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Gundam Wing Fic #3: "Suspended In Gaffa"

Suspended in Gaffa
Emby Quinn




Out in the garden
There's half of a heaven
And we're only bluffing
We're not ones for busting through walls

* * *


"It's another message from Sally."

Quatre Raberba Winner looked up from the manifest log he was trying to make sense of. "Sally? What does she say?"

Trowa Barton swiped his bangs out of his face, and naturally they fell right back over his right eye. "The same as the last three times. She wants us to come to Earth."

"To work for her again?"

"I don't think she'd send a red-flagged priority message to invite us to a dinner party."

Quatre sighed and set the manifest aside. "I've told her that we're too busy to come do any Preventer work. We're just finishing the cleanup, and there's still a lot of construction to get started. If you don't light a fire under some of these guys, they never get moving."

Trowa nodded.

"Any other messages?"

"Not for you."

Quatre fixed one deep blue eye on the other youth. "Catherine wants you to come home, doesn't she?"

Trowa didn't answer. He didn't have to.

"I can't blame her; I know she cares a lot about you." Quatre chuckled a bit. "She's mad at me for keeping you all to myself."

Trowa shrugged a bit. "I go where I please. I always have."

"I know." Quatre stood and walked around the desk. When he was close enough to Trowa, he slid an arm around the narrow waist. "And I for one am glad you chose to come out here. I know it can't be as much fun as the circus."

"There are certain benefits," Trowa said, leaning forward to nuzzle Quatre's cornsilk hair.

Quatre closed his eyes in blissful appreciation. The last six weeks had been pure heaven for him, ever since Trowa had shown up at the Ayesha's landing dock and asked if he could be of any help to the restoration effort in space. Truth be told, he'd spent more time at Quatre's side than in a work shuttle or on a recycling crew, but the effect on the youthful heir to the Winner dynasty had been nothing but beneficial.

"Someone could come in," he murmured against the smooth neck, but he showed no other reluctance as Trowa's kisses trailed his jawline.

"No, they won't," Trowa breathed in his ear, urging him backwards towards the leather sofa. "I locked the door behind me."

The single page of hardcopy print-out fell fluttering to the floor as the two of them pursued other, more pressing interests. Its message--marked URGENT|PERSONAL|FOR IMMEDIATE DELIVERY--had already been forgotten.

* * *


But they've told us
Unless we can prove
That we're doing it
We can't have it all

* * *


"You wanted to see me, Sally?" Giselle found herself perched on the same hard-backed chair where she'd been sitting the first day of her arrival at headquarters. The grim look on Sally Po's face didn't seem to bode well. She sensed Duo standing more or less behind her, and that made her feel a little better, but that was countered by the peripheral sight, out of the corner of her eye, of Heero Yuy leaning agaainst the side wall glaring death at her with those laser-blue eyes of his. Wu Fei was nowhere to be seen, and even if he'd been there he wouldn't have been much support. He seemed determined to avoid her whenever possible. He didn't show obvious dislike of her like Heero did, but he certainly didn't show any preference for her company. She considered Duo and Sally the only real friends she'd made in the Preventers, and she had nowhere else to go at the moment, so they would have to do.

"I think your misgivings about your former, ah, paramour are proving to be well-founded." Sally tapped an infodisk which lay on her desk. "I've collected a number of reports regarding your 'disappearance'--the Celadon authorities are treating it as a 'missing person, foul play suspected' case. The press is running with the story--complete with half-page photos of the grieving fiance begging for your safe return."

"Can't we just hold a press conference or something?" Duo ventured. "You know, say hi, trot Giselle out so everybody can see she's safe and sound, then bring her back and keep an eye on her?"

"What reason could we give for having her in custody?" Sally asked. "We have nothing concrete against St. Simon, and technically Giselle's underage, so her father is still her legal guardian. Therefore we'd have to return her to his custody, and he'd deliver her right back to St. Simon...who no doubt would make sure she turned up murdered as a result of that 'foul play' the Celadon police were so quick to cite as the cause of her disappearance in the first place."

"Christ." Giselle felt a warm hand on her shoulder from behind. "I'm sorry, Gi. What a mess."

"Don't apologize to her." Heero turned his cobalt-shaded gaze on the braided ex-pilot. "We had nothing to do with her current situation."

"He's right." Giselle wanted to reach up and pat Duo's hand, but she restrained herself, feeling that if she dared such a liberty, Heero would rip off her arm and beat her to death with the wet end. "I got myself into this. I didn't think anything could be worse than what I was going through...I guess I was wrong."

"It's just as well," Sally assured her. "You've been able to provide us with some useful information so far. Without you we wouldn't even know where to look for the hacker."

"Not that it helps," Giselle sighed. "I haven't been able to identify him for you yet. What if he's no longer working for Globetech?"

"Don't think like that yet. We've still got a few hundred more employee ID files to go through, complete with photographs. Which reminds me, if you have some spare time this afternoon...?"

The redhead managed a small laugh. "Time's all I've got now."

"What about us, Sally?" Duo stepped forward and sat on the edge of the desk. "You want Heero and me to go shake some trees and see what falls out of 'em?"

"Sorry, Duo. I know you're itching to get into trouble, but I'm afraid I can't oblige you just yet. We're playing a waiting game, and let's just hope St. Simon doesn't get tired of waiting before we have enough information to move in."

* * *


He's gonna wangle
A way to get out of it
She's an excuse
And a witness who'll talk when he's called

* * *


Calm. Center. Focus.

Chang Wu Fei held the "rearing horse" stance for the space of five more heartbeats before shifting into the next position, the "white crane with unfolded wings". His arms felt clumsy, his legs seemed packed with lead shot. He should have been able to do these moves in his sleep, without conscious effort; he'd been a student of taijiquan since he was scarcely old enough to walk. However, today, as it had been for the past fortnight, the fluid movements, the harmony of body and spirit that usually came so effortlessly, eluded him.

He struggled to clear his mind, realizing even as he did so that striving for peace was the surest way to ensure failure to achieve it. He made it to the sixteenth movement--pushing up with the hands while standing on one leg--before he misstepped and stumbled out of stance, almost tumbling to the mat. With a sigh of resignation he abandoned the form and sat on the floor, folding his legs under him. Closing his eyes, he let his breathing and pulse slow to normal of their own accord. He sought the tranquil level of meditation required to balance himself so that he could begin the form exercise again, without success.

What was the matter with him? Was it the loss of his Gundam, his Nataku, that preyed on his soul? No, he had no regrets about laying the machine of war to rest, and his dead wife's restless spirit with it. He'd agreed to work with Sally out of impulse more than anything else, but even then he'd known that he was fit for little else. His tumultous life had not prepared him for a peaceful existence. He was a good infiltrator, a better sneak thief, and a useful agent. Since the end of the final war, he'd been more or less content with his life...until now.

It was that woman, that redhead, who was disturbing the peace he'd made with himself. A bitter joke it seemed, that always, when he'd come to know himself and made peace with who he was, a woman would come along and shatter his self-imposed delusions, making him ask the same old questions all over again.

Mei Ran hadn't intended to disrupt his life, of course; she'd married him out of duty, and only that (as she had constantly reminded him during their brief marriage). She'd despised him for his peaceful nature, calling him weak, while he had shown only contempt for her eagerness to fight an unwinnable war. Only by her own sacrifice had she shown him that anything worth living for was also worth dying for. Ashamed of his scorn, too late to save Mei Ran, he took up her cause as his own and went out to fight as she would have done.

After his defeat at Treize Khushrenada's hands, he'd sworn never to fight again, cursing himself as weak and worthless. Sally Po had encouraged, cajoled, pleaded and finally shamed him into taking up his duty once more. Sally had a way of getting him to do exactly what she wanted with a few well-chosen words and the proper inflection.

Sally had changed the course of his life again after he'd destroyed his Gundam, offering him a job and a place in the Preventers. Wu Fei had at first rankled at being Sally's subordinate, but the past months had shown him that the old traditions of his colony--that women were stupid and simple and fit only for birthing children and keeping house--were not only vastly outdated, but most likely invalid at the time of antiquity. He'd embraced those principles after Mei Ran's death, which had only seemed to affirm what the colony elders told him. But they were all dead now, and here he was, still alive, and taking orders from a woman. A damned fine woman.

Then there was her. *Na hungfa nujen*--that redhaired woman. It was easy to dismiss her as a brainless bit of fluff, at least at first. She herself readily admitted to having no useful skills. She wasn't a fighter like Mei Ran or Sally. She didn't know the first thing about computer science, and she couldn't even drive a car, much less fly a shuttle or pilot a mobile suit. Even the skills that were traditionally female, like cooking and cleaning, were beyond her experience. She'd never had to do such things for herself or for anyone else. Her only evident value was her admittedly striking beauty, which didn't gain her any points with Wu Fei. She was everything he despised in her sex--unskilled, weak, physically helpless, relying on her looks and her charm to coerce others into doing what she wanted them to.

However, Wu Fei himself had not been completely immune to her manipulations. He smiled wryly at the memory of those wide eyes, snapping with fire, demanding that he rescue her from her gilded prison or she'd expose him as an intruder. She'd shown a certain spirit then, something that appealed to him in a way he couldn't explain. But since her rescue she'd been strangely subdued, with no more flashes of vitality like at that first meeting. She didn't go out of her way to speak to him, even, although he'd caught her looking at him when she didn't think he'd notice. That steady aqua gaze made him feel decidedly uncomfortable, and so he'd taken to avoiding her completely.

The door to the gym opened, but he didn't move. Maybe if whoever it was thought he was deep in meditation, they'd leave him alone. Unless, of course it was--

"Yo, Wu-man."

Duo.

He heard the American drop to the mat in front of him. Resigned, he abandoned his efforts at feigning detached peace and opened his eyes. "What."

If Duo noticed the ice in Wu Fei's tone, he chose to ignore it. "We missed you at the meeting, dude. Not that there was much to go over, but I know Sally was kind of expecting you to be there."

"If Sally requires my presence, she knows where she can find me."

"Yeah, well, just in case you're interested, there's been another breach in the system, this time in the palace security network. That's the third alert this week, and you know the press is going to cut and run with it like always no matter how hard we try to shut it up. Especially because of the implied threat to Relena."

"Implication isn't action. For all we know, it could still be a kid in his basement somewhere playing stupid Mitnick games."

"Sally doesn't think so."

"In any case, computers are Heero's forte, not mine. Why aren't you voicing these pressing concerns to him instead of bothering me with it?"

Duo blew out his cheeks. "Okay, so much for small talk, I suck at it anyhow. So what's your major problem with Giselle?"

Black eyes narrowed. "That is none of your business."

"Maybe not, but all I know is, you spend so much time avoiding her that I never get a chance to tal to you anymore."

"That's because you've always got her hanging off your arm. How did you manage to escape her this time?"

"Geez, you're as bad as Heero," Duo groaned, rolling his eyes. "It's like I keep telling both of you, Gi's a nice girl, but I just don't feel that way about her. She's like Hilde--a really nice girl who really needs a friend right now. I mean, nobody else here will even talk to her but Sally, and that's because she's trying to get the name of that cybergeek out of her. Which is what they're working on even as we speak, since you cared to ask." He poked at Wu Fei's ribs. "Besides, even if I WAS interested--which I'm not--she's only got eyes for you."

Wu Fei growled, leaned over his crossed legs, and rose nimbly to his feet. "Idiot," he muttered, walking past Duo towards the lockers.

Duo jumped up and scrambled after him. "You know it's the truth, man! You could at least try being a little nicer to her. Who knows, it could be the start of a beautiful friendship."

"What do you suggest I do? Take her to dinner and a movie? We might be able to hold some truly meaningful conversations while we're dodging bullets. The whole reason she's here is because her life is in danger, remember? And that's through no fault but her own." Wu Fei grabbed a towel from his locker. "I'm going to take a shower."

"Need somebody to scrub your back?"

"A *cold* shower," Wu Fei tossed over his shoulder as he vanished towards the stalls.

"Your loss!" Left alone, Duo sighed. "What'm I doing?" he muttered. "I can't even get my own love life on track, I must be crazy trying to mess with someone else's." Scratching the back of his head, he walked off towards the break room to find something to eat Preferably something chocolate.

* * *


But they've told us
Unless we can prove
That we're doing it
We can't have it all

* * *


"I still don't like it, Zechs. I don't think you should get involved again."

"Dear, loyal Noin. I appreciate your concern." Milliard Peacecraft closed his travel case with a soft click. "Still, I can look after myself. I should have thought my miraculous return from the dead would have taught you that."

Lucrezia Noin huffed and folded her arms. "Sally has no right to call you in on this. Why can't she just leave us alone? Haven't you done enough for the Sphere already?"

Milliard turned and took three long strides forward. Before Noin knew it, she was gathered in his arms. Held close against him, she momentarily forgot how to speak.

"Noin," he murmured, his hands warm against her back, "I know the real reason you're protesting. Yes, I'll miss you too. But Sally wouldn't have contacted us if it wasn't important, and she needs my skills."

She looked up at him, her eyes pleading. "At least let me come with you! I--I don't want you going alone, Zechs."

"Your place is here, on Mars. They still need you, Noin. You're far better suited to terra-forming than I ever could be." His long fingers tenderly brushed a stray lock of dark hair back from her face. "I'll be fine. And I'll stay in touch. I promise."

With that, he released her. She stood there, not moving, as he picked up his case and walked past her, leaving his quarters empty of his presence as though he'd never been there at all. Noin went to the open door and watched him walk down the hall. She waited, hand half-raised to wave when he looked back at her, but he never looked back.

"Oh, Zechs," she sighed. "I need YOU. And if you don't come back this time...I'm coming after you. That is MY promise."

* * *


I caught a glimpse of a god
all shining and bright

* * *


When he wasn't working out, briefing, or sleeping, Duo tended to hang out in the commissary. He did this for a number of reasons. It was where everyone had to congregate sooner or later, for one thing. For another, that's where the food was.

He was leafing through a manga book that Heero had left on the table when he heard the footsteps. He looked up and smiled. "Hey, Gi! C'mon over, sit down, can I get you a drink?"

"No thanks, I can manage." Giselle plucked a bottle of mineral water from the dispenser and sat across from Duo. "What are you reading there?"

"It's manga--Japanese comics. You know?"

"Vaguely. Is it any good?"

"Beats me. I know enough Japanese to really embarrass myself, and that's just spoken." He closed the book and shoved it aside. "Since Sally didn't sound any bells, I guess you didn't find anything today, huh?"

"No, damn it." Giselle propped her elbows on the table and rubbed at her eyes. "I was so sure I'd know him right away, but I've seen hundreds of photos and--nothing. We're through half of them already and I was under the impression that he was pretty high up on the food chain at Globetech."

"If he was, maybe he wouldn't be so easy for Armand to manipulate." Duo caught movement at the door, and saw Wu Fei pause there, uncertain as to whether to leave or to come in. Duo held a hand quickly up to make him stay put. (Stay right there, China boy. I want you to hear what she's really like for once, instead of that airhead charade she puts on for people.) "Did you ever consider that?"

"Of course I did." Giselle looked up at Duo, unaware of Wu Fei's presence behind her. "But a lower-class technogrunt wouldn't have the access needed to break into systems like the Sphere's global monitoring network. Even internal hacking would have sent up enough red flags to scare a herd of wild bulls."

"So what now?"

"Well. First I finish the personnel files. I should be through those by the end of the week." Giselle groaned, a bit tired, but nonetheless determined. "If nothing pans out, I was thinking maybe Sally could get records on employees who have jumped ship or been terminated in the past six weeks."

"Six weeks?"

"Yes, I'm sure the last time Armand met with this person, whoever he is, was at the beginning of April. He was wearing a Globetech ID card then. I remember noticing it."

"You've got a good eye for detail," Duo grinned. He wished he could risk a glance at Wu Fei's face, but he didn't want to alert Giselle that they were being watched.

"When the entirety of your day consists of sitting around looking pretty and nodding mindless assent, you jump on whatever distractions present themselves."

"Yeah, I bet." That should do it. "Hey, Wu-man! Why don't you come join us?" He grinned as he saw Wu Fei visibly jump, startled. Giselle looked around, eyes wide. Duo didn't need to be a psychic to know she was wondering: How much had he heard?

Wu Fei walked in calmly, passing the food dispensers up although that had to be what he'd come here for, and hesitated--just a moment, but Duo still noticed--before sitting down beside the American. "Am I interrupting something? he asked, quite unnecessarily.

"Nah, we were just talking shop. I was just about to tell Gi how her days have gone from sitting around looking pretty in a big, beautiful house to sitting around looking pretty in a big, ugly office building. Poor girl."

"And looking at photographs," Giselle pointed out. "At least I'm doing something useful, though once you've located this hacker of yours, I"m not sure what more help I'll be. But if I can help bring Armand St. Simon to heel, I'll do it. I suspected from the first time I saw him that, pretty face or not, he harbors a great capacity for wickedness." Her eyes glanced at Wu Fei, not soulfully this time. "That's why I wanted out of there. My only thought was escape. I'm afraid I didn't plan very far ahead, did I?"

"Hey, we wouldn't know anything about that, would we, Mister Impulsive?" Duo asked, elbowing Wu Fei in the ribs. The Chinese winced and gave him a playful half-shove away.

"Look who's talking," Wu Fei growled good-naturedly. "Even when your mouth stops long enough for your brain to engage, you never use it."

Giselle gave up and laughed, and Duo breathed an inward sigh of relief. Now that she'd dropped the mask of ignorant bliss in front of Wu Fei, she wouldn't take it up again. Maybe she and Wu Fei could be friends now after all. Maybe even more.

(Damn,) he thought. (Why can't I engineer these kinds of happy coincidences for myself?)

* * *


I try to get nearer
But as it gets clearer
There's something appears in the way

* * *


Beautiful.

Diamonds sparkling with every conceivable color of the spectrum, scattered across deep black velvet. That was what space always made him think of. Except stars were far more precious than any gems, weren't they? Infinitely more precious and, for the moment, infinitely less attainable.

Milliard Peacecraft gazed out the shuttle's window, past the ghost of his own reflection, at the stars he'd once reached for and dreamt of possessing. It had all seemed possible then, listening to Treize and his plans for the future. The terrible war between Earth and the Colonies had lain before them then, looming over them like the shadow of doom. Had Treize always known how it would end? It didn't seem impossible. Treize Khushrenada had always been a visionary, with intelligence and ideals far beyond the grasp of most of his peers in OZ.

It was an old ache, a familiar one, but oddly welcome now, drifting out among the stars he and Treize had both loved so much. With that ache came the awareness that he was finally free now, free to do as he chose, without obligation or prior commitment.

Poor Noin. She didn't realize, and he couldn't bring himself to tell her, that her hopeless devotion to him was precisely that. He felt great friendship for her, and a deep respect, but that was all. He knew she had been in love with him for a very long time. As Zechs Merquise, he'd used that to his advantage. As Milliard Peacecraft, he'd done his best to reciprocate...but it was useless. He simply did not feel for Noin what she obviously felt for him, and to try and force or feign such feelings would be the worst sort of betrayal, of her and of himself as well.

And of Treize.

Oh, he and Treize had always been discreet--and careful, oh, so careful. Even Lady Une, Treize's most trusted associate, had never voiced any suspicions, and if she had any, she'd kept them to herself.

Milliard closed his eyes and could almost sense the familiar presence beside him--always just out of his reach, never quite attainable. (Are you with me yet, old friend? Are you still waiting for me to join you on the other side of whatever awaits us all? I think you are...but ah, Treize, how I wish with all my empty heart you were here.)

* * *


It's a plank in my eye
With a camel
Who's trying to get through it
Am I doing it?
Can I have it all now?

* * *


"Sally wants us."

Duo looked up at the doorway, Giselle stopped laughing, and Wu Fei got at once to his feet. "Heero!" Duo said. "What's going on?"

"I just told you all I know," Heero answered, and turned and walked down the hall.

"Aw, man...well, I guess action's better than just sitting around." Duo got up, stretched briefly, then headed for the door with Wu Fei at his side. "Seeya, Gi."

"Sure," she called after him, and Duo winced at the slight note of melancholy in her voice. She wasn't looking forward to spending the evening all by herself. Oh, well, it wasn't like it could be helped. He liked her okay, and he'd really like to see her and Wu Fei hook up, but none of them could sit around holding her hand when there was work to be done.

Sally was waiting for them, standing in front of her desk, grim-faced and hard-eyed. "It's bad this time," she said. "We've managed to shut down the breach, but they've set loose a replicating bug in the central mainframe. Half of the Sphere's communication networks are completely offline while we try to track down the code."

"That's bad, right?" Duo ventured.

"Very bad. Most of the remaining half are working on backup servers, but at that we've got about thirty hours max before things start to collapse."

"What does St. Simon hope to gain by this?" Wu Fei demanded.

"We still can't PROVE it's him, of course; but if the Sphere's communications fold, private sector companies will have to work overtime to take up the slack, or worldwide disaster will result. That's just the start of it, too; public confidence in the Sphere will be undermined, and the next elections are only a few months away. Anybody who comes on strong and manages to save the day will be in a good position to enter the political arena with a strong public following."

Heero scowled. "You're not seriously suggesting that St. Simon--"

"No, I'm not. No one could expect to win a major world election without at least a modicum of political experience, which St. Simon hasn't got. However, Giselle's father, Adam Dix, is a member of the European Parliament, and we already know that he's got a connection to St. Simon and that he's made at least one transaction with him." Sally folded her arms. "No doubt the primary reason he's been doing so well in Parliament in recent months is because of support from the corporate sector."

"But now that his daughter's missing and presumed dead for all purposes," Wu Fei offered, "shouldn't Dix feel any obligations to St. Simon would be expunged?"

"Not the way these people seem to operate. No doubt Dix feels that, now that his 'payment' to St. Simon has been rendered null and void--he doesn't have Giselle anymore, after all, and Dix doesn't have any other daughters to offer him--Dix would be scrambling for another way to repay St. Simon for all his support and influence. In fact, Giselle's disappearance may have worked out to St. Simon's advantage in the long run, however much he's wailing about his loss to the media."

"Enough about the political machinations," Heero said. "How do we stop the intrusion of the virus?"

"The best approach at this point is to transfer everything to a completely new server in the thirty hours we have to work with. That's going to take a lot of time and manpower, but it can be done. Still, we need resources, which means money."

"Which means Quatre," Duo suggested.

"You're ahead of me, Duo. Duo, I want you to head for Lunar Central and try to convince Quatre to come back here and help us. You've got six hours to make the round trip, so don't stop for breakfast on the way."

"Got it. Lemme go grab my hat." Duo vanished out the door, his long pigtail bouncing behind him as he trotted into the hallway.

"Wu Fei, I've got my hands full with the system backup here, so you're going to have to go over the personnel files with Giselle. I know you're not the most technically adept worker I've got, but you're not an idiot, and I trust you to be able to press a few buttons."

"So long as you show me which ones to push," Wu Fei agreed.

Sally grinned, then sobered as she looked at Heero. "You I've got a caseload full of work for. We can't wait for a positive ID on this guy; we've got to try and make sure the virus doesn't spread to the few systems that are still active while the transfer is ongoing. We've also got to be able to keep all of this from leaking in any way. Let the hacker think he's got us, don't release any information that can be picked up and leaked to the media, and once we've got the goods, we have to lock him down hard and make sure he doesn't get away before we can drag him out into the daylight and pin this on him."

Heero chuckled dryly. "Don't expect much, do you? Would you like me to make tea while I'm at all this?"

"Don't worry, I've called for reinforcements. You won't be working on all this alone."

"Reinforcements?" Heero frowned. "Who?"

"You'll find out soon enough, believe me." Sally knew Heero wouldn't be overly thrilled with her choice of assistants, and the longer she could keep him from balking until it was too late to do anything but comply like the "perfect soldier" he was, the better.

* * *


I pull out the plank and say
"Thank you for yanking me back
To the fact that there's
Always something to distract"

* * *


"C'mon, Quatre, it's for a good cause. You know, the safety of the Earth and stuff. I've only got--" Duo checked his watch. "I've only got fifteen minutes left to convince you before having to hop the shuttle back to Earth. C'mon, c'mon, say something?"

"I will if you LET me, Duo," Quatre broke in. "You've talked non-stop for the last hour and a half. Don't you want a glass of water, or something?"

"I don't have time! Please, Quatre, you know Sally wouldn't send me all the way out here if you hadn't ignored--"

"Duo, SHUT UP," Trowa called from the sofa.

"Thanks, Trowa," Quatre said with a grin. "Duo, if you'd paused for breath for even a moment, I would've gotten the chance to say 'yes'."

"Look, am I gonna have to drag you back by your WHAT?!"

"The answer is 'yes'," Trowa affirmed. "Quatre and I had agreed before you ever got here to give Sally a call back and let her know if she still needed us, we'd be willing to come lend a hand."

Duo's jaw did a couple of push-ups while he thought of something sensible to say. "Wh--well, hell, why didn't you TELL me?!"

"Because you're cute when you pontificate." Quatre reached behind Duo and gave his braid a tug. "Now let's get moving. Trowa and I are ready to go, and the shuttle leaves in ten minutes."

* * *


But sometimes it's hard
To know if I'm doing it right
Can I have it all?
Can I have it all now?
No, we can't have it all

* * *


The phone rang, jangling him to abrupt consciousness. He rolled over and flailed at the nightstand, knocking the phone off the hook with a loud clunk. He reached out and curled sleep-numbed fingers around the handset and brought it somewhere close to the proximity of his ear. "Hrm," he said, the most coherent sound he was capable of producing at the moment.

"Good morning, Heero!" Sally sounded incredibly chipper, considering the present emergency. "This is your wake-up call. Can you meet me downstairs at the nerve center in fifteen?"

"Hrm." He hung up the phone on the third try and slid out of bed. Still bleary-eyed, he trudged into the bathroom and directly into the stall for a quick shower, not even waiting for the water to get cold before he soaped up, rinsed off, and stepped out to towel himself dry.

In eight and a half minutes he was dressed, as groomed as he ever was, and riding the elevator down to the underground level. The "nerve center" was the heart of the Preventers' online intelligence network, and evidently one of the few areas the virus hadn't yet threatened. Sally was counting on him to make sure it stayed that way. Him and whoever she'd called in. Heero wondered idly who he was expected to try and work with.

He rounded one of the standing cabinets--and froze.

"Ah, good, you're here." Sally turned back to the tall man standing before her, his platinum hair almost glowing in the overhead lights. "That brings you up to speed, too, Milliard. Wu Fei and Giselle will hopefully have the suspect's information for you by midday." She looked at Heero, coolly ignoring the fact that he was glaring at her with stark outrage. "Right now, the only real work that needs to be done is maintaining the status quo. If we don't lose any ground by the time Duo gets back with Quatre, then hopefully we'll buy enough time to transfer the system quickly and quietly without attracting too much attention."

Sally walked blithely away, leaving no other target upon which to fire his fatal gaze save his new working partner. Milliard not only refused to wither under the blast, but almost seemed to welcome it. "I'm glad to see you too, Heero Yuy," the tall man said with placid smoothness. "Shall we get started?"

* * *


We all have a dream
...maybe

I won't open boxes
That I am told not to
I'm not a Pandora

* * *


"No...no...not him, either...certainly not, far too handsome...n--wait."

Wu Fei froze, his finger resting on the NEXT key without depressing it. "What?"

Giselle rose from her chair and leaned over to stare at the large screen. "Yes. Yes, that's him." She clasped his shoulder in her excitement. "That's the one!"

"You're absolutely sure?"

"I'm certain. He's quite possibly the most hideous human being I've ever personally met."

"Physical characteristics are a freak of genetics," he told her sternly, copying the personnel data to an infodisk. "You could have been ugly yourself, as easily as you are beautiful."

Giselle didn't seem to notice the offhanded compliment. "I wasn't talking about his looks. He's...slimy." He felt her shudder a little. "No wonder he became a programmer; his people skills are all but nonexistent."

"What does that say about Heero?" Wu Fei got up and headed for the door. She let go of him the moment he moved, but followed him. "Let's get this to Sally right away."

* * *


I'm much more like
That girl in the mirror
Between you and me
She doesn't stand a chance
Of getting anywhere at all

* * *


"His name is Dovrak Sorali," Milliard announced from the printout Sally had handed him on her way past. "We've got his passcodes, his personal identification number, and the site address for his standard connection--which, no doubt, he's too clever by half to use. However, he'd have to use his own retina scans to activate the Globetech network, even if he used false passcodes and covered his tracks once going outside the local server. If we can match up the times he logged on to the occasions when the initial breaches occurred--"

"No need to explain it, Zechs; I can do the math for myself." Heero's fingers flew over the keyboard in front of him. "I've already got the timetable outlining each individual attack on the various Sphere systems. All we have to do is slip into their system and retrieve the backup data logs."

"You can do this?"

"Watch and see."

* * *


No, not anywhere at all
No, not a thing
Can't have it all

* * *


Sorali was surprised to find someone sitting on the trunk of his car. It wasn't the most expensive car in the lot; after all, he wasn't an idiot. It wouldn't have done to make himself too conspicuous even though he was a good deal financially better off than most of his co-workers, thanks to his extraneous activities. Still, he was protective of his vehicle, and to find some young punk crouching on it was rather disconcerting. "Hey, you! What are you doing on my car?"

The kid--he was sixteen at most, with an arrogant smirk and a yard-long braid that hung down the back of his black leather jacket--pulled down his wraparound shades to reveal a pair of eyes that were such a dark blue they were almost violet. "Dovrak Sorali?"

"Yeah, what? Get the hell off my car before I knock you off." Sorali hefted the metal briefcase. He had at least ten inches and twenty pounds on the kid; no street punk was going to intimidate him now. "Move your butt or you'll be sorry!"

The kid leapt lightly to the ground, but he didn't seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere. He raised a slim black leather cardcase and flipped it open to show a holographic card. "Preventer security. Dude, you're under arrest. Now, if you'll come with me to--"

Sorali didn't hesitate. He spun on his worn-down heel and ran for the stairway, confident he could lose the Preventer in the maze of halls and corridors that connected the various levels of the parking garage.

He rounded the corner and skidded to a dead halt. Another black-clad figure, this one with a shock of milk-chocolate hair that fell over his right eye. And a gun in his hand.

"Don't move," he ordered.

Sorali didn't.

* * *


Mother, where are the angels?
I'm scared of the changes

* * *


"So he didn't talk?" Quatre asked as they gathered in Sally's office. "Somehow I thought he wouldn't."

"Give me five minutes with him," Wu Fei said. "I'll make him talk."

"He wants a lawyer," Trowa told Sally. "That's all he would tell us on the way back."

"I'm surprised he was able to say anything with Duo in the back of the van."

"Hey!" the American protested. "We got him, didn't we?"

"That you did, that you did. And we've got the electronic goods on him; all we have to do is get him to confess his involvement with St. Simon, and we'll be able to blow this thing wide open." She nodded at Heero, then Zechs; the pair were standing on opposite eyes of the office, each doing his level best to ignore the other's presence. "Thanks to you two."

Heero fixed his eyes on Sally. "What about the girl? Can't she confirm the connection, or has it already slipped her tiny little mind?"

"Heero!" Duo admonished, and Wu Fei shot the Japanese a death-glare which was summarily ignored.

"For one thing, we can't expose Giselle to giving in-court testimony; legally, we're not supposed to even have custody of her. We might be able to help her declare majority in the family courts, and we might not; at this point it's far too risky. For another, even if she did testify that she saw Sorali in St. Simon's house, that in and of itself doesn't prove anything. She also wouldn't be able to say what she overheard; it'd be thrown out as hearsay."

"If it weren't for Gi, we wouldn't have nabbed the hacker," Duo said. "And she can tell us more about the way St. Slimy operates in a day than we could find out on our own in a year, right, Sally?"

"True enough. Settle down, Duo." Sally knew the American didn't notice the quiet fury in Heero's face; Duo was about as subtle as a freight train, and about half as perceptive sometimes. "Quatre, I hope we didn't drain the Winner resources too badly; I know it was short notice."

Quatre chuckled and waved a hand. "Barely a drop in the ocean. The important thing is, the new server's up, running fine, and according to our two computer experts here, not so much as a germ in sight."

"Virus," Heero corrected.

"That either."

"So where's the loser now?" asked Duo. "Just in case we want to turn Wu Fei loose on him."

"He's being held in a maximum security detention center on Avon Island. He's not allowed to see or talk to anyone except the occasional guard and his high-priced lawyer--once that individual chooses to return his calls, anyway."

* * *


Suddenly my feet are feet of mud
It all goes slo-mo
I don't know why I'm crying
Am I suspended in gaffa?

* * *


Dovrak Sorali finished his meal and set the tray on the floor beside his iron-braced bunk. So close. He'd been so close, and now it was all finished. All he could hope for now was that he could bargain for a light or even a suspended sentence. The knowledge he had about St. Simon and his plans was useful, but he needed his attorney here to help him figure out how to go about it. Sorali's people skills were hardly on a par with his computer prowess.

The door opened, and Sorali looked up hopefully--then his face fell. Just another guard, another face he didn't recognize. "I'm finished," he said, nudging the tray towards the guard with his foot.

The guard smiled. "Yes. You are."

Half an hour later, another guard admitted Craig Freeman, Esquire into the cell, and both were greeted with the unpleasant sight of Dovrak Sorali hung from the ceiling crossbar by his belt. He was, indeed, finished.

* * *


Not until I'm ready for you
Not until I'm ready for you
Can I have it all

--Kate Bush, "Suspended In Gaffa"

* * *


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