Wizard Of OZ
By Red Rose
Dogs of War
"How is he?" A disembodied voice whispered in the void of nothing.
Rumbling vibrated against my cheek and the sweet smell of steel air filled my lungs. I squeezed my eyes, feeling the familiar wrinkle of flesh. Boy, by the way I ached, I must have had a bad night. Someone must have slipped me a hell of a mickey. Mickey? No...Chloroform by the way my lungs burned.
My leg throbbed and my head pulsed rhythmically. When I twitched an arm, I felt the pull of steel binds against my wrists; hand cuffs no doubt. Ropes, from the feel of it, tightly held my legs together. From the cold hard surface beneath me, I could tell I was trussed up on the floor. (Now that's a sight, eh? Good old Duo Maxwell, all tied up like a Christmas package on the floor. I supposed it could be worse. I could be locked up in a crate.)
That was right, I thought, trying to trace back the events from the other night. There was a storm and I met with Doctor G. He wanted to process me and I turned him down (All the good that did). God damned asshole never did take no for an answer.
Something warm touched my cheek and traced to my forehead. "He's doing well, considering. You didn't have to be that rough on him." Doctor J's voice said.
Well, well, well, my fogged mind mused. They're all here. It's a mad scientist convention and I'm their lab rat. The idea made me feel rather important. If I was enough to make all of them come out of hiding, then they were serious.
"The other boy is responding well to the sedatives. He should be unconscious until we arrive." It was Professor S.
Arrive? Where? Other boy?
Mother Mary of God.
They were crazy.
Then again, I knew that all along. Why should I be surprised?
"Good." Professor G sounded content. "If Duo's stable, set him up with a few IV's. Knowing his constitution, he'll be awake in a minute or two. That is, if he isn't playing possum already."
Bastard knew me too well.
My eyes snapped open. It was no use feigning unconsciousness when they were just planning to drug me. "No way, no drugs! Keep away from me, you deluded bastards!"
"Ahh, Duo, you were playing possum. Good to see you're doing better." Doctor G said, striding over to me. Behind him, I made out Roshi O and Doctor H seated in the front at the controls of a ship and S hovered behind G like a vulture ready to descend.
J hauled my body up like a sack, sending flashes of pain lancing down my damaged leg. "Very sorry, young man." he said as I spasmed. "But this is necessary."
"What's necessary?" I said angrily. "You kidnap me from the life I chose. I was fucking happy!! I'd call that a little unfair!"
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a shock of red hair. The USAG kid was laying on a reclined shuttle seat, IV's carefully placed in his arms.
"God damn it, you're nuts! Do you know who that kid is? You could start a damn war!" I jerked, my body flopping hard against the arms holding me. The cold metal of J's artificial arm clamped down tight on my legs, holding me motionless for his trip across the shuttle's cabin.
Undaunted, J dropped me into a seat and picked up a syringe with his robotic claw. "Of course it will start a war, Duo."
They intended on starting a war? I stared, frozen. My spunk slipped away in a blast of shock. "What? You want a war?"
"We've been at war for decades now. A war within wars. A silent war." G explained. He crossed to my side and touched my face, his brow softened. "My young friend, we have another enemy now; one who lives among us who isn't one of us and plans to use us. We had to start a war Duo. Start it because HE was going to start it soon anyway. And once you and the other boys are processed, we will have a chance against those who wish to destroy us."
"Alexie? Are you talking about Alexie? Or the Newtypes?" I asked, my eyes widening. A needle stung my flesh and I felt the cold touch of drugs rolling into my veins. It was almost impossible to keep my eyes open all of the sudden.
"I'm talking about many things, boy. You'll understand soon enough. Sleep now, while you can. What awaits you isn't going to be pleasant..."
"What awaits you isn't going to be pleasant." Those words stuck with me as the world opened up into one large obscured fish bowl. Sound yawned and stretched out hideously and incoherently as vibrations ratted and thudded in my brain.
G's face lifted in and out of my vision, his long nose up turned just enough for me to count the hairs dripping from his nostrils. My gut churned while I stared helplessly up. Man, why didn't he get a nose job?
I tried to move my head and the world streaked incoherently. Vague faces snapped into focus. J's cybernetic eyes twitched down, his expression grim. S's large round face was studying a control panel as he fingered his long black mustache. Roshi O's tall, muscle notched body leaned down. His arms wrapped about me and lifted me up.
Doctor H stood silently before a set of blackened doors that liquidly slid open as Roshi O approached.
Beside the door, Sheshie lay strapped to a device with many wires tacked onto his head. The boy appeared unconscious (some people, could sleep through anything).
The sound around me blended and faded into the echoes of feet as they crossed the steel grating.
"Everything is ready." H said sadly. "I've completed the connections. All we need to do is place the boy into the cockpit. The life form will do the rest."
Life form? What was this, a grade Z horror flick? I braced myself, struggling to see through my obscured sight.
Within the darkness of an apparent cockpit, I caught a slight slithering movement. Or was it a trick of the light? With a moan, I strained against the hands clamping down on me.
The effort was so weak, Roshi O didn't even notice.
I was flying. What in the hell did they have me on? LSD? PCP? BREATH?! Didn't they understand I didn't want to be processed? I liked being who I was. I didn't mind dying young. At least my life was for more than bloodshed. At the mission, I helped orphans like myself. I saved lives.
I didn't want to be a weapon.
"Procedure estimated time is twenty four hours." S said, his form vanishing into the distance.
"Then you did succeed in shortening the exposure?" J inquired, crossing the room to a second control panel. "G, I want to place my objection concerning this procedure. It's too quick, too dangerous and possibly uncontrollable."
"Objection noted." G's voice rang inches behind me. "Just remember, he was designed as a symbiote by Alexie. There shouldn't be a problem with it accepting him. Duo has, in a way, finally come home."
Home? Symbiote? I felt suddenly cold. Those mysterious missing years were becoming more horrifying by the second.
"Aren't you concerned he'll lose to them? After all, he is one of them."
Them? The voices? My nightmares? Were they the things they referred to? I had a billion questions, but the way the room shifted and twined together, it all seemed very surreal. Was I dreaming now? And if I was, why couldn't my sick imagination indulge me with a few naked women rolling in raspberry Jell-O?
I felt myself being lowered. Blackness encompassed my vision.
G leaned over, his hand touching my cheek gently. His gaze became soft and sad. "I trust him. The boy is too much an individual to be lost within the Web. I made sure of that when I created Duo." Then, more quietly, he whispered. "Do you understand me boy? Don't let old Pestilence down. And if it's worth anything... I'm very sorry about this. I promised myself I'd never do this to you again. It nearly destroyed you when you were a child."
Child? I thought, strangely detached. Did he mean when I was Patrick Reilly?
G's hand lifted and closed my eyes. "Good luck, Shinigami."
Death Angel. Death Angel, Death Angel... An eerie chant hissed wantingly in my mind. I felt something intruding into my thoughts, caressing them like an eager child.
The thing I lay on was warm. It vibrated.
I tried to open my eyes, but fear kept me motionless. Surely, all I lay on was a reclined seat in a secluded chamber in a lab. My perceptions were so obscured, I was incapable of making out anything beyond my nose when I did have my eyes open.
I felt wires being connected to my body and something folding around me like a womb (was I being strapped in?). The voices of G and his colleagues vanished into the background and were replaced by a strange yet familiar humming.
It was comforting.
That was me.
One thought crossed my mind as I lay, letting it take me.
Wasn't Alexie's procedure different than this?
A moment later, my mind exploded in fire.
Brightly colored pinwheels spun on a backdrop of pink pastel clouds. My consciousness merely existed, the brilliant colors dancing about me in a whirl of passion and warmth.
The words violently swirled in a primal dance. In and out of my thoughts they ducked, touching my soul and transforming it into nothing more than awareness.
The pain was always there in the background, a storm waiting to overtake me. Yet, I fought it, keeping it just far enough away to maintain my thoughts, even though I knew I was being invaded.
Me? Who was I?
Why was it important to fight the pain?
It was the voice calling to me.
The vastness of space reached out tendrils and probed the ground I stood on. Beyond it, the spinning colors gave way to faces.
Heero lay tossing and sweat covered in bed. His face wrinkled as agony assaulted his young fever worn body. The perfect soldier was fighting the same enemy that almost killed me.
Doctor G's miracle drug.
Quatre was laying naked on a dingy cot, his body covered with long red lash marks and dried blood. A man with blue eyes smiled down at his tattered broken form. (No, not him! Why, by God in Heaven, did he have Quatre? He'd destroy the Arab boy, just like he destroyed me.)
Me? Who was me? Why was it important I be someone and not a part of the greater whole?
Trowa sat, expressionless, in a room, his pale face lit by the constant glow of a computer screen. He was someplace else as well. Puzzled, I looked deeper into the image, realizing he was trapped, screaming and writhing, in the confines of a thin transparent web. He was a part of them.
Them? Who them? Death Angel? Was he like me?
What was I?
The voices said I was one of them...
Wufei and Sally sat in a room with several other people I didn't recognize. They spoke in soft voices, planning. Yet, Wu seemed distracted...and why did they often speak to a chair without anyone in it?
Why did I know their names, but not my own? Frantic, I searched my thoughts deeply, probing for an answer to my own identity. Me? Who was me?
A thin boy, with long chestnut brown hair, lay in a dark chamber, wired to several semi-organic, yet mechanical, apparatuses. He was being monitored by five attentive scientists and a quiet, child-like figure.
I looked closer to the drawn, pained features.
Was this me? But didn't I look different?
I was human?
I was human?
That's right. But how?!
"Pat... I'm scared." Another voice said, turning my perception to another image.
Two small, golden haired boys sat on a bed, both of them identical in every way. One held a battered white teddy bear, while the other hugged his knobby knees. "So am I, Ingram, but we have to be brave. Doctor G said it won't hurt much."
"It always hurts!" Ingram shook his head, his tangled blond hair matting into his large violet eyes. He brushed it away, fingers shaking, then hugged his bear tighter. "How can you be so brave? You never even scream."
The boy, Pat, shrugged and dropped his knees down. Somehow, I identified with him. He never really even saw a purpose in fighting the grown-ups experimenting on him. He was small and helpless against their adult bodies. Moreover, he had to save his strength to keep Ingram, his twin, happy. "Screaming is what they expect." Pat sighed. "That's the only thing I can fight."
"I'm so frightened half the time, all I do is cry." Ingram sniffled. Clumsily, he wiped his nose with trembling fingers.
Gently, Pat placed a hand on the other boy's shoulder, then embraced him. His time was short. The scientists were coming to subject him to the 'process' that afternoon. It was a word he heard often and dreaded. "My thoughts are the only thing that are my own, Ingram, and now they are going to take them away from me. I'm very, very scared there won't be anyone left to protect you."
Protect? I watched the two children, fascinated. Pat, of course, was me, before I was processed, but Ingram I scarcely recalled.
They huddled together, two frightened babies, facing horrors no child should see. All they had were each other.
Yes, I was human. I wondered why I seemed so surprised by it. As long as I could remember, I lived the life of a human being.
"Don't forget me!" Ingram sobbed, clutching the other boy desperately. "Never forget me. Promise."
Patrick blinked tears and buried his head into the other child's shoulder. "Promise...nothing they can do will separate us. I'll never forget you."
The men in white coats entered the room and pried the children apart. Ingram screamed and cried while Pat stood quietly, his own tears spilling down his cheeks.
He had lied to his brother.
"Ingram..." I whispered. "I wish I knew more..."
The world around me erupted into a blazing explosion of pain. I felt my consciousness wrenched back into the confines of deep space. Unable to resist, I fell into the void. Feebly, I clung to my last dwindling memory. But that too was blotted out as anguish rolled over my mind.
I opened my eyes to darkness.
I sat on the edge of a cot in a simple gray cell. The only light that seeped into the room was through a single barred window. Other than that, I was alone.
A blank slate waiting to be written on.
The pang of pipes echoed from within the walls, their music the only sign I was truly alive. Slowly, I peered down. My wrists were bound in large cuffs. Whoever I was, someone or something feared me.
Everything was black, even my clothing, save for a flash of white under my shirt collar.
It was meaningless. Everything was meaningless. I had no self and for some reason, I didn't care. The only thing of importance was existence and sustaining that existence any way I could.
A gnawing hunger clawed from inside, making me restless.
"Duo Maxwell." A boy's voice spoke.
I turned my face, attention on the door as it slid open and blasted an aura of impossibly brilliant light into the room.
Squinting, I made out the silhouette of a slender figure standing within the frame.
"Duo?" I whispered the foreign word softly.
"Yes. I'm here to help you."
"Help?" I watched him cross to my side and seat himself beside me.
Sadly, the boy looked at my bound hands, then reached out to touch me. "I can't understand such cruelty." He said. "But from what I have seen of your life, you are complacent about such things."
I felt the probing fingers of his mind as his hand laid on my head. Seductive caresses stroked my thoughts, brightening the entombing blackness. Ever so gently, warm tingles swept down from my scalp, to my spine and into my limbs. Vigor and life charged into my being with a flood of images.
A boy stumbled down a broken street in tatters...
The memories gave birth to a world of despair and loss. But though the boy's life was filled with war and horror, he always faced it with a smile and inner strength matched only by four others in his life.
Spellbound, I sat watching my own life as if it was a grade B film. The memories came with emotions; pain, fear, anger, hate, manic glee and hope. Duo Maxwell was a man of many feelings, not all the time did he show them. He just smiled and laughed, even when he was really screaming inside.
I focused on the red haired boy from whom my memories flowed, wondering exactly what he thought of me, now that he knew me more intimately than I did myself. He was innocent to the world. He did not know war and he never experienced death. His keepers kept him well isolated from pain and suffering.
My thoughts and memories did disturb him...But he adored them at the same time.
Radiant green eyes smiled back at me. The boy's angel like features brightened. "Everything about you is beautiful." He whispered. "And alive."
Poor bastard. I was the first "Newtype" he had ever encountered, even if I was a bargain basement manufactured Newtype. I suppose it could be worse.
I went to speak, but felt the warm trickle of his thoughts immersing my body.
My surroundings twisted.
Colors and lights washed over the both of us, caressing us in a bath of passion. My body felt suddenly alive and aroused to the slightest touch.
The boy's memories flashed before me. He was a kept ward whose happiest days were on an island with a few animals and a small scientific staff. Blue eyes followed him everywhere, honing him into a gentle healing soul with the naivete of a child.
Stunned, I let the images pass, their contact seducing my thoughts and body.
He loved me. Yet we where opposites to the core. He was still a boy, I was a man. He was innocent, I was spoilt. Yet, his adoration held me in warm safe arms, stroking me like a lost love he dared never to release. He desired to protect me and save me from the bitterness of my own heart.
And for that moment, confused and frightened, I let him.
The light engulfed the world, leaving only the sensation of our bodies and souls intertwined in rapture.
I lost consciousness shortly after.
Have you ever had the feeling you've slept though the week and only got out of bed to eat, piss and take a dump? For the next few days, my existence consisted of three things: pain, pleasure and nightmares. Reality and fantasy blended perfectly, so not even I, the resident expert on night terrors, could tell when I was awake. Which is, by the way, a very impressive task.
Processing was a blur and a downer at the same time. Worse than some of the drugs I experimented with as a kid. I screamed, I cried, I struggled to grasp the fragments of my mind as they fled with each unending procedure. I was just plain miserable, until finally, worn and exhausted...I realized the anguish had stopped.
Stopped. Yes, really stopped. Or at least, if I wasn't dreaming they stopped. This reality thing was very confusing, so I could easily be hallucinating again. But, what the hell. Let's say, I'm not.
In the blackness of my room, I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. I didn't know how long I lay there. I only knew I had become aware I was actually laying on something soft.
Neither Doctor G nor his colleagues were in sight. Good thing for them. If I found them, I'd beat the living shit out of them and then some (By heaven, I'd enjoy it too). Unfortunately, It was just me, in the comfort of darkness.
I could think in peace.
Think? Wow again. I hadn't thought in days. And just think, I used to abuse illegal substances to avoid thinking. No need for that now. G and his friends did a damned good job when I was on the straight and narrow.
I liked thinking now, and I liked the serenity of silence.
Well, it was as serene as possible with a throbbing head. Damn, it felt like my brain was ready to squeeze out of my ears. (Yes sir-ree, fresh squeezed brain juice, good in the morning with breakfast...YUM!)
Boy, if I ever get my way, I'd toss those crazy bastards out the nearest air lock and happily watch their eyeballs pop out. What a fantasy. I smirked at the mental image of G clawing helplessly in space.
That would be neat, wouldn't it? My life had the makings of a hit grade B horror flick. Almost amused, I shook my head and shifted my body to its side. The movement trickled faint flashes of discomfort up and down my injured leg.
Strange. The sensation was slight, as if it was an old, healed wound.
Frowning, I reached down and in the pitch of my room, slipped my fingers to my injured knee.
The flesh was bare and rough around the injury. A scar ran up from my knee to mid-thigh, but I felt no stitches, no bandages and no swellings, only skin. There was no pain when I touched it, just the tickle of fingers against the blond-brown hair covering my legs (puberty reared its ugly head some time ago, so what can I say - my legs made the poor attempt at becoming human rugs and failed after the first time I was processed - well, at least Hilde liked guys with hairless chests).
Just like when Alexie processed me, my injuries were healed. The damned procedure wreaked havoc with my metabolism.
"Bastards are going to burn me out." I said to no one, frustrated. "They processed me without my consent. Someone's going to pay." That's right. The good old Shinigami planned to do an experiment of his own (mad scientist plus air lock equals space, any questions?).
They had lots of explaining. Lots and lots of explaining. If not, I'd space them quickly and watch with a bowl of primo popcorn.
With careful heed, I sat up and spun my legs to the edge of the bed. The motion sent dizzying splashes of color to my already pounding brain.
All that torture and all I had to show for it was a splitting headache. Somehow, I felt rather short changed in the whole matter.
"Funny, I don't feel any different." I thought aloud, balancing myself at the edge of the bed. "I'm supposed to be a full fledged artificial Newtype. Funny how all the funky telepathy stopped after they finished the process."
Those half crocked bastards owed me big for this. More than big, I thought. They owed me an entire brand new spanking life. One in which I had lots of money, a steady career and no more wars. "Yeah, right. They'd let you off the hook just like that? No way in hell. They own me, lock, stock and barrel."
If I were supposed to be a Newtype, why didn't I feel any different? Knowing them, they put something in my brain to control whatever abilities I had. The idea down right pissed me off.
With good thoughts of wrenching off G's head as insensitive, I began my journey to the other side of the room.
My leg ached as I walked and I grimaced uncomfortably. The damned limb was numb and my toes tingled with every step. By the sorry shape my body was in, I must have been out for some time.
Blast it. By the time I got back to Heero and the others, the war would be over.
If there was a war. I only had G's assumptions to go by.
Oh yeah, and that red head USAG boy.
I was halfway across the room and realized it was so dark, I had to reach out and feel for the walls. Surprisingly, my gut instinct told me when and where I'd come in contact with things on the floor and I was aware of the location of the door. It only took a second to find the light, yet I was so amazed by my ability to navigate, I failed to activate it. Besides, I liked the dark and the light would make my head hurt more.
"Radar." I whispered. "I have mental radar. That's what they call it. Wooo, that rules!" I slammed my fist on the control panel near the door and heard a hiss.
Damn, this was cool. Perhaps being Frankenstein wasn't that bad after all. Perhaps G really did save my brain.
Well, I couldn't admit it. If I did, he'd do something worse and not tell me again.
I entered a dimly lit hall. It was vast and the gray walls went on for what seemed like miles. Blankly, I stared at the parallel rows of fluorescent lighting and the outline of doors in the distance. Wherever I was, it was isolated and unoccupied, for I didn't see a soul in sight. Damn, with my luck, they hog tied me and dragged to some remote satellite orbiting Mars or something.
Doctor G liked his privacy, that was for sure. "I feel like I'm in a spaghetti western ghost town." My voice echoed off the long corridors, adding to the dark and eerie setting.
"Ok, a tomb." I rephrased myself. "A place befitting death..."
"DEATH ANGEL..." An icy chill whispered down the hall.
Great. I thought for sure this wasn't a dream. Not this time. The elusive reality was beginning to piss me off.
"No, let's give it a chance. I might not be dreaming. After all, it feels real..." Swallowing, I looked around, seeing no one. I was alone, but I was positive I heard a voice. Well, I could be hearing things. It wasn't the first time I heard voices. Ok, I was once crazier than a bed bug, but it wasn't the first time I heard voices from beyond talking to me.
"But Alexie can't be here..."
"Death Angel..." Those words. Why those words?
A dead hand seemed to reach up inside my heart and close stiff fingers around my soul.
I shivered. The voice came from inside of my mind, yet it seemed so vivid, like it too, called out from the depths of the tomb ensnaring me.
"Come to me..." Hauntingly seductive, the voice penetrated my form and wrapped about my being, binding it back into the network of transparent tendrils. My world plunged into confusion once more.
Son of a bitch. Why couldn't I have a blooming break? All I asked for was five minutes in the real world, not dream hell!
Alexie's face hovered above my own, his piercing blue eyes stabbing at me.
"Ashes to Ashes..."
No, not Angel. I tried to ignore it and forced my attention to memories of Hilde and little Carrie. They were my life-line. "This isn't real." I called out. My body shook, making my own voice tremble.
Still it called, its vocal fingers tickling my spine with every tone. "DEATH ANGEL, DEATH ANGEL...."
I was Duo Maxwell and God as my witness, I'd never forget myself again. My life was my own! My fingers slipped into my hair and began to pull. Prickles of pain yanked down, clearing my fogged brain some. I had to resist or I'd loose everything to oblivion once more.
Hilde, why couldn't she be here. I needed her more than ever now. My life was one big nightmare.
The netting holding me took on the form of circuits and wires. It was like I was bound in the central nervous system of a great machine. Yet, I wasn't.
I discovered my own legs moving steadily down the hall to the thing calling to me.
"Come home, Shinigami. I have waited long for you to return..."
I pulled harder on my hair in hopes I could focus, but now that too faded. Invisible strings pulled at my limbs, driving me down the hall to an unseen horror. The voices intensified, making thought almost impossible. I was drowning.
"Duo, Duo Maxwell..."
My vision blurred and the hall around me stretched out into tiny pinpoints of light. Still, the voice called seductively. Helpless to it, I continued, anxious and eager to find its source.
Time passed dizzily and my path became vague.
Only when I stepped into a vast, high ceiling chamber, did I become aware of my surroundings again.
Above me were metallic walkways and scaffolding. Spellbound, I stared up, recognizing I had entered a mobile suit boat bay. It was empty of most of its equipment. Only a single, enormous crane stood in the center. Like the rest of the base, it was silent and dark.
A grave for things that go bump in the night.
It was pitch and I had to strain to see anything.
Then I saw them, a pair of blood red lights towering over head. A shape seemed to part from the black curtain around me.
It was tall; far larger than any suit I had ever seen and was carved out of solid black steel. My eyes scanned the smoky, glittering planes of its metal flesh and marveled at the strength of its massive limbs. It was elegant, yet built to withstand any bomb, missile or blast. The machine was twice the size of the Death Scythe, but similar in its construction.
The difference was, or so my heart and gut told me, the cockpit was in the head, right where the scaffolding was placed.
I met its gaze.
Another voice called, muted almost beyond my awareness. Its anxious human sound and the tug at my arm were insignificant. I ignored it and pushed through.
The behemoth beckoned once more. It was the only thing that was important. Its cold metallic voice filled a void within my own soul. It needed me, like I needed it.
Unable to deny it, I began to climb a nearby ladder.
"DUO!!" The human voice cried out, bursting into my perception. Something crashed against my body, pulled me off the ladder and dragged me down to the floor.
With a thud, my chin met mesh grating. Bright lights and pain exploded around me in a flash of dawning. Suddenly, the world snapped into focus and the voice calling me screamed into nothingness.
With a jerk, I rolled to my back as a weight settled firmly on me. Nursing my smarting chin, I stared up at a red haired boy with wide, sad eyes and worry wrinkling his pale brow. "Wake up, Duo!"
Wake up? Hadn't I been awake all along?
I blinked. "Yeah, yeah, I'm awake now. Shit, that hurts."
The USAG kid sitting on my abdomen looked down apologetically to me. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. I had to stop you and you fought me." His gaze held my own confused stare.
Had I been I sleeping all this time? Never in my life, save when I was under Alexie's control, had I slept walked before. Distraught, I shook my head. Then I looked suspiciously at the boy. "Sheshie? What in the hell are you doing sitting on me?"
"Stopping you from making the biggest mistake of your life, Duo." He said softly. "You were sleep walking."
"You implied that." Confused, I looked around, unable to believe something that real was all in my head. There had to be some validity to my previous experience. Damn, what if I was still dreaming?
No way. I wasn't gonna go there. I had to be awake now. I hurt too much to be asleep.
Once more, I took in my surroundings. The room was brightly lit and buzzed with the whirl of scientific equipment; equipment I recognized. Sure enough, I placed the room with the fuzzy headed impressions I had when I first came to before they processed me. Strange, it wasn't a lab. So why in hell did they process me here? "Where..?"
"The boat bay." The boy pointed out the obvious. He indicated the large mobile suit propped up against the far wall. "I heard it calling to you." He said, folding his arms. After his glance at the machine, his gaze peered back down, haunted.
The silent, black giant stared at me the way a spider did at a small helpless insect trapped in its web. For a moment, I thought I saw a faint light flash in its dark eyes.
It was alive. My gut wrenched.
"What is that?" I asked, breathless. This was ridiculous. Mobile suits weren't alive. They didn't call out, nor did they look down at people. I was hallucinating. "All those damned drugs are getting to me." I said, not for the last time.
"Ahh. I see you've found him, Sheshie." Doctor G's voice echoed off the tall walls surrounding us. I felt the boy turn.
The mushroom haired scientist stood in the door frame. In his hand, he held a clipboard and smiled thinly. "Well Duo, I see you're trying to reacquaint yourself with the FTL."
FTL? Was that what it was called? I peered back up at the mobile suit, face draining of heat.
If Sheshie wasn't sitting on top of me, I would have strangled G on the spot. With effort, I grappled with my animal urges and controlled my fury. "Yeah, I guess. What the hell happened?"
"You were processed, but I am afraid there are a few side effects." G flatly informed. He gestured to the FTL. "We were forced to use its AI to complete the procedure and we still have a few bugs to work out. The FTL has the habit of possessing its pilots."
Bugs? Possessing...? "You goddamned, mother-fucking, cum-sucking, mushroom-headed dildo-nosed...!"
Shaking his head, G waved away my words and sighed. "That mouth of yours will never change, will it? I should have tweaked that part of your personality when I had the chance."
Tweaked my personality?! Mobile suits with competitive AIs? The anger rose around me, nearly taking me in an uncontrolled rage. They used me again. Not only did they use me, they used me in an experiment they hardly understood themselves.
Now he tells me, the skinny big nosed bastard. I glared at him, wondering where the nearest air lock was. "Oh, I see, just a few side effects. Anything else I should know?"
G shrugged, then crossed the room to my side. By then, Sheshie reluctantly lifted himself from me and extended a hand to help me stand. "It's all right, Duo. They seem to have everything under control." He said, though not too confidently. He appeared pale and distressed by my current mood.
Yeah. The kid was an empath and I was seething with hate. I jerked an arm swiftly back and balled a fist as if to strike G where he stood.
"Boy, I have everything under control." G snapped. He clamped a hand on my fist and studied me. "Do you think I'd risk you to an experiment I didn't prepare and understand? Murdering me won't help you or your family any."
I wanted to kill him, but his fierce eyes held my stare and slowly I felt the frustration slip away until all I could do was drop my hand to my side. He was right. I was furious, but I wasn't a murderer.
To G and his associates, I was a microbe under a microscope. I sneered, then stuck out my tongue and wiggled it out at him.
"Hmm, I see you are back to your annoying, ungrateful self."
"No thanks to you, Pestilence. So, what's the deal? What about that thing and my brain?"
The scarred faced scientist wrinkled a lip, then tapped my nose with the pen in his hand. "Your will is strong enough. I'm sure we'll be able to work out all the bugs in the FTL's AI, then transfer it into the Death Scythe."
Was he...? No wait, scratch that. I knew he was batty. But then again, he had his reasons. Yeah, I was stubborn enough. Sure, I could whip the FTL's AI into shape. I smirked. "Glad to see you have confidence in me."
G shrugged. "It's our only chance, boy. Just think of it. You'll be unstoppable. You and the Death Scythe, synchronized for faster than light battle!"
AI? Death Scythe faster than light? My head swam. We didn't have faster than light speed! What in God's name was G on? Jaw dropped, I gaped at him. "Doc, I think that LSD you used to do..."
Frantically, G shook his head and waved his clipboard. "You'll see soon, my son! Let me explain. I assure you. You will like it as much as I! It's a brilliant plan!"
"So was Project Meteor." I said sarcastically. "You've got to be joking, or insane."
"Insane yes, joking no. I don't have time to make jokes. And neither do you." G dragged me to the door. "I'm very serious. It's time we talk. I'll explain everything. Come come, Sheshie! Back to work!"
The boy shrugged, a weak smile passing his lips. He was just as much in the dark as I was, the poor schmuck.
Reassuringly, I winked at the kid. "All right, I'm game, but I'm also starved. How about food, Sheshie?"
"Ok." The boy helplessly nodded.
"I thought you'd say that." G turned and began to walk out the door. "Follow me. We'll talk after breakfast."
I had a bad feeling. G's enthusiasm disturbed me. In fact, it seemed down right phony when I got to thinking about it. The man didn't have an enthusiastic bone in his body, so I was sure he was attempting to redirect my attention from the FTL and what they really did to me.
Why he wanted to keep the procedure so hush hush, I didn't know. But I was really beginning to think he was up to something sinister. Unfortunately, my memories of the procedure were hazed, so it was difficult to reexamine myself for any important details.
What I needed to do was talk to the kid. From what I remembered, they used him in the procedure. Then, I could piece the last week together and find out what G was up to.
Unfortunately, I hadn't the opportunity. G remained with us the entire time.
We were escorted to a large cafeteria where there was fresh coffee, eggs, sausage, steaks, juice and pancakes neatly laid out.
I was amazed by the sheer size of the room and realized this entire installation was meant to hold hundreds of thousands of people. I never got around to my questions though. Food was the perfect distracter for me and I hadn't realized how starved I was.
So I ate, and ate and ate...
My metabolism was even faster now, so I packed it in. Three steaks, an assortment of pancakes and many eggs filled my belly nicely and quenched my unending appetite for the meantime.
But I knew I'd have to eat again in a few hours. I had lost too much weight from not keeping regular with my diet and looked like a walking scarecrow.
Damn, now that I thought about it, I was always eating something when I had the chance and it still didn't keep me going.
I sighed and wiped my face. "So, if you keep futzing with my bod, I'll never be able to keep up with it." I said coolly to G.
"Well, this is typical for you. No thank you for the food?" G glared, folding his arms on the table across from me.
Sheshie, seated at my side, glanced at G. "Can you blame him, Doctor? It was a horrible experience. You forcibly subjected him to your dangerous procedures and altered him without his consent."
"Consent? I had no choice." G leaned over, matching the boy's wide eyed, but disapproving stare. "He was dying."
"I'm sure you could have come up with a less drastic solution. I had him stable." Sheshie asserted. He planted both hands on the table and leaned toward the scientist. "My healing abilities could have kept him alive for a good amount of time until you could think of a less painful method."
The two of them fixed their gazes for a very long time, leaving me to sit and watch. Boy, I didn't think the kid had it in him actually. For some reason, I had him pegged for a fluffy headed pacifist, worse so than Relena.
"You would have made him dependent on you." G sneered, his ugly face pinched and his eyes narrowed. "You and Duo are Newtype matches, mentally compatible. He would have become hooked on your contact emotionally and physically and abandoned everything outside of it."
"Hey, I think you're exaggerating a little, doc." I announced, plopping my coffee cup on the table between the two. I leaned forward and studied the boy's face. Sheshie peered down at his hands, disbelieving and confused once again. It seemed he knew very little about what he was or what it did to others. I myself couldn't believe I'd drop my life and love for Hilde just to mind fuck the kid. "Give me a little credit. I think I learned about drugs a long time ago and this is a little different."
"Is it? What do you know about unions, Duo?" G pointed a finger at me.
I shrugged, assuming the word "union" meant the gestalt Sheshie and I shared when he returned my memories. "Mental sex."
G's face fell and he shook his head. "Sex? I assume you are acquainting it with physical sex."
I innocently shrugged. "Yeah. Hey, if we could teach Hilde that, I'd be happy for the rest of my life."
Sitting back abruptly, Sheshie blushed. "Sex? I was healing him."
"Duo makes it a point to be as crude as possible when I'm around." G said, annoyed.
I liked pestering G almost as much as shooting him out of an air lock. This way, the pain was prolonged. I sipped my coffee and sat back against my chair. "Doc, I can't help it if you've been deprived all your life. You should get laid. Then, I promise you you'll know what I mean."
"Hopeless, absolutely hopeless. I could murder Alexie for processing him so early. I would have at least waited until puberty was done with him."
I just loved how he talked about me, in front of my face, like I was invisible. The senseless banter wasn't getting me any more information. I was being distracted again from what was going on. "Back to the union."
"When Sheshie heals, he releases endorphins into your body. When this occurs during a union..."
"Which stimulates the pleasure centers." I interjected. I vaguely recalled how good it felt and not wanting it to stop. I hadn't had orgasms like that in a while. In many ways, it reminded me of sex on Breath (my favorite drug a few years ago...that is, before I had to sweat it out and clean up my act).
"Yes." G folded his arms. "I know you, Duo. If the boy repeatedly healed the brain damage, you would have eventually been hooked, not only on your own endorphins, but his contact."
"So, he's a walking, breathing, cocaine stash." I said dryly. "I'd hardly get hooked on his contact. No offense to Sheshie, but he doesn't have the curves to keep me interested. Wow, I never thought the reemergence of Newtypes would put the drug cartel out of business..."
"Will you please be serious!" G slapped me, frustrated.
Sheshie looked horrified. "It's not that way at all. The contact is healing both mentally and physically. I can't believe it's addictive! And if it was, I could tend to it; like I tended to Duo's drug addiction in South America. The one, I understand, you were responsible for."
"At the time, we had no choice."
It was G's favorite retort and he sounded like a scratched antique 45. The humor in it all amused me to no end. I liked the feeling of control. It fit me in a way and was about time. The kid and I cornered G and he was sweating. To exercise my new found authority, I descended to I throw him off even more.
"Ok. Say what you say is true. All right. I just won't make it a thing to union with him. Topic's closed. Besides, I love Hilde and to be blunt, I'm not planning on committing adultery. That would be too cruel and a sin to boot." It was the truth, of course. Sheshie represented temptation, innocent as he was.
I gave the kid a glance and a wink. He appeared strangely pale and subdued, but then again, who could blame him. G was a creepy guy who went out of the way to make you feel small and meaningless.
G, oh yeah, back to G. I smiled thinly and thought about my words carefully. "Now, about this FTL thing. You used it to process me, right?
G nodded. "It was the..."
"Only thing at the time. You haven't any excuses, doc. I'm sure there were other options, like the kid said. But there is something about the FTL that is intoxicating to you, am I right? You want it. So you hooked me into it, knowing damn well the AI would process me and I'd have the guts to master it."
G half smiled and nodded. Despite the course of the conversation, he seemed to be pleased with my ability to make intelligent and clear deductions. "That's true. Three hundred years ago, it was the ultimate weapon."
"Yeah, well, it didn't save them from the meteors." I muttered. Our ancestors, according to the outer colonies, were far more advanced than we were. It was a series of great wars and a swarm of meteors that bombed them back to the stone age. History tended to get muddled over time though, so I was suspicious of any historical legends. In fact, before the outer colonies, we were pretty sure we were the first people out in space and the stories of Newtypes and the great Newtype wars were fairy tales. Ok, I'm sure the wealthy people knew better. They were the ones who hoarded the artifacts and histories. The point was, it wasn't common knowledge and being a poor bastard, I was in the dark.
"Meteors. Meteors my ass." I placed my cup on the table and listened to it clatter. "Ok. What is the FTL. You said it's an AI, but I seem to think it's more. Right?" Faint shadows of memory threatened to break through the blackness of my mind.
Yes. I was being placed in the FTL and they were talking.
"Just remember, he was designed as a symbiote."
It really sucked when you got a flashback in the middle of an important interrogation. I frowned, unable to get the word, symbiote, out of my mind. I bit my lip and swallowed. I was designed as a symbiote for the FTL. All right, I always knew I was engineered. I mean, I knew for several months, so why did it bother me so?
"Symbiote." I whispered
I was a symbiote?
Symbiotes were creatures that lived off others in order to survive. But, I could survive on my own.
Could it be the FTL was my symbiote?
Yeah. It made more sense. I was independent. I didn't need anything to survive. But, the FTL needed me to function. I was like its central nervous system, or brain. (How the heck I knew was beyond me, but these days were beyond me to begin with).
The idea didn't settle with my sense of being at all.
Duo. I chose Duo as my name. It meant I was always paired with someone. When I was a child, it was vital I was with Solo, and I was devastated by his death. (Who was in control now? G smirked smugly at me from across the table. The damn bastard was playing at letting me think I had some measure of power, when in reality, he had all the trumps.)
I needed companionship of one form or another and I despised being alone. Could it possibly be, my need for others derived from the fact G designed me to be a symbiote?
"God in heaven..." The facts were becoming uglier by the moment. Why couldn't I just be the average run of the mill artificial Newtype without the fancy fringes?
A cold chill stung my spine and I found myself looking at my scared arms. Life was unfair. "No way. My drug habit had nothing to do with this." I said aloud. I rubbed my forearms, wishing I was wearing something other than a tank undershirt and a pair of shorts. I felt uneasy and ashamed. I wanted to cover my scars.
The scars told me hiding wasn't an option. I had to face the facts.
"Its all right, Duo." G said sympathetically. The twisted asshole seemed delighted at my distraught. "You can survive on your own. You've been doing so for years."
"You doubted it though, didn't you?" I matched his sharp glare, hands trembling. "You doubted me."
"Never once, boy. Never once. You're strong. You are the only person who ever doubted yourself." He touched my forearms and patted them.
Yeah, I doubted myself, but I would have been fine if people just left me the hell alone. The drugs were a symptom to a bigger problem. A problem I believed I dealt with. Apparently I didn't.
Normally, stuff like this rolled off my back and was easily filed away as "the big dark past". Yet, for some reason, the information kept rolling over in my mind. I couldn't just drop it. There was something I wasn't being told about. What I was, and being a damned symbiote, was just the tip of the iceberg.
I brushed my hair over a shoulder and tried to remember more from my processing experience.
Then, it hit me.
"Aren't you concerned he'll loose to them? After all, he is one of them."
The words spoke over and over in my mind, twisting my sensibilities and making it impossible to retrospect. What did they mean I was one of them? One of the Numbers Project? One of who? One of the voices?
No. My life wasn't a bad horror flick. There had to be something else. The voices didn't exist. They were my delusional mind playing tricks on me (That's right Mr. Maxwell, back to the loony bin for you. Voices mean you're still certifiable).
There were no voices. They were a trick programmed in by Alexie's conditioning.
Death Angel... The hoarse whisper called out over and over in the back of my mind.
God wasn't speaking to me.
And I lost my mind years ago. I was running out of excuses. Sort of like G today. I awkwardly pushed my bangs from my face, struggling to comprehend the inevitable truth.
"I'm not human... Am I?" I spoke with a meek voice I didn't recognize. Why I came to that conclusion, I couldn't explain, but it sounded right (oh hell, why not, it was my biggest fear). It explained my night terrors perfectly.
G Leaned forward, compassion slipping into his hardened gaze (what drug was he on? Happy-nice pills?(ugly image, G on breath, coming off the euphoric aphrodisiac effects (I wanted to barf)).He grabbed both my shoulders and gripped them tightly. "Never doubt this for a moment, Duo. You are human and will always be human. Nothing more, nothing less."
His words were so fierce, all I had the power to do was stare and blink, feeling utterly stupid (ok, I was crazy and I liked that explanation a whole lot better). "But, the voices..."
"There are no voices, Duo. You are an individual, a boy. A pain in the ass boy, yet a boy nonetheless. You are not the soulless thing you fear to be."
I looked down, away from his eyes, the confusion and frustration still strong in my heart. He was lying to me. He damn well knew I heard voices. Worse of all, he asked me to lie to myself. Hmm, could I lie to myself? I was a scientific experiment. If anyone knew what I was, it had to be G, so he had to have his reasons and to go around thinking about it would only give me an ulcer.
"I didn't know you cared." I said softly. "Not that I care... But you got sort of gushy there. Are you all right, doc?"
Who wanted an ulcer?
"I'm fine." G informed. "And I'm sorry we did this to you, Duo."
G certainly didn't want an ulcer.
I shrugged, apathetic now. "Just a day in the life, right?" I forced a smirk. "You're right, though. I'm a tough little bastard and I won't let you down."
G reached out and tousled my hair affectionately. "That's my boy. You'll bounce back from all of this. You always do."
What? Bounce back from discovering you're some sort of organic symbiote for a living AI? G was dreaming. I'd have nightmares about it for weeks.
Bounce back? Yeah, on the outside I guess. I was going to get an ulcer (damn it, I don't want a special diet, I like my beef and grease). I had to live with this one for the rest of my life.
But, I guess I had worse, eh?
Well, the coffee was good, so I had another cup and wondered what other great, horrible secrets G held for me.
Cold, blue, steel flames flickered embers of silver and gray as they stared out from a hardened, unyielding face. Caught up in their icy spell, I swallowed, small body recoiling from probing fingers. A hand slipped under my chin and the man's face wrinkled. "You've done well today, No Name. I'm very proud of you."
Distraught, I craned my neck and looked about the room. I lay on a reclining chair, wires connecting me to a control panel. Two of the monitors near my head whirled with rolling data. Other than that, the bleak, gray walled room was bare.
"Where am I?" I asked. Slowly, I tried to move, but my body was sore and very weak. The only comfort I felt was from those piercing blue depths. As I stared into the pools, my discomfort seemed to slip away until all that existed was our disembodied minds and a landscape of stars.
"You were injured. Don't you remember?" Blue eyes spoke softly and hypnotically. "In the last battle, child, I had to find a hospital to treat your injuries."
Incapable of disbelief, I simply nodded. Blue eyes was my savior. Of all those I ever encountered, he was the one who cared enough to teach me how to survive. Weakly, I lifted my head and body, throbbing pain pulsing with every inch I moved.
With a gentle smile, those cold eyes urged me to stay. A hand trailed up my chest and settled on my heart. "Lay back, little one. You have a concussion."
Concussion? Obedient, I did as he bid, head resting on the cushioned chair behind me. Yes, I had a concussion. Those blue eyes made it impossible to believe anything else. In fact, just by gazing in them, I remembered what had happened.
Foolish child as I was, I triggered a nearby landmine with a stray bullet from the gun I was loading. The explosion was intense. I could still feel the wash of hot air burning my face and the shrapnel bombarding my body.
But, blue eyes was there, and he saved me.
Awkwardly, I smiled back at him as he removed the wires and pads from my forehead. "You saved me again..." I whispered. "Thank you."
The dream faded and I was laying in a large bed, covered by warm, feather stuffed comforters. Wearily, I rolled my head and focused on the walls around me and studied them. Delicate, green vined wallpaper crept up the surface in rows. Detailed roses and rich veined leaves spiraled up the vines as if the walls themselves were lattices and the room a Victorian garden.
I spied fine redwood furniture carved in a similar motif with chairs bearing plush forest green velvet cushions. Matching curtains veiled an elegantly arched window at the end of the room.
I was too tired and concerned to care about their beauty.
Where was I?
I blinked away the sand and dust from my eyes and scanned the warm, ivory carpet and dark, wood door.
Who was I? No Name?
The door at the end of the room opened and a dark haired man with bright blue eyes entered. He smiled thinly and scanned my slender form until his features settled on my face. "Good Morning, Trowa. Are you feeling any better?"
Trowa. I was Trowa Barton. It all came to me suddenly. As a child, I fought in a war and eventually, due to circumstances, took on the identity of a dead man, Trowa Barton.
I, at one time, was No Name...But that was a long time ago.
Shaking my head, I buried my face in my hands, trying to grapple with the last few hours of my life.
Heero and I were investigating the location of the genetic blueprints used in the Numbers Project and for Alexie Courthers, the man responsible for nearly killing all of us a few months back.
I had come upon information confirming his location, when Romefeller guards stopped me.
Yes, that was right...
I recalled it all very well.
Alexie was dead. Dorothy personally witnessed his execution.
The man who "caught me" and whose estate I resided at, was named John Fiero. He graciously took me to his home after I was injured in the struggle to escape. "How are you doing this morning?" He asked patiently.
Troubled, I rubbed my forehead. It was odd for one with Fiero's reputation to take in wayward terrorists. I surmised there had to be a catch.
"Tired." I replied, feeling the weight of my body sag into the bed. My head ached and my vision blurred. "Where is Heero?"
"He escaped, after causing considerable damage to the building and murdering several Romefeller employees." Fiero replied, barely repressing the anger in his voice. "My superiors are very distressed the two of you broke into our facility."
He was a very patient man indeed. Obviously, I had no doubt what he said was true. Heero always left his mark, in one fashion or another. Any corporate official with a full understanding of the evening's events would have had us brought up on charges by now.
What did he want from me?
"Romefeller has a reputation of deceit. It was only logical." I said flatly.
"Of course they do. One can't blame you for that." Fiero entered the room, face fluent with distaste. He didn't need a lecture on Romefeller's past reputation. "That is why we aren't planning to press charges. But, we expect a formal apology from the Preventers and from Mr. Heero Yuy."
"Of course." My mouth went dry. He had me. Politically, I was obligated to serve his every need to pay back whatever damages Heero and I caused. Our little act of recklessness cost the Preventers and the ESUN its soul. I licked my lips and folded my arms across my chest. "All right. What is it you want? Obviously, if you are not planning to press charges, I owe you a service."
"Yes, you do." Fiero smiled broadly. He was a politician, and a businessman. I suspected his price was high. "As do your associates. But that is between me, Lady Anne and Ms. Sally Poe." He leaned over, hands firmly pressing on the bed cloths. "I want your loyalty, Mr. Barton. That is all. You will ask no questions. Just believe me, when I say I want the best, for our people."
Our people. A dark cold chasm opened up in my brain and I found myself staring into a black hole. In the infinite darkness, a chorus of whispers echoed. Pained, I reached out, hand touching my forehead. The voices wrapped together, a Mobius Strip of cycling anguish. My own thoughts and will were obsolete and drowned out by the chant. "I'll help you, if that is what we need..." My words chimed perfectly with the hissing voices.
"Very good." Fiero's hand lifted and he trickled a finger across my cheek. "It's a simple price to pay for a crime such as yours, don't you think?"
What was a soul? I never had one in the first place.
The voices died away, leaving the steady backdrop of buzzing static in its wake. The pain remained and I pressed my head deeper into my pillow. My body was so weary, sleep threatened to drop me back into its void.
Stubbornly, I clung on, eagerly awaiting Fiero's next remark, incapable of questioning why my own mind had just betrayed me.
"Good. Now that we have a mutual understanding, we can get on to the next piece of business." Fiero said.
I found it comforting, knowing exactly where I stood with the man. "Very well. What else do you want?"
That smile failed to falter. Fiero waved a hand casually. "Oh, this will interest you. I have no plans, nor does Romefeller, in going against your friends. In fact, I wish to assist them."
"I see." He wasn't going to mention a catch, nor was I planning to ask for one. "Your point?"
"As of three days ago, the colonies and Earth have been at war."
I lifted a brow, trying not to reveal my shock and surprise. "I was under the impression the ESUN's position was to prevent a war."
"It failed, and in fact, it fueled the conflict." He said coldly. "Or rather, a few of its agents did. Unintentionally, of course."
He was referring to the incidence in South America and Duo. I sighed, watching my breath toss my bangs from my face. "The USAG is less rational than I thought."
Amused, Fiero shook his head. "Oh no, hardly. It was L4 that declared Jihad. But, let me explain first, young Harlequin."
L4? Quatre would never jump to conclusions, so I had to deduce someone else had made the decision. I began to worry. Something had to have happened to the young blond Arab boy.
Absorbed, I listened as Fiero recited the last seventy two hours. Apparently, Quatre was captured and used as a hostage after visiting South America on a diplomatic venture (though my instinct told me there was more to the situation). It seemed a South American citizen, the alleged son of Governor Shun Fe (why was that familiar?) was kidnapped by terrorists (Duo Maxwell and Heero Yuy) and the South American government wanted an exchange. With politics strained as it was, the colonies didn't take the threat very well. Enraged and insulted by the gesture, L4, as well as its earthly allies, declared war.
A part of me, a very large part of me, ached at the thought of him helpless in a South American prison. He was the only innocent in our group.
Moreover, we shared something. Of all those I ever encountered in my life, Quatre made me feel something other than cold numb nothing. The boy was special to me.
In the distance, my heart echoed the somber cries of his sweet violin.
"Is there something wrong?" Fiero asked, concern on his brow.
"Quatre" Was all I could whisper. My fingers curled about the sheets and tightened a vice on the fabric. "He has done nothing to deserve this."
"I understand your concern, as does Lady Dorothy." Fiero informed. "She said you would be grieved."
I brushed my hair from my face and met his gaze. "You then understand why I must rescue him."
"It had been anticipated." He said knowingly.
He planned my reaction, naturally. Rescuing Quatre would benefit him. Why, I had no idea. "I will need equipment and men."
"I can give you both, my friend, and more." Fiero said, pleased. "I expected no less from you. The only catch is..."
"I bring him here, where you can set yourself up as the instigator in his rescue." I folded my arms, suddenly very aware of his plans. "I deduce this is how you and Dorothy plan on redeeming Romefeller in the colonies eyes?"
"Elementary, Mr. Barton. Elementary."
How many days?
I sat motionless in a chair, hands and legs bound to its limbs. I was naked, battered, sleep deprived and sore, my body aching from the hours of endless beatings and interrogations.
What day was it? I hadn't seen the sun or moon for what felt like years. They never told me the real time. The only regularity to my day was the glasses of water they brought to keep me alive; though, of recent, not even they were coming predictably. Alas, I longed for my freedom, the comfort of Rasid and a warm cup of tea.
They refused to feed me as well. Consequently, weakness gripped my body in its iron grasp and I knew my longings were unlikely to be met.
Yet somehow, through it all, I maintained my dignity and refused to tell them what they wanted to hear. It was indeed comforting to know I had the strength to protect those I cared for and keep my own honor despite my condition. That notion, in itself, kept me strong.
A man walked casually into the room dressed in a green uniform. He was finely groomed and freshly shaven. As always, he appeared very gentlemanly in his posture. Yet, that was as far as his demeanor went. He was no true gentleman. I recognized him immediately as my interrogator. "I trust you enjoyed your nap?" He asked, not very kindly.
I hadn't slept very long. The chair I sat in was straight backed and very stiff, therefore genuinely uncomfortable.
"Not to be offensive, but the accommodations prevents any deep sleeping." I replied politely. In spite of my situation, I refused to be anything but civilized, even if they viewed me as something less than human. "I trust you had a good evening last night?" I said, hoping to trick him into revealing some sort of consistency.
"It was a good day." He smiled. "Or night, depending on your point of view."
It was the same answer he always gave and offered very little relief. "I'm very hungry." I began. "And would appreciate if you could please give me something to eat."
"Mr. Winner, you understand the options. You'll only eat if you admit to the truth." He paused in front of me and folded his arms patronizingly. "Are you willing to admit you were here to commit acts of terrorism and the responsibility of kidnapping Governor Shun Fe's ward?"
I was going to starve to death in a dank dark prison alone. With a weak sigh, I dropped my chin. Hours ago, I accepted my inevitable fate. I'd die without giving them what they wanted and they'd forge a confession for me. They'd prefer if I made the confession myself and would gladly have me announce it to the world over interspacial communications, but they'd settle for less.
I wasn't human to them. "What you say, is the truth you want to hear, but not the real truth. I will not lie to you." I whispered. "Heero Yuy and I came to assist Duo and his family in escaping South America. Duo was here working at a church mission and studying to be a deacon. We were not here to engage in terrorist activities against you, your government or your people. I am innocent."
A hand stung my face, leaving my cheek sore. "The truth is our truth, do you understand? We know what your people are trained for. You're Oz's secret weapons. Own up to it boy and perhaps you will get an honorable execution."
"I'm sorry. There is no honor in lying." I informed.
The interrogator shook his head, face reflecting annoyance and disappointment. "Very well, Mr. Winner. You give us no choice again. This session won't be very pleasant. I can guarantee you won't survive this time."
"I understand the consequences." I said, closing my eyes, resigned. "I'm ready to face death. I wasn't the other day, but I'm ready today. My life has been short, but full."
The interrogator's brow flickered some. His eyes widened, as if for the first time, he realized how young I was. There was a second of remorse. Perhaps to him, I was human for that moment. Then his gaze deadened. "It won't be long."
He vanished out the door, leaving me to myself and my dreadfully uncomfortable chair.
Five never-ending minutes ticked by, leaving me a lifetime of pained reflection. I wondered where the others were and if they were safe. Perhaps they would rescue me, or perhaps they'd leave me to die. Either was in their character. I wondered how Rasid was and how the Winner Foundation was faring without me at its helm. Hopefully, my remaining sisters were holding it together with strength worthy of true Winners. They should. They were admirable human beings and strong individuals.
I smiled weakly, recalling how they used to dress me up like a living doll when I was a child. I found myself being paraded in dresses and bonnets on a regular basis, but never minded. I adored their affection and appreciation. I missed them.
Like I missed Rasid and his men. My heart ached at the thought I'd never see any of them again.
Then there was Trowa.
My poor, poor Harlequin. I'd die before his ordeal was concluded. There would be no one to tend his wounded heart, no one save Catherine, and even though I admired and even liked the woman, she did smother him.
"I'm sorry, my dear Trowa..."
A moment later, a guard appeared and unfastened my binds. He was a large man, so lifting me was no effort and fighting him was completely out of the question.
Ever cooperative, I hung limp and let him carry me to the cell across the hall. There, he dropped me on a battered old cot. Pathetically, I lay on its surface and watched the men lay out the tools of their trade; knives, pokers, a short cat o'nine whip, clamps, imported bamboo shoots and a small torch.
I grimaced, remembering the burns over my back and inner thighs. The scars were still tender and showing signs of swelling grotesquely. I'd surely get gangrene or another dreadful bacterial infection. But did it matter? The end would come soon. I was only distressed; not by the wounds, but by the act of barbarism. Human beings should never allow the power and evil of hate to overwhelm their sense of humanity. "These people are animals." I whispered to no one.
My heart ached.
Mr. Shun Fe entered the room. For the last few days, he administered the torture, his enjoyment driving him every step of the way. "Tie it face down to the cot." He ordered.
It? It? He refused to refer to me as anything more than an object. Perhaps it helped his conscience when he had to do his work. Or perhaps it was a ruse to those who served him. After all, they expected hatred from him.
The man said he had no conscience. I wasn't a person. I didn't deserve compassion. Yet, he reveled too much in his task to hate me. He appreciated my ordeal, drinking in my pain and screams with each of his blows.
I looked in his unyielding blue eyes, recalling my first assessment upon meeting him.
Only Duo's Alexie would enjoy injuring others as he did.
Yet, what proof did I have of his identity? A feeling? There was nothing concrete, just fear, and any man, if cruel enough, had the power to inflict the same amount of terror on a fellow human.
He thinly smiled, pleased by my apprehension. I refused to remove my gaze, knowing death itself smiled in his hard passionless eyes.
I feared him and did nothing to hide it.
The assistants swarmed me, seizing my body and rolling me to face the rotting molding mattress beneath me. I felt the metal binds slide around my ankles and wrists. My wounds pinched and tore as they spread my body eagle and tied me fast to the cot's posts. It left my already scarred back vulnerable to them.
"Leave now." Shun Fe said.
Leave? He never ordered his guard away.
Puzzled, I tried to crane my neck so I could see the interrogators' baffled appearances. My space for movement was limited, so all I saw was the flash of their bodies as they filed out of the room.
Why the sudden change? I shivered. Did I want to know?
Shun Fe's clothing rumbled and I heard shuffling. A clattering followed as if he was handling the equipment on the tray behind my bed.
"They are far too crude." He said, as the door closed. "I am an artist and wish to be alone with my piece."
An artist? I cringed, dreading the tone of twisted appreciation in his voice. Nonetheless, he answered my question. I didn't even need to ask. Wordlessly, I pressed my cheek into the rotting mattress. It would soon be over with.
"It's a shame they burned your body." Shun Fe said, in conversation. "Your skin was very lovely. I would have enjoyed touching it. I like pale skin..."
My body tensed, as the dangling tips of leather tickled over my back and buttocks. "Get on with it, please." I said, voice pleading. I didn't want him to touch me; not in the way he was implying.
"Now, now. It's my last day with you, my young friend. I want to make the most of it."
He was planning on killing me. I squeezed tears from my eyes and dragged in a terrified sob.
The whip cracked over my back, jarring my grief into anguish. Startled by pain, I gasped, then squeaked.
The second snap licked nine leather thongs across my buttocks. Blazing hot fury tore at my festering wounds, leaving them raw and unbearable.
I screamed. More strikes came, but the pain blurred away, each leaving me numb and exhausted. Helpless, I lay, awaiting each blow and praying to Allah for his divine mercy.
I clutched my fingers into fists and gritted my teeth and waited for the pain to give way to blackness.
Unconsciousness refused me.
Yet, surprisingly, the lashes stopped.
Something (fingers?) probed my back and into my wounds.
"I could easily clean and tend your injuries, Mr. Winner, if you just admit to your crimes. We could negotiate then and perhaps find a peaceful solution."
I tensed as his hand slipped into my hair and stroked my head. "To admit to a lie is dishonorable. I'm sorry. I can not comply to your wishes."
"A shame." Shun Fe's cool seductive voice whispered. "You're very beautiful. Very refined. Very unlike your comrades Mr. Yuy and Mr. Maxwell."
What did he mean? Tingles of confusion quickened my heartbeat. Was he actually admitting who he was? I tightened my jaw, realizing if he were Alexie, with his artificial Newtype abilities, he'd make me do as he wished.
I felt his body press close to mine and his fingers wrapped about my binds. Seductively, his touch played over my palms and fingers, tickling the flesh with soft sensual strokes.
The cuffs dropped off my wrists. Shortly after, he removed the shackles on my ankles.
He released me.
It was only reasonable. He had to turn me over and look into my eyes to work his psychic wonders. He'd brainwash me, just like he brainwashed Heero and Duo. I'd become his assassin, or worse.
I swallowed as the man turned me over. "You're frightened."
"You're sick." I croaked, turning my face from his burning eyes. "Leave me alone. Please, let me die with some honor. I don't want to betray my friends."
"Then you know who I am? Very good, little one. I'm pleased." His acid smile burned into my consciousness as his hands cupped my face and turned me to him. "You are the only innocent. The only one I haven't touched." He whispered. "Do you know that, child?"
Touched? Did he mean my mind, or more? I tried to close my eyes, but his voice called deep in my mind, forcing me to keep them open. His gaze was alluring. Regardless of my feeble attempts, I discovered myself drowning in their pale blue pools.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew, I had met him.
Did it matter? I was going to die here, so I didn't care.
His face became warm and friendly and I didn't mind his hand stroking my hair. It would be over with soon.
"Listen to me, pretty one. You mustn't fight the inevitable. It is your destiny to join with me...like your friends."
Join with him? His words were a great mystery. I pondered them for a moment. What did he mean?
Curious and apathetic, I let his gaze swarm my brain and bathe my being with seductive tingles. Blackness stole away my world, immersing me in a field of bright twinkling stars. The pain disappeared and even though I knew my life was coming to a grinding halt, I felt safe.
A deafening blast thundered in my ears, blotting out the image with the fragmented shards of an anguished scream.
The stars and vastness of space faded from my consciousness, leaving me weak, disoriented and disappointed.
Shun Fe leaned over me, blood trickling from a gaping wound in his forehead. The cold blue eyes faded into a dull lifeless brown. The man convulsed, then dropped onto my chest.
Stunned, I peered past the lifeless corpse.
A slender boy, with light brown bangs draped in one eye, stood in the doorway. In his hands was a smoking gun.
"Trowa?!" Puzzled and surprised, I tried to rise and push the corpse of Shun Fe from my body. An explosion of dizziness washed over me, blackening my vision. I swayed.
My beloved Harlequin caught me in his arms and wrapped me in his uniform jacket. "It's all right, Quatre." He said softly.
Helpless, I stared into his eyes, then pressed myself into to his shoulder.
"I knew you would come..."
Vaguely, I felt his face press into my hair and his lips touch me.
Silence and blackness followed.
Quatre was unconscious. Seeing him this way was surprisingly upsetting, but I didn't have the time to lament on it. I ignored the pit in my stomach as I lifted the boy over my shoulder and darted out the door.
The guards I murdered were still laying in crumpled heaps at the door. Pools of blood and viscera spilled from the wounds I delivered to their guts. The entire incident was a blur to me, for at the time, all I heard was Quatre's sobs. It was easy to put the grisly sight aside and even easier to forget the fact I didn't recall how I had killed them. I took careful heed not to slip in the growing mess and retreated down the hall.
A faint rumbling in the distance told me Fiero's people were keeping the security in the building at bay.
I only had moments to escape without pursuit. Moreover, I'd be a fool to fully rely on a plan. Not even a good one.
I sprinted, occasionally catching glimpses of fallen soldiers. I stepped over them without remorse, my conscience controlled, as it always was when I worked.
I'd mourn my behavior later.
Entering the base with Fiero's spies' assistance was child's play. I claimed to be Pure Earth and my ID said I was USAG special forces. My contacts had done their job well. My name was on the roster and the South American military took me in, never questioning my motives.
Strange how I always seemed to be able to slip into any identity without arousing any suspicions.
Once in, I eased myself into the prison ward, swiftly killing all those who saw me, and located Quatre. I hoped escape would be just as easy.
The doorway ahead of me opened and a boy with long hair charged into the hall ahead of me, gunfire echoing in his wake. He only paused long enough to release a shower of bullets the way he came. Then, he kicked the door shut so it locked and clapped a clip into his mini Uzi.
"Hey, you better move your ass, Barton. We blew our god-damned cover so you could save your friend and I'll be real pissed if you get killed in the process." Dos shouted as he jogged past me. "The plan A escape route has been blocked. Follow me to plan B."
"I see you're organized." I replied coolly. "What went wrong? Diversion not as successful as you thought?"
"You think you're a funny guy, don't you?" The boy strayed a glance to me, brow crossed. "They knew we'd fly the coop when our contract was up, so they were ready. Hey, you try to piss off a bunch of paranoid bigoted assholes and see what happens." He threw a hand up in the air and murmured. "You know, you guys really fucked things up when Maxwell kidnapped Sheshie Rem. That was my job. After all, it took us years to track him down."
He complained just like Duo. I had to smile, thinking about what Fiero told me about the Newtypes. Yes, Alexie did engineer them. In fact, they had been acting on his orders until a few days ago when Romefeller discovered their locations.
Apparently, under Dorothy's nose, Alexie had been using her facilities to engineer and train those involved in the Numbers Project. He, of course, had been acting on the blessing and funds of her fore bearers. In order to locate one of the many experiments taken when J and his comrades liberated Heero, Duo and myself from the labs, Alexie sent his remaining 'projects' to South America. Dorothy and Fiero called them back in order to debrief them.
Alexie. Why didn't I feel the situation was that straight forward. Still, to question it was to question Fiero and I could no longer question the man who was my benefactor.
"You would have to betray them sooner or later." I said dryly. "Alexie is dead."
Dos winced as he rammed his shoulder against a door. "Easy for you to say. He didn't help to raise you." His voice hinted a faint Celtic accent, one he hid with urgency.
Blue eyes peered down at me once more and a hand brushed away my tears. "Don't cry child. Warriors don't cry. The pain will soon pass..."
Another dark look into my repressed past. Perhaps I understood Dos more than he thought. It was my turn to shiver as I tightened my grasp on Quatre's body.
In the hall behind us, shouts and foot steps barged through the closed door.
"We're going to be trapped if you don't hurry." I replied calmly.
"You really annoy me, you know that?!" He called out as the door gave way.
The room before us was an office, complete with desk, file cabinet, phone, coffee machine and window.
This was plan B?
I failed to see it as any more sufficient then storming the guards. I kept my words, in an attempt not to annoy Dos.
The boy quickly made his way to the window and blew away the lock with a clip from his Uzi. I joined him, removing a long wire from my belt. "I'll get this, watch the door."
He blinked, then nodded, attention straying to the door. "Got it." Gaze narrowing, Dos leveled his Uzi at the closed door.
Wasting no time, I dropped the cord over the side of the window and fastened it to the piping connected to the wall. The courtyard below was teaming with soldiers.
I surmised, whatever plan B was, it would empty the courtyard before or as we descended.
Or so I hoped.
I briefly checked Quatre and made sure he was secure, then climbed up on the window ledge. At that moment, the door banged open, letting in a swarm of guards.
Dos didn't twitch. I felt a faint energy fizzle in the air and the soldiers' weapons jerked out of their hands to clatter on the floor beside Dos.
Shocked and amazed, I stood as frozen as the stunned guards. A faint emerald glow sparked around Dos. The boy smirked and before anyone could recover, he downed them all with a blaze of Uzi fire.
The display of psionics should have been expected. I scolded myself for pausing even for a moment. Dos had everything under control.
I swung out the window and down the line. An explosion rocked the building and fire blossomed in the center of the courtyard, scattering the soldiers and sending chunks of debris all over.
The building adjacent to the one we were in, burst out in flames as another explosion quaked the ground. Sirens wailed ear piercing anguish as men scrambled out of the courtyard to their posts or towards their weapons.
Two mobile suits of unknown design rocketed though the air above, raining the base with missiles, bombs and gunfire.
I didn't take time to study them, though I did note they were of a similar design as the Gundams.
My feet touched the ground. Dos followed, slinging his weapon over his shoulder. "Just over here. I've got a suit to cover you and a light plane waiting for you and Mr. Winner."
"Very thoughtful, Dos." I replied, my walk turning into a run as the boy dashed past me, lithe form darting toward a nearby hanger.
"Well, good old Hades wouldn't take too kindly to having his cockpit crowded with too many bodies."
I wondered. His mobile suit? We dodged gunfire from the buildings overhead and vanished into an ally.
So far, the enemy seemed preoccupied with the attacking mobile suits. Most of their weapons were bombarding their attackers rather than us escapees.
By the time we reached the landing strip, USAG pulled out their own mobile suits and were launching an attack on Dos's allies. Luckily, before more fighting broke out, we managed to escape into the hanger.
In the darkness, I spied a small two-seater plane and a shadowy behemoth towering over it. The giant form came to life as Dos closed in. Eerie golden eyes pulsed on, casting a thin glow to the form's features.
Its skin was black and silver steel and its general outline was indeed the shape of a Gundam, but different than any of the other models I had known. The face was blank, as if covered by a formless mask. Like all Gundams, its armored plating cast the illusion of a helmeted head, though the machine overall, lacked the characteristic Gundam ornamentation (No flaring shoulders or apparent armament layering its body). However, it did have sharp angular plating, emulating a Grecian style of armor. Simple, yet oddly elegant.
Like Dos himself, I thought.
The suit, as if alive, reached down and lifted the boy into its chest cockpit.
I did note a look of intense concentration on Dos's face, which led me to believe he was utilizing psionics or some mental link (Zero System?) with the machine.
I returned my attention to the plane before me. It was fashioned like an antique, Japanese, WWII Zero. I swiftly climbed up one of the wings, slid the cockpit's canopy open and secured Quatre's body in the copilot's seat. Seconds later, I strapped in and prepared for take off.
"Do you hear me?" A voice called in my head.
Twitching, I glancing around, recognizing Dos's presence. Behind me, Hades took a step.
"Impressive." I said aloud, amazed by the display of telepathy. "You'll have to teach me."
"Sorry. The earlier models were a little deficient in the psionic department. Remember, Newtypes and artificial Newtypes are not psionic. Though, from what I understand, you guys aren't entirely artificial Newtypes either...but, we'll go into that later."
Stiffly, I nodded, looking forward to Fiero's and Dos's explanation of the Numbers Project. "I see. I assume I follow you?"
"Yeah. I'll cover you. Just keep flying. The coordinates are programmed into the plane's guidance system. When you're far enough away, just punch in the auto-pilot and the computer will do the rest."
It was logical and I didn't desire to question Dos's plan. With the few extra surprises he pulled, I had no doubt we'd escape alive and intact.
My mind reeled with the possibilities one could do with a mobile suit and a psychic pilot (in the past, Newtypes were deadly foes due to their extra senses, but a psychic Newtype would be unstoppable).
Obediently, I curled my fingers around the controls and cued up the engines.
As I surmised, Hades' main guns leveled the hanger doors and cleared away my path. Moments later, my light plane taxied out and was airborne. I dared not observe the impending battle, even though my desire to gather data was a reasonable temptation.
I had time to study whatever recordings their computers made later on. Quatre needed medical care. Any delays might cost him his life.
With my attention on the empty sky between battling behemoths, I maneuvered my plane on a direct course off the base and away from conflict. At first, I attracted some gunfire from the ground, but Hades quickly put an end to them with a barrage of missiles. Nothing South America had presently could touch Dos's weapon. Gunfire bounced off it and I suspected Hades missiles were bit system directed.
I caught a glimpse of three Aries models as they clashed with the other two Gundam-type suits.
In seconds, beam sabers cut them in half.
I relaxed. Escape was inevitable. My assumptions on the pilots and suits were accurate.
Behind me, Quatre gave a soft pained moan.
My mind returned to him and I discovered myself suddenly troubled. I had contributed to a greater conspiracy by rescuing him. Out of loyalty and drives I couldn't explain, I saved him and sealed the fates of the colonies. We were now obligated to finish the war. No negotiations were possible after attacking South America. Why was my heart so weak?
Why was I willingly falling into a preset plot? I knew the risks, yet I let my emotions take over.
I exhaled, pondering my lack of professionalism, then asked myself, was it was so important to Fiero the war continue.
Was he a part of Alexie's plan? Did he actively partake in it, knowing the true consequences? How deep was he involved?
My hands trembled and I looked back to the crystal blue sky and rolling landscape below my plane.
No questions. I wasn't allowed to ask questions. My soul was sold, even if my heart still belonged to Quatre.
Continued in EPISODE 2, Chapter III