Chapter 26: "Remnants of a War"
Li's Chinese Palace-- which was anything but --seemed to be doing fairly good business for itself. There were only a few tables free, and Heero chose one far away from the front door but close to the kitchen. In case a quick escape was needed? Wufei wondered. Trust Heero the paranoid to think like that.
Their orders came out quickly, which gave a hint of the quality of the food before Wufei even tasted it, but fast-food Chinese was better than no Chinese. Relena, who couldn't quite grasp the concept of chopsticks, had to ask for a fork.
Wufei had wanted to use the break to question Heero about some things, but not with Relena present. She ended up filling in the silence herself, commenting on the food, the colony's atmosphere, and some of her father's wishes for the colonists' well-being. Heero grunted in response to most of her comments and inquiries, focusing most of his attention on a steady sweep of the room as he ate, while Wufei concentrated on his food and tried to tune her out. He was thinking about what Quatre had said earlier.
How could Mobile Suits be "sentient"? Quatre had said none of the others took him seriously, but Heero had given his oversized body armor a rather suspicious look after Wufei had managed somehow to get past the supposedly locked doors of the hangar once again. An almost... accusatory glance. But it was ridiculous. Mobile Suits were nothing more than man-made machines meant to be weapons and armor all in one. They could only do what their pilots told them to do.
And that brought up the memory of Kushrenada's strange Mobile Dolls. They hadn't had a cockpit. No cockpit, no pilot. Was that similar to what Quatre was talking about? Perhaps it was just AI and battle simulation that made him see something that wasn't there. If the Dolls didn't need pilots, perhaps the Gundams were just high-tech enough to react to certain simulations without the aid of a pilot. But that would only hold true for battle situations. Quatre's description... No. The hatch opening like that during the fire could have been a safety precaution built into the Gundams already. In the event of an emergency, perhaps they were programmed to follow a certain procedure-- such as opening an otherwise jammed hatch.
Slowly Wufei became aware of the fact that Heero was watching him. He glanced sideways at the other boy, frowning slightly when he realized Heero was smirking at him. It was a very small smirk, but frustrating nonetheless because Wufei couldn't think why Heero would be silently laughing at him. Relena was still chatting away, eyes roaming the restaurant as she admired the tacky decorations, so Wufei mouthed impatiently, 'What?'
Heero's smirk only widened slightly, and he shrugged carelessly, turning his eyes back to Relena. Wufei wondered if the other boy had caught him scowling into his noodles, caught up in his thoughts on Dolls and Gundams, and ducked his head unconsciously as he ate, muttering under his breath about smartass Guardians, cheeks warming.
"Let's go to that museum now," Relena said suddenly.
Wufei looked up and realized he was the only one still picking at his food. He took one more bite of the greasy stuff and gratefully put his chopsticks down. "Why would you want to see a war museum?" he growled.
"Because they're built for a reason," Relena said a little primly, and Wufei was irritated to recognize the beginnings of a lecture. "They're there to remind people of what a war cost the people. And what it achieved, good or bad. I think they're an excellent idea. Who could ever condone war after spending a day gazing at posters of orphaned children, mutilated bodies, and POW camps?"
Wufei gave her a long, steady look. He was forced to agree with her, but not out loud. He grunted unintelligibly instead.
Heero left some money on the table and rose. Without a verbal argument from Wufei, he could obviously find no excuse to deny the trip. "Fine. We'll go."
"I have to use the restroom," Relena said, lifting a hand as she hurried to the bathroom signs close to the front door. "I'll only be a moment."
Heero and Wufei stepped outside to wait, and Heero immediately switched his suspicious scan to encompass the street while Wufei leaned against the wall with his hands in his pockets, shrugging to adjust his jacket more comfortably around his shoulders. The air felt a little chilly, and somewhere from up above there was a pleasant chime sounding. Wufei looked upwards as if he could find the source, but it seemed to be coming from the colony's ceiling far above.
Wufei looked at Heero, startled. "What?"
Heero jerked his chin up, indicating the ceiling. "There's 'rain' on colonies, too," he explained. "On ones built primarily of cities, it only occurs once a month. On colonies that have more greens and farmland, the rain occurs two or three times a month. That chime is to announce that the rain will start soon."
"How convenient," Wufei drawled.
"The colonists seem to think so," Heero admitted with a slight shrug. "Though for a place like L2, with no farmland and very little greenery, I see no point."
Wufei looked around at the few people on the street, none of which seemed interested in heading indoors to avoid the oncoming 'weather'. "Maybe it reminds them of earth," he mused.
Heero was silent for a moment, thinking on that. After a moment he nodded slowly. "Maybe," he agreed. He sent Wufei a sideways look. "Shouldn't you get under cover?"
Wufei stared back. A few moments later, the rain started, abrupt and cascading. It ran through the streets, made the gutters gurgle, and pinged off of tin roofs. It weighted Wufei's clothes and soaked his hair and ran down the sides of his face. Wufei found himself smirking at Heero through the deluge. "I like the rain," he said flippantly.
Heero snorted, amused, but Wufei noticed he made no move to take cover, either.
The war museum was the most depressing thing Wufei had seen in quite some time.
On display just outside was a belfry, pitted with bullet holes and broken from mortar rounds, the stones scorched from lasers. The plaque at the bottom explained that the belfry was one of the few intact pieces from the Maxwell Church. Relena touched it as she saw others doing-- a silent prayer, perhaps --and headed for the ticket window. Wufei barely spared the pitiful stones a second look, his jaw jerking with mingled sympathy and anger. The ruined belfry was almost a perfect symbol representing all that he hated about war. What bastards would bring down a church and all the innocents inside? The sight of it only brought back the bitterness of his own lost family and his inner hatred for the war, its cause, and the soldiers fighting in it.
He realized Heero wasn't behind him and turned, puzzled.
Heero was staring up at the unstable belfry, eyes lost and faraway, mouth in a tight line.
He looked up quickly, clearing his face of any expression. Wufei hesitated, glancing from Heero to the belfry. Something about it had affected Heero more than it had himself or Relena. He frowned, puzzled. From what he remembered from history class, the tragedy of the Maxwell Church had happened over twenty years ago-- before Heero had even been born. And as if he'd never forgotten it, the dream came back to him.
v When Duo had reluctantly mentioned the destroyed church earlier, Wufei had felt a memory nudge at his mind, and now he recalled the dream he'd had after his escape from Kushrenada.
He'd been eavesdropping on... his aunt? Yes. And another woman, too. They'd been arguing about Duo's "adoption" and promotion to Guardian, and had mentioned the Maxwell Church. "Maxwell" wasn't an uncommon American surname, but his Aunt had been upset because Duo had seemed to link his name to a terrible incident that had occurred before his birth.
Maybe, Wufei conceded, Duo did so because L2 was his home colony, and the destruction of the Maxwell Church was part of his colony's sad history. But why did Heero seem affected by it as well? He was the descendant of soldiers; perhaps he was feeling guilty for what had been done by others like him?
Heero shrugged to show he was fine, and led the way towards the ticket booth where Relena was waiting for them.
The inside of the museum only proved to be more depressing than the sight of the battered belfry. There were, of course, weapons that had been used, and wax figures depicting battle scenes. There was even a badly damaged Leo MS on display. But it was the photos that spoke loudest.
The walls of the rooms and halls were covered in them; some of the pictures were practically life-sized. Scenes of the wounded, the dead and dying, the battles, the frightened civilians and the haunted refugees. Pictures of decimated buildings, smoke, fire, burning Mobile Suits and their burning pilots. Children screaming in the street, many of them covered in dirt and blood. Groups of shock-shelled, hopeless orphans collected after the battles.
Wufei realized he'd stopped moving through the museum and was staring numbly up at a large 3'x4' picture of roughly a dozen children, newly orphaned, none of them over eleven or twelve. Their clothes were ragged, their bodies filthy with dust and sweat, their eyes wide and terribly confused. Half of them looked beyond exhaustion; one of the older ones was squatting, head lowered in weariness while a smaller figure was scrunched up beside him, turning her face into his shoulder to hide the world from view.
A light touch on his shoulder made Wufei start involuntarily.
Relena had wandered farther into the building, but Heero had lingered. He looked at Wufei, then up at the picture, a frown of discontent on his face. "We can go," he offered.
Wufei turned his attention back on the photograph, shaking his head slightly. "I can see Relena's point," he muttered sourly. "Put one of these in every town and no one in their right mind would want to ever go to war."
Heero's eyes wandered to the pictures set up beside the one of the orphans. Following his gaze, Wufei read for the first time the small description printed roughly in the middle of the set.
The orphans that were evacuated from the church just days before its destruction had nowhere to return to when the Priest, his nuns, and the WIA soldiers from both sides of the war were killed and the church brought to the ground.
There was a blurry picture of tired-looking nuns attending to the injured soldiers laid out on the floor of the church, and another of the church's remains shortly after its destruction. Heero gave an involuntary shudder that Wufei felt against his shoulder. He turned and took in Heero's slightly haunted look with surprise. "Heero?" He faced the other boy fully. "This whole Maxwell Church incident seems to be affecting you more than it should," he pointed out. "I can see why Duo would be upset if he's from L2, but why does it bother you so much? It's terrible, but you weren't even alive when this happened. This occurred in the middle of the war."
Heero dragged his eyes away from the picture of the wounded soldiers and the nuns. "No, I wasn't," he said cryptically. "I learned about it through history lessons the same as you did. And..." he paused.
Wufei eyed him curiously. "What? You aren't from L2, are you? I thought--"
"No. L1." Heero seemed to give himself an internal shake, his face clear again. "Don't mention these pictures to Duo. As many times as he's been back to L2, I doubt he's ever been able to make himself come in here."
Wufei frowned, and on complete impulse, forcing himself to ignore the handful of people on the other side of the room, he reached out tentatively and grasped the other boy's hand. It was just firm enough to be almost a comforting buddy-buddy gesture between two friends, but he couldn't quite swallow his embarrassment anyway. Heero's eyes flicked to his immediately in surprise, and Wufei felt gratified to see the faintest hint of pink to the pilot's cheeks.
Wufei was about to question him further, but Heero said suddenly, "I'm going to find Relena." He pulled his hand free carefully and strode off. Whether his abrupt retreat was born out of nervousness or a reluctance to answer any more inquiries, Wufei was unsure, but amused nonetheless. He turned his attention back on the picture of the orphans, his smirk fading.
He knew exactly how they felt. He'd lost his entire family to the war. At least now he had the chance to find some of them again. These children had probably never had that chance. He turned to go, then hesitated, eyes lingering on the photograph of the men in the church. He stepped closer, peering curiously. The description said that all the orphans had been evacuated from the church before its destruction. Yet in this picture, which was taken supposedly just before the attack, he could make out a small form standing behind the pews, watching the scene with a stubborn jaw. His features were blurry, but he couldn't be older than eight or so. Perhaps younger. Or perhaps it was actually a girl. She was nibbling on her long hair in a thoughtful or nervous gesture. Long, ratty hair, done up in a braid....
A hand clamped on his shoulder so abruptly he had to use extreme self-control to keep from lashing out instinctively. "Damn it, Yuy," he growled, annoyed at being caught off guard. He turned to offer the other boy a dangerous glare.
The three men who stood behind him, clothed in the uniform of the Colonist Rebellion Army, glowered down at him.
"Chang Wufei?" one of them demanded.
Wufei jerked away and managed to drive his fist into the face of the first soldier before the other two-- who'd obviously been expecting resistance --drove their tasers into his sides and shattered the world into shards of pain.
Wufei awoke slowly and reluctantly, and with consciousness came pain. He winced as he became aware of the fact that simply breathing brought lancing pain to his ribs. He gingerly pushed himself to up into a seating position and scooted back slowly on the ground until his back touched a wall. He leaned against it gratefully and touched his side delicately, hissing out a curse at the pain that made his muscles twitch. He looked around, blinking in the gloom and waiting for his eyes to adjust. Slowly he made out his surroundings: bench, urinal, hard ground, pitcher of water, barred door....
With a snarl of rage he realized he was in a cell. He struggled to his feet and staggered to the door, gripping the bars and trying to peer outside, but all he could see was the blank white wall across from his cell. "Hey!" he shouted furiously, wincing as the exertion put a strain on his aching sides. "What the hell is going on? Let me out of here!"
"Quiet down in there!" The butt of a gun rattled warningly against the bars, and he jerked his face back. The guard who'd evidently been standing to the side, out of sight, stepped into view and scowled in at him. "Keep your trap shut, runt," the big man growled. "Do yourself a favor and take a nap or somethin'."
Wufei glared right back, grip tightening on the bars in anger. "You have no right to lock me up like this," he stated imperiously. "I don't have anything to do with your stupid war--"
The guard rattled the bars again, and Wufei yanked his hands back when he got a painful rap across the knuckles. "Not from what I hear," he sneered. "You're a POW, kid, so you ain't got no 'rights'. Just shut up an' wait until 'is Lordship is ready to see you."
"Lordship?" Wufei echoed, scowling as he rubbed sore knuckles.
"Shut up, I said," the guard barked.
Wufei leaned forward slowly and offered the bigger man a cold glare. "I won't," he said simply, voice encouraging a fight.
The guard looked ready to open the cell door and come in and shut him up personally-- which was what Wufei had been hoping for --when a sharp voice interrupted them.
"You there! Stop antagonizing the prisoner!"
The guard snapped to attention hastily at the sound of approaching footsteps. Wufei tried to crane his neck to see, but the person was out of immediate sight.
"Get that boy out of there and make sure his hands are bound," came a stern woman's voice. "The Baron is ready to speak with him now."
Baron? Wufei backed away from the door, crouching slightly and flexing his hands in preparation for battle as the guard fumbled with the lock. His ribs still protested, but he wasn't going anywhere without a fight, damn it.
The door opened inward, but the guard still wasn't quick enough to stop Wufei as he came cannoning out, bowling the bigger man over with a howl of surprise. They hit the opposite wall, and Wufei leapt to his feet, dealing the guard a fierce kick to the stomach to wind him before whirling to run.
The gun barrel, inches from his face, froze him in his tracks.
Tensely he raised his eyes from the gun to its owner, and was both surprised and angry at himself to find himself held at bay by a mere woman. Worse, a young woman, no older than twenty or so. She was dressed sharply in a uniform, and Wufei had had enough of Hilde's magazine's shoved in his face to recognize the Lieutenant bar on her lapel. Her hair was cut in a style that reminded him eerily of Hilde's, and with a start he realized who she must be. This young woman was none other than Lt. Lucrezia Noin. Hilde had practically hero-worshipped the woman, despite the fact that she was on the side of the colonists. Noin had made quite a name for herself, graduating at the top of her class in the same prestigious military academy both Kushrenda and Relena's brother had attended the year before her. She was a good soldier, an honorable one, supposedly, and commanded the respect of the men under her. She was also Milliardo's right hand.
Wufei disliked her instantly on principle. Uppity powerful women tended to rub him the wrong way.
"Going somewhere?" she asked coolly.
Wufei scowled up at her, still in a half-crouch. He was debating whether or not he had a chance at dodging the gun and knocking her aside when he heard the guard scramble to his feet with a grunt. A quick glance over his shoulder showed the man had already pulled his own gun. Damn.
"Just come along quietly, and things will go better for you," Noin said.
Gritting his teeth, Wufei let the man yank his arms behind his back and cuff them. "I recognize you," he snarled. "So I'm assuming I'm on Peacecraft's flying tin can?"
The guard cuffed him hard enough to make him stagger. "Watch your mouth, brat!" he bellowed. "How dare you speak to the Lieutenant like that! And you'll address the Baron by his formal title, you stinking terrorist."
"Terrorist?" Wufei repeated incredulously.
"That's enough, soldier," Noin snapped. "Just bring him along quietly."
"Yes, ma'am," the guard said quickly, saluting. Noin turned to lead the way, and the guard pushed him off after her.
"What's all this 'terrorist' crap?" Wufei demanded as he marched along behind her.
"You can hold all questions for when you're speaking to Lord Peacecraft," Noin said crisply without a backwards look. "Just keep up and be quiet."
"I hate," Wufei growled fiercely, "superior-acting women who don't know their place." Internally he winced on reflex. If Hilde had heard that comment, she would have punched him into next week.
She spun around so suddenly he almost ran into her. She gazed down at him coldly for a long moment, then abruptly smirked. "And I dislike little children," she said sweetly, "who don't know theirs."
Wufei snarled, but the guard's strong hand on his shoulder kept him in place.
With a triumphant little smile, Noin turned back around and continued down the corridor. Grumbling to himself, Wufei allowed himself to be led. They passed many soldiers, some who ignored him, others who glared as if he was the enemy, which irked him to no end. He wanted nothing to do with their self-righteous war, and now he was being treated as, of all things, a terrorist.
At last they reached an office where Noin came to a halt and knocked briskly. At a call from within, she opened the door a bit and poked her head in. "Sir, I've brought the prisoner you wanted to speak to."
"Bring him in," came the calm reply.
Noin strode in, and Wufei allowed the guard to shove him in after her, eyes flitting quickly about the room for any sign of an escape or a weapon, before settling on the man seated behind the desk.
He'd seen a couple of pictures both on the news and in Hilde's magazines. Enemy of Earth or not, that hadn't stopped the Terran girls from swooning over him. Wufei could certainly see why. He had to grudgingly admit that the man was certainly what one would expect for a girl's dream date.
Relena was cute, but obviously her brother had gotten the lion's share of the looks in the family. With long platinum hair, a tall slender form, and a finely chiseled face, he looked as if he should be modeling underwear somewhere, not running a rebellious army in space.
If he shared any of his baby sister's tenacity and bull-headedness, Wufei told himself wryly, this conversation was going to be extremely aggravating.
"So. This is one of the 'dangerous terrorists' I've heard so much about," Milliardo commented in a pleasant baritone. "Chang Wufei, isn't it?" He rose to his feet politely as Wufei was maneuvered to stand before the desk.
Wufei scowled up at him with a total disregard for any sort of respect. "How do you know my name?" he demanded. "And what's all this BS about me being a 'terrorist'? I don't want anything to do with your stupid war! Your men accosted me on a layover in L2!"
"A layover," Milliardo repeated, not even batting an eye at the rude way he'd just been addressed, though Noin had stiffened in anger. "And just where were you headed?"
"I was on a mechanic's ship," he snapped. "We had several stops to make. What business is it of yours?"
In answer, Milliardo held up a folder. "Do you know what this contains?" he asked calmly. He opened it and flipped through the papers within until he found the one he wanted. He took it out and turned it around for Wufei's inspection. "Not a very flattering photo."
Wufei gaped, staring at the small photograph of himself, caught in profile, scowling as he walked. It was a close-up of his face, so he couldn't tell when or where the picture had been taken, though it had obviously been done without his knowledge. Underneath the photo was his information: his home address and telephone number, his name, age, the school he attended, and a paragraph below all that. Wufei glimpsed the words 'Orton', 'disturbance', and 'violent threatening behavior' before the paper was slid back into the folder once more. "These are some of your friends, right?" And Wufei watched in growing astonishment and horror as Milliardo pulled out similar papers of his four Guardians. "The four of you kidnapped two girls, one of them," here his eyes snapped with subdued anger, "my own sister, and hijacked my father's private shuttle. You are also suspected of murdering four men in the shuttle port, squawking false modes on your aircraft, and posing a threat to a military bomber."
"That bomber attacked us!" Wufei interrupted angrily, knowing even as he said so, he was admitting to the other accusations.
Milliardo arched a cool brow and set the folder down firmly on his desk. "I have also heard through the grapevine that you are somehow in allegiance with Treize Kushrenada. He seems to have a great interest in meeting up with you, in any case."
"I don't want anything to do with that stuck-up pig!" Wufei snarled. "Or you, for that matter! I'm not a damned terrorist! I'm not involved in this war at all! You should get your facts straight before treating people like the enemy!"
Noin was unable to hold back any longer. "Watch your tone!" she said fiercely.
Milliardo raised a hand to silence her, eyes still firmly on Wufei. "You say so, but what reason do I have to believe you?" he pointed out. "You travel in unsavory company, Chang Wufei. Oh yes," he said with a nod when Wufei's eyes widened. "This isn't the first time I've heard the names 'Heero Yuy' or 'Duo Maxwell'. Even Trowa Barton's name has come up a few times in the past." He frowned slightly, crossing his arms over his chest. "And yet you have Quatre Winner in your troupe, as well. I find this strange, seeing as he comes from such a well-respected family."
"I don't have to answer any of your bullshit questions," Wufei finally managed to growl.
Milliardo's eyes hardened, as did his tone. "Yuy and Maxwell alone are responsible for the death of some of my men several years ago. If you choose to be their traveling companion and keep their secrets, you're one of them. Justice will be served, Chang Wufei. And I intend to mete it out with an iron fist. The colonists are not the flotsam of space to be swept aside by the likes of you and Kushrenada. I will not let these brave people be denied their inherent rights as human beings. And I will not allow the senseless killings of my men by little boys who claim to fight for no one."
"You have no room to talk," Wufei snarled before he could stop himself. "It was your men who destroyed my home and killed my family!"
Milliardo's frown shifted from angry to slightly puzzled. "What are you talking about?"
Stop it, Wufei ordered himself fiercely. Don't give too much away. He clamped his lips shut tight and glared angrily up at the older man, refusing to reply.
Milliardo's face grew stern once more. "We will talk again when you are more willing to cooperate," he said shortly, and motioned to the guard. "Lt. Noin, stay, please. I'd like a word."
She inclined her head respectfully, stepping aside as the big guard seized Wufei's arm and dragged him out of the room.
Wufei remained silent as he was half-dragged back to his cell.
He was angry about his predicament, and angry about Milliardo's misconceptions, but he could not bring himself to hate the man as he had come to loathe Treize. Something about the man's heartfelt words had struck a chord. Milliardo seemed honest about what he'd said; he was angry over the death of his men and the mistreatment of the colonists. If he saw Wufei as the enemy, then he could hardly blame the Baron for not trusting him.
But that thing about Duo and Heero being responsible for the death of some of his men... what had that been about?
They reached the cell and the guard followed Wufei inside, presumably to remove the cuffs. Without warning, however, the big man seized Wufei by the back of the neck and slammed him into the hard wall. Wufei gritted his teeth in pain and anger, cheek smashed against the wall as he tried to twist his eyes around to glare at the man hovering just behind him.
"Talk to the Lieutenant or the Baron like that again," he breathed menacingly in Wufei's ear, twisting his arm painfully upwards so that Wufei was forced to rise to the balls of his feet, "and I'll beat some sense into you myself." Abruptly he drove a punishing fist into Wufei's kidneys, releasing his arm at the same time so that Wufei fell to the floor with a grunt of pain. "That's payback," the guard sneered, rubbing where Wufei had kicked him earlier. Chuckling, he left Wufei, hands still bound, and slammed the door behind him.
Wufei took slow, deep breaths to try and drive away the pain before forcing himself to his knees. He leaned back carefully so his back was propped against the wall and tucked his legs underneath himself Indian-style. Blowing out a loud breath of aggravation, he glared sullenly up at the ceiling, hating his current predicament but forcing himself to admit that there was no immediate way he could see of escaping by himself.
"Heero, you bastard," he muttered ruefully into the empty room, "you'd better hurry the hell up and come rescue me, damn it."
Author's Notes: In Seoul a couple years ago, I visited the Korean War Museum, and jeeesus but it was depressing X_X One of the images that stuck with me most was a huge picture of a little girl in the middle of a destroyed street looking hopelessly confused and crying.
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