Gundam Wing

Wizard Of OZ

By Red Rose

EPISODE 2

Prologue

Heero

With Quatre's help, I departed to South America shortly after Wufei and Sally left for the Shadowblade. Because my current condition worsened, Ambassador Gunn insisted on accompanying me in case withdrawal affected my performance. Though I didn't necessarily like the idea, I was aware if I were to learn anything about the big man's capabilities or intentions, I would have to trust him.

Grudgingly, I accepted his companionship and we departed for a large Arabian oil rig (Quatre's contacts were willing to smuggle us part of the way on the vessel). From there, we met with a fishing boat that brought us into South America.

By the time we reached Brazil, I had a fever of 102 and a bad case of the shakes. I slept a great deal of the time, determined to sweat it out before I went into combat. I was still functional and refused to give into an illness created by the lack of an artificial substance. My body was my own.

Besides, I had been in worse shape and could do my job perfectly well. So, I ignored Gunn's constant reminders of how foolish I was being and together we commenced plotting out the operation.

After several hours of leaning over a map, examining various escape routes and possible directions of attack, I leaned into the back of my chair and rubbed my eyes. They stung from the salt air and my equilibrium was off from the constant rocking of the boat. Churning uncomfortably, my belly tightened. It wouldn't be long before my last meal came up in an unconventional as well as inconvenient fashion. Trapped in a small cabin with one table, two cots and no windows, invited sea sickness and in my current condition, I was highly susceptible.

Wearily, I braced my palms on the table and clambered to my feet. The boat swayed, but my locked legs balanced me efficiently.

"You OK, kid?" Gunn asked from across the worn and peeling wood table.

I eased a leg over the bench behind me. "I'll be fine once I get up on deck."

"Seasick?" Gunn asked, standing up and joining my side. "You look like you need help."

"I never need help." I replied coldly. To accept help would mean I was incapable of taking care of myself and I prided myself on my independence.

Gunn shrugged and moved his large frame to the exit of the cabin. "Looks to me like you're gettin' worse instead o' better, kid. Take my advice and sit this one out. Up on the 'Blade, I've got people who could help you through this. But out here, in the butt-end of nowhere, there's no one. And, o'course, if you get sloppy 'cause you're sick, you could end up dead and we ain't found a cure for THAT yet."

Even though I couldn't read his thoughts, his voice and posture said he was genuinely worried. He respected me and my abilities, yet was very practical when it came to dangerous situations. I studied him and narrowed my brow. "I'm not one of your recruits, Mr. Gunn. Don't waste your concern on me."

"I worry about everyone I work with, kid. No one's expendable. Besides, you're no good to me and this mission if you're this sick."

I grunted. I wasn't that sick. "I'll be fine."

Tired of the conversation, I stubbornly walked past the man and up the stairs. The stench of fish assailed my nostrils, making my nose twitch distastefully. With my enhanced senses, it was ten times worse than normal. Strangely, it didn't sicken me as I would have thought. Rather, it tensed me, as if my body and mind became more alert.

Death always put me on guard. It even, despite my aching belly, made me hungry.

Without anymore thought, I made my way across the deck, sneakered feet effortlessly gripping the slippery wood. When I reached the side, I gripped the rail and stared off at the rolling horizon.

We were moving close to fifteen knots and bounding over countless waves. The sky was gray and appeared to sway up and down with the boat. Only the horizon stayed the same.

The voices from the deck hands whispered from behind as they cleaned their catch and tossed bloody heads into the sea. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a few men folding a great net and removing rusty seaweed from its web.

Web.

I quickly looked away, unable to understand why suddenly my mind immediately associated the concept of web or netting with a current threat. It terrified me.

My grip on the edge of the boat strengthened and my nails dug into the wood, splintering it.

Was it to do with the dreams?

The dreams. They stopped after I discovered the Numbers Project and started working for Alexie and continued to be dormant months after Duo and I escaped him. I had none in the institution.

At the time, I assumed the dreams were just one of Alexie's tricks to bind me to him. Yet, when they returned, my gut told me that conclusion had been wrong and my first assumption was correct.

The Numbers Project designed genetically engineered bio-weapons. Although I couldn't prove it, I suspected I wasn't entirely human. Secretly, Trowa and I were looking into locating the actual plans for our genetic designs.

Trowa thought he knew where they were located. Unfortunately, Alexie's people captured him and our mission was a failure.

I sighed heavily. In my dreams, I was an insect-like creature bound to a hive and a queen. Somehow, I often related Relena with the queen in my dreams. There was no web, but there were caverns and crystalline structures.

I shivered from the cold air kissing my fever warm flesh.

Where did the web come from? The stars...and Alexie? He appeared to be the center, but I wasn't positive.

Troubled, I continued my visual on deck and studied the ripples of wake rumbling behind the vessel. I had so many questions and no answers. My soul wouldn't rest until I understood what was going on.

After finding Duo, I planned to go to Professor J and pound it out of him.

My unease settled a bit. The idea made sense and pleased me. My nausea lifted some and I felt well enough to return below. There I slept until we reached port.

*********

My fever was in full tilt when Gunn and I started to the Amazon. Stubborn, I used all my discipline to ignore the aches and heat flashes and kept moving efficiently.

The trip to the mission went smoothly. We arrived on a small supplies boat and worked our way through the bantering of natives.

Several straw and wood plank buildings were collapsed under the stress of fallen trees and vegetation while others were demolished, leaving broken wood and belongings scattered all over the village. I assessed the damage, calculating it was from a very powerful storm.

I didn't understand the Indians' tongue, but from the lack of corpses, I safely assumed there were few casualties, save for some wounded when already flimsy structures collapsed. All in all, it was nothing to be on alert about.

We made our way over and around debris and the occasional native to a church over looking the village. Beyond it, the jungle loomed, it too, battered from the storm. In the distance, the chirps and squawks of animals cried out, their lives back on track despite the apparent disruption.

In front of the church, we met with a startled and distraught Hilde Maxwell.

She was pale and tense. Agitated, she fidgeted and looked around with wary eyes. At first, she didn't recognize Gunn, but after a quick introduction, she seemed to relax some. Not wanting to speak in public, she led us inside the church to a small room away from the chapel. It was plain with one bed, a table and two chairs. There, we seated ourselves and began to talk.

Duo was injured on a routine patrol a few days ago. As of last night, the little bastard was AWOL.

"...I woke up this morning with a splitting headache, unaware the storm last night ripped the village apart. I never sleep that soundly." Hilde concluded. She sat on a corner of the bed, gesturing, until she folded her hands in her lap. Like Duo, the woman had a tendency to move her hands continuously when she spoke. "For a while, I thought he just got up to help the villagers and got trapped under someone's shack, but no one saw him last night."

It wasn't normal for Duo to just wander off without provocation. He probably attempted to wake Hilde, but couldn't. I rubbed my chin thoughtfully and focused on the wall. Hilde pointed out it wasn't normal for her to sleep so soundly. In fact, she was a well-trained former Oz soldier. There had to be another reason besides exhaustion for her not waking.

Gunn sighed. "Hate to say it, Hilde, but sounds to me like you've been slipped a Mickey. You did say something 'bout having a cup of tea before bed, right?"

It was the same logical conclusion I had. I dropped my hand from my face and folded my arms in deep thought. "Yes. In his condition, Duo wouldn't go out unless he had too. Rather, he'd have someone do it for him. Mainly Hilde. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if we found a strong sedative in your tea."

Hilde shook her head, startled and confused. "No. Mother Rose would never drug either Duo or me. She knows how we feel about drugs."

"You mean Duo's old habit?" I inquired, remembering those days well. After nearly destroying his life with drugs, Duo stayed away from the stuff, save for the occasional stim in times of urgency.

Blushingly embarrassed, Hilde nodded stiffly. "Yes. She knows all about it. In fact, both her and I worked very hard to keep Duo clean, except for that damn medication Professor G gave him." She spat G's name like it was a forbidden curse.

"Any signs of where he might've gone?" Gunn asked, keeping with the investigation.

Hilde nodded. "He went to the kitchen and out the back door. About ten yards into the jungle we found his gun and a flashlight. Other than that, there are no traces. The storm wiped everything clean."

"Damn convenient storm." Gunn announced, skeptical. "Well anyway, Miss Hilde, if you can, I'd appreciate if you'll show us his exact path. We might be able to see something you missed."

A hint of anger crossed Hilde's brow. Her gaze narrowed and she studied Gunn. "I worked security for two years with Oz. I know quite a bit more than just basic forensics. 'Specially when it comes to Mr. 'I Rob You Blind' Maxwell."

"We don't have time to worry about your ego." I said coldly. "It's obvious he was taken and whoever it was conveniently used the storm as cover. J and his colleagues, no doubt. They've been wanting to get both Duo and me in their labs to finish the process."

Hilde cringed. "Are you sure? That Newtype kid, with the USAG... USAG could have taken him."

I shook my head and smirked. "If they did, no one would be alive to clean up the mess."

Horrified, Hilde again stared, then after a moment, she nodded. "What about the kid then? You don't think..."

"They took him? Hell, yeah. They've been waiting for a real live accessible Newtype guinea pig for months now. Of course they took him. They used Duo as the set up. Brilliant plan actually. I'll have to commend them. That is, after I kill them all."

Gunn shook his head. "Killin' might sound like an enjoyable way to fix the problem, but somehow I get the idea that not only ain't they the easiest people to kill - and didn't someone say they were 'dead' before? - but they've got a way of making it inconvenient to try from what I've read." Gunn shrugged his massive shoulders, a gesture that carried more force than many men's punches. "Seems like we're a day late an' a dollar short here. 'Less you've got an idea on how you're gonna find these gentlemen, I'd suggest you lie down, Heero. No need to be a... um... hero about your condition for a few hours."

Determined, I stood and braced myself for an onslaught of dizzying blackness. The head rush washed over me, then faded, leaving me wobbly in its wake. My stomach twisted and heaved and my hands shook. It wouldn't be long before I was useless. I definitely planned to kill all five of the bastards when I found them. I formed fists.

"Well, let's get the family out of here. Then we'll worry about Duo. Besides, I have a feeling the USAG isn't going to like it very much when they discover their little Newtype toy is missing."

"All right." Hilde nodded, standing. "I'll get the kids and we'll leave immediately."

**************

Chapter I

War

Quatre

Rasid. I really hated leaving him behind, but I wanted to appear as non threatening as possible when I arrived in South America. I entrusted him with keeping my affairs on Earth in order and as a watchful guardian of my sister Artimus. Of course, Rasid took on his duties as honorably as possible and bid me a safe journey and quick return.

I missed him already.

Silently, I stood in my embassy room, gaze focused on the grand picture window overlooking Brazil. The city stretched out over the land, tall imposing glass towers ringed by mountains, farmland and jungle. On the streets outside the embassy gates, cars and other vehicles moved from street to street. I spied a taxi and a few military trucks. In fact, there was an abundance of armed soldiers moving about below and their presence went unnoticed as civilians passed them by. Apparently, the population was accustomed to martial law.

I sipped my tea, uncomfortable with the notion of so many military men outside my window. The people appeared to be repressed, but didn't seem to care at the moment.

After noting there was a large division of classes in the city, I realized South America was no better off than the colonies before the war. The difference was, the rich were richer and had more rights, the middle class was fewer and the poor were starving. No one could pretend nothing was wrong.

Ms. Cortez, however, never mentioned aid for her struggling lower class. The notion sickened me. She'd register and imprison an entire group of people (who'd most likely be very poor), but completely ignore those who needed food.

In general, I sensed from the people around me in regards to myself, an underlying tension and a great deal of hatred (Cortez especially). They suspected something and really didn't see me as human, like they were.

Troubled, I stepped away from the window, wondering exactly how and why I would bargain to trade with her. Before arriving, I asserted I was interested in their natural resources, such as amber and various tropical plants, and offered them assistance with meteor mining. I knew at the time, any prospects of gaining materials to build up weaponry would interest them. Now that I was here, I was eager to leave without giving them a thing.

If I was lucky, Heero and Gunn would rescue Duo and his family very soon and I could have an unexpected emergency draw me away from negotiations.

They apparently hated spacers and Newtypes, of which I was both. With a sigh, I crossed the room to the dresser. There I placed down my tea cup and studied my pale face in the mirror. Absently, I straightened my tie and clothing. The long trip to South America had me looking very blurry eyed and disheveled. If I were to conduct any negotiations with a clear head, I'd need some sleep and a good hot bath.

With that thought, I began to loosen my collar and unbutton my vest.

A banging captured my attention and I turned. The door flew open. A flood of soldiers swarmed into the room and surrounded me.

Stunned I stared at them in disbelief. Were they taking me prisoner, or were they securing me from some unseen threat?

Their stern, intent, anger filled faces told me the former. But why would Cortez and her government take an ambassador prisoner? My people would view their actions as a declaration of war. I heaved a breath and studied the many guns trained on my head and body.

If I were Heero or one of the others, I'd take my leave, either by killing or stunning them. Unfortunately, I hadn't the training or the weapons to perform such an astounding escape.

I reached to the dresser, ears ringing with the echoes of safety latches snapping out of place. No one fired. As I suspected, they wanted me alive.

I curled my hand around the handle of my tea cup and brought it to my lips.

Every eye in the room watched, as if awaiting me to utilize the bittersweet liquid as a weapon.

It tasted too delicious to waste and it helped me to relax. Especially now. "I am an Ambassador." I said to the circle of military green uniform clad men. "Attacking me is a declaration of war."

"Something, my young friend, we are well prepared for." A voice said from the doorway.

I focused on the form of a tall dark-haired man as he entered the room. I was struck by the coolness of his pale ice blue eyes. I shivered.

Who was he? Duo's Alexie, perhaps?

Those eyes were unswerving and sharp like crystalline ice picks. Hopelessly intrigued, I fell into their vastness, dumbfounded by their mesmerizing depths. My tea cup slipped from my grasp and dropped to the floor with a shattering crash.

"Who are you?" I asked

He gave a thin smile and eased his way past the guards. I felt his fingers slide to my chin, then to my cheek. Those eyes never changed, but I realized in that moment, he raped my every thought and intimately knew my very soul.

"They call me Jason Shun Fe and you, my young friend, are a conspirator."

Hostage, I barely registered Cortez as she entered the room. "I'm surprised the little mutant didn't put up a fight." She said. The hate in her voice made my heart ache.

"I've done nothing..." I said, helplessly confused. Surely, Duo taking leave of South America couldn't inspire this violent of a reaction. It had to be something else. And why, if Shun Fe was Alexie, was he here?

Cortez's hand flashed over my face, leaving a red hot burning mark on my cheek. "Liar! I damn well know you and Heero Yuy are working together."

Her words stung as much as her hand. I felt my eyes water, a little guilt and fear tightening my belly. I did come here to deceive them, and even though they were the enemy, they as a nation were just in attacking me. Yet, I had no intention of coming here as a spy and by rights, they should just deport me to my own government. Yet, my instinct said they'd keep me prisoner and question me.

Shun Fe claimed they were ready for a war. I lowered my gaze to the broken cup and tea pooling at my feet. They never intended on negotiating with the colonies. They wanted me here as an excuse to start a war.

I swallowed. It was a trap. And we played right into it.

The fingers on my face dropped back to my chin and lifted my head. "I would have never thought of you, Mr. Winner, as the dishonest sort." Shun Fe said. "You have an honest face."

My mind struggled to grasp why I couldn't read him. Most people were easy to understand. Often, I felt their emotions. But Shun Fe, he was a black wall and unlike Gunn, his eyes were evil. Evil, yes. I believed Duo once said Alexie reminded him of Lucifer or Satan. My mouth went dry.

With a swift movement, Shun Fe's hands dropped down to my shoulder and I found myself being spun and pressed face first into the wall. One hand held me down, while the other probed over my legs. A shiver swept me as fingers eased to my buttocks and firmly groped every inch of my bottom and thighs. Closing my eyes, I tried to ignore the sensation of his hands as they delicately searched my torso and arms. I couldn't see his face, but his sharp breaths told me he enjoyed touching me.

"I am not armed." I said, voice shaking.

"But you are, little one." Shun Fe's voice whispered. "Your innocence is your weapon." A shock of pain lanced up my arms as he jerked them behind my back and locked them together with metal cuffs. "Now, I do believe we have a few questions to ask of you. Is that not right, Lady Cortez?"

He twisted me around roughly to face Cortez's animosity. The woman's gaze pierced mine. "Your friends kidnapped Mr. Shun Fe's ward. Where is Sheshie Rem?"

There was no concern or caring in her voice when she mentioned the name Sheshie. Rather, she spoke like this person was a commodity, an asset or a resource. I narrowed my brow, wondering exactly who this person was and why they insisted on framing us for his disappearance.

Shaking my head, I looked at my captors apologetically. "I am really very sorry." I began. "I would gladly help you find your ward, Mr. Shun Fe, but I have no idea what you are talking about. Please, you are making a horrible mistake. This isn't worth starting a war over. I'm sure if you mention this to the ESUN, they'd gladly send someone to investigate this person's disappearance. But I assure you, Heero Yuy, Duo Maxwell, Trowa Barton, Change Wufei and myself are not involved. The only thing we are guilty of is looking out for our own."

They didn't look convinced. They wanted to believe I was a villain.

Cortez shook her head. "You're not even human. Why should you tell us any truths?"

Not human? My chest ached from the thudding of my heart and my vision blurred from tears. Why did they hate me so? I couldn't comprehend it. No one should hate anyone just because they are different. Yet, their fear made it impossible for them to accept me as a human being.

She motioned to one of the guards at my side, then turned away. "Take him to his new quarters and begin the questioning."

A blur of movement caught the side of my head.

My world fell into blackness.

**************

Wufei

Shadowblade. The name itself described the dark, brooding, ebony weapons silo Gunn called a ship. It hovered over Earth's ocean blue majesty, a dark angel ready for deliverance. It was a thing of lethal beauty, deserving of admiration and respect.

I stood, reticent, observing the vessel swallow the stars as we drew closer. If it were not for the angle of our approach, the craft would have simply vanished into space itself. Slowly, slowly, it resolved itself from darkness, a shadowy behemoth silhouetted against the void. Razor-edged and massive, its prow was a nightmare of ramming-needles and armor while the stern was a sleek block of nearly solid metal, ebony-on-black pits hinting at the monstrous firepower restrained within. Nothing less than fifty percent of this ship, I realized, was pure power-plant. Perhaps more than fifty. As much as three-quarters might be devoted solely to the purpose of powering the vessel. I blinked slowly, realizing that my first estimate of the Shadowblade's firepower, impressive though it had been, was still woefully inadequate. One thought ran through my mind. What enemies had they faced, that they found it necessary to build a ship like this?

At my side, Sally gasped in awe and reverence, her posture less controlled than mine. I disregarded it. Women often failed to be disciplined like men and there was no exception, even for Federation trained officers. Like many of her sex, Sally behaved overly emotional, fluent with expressive mannerisms.

"It is impressive." I simply said, tone and words not betraying the exhilaration I felt from such a splendid vessel. Perhaps Gunn or his crew would be willing to make a few trades with the Dragon Clan. Their technology was unquestionably far superior to ours and if the bureaucratic fools on Earth had any sort of intelligence, they would have deduced it. Moreover, they would have discerned the Shadowblade alone had enough power to wipe all life from the planet. If the Outer Colonies with their so called "Newtype" population intended on being a threat to Earth, they would have liquidated us long ago.

"Impressive?" Sally grunted, as though I made an understatement. She placed one hand on her hip and gestured to the window. "To quote a good, yet rather uncouth, young friend of ours, I'd say "She gives you a hard on just looking at her."" Sally folded her arms and nodded to the guns as our shuttle skirted along the hull of the ship. "She's got it all and then some, I'd say."

It was powerful. I nodded. Duo would say that, then repent for his offensiveness if he were feeling particularly pious. The boy was a hypocrite. "And imagine; they have more like her." I replied.

The pilot snorted, momentarily distracted from her job. "More like the Shadowblade? No more likely than there's more like the Force Leader, Mr. Wufei. There's only one Marine Assault Cruiser, and you're looking at it."

Interesting, I thought. A unique vessel. For what purpose? Nonetheless, my logic still held. "I think the bureaucrats and politicians should seriously rethink their strategies."

"Pure Earth, you mean?" Sally queried, lifting a brow. "Unfortunately, Wu, fear removes all rationality from human beings. The idea of evolution passing "old type" humans by is a frightening thing. It means we're failures. So, of course we're going to fight it. Extinction is scary, and humans are far from the dodo, you know."

"By the way they're behaving, I see very little difference. Perhaps natural selection will be generous enough to let the fools to purge themselves from the gene pool and allow those of us who desire to learn in peace, to progress." I folded my arms, recalling how history repeated itself. Humans disputed constantly, leaving the strong to live and the weak to die. It was the way of things. Still, man never truly defeated nature. Man delayed the inevitable, even harnessed it, but in the end, nature is always victorious and evolution was nature in action.

Sally's brow furrowed. "With that kind of attitude, Wu, ordinary folks have every reason to hate Newtypes."

I scowled and studied Sally. I was a Newtype, but my arrogance stemmed from my heritage as a member of the Dragon Clan. "I didn't mean it that way."

"I know. You were a dick before you discovered you were a Newtype, Wu. I'm just reminding that you have to watch yourself or we'll both get into serious trouble."

"It's ignorance." I snorted, nauseated by her words. "Are people that paranoid and foolish to assume I am a threat to them? I fight for justice; not to better my own needs."

Sally's stare softened as her long lanky fingers dropped to my shoulders and squeezed as if to reassure or console me. "Wu, you're in the minority now, remember that, and it's often the minority that becomes the scapegoat. Look what is happening to Duo? Hell, it's already happening to you. I think Ambassador Gunn is right. It won't be long before Newtype paranoia will resemble Jew hatred in Nazi Germany."

I had already made that conjecture, but let Sally presume she gave me insight with her home style wisdom. Our society was on the edge of full disintegration. Soon we'd be shedding our own blood in a war to end wars.

Yes, we'd hurl ourselves back to the Dark Ages, just out of hate and stupidity, and Alexie would come and pick up the pieces.

Alexie...

The man with the blue eyes. I felt a spiritless hand clutch my soul.

The blue eyes everyone (except for perhaps Quatre) seemed to recognize so well (but what would he achieve by touching all of us?).

None of us discussed it, of course, save for Duo and Heero. Though, somehow, Trowa's mute yet disturbed behavior told me, he too acknowledged the jeopardy of Mr. Courthers...Like myself.

Only now, as our drop ship primed to enter the sanctuary of Gunn's floating fortress, did I let myself consider and recall my recollection of the eyes.

Yes, he touched all of us in one way or another and I was sure it was Alexie who sculpted and honed Treize as his weapon against me.

Their eyes were too much alike.

I remembered thinking of how similar they were when I encountered Alexie for the first time before enrolling into Mariemaia's army.

A chill goose pimpled my flesh.

He was evil incarnate.

The Shadowblade bay doors closed out the endless night of space.

I inhaled steadily as relief swept me. Somehow, I suspected the blue eyes failed to see me here. Of course, they saw me everywhere else, but not here, especially when Gunn was here.

It was time to plan and counter Alexie's plots, but my time was limited. I made too many, costly sacrifices.

I just prayed to the gods to be merciful to those of us we've lost.

************

The drop ship glided to a graceful cessation and Gunn's second in command, Hillary Wesson, greeted us in the boat bay.

She was an immense, though slender, woman whose build was as hardened as the Great Wall of China. Her dark skinned lion-like features were unexpectedly masculine, as were her demeanor and speech. As she spoke though, I discovered myself pondering, distant from her words, back with the blue eyes in my past...

Meiran...

She was there that day. I remembered it very clearly. We saw him mutually for the first time.

Yes, he contacted my soul twice. It was just enough to guide me along his predestined path, like a sculptor carving a great masterpiece.

Most of my existence met my expectations. I originally intended on being a scholar, yet I was also capable of combat. It wasn't a surprise Meiran drove me to become a warrior. She boasted of justice and strength with unearned arrogance. Most of all, she belittled me for being a man of intellectual nature.

Our wedding day was disagreeable. Neither of us were allowed to choose a proper mate. Our union was set in stone by the elders and ancestors of the Dragon Clan. All we could do was abide by their law. So, at fourteen, we married and consummated that night.

Love failed to kindle between us, but I promised myself I would give her the best respect I could muster, and when, or if, we had children, they'd be vibrant and healthy in mind as well as body.

He arrived the day after, the man with penetrating blue eyes.

He was Chinese and in his early prime. He met with the Elder in the main courtyard during meditation. I first noticed him when he broke through the circle of students, strutted to the center and bowed to the Elder.

The Elder should have been indignant by the interference. Meditation was a duty of daily life, not to be interrupted until concluded. If a novice, or even a colleague, crossed into the courtyard at that time, they would have been lectured or reprimanded.

But not him, not the blue eyed one.

Dressed in a silken business suit, he entered the session and strolled to the Elder as if he was entitled to the clan.

Owned...I saw it in his sharp eagle-like eyes. This one believed he possessed all of us. I wondered if he was a politician. His dress and arrogance fit one.

Unable to look away, I saw the Elder bow to him, his face sallow. I never observed the Elder this burdened. No one caused him torment, not even Federation officers. Puzzled, I inspected the man's face, beholding how thoroughly he peered at my timeworn master.

He almost appeared hungry.

The Elder expeditiously dismissed the rest of the morning studies and vanished into the temple with the blue eyed devil.

Who was he?

Around me, my fellow students murmured, bewildered. Morning studies were never canceled, not even during Federation raids. It was the master's way to ensure we learned to be composed and disciplined.

"What does the Elder want with an outsider?" It was, as I expected, Meiran who demanded an explanation. Her china doll face pinched with anger, she looked at me for the answer and gestured to the main temple. "Well, you are the scholar, Chang Wufei. Tell me. Do you know anything of this?"

"Nothing." I replied softly, too enraptured by the stranger to criticize her usual brashness.

"Hmph!" Meiran folded her arms and grunted. "I suppose it's unimportant to you. Like everything else of necessity."

The woman aspired to be a man and donned the deficient traits of a swine. She failed to espy the significance of cogitation and volition. Rather, she was outspoken and compulsive like a graceless ruffian. I was as disenchanted by our pairing as she was. The women contended she was a warrior, a master of justice. In truth she was as barbaric in my eyes as the Federation pigs starving our colony. I kept my tongue, remembering how I pledged to make the marriage work despite my misgivings.

Meiran's valor was in the right place.

"It is very important, Meiran." I said coolly. "I like it no more than you. But perhaps this stranger has important business with the Elder. He could easily be a corporation man and amenable to assist those among us who are diseased. That is crucial enough for the Elder to abandon his daily routine." Colony A0206 had been under quarantine. Plague and disease ran rampant amidst our population. It was only logical for the outside world to tend to the situation before it spread beyond its self containment.

I was the voice of reason and moderation. A part of me even accepted my own words. Yet, I was mindful and abreast of the sinister. The blue eyed man appeared too smug.

Bowing her head, Meiran seemed to take my words to heart. She knew her failings very well and considered me and my words as her perfect compliment. Perhaps our marriage would work in time. "It's just, we've gone without assistance for so long. It is difficult to believe..."

I smiled thinly. For the briefest moment, when her wide eyes softened into grief, I glimpsed an exquisite flower, one to be admired and worshiped. Why did she resent her beauty so, or see her softer self as weak? "Meiran..."

"Chang Wufei! Meiran!" The timbre of Roshi O summoned us to the inner temple.

The large bald scientist stepped out into the courtyard, small eyes inspecting Meiran and me intently. "The Elder wishes your audience."

"And If we reject?" Meiran announced defiantly, planting her hands firmly on her hips.

Roshi O lifted a brow, intrigued. "Then I will have to carry you there."

The lack of options in this matter unsettled me once more.

Who did this blue eyed demon think he was?

Perhaps with the right inquiry, I could unlock the mystery. Resigned, yet dignified, I wordlessly strolled past Roshi. "If I were you Meiran, I would consider how foolish you'd look under Roshi O's arm and accompany me."

Behind me, the woman gave a very un-lady like snort. "Men."

***********

The temple was a holy place of accord and invocation. Serenity prevailed amid the stone walkways and winding streams. Blossoming trees and leafy green plants were arranged in select rock gardens adjacent to the paths and tiers of orange and red poppies. Arching over the pond in the hub, was an elegantly decorated bridge, painted scarlet, with paper lamps and gold ornamentation.

The foreigner with the blue eyes and the Elder stood together surveying the pool and swirling coral and ivory koi glittering beneath its surface.

"Xang Tai is here for a favor. He represents an ancient bargain between clans." The Elder began. Meiran and I glanced at each other inquisitively, then returned our attention to the Elder.

In the distance, the trickle of water tinkled against pebbles in stream beds. Like tiny water chimes, their fluid radiance precisely contrasted the feeling of presumed tension in the usually serene garden.

"For as long as our clan can remember, the Dragon Clan has served the clan of the Tiandi."

Tiandi?! Inconceivable! The two clans should be sworn enemies.

In myth, Tiandi was the supreme god in heaven. He condemned mankind for being wicked and campaigned to destroy the only god who opposed his "radical" solution. However, Tiandi failed to annihilate his enemy. The enemy's spirit refused to die, instead giving birth to an invincible yellow dragon who ultimately delivered humanity from the gods' wrath.

How ironic our clans were at peace.

I scrutinized the blue eyed man. "Interesting. How is it I have neglected this in my research of our clan's history."

"Because it is a sacred secret." The Elder said abruptly. "And it is not often when the Clan of Tiandi calls upon our service."

"I see." I bowed graciously to the Elder, conscious my query made him apprehensive. Blue eyes intimidated him.

Meiran cocked her head and positioned her hands on her slender hips. The soft rumple of cloth met her fingertips. "You are implying this man wishes a task from us now?"

"A simple task." Xang spoke. His voice was hauntingly commanding and I found myself immersed in its deep resonance as he spoke. "A delivery to an address north of here. That is all."

His voice betrayed no emotion. Mr. Xang was a man who disguised who and what he was.

A man who veiled himself behind masks failed to have honor.

"And what is this package?" I asked, already deducing the answer.

"No questions asked, Mr. Wufei. The contents of the package are my personal business. I just need you to pick it up and deliver it."

"What prevents you from doing this yourself?" Meiran asked my next question. I shared a small smile with her, approving of her fire.

Xang chuckled and motioned around him. "Your colony is under quarantine and I am from Earth young woman. If I am seen, then I lose all that I have worked for in China and I for one do not wish to make this place my permanent residence."

In many ways, Xang was too predictable. I folded my arms, hoping the tranquility of the garden would help me puzzle the man out. Why would a man who controlled every muscle in his body be so obviously open about his situation. Why not camouflage himself behind the mask of no information? To entertain himself and us?

I turned my scrutiny to the Elder. His eyes peered down to the rolling rivulets of the stream as if his conscience bothered him. The wrinkled face momentarily glanced to blue eyes, then returned to the stream, a hint of fright and concern creased over his brow. The expression departed. Meiran missed it entirely.

But in that instant, I recognized we were being tested.

In the distance, Roshi O looked away and departed back into the confines of the temple halls.

"And if I refuse to do this task, what will happen?" I probed.

Xang smiled, flashing ivory teeth. His passionless eyes glimmered shafts of silver as they narrowed. "You will not be the first to try, Mr. Wufei. But I assure you, all those in the Dragon Clan eventually do as I ask. It is for your benefit as well as ours. Remember that. I'm not the one living on a plagued colony."

***************

After basic introductions, Wesson acquainted us with the vast, unclassified sections of the ship. She carefully avoided shepherding us to the boat bays and several weapons silos, nor did she clarify the full capacity of the Shadowblade as a combative vessel.

The Shadowblade was one of three experimental ships constructed by the Alliance of the Outer Colonies. Her two sister ships however, were somewhat different; similar, but not quite the same, nor, Wesson implied, quite as powerful either. The purpose of all three was to keep law and order as well as to be strategic weapons against hostile extraterrestrial life forms.

Life forms Gunn's crew were specialized to eliminate. Wesson again failed to be clear. She often called the creatures "bugs" or "omegas", interchanging the two as if they were official dictionary definitions of each other.

As she spoke, Sally paled. Apparently, she hadn't fathomed the concept of extraterrestrial beings as a threat. In her mind, as well as many others occupying Earth's bureaucratic offices, the only menace to humanity was itself.

I, on the other hand, wasn't impressed by it at all. In fact, I often hypothesized we'd make first contact within the next five years, if not sooner.

My contemplation was brought back to Alexie.

First Contact... Had it already happened?

My retrospection washed out Wesson's narration of the basic theory behind faster than light communications.

I was with Meiran again.

************

We walked, steadfast, down the ally, long shadows flickering from the luminescent neon of the outlying street lamps.

The unkempt street was patterned with gaping pot holes and web-like cracks. Cans, paper and foam littered its surface. Along the crumpling brick and steel walls, garbage cans were heaped with rotten food and other forms of dripping disgust. I spied an occasional dead animal, reminding me once more of how desolate our colony was. Disease spared no one. Not even the stray cats or dogs were immune. Only the rats seemed untouched as they probed their noses into the ever growing piles of rancid refuse.

With our condition deteriorating and the filth building, my people and home were spiraling into oblivion. There was no escape from Colony A0206. Death was our only release.

I stepped over a decaying cardboard box and offered Meiran a hand, unsurprised when she refused it. "The sludge is only adding to the plague." I said to her, longing for my field of flowers.

"I forgot how awful this place is." Meiran added, working her way over the muck now covering the ground before us. Some animals must have turned over a few cans, adding to the already overwhelming mess.

"The temple is so isolated." I said, staring off at the street lights at the end of the ally. I adjusted my grip on the plain brown package in my hands and asked myself why this particular route was the quickest to Xang's hideout.

It was a part of the test, of course. Meiran and I were toiling our way though the bowels of hell before we graced the gardens of heaven.

"What do you think of Mr. Xang?" Meiran asked, once more at my side. We finally began to walk unhindered, out into the deserted, decaying streets.

"He is hiding something."

"I don't like him." Meiran informed sharply. "He's..."

"Frightening? Inhuman?" I endowed her with appropriate verbiage. I myself pondered the proper description of Mr. Xang and only concluded with a negative, provoking vocabulary.

"He's shifty." Meiran replied. "And I don't know why the Elder..." She swung her arms as if confounded. "It's as if we are serving them not by our own will, but because we are lesser than they are...like slaves."

"Yes, I did detect a great deal of conceit in Mr. Xang." I agreed, astonished Meiran had deduced the same as I.

"He has no sense of justice." The woman complained.

Ah, her preoccupation. Of course he appeared that way to her. Mr. Xang did project an air of anarchy about himself. With no order, values were stripped of their meaning, hence no justice. Yet, I didn't visualize him wholly as an anarchist. He lusted for something more. What? Pain?

My thoughts were rudely interrupted by the rattle and clanking of metal against asphalt.

Meiran's head snapped up, her sharp ebony eyes mindfully alert. Cautiously, she peered around, her eagle orbs studying every shadow and corner in the street around us.

Death's silence breathed in the air, leaving no sound other than the buzz of a blinking lamp. The avenue was motionless. The buildings, all dark, loomed over us like specters.

"Something's..." Meiran began.

I felt a heavy form thrust into my spine and my body careened into the sidewalk. The impact propelled the box in my hands into the street where it clattered and skidded until it settled in a gutter. I lifted myself to retrieve it, but something violently thrust me back to the earth and pinned my arms behind my back. Moments later, a heavy weight pressed my cheek into the asphalt.

Immobilized, all I could do was behold the unfolding drama.

Three blackened shapes plunged from the ally and leapt at Meiran. Predictably undaunted, the woman slid her agile body into combat stance.

Fascinated, I observed the pale faced girl as she countered each of her opponents' strikes. Her delicate body moved like a precision instrument, dancing liquidly with each coordinated assault. The fine scarlet silk of her robes shimmered eerily in the night while she whipped around, feet slicing air as she targeted one of her shadowy assailants.

The being snared her ankle, his form seemingly solidifying into a slender, sexless, black clad figure. Only a shock of silver gleamed from his death-like gaze. Gleefully, his eyes smiled wicked lust at Meiran.

The other two charged her from behind. Meiran freed her foot and swiveled, meeting their punches with two, well laid, forearm blocks.

"You will have to do better than that! I am Nataku! Justice will not be defeated!"

"Justice is but a mere child." A voice hissed hot putrid breath. The weight on my back altered and a face caressed my ear. The clinch on my arms flexed. "Isn't she, boy?"

The penetrating voice mocked her in the same tones I had. Anxiously, I nodded, acknowledging Meiran's enemies were just as, or more so skilled than she. They toyed with her.

"Meiran..."

"You doubt her... Good. Then you won't care what we do to her, will you?" The lenses on my spectacles fogged from its breath. With an effort, I attempted to turn my cheek in hopes of glimpsing the thing bearing me down.

The weight on my head grew, my battered face smearing blood onto stone. "Not so quickly, my pretty one. Time will reveal my face."

With no other choice, I lay motionless, a helpless witness to an unending crime of shame.

They came at her again and again. Each time, she dodged and blocked, but never once did she find a window for a strike. They kept her moving, all three pacing themselves to attack just before she had a chance for reprieve or escape.

Hmph, escape. Running was something she never did, yet it was her only hope for survival.

Or was it? Meiran was my wife. Wasn't it my job to fend for her?

I tried twisting my wrists and rolling my body so my captor would loose his balance and grip. My futile attempts were countered with a wrench of my trapped arm up behind my back. I heard a crack as the limb was dislocated and the bone broken. I gasped in pain and closed my eyes against the tearing anguish.

Laughter echoed relentlessly in my ears. "There is no justice boy, remember that. She's pretty, isn't she?"

Meiran?! Attractive with her pale inanimate features and greasy black pigtails?! The sight of her revolted me. She tried to be a man, hiding everything feminine about herself. I never once considered her anything but a mockery of womanhood.

"You lie to yourself. You enjoyed her touch on your wedding night." The voice said cruelly. "You covet her body every time you gaze upon her, Chang Wufei. You are a hypocrite."

"I am not!" I snapped, angry at his taunts. How dare this common thief make accusations. I, Chang Wufei, was of the blood of the Dragon Clan and beyond any judgment of a street thug. "The woman means nothing to me. She is a shame to the Dragon Clan! She is deluded and had no true strength!"

Meiran's stance faltered as her attention turned towards my shouts. For a second, her face reflected hurt.

Three blows connected with her lithe form and she cried out as fists struck her face and abdomen. With a pained shriek, she went down as her opponents pounded and kicked her diminutive body. She withered, a flower in drought, curling into a tight ball, fists covering her now bloody, sweat streaked face.

Stunned, I swallowed, my own words echoing in my consciousness. My lack of faith in her doomed us.

"Yes, my paper dragon. See your swan as she crumples to dust." The voice rasped. "But you don't care, do you?"

What did I feel? The pain in my arm pulsed and my head swam from the images of Meiran as two villains hauled her up from the ground and held her struggling in their grasp.

Cold laughter filled my ears, followed by a sharp pain to my temple. Blackness followed.

***************

I came to myself slowly, dimly aware of the flashes of pain vibrating up my shattered arm. Wearily, I tried to move but found myself suspended against stone, my wrists shackled solidly over my head. Ebony gave way abruptly into an agonizing realm of tormented shrills and spiraling silhouettes.

Yes, I was indeed braced against a stone wall, nude form framed by colorful silken fabrics.

My prison was a gilded cage. It was decorated by ancient fine pottery with creeping dragons and vast gardens exquisitely painted over their expensive porcelain flesh. Paintings of rolling mountains and vast streams lined the elegant gold leaf trimmed walls. Furniture was sparse, save for a red wood canopy bed with transparent taffeta and red silk curtains.

Meiran lay trapped there. I barely glimpsed her delicate naked body bound with leather cuffs to each of the posts.

Furious, Meiran spat and cursed, her flesh sheet white despite the eerie yellow glow of the room. "Bastards! You shall never soil the hand of justice! I shall fight! I shall..."

One form converged on her, his face away from me so I could not discern his features. He chuckled, hand slipping to her cheek. "You are very beautiful." He said, voice accented. "But you need to learn your place as the sand between my toes." With those cold words, he slapped her over and over, chasing away her passion until she fell silent.

Dread masked her features as her nemeses reached out and cupped her face once more. Fingers cut loose her hair and it pooled around her shoulders. Black ebony, snow white skin and rose lips...trembling her deep, gray, black pearl eyes scanned the room. Aroused his hands probed her body.

"Yes, I feel your anger growing inside of you. You do care, don't you? She's yours and for us to dirty her is an insult to you." The voice spoke beside me, turning my head from the unfolding drama.

Blue eyes. My arm stabbed with a thousand needles.

Mr. Xang's face grinned back at me. "Welcome, Paper Dragon. I'm so glad you made it."

************

"So, with this unit, we can basically detect any underground operations by reflecting sounds waves back at the Shadowblade. Sort of like sonar, eh. Wu?" Sally said releasing my attention from the past. Speechless, I stared at her, a lump in my throat.

It was my arrogance that bested Meiran and me that day. "It will be useful." I stated blankly.

I vaguely recalled the discussion Wesson began when she introduced their infinitely more advanced monitoring equipment. With it, we could confirm South America's more dubious operations and perhaps confront them at the ESUN. Perhaps then, we could stop the inevitable war before it happened, and if not, we would have targets for colonial attacks.

"Is that all you can say, Wu?" Sally crossed her arms smirking. "You really must be impressed. Jeez, with shit like this, the Federation could have spotted the five Gundams from orbit during Operation Meteor."

"We were lucky that was not the case." I informed. I sighed heavily and examined the scans already in progress.

Already, the Shadowblade's visuals confirmed my satellite photos. There was an adequately large base on the Amazon and it was housing military weapons. I clearly saw several planes and mobile suits being primed and prepped for use.

What my photos didn't show was that there were four other similar bases, all underground. They also hid two weapons factories, though I deduced from the amount of weapons, they couldn't have possibly produced them all. In fact, I was certain several of the weapons were constructed with gundanium and one was a Gundam class vehicle. "They plan war." I said flatly. "And I don't think there is anything we can do about it."

"May be." Sally informed. "If we call them on this, their plans might have to change."

"Acting commander Wesson!" The communications officer called out from his post.

The whip thin black woman turned her attention to the officer and the image materializing on the screen before him.

A woman appeared with dark hair wound tightly in a bun. Her sharp black eyes were narrow and passionless. She was dressed in a uniform I recognized from the South American Military.

"USAG demands the release and return of Governor Shun Fe's ward, Sheshie Rem and the end of the colonial conspiracy against our standing government. Meet our demands and we shall release the spy Quatre Winner."

The color drained from Sally's face and she looked to me perplexed. "There is no colonial conspiracy. What are they trying to do?"

"You saw their weapons and their bases." Wesson grunted. "They are starting a war."

"As we suspected." I added.

Another face solidified on screen; a man I recognized with black hair in his early forties. He was dressed in the garb of a Maganac and his stern features were flushed with adoration. "The Maganac and acting government of L4 are shocked and enraged by the kidnapping of our ambassador, Quatre Winner! We demand his immediate return or we and our allies will declare Jihad on the United South American Government!"

"That's Rasid!" Sally stated the plainly obvious. "What is he trying to do? He supports the ESUN. He can't declare war! It's against all policy."

I snorted, impatient with her emotional banter. "Jihad. Religious war." I said, hoping she'd understand the implications.

Alexie's plans were now in full motion. He was a master chess player and we were just pawns on the board. Our plot to rescue Duo dropped Quatre into the laps of fanatics. Unfortunately, Rasid and the Maganacs were just as fanatical as USAG. The L4 quadrant would do anything to get their representative and the head of the Winner family back.

"Rasid knows better than that." Sally snapped, annoyed at my presumptuous behavior.

"You're forgetting the Moslem way, Sally." I corrected. "Quatre is their leader and they are very loyal to him. They'll gladly release colony bombs on Earth to get him back."

Horror widened Sally's gaze as she realized the truth. "Damn it!"

"I was right." I said softly, glancing to the woman and the frustration vexing her brow. "He's a worthy opponent. A challenge. Do not worry Sally. His plans will stop here. Justice will prevail, even if he thinks he can snuff it out. I will never allow it."

No, never again. Alexie wasn't going to win this time. He won when I was a child, but I'd never let him win now.

Meiran would never forgive me.

I still heard her screams as if she was in the next room.

************

"Stop it!" I ordered Xang, indignant. How dare he humiliate a member of the Dragon clan?!! My body thrust against the chains holding me imprisoned. "He's hurting her!"

"Is he?" Xang raised a brow as if amused. "Or is she enjoying it? After all, she is only a woman. Women are here to serve the stronger sex, are they not?"

In many ways, I believed in his words and I found my gut tighten. Meiran was weak because she was a woman and her inability to understand and take her place enraged me. She insulted me on our wedding day.

Unable to speak, I watched them as the dog ravaged her body with his groping filthy touch. She twisted, agonized as he forced his lips over hers. Eager, he began to unsnap his pants and wormed out of them like a serpent slipping out of its skin.

Hell was bathed with the unclean, or so the Elder told me when I was a child.

Was this what he meant? Was this scoundrel punishing Meiran for her attempt to become a man. Surely her perceptions and need to be masculine paved her way to depths of the abyss.

She howled in pain as the bastard straddled her.

"Stop it!! Stop it, or by the gods, I will kill all of you!" I shouted, jerking my body from side to side.

The chains around me rattled and my flesh bruised against their cold sharp edges. But like the pounding anguish of my arms, the pain faded into the background as adrenaline rushed through my body.

Hands fell behind my neck and stroked the free strands of hair escaping from my tight ponytail. Xang's pleased features hovered over my face. "Kill us? I think not my friend. There is no justice, but I am willing to make a bargain."

A bargain with raping pigs? The very thought brought waves of nausea. Why, by the gods, would I, a honored member of the Dragon Clan, bargain for a mere woman.

A woman with the pride of the Dragon clan.

My wife.

I was torn. There was no love. Our marriage was for convenience. Yet, they still soiled Dragon blood.

She stopped struggling and whispered softly, her pain glazed eyes focusing on where I lay pinned. "Wu..."

The beast shamed her with his very touch. Nothing was sacred to him: Meiran, her porcelain face, her brilliantly alert, almond shaped eyes, her lithe, athletic, yet fragile body... What kind of man was I? How could I allow and even subconsciously desire this sort of blasphemy?

Had I no pride in my own clan that I would condone (or lay helpless before) Meiran's rape.

I was not worthy of my clan.

I was a pig, like the monsters taunting me.

"What's your bargain."

Lips touched my ear and hot breath tickled my neck. "You, for her, my pet."

"For them to..?" My voice hoarsely gasped as I came to realize what he was asking.

"No, for me."

Lust and hate filled cries invaded the foul air as Meiran's attacker drank of her life and anguish.

I was a member of the Dragon Clan and Meiran was my wife. Even if I didn't love her, it was my job as the man to protect her, even if I was incapable of taming her. I didn't I have a choice.

"Let her go. I will give you what you desire."

Fingers freed my hair of the thong binding it. I felt it trickle down along my face.

"Very good, my paper dragon, very good. Then perhaps you will pass my test."

Mr. Xang smiled thinly back at me. To his side, the monster accosting Meiran was now dressing. Battered and worn, Meiran's tear streaked face stared at me longingly. Her lips trembled a silent protest, but her pain kept her words from raising over a whisper.

The ordeal was over for her...but had just only begun for me.

************

For the first hour or so, I remained untouched on the wall. Xang watched while sipping tea, sitting at a small round table in front of me. After ten minutes, he took an urgent call. I suspected it was business and considered calling for help. I didn't though, knowing my act would surely end Meiran's life and dishonor my sacrifice.

So, I patiently waited, listening to the clicks of the clock from across the room.

When Xang finally finished, he hung up the phone and greeted a servant who entered. Politely, he received a breakfast of sweet rice and pork. While enjoying his meal, he took the opportunity to speak to me.

He claimed he owned my clan, but he didn't go into details, even when I asked questions. "It is a fact you must simply accept, my paper dragon. You are my slave, as was your father and his forefathers."

Slave? I despised hearing his words. The Elders only spoke of a history of greatness and power. What did Xang think he'd achieve by weaving lies to me? Insulted, I spat at him. "You dog! I am no one's slave. My clan was the most powerful clan in China, and will be again when we return. We serve no one!"

Amused, he lifted an irritating brow. "Oh? Then how do you think you gained that power? We gave it to you. My clan is your clan's benefactor." Carefully, he cleaned his plate and wiped the corners of his mouth.

"Liar!" My body snapped against the chains, and recoiled with a flash of pain.

Apologetically, Xang shook his head and came to a stand. "Well then, I'm sorry to say, but I will have to punish you for your ignorance and stubbornness."

He chastised me like a child! Stunned and enraged, I tried to fight him when he removed me from the wall. His strength was superior and I was weakened with a broken arm. It didn't take him very long to return me to my shackles, this time face against the wall.

I heard rustling, but couldn't see him. I only realized what he had planned when I felt the lash and sting of a whip. I took multiple floggings. His whip quickly covered my back and legs with swellings and welts. There were times I swore I could no longer hold out against the pain, but my pride and stubborn nature held true.

Nonetheless, he seemed to expect my will and failed to object when I refused to cry out. Rather, he seemed to enjoy each strike, drinking in my mute anguish and speaking to me as if conducting a pleasant conversation.

When he bored of punishment, he removed me from his wall. "Such a fascinating pet should be examined a great deal closer." He said, matter of factly.

Gently, he stretched me out on his bed and bound my wrists. He was surprisingly careful with my already injured arm and was quick to wash and wrap my wounds. Once finished, Xang drank of my body, causing both pleasure and pain, until I exhausted.

I felt no more anger, or humility. The ordeal left me blank and weak, as if all my life was drained from me.

Xang had won. I served his needs just to his liking. I didn't even need to try.

Fingers traced up my spine and over my shoulder. Xang's hands caressed my hair, his touch massaging my scalp gently. For a moment, it seemed to soothe the pain of my battered and beaten body, but it didn't abolish the sense of humiliation and abomination I felt.

"You've done well, paper dragon." He cooed in my ear, like I was his favorite dog. "I see you are weary. Rest now. My servants will reexamine and wrap your wounds when you are restored."

As he spoke, he unbound me and left me laying, staring at the red curtains over the bed.

Sleep followed.

***************

Xang wasn't human.

I opened my eyes to see him sitting patiently at my bed side.

When he said father, and his fathers...he meant they served him.

My body tensed at the thought. Normally, such lunacy made no sense to me, but for some reason, this did.

Xang...I felt him draining my life with every touch. Now I lay at his mercy, my energy spent. I was helpless.

"You're awake." Xang said, without looking at me. "Good." On the table before him was a box.

The box Meiran and I picked up just hours earlier.

Spellbound, I watched Xang as his nimble fingers snapped open the tape binding it. A smile crossed the man's face as he freed it of its binds, then opened it.

Wordlessly, he turned it towards me, then met my gaze.

"Behold, Paper Dragon. Behold and remember there is no justice!"

The box was empty.

I gaped, shock washing over my aching form. Why by the gods did he have us pick up and deliver an empty box? Did he plan all this just to punish my pride?

"It's empty." Was all I could say.

"No, my lovely one. It's not empty. It's filled with your pain, pleasure and anger. You've done well."

Weak, I struggled to sit up. Despite the swarm of blackness, I managed to maneuver to one elbow. "Demon!"

He chuckled darkly. "Close, but not quite my friend. Not quite..."

I chose to forget that day. Xang let me know what he was. It was my decision to ignore it...until now. Now, I had to wonder what he meant and how to prove it.

It was vital I that speak with Heero and Duo. I would only be able to draw conclusions after I knew all of our stories. Whatever answers there were, laid within all of us.

"Wu." Sally's voice slipped into my thoughts.

I glanced at the woman and studied her features. Almost two days had passed since the declaration of war. Neither Sally nor I attempted to leave the Shadowblade. We chose to remain and accumulate whatever information we needed about South America and their allies. We only planned our exodus when Heero and Gunn arrived, with or without Duo.

"Yes?" I folded my arms and leaned back into my chair. We sat together in the mess hall, picking at what appeared to be corn bread, chicken and an assortment of boiled vegetables.

"You haven't touched your food and you've been very distracted. What's wrong? Is it the war, the set up, or Alexie?" Sally nudged her plate of untouched food away and lifted her coffee cup to her lips.

"The food is rancid, and yes, I'm worried about the war." I said, nudging my plate an inch. "I would much more prefer a bowl of rice and a cup of Oolong tea."

Sally smiled. "Same here. What's bothering you, Wu?"

"I met Alexie when I was fourteen." I stiffly informed. "And I believe Trowa encountered him as well. Of course it's an assumption and makes no logical sense to me. The man I met didn't even look like the man who Romefeller executed, but I'm sure it is him."

"Wu, you didn't even see Alexie. Well, except for pictures. Why do you think you met him?" Dubious, Sally studied me. When I refused to relinquish my stare she sighed. "You're serious aren't you? I suppose he could have had surgery to change his appearance."

I shook my head, wanting to believe her words. Alexie/Xang easily could be a master of disguise, but it didn't explain his age. I kept my thoughts to myself, conscious Sally would never accept any theory I brought up without evidence. "Of course I'm serious, but I'd feel more comfortable if I had something to confirm it."

The door at the other end of the cafeteria opened and Gunn, followed by a dazed looking Heero, entered the room. Duo was nowhere to be seen.

Both Sally and I watched them pass the rows of cafeteria tables. The marines sitting there fell silent, stood and saluted their commander as the big man passed them by.

It was Sally who spoke first. She stood up, slender body poised in attention and respect. "Hannibal." She said, extending a hand. "We're at war."

"Yes, Ma'am. I had a feeling it would come to that." Gunn replied. "An' it's gonna be ugly. Not that any war's ever pretty, but someone's set this one up good and proper. And there'll be hell to pay before it's done."

Set it up? I thought. Did Gunn mean that literally? Here only a few days, did he truly see the patterns? Perhaps a military man would, at that.

Heero leaned over and placed his hands on the edge of the table. Beads of sweat dribbled off his face as the boy met my gaze. "Duo vanished."

"The enemy?" I asked, deducing it would be reasonable for USAG to use Duo as evidence against the colonies to gain Earth allies. "Do they have him?"

"No." Breathless, Heero swayed. He locked his arms to steady himself. "I have reason to believe it was Doctor G. What's even worse..."

"Com'on kid. Got to get you to medical." Gunn said, concerned. The big man wrapped an arm about Heero's slender body and eased him back. "According to Hilde, they were visited by Sheshie Rem, the kid who's missing. Your scientist friends took the both of them."

"What the hell do you mean? They'd never attempt to endanger the peace!" Sally came to a stand, both fists planted on the table.

She didn't know Roshi O and his colleagues very well. Roshi O and his colleagues made sure none really knew them. I sighed and shook my head. "Idiots. Well, they must have a reason."

"Of course they do. They're processing Duo." Heero feebly attempted to dislodge himself from Gunn's protective hold. "Sheshie Rem's a Newtype."

The boy swayed and collapsed like a limp rag against the Marine commander. The fool had stopped taking his medication at an inconvenient time.

Sally paled. "Heero..."

"Ahh, now it's starting to make some sense." I said.

**************

Continued in EPISODE 2, Chapter II