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Gundam Wing Fic #4: "Inside Out"

Inside Out
Emby Quinn




From morning to night I stayed out of sight
Didn't recognise what I'd become
No more than alive I'd barely survive
In a word...overrun


* * *

A shadow fell across Heero Yuy from behind him. The youth didn't seem to notice, his fingers flying over the keyboard without pause or hesitation.

"You're working late again."

It wasn't the voice he'd expected, but his only visible reaction was a slight widening of his brilliant blue eyes. "You're not my keeper," he said, not looking around, keeping his voice carefully level.

The speaker leaned over his shoulder, into the field of his peripheral vision. A curtain of platinum hair slid forward, brushing Heero's bare arm as it fell. "Sally's already given the clear sign for the new system. It will take you weeks to confirm everything alone."

"I've got nothing better to do," Heero retorted, even as his fingers continued to move across the keys.

"Now that's a pity." Zechs sighed, his breath warm against Heero's cheek. "However, we do share the same predicament. Perhaps I could offer a bit of assistance? It certainly seems a job big enough for two."

"I can handle it." Heero leaned forward, hunching almost protectively over his keyboard while at the same time moving away from Relena's brother as much as he could.

"As you wish. Sorry to have disturbed you." Zechs turned and walked away towards the darkened corridor. He paused at the door. "You shouldn't sit so close to the monitor. You'll fry your retinas."

"Kisama," Heero hissed when Zechs was gone, sitting back and rubbing at his stinging eyes.

* * *

Won't hear a sound from my mouth
I've spent too long on the inside out

* * *

Marisa Iris stepped out of the cool white-tiled breezeway into the sunny warmth of the early summer afternoon. She squinted up at the sky as she slid on her designer sunglasses, wondering idly if it would rain before nightfall.

She paid little attention to the bustle of the crowds on the sidewalk around her. She was in unaccountably good spirits. Her most important client, Worldview Corporation, had finalized a settlement agreement in a disturbing class action litigation only this morning. What could have been a financial disaster and a public-relations nightmare would now be swept neatly under the rug, along with the memory of those who had allegedly perished due to unsafe work practices at Worldview's supply plants.

She paused at the corner, waiting for the crossing light, edging her way forward through the knot of people to stand on the edge of the curb. It was only right that she go first, after all--she was a talented, high-priced attorney, and her position granted certain privileges denied lesser individuals.

She felt a sudden, firm shove in the small of her back that sent her stumbling out into the street. She sucked in breath for a cry of outrage that was never uttered as the delivery truck bore down on her.


* * *

My skin is cold to the human touch
This bleeding heart's not beating much

* * *

"Marisa Iris, 36, victim of a pedestrian motor vehicle accident. She was the primary counsel for Worldview Europe, and she'd just resolved a huge case against the company on the day she died." Sally ticked the name off on her clipboard--the last line on an ever-growing list. "Worldview was a subsidiary of St. Simon Enterprises--at least until yesterday, when he sold his interests to an Algerian conglomerate."

"It does sound like too much of a coincidence," Quatre said. "Like St. Simon is cutting ties and covering his tracks."

"Just what I was thinking, actually. In the last month, twelve people who have known affliliations with Armand St. Simon have died under unusual circumstances." Sally went down the list. "A global press reporter, a 34-year old man in perfect health, dead of a heart attack. A Nigerian prince, drowned on the Riviera. An aide to the British Prime Minister, died of acute appendicitis."

"Don't forget our friend in the jail," Duo said. "Whatsisname."

"Dvorak Sorali. Don't worry, he's here, along with the others. And every damned one of them Giselle's been able to identify as having done business with St. Simon."

"Which probably means he suspects that I'm talking. He's removing the illicit contacts I've met in the most efficient way he knows how." Giselle Dix drew her legs up, resting her feet on the edge of her chair, and wrapped her arms around her knees. "And that makes me no good to you at all. Doesn't it?"

"Not necessarily. Don't be self-defeating, Giselle. You still know a lot about how St. Simon operates, and that in and of itself can be useful." Sally flashed a reassuring smile at the girl. "Don't worry, even if you weren't able to help us at all, we wouldn't cast you out on the street."

"There's one way to deal with him."

Sally looked at Heero. "What's your idea?"

Heero raised a hand, folded it into the shape of a pistol, and mimicked pulling the trigger. "A bullet to the brain. Quick, efficient, and final." His voice was even more toneless than usual, with an almost mechanical cadence. "He can't choreograph criminal activities or take out his associates if he's a corpse."

"That's not the answer, Heero," Quatre said. "You'd be the last person I'd expect to endorse cold-blooded murder."

Heero looked at the blond with cool detachment. "It's innocents I have a problem killing, not manipulating masterminds with no regard for human life."

Duo looked at Heero with wide, astonished eyes. "How can you talk about regard for human life when you're talking about gunning a man down in cold blood? No matter what he's done--no matter what WE'VE done in the past--we're not murderers. Not anymore."

Heero didn't even blink. "We've already tried every legal avenue to pin him down, and nothing's panned out. What else is left? If we wait, more people will die."

Quatre shook his head in absolute denial. "There's got to be another way."

"There's always another way," Trowa confirmed, rising from the sofa to stand beside Quatre. "Wu Fei's right. We're not assassins. We're soldiers--or we were."

"We're still at war," Heero said in with that same odd flatness. "It never really ends. Marimeia was right about that much at least. This is just another battle, and if we can win it with one shot, so much the better. If we cut off the head of the serpent, the body may continue to move for a while, but it will eventually die."

"Not if we're dealing with a hydra," said a soft, measured voice from the doorway. "Cut off one head, and two more grow in its place, each one fully capable of biting and killing whatever it touches."

Sally looked up. "Milliard, how nice of you to join us."

The former OZ lieutenant walked smoothly into the room, pausing in front of Giselle with the barest of nods. She returned the courtesy even as she drew herself up tighter in her chair, looking up at him with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension.

Wu Fei sat forward, on the edge of his chair, carefully watching the tall blond's every move.

Zechs ignored him entirely, focusing his attention on the small redhead. "I'll need you to tell me anything you know about Armand St. Simon," he said. "His habits, how he contacts people he wants to bring into his employ--everything."

"Milliard," Sally frowned, "what have you got in mind?"

Zechs looked over his shoulder at her. "He's short a computer expert, isn't he? He's diligently ridding himself of unwanted baggage, and he'll surely be in the market for new talent."

* * *

I murmured a vow of silence and now
I don't even hear when I think aloud
Extinguished by light I turn on the night

* * *

"Will there be anything else, sir?" The manservant paused at the door of the study, waiting expectantly to be given further instruction.

"No, Geoffrey. Thank you. See that I'm not disturbed for the remainder of the evening."

"Yes, sir."

The door shut softly, leaving Armand St. Simon alone in his lavishly furnished study. It had always been his private sanctum, decorated to his taste alone without regard for the opinions of anyone else--unlike the rest of the house, which was designed to set visitors at their ease while still impressing them with the wealth of the man who lived there.

He sat now in his favorite armchair--it had cost him five thousand pounds sterling, hand-upholstered in custom-woven fabric, but then he demanded only the best and he got it. He watched the small fruitwood fire with cold, glittering eyes.

He had barely tasted his cognac; he set it aside and instead picked up the picture resting on the side table. He looked at it for long moments.

It was a picture of a young woman in her mid-teens, with cascading hair of the richest, most fiery red good breeding alone could have produced. She wore the long bluish-green formal she'd been wearing the night they met, a color that matched her wide, innocent-looking eyes. He had thought then, and still thought now, that she was the loveliest creature on the planet. He had wanted her from the moment he saw her, and he had gotten her.

But that had been easier than keeping her.

"Oh, Giselle," Armand sighed. "I would have given you anything you wanted. Now I have to take everything away from you--including your life. First, I eliminate every contact you could possibly use to incriminate me; then I complete the focus shift of my primary objectives; then, before all is said and done, I will get you away from your protectors, and I will close your pretty eyes forever."

He slid the backing off the frame, took out the photograph, and stood. Three steps took him to the small hearth, and he dropped the picture onto the merrily crackling flames. He watched it as it flamed up, curled and blackened into ash with the cruel smile of a schoolboy pulling the wings off a fly.

* * *

Wear its darkness with an empty smile
I'm creeping back to life

* * *

"...Vice-Minister Dorian refuses to comment on the rumors that her brother, Milliard Peacecraft, is planning on contesting her claim to her political appointment. The former OZ lieutenant does not yet have a firm support base, but inside sources have reported that the man once known as Zechs Merquise is discontented with the government's policies on total pacifism. Viewers may remember that Zechs Merquise was once a leader of the rebel White Fang faction and led a dangerous assault against Earth in AC 195 which nearly resulted in..."

* * *

My nervous system all awry
I'm wearing the inside out

* * *
"Miss Relena?"

Relena Dorian--Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs for the United Earth Sphere Alliance, symbol of peace in the universe, Queen of the Sanc Kingdom, and seventeen-year-old girl--rose to her feet. "Dorothy, I'm glad you could come."

Dorothy Catalonia smiled and stepped into the office, closing the door behind her. "I had to come, Miss Relena. I could never allow you to face a crisis like this alone."

With the door safely shut between the small, bright office and the world outside, Relena came around the desk and clasped Dorothy's small, cold hands in hers. "Oh, Dorothy...what am I going to do? What is Milliard trying to do?"

Dorothy freed one of her hands and reached up to tuck a stray lock of dark-honeyed hair behind Relena's left ear. "Your brother has always been troubled, Miss Relena--ever since he was a child. I'm sure Mister Milliard doesn't mean to hurt you. He's simply not used to taking the feelings of his sister into consideration. He tends to act rashly sometimes."

"Do you really think he's going to oppose me--try to get me removed from office?"

"Foolishness. He couldn't possibly do such a thing. Have you tried to contact him?"

"Of course I have." Relena shook her head. "Sally told he he'd stormed out days ago; she hasn't heard a word from him. I wonder if he and Heero had some kind of trouble..."

Dorothy fought back the urge to roll her eyes in disgust. No matter how old she got or how much maturity she achieved, Relena would no doubt always find a way to work Heero Yuy into any conversation. "Why don't we concentrate on your brother?" she urged in her most complacent voice. "For one thing, Sally works for the government, which means she's on your side. Get her to start tracking him down. Meanwhile, I'll do a little checking on my own."

"Would you do that? For me?" Relena's face lit with endearing hopefulness.

"I would do anything for you, Miss Relena." Dorothy put her arms around Relena, pulling her close and stroking the back of her tightly-bound hair. "Anything at all."

* * *

Look at him now
He's paler somehow
But he's coming round

* * *

"More tea, Mister...Peacecraft?"

"I prefer not to be called by that name any longer. I have renounced any affiliation with my heritage for good and all."

St. Simon set down his own cup and studied the man sitting across from him with outwardly friendly but still analytical eyes. Perfectly groomed, flawlessly attired, with the careful guarded manner of one born into the highest social level, this man had none of the affectations of the nouveau riche; nor did he make any attempt to impress anyone with his presence as too many political figures did. He drew attention by effortlessly inhabiting an aura of self-assurance that could be neither ignored nor overlooked.

"So what shall I call you?" St. Simon asked, with a small smile.

"Zechs Merquise will do." The pale blue eyes glittered in the soft light of the guest parlor. "It's a name I've used long enough to feel comfortable with."

"Even with its less palatable connotations? There are those on Earth who remember White Fang with no little rancor."

"True enough. Just as there are those who are more than mildly discontented with the present regime. Peace is a commendable achievement, but when that peace is based upon popular support for an advocate who is considered little more than a figurehead by many who hold power, it tends to be fragile and fleeting."

St. Simon raised an eyebrow. It was as though Peacecraft--Zechs--was voicing his own long-held beliefs. "Do you think another war is inevitable? In spite of what your sister has said?"

"My sister is an idealist. I love her dearly and would never do anything to cause her harm. I fear, however, that so long as people look to her for guidance, they will be blinded to the very real dangers with which human history has been so fraught."

"Is that why you're planning to have her removed from office, so that you can take her place?"

It was Zechs' turn to look mildly surprised. "I haven't made any public announcements to that effect."

"I have my sources."

"Indeed."

"Still, you can't possibly expect to overcome her phenomenal public support."

Zechs sighed. "It's true I face an uphill battle. Still, I very much fear that on its present course, the Earth is doomed to repeat its endless cycle of rebellion and self-destruction. Total pacifism is a lovely ideal, a beautiful fantasy that can never be permanently attained in reality. There must always be those who are willing to fight for peace."

St. Simon found himself nodding agreement before he realized he was doing it. "Perhaps," he said slowly, as though he hadn't been considering it from the moment he'd decided to invite the man for a private lunch, "perhaps there are ways to make your position more certain. If we can help one another..."

Zechs allowed himself a small smile. "Perhaps, sir, I will have some more tea, while we discuss things further."

* * *

He's starting to choke
It's been so long since he spoke
Well he can have the words right from my mouth

* * *

It was wonderful, having the freedom to dance whenever she chose. No matter how uncertain her future seemed, no matter how much she had left behind in the material sense--wealth, family, social standing--none of that mattered when Giselle was able to slip away by herself and lay claim to one side of the exercise room.

She was still Armand's prisoner, in a way--she couldn't come and go as she chose, she couldn't show her face in public, and she knew with gut-deep certainty that if Armand found her, he would kill her. But none of that mattered, so long as she could dance.

There was no music, except in her head and in her blood. That didn't matter. She was able to lose herself in the movements to the extent that she was completely unaware that she was being watched.

"Whoa, check it out."

"Shh, she'll hear you."

Duo elbowed at Quatre, who dodged with a grin. They stood in the open doorway and watched as Giselle danced lightly across the floor to the music that only she could hear. The wraparound skirt she wore over the sea-green leotard flared out in a circle with each turn she made, and her black leather slippers whispered over the hard floor.

"Hang on a minute," Quatre whispered, and trotted off down the hallway. Duo leaned against the door-jamb, folding his arms, still watching. He wasn't much of a ballet buff, but he could see the joy in Giselle's face, and he'd cheerfully strangle with his own braid anybody who tried to spoil it for her. Even Heero, maybe.

Quatre reappeared and ducked past Duo into the room. He tucked his violin into place under his chin and began playing a sweet melody--Haydn, from the sound of it, though Duo couldn't place the tune. Giselle paused in mid-pirouette and looked at the blond Arabian with such a startled, wide-eyed, deer-caught-in-the-headlights look that Duo had to stifle a laugh; then she returned Quatre's smile and began dancing in time to the music he made.

"And me without a video camera," Duo murmured to himself as he watched. "Maybe if I ask Sally nice she'll get me one for my birthday."

* * *

And with these words I can see
Clear through the clouds that covered me

* * *

Sally had, at the moment, other concerns than gift-shopping. She hovered restlessly near Heero while desperately striving to appear not to be doing so. The Japanese youth was bent over his laptop, processing the information on his screen with a stony, unreadable expression.

"It's been too long," she said at last. "We should have found out something from him by now."

"It's only been four days," Heero told her. "Even Zechs has some discretion. He won't rush things just to keep you from worrying."

"We know how St. Simon operates. He doesn't stick at killing people off--or having them quietly disappear. What if--"

"Zechs survived the destruction of the Libra," Heero reminded her. "It would appear that he knows how to take care of himself."

Sally sighed and sat on the edge of her desk. "So I'm fretting like an old woman."

"You said it, not me." Heero spared her a glance, and something like amusement flickered in his intensely blue eyes. "It's hard being a commander--having to make decisions that affect other people's lives, having to depend on other people to get the job done. Being a soldier is easier; all we have to do is follow orders."

"You're not a soldier anymore," Sally pointed out. "Not in the traditional sense, anyway."

Again those blue eyes fixed on her. "A soldier isn't what I am--it's who I am. I'm not equipped for anything else. Fighting doesn't always involve bullets or explosives."

"Or Gundams?"

"Or Gundams."

"You're wise beyond your years, Heero," Sally told him with a small smile.

He shrugged and returned his attention to the screen.

* * *

Just give it time then speak my name
Now we can hear ourselves again

* * *

Zechs Merquise had had long practice in covering his emotions. For most of his professional life, he'd managed to present a seamless, impenetrable facade to the world as difficult to see through as the mask he'd once worn. It had been that ability to contain his outward reactions that had served himself and Treize in such good stead, keeping the true depths of their private relationship even from those closest to them both.

He needed every scrap of that self-control now, as he walked through the corridors of St. Simon Enterprises, smiling and nodding to those he passed while his mind roared and raced with the enormity of what he'd already discovered.

St. Simon was a crafty bastard, that couldn't be denied. They had underestimated him--dangerously so. If during his casual perusal of the internal files he'd uncovered a tenth of what St. Simon had planned, then the magnate was closer to his goals than anyone could have suspected.

And St. Simon's goal was, ultimately, the conquest of Earth. By force, if need be.

But how?! There were no standing armies left, on Earth or on any of the colonies. How could St. Simon possibly consider a hostile takeover using military power if there was no military left?


* * *

I'm holding out for the day
When all the clouds have blown away

* * *

"She WHAT?!" Sally screamed at the vidscreen.

"I'm sorry, Miss Sally," Dorothy said, with her usual detached calm. "I tried to discourage her, but she wouldn't listen to me. When she heard that her brother had taken on a position at St. Simon Enterprises, she insisted on going there to talk to him. She's convinced he's making a terrible mistake."

Sally slammed her fists down onto her desk and let out a string of epithets in the coarsest Cantonese she knew.

"Do you want me to go after her?" Dorothy asked, not the least bit ruffled by the outburst.

"No, Dorothy, you stay there. Heero, you'd better--" Sally looked up and realized she was talking to an empty chair and an open door. "Heero's...already got a line on it."

* * *

I'm with you now, can speak your name?
Now we can hear ourselves again

* * *

"Milliard!!"

Zechs froze in his tracks. The sweet, girlish voice behind him pierced his heart with a dagger of pure ice. Slowly he turned around, trying to hold his face completely impassive, without expression. "Relena."

The seventeen-year-old vice-minister stood in the middle of the corridor, hands fisted, eyes flashing. "Milliard, you have to come home with me now. We've got a lot to talk about and we can't do it here."

Zechs drew himself up to his full height and glared coolly down at her. "We have nothing to discuss, Minister Dorian. I think you should leave now."

Relena's eyes welled with tears. She rushed forward and took hold of one of Zechs' hands in both of hers. "How can we expect the people of Earth to live in peace if we can't cultivate it in our own family? Milliard, I know we can come to an understanding if we meet halfway. There's no reason for us to fight. I've never denied you a place in the government, and I wouldn't refuse your help. There's still so much work to do. Peace is a living thing, and it must be tended carefully for it to survive. If we pollute its environment with the poison of discord, it will surely die. We can't let that happen. It's too precious..."

"As you said, sister," Zechs said, trying to pull away, "this is not the place to discuss such things." (And would you please stop your preaching and leave before St. Simon learns you're here and chooses to have you eliminated here and now?!)

"Is there some sort of difficulty here?"

(....damn.)

Relena let go of Zechs' hand and turned to confront St. Simon as he approached. "I've heard about you, Mister St. Simon. I know what people have told me about you, and frankly I don't know if I can trust you. But you can trust this: No one will gain anything if we continue to work against each other. We have to work together to maintain the peace we've fought so hard to attain."

Zechs spared a quick sideways glance at St. Simon, who looked pleasantly bored, and noticed that several of those behind him were beginning to look interested. A couple were even nodding agreement with Relena. This did not bode well at all.

The door from the stairway slammed open, and a voice called out "Relena!"

She broke off her speech and turned, flushing pink. "Heero?"

The young ex-pilot stood in the stairwell doorway, his face hard and stern. "Don't waste your precious breath on your brother. He's a lost cause. You're in danger here. You have to come with me now."

"I'm not leaving unless Milliard comes with me."

Heero didn't seem ready to entertain any debate. In five steps he was at Relena's side, and he took her wrist in a firm grip. He glared at Zechs with unmasked fury. "Omae o korosu," he snarled, then headed for the stairs, Relena in tow. She barely had time for one last plaintive cry of "Milliaaaaaard!" before she was hauled downstairs and out of sight.

Armand St. Simon calmly walked down the hall and shut the stairwell door firmly. He looked around, and those who had gathered to witness the scene scattered back to their duties.

Zechs sighed. "My apologies, St. Simon. I had no idea she was going to come here. I'll speak to her later and tell her to keep her distance."

"No need for that, Zechs," St. Simon smiled stiffly. "Your dear sister is always welcome here."

* * *

He's curled into the corner
But still the screen is flickering
With an endless stream of garbage to curse the place

* * *

"You can't make me stay here," Relena warned Heero as he marched her towards the palace gates. Her arm was clasped firmly in his grip, forcing her to keep pace with him. At any other time the contact might have thrilled her, but at the moment she felt little more than outrage. "I'm a grown woman and I won't let anyone dictate to me."

"You're a grown woman with responsibilities," Heero told her sternly, shoving the gate open and continuing up the walk with her. "It's time you started acting like one. You're an important political figure, not some lovesick schoolgirl."

"You can insult me all you like. Milliard is my brother, and I won't let him ruin his life again. Can't you see this is going to plunge us all back into another conflict? Where will it end?"

"It ends here and now."

"Heero, you don't understand--"

The door opened. "Miss Relena," Dorothy said, framed in the doorway. "We were all so worried about you."

"I'm fine." Relena glared at Heero, though her heart wasn't really in it. With a half-smirk he released her, and she flounced up the steps toward the door. Before entering, she turned and looked at him with her blue-violet eyes. "I hope the next time you come here," she said, "it'll be for a more personal reason." She walked inside without waiting for a reply, which was just as well, because Heero wasn't going to give her one.

Dorothy stepped back and started to close the door, but she paused long enough to give Heero a significant look and a tiny, knowing nod. Heero returned the gesture and headed back to the car.

Dorothy brought a tea-tray up to Relena's room. The young Queen was combing out her hair furiously, glaring at her own reflection. "How dare he treat me like a child," she pouted as Dorothy set the tray down on the small table near the window. "I knew what I was doing. I could have reasoned with Milliard if only he hadn't interfered. Now God only knows what's going to happen."

"Try not to worry, Miss Relena." Dorothy plucked the comb from Relena's tense fingers and gently, soothingly smoothed the tangles from the long honey-colored hair. "I'm sure everything will work out all right."

"Oh, Dorothy..." Relena looked beseechingly at her in the mirror. "At least I know you're on my side in this."

"I will be here for as long as you need me, Miss Relena." Dorothy set the comb down and gently kissed the top of Relena's head. "Now you relax and have your tea. I'll be back in a while to make sure you're feeling better."

Relena was just sitting down at the table when the door shut. She was just spooning sugar into her tea when she registered the fact that the lock had clicked into place.

Dorothy paused halfway down the stairs as she heard the faint sound of pounding on the door. She smiled quietly and continued. By the time she reached the first floor, the sounds were inaudible.

"See to it that Her Highness is not disturbed," she instructed the maid. "She needs her rest."

* * *

In a sea of random images
The self-destructing animal
Waiting for the waves to break

* * *

He had to move quickly.

Damn the luck! Zechs loved his sister, he loved her dearly, and he knew her heart was in the right place--but God! where were the girl's senses? Walking into a place like this was tatamount to signing her own death warrant.

Not that she would have known that, of course. St. Simon's ambitions far outstripped anything any of them--even Sally, or himself--had anticipated. Now all he had to do was get back and let them know. Whatever happened to him after that was immaterial. St. Simon had to be stopped at all costs.

He closed his briefcase and headed for the elevator. He was ten feet away when the lights went out and the alarm started to sound. Zechs froze, his heart skipping in his chest. How had St. Simon caught on to him so quickly? He was sure he hadn't revealed himself in any way, he'd been so careful--

Then the building started to shake. Cries of "Earthquake!" rang from several of the offices, but Zechs knew this was no natural phenomenon. There was a metallic hum coming up from the floor, a vibration felt more than heard, that could not have been caused by a seismic disturbance. It felt as though the building was trying to shake itself apart.

Cracks formed in the ceiling above his head. There was no time to stand around trying to puzzle out the problem. He had to get out, and quickly.

Huge chunks of plaster and steelwork were falling from above as the building buckled under stresses it was never meant to withstand. Sparks flew from disrupted electrical systems, and insulation caught fire. As Zechs struggled to see through the growing haze and confusion, he spotted a couple of men forcing the elevator doors open while a group of panicked secretaries fought their way into the car. "No, you fools!" he shouted, but if they heard him, they paid no heed. Moments later, there was a dull snapping sound, and the car, with its shrieking passengers, fell down the dark shaft to the lowermost level, fifteen floors below.

Zechs' stomach heaved, but he fought to keep his nerve steady. Dropping to his hands and knees, he crawled through the smoke and tremors towards the door to the stairwell. When he reached for the door handle, a glimmering spark of blue leapt to his fingers, and he jerked back barely in time. Electrified. The door was electrified! But how--?!

St. Simon. That bastard! It had to be his doing. He'd designed this building to be a death trap and now it had been sprung. Had St. Simon discovered his ruse? Or had Relena's unexpected appearance prompted him to cover his tracks in the most efficient way possible--by destroying his office headquarters and killing everyone inside?

It hardly mattered at the moment. He looked over his shoulder, squinting through the dust, but could see no signs of life, and the screams behind him had fallen silent.

He was alone.

He made his way to the open elevator shaft. Two of the cables still hung from the top pulley. Bracing himself, he lunged out and grabbed hold, sliding down the left-hand cable as fast as he dared.

He was all right, relatively speaking, until he passed the fifth floor level, and something on the other side of the closed elevator doors exploded. He cringed from the blast as it sent steel shrapnel into the shaft, and one of the metal shards severed the cable to which he clung. He fell a good five meters before he managed to grab the remaining cable in his hands. He slid another meter or so before getting a solid grip, and the friction heat almost made him let go, but he managed to hang on and work his way down to the first floor.

The shattered remains of the elevator car lay crumpled at the bottom of the shaft. Trying to forget that it was the tomb of perhaps a dozen innocent people, Zechs dropped down on the buckled metal roof and reached out to force the doors open. He dropped to the shaking floor without a glance back at the carnage in his wake.

"I'll avenge you," he promised under his breath as he raced to outrun the collapse of the building. The hum beneath his pounding feet accelerated, as though trying to prevent his escape. He sensed the front doors would be locked, possibly even electrified as the stairway door had been, so he didn't bother with it. He covered his face with both arms and leapt headlong through the plate glass of the front window, hit the pavement of the parking lot and kept running.

He was perhaps halfway to the street when the big explosion came, devouring the entire office tower in a dull orange fireball. The force of the blast lifted Zechs off his feet, sending him sailing through the air before he landed headlong on the side of the road. He rolled over twice and lay there for a moment, gasping for air, until his head stopped spinning. Bleeding from his nose and lower lip, he struggled to his knees and watched in horror as the building consumed itself, a giant torch against the early evening sky.

* * *

He's standing on the threshold
Caught in fiery anger
And hurled into the furnace he'll curse the place

* * *

"...but you're all right? Yes, yes, I understand, we're on it. Just--take care of yourself, Zechs. You've done your part and then some." Sally killed the comlink and leapt over her desk, grabbing her jacket on the way out.

She knew well enough where she could find the majority of the boys (somehow she always thought of them as "the boys", even though they were almost grown by now)--in the break room, and sure enough that's where they were.

"Scramble!" she barked in through the doorway. "St. Simon's on the move. He's chartering a shuttle to Colony X9, and if we don't stop him he'll be out of our jurisdiction. Giselle, you're coming too."

"Me! Why?!"

"Because you're the only one who can give a positive ID on him. Come on!"

Sally commandeered a military jetcar, insisting that Giselle ride with her and Quatre. Heero and Trowa took another vehicle, while Duo and Wu Fei were in a third. The spaceport would have been hours away by a normal ground vehicle, but the jetcars could cover the distance in a fraction of the time. The whole way, Sally was in communication with the port authorities, coaxing them to stall for time as much as they could without alerting St. Simon to the fact that something was amiss.

Still, Sally couldn't give the portmaster a concrete reason to detain St. Simon for any considerable length of time, not over a quasi-secure channel, and by the time the spaceport came into view, the small,sleek shape of a personal shuttle was clearing the dock.

"Damn!!" Before Quatre had stopped the jetcar, Sally had popped the side hatch and was on the tarmac-covered ground, staring at the dwindling point of light. "Quatre, get on the link to Noin. Maybe she can intercept when the shuttle reaches Mars space. Tell her to use whatever trumped-up excuse she has to, but get her to--"

"Look!" Giselle pointed.

Sally followed her line of sight and gasped. "God," she said, "damn."

Where the shuttle had been a few heartbeats before, there was now a bright cloud of smoke and glimmering debris, raining fragments down on the runway.

* * *

He's torn in all directions
And the screen is still flickering
Waiting for the flames to break

--Pink Floyd, "Wearing the Inside Out"

* * *

"Mid-air collision with another private craft. No survivors." Sally sat back in her chair and exhaled a long, flat sigh. "That's the end of that, then."

"Seems kind of anticlimactic to me," Duo said, leaning against the back wall with his arms folded. "I know you were looking forward to collaring that guy. Still, Heero, it looks like you got what you wanted, and you didn't even have to waste a bullet on him."

"Our work's not over yet," Sally cautioned. "We've got to sort through the information Zechs brought us and ferret out the bad seeds St. Simon managed to plant before they take root all on their own."

"What was St. Simon trying to accomplish?" Quatre wondered. "Some kind of hostile corporate takeover?"

"It was a lot worse than that. St. Simon was trying to start another war with the colonies, bring down the government and set himself up in the ultimate position of power."

Duo shoved himself away from the wall, his long pigtail almost bristling with outrage. "What?! That's crazy! The guy must've been nuts."

"Insane or not, it could have been an ugly scene if he hadn't been stopped."

"But Earth has no more standing armies," Quatre pointed out. "There aren't even any mobile suits anymore. How could he have accomplished such a thing?"

"Apparently he was getting ready to start the manufacture of mobile suits in secret. He had a whole cadre of hired mercenaries getting ready to attack specified points in the guise of OZ soldiers, and of course when the people of Earth needed protection, he would be able to provide it--for a price."

"And the computer network sabotage?" Heero suggested. "Nothing but a distraction, I suppose."

"Got it in one," Sally nodded grimly. "This was a lot bigger than any of us suspected, and we stopped it barely in time."

"Well, it was stopped, that's the important thing." Duo draped himself over the back of Heero's chair. "The last thing I'd wanna have to do is climb into a Gundam again, even if there were any Gundams left--huh, Heero?"

He didn't really expect a response, and he didn't get one.

"I still can't believe it's really over," Giselle said, half to herself. "I don't think Armand could let himself be gotten rid of so easily."

"It was an accident," Sally told her. "Even St. Simon couldn't orchestrate an act of God."

The redhead looked at Sally with an ironic smile. "How can you be so certain?"

"Don't be so stupid," Wu Fei said, his face stern. "You should be glad that you're free of him, not trying to convince yourself otherwise. Be thankful that you managed to escape him. Too many weren't so lucky."

"You rescued me from him," Giselle corrected, "and I am thankful. It's just that I can't shake the feeling that he's still out there somewhere, biding his time before he strikes again."

"So you're willing to trust your foolish emotions instead of believing the facts." Wu Fei snorted derision. "Typical woman."

* * *


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