Chapter 22: "The Call"
The first thought to flash through Heero's mind when the first explosion hit was-- "Wufei". They'd found Wufei, and here he was stuck on a worthless shuttle with no defensive or offensive capabilities. In hindsight, he'd been a fool to take the Senator's flight so hastily. And taking Relena "hostage" had only served to draw more attention to themselves. It was how Kushrenada had found them. He thought again of the assassins at the shuttle port, and his heart kicked up a notch. Because of his stupid mistakes, Wufei was going to get killed.
All this was racing through his mind as he sprinted for the cockpit. He almost slammed into Quatre as the other boy burst out of the kitchenette, both of them unsteady on their feet as the second hit slammed into the small shuttle. Through the doorway came the sound of more dishes crashing to the floor.
Quatre's cerulean eyes were huge, his face paler than normal. "It's an attack," he shouted over the sound of the shattering glasses. "Heero, this shuttle can't handle more than a couple of hits. If we get one in the wrong place--"
"I know," Heero snarled, shouldering past the smaller boy impatiently and continuing towards the cockpit at a dead run. Quatre hastened to follow.
They burst into the cockpit, where Wufei had already relinquished control of the pilot's seat to Trowa. The grim-faced mercenary was sitting rigid in the seat, grip on the controls steady but not clenched in panic, cool green eyes flicking from the monitors before him to the narrow window of stars.
Wufei got to his feet the instant Heero arrived.
"What's going on?" Heero demanded, stepping closer to Wufei to look him over carefully, analyzing his mood. He hadn't really expected a panicked Wufei, but a small part of him had been afraid the other boy would be paralyzed with fear. Wufei's eyes were a little wide, and he looked tense as a wire, but adrenaline seemed to be overpowering any fear he might feel for the moment, at least. He even looked-- Heero could have smiled if it wasn't so inappropriate --deeply offended. As if someone had spilled cranberry juice all over a pristine new suit. As if the very thought of someone having the balls to attack them was an affront, not a reason for fear.
"Whoever it is, they're picked up on radar, but only just. Military, I think. They haven't come into sight yet, though. I think they're directly behind us..." Trowa had torn his eyes away from the monitor for a moment to explain the situation. He trailed off, eyes glued to Quatre, who was gripping the back of the pilot's seat as his eyes scanned the stars outside anxiously. "Quatre. What happened to your hands?"
"Huh?" Quatre lifted his hands to look at them as if he'd forgotten they were there. Blood streaked his fingers and the palm of one hand. "Oh-- it's nothing," he said hastily. "I was in the kitchen when it happened. A lot of glasses fell from the cabinets, and when I fell, I guess I cut my hands up on the broken glass. I'll bandage it later," he added absently, returning his gaze to the canopy.(1)
Trowa looked like he was considering fetching the first aid kit right that second, but caught Heero's impatient glare out of the corner of his eye. He reluctantly turned his attention on the scopes, resuming his brief. "They could be military," he reiterated, "but I don't see why they would attack the shuttle of a pacifist Senator."
"What if they're the same kind of people like those asses in the shuttle port?" Wufei interrupted. "Maxwell, you never found out who they were working for."
Duo shrugged, face grimmer than usual. "We won't know anything until we get our hands on whoever these fucks are," he pointed out. "But I got some sad news for you guys. The only weapons on board are the ones we brought with us, and the emergency handgun under the pilot's seat. If they wanna blast us out of the sky, there's not much we can do about it. Our only chance-- and that's a slim one --is if they're ballsy enough to try and board us."
"They want us dead," Quatre reminded Duo. "Why bother to board?"
Duo shook his head to show his ignorance. "Fuck if I know. We don't even know if these are the same guys." He sent Heero a shady sideways look. "If we had those, we wouldn't even be having this conversation," he mused pointedly.
Heero scowled. "Well we don't," he snapped. "And until Howard catches up with us, it will stay that way." He turned his glare towards the stars, mind whirring.
Wufei looked at each of them in turn, frown deepening. "It's me, isn't it?" he growled. They all looked at him in question. "I'm the one they want, right? You guys are just in their way. If I--"
"Don't even finish that sentence," Heero snarled, slicing his hand in the air to signal an end to the conversation, his eyes narrowed dangerously. "Just shut up and let us figure this out."
Duo's eyebrows shot up, and he looked from one boy to the other. Heero rarely spoke this way to anyone, or bothered to show this much emotion about something. Even Quatre had turned to stare in surprise.
Wufei hardly noticed. He matched Heero's glare with one of his own, tilting his chin up imperiously. "Don't tell me what to do, Yuy," he said in a quiet, heated voice.
Heero hesitated, a strange expression flitting across his face for a moment.
Nostalgia? Wufei wondered. He started to dismiss the assumption, then realized why that had been the word to pop into his head. It was nostalgia. Sort of. His dreams had given him enough glimpses of the past to reveal what a commanding, pompous child he'd been. He'd been used to giving orders, and having them obeyed. And, he thought with sudden insight, Heero was used to following his orders.
He turned towards Trowa. "Where are the suits on this ship?" he snapped.
Trowa answered without thinking. "Back storage room. But--"
"Good." Wufei glared at Heero. "Your job's over, Yuy. I'm not going to sit here and be the cause of the death of six people. Especially Hilde and that idiot Peacecraft; they have nothing to do with this."
"You're not going anywhere!" Heero said furiously, moving quickly to block the way, face dark with anger. "And if I have to knock you out and lock you up to make sure you don't try anything stupid, I'll do it."
"You forget it's not really your decision, Wufei," Quatre added quietly. "It's our job to--"
"Your job," Wufei repeated with heavy scorn, eyes burning into Heero's.
A third explosion rocked the shuttle, throwing them about violently. Quatre slammed into the control panel, and Wufei fell awkwardly into the co-pilot's seat, legs thrown over one of the armrests. He banged his elbow painfully on the panel and cursed floridly. Duo tripped over a cable and fell head over heels on the floor, cursing loudly in a foreign tongue. Heero had managed to catch himself with the doorframe, and straightened slowly, glare still focused on Wufei as if daring him to make a break for it.
"There!" Quatre exclaimed suddenly, arm shooting out as he pointed outside at the white shape that slowly began to appear above them.
"That's not a fighter," Trowa said quickly, leaning forward and craning his neck to see better. "It's a bomber; meant more for slow, large targets. It must have been the only thing close by...."
"We have peace delegate emblems on the side of the shuttle and embedded in our IFF codes," Quatre exlaimed. "What does he think he's doing?!"
"Not anymore," Duo said in exasperation as he picked himself up. "Remember? I changed the codes after Kushrenada called. The outside of the ship looks like the Senator's, but we're squawking the wrong codes. They don't know who the hell is in this ship."
"He's going to fire again," Trowa cut him off sharply.
Wufei jerked his legs free of the armrest and leapt forward so that he was practically sprawled in Trowa's lap. Trowa jerked back in shock, eyes widening. "What--" He was too startled to realize what Wufei was doing until it was too late. "No, wait-!"
Wufei ignored him, seizing the throttle and gunning it, jerking the control sharply to the right.
Quatre cried out as the sudden movement sent them all staggering again. The shuttle was not built for speed, but it managed to make the sharp turn fairly quickly. An instant later the ship shuddered again, though not as roughly as before. Quatre managed to steady himself against the console, eyes glued to the alarms flashing red. "It clipped us," he gasped. "Just barely-- the left wing--"
Trowa seized the back of Wufei's shirt and hauled him away from the controls, eyes dark with uncharacteristic anger. "What were you thinking?" he demanded.
"Trowa," Quatre cut him off sharply. "This isn't the time. He probably just saved our hides. We need to get out of here. Now. We won't survive any more direct hits."
Trowa hesitated, then nodded slightly, wrapping his hands around the controls. "It's a bomber, so we might have a chance," he said grudgingly. "Odds are it moves even slower than we do. Hold on."
He slammed the throttle forward to full power, and they shot away at a speed that left the lumbering bomber quickly behind.
"I think we'll be okay if we keep going like this," Quatre breathed, staring at the radar intently. "If it had been a fighter..." he shook his head, leaving the rest unspoken.
Wufei got to his feet, wincing a little at the pain in his elbow. "Sorry," he forced himself to mutter sullenly. "It was better than just sitting here."
Trowa didn't even look up at him.
Quatre offered Wufei a tired smile. "Yeah," he agreed. He glanced down at his bloodied hands, then at the blood tracks he'd accidentally smeared all over the instrument panel. He blew a long sigh. "I'm going to get this fixed up. Then I think we should all figure out what we should do if a fighter does catch up with us."
Trowa glanced up at him, but hesitated to speak. Duo caught the look and made an impatient wave of his hand. "Go on, get out. I'm better at the insane fast escape flying anyway. It's my specialty."
Trowa obediently got out of the seat and lifted the first aid kit from the wall, following Quatre out of the cockpit. Duo slid into the seat, flicking glances towards the other two every now and then in uneasy silence.
Wufei was still glaring stubbornly at Heero, who was wearing a face of stone. After a moment Heero jerked his head towards the door, indicating that they should speak where they wouldn't be eavesdropped on. Wufei followed moodily as Heero led the way out into the corridor and into the small office used by Senator Peacecraft on long flights.
Heero shut the door firmly behind them, turning with mouth open for a tirade, but Wufei didn't give him the chance to get the first word in.
He stepped forward and jabbed a finger against Heero's chest so hard it hurt. "Listen up, Yuy," he growled. "No one tells me what to do with my own life. You'll notice I'm only on this blasted shuttle because I chose to be. It's not up to you when I do or don't decide to die. And if I hear one more word about your bullshit 'mission', I'll--"
Heero reached up and wrapped his hand around Wufei's finger in a firm grip, lowering it away from his chest but not releasing the digit as he stared hard at the startled boy. "Don't give yourself up for our sake," he said with dark sarcasm. "If they really intend to kill you, what makes you think they'll let us go after they have you? It would be no problem for your enemies to take us all out at the same time. And more efficient, too. Giving yourself up isn't noble, it's stupid. So don't ever do something like that again."
Wufei jerked his hand away, fuming. "That was a military bomber, Yuy! The whole attack was probably a mistake! If I'd gone out there, they would have realized their mistake."
"You don't really think that," Heero snorted. "You thought if they got you, they'd be satisfied and leave us alone."
"So what?" Wufei snapped. "Maybe the rest of you lunatics don't care about dying for your precious 'mission', but I will not be responsible for the death of two innocent women, you stick-up-the-ass mule."
"This has nothing to do with the 'mission'!" Heero exploded in a rare show of real temper. He caught himself up short and took a deep breath through his nose, slowly composing himself so that his face was its normal stern, impenetrable mask.
Wufei was staring at him, caught completely off guard by both the words and the explosion itself.
Heero turned and opened the door with excessive force. "Just keep out of sight," he growled over his shoulder, "until Howard gets here."
There were a lot of things Wufei wanted to ask just then, but the only thing he could get out was, "...Who the hell is Howard?"
"I think it's over," Hilde said hesitantly, peering out of the porthole and struggling with her seatbelt.
Relena slowly lifted her head, looking around warily. After a long moment she took a deep breath and unbuckled, rising to her feet with a look of determination. "This settles it," she said firmly. "Come on, Hilde. This is our chance. We need to get to the radios while the boys are still shaken up."
"I think we're a lot more shaken up than they are," Hilde pointed out, but followed the other girl unsteadily down the corridor towards the cockpit. They passed the office of Relena's father, hearing the muffled shouts from within, and picked up the pace.
Relena stepped aside while Hilde opened the door, and they flicked each other a glance on seeing Duo at the pilot's seat. Relena nodded encouragingly, and Hilde took a deep breath before stepping inside. "Duo."
The braided boy twisted around to face her, looking a little surprised to see the two of them up and about so soon after the attack. "Hilde. Relena." He glanced from one girl to the other, rising to his feet. "You two all right?"
"Yeah. Um..." Hilde hesitated, unsure how to go about this. She looked past Duo, out of the canopy, and shuddered. It was the aftershock, she realized. They'd just been attacked; she wondered when it would really hit her, and how she would take it. Right now, though... right now she just felt glad to be alive. And there was a germ of excitement dancing in her belly. This was as close as she'd ever been to her goal. To being a soldier in the war.
Duo mistook the shudder for terror, and moved over to her hastily, putting a hand on her arm. "Hey. You're not gonna collapse or anything, are you?"
Hilde caught Relena's significant look out of the corner of her eye, and swallowed her pride. She played off of Duo's sudden concern, leaning back against the wall and doing her best to look exhausted and shaken up. "No," she murmured. "Just a little shell-shocked, I guess. I'll be OK. But, um... could I talk to you for a minute?"
Duo hesitated, glancing from her to the control panel.
Relena stepped forward helpfully. "You can talk right outside if you like. If anything weird happens, I'll shout."
Duo gave her a long, hard look, and Hilde gave his sleeve a pitiful tug for good measure. Inside, she cringed at the act she was putting on. But she'd played the part well enough; Duo's eyes swung back to her immediately. "Yeah," he finally agreed. "Sure. Relena, if anything on that panel so much as blinks erratically, give me a holler. I'll be back in a minute."
Relena nodded, barely able to contain her glee, and Duo took Hilde's elbow in a careful grip and led her out of the cockpit.
As soon as the door slid closed behind them, Relena turned back to the cockpit and searched for the panel she knew was there.
She'd often been in the cockpit of her father's shuttle. Ever since she'd been a small child, she'd been coming up here to watch the pilots work. Some of them had gotten quite fond of her. The pilot used to sit her in his lap and cheerfully explain the fascinating lights and knobs before her. She hadn't understood most of it, but she did remember a few things.
Like which knobs changed the frequency on the radios.
She quickly inputted the frequency and channel her father had taught her years ago; it was a frequency used primarily by neutral parties in war, including peace delegates, and he had his people monitoring it almost constantly.
She found the mic and lifted it to her mouth, pressing the button on the side and speaking clearly but not too loudly, for fear Duo would hear her from the hall. At the last insant she remembered to use her father's radio callsign, rather than call him by name. One never knew who could be listening in these troubled times. "Indigo, Indigo, this is Lavendar. Please come in." She let go of the transmitter, waiting tensely for a response. After several moments of nothing but static, she tried again, repeating her message. Again she waited on pins and needles, sending quick looks over her shoulder every few seconds in case Duo and Hilde reappeared. Still there was nothing but cold static in reply. She swallowed hard, her eyes burning. For the first time since this entire horrible adventure, she felt like crying. She needed to hear her father's voice. The attack had frayed her nerves, and she was surrounded by people she had no reason to trust. Even Heero was rarely around, spending so much time with that Chang boy that she was constantly forced to keep an eye on the remaining three boys in case they decided to do something unpleasant.
She lifted the mic again, knowing she could only risk one more call, and suddenly the static broke, and a faint voice came through. "Lavendar, this is Indigo. Is that really you?"
Relena's heart jumped, and she clutched the mic to her like something precious. She'd expected to have to go through several people before her father had been put on. Perhaps he'd been sitting by a radio just in case she ever did get a chance to call. Or maybe he'd ordered the operators to fetch him the instant someone with the callsign he'd given her had come out over the radio. She took a deep breath to steady her voice, and pressed the button again. "Father," she said desperately, forgetting herself for a moment. "Father, you have to come get me. We've just been attacked, and I don't know what these people plan on doing..."
"Wait. Wait a moment," her father said quickly. "We've picked up the source of your transmission. Try the vid-cast."
Relena looked around quickly until she spotted the small screen hidden behind a bag of chips and a few wadded-up tissues. Pushing the trash aside impatiently, she switched on the monitor, letting out a breath she hadn't even realized she'd been holding as an image snapped to life. On-screen, Senator Peacecraft was gazing eagerly out at her, dressed in a business suit. Relena could tell by the background that he wasn't in his office back on earth. She thought she could glimpse a part of a port-hole on the edge of the screen, but couldn't be sure. Was he in space right this moment, looking for her?
"Relena?" Her father's eyes moved blindly back and forth. "Are you there?"
Relena dropped the radio mic and hastily reached out to turn on the camera beside the vid-cast that would send out the video feed to his own vid. Instantly his eyes focused on her, and a great deal of tension left his frame. "Relena. You're all right." He gave a low sigh of deep relief.
Relena smiled warmly back at him, checking her composure at the last possible second. It wouldn't do for her to let him see how frightened and frustrated she was. "Father."
"Are you all right? You said there was an attack." He looked anxious and older than he'd ever looked to her before.
"I'm all right. We seem to have gotten away." Relena hesitated, shooting a quick glance towards the door, then pressed closer to the vid-cast, lowering her voice a notch. "Father, you have to find us. I don't know these boys' intentions. And two of them seem very suspicious. They're all armed, and they refuse to let me know where we're going or what's going on."
"How many are there?" her father asked quickly, face stern.
"Five. And one other girl. She's..." Relena hesitated. Hilde had made it very clear that it had been her own choice to come on this insane journey, but would she really pass up the chance of escape if it was presented to her? "I think she's a prisoner, too," she finished after a moment.
"We'll find you," her father assured her. "Don't worry. Just don't do anything to antagonize them. Be quiet and meek and do what they say. Sit somewhere out of the way and try not to draw attention to yourself. Can you describe any of them? Do you know their names?"
Relena hesitated once more. She was unsure whether or not to mention Heero's name. What would happen to him if she fingered him as a terrorist? She was still unconvinced that he was the bad guy here. He seemed to be following his friends along on this trip, but he seemed to secretly be looking after her. He'd even kept his gun on safe when the others had suggested kidnapping her. "I know some of their names," she hedged. "There's a quiet blond boy named Quatre, though I haven't caught his last name yet. And a tall boy who looks really familiar... oh yes, Hilde said he used to be Wufei's gardener. And then there's this horrible boy, Duo Maxwell--"
Her father's eyes had widened slightly. "Wufei?" he interrupted sharply. He peered at her closely. "Chang Wufei? The boy who goes to your school? He's there, also?" The tension had returned to his shoulders, his hands placed on his desk stiffly.
Relena hesitated, frowning. "Yes, he's here. From what I gather, he wasn't going to come at first, but I think the others talked him into it, because he showed up at the shuttle port. But he isn't anything to worry about. It's Maxwell. He's--" She stopped short, staring at her father. He'd gone pale and wasn't looking at her anymore. "Father? What is it?"
He lowered himself slowly into his seat and forced himself to meet her eyes. "Is there a Heero Yuy there?" he asked quietly, tone full of resignation and sadness.
Relena blinked, startled. She hadn't wanted to reveal his presence, but was curious about her father's mood. "What.. Um, yes. He is, actually. How did you know? What's wrong?"
Senator Peacecraft was not an old man, but to his daughter he seemed suddenly to age ten years. He closed his eyes briefly, and when he opened them again, he looked old and almost helpless, like a man who had seen too many disappointments and sorrow in his life. "I need to speak with him."
"Why?" Relena leaned forward, staring at her father hard, trying to determine the source of his strange attitude. "What's wrong with you, father? You look like you've seen a ghost. Aren't you going to come get me?"
Relena took in a sharp breath. "What?" she asked incredulously, voice almost a squeak.
Her father shook his head slowly, looking sad and defeated. "There's nothing I can do, Relena," he said quietly but firmly. "This isn't something either of us can change. It's too late for that. I will meet up with you later. By then you should have some idea of what's going on.."
"Father!" Relena snapped, frightened and baffled by her father's words. "What are you talking about? You can't just--"
"I'm so sorry, Relena. I meant to tell you one day, I just..." he shook his head slightly. "For now, you're going to have to stay with them. Go with them; their destination is yours. They're needed somewhere, but so are you. Perhaps they are as in the dark as you are. Their employer would know--"
The door slid open so suddenly Relena almost shrieked.
She spun around, eyes wide, as Duo stepped into the cockpit, narrowed eyes flicking from her to the image on the vid-cast. Relena hastily tried to move over so she was blocking the view, but it was too late. Hilde appeared in the doorway behind Duo, looking apologetic for Relena and miserable at the same time for her deceit towards Duo.
"Get out of the way," Duo said in such a low, cold voice, that Relena found herself moving aside despite herself.
Duo strode across the cockpit, his intentions clear.
"No!" Relena shouted, leaping for him and seizing his arm. "Don't--"
Her father straightened, leaning forward, face and voice urgent. "Tell them, Relena," he said hastily. "Tell them to contact their employer--"
Duo shrugged Relena off roughly and snapped the vid-cast dial to 'off'. Her father's image disappeared instantly, and she sank back against the pilot's seat like a puppet with its strings cut, feeling her eyes start to burn again.
"You're a stupid little girl, you know that?" Duo demanded coldly, his motions jerky and aggressive with a barely supressed temper as he set about turning off the radios and the voice comm on the vid-cast. "You have no idea who could have been listening in, who could be using that transmission to pinpoint our location. Are you out of your god-damn mind?"
"She only wanted to go home," Hilde put in quietly, unable to look at him. "You can't blame her for being afraid."
Duo turned to glare at both of them. "If you weren't a chick, I'd so kick your ass," he informed Relena angrily.
Relena felt a rush of fury rise up to squash her confusion and sadness. She straightened, clenched her fists by her sides, and lifted her chin to glare up at the taller boy. "Where are we going, anyway?" she demanded. "What's so important that my own father would throw me to the wolves like this? Why should I have to go on this insane trip? You have some questions to answer, Duo Maxwell. All of you do."
Duo hesitated, frowning. "What? What are you babbling about?"
"I want to talk to Heero," Relena said fiercely. "Right now."
Quatre winced, sucking breath in through his teeth painfully as Trowa carefully removed the last piece of glass from his palm. "Ouch..." he protested weakly. They were seated at the table in the kitchenette, the door closed to block out the faint sounds of the shouting going on in the Senator's office.
"Sorry," Trowa said automatically, dropping the glass into the trashbin and reaching for a wet rag.
Quatre offered a small smile. "It's all right," he murmured in French.
A faint smile passed across Trowa's face at the sound of his native tongue. He gently wiped the blood from Quatre's hands before reaching for the bandages.
Quatre watched him work in silence for a moment before asking quietly, "Why do you think they fired at us?"
Trowa didn't even look up, eyes on his work as he wrapped the bandages around his friend's hand. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "I'm surprised we ran across a bomber out here in the first place. I was careful to pick a route a fair distance from where the worst of the fighting is going on. And while the codes we're squawking may be odd for a peace delegate, it would still be a foolish idea to open fire on this shuttle. My only guess is that the assassins after Wufei work for the military."
Quatre frowned. "Why would the military be interested in.... Oh." He sighed. "Treize."
"Except that Kushrenada doesn't seem interested in killing Wufei," Trowa pointed out. "Which leaves the other side."
"Milliardo?" Quatre asked in surprise. "What interest does he have in what we're doing? I didn't even know he was aware of it."
"Think about it. What we're doing could affect earth and space. Kushrenada is interested in making sure everything goes a certain way to suit him, but he doesn't want Wufei dead. He might not even care about our goal, as long as we compensate him. But perhaps Milliardo and his men don't want this to happen."
"You're suggesting that they don't want peace," Quatre interrupted in disbelief. "That they don't want this senseless war to end."
Trowa shrugged slightly, tying off the ends of the bandage. "I've never met Milliardo, so I can't say I know the way he thinks," he admitted. "I'm just trying to form theories on the little information we have at hand." He rose to his feet and reached for the broom to sweep up the glass still scattered all over the floor.
"I'll do that," Quatre said quickly, getting up.
Trowa shook his head. "Try not to aggravate that hand too much. Why don't you go check on Hilde and the Senator's daughter?"
"You're right," Quatre said, feeling guilty for not having thought of that himself. "They're probably a little freaked out by all of this. Relena especially."
Trowa glanced at him sideways. "Hilde will be all right," he said calmly, in unexpected defense of the other girl. "She's stronger than she looks."
Quatre smiled. "I'm glad Wufei managed to make at least one good friend during his exile, then." He stopped, wincing. "Um..."
Trowa shook his head, returning to his task. "It was never called that," he said quietly. "But that's as good a word as any for it."
"He's more a refugee than an exile," Quatre said meekly.
"Just the same."
Quatre stood watching him sweep for a moment longer, then left silently to check up on the girls.
(1) a canopy is the "windshield" in a plane. guess the same would work for a shuttle ^^;
Yay~ I'm in a writing mood XD BTW, if anyone knows French, please drop me a line! I could really use your help. Domo~
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