

"I can't help it... Two days without the drugs and I go telepathy happy." I said, awkward. "If it means anything to you, I don't like seeing me like this either."

She didn't like me dancing around in her brain, but if anyone invaded her privacy I'd be the only one. Hilde stepped aside and let the doctor carry me into the building and past the rows of pews.

The clinic was down the hall a few feet behind the church. Somewhere along the line, I lost consciousness again.

The memory kept coming. Christ. Why was I thinking about it? I thought it was in the past...

The creep with the cold blue steel eyes watched every chilling second.

**********

The fuckers took several turns on me after they fastened me belly down to the table. I hung half off, my bare bottom to their mercy.

Mercy they didn't have.

By the fourth round, my lip was torn and bloodied from biting it. I was hamburger inside and out. I felt slick from blood and sweat and my body stank like their mingled body odors. I wanted to sob like a baby or scream my head off, but held it all in.

Not once did I ask myself how they could do what they were doing. I actually expected it to happen sooner or later. In a way, I deserved it. I survived the Maxwell Church Massacre. I survived the plague. Death had to have a price for my escapes.

I faded in and out of consciousness and my body and brain were flooded by so many sensations, they spotted my vision and blurred my thoughts.

If the only thing I could do was sit here and be a bed bunny to a bunch of sickos, I wouldn't satisfy them with acting like one.

They seemed a little disappointed and pledged to keep at it until I screamed.

I resigned myself to dying before doing so.

To spite me, they corked my mouth with a thick pipe and taped it to my face. They insisted it was to stop me from biting them. I didn't understand at first, and only understood when started to please themselves that way.

I vomited multiple times and wished they'd all die. I gagged and choked, despising them with my very soul.

They shortly tired of that activity when they realized I'd choke to death on my own spew. They returned to their original tactics.

Oh yeah, I wanted all of them dead. I wanted to see their blood spilled and their bodies torn from limb to limb; cock first of course.

A warm good-natured chortle echoed in my thoughts. "Death Angel, your wishes are my command..." Had I thought this to myself?

I let my attention swim around the room. The cold one still stood in his corner, his face now furrowed with concentration. Out of all of them, I understood him the least. What did he get out of all of this? He couldn't just enjoy watching me...

At the corner of the room my eyes spied a form; a shadow that grew and grew into a winged shape with long taloned fingers and a dark translucent smile. It was sinister, yet familiar.

I closed my eyes, quaking. My mind was playing tricks on me now. For a moment, I swore I saw Death.

Sullivan's hot body leaned into my legs. I opened my eyes once more to stare at the voyeur.

Nothing but long shadows from dusk filled the corner where he once stood.

An explosion rocked the room.

The four dicks scattered about, almost in a panic. "Jesus!" cried out Sullivan, "Those damn rebels are at it again!" I felt his body slide away and heard shuffling about the room.

Rebels? I exhaled into the pipe, my cracked and torn lips wet with drool and blood. Slowly, I began to work at the cuffs on my hands. Even though my wrists were rubbed raw by the steel, I was determined to free myself. My hands were double jointed and it was very easy to slip out of any confines about my wrists. The thugs didn't seem to care. They were too busy worrying about getting caught with their pants down.

Another quake shook the building and I felt plaster shower down on to my face. One of the guys gasped. "Mobile Suits!"

Effortlessly, the cuffs slid off my blood drenched fingers and clattered down the legs of the table. After tearing the gag from my mouth, I eased myself off the end of the table. Every movement was greeted by excruciating agony.

My captors were at the other side of the room, struggling to pull on their clothes. Sullivan stood by the window, gaping. "Where the hell did that fucker come from?"

The fifth guy stepped away from the wall and walked toward me and the table.

Frantic, I jiggled the cuffs about my ankles, unable to release myself. What I needed was a key. My big old feet were too large to squirm out of the cuffs.

A clatter of keys on the floor beside me made me look up. The blue eyed man stood directly over me, gaze studying my battered form. He looked content. "I hope you learned your lesson, little angel." His hand fell to my head and stoked my hair, then my cheek. A flicker of sympathy glittered in his cold orbs.

I flipped him the finger and grabbed the set of keys. In a second, I had fumbled the locks off.

Another rumble vibrated through out the room. This time, pieces of ceiling began to crack and fall. I dove under the table and hunkered down, head between my knees.

There was a crash and a blast of heat. Screams erupted, then silenced with a hiss and rending of shattering walls and escaping gas mains. The table held fast as debris and stone clattered to the floor.

Dirt and ash rose up around me, choking my lungs.

Painfully, I lifted my head.

In the gray of white powdered dust, I saw it again; a dark form mocking the scatter of broken bodies.

"Little Shinigami...Death Angel" It whispered in my ear. "My Death Angel..."

They were all dead.

Most of them were unrecognizable and disassembled. Their bloody remains were half buried in brick and steel, but I could still make out an occasional arm or leg.

Sullivan's face glared lifelessly up at a gaping hole in the ceiling. His lower half was severed away by a solid steel door.

The room was rubble.

Yet, by some miracle, my clothing lay in a heap under the table with me. Weak, bruised and sore, I clumsily dressed and stepped out from under the table. The window wall was missing as was the door and the other half of the building. An explosion must have detonated and wrecked the structure. It would be deadly trying to climb out, especially in my condition.

In the distance, I saw Federation mobile suits in conflict with two rogue suits.

In an odd way, the Federation and their war saved me.

I pushed my hair out of my face and studied the death around me.

"Well, I guess no one fucks with Duo Maxwell without paying heavy dues to the Reaper..." I said and began my trek toward the remains of the hallway beyond my prison. I shied a glance to the bodies and wondered if all of there were really dead.

"Angel..."

I shivered. Had I learned my lesson?

"Humph. Just another day in the life of Duo Maxwell." I shrugged it off and decided I'd risk another night and bath at the residence I visited the night before.

It was the only way I could imagine letting the dirt of the day wash off my back.

**********

Those same cold blue eyes burned their way into my consciousness as I forced myself to awaken.

Alexie.

Those eyes were Alexie's. It was HE who spoiled me as a child, not some faceless soldier. He arranged my rape...and watched.

Numb, I tried to ignore the sinking horror. Alexie left nothing to chance. He knew where I was then, and most likely knew were I was now. It wasn't a pleasant thought.

After a few seconds of realization, I let the terror pass and though uneasy, I took in my surroundings. I lay in a bed draped by mosquito nets. An IV drip was taped to my wrist. I felt cold and sticky, like I hadn't bathed in a month and every inch of my body ached. I also had that sickening I need to piss feeling like I spent all night under anesthesia in surgery. Shivering, I fumbled for the blankets around me and pulled them close.

Strangely, the pain was very far away and I felt a little light headed. The only pain I was aware of was the tightening of cramps and the dull ache of my buzzing brain. Numb nothingness bathed my injured leg, scaring me enough to make me look to make sure it was still there. Thankfully, I spied it, cast and all.

Boy, I had to take a whiz.

Other than that, I was just dandy.

Glazed, I turned my gaze and marveled at the streaking colors. I noted similar effects when I was on opium as a kid. I had to be on morphine; a real large dose if I was correct. Wow. I was stoned.

The scattered echoes of prayers bombarded my mind as I lay motionless in bed. They whispered endlessly, reminding me I had been off my medication too long.

Damn. When I had the Zero Device in my head, I didn't have this problem.

Being an artificial Newtype bit.

I tried to close the thoughts out, but only succeeded in opening up so I was plagued by even more whispers.

Someone was grieving. The local bullies were picking on two of the smaller kids again...

I yanked my blankets over my face and cursed. It was impossible to just ignore it all. I closed my eyes against the pain and confusion.

Patrick's face came to mind. He stood in front of Hilde outside the church. Around them, children played and laughed in the courtyard.

"I think Duo should be waking up soon." He said, nudging his hat up. "We should check on him."

"Yes, it has been a while, hasn't it?" Hilde stood up and grabbed Kary, who played on stairs beside her.

The scene shifted and I was back in the backdrop of blackness. Yes sirree, the whole experience sort of reminded me of the time I was experimenting with LSD when I was with the Sweepers.

Professor G cut the habit short with flashback horror stories from his youth.

Shortly thereafter I had a few myself.

Tripping with telepathy and clairvoyance gave a similar feeling.

The door popped open.

I looked and for an agonizing moment I saw him, the guy with the inhuman eyes.

Alexie...

It faded into Patrick. Hilde nudged in past him and came to my side. In her arms, Kary wiggled frantically.

My mind remained with Alexie. Why did I see him when I saw Pat. Little Patrick with his long black hair and tattered clothes and my black cap; the kid reminded me so much of myself. I feared Alexie would destroy him too.

The boy had to be a Newtype. He just knew too damn much.

"Hey, Hilde." I said, voice cracking. "How ya' doing? I'm peachy."

The net around me rustled as she reached in and felt my forehead. "Your fever is still high." Worry edged her gentle voice. Her thoughts said she was sure I'd die. I hadn't improved with the antibiotics and my withdrawal from the other drug wasn't aiding in my recovery. "Oh Duo, you're a mess."

I shrugged. "I paid off death, Hilde..." I said with a smile. "My time isn't up yet."

Knowing I read her thoughts, Hilde sadly smiled. "I know you're a fighter."

In the doorway, Patrick leaned against the frame and folded his arms. He'd come if I called, but wanted Hilde and I to have personal time.

"You behaving yourself, kid?" I called out to the boy.

He saluted and half smiled. "Only if you are."

The eight year old had more than enough spunk. I turned to Hilde. "Boy, is it loud in here." I said tapping my head. The voices hadn't stopped, but with Hilde there, they faded to the background of her dynamic presence. "When can I start the pills again?"

"After you're done with the morphine and the antibiotics. "Hilde Replied. "Doc Wilson didn't want to take any risks."

"I can't stand feeling like my head is a crowded space port on a holiday." I rolled my head. My mind kept eaves dropping on her contemplations. Hilde wanted to leave the Mission. She was thinking about L2 again...

"Professor G..."

"I ain't going back to him." I cut Hilde off abruptly, frustrated she even mentioned it. "It's because of him I'm like this." I pulled at my hair angrily, pained by the last few months. Professor G claimed, if I allowed him to complete the process to his specifications, then perhaps I'd bypass the insanity and gain control over my abilities.

The only draw back, of course, was I'd lose my memory. I'd be a blank slate.

I opted for the drugs, well aware they'd eventually become ineffective and the addiction might kill me. I hoped to last at least a few years before it happened. Perhaps by then, Professor G and his buddies would come up with something more effective. "I can't believe you'd even suggest him."

"I just thought he might be able to help." Hilde whispered. "Duo, you're dying. That drug is killing you."

I licked my lips, feeling my body tremble from flashes of cold and heat. "I'll beat this." I said firmly. Alexie wasn't going to win. "And I'm gonna live the fucking life I want. Besides, withdrawal is old hat for me, remember? This is cake compared to breath."

Her fingers slipped to my hand. Hilde didn't believe me, but she smiled anyway. She knew I needed to delude myself. "Perhaps we can stop the morphine and give you a small dose."

Stop the morphine and this fantastic high?

I shrugged. "And if I react?"

"You'll die." She tightened her grip and swallowed. She tried to make it sound like a joke, but couldn't. The subject of losing me pained her. "Duo..."

My free hand touched her lips and silenced her. "I just want to look at you."

She nodded, helpless.

"I love you." I said, firmly. "You and the kids are why I'm still alive. I would have blown my head off a long time ago if I didn't have you. Remember that."

Tears sparkled in the corner of her eyes. Hilde sniffled. "I don't..."

"...Like seeing me like this." I swallowed feeling a lump catch in my throat. "I know. But you give me reason to fight. That's why I know I'm gonna live. Just like you lived for me. Remember?"

She kissed my fingers. "Yeah. We Maxwells are tough, right?"

"That's the spirit. Besides, I've had worse." I said.

I watched Kary for a moment as she pulled on the mosquito net and giggled. For a half naked baby, she was damned cute. If I did die, I'd be reassured something of me was left behind.

Without realizing it, I took a breath and said. "No more secrets between us, OK?"

"How can we have any secrets? You keep on reading my mind." Hilde sadly laughed.

I closed my eyes against my own tears, not sure why I was feeling it was important for her to know who I was and what happened to me. Kary crawled to me and nestled her smiling face into my chest.

If I did die, Hilde had to be ready to protect the baby and Pat from those who destroyed me.

I patted the baby's rump, then met Hilde's gaze with my own. "When I was a kid, I met Alexie..." I began.

Pat's head shot up like a snap, his cold blue eyes attentive to my every word.

He seemed as terrified by the name as I was.

Strange.

I noted it and told the story. By the time I finished, I was bawling. Hilde held me for some time and stroked my back, wordless. She hoped I'd recover from my momentary lapse into grief and transform back into the man I was three days ago.

I didn't blame her. What I told her would horrify anyone. It just took a few years to hit me.

Alexie.

Why did I refuse to go after him when Heero offered?

I lay in Hilde's arms, face hot with fever and tears.

Kary toyed with the blankets now. Her little fingers pulled at the sheet and covered her face in a game of Peek a Boo.

I refused to go, because I knew Alexie had done something to me the shrinks and deprogrammers didn't find. It was similar to my first meeting, but not physically traumatizing.

When I thought back to my captivity, all I recalled were his cold blue eyes staring deep into mine.

Was it how he conditioned me? He used more than drugs and funky machines to control my brain...

Rape?

Yet, I bore no scars or physical trauma, or the doctors never found any save for my old wounds.

What was it?

Cold blue eyes, and squirming in my brain.

I clenched my teeth and touched my brow. Whatever secrets I had locked away would take time to discover. I just despised being a walking bomb. "When I'm well, We'll have to leave soon." I said to Hilde.

The woman nodded in relief. "And go home?"

"And help Heero." I said firmly and fell back to sleep.

**********

Quatra

A cold unyielding breeze bit at my clothing as I stood outside of my earthly estate. I hadn't been on Earth for two months and hadn't planned on returning for some time, but now I was here. I was summoned by Lady Anne and the United Earth Sphere as a diplomat for L4 and the representative of the Winner family.

Many Earth governments were enraged.

Apparently Heero, Duo and the others had been busy. Not only had Duo, Trowa and Wu destroyed a South American space port, Heero had made work of an ESRF building.

The terrorist activities forced Lady Anne and Dorothy to call the council together in order to discuss the threat to peace. There was an outcry of betrayal and confusion. Nations demanded the trial and punishment of the Gundam pilots from the war.

It was up to the Preventers, Relena and myself to find a way to pacify them.

Unfortunately, I had to lie.

I shivered in the brisk fall air and hugged my coat closer to my body. Just two hours ago, I met with Heero and Wufei.

They weren't responsible for the South American space port. Wu was sure they were being framed and Duo was in grave danger.

Heero took blame for the ESRF building and claimed he and Trowa were searching for Alexie there.

They were discovered and only after a skin of the teeth battle with a Newtype did Heero escape.

Trowa was lost, most likely in Alexie's hands.

I shuddered and closed my eyes to tears. The thought of my poor gentle tin man in the hands of a man as evil as Alexie made me ill. My heart thudded into my chest, aching with every pulse. Trowa.... I clutched my chest for a moment, thinking about his handsome but troubled face and his sharp green eyes. I longed so much to see him once more, but knew it was impossible unless we risked more than our lives to find him.

Any move we made might cause a war.

I looked skyward and wiped a tear from my eye. It wouldn't be long before Heero and Wufei set out to locate Duo.

My car rolled up to the sidewalk and a servant opened the passenger door.

It was time to face the wolves.

"Be strong, Trowa." I said to the sky and slid into my seat.

**********

Be strong indeed, I thought to myself, stepping into the large meeting hall. The room was circular with multiple seats around a small stage and podium. Several delegates stood and shouted at the single brown haired woman standing in the center. Dressed in her Preventer dress uniform, Lady Anne seemed calm despite the accusations being bombarded at her. In the center of the fray, she was noble and strong, explaining off each shouted questions with reason.

Only Relena Darlian sat silent in her assigned seat, hands on her lap, tentative gaze directed to Lady Anne.

I adjusted the collar of my ruffled shirt. "I don't know if I can go through with this." I said to Rasid. "It's hardly fighting a battle and the emotions in this room are very hostile."

Rasid dropped a large hand on my shoulder and smiled reassuringly. "Ah, Quatra-sama, if you can convince a band of hostile terrorist kidnappers to follow you, surely you can convince a room full of bureaucrats and bullshitters."

Bullshitters.

I smiled fondly at the large Maganac leader. I could never ask for anyone so loyal and felt honored by his presence. Like all my comrades, I loved him dearly. He was the father mine never was. "Thank you. And they are bullshitters. Politicians are worse than corporate heads."

The volume in the room died down some, turning my attention down to the podium. Dorothy, flanked by several bodyguards, entered the room from below. Her sharp browed face and angry eyes made her look menacing and powerful. Even though she claimed to believe in the powers of peace, I failed to trust her assertions (although I did forgive her sins against me, because I believed in giving people a chance). None with a mind as twisted and dark as hers could possibly surrender entirely to the powers of pacifism.

I recalled the day we fought, when she assaulted me with her own Zero enhanced mind. She liked fighting. War excited her and she despised all those who opposed her. I shivered. A part of me felt she was evil. Nonetheless, I straightened myself and descended down the stairs.

The voices of the delegates grew louder and as I took my place behind Relena, attention seemed to fall on me.

I stiffened as the sharp features of the South American delegate turned to face me. "Why do your people try to frame us?!" He demanded, enraged.

I kept a straight face and held his unswerving gaze. "As far as I know, the former G-Team isn't involved in any terrorist activities. Also, I'm here to represent the L4 quadrant, not a rigged band of terrorists and spies."

Relena glanced at me, worried, but said nothing. I didn't blame her. She loved Heero very much and was oblivious to his current activities. I smiled back at her encouragingly.

"Can we please have some state of order!" Lady Anne shouted over the mike.

Dorothy giggled. "Almost like the good old days, isn't it?" She said, sitting down besides Relena. "This meeting is going to be as fun as the one where Duo tried to lob off Ms. Darlian's head."

Relena didn't look amused, but smiled, sweet as always.

Dorothy was entirely unpleasant. I settled back and closed my eyes. The voices around me settled. I sighed. It was going to be a very long day.

Lady Anne's voice spoke from the stage. "I understand how all of you are enraged about the attacks on both the space port and the ESRF facility."

"Enraged?" Dorothy piped, her cold blue eyes fixed on Lady Anne. "That only mildly describes my feelings on the matter. Betrayed is a better word. The Romefeller Foundation is trying to maintain peace and has atoned for its sins. Tell your terrorist friends they could have easily gotten whatever information they wanted by asking, rather than breaking in and blowing up half the place."

"I'm sure Heero had his reasons." I said sharply to the woman. "Perhaps he thought it was a branch you lost control over, like when Alexie took over the one in Bar Harbor."

That put her in her place. Dorothy sank down in her chair, annoyed and wordless. She was young yet and not able to fully mind the powers of her grandfather's legacy. Sadly, a part of me was convinced she put deliberate blinders on. In fact, I was sure she was hiding information about Alexie and his allies.

Lady Anne studied me. Her face appeared displeased I had spoken out of turn, but the look quickly vanished when I smiled apologetically back at her. Lady Anne knew I meant well and as a fellow Newtype (or she had to be, for I sensed her awareness in the collective and her name was on the Number's Project list), a look was literally worth a thousand words. "As I was saying; we are looking into the recent attacks. The Preventers would like to send our support and an investigative team to Brazil to examine the space port and to collect data on the attack."

"After the recent attack, I can't imagine allowing any of your people enter our country." The second South American delegate said. Her brow narrowed as she glanced about the room. I caught a flash of her name tag. It read Maria Cortez.

I scolded myself for not studying up more on the people at the meeting. I almost always avoid being an ambassador and often stuck to company business. There I felt comfortable and had a general interest in the people involved. Not that I didn't know who's who in the delegate business or at the meeting, I just had no interest to motivate my memory. All I cared about was finding out who planned to do what to whom and how much trouble it would be to smuggle Heero and the others off the planet.

Exhaling, I placed my elbows on my knees and leaned my chin into my palms. It was going to be another long aggressive shouting match.

"Ambassador Cortez. Right now, you've asked for the arrest and detention of one of our war heroes. We can't just take Duo Maxwell into custody without a full investigation." Lady Anne appeared tired.

"Of course you can. Take our word for it." Cortez began. "We have blood samples and photos of the boy. Isn't that evidence enough for you? Maxwell is guilty! He's trying to frame Pure Earth for a crime we didn't commit!"

Ahh. She was one of the Pure Earthers. My attention perked up and I watched Cortez carefully. She was very nervous. Pure Earthers were often met with some scrutiny in political corners. South America was one of the first governments to be established by Pure Earth supporters. However, the Pure Earthers in the government tended to keep their Pure Earth sentiments quiet. It was political suicide, especially in diplomacy with the colonies. As it was, the spacers were rather concerned about South America to begin with. "As far as I know, Duo is retired." I said, hoping to lend Lady Anne some support. "I'd feel better if someone from the outside sent a team to examine the area."

"I have to agree." Relena came to my aid, as did several other colonial delegates. Maria Cortez went to object, but paused.

The door at the end of the room opened.

Mr. Gunn, the Outer Colonies ambassador, entered the room. He was an incredibly large man with very broad shoulders and massive muscled form. His build was due to being raised on a heavy gravity world, so he moved very agilely and gracefully for his size. He wore the uniform of a military man, a marine, he claimed and moved with extensive training. I was most taken by his exotic coloration. His skin was dark bronze and his eyes were metallic like two copper coins. Indeed, he was very unlike I, who sported pale white skin, hair and light blue eyes.

I watched the man carry himself with modest pride as he walked down the stairs and seated himself in a chair three rows down from myself. Excited, I eyed him. It was almost like seeing an alien from another world.

When he smiled, his face lit up with a bright good natured spirit, making me feel safe and secure around him. Mr. Gunn, though I was unable to read him like other people, was a good man. "Sorry I'm late, Ma'am." he apologized to Lady Anne. "Tight beam transmission from the Outer Colonies came in at the last minute and I had ta' go over a few files." The huge man's accent was as unique as his appearance, yet his informal emphasis seemed right for him.

"Apology accepted. I understand it must be difficult to maintain long distance transmissions." Lady Anne commented.

"Yeah, it's a bitch all right." Ambassador Gunn agreed, grinning at the slight jolt his language caused. "Sorry. But gettin' a message across is tough, and even the TC-transmitter's speed has its limits. Takes more'n a week for the message to get there an' another week for the reply to come back. No way to conduct business. Disruptions' gettin' worse too." When he spoke, every gaze in the room tracked to him.

I saw the same wonder I felt shimmer in Relena's eyes. She too was curious and fascinated with the large man. "When will the new delegation arrive?" Relena asked.

"Can't get here before, oh...least six months." the large man informed. "We're half way 'cross the galaxy, Miss Darlian." His "Miss" sounded almost like "Miz", but it was no less respectful for all of that. "So this last message gave me full ambassadorial authority, 'til the real stuffed shirts get here."

"This is all very nice, but it doesn't have anything to do with the business at hand." Dorothy announced, annoyed at the chit chat.

Part of me wanted to do a Duo and flip her off, but I stayed my primitive impulses and just gave Dorothy a be patient smile. At my side, Rasid grimaced. He too must have thought Dorothy as rude.

"Very well. What do the Outer Colonies think of the present situation?" Lady Anne asked the Marine Ambassador.

Annoyance flickered in Dorothy's gaze, but she stayed herself and folded her pale hands on her lap.

Maria Cortez, on the other hand, wasn't so compliant. "Why do they have anything to do with the situation? The Outer Colonies, as far as my country and government are concerned, have no business in the matter."

"I'm sorry you feel that way 'bout it, Ma'am." Ambassador Gunn said with his gentle, firm voice that rumbled low, like an idling engine. "In my capacity as an emissary of the Outer Colonies, I'm more than willing to assist in any investigation. Without your request in those kinda matters though, I'm just an observer." There was a very slight hesitation at the end, as though Gunn was implying that his observer status might, if pushed, change.

"Well, we don't need your help." Cortez snapped.

"The Romefeller Foundation will consider your offer." Dorothy said, smiling. Her narrow gaze made me very suspicious. "I appreciate it."

The Ambassador nodded to both women, acknowledging their wishes, but said nothing. All in all, I surmised Mr. Gunn was a quiet man and didn't want to cause any political waves, unlike Maria Cortez. But, he didn't seem at all intimidated by the politics around him, despite his protestations of being nothing but a "grunt".

Cortez stood and faced Lady Anne, her thin features drawn into what seemed like a scowl. "Now, my government suggested we should enact a Newtype testing and registration program to prevent any future violence."

"What?" The L2 ambassador's head snapped up, his middle aged face wrinkled with distaste. "That's ridiculous. Newtypes haven't even emerged yet. We can't just corral citizens, force them into testing and then register them."

"I agree." Relena Darlian said. "These incidents are isolated to certain individuals. If we treat emerging Newtypes like criminals to begin with, then we will soon have dissidents."

I didn't know what to think. On first thought, I was angered by the very idea. Cortez was acting in fear and misunderstanding. "Besides, the Newtypes involved have been tampered with by outside forces. I don't believe they would have attacked you if they weren't altered by Alexie." I shifted my attention to Dorothy and kept a frown on my face. "Isn't that right, Dorothy?"

"I suppose." Dorothy squirmed uneasily. She didn't like being put on the spot and I felt sympathy for her, but I had to direct the blame to someone other than my friends and Dorothy did let Alexie get a bit out of control. I was sure she lied about not knowing about him, but she'd never admit it.

The uneasy silence that followed was broken by the scraping of a chair. Ambassador Gunn rose to his full height of well over two meters and fixed Cortez with a gaze like a targeting scope, his copper eyes glinting dangerously. "Y'know, Miss Cortez, I recall somethin' of the kind being done before. Back in the '20th century' before your era to be exact; a place called Nazi Germany. I'm sure you've heard of it. Registration; small thing, ain't it? But that's always the first step, you see. Registering a group separates 'em. Makes 'em easier to track, easier to single out. Helps divide the society. Makes the group easier to blame when things go wrong and we know where that led."

Cortez's brow twitched, but her face refused to soften. "This is hardly about differences in human racial groups."

"It isn't?" Gunn replied softly, but still fixing her with that unwavering copper gaze. "Seems to me that's exactly what it's about...'less you're tryin' to say that the Newtypes aren't human. An' if that IS what you're sayin', well, I'd only have two things to say." He took in the entire room with a single lightning fast glance, somehow seeming to make eye contact with every one of us in that instant. "First -- that's exactly what the Nazis believed: the Jews weren't human. They were a subhuman threat to the true people. An' second... I've got Newtypes on board my ship and a lot of Newtype friends back home. I'd find it goddamn offensive to hear my Chief Medical Officer and others labeled as somethin' less than human - and that'd be my official position as Ambassador." He started to sit, then hesitated and looked back at Cortez. "Oh, yeah. One little fact you might wanna consider: the population of the Outer Colonies runs, oh, 'bout ninety percent Newtype."

**********

Ninety percent Newtype. Even after the meeting, I kept rolling the figure over and over in my mind. I recalled how pale every person in the hall became after realizing Gunn's words.

Ninety percent Newtype. It meant evolution was passing normal humans by. Once Newtypes emerged, humans as we knew them would go extinct.

No one enjoyed the thought, and as humans, those of mankind who detested the idea of giving into a new life form, would fight it.

I saw it in Cortez's gaze.

She'd do anything in her power to make sure her kind would maintain the evolutionary stronghold on Earth, or at least in South America.

I wondered how many Newtypes already existed? Not many on Earth or the colonies surrounding it, to be sure. Perhaps there was only Wufei and me, but I strongly doubted it. In fact, I was convinced Dorothy was one, but Duo did claim she was part of the Numbers Project.

With these thoughts troubling my mind, I left the meeting hall, Rasid following faithfully at my side. "The world is changing." I said sadly. "And I'm frightened of what it's going to change into."

My companion smiled and squeezed my shoulder confidently. "Quatra-sama. If anyone can make sure we stay at peace, it is you and your friends. And if there is a war, you will make sure it will end swiftly."

I went to speak again when Relena came into sight, Ambassador Gunn at her side.

I looked around myself helplessly, looking for a way out, but the only reasonable exit in the vast high ceiling lobby was too far away to make an indiscriminate retreat.

Relena was a very pleasant individual and I liked Ambassador Gunn, but I didn't want to risk any questioning by either. If I did, I may be forced to accidentally betray the others' confidence. Relena, no doubt, would insist on helping us out, thus drawing herself and her pure untainted reputation in with us. Something Heero never wanted.

"Quatra!" Relena called out as she reached my side. "Quatra, I need to speak with you."

Not desiring to alert her to my concerns, I smiled. "Hello, Relena. How are you? Did I say how lovely you look this evening?"

She blushed, delicately made up face peering down at her white pumps and sky blue dress. Her clothing was often simple. She favored dresses with low cut waists and off the shoulder sleeves and, as always, she wore them with perfect poise and grace fitting of a queen. "Why thank you, Quatra. I must add, how charming you look."

My face warmed. I scarcely tried to be impressive tonight and chose a dark blue suit and tie. "Enough of these pleasantries." I said politely. "You wanted to talk?"

She nodded and gestured to Ambassador Gunn. "I understand you've already met."

"Oh yes." I said excitedly. I extended a hand to the big man. "Wonderful to see you again, Ambassador. How's Carla?"

"She's well, and you?" The ambassador's hand swallowed mine and shook it gently.

Just the slight touch of his fingers against mine told me how immensely strong he was. The man could crush me between his hands without much effort. I couldn't imagine more men like him, living on his heavy gravity world. It seemed unreal. "I'm well."

"You look a little pale." He noted.

The man was very observant. I covered my surprise with a nod. "I've been feeling a little ill lately. I think it's from readjusting to the gravity."

"Hmm, yes. From what I understand, planetary travel does bother some Newtypes, but it will pass." He dropped my hand.

"I'm sure it will." I returned, then looked to Relena, who patiently waited for us to finish our small talk. "Now, Ms. Darlian, where were we?"

As we talked, we made our way out of the hall and into the streets where it was less crowded. Relena appeared to keep silent until we were out the ear shot of potential eavesdroppers. "I've asked Ambassador Gunn to assist in an investigation of the ESRF facility."

I widened my eyes, wondering exactly what game Relena was playing. "But why?"

"As the ambassador of L-1, I have a vested interest in Heero Yuy, who is a respected citizen of our colony. I am also dissatisfied in how the Romefeller Foundation is conducting their investigation, so I am arranging a private investigation myself." Relena informed. She nudged the strap of her purse over her shoulder and continued. "Ambassador Gunn and the Outer Colonies are our allies, as well as yours. They're also not personally acquainted with the organizations or individuals involved in the situation. I thought it would be the best way to obtain an honest, as well as unbiased examination of the evidence and witnesses. As a friend and Colonial ally, I'd like your cooperation, Quatra."

Awkward, I stopped walking and looked up at Rasid. The large man studied me, then Ambassador Gunn. Finally he bowed to Relena in respect. She had cornered us and Rasid knew it was silly to continue to hide the truth from her.

He wasn't alone. I knew I'd have to tell her once she caught up to me. Her diplomacy was admirable. I wished, someday, I'd be as good as her. Shrugging, I took her hands into my own and squeezed them. "Of course, Relena. How can I help you?"

It was Mr. Gunn who replied. "You can first tell us where you're hiding Heero Yuy, Chang Wufei and Sally Po."

**********

Trowa

Silence.

I picked myself up off the ground, child's body battered from hours of abuse. Weakly, I looked about the camp. My comrades sat around the campfire, their large adult forms highlighted by the burning gold embers crackling before them. Their long shadows flickered, blackening the ground where they touched.

I was no name.

Their no name.

Icy blue eyes looked back at me as one of the soldiers smiled affectionately.

"You were a bit rough on him tonight." A grizzled gray haired soldier said. "Give him a break. He's only an eight year old."

"I know what I want from him..." Blue eyes said evenly. "He's perfect and will be my masterpiece when I'm through."

Silence.

I opened my eyes to blackness.

A moment later, a white walled room came into focus. It was empty, save for the chair I lay strapped in and a table beside it covered with bottles, syringes and a machine I didn't recognize.

Where was I?

The boy who helped capture me stood guard at the door at the end of the room. His sharp violet gaze settled on my own and a thin Duo-ish smile cracked his friendly face.

"Well, you're back with us." He said pressing a switch on the control panel beside the door. "How do you feel?"

Numbness spread over my body and my head ached. In the distance, I thought I heard voices whispering but dismissed them, for they were strangely familiar.

The voices were always there.

Instead of answering the boy's question, I studied him.

I spotted differences between his and Duo's features, but they were slight. It nagged at me. The boy appeared as if he was a younger mirror of the Death Scythe pilot I knew.

His face was rounder and his eyes larger, but the obvious difference was the blond hair.

Dyed, I thought, taking close observation of the roots.

The boy's hair was brown when I first saw him.

"You're Duo's twin." I said, matter of fact. "Is that right?" The boy was younger, yes, but any embryo could easily be frozen and kept for years after conception.

The boy's eyes widened, then narrowed. "If you are referring to the shell Mr. Maxwell wears, yes. That was my brother, Patrick. But, he's long dead."

Interesting. It appeared someone convinced the boy Duo was an artificial personality programmed in the place of Patrick Reily. A moment's thought reminded me how possible it was all the personalities involved in the Numbers Project were just programs designed to carry out particular tasks.

I certainly was. The more I recalled my past, the more frightened I became of the possibility.

Who was no name, really?

At one time, if my sources were correct, I was Catherine Blooms younger brother, but did that count?

My mind kept returning to the blue eyes once more.

Every passing second told me Alexie was the key.

"Do you have a name, beside your designation?" I asked the boy, curious if he maintained any other identity than his number.

"Ingram." The youth replied. "I'm Ingram Remington Reily. And you?"

"Nothing, but no name." The name Heero seemed to think was mine, Sergei Bloom, didn't feel right. Apparently, all of us refused to use our real names. Even Duo, who claimed he had vague memories of his mother calling him by it. "Ingram. Do you have memories of a childhood?"

"Of course." The boy looked away from me. He made two fists and wrinkled his brow with anger. "I was never processed. I've always been a Newtype, if that's what you're wondering. Those crazy bastards processed Pat when we were children..."

The door hissed open and Alexie, with his icy gaze, entered the room. Ingram stopped speaking, red cheeked as if he broke a rule.

"I see he's getting to you already." Alexie said coldly. He studied the youth with mock concern tightening his face. "These boys are poison, Dous. Especially this one. To speak with them is to sign your death sentence."

"I wasn't about to let him go." Ingram snapped defiantly. "Relax, I know what they are."

A thin smile crossed Alexie's face as he nodded to Ingram. "I believe you do. Now leave. I have to defuse this one." He spoke as if I were an object and not a person. No, I was a unfinished project to him and that's what the boy thought as well.

"Of course. Like you defused Duo?" I said flatly.

He didn't reply until Ingram was well out of the room and the door shut. "Death Angel was an unfortunate sacrifice I had to make in order to appease some clients."

Duo's attempt to kill Relena wasn't a part of his plan? I studied him, trying to read his posture and movements. The man was good. He did nothing to betray his true thoughts. "A sacrifice? And am I going to be a sacrifice as well?"

Alexie walked around me, gaze never once faltering as he examined me. "If I sacrificed you, Harlequin, I'd be wasting far too much time and money. Besides, Angel survived didn't he? I suspected he might. The expendable ones always do."

Duo was resourceful and Alexie didn't act disappointed or surprised about the boy so I could only surmise he was telling the truth. Most likely, he designed us to be the way we were.

Heero, the killing machine, the perfect soldier,

Duo, the unpredictable thief,

Me, the man of many faces, the ultimate spy,

Quatra, the heart,

and Wufei, the wisdom and discipline.

Together, we made the prefect combat team; five who worked as one.

Unfortunately, none of us were capable of getting along very well, except in select pairs.

Where did he go wrong?

Ah, yes. Doctor H and his allies. They interfered and made us incompatible for a reason. For what reason, I had yet to find out.

"I can only assume you are well aware of what I intended for all of you to be, before you were taken from me." Alexie replied, reading my mind. "You are right. All of you were supposed to be my personal army; a guard so to speak. Each one of you were to be flawless and loyal to me and each other." Alexie stopped walking and placed his hands on my forehead. Unusually cool fingers stroked my hair. "Regrettably, you were all taken from me before the project was completed. But still, over time, I've been working on each of you. But you know that."

The soldier looking at my child self through the flickering flames of a campfire in central Europe. I shivered and stared deep into his blue eyes. Yes, I knew him. As a child, he was always there, claiming to be my tutor. A moment of horror closed about my heart. I tried to look away.

Alexie. I was his masterpiece. "You finished with me." I said. The panic and fear slipped away from me as all emotion. It lingered just long enough for me to taste it, then fled before I understood it.

Those eyes grappled my will and held me in their vastness. "You were my perfect creation. It would have been a pity for you to go unfinished. So yes, I completed you years ago." The man leaned toward me, his lips caressing my forehead seductively.

The voices, the seizures... I knew I had been processed some time ago, but to what extent, I did not know. I was more than an artificial Newtype. I went to inquire, but my words became lost in a sudden wave of whispers.

The voices grew once more, this time swallowing my consciousness.

Alexie was the center of it. He was their master.

Lost in his blue eyes, all I could do was listen. The black velvet of space and stars stretched before my mind. Alexie was omniscient. There was nothing I could hide from a man who could see and hear all in the galaxy.

What was I seeing? I struggled to grab at the tiny image fragments thundering through my mind. Thousands of beings reached out from the stars, calling to me.

Their consciousness'' wasn't human. It was alien, and hungry.

Like Alexie.

I tried to feel fear, but discovered myself welcoming them. Suddenly I understood.

I screamed.

I wasn't human like the others. I was something more. My soul needed the voices. We were all one being; separate, yet part of a great web.

Was this the collective Duo mentioned and Quatra spoke of frequently?

"You're a Newtype?" I asked, words lifeless as my thoughts became even more engulfed.

Alexie's face unfocused. "I am many things, child. Come back to us. I need you now."

Many things... Those words comforted. Only Alexie understood me. It was through him, I'd find peace within myself.

I surrendered to the blackness and let him in.

**********

Continued in EPISODE 1, Chapter III