Chapter 28: "Battle in the Stars"
The alarm went off before Wufei had even finished pulling the lever.
His heart leapt into his throat, and he froze. He'd been found out a lot faster than he'd been expecting. He'd been hoping to get a good head start...
Then don't just sit here, idiot!! his mind screamed. With a fresh burst of adrenaline, he slammed the lever forward. The red light above the hangar doors began flashing, but the doors refused to open. Wufei sat in dumb shock, staring at the flashing lights, ears ringing with the howling of the alarm. They'd locked the doors. He was trapped.
He became aware of movement out of the corner of his eye and turned his head grimly to watch the soldiers racing through the door. Well, he wouldn't be taken without a fight, he told himself firmly. They'd have to drag him from the cockpit kicking and striking out for all he was worth.
It took him a moment to realize none of them were heading directly for his mech. In fact, they were all racing for their own individual suits. He watched, bemused, as the shouting soldiers scrambled into cockpits, tugging on helmets and powering up their machines. Some of the shouted words finally drifted his way, and he sank back in his chair with a sudden rush of almost painful relief.
They weren't after him. The alarm wasn't even for him. There was a battle going on, and they were heading out to fight. The hangar doors had refused to open because the inner door had been opened with the soldier's arrival; the system wouldn't open the doors for safety reasons until the inner door was secure.
"Chang, you lucky son of a bitch," Wufei muttered to himself, tugging his own helmet out from under the seat. Or unlucky, he corrected himself, pulling on the helmet and wrapping his hands around the controls. While it might actually be easier to slip off in the middle of a firefight, it also meant he might have to fight his way free.
The inner door was closed, and the hangar doors were opening painfully slow. Wufei took the time to struggle into the spacesuit folded neatly under his seat. By the time he had it on, the doors were open and three Taurus had already soared out. Wufei took a deep breath and gunned his own throttle, shooting out of the hangar at a speed that made his stomach lurch and narrowly missing another mech trying to exit at the same time.
He slowed to a halt once he had enough distance between him and the ship to allow the other suits to exit. He looked around, heart thudding in his ears. Not far away, the darkness was lighting up with random bursts of fire and lasers as the battle commenced. In the pressing silence of space, his own breathing sounded loud and harsh inside the helmet. The other suits were heading quickly for the battle, and Wufei followed at a slower pace, steering with one hand and using the other to activate the map system. If he could figure out how to head for L2, he might run into Heero and the others on the way.
He was concentrating so much on the loading maps that he didn't even notice the suit coming at him until the proximity alarms began beeping shrilly in the small confines of the cockpit.
"Shit!" Wufei wrenched the controls, dodging just in time. He twisted his Taurus around, bringing up one of the arms hastily to block the metallic fist that came swinging his way. The impact threw his suit backwards, and the seatbelt snapped, preventing a head-on collision with the control panel by a hair. Wufei grunted, tightening his grip on the controls and glaring out at the suit hovering before him. With some distance put between them, it was using the momentary respite to aim its laser cannon at him.
Wufei was jerking the controls in an attempt to get out of the way even as a voice in the back of his mind wondered why the suit before him looked so damned familiar.
The shot missed him just barely, but already he was barreling at his opponent. He clamped one of his Taurus' hands around the gun, pushing it up and out of the way, while he used the other to brutally smash the cockpit in. A part of him quailed at his own actions. He didn't even know who he was fighting. What if he'd killed some farmer from a random colony? Someone who'd been pulled into the war with false promises of an ensuing peace and freedom? Most of Milliardo's men weren't even soldiers, they were colonists fighting for what they believed to be a worthy cause. Wufei was not a part of this war; what right did he have to fight one side or the other?
But though the suit fell away, cockpit smashed horribly, no body or blood drifted out. Wufei stared incredulously as the arm twitched and the gun wavered, trying to find him again.
Abruptly he realized it wasn't the cockpit he'd destroyed. Because there was no cockpit. It was one of those suits he'd seen in Treize's fort/mansion back on earth. A Mobile Doll. The ones that didn't require pilots. Which meant Milliardo's troops were fighting with Kushrenada's.
The laser was aimed at him again, but all of his doubts were gone now. He was getting the fuck out of dodge, and no mechanical child's toy was going to stop him. He whipped out the gun locked into place on the back of his Taurus and fired point-blank into the middle of the doll. He wasn't ready for the ensuing explosion, as there was no sound in the great silence of space, and it sent his Taurus spinning back head over heels.
When he finally managed to right himself and get a look around, he could see that not only had he succeeded in destroying the doll, but the battle was still continuing fiercely, and there were many pieces of scrap floating about-- mostly those from Taurus suits. There were even a few bodies. Wufei forced his eyes back to the maps on his monitor. This wasn't his fight. Neither man-- Treize or Milliardo --had given him any reason to side with either of them. If they wanted to duke it out, let them. He wasn't sticking around to get sucked into their pissing contest.
He typed in a search for coordinates for L2 and waited impatiently for them to load. It was only a matter of time before another doll would take a shot at him, and he might not be so lucky next time. It only took moments for the download, though it felt like forever. He studied the map quickly as he typed in the coordinates. It should only take him a few hours to reach L2; hopefully he would run into the others halfway there. A nearby explosion caught his eye, and he glanced up instinctively.
A body was floating away from the wreckage, a small body. Wufei scowled. How young were their damned pilots, anyway? He watched as the body floated by. The suit didn't look like the one he was wearing. One of Treize's men? Then was he using piloted suits as well as the dolls?
Abruptly the pilot jerked, then suddenly twisted, turning to look back at the fragments of his suit. Still alive, then. He must have ejected just in time. Wufei realized his hands were frozen on the controls, and cursed himself internally. This isn't your fight, Wufei, he reminded himself sharply. Forget him. Just get the hell out of here.
One of Milliardo's troops had spotted the pilot as well, and was pulling away from the fight to finish him off. The small pilot twisted again, fighting against zero gravity in a desperate attempt to escape.
Wufei felt a rush of anger. What was the point in going after the man? He was harmless and defenseless without his mech. Killing him now would just be cruel. Before he could stop himself, he was sending his suit forward into the path of the oncoming Taurus.
The collision shook his teeth in his skull and caused the seatbelt to tighten so suddenly that he was sure his ribs were creaking. Snarling to cover a grunt of pain, he swung an arm at the bewildered Taurus, knocking it aside.
The pilot got over his surprise quickly and shot back at Wufei, bowling him over. The radio lights were flashing for an incoming call, but Wufei ignored them. It was probably the other pilot demanding to know why he was fighting his own side.
Wufei managed to grab onto the hurtling Taurus, but the two of them went spinning anyway. Wufei struggled furiously with his controls in an attempt to get an arm free so he could get to his gun, but the other Taurus refused to let go. In a moment of desperation Wufei managed to slam a hand forward instead, right into the cockpit.
It only cracked the glass, but it was a close enough call to make the other pilot let go hastily and back away. Wufei yanked his gun free and swung the butt of it against the Taurus' side, knocking it out of the way.
No doubt it would recover soon if the cockpit damage wasn't bad, but he didn't have time for this. He couldn't risk attracting others to the fight. He turned to find the evacuated pilot, and found the small body floating not far away. He wasn't moving. Wufei hesitated only for an instant, but a nearby silent explosion kick-started his conscience. He reached out with his free hand and carefully wrapped large mechanical fingers around the still body in a loose clasp. Punching in the last of the coordinates for L2, he gunned the thrusters and shot away from the other Taurus. He gave the battle a wide berth, but two dolls spotted his attempted escape and shot after him.
They were faster than his Taurus, he quickly realized. The suit was at top speed, but the dolls were gaining steadily. He couldn't fight with the unconscious soldier in his grasp. But if he released the body, it could get crushed or shot in the fight. He gritted his teeth as survival instincts and conscience fought together. Abandon the soldier and meet the dolls in battle? Or try to out fly them? Maybe they would give up and return to the real fight.
But these weren't soldiers following him, they were automated machines, and all they saw before them was a fleeing target. They weren't giving up, and they were almost on him. Did he have time to turn and aim before they caught up? Maybe he could get at least one of them, and then he would have to fight off two at once. That would be impossible. His maneuvering of the suit had been purely instinctual, and his survival thus far was more luck than anything else. He wouldn't last against the two dolls. His proximity alarm was going crazy, and a moment later another siren started to warn him that they had locked onto him. If they fired at him, it was over. And there was no way he could dodge both lasers. He jerked his controls upwards anyway in a last-ditch attempt.
One shot went wild beneath him, but the other clipped one of the Taurus' legs. Wufei let loose a bloodcurdling curse as the blow sent his suit spinning wildly. It took all his self control to keep his grip on the pilot loose and careful. Wildly he tried to aim his own gun with his free hand, but the dolls had adjusted impossibly quick. He tried to back away, but not quite quickly enough. A metallic fist crashed into his cockpit, and he gasped involuntarily as cracks raced across the enforced glass like cobwebs. The alarms were going crazy now, and Wufei felt a strange calm start to spread over his thoughts, smothering the panic and the anger.
Did you really think you'd make it out of this alive, Chang? he asked himself in derision. You were safer back in that cell than you are out here. At least Milliardo seemed like something of a decent man.
The doll wrenched his gun away and was already pulling back its arm for another crushing blow to the cockpit. Wufei tensed in preparation. At the last instant he thought-- I should let the pilot go. Dolls won't be interested in some random body.
He was relaxing his grip when the second doll, hovering to his right to ensure he didn't escape, suddenly lurched upwards and hung suspended. The other doll hesitated, and Wufei stared in confusion at the frozen doll to his right. His eyes dropped to the middle of the suit, where there seemed to be some kind of..blade? protruding from the suit. The gash was sparking madly, and in the light of the sparks, he thought he could catch glimpses of something behind the doll.
It's going to explode, his mind informed him quite calmly.
"Shit-!" Wufei jerked away, but the other doll was still holding his arm tightly. An instant later the impaled doll exploded, throwing them both back and tearing them apart. Wufei couldn't hold back a hoarse cry as the belt tightened once more, squeezing his already abused ribs. The force of the blow was too much for the belt to keep him out of all harm, however, and he gave a sharp gasp of pain as his elbow cracked against the control panel and his knee slammed up into the undercarriage of the panel's edge. He let loose a stream of Mandarin curses, reaching up to rub his neck tenderly-- whiplash? --and squinting out of the cracked cockpit.
In the glow of the explosion, he could make out another mech-- one twice as large as his own. Radar cloaking device? Wufei thought incredulously. And it had to be fast as hell. Not only had he not picked up another suit in his system, but he hadn't even seen its approach.
It was not a doll. Nor was it a Taurus. Wufei stared, stunned. It was a white suit with gold trimmings, a massive chest shield, and... two curved hand blades. That was what had killed the doll. "You've got to be kidding," Wufei croaked to himself. Whatever it was, it looked like it could destroy his own suit with a single blow. And yet... it almost reminded him of Heero's Gundam Wing, in its basic structure and sheer size.
The other doll recovered quicker than he did. It went right for the ivory suit, firing its laser gun.
The suit-- for all its size --was incredibly quick. It darted out of the way of the oncoming fire and shot forward, swinging both blades in a deadly arch that cut completely through the unfortunate doll, slicing it cleanly in thirds. Wufei managed to turn around and pull the unconscious pilot in his hand close to his chest protectively just in time. The explosion of the second doll knocked him around again, making his entire body ache.
Gun, gun, get your goddamned gun, Wufei's mind insisted frantically. He forced himself to ignore the pain and looked around quickly. The doll had knocked it away, and inertia was carrying it farther and farther away. Wufei kicked on his thrusters hastily and made a vain attempt to catch up.
But the white mech was faster.
Wufei couldn't hold back a gasp of surprise as it rushed up directly in front of him. One giant hand shot out, wrapping itself around his cockpit in another jarring blow. And then the hand began to squeeze. The glass creaked, cracked, and then shattered.
Without stopping to think that if he'd put his flight suit on incorrectly, he was a dead man already, Wufei yanked his harness off and managed to dart out through a crack in two of the enormous fingers. He floated back out of reach, watching in horror as the giant hand crushed the cockpit like a tin can.
The pilot had noticed his escape however, and the glowing eyes were already pinning him in place as the head swiveled to take him in. Wufei floated slowly backwards, staring up at the monstrosity with a dry mouth. His eyes flicked momentarily toward the still-clasped hand of his Taurus. The pilot was still there, unmoving. Maybe this new pilot wouldn't notice. He clenched his fists, gritting his teeth in preparation as the suit turned towards him. But the pilot made no move to finish him off. After a long moment, it turned away dismissively, looking back towards the battle.
Wufei let out a shaky breath. Either the pilot didn't think he was worth the trouble, or he actually had some iota of honor and could see no point in killing a helpless man. Still, this presented Wufei with a new problem. With his Taurus destroyed, how was he going to get to L2?
The suit turned back again, and for one wild instant Wufei thought he'd been wrong, that he was going to be killed anyway.... But no, the head was tilted away from him. Wufei tried to twist around. Moving in zero gravity was more difficult than he'd expected. Then he saw what was coming and gasped out an oath of surprise and relief.
It was Wing.
Heero had come after him, after all. He had just come quicker than Wufei had been expecting. Which meant the other suit... Wufei turned his head to gaze up at the giant suit of armor. Another Gundam? Then who was the pilot? Probably Duo. He must have jumped at the chance to get into a fight.
Heero's Wing shot right by him, ignoring him as unimportant. Wufei cursed, struggling to get himself moving. He had to let them know it was him, or the idiots would go right into the thick of that battle just to get to Milliardo's ship. Powerful as their suits were, he doubted they'd be able to stand up to both armies. He began waving his arms frantically.
Heero was speeding towards the battle, but the other Gundam was hesitating, gazing down at him. Wufei thrashed furiously, trying to get his body to move without gravity. He couldn't get any closer. Instead he was drifting towards his own ruined suit. The white Gundam looked towards the battle, back at him, then finally turned and followed Wing.
"Damn it!" Wufei shouted, hurting his head at the volume of his voice in the helmet. He twisted his body around and grabbed onto the Taurus as he bumped up against it. The radio-- did it still work? He hauled himself up the body of the suit until he reached the ruined cockpit. He winced as he took in the damage, then made himself squeeze his torso inside. He groped around until he found the radio, but found himself staring blankly at the frequency control. He had no idea what frequency they were on. He thought he remembered the one from Relena's ship, but what use was that? He glanced back over his shoulder. They were almost to the battle. Soon they would be spotted, and then they would be fighting for their lives, unthinkingly leaving behind the very man they'd come to fetch. He looked down. The pilot in his Taurus' grip was deathly still. Was the man already dead? Had he accidentally flexed his grip and crushed him?
"Think, Chang," he hissed to himself. "Or you're both dead men."
"Looks like Kushrenada's caught up to Milliardo at last," Quatre observed a little glumly as he shot after Wing towards the battle and the ship not far behind it. "We're going to have to fight our way through."
"So be it," came Heero's cold tones over the radio.
Quatre sighed to himself, tightening his grip slightly on his beloved Sandrock's controls. His heart was starting to thump in his chest. Never had he had to go against so many at once. In training, he and Trowa had battled a dozen at once, but this was insane. But he knew there was no convincing Heero of the futility of it all. He was too impatient to wait for the battle to be over to do the recovery mission. He was going to get Wufei back, even if he had to kill a hundred men on the way.
Suddenly a new voice crackled right in his ear, making him jump. "Idiots! Stop!"
"What the-- Heero, did you hear that?" Quatre asked quickly. "That sounded like Wufei!"
Wing came to such an abrupt stop that Quatre almost ran directly into him. "What?" Heero demanded sharply. "What are you talking about?"
Quatre leaned closer to his instrument panel, eyes intent on his radio. There was a bit of static, then again-- "Get away from there! I'm back here, you nitwits!"
"It's on Guard," Quatre gasped, feeling a rush of relief. "It is Wufei! He's OK!" Never again, he thought to himself smugly, would any of the other guys be able to give him crap for listening to the emergency frequency again. Duo had said he was too soft-hearted, keeping a weather ear open for any unfortunates in the vicinity. Heero had said it was useless to listen in when they would have no time to stop to help anyone. But if it really was Wufei...
"I don't hear anything," Heero snapped. "What did he say?"
"I don't understand," Quatre stammered. "Something about.. 'I'm back here'. What's he talking about?"
Wing was motionless for a moment, then suddenly he cut around Quatre and shot back the way they had come. "Heero!" Quatre twisted his own mech around and set off in bewildered pursuit. "Where are you going??"
After a moment it became clear where he was heading-- right back for the Taurus he'd just incapacitated.
Then it clicked when he saw the pilot he'd let live floating close to the ruined cockpit, waving one arm to catch their attention.
"Oh my god," he gasped, horrified. "I almost-- almost killed--!"
"You didn't," Heero interrupted angrily.
Another thing Duo can't give me shit about, Quatre thought dazedly. Mercy ended up saving Wufei today.
Wing had reached the Taurus, and the hatch was opening slowly. Startled, Quatre quickly turned around to keep an eye on the battle to make sure they weren't snuck up on. What was Heero thinking?? Getting out of his suit with a battle so close...
He isn't thinking, he realized a little numbly. He seems to toss a lot of things out of the window when it comes to Wufei. He almost smiled unconsciously, but caught himself just in time. He swallowed hard. This was going to be harder on Heero than he'd originally thought.
Heero pushed off from the bottom of Wing's hatch and let himself float down to where Wufei had pulled himself down to what looked like a body tucked into one of the battered Taurus' hands.
Wufei turned to face him as he approached, waving him over-- probably to help with the unconscious man. Heero reached out and grabbed Wufei's arm to stop his descent, and Wufei hung on more firmly to one of the mech's fingers to keep them still. Heero's helmet bumped against Wufei, and he could vaguely make out his features through the tinted glass. Wufei looked exhausted and harried, but relieved to see him.
"Idiot," Heero mouthed, forcing himself to scowl.
Wufei rolled his eyes, but clasped Heero's upper arm in greeting.
Heero let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding and let his head tilt forward to bump lightly against Wufei's again. He closed his eyes, tightening his grip a little on Wufei's arm. The relief that rushed through him was almost painful.
If he'd kept going... left Wufei behind... Or if the dolls had taken Wufei out before Quatre had arrived...
Wufei was tapping his shoulder to get his attention. He motioned towards the body urgently, then back towards the fight. Heero straightened quickly, giving a short nod. This was no time to be hanging around. They needed to get clear of the fight. He helped Wufei tug the small pilot free from the Taurus, then he kicked off of the mech and floated back to Wing. Howard and the others shouldn't be too far behind. He would have to hold onto Wufei, and Quatre could carry the pilot. He didn't see why Wufei seemed so determined to bring the man with them, but there was no way to argue with him.
As soon as the hatch was closed, he tugged off his helmet and held out one of Wing's massive hands for Wufei. "Quatre, get the other pilot," he said shortly. "We need to get back to Howard. We can't afford to get pulled into this battle. We still have to get Wufei to his grandfather."
Sandrock was already moving towards the limp body. "Who is it?"
"I don't know, but there's no way to ask, and no time. He isn't dressed like one of Milliardo's soldiers; the suit is too expensive. It could be one of Treize's. Perhaps we can question him." Wufei was in Wing's palm, holding tightly to one huge digit. Gently Heero closed the hand around him.
"So small.." Quatre observed a bit mournfully. "He must be very young."
Quatre took a deep breath, wrapped Sandrock's bulky hand around the small pilot, and roared off after Wing back towards where Howard was frantically trying to catch up.
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