Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

AN: Dedicated to Dacia!

Huge thanks to my beta, Anaitis, for smoothing over a couple of rough plot points. And thanks to all of you who wrote, reviewed, encouraged, sporked and drew fanart for me ^_^

Freeport + Chapter 31

“With a gun barrel between your teeth, you speak only in vowels.”

- Fight Club

+

It was dark. Wufei tried to move, but he felt constricted. Something was holding him down.

He must be in Space. Strapped into Nataku. A moment of cold peace snatched from the jaws of war...

"Wake him up."

The darkness felt cold. Had the Gundam been breached? Were heat and air slowly leaking out...?

"Get him screaming. That'll get the other one to come out."

Wufei felt a frown cross his face, but the sensation was distant, as if his body was a hundred feet away. What...? Who was speaking...?

"Yeah, that'll do it." There was an ugly chuckle.

I'm dreaming, Wufei realized. One more dark dream of the war, of Nataku. Dreaming of OZ guards on the Lunar base. He was asleep, and that meant he must be...in Freeport? He was asleep with Duo besides him.

He rather wanted to wake up now.

"Not the face!" someone said sharply in the dream (it had to be a dream, he never let strangers near him while he slept).

There was a noise. It was quite near to - the bed? He was in bed...wasn't he? It didn't feel like it though. And that noise...it was a sharp hiss, like gas whistling from a pipe.

Alarm prickled over Wufei's skin. He...couldn't move his arms. This...wasn't right-

Pain!

Burning! The smell! Scorched skin-

Wufei bucked, breath whistling through his teeth and he tried to roll.

Napalm!

"Whoa!!"

"Hey, don't let him go!"

Burning! Stink-pain of seared flesh-

"Fuck!"

Had to put it out putitout putitout-

"What the-"

"Can't- hold him-"

Something slammed into Wufei's head. It knocked him to the floor. His eyes flew open, though all he could see were sparks. But he realized the burning sensation was fading, and it was nothing compared to the pain that had ripped him apart when he'd been attacked with napalm- where the hell was he?!

"I said, don't hit him in the face! Please!"

Please? Who said please to that kind of request? It was someone speaking from some distance away. There was somebody else standing just above Wufei; the man who'd hit him. That man hadn't said anything, he'd let his fist do the talking. Wufei blinked, and his attacker slowly came into focus through the fading sparks and the strands of his hair that had drifted over his eyes.

It was Carver.

Fuck.

Hands were grasping his arms and hauling him up again, onto his knees. They'd been holding him before, he could still feel their grip on his skin, but he'd jerked free under the wash of pain and panic. What the hell had burned him?

He blinked again, and focused on the welding torch in Carver's left hand.

"At least he's awake now. Hold him better," a patrician voice ordered in the background.

A man right behind Wufei called the Preventer a motherfucking pig in a harsh whisper and gripped his arm hard, painfully. His whole body was hurting, particularly his head and a single burning spot near his neck. Probably where the welding torch had made contact.

"Maxwell!"

Wufei whipped his head around, staring past Carver and the threat of the torch.

They were in the maintenance tunnels. No longer in the Troll pipes, no longer in the undersector. Were they back in Kropotkin? What the hell had happened? The last thing he could remember was Fred, slamming the airlock shut a few second before Wufei could reach it. After that, his memory was a huge, dark prickle of pain.

Armed men and women were scattered around him and his captors. Wufei also spotted Ferret near a hatch; he'd been the one to shout. As Wufei watched, dazed, Ferret drew another breath.

"Maxwell, I know you can hear me! You don't want us to go to town on your buddy here, do you? Come out and bring the Troll with you."

Wufei started to struggle against the people holding him. Duo? He was nearby?

Fragmented recollections were coming back to him, fighting their way past the darkness and the pain in his skull.

He'd been down in the undersector. Damaged containers lying around like bodies in a morgue. The Breakers' headquarters. Wufei and Duo and Fred, the Troll, had been running from the Breakers.

Fred had closed the emergency airlock. Duo had been on the right side. Wufei hadn't.

And then...Wufei shook his head savagely, trying to clear it. He almost passed out again.

He couldn't remember much of what happened next. Only snatches of fighting. Blood. A lot of it. The face of a stranger staring up at him as Wufei jerked his sword out of the man's belly. And then nothing.

Apparently he'd been caught. His head was aching and his ears ringing. It felt like he had a cut on the leg and bruises all over. And his muscles were clenching and trembling on his right side. Either he was seriously concussed and having a stroke - a distinct possibility - or they'd used a tazer on him at some point.

"Well, maybe you'll change your mind when you hear your girlfriend squealing," Ferret laughed, greasy and loud and vicious. He turned towards Carver and nodded, not that Carver was looking at him.

Carver grabbed Wufei's chin and tilted his head up. Wufei stared at the hard features and the black eyes, curiously blank and unemotional, coldly examining Wufei and judging the best way to break him. They held no particular animosity; just a cold, clear determination. Wufei suddenly realized he'd never heard Carver's voice. Maybe he was mute. Maybe he just didn't need to speak, only needed to hurt and kill.

"Remember, don't damage his face. He needs to be recognizable."

The man who'd been speaking finally came into view over Carver's shoulder.

Morgenstern. It wasn't a massive surprise. Not as good as a manila folder with 'Secret Breaker Plans' on it, as far as compromising the financier went, but it was pretty damning anyway.

Morgenstern was looking down at Wufei with a curious mixture of resolve and regret.

"Do it," he sighed. The men holding Wufei laughed, the small, ugly laughter of cowards looking forward to seeing pain applied to somebody else.

Carver let go of Wufei's chin and grabbed the collar of his shirt. In his other hand, the torch's pilot ignited a small but steady burst of flame, hissing softly, a dreadful promise of pain.

Wufei realized he wasn't wearing his jacket anymore. Or his sword, not that that was surprising. Damn it, if he was going to die, he really wanted his sword nearby...

Carver ripped Wufei's shirt open with a single vicious tug.

There was a sudden silence in the small circle around the Preventer.

Ferret stumbled forward to get a better look over Carver's shoulder. Morgenstern's eyebrows had shot upwards.

"Ho-leee fuck! Looks like someone's done him already!" Ferret said, staring at the burn scars twisting their way across Wufei's skin.

One of the men holding him had loosened his grasp to lean forward and get a better look.

Wufei concentrated his chi and tore his arm away. He struck, clean, quick and vicious at the man's jaw and ripped a dagger from the Breaker's belt as he fell.

He slashed at Carver. If he could just get him. They could kill Wufei afterwards, but he was going to get Carver one way or another-

Carver blocked the blow, catching Wufei's wrist. Wufei put his body weight behind it, tried to force the knife forward, but Carver held him down with ease, and the other Breaker, after a cry of alarm, was bearing down on Wufei from behind.

"Hold him!" Morgenstern snapped, taking a few cautious steps back.

Wufei struggled against Carver's grip. Carver held his wrist, staring down at him. Deep, deep in the black eyes, a dark light flickered, a small hint of cruel interest.

Finally the knife fell to the floor as Wufei's strength gave out.

"Good," Morgenstern muttered, coming up behind Carver again. He gestured at another man nearby. "You, help Sam, make sure he's not too badly injured. Get him topside."

Somebody picked up the unconscious man Wufei had punched. Morgenstern followed the man's assisted exit with a worried frown, then nudged Carver on the shoulder.

"Get started. We have to get that Troll. Albert, any news from the search crews yet?"

"Yeah, they called in to report five minutes ago," Ferret muttered, still staring in sick fascination at Wufei's chest. "But no trace of Maxwell."

"I don't really care about Maxwell," Morgenstern said. "He can't do us much harm now. It's the Troll I need. We have to block any move the King makes against us when he realizes one of his men is mixed up in this mess."

Fred. They wanted Fred as hostage. But why? The Breakers' cover was all but blown now, surely. Having a single Troll hostage would not make a difference. And Duo was very dangerous to them, how could they discount someone of Duo Maxwell's influence so easily...?

Wufei licked his lips and tried to concentrate on the situation, but the hiss and stink of the welding torch was eating away at his concentration. They were going to torture him so that Duo would give himself up. It would be foolish for Duo to surrender, when they might just kill him as soon as they had Fred. But that would probably not stop Duo from either handing himself over or trying something desperate. Wufei knew he would do the same if the positions were reversed, and Duo was the one being slowly burned to death. Unfortunately, Wufei couldn't think of anything he could do at this juncture to stop the inevitable.

Morgenstern walked towards the hatch. It was an access to the Troll tunnels, Wufei realized. No wonder they hadn't found Duo and Fred yet, if the latter had recovered enough to lead Duo through the Troll kingdom. The Breakers might have their own Troll on their side, but Fred was surely in a class by himself.

"Duo." Morgenstern's voice was loud but still so reasonable. "I know you can hear me. You're not the kind to leave a man behind. You're nearby. This is about to get very unpleasant. I have no desire to do this to someone who once fought for the freedom of Space. I wish I could have convinced you and Chang to consider- but I guess you'd both already made your decision. And it's too late I'm afraid. But I don't want to hurt him like this if I can help it. Please surrender, with the Troll, and I promise you that we won't kill either of you."

Wufei noted how Morgenstern hadn't promised not to kill him.

There was nothing but silence from the tunnel. It was a silence with deadly intent in it, though. Wufei also knew that Duo would be nearby. He wondered how long he could stop from screaming when that torch touched his skin. He could hold out for a little while. He held no delusions that he'd hold out forever. He knew just how badly burning could hurt. It didn't take long for the thinking part of the brain to switch off and leave nothing but a gibbering animal trying to run from fire.

Morgenstern sighed and turned around-

"Alan!"

Everybody looked up as a man came running down the tunnel.

"Alan, the Elders-" the man went right up to Morgenstern and started whispering into his ear urgently.

Morgenstern's face became set. "Already...?" he murmured.

He was silent for a moment, eyes narrowed and staring blindly at Wufei.

"Change of plan," he said. "We move out now. Toruh, give the signal, make sure they're ready for in the Esplanade."

Ferret tore his eyes away from Wufei's chest to glance at his leader - it was pretty obvious that was what Morgenstern was.

"What? We're moving out now?"

"Yes. We've just run out of time."

"But what about this Pig here? And Maxwell-"

Morgenstern spoke decidedly, with the natural certainty and presence of a born leader. "We need the Troll, but we don't have the time. We can't lose momentum. And we cannot allow our enemies to get their act together and counter our move, or that will be the end."

He turned towards a woman nearby.

"Sandra, rejoin Tor and the men hunting for Maxwell, and make sure they find him and the Troll. Mainly the Troll."

"But we need to be with you when you-" the woman started to protest, but Morgenstern cut her off.

"I don't think a few more people will swing things either way. This will work, or this will fail. The fates are cast."

Sandra looked like she wanted to argue, but she turned away in the end. She gave Wufei a single, venomous look and left.

Morgenstern walked up to Wufei. He put his hand on Carver's shoulder, and the hulking killer straightened up and moved to Wufei's side without a word, flicking off the torch and dropping it casually. He twisted Wufei's arm behind the Preventer's back in a professional hold and tied what felt like a length of cable around his forearms. There was a click, some sort of lock. Then Carver jerked his prisoner around until Wufei was facing Morgenstern.

Wufei stared up at Morgenstern who looked down upon him with regret.

"Well, Mr. Chang, I'm sorry it's come to this. I do have some respect for you, despite your choice to fall in with Authority and the Earthers. But I've run out of options. Your arrival here precipitated certain chains of events that I was expecting, though not so soon. You and others have forced my hand, but I am far from helpless. I have always been a very adept strategist. I particularly excel at turning my enemies' moves against them. Your Commander Une will regret having sent you here."

Wufei's jaw clenched. Sorry, Trowa, he thought...looked like you were wrong to trust me to keep my head down and stay out of trouble...it's an obvious conclusion to my life that I can't do anything right...

He was hoping Morgenstern would take a minute to explain what it was exactly he was going to do to Wufei, and what the Breakers were planning while he was at it; if Duo was really nearby, near enough to overhear, it might give him some vital information. But apparently Morgenstern wasn't the kind to gloat over his clever plans, and he didn't consider Wufei important enough to talk to further. The financier nodded at Carver, who forced Wufei to his feet. Another tall, beefy Breaker grabbed Wufei's other arm and held it fast. Breakers fell into step on either side of them as they headed down the tunnel.

Surrounded by men taller than he was, Wufei couldn't see where they were going, but the way the maintenance tunnel was growing wider and wider indicated they were heading towards its exit. That would leave them in the heart of Kropotkin though. Surely the Breakers weren't going to be bold and brazen enough to drag Wufei through the streets. This was Freeport, that sort of action was questioned here.

There was a growing murmur in the air. The sound of a large crowd. What the...

Wufei's head was clearing, and his muscles were coming under control. The pain throughout his body was dismissible, and would not stop him from acting if he saw an opportunity. But in this incomprehensible situation, he wasn't sure how to act even if he had the chance.

The roof tunnel made way for the eternal metal sky of one of Freeport's sector, and the sound of an angry, worried crowd engulfed them.

I particularly excel at turning my enemies' moves against them

Wufei was starting to get a very ominous feeling, and not only about his own immediate chances of survival.

"Thank Jesus and his Saints!"

Wufei's heart stopped at that cheerful exclamation up ahead of them.

"I thought I'd lost him, but you guys went and found him. Can I have my Blade back, please?"

Ohgodnonono-

"Maxwell?" Morgenstern said, as if he couldn't quite believe his eyes.

Wufei twisted in Carver's hold and managed to see over Morgenstern's shoulder.

Kropotkin citizens were walking by quickly, eyes wide and frightened, staring at Morgenstern's little party as they passed. They streamed past Duo who was straight ahead, leaning against a lamppost, hands in his pocket and his half-grin firmly on his face.

"DU-" Wufei's shout was engulfed as Carver's large palm suddenly crammed itself against his mouth. Wufei tried to bite, and twisted and threw his whole weight against the other Breaker's hold. Carver pressed harder, crushing Wufei's head back against his shoulder until the Preventer could feel his front teeth creak. Wufei screamed in fury and warning against the makeshift gag, his head starting to swim again. He almost missed the next exchange.

"Where's the Troll?" Morgenstern asked quietly.

"Having a comforting cup of coffee with his buddies by now."

"I doubt it. We found a good amount of blood on your escape route, and neither you nor Chang are that wounded. I doubt he could evacuate the tunnels without my men spotting him. You left him somewhere safe. Where?"

"What in space can you threaten me with, Morgenstern?" Duo asked calmly.

Silence was his only answer. That rather confirmed that Wufei's death was now assured, since his life was no longer a bargaining chip. He struggled harder against Carver's hold, but the man was a pro and was keeping Wufei off balance so he couldn't get any leverage. The other man had grabbed the cable looped around Wufei's arms until it was biting into his skin.

"What are you doing here, Maxwell?"

"What do you think I'm doing here? You got my Blade, man."

Morgenstern took a deep breath-

"And I heard what your little puppet was saying in the Esplanade over there," Duo added, voice suddenly hard and deadly. "I know what you're planning."

"...Then maybe you should head towards that ship of yours and get out."

"Like fuck. Give me back my buddy. Or I'm coming with you."

Wufei twisted his whole body around, levered himself off of Carver's body and tried to squirm away, shouting against Carver's hand. He couldn't see, the sparks had invaded his eyesight once more.

"Let me talk to him."

It was Duo's voice, right next to him. No!

"Wu? Calm down. Stop fighting them, you're gonna get hurt- take your hand off his face, you shit! You're choking him!"

No, Duo, get out, get out...

He could feel hands on his face, hands that were achingly familiar, every touch, every callus...fingers wiped sweat and strands of hair out of his eyes.

"Chang, look at me."

Wufei blinked savagely and cleared enough vision to get a close up view of Duo's face.

Duo's lips moved. Don't speak. Let me do the talking.

Wufei managed to jerk his head in denial. No, Duo, run!

"If these bastards get their way, I'm going down too," Duo whispered at him, pushing Wufei's hair back. "I'll do what I can. We ain't dead yet. But I'm not leaving you either way. You wouldn't either."

Wufei stared helplessly. Even when Carver lifted his hand away, letting Wufei breathe in short, hard gasps, he could only continue to stare at Duo, powerless, unable to think of anything to say. If the positions were reversed, there would be nothing Duo could say that would make Wufei leave...not even the pull of the mission, because at this point, that was blown wide open as well.

Duo patted him roughly on the neck and stepped to his side. Carver heaved Wufei up and forced him to move forward.

"Oh, just so you know, you big fuck," Duo said conversationally, falling into stride with Carver, "I don't care what goes down and how I do it, but I'm gonna kill you. I owe it to a couple of friends."

Carver didn't say anything. Wufei was ready to bet the killer hadn't even glanced in Duo's direction.

"Duo-" Wufei hissed.

"Shh."

Wufei tried to see his lover, but Duo was just a bit behind him, and Carver was forcing him forward too quickly to turn properly.

"Bu-"

"Shut up, Blade. Let your Handler do the talking."

But they know I'm a Preventer, Wufei wanted to scream at him, though at this point saying that out loud in a crow would be worse than suicidal. How could Duo think of keeping up the masquerade?

He hoped Duo had a plan, but he had the terrible sinking feeling that his friend was winging it again. He hoped that Fred was really with his fellow Trolls and telling them everything...but would the Troll King move against the Breakers? There was a strange isolation around Recyc, they stayed out of the colony's politics, unless they were hurt and then they retaliated on their own and in their own way. Wufei didn't think the King would move to help a couple of pawns caught between the Trolls and the Breakers. Nobody would.

People were staring at them as they walked past, and Wufei could almost feel the anger, hate and fear tainting the air. He couldn't expect any help from anyone in Kropotkin. He wasn't sure what Morgenstern had told them, but it looked like he and Duo were on their own.

Wufei realized that, above the noise of a crowd slowly edging towards panic, he could hear a loud, clear voice shouting. It sounded like the man was using a bullhorn. Wufei heard a snatch of words before the crowd's growl drowned it.

"-they are here! In our colony! We always knew the Earthers would move against us! The invasion has started! How many of them are hiding among us-"

I particularly excel at turning my enemies' moves against them

And Wufei suddenly knew just how bad the situation was.

The crowd was a multi-headed beast chewing over the words 'invasion', 'attack', 'infiltration'...and 'Preventer'.

Up ahead, Morgenstern ploughed his way through the gathering and started walking up a ramp. Carver put pressure on Wufei's arm and forced him to follow. Wufei hadn't been able to see past his Breaker escort up until now, due to his lack of height, but now he realized he knew where they were.

Kropotkin had what they called The Esplanade; Wufei had seen it on previous visits. In contrast to its grandiose name, it was nothing more than a gigantic pit that led down to the undersector. All sectors had these places where huge cranes hauled up the massive containers full of essentials the sector needed. Kropotkin had turned this necessity of life into something useful; a platform hung over the deep pit down into the underbelly of the colony. The acoustics of the pit and the buildings around it were perfect for huge crowds of people to hear whoever spoke on the platform. Kropotkin used this place as a meeting hall, to take communal sector decisions and vote on important issues.

Once on the hanging platform, Carver and the other big Breaker forced Wufei towards the thin guardrail that was the only thing that separated him from the dizzying drop down into the undersector. There was a six-foot span between the platform and the grounds of the Esplanade; the platform was higher than the sector floor, so everybody was getting a good look at him. Wufei stared out over a sea of worried and angry faces, melding together until there were only multitude of eyes and a feeling of undirected panic centering around him and Duo.

"And here's Alan Morgenstern! We all know him! He's served this sector selflessly for decades!"

The man who'd been speaking earlier was a thin, leathery strip of meat who seemed to be trembling with the energy of his message. It was stressful just watching him wave and scream at the crowd, even if you weren't listening to what he was saying. Wufei wondered if this man was just an innocent victim of Morgenstern's machinations, or if this was one of the Breaker agitators who had started riots and rebellions on the colonies this past year.

"Alan has brought us proof! Proof that we've been invaded! Proof that we've been betrayed at the highest level!"

Shit, shit, shit.

The danger wasn't only his own and Duo's. He wasn't sure what Morgenstern was reaching for, but it felt like he was going to protect the Breakers by turning them - and everybody else - against Freeport itself, against the Elders, maybe against other sectors...start dissension right here, as he had in other colonies. And Wufei had played right into his hands.

Morgenstern moved to Wufei's side, while Duo stayed on the other. The financier looked grave, though Wufei, who was right next to the man, could see how the intelligent eyes were skipping over the crowd and gauging the amount of panic generated, like the director of an orchestra judging if the various instruments were ready to perform yet.

"My friends," he said, his voice quieter than the agitator that had come before. By degrees, the crowd quieted to hear. Wufei took a quick and rough headcount. Morgenstern had staged his little show right when the workers were coming back from the satellites, factories and shipyards; the whole of Kropotkin was out there, and a few inhabitants from other sectors too by the looks of it. There were Red Bands around too, of course, but they looked as confused and scared as everybody else. If the Elders were around or had been warned, Wufei couldn't see them. He didn't know where the Elders featured in Morgenstern's plans, if they were potential allies or enemies, but he was ready to bet the financier had managed to take them out of the picture until things went too far to stop.

"My friends, I can't tell you how devastated I am to say this. But yes, it's true. The running dogs of Authority were never going to leave Freeport in peace. We all knew that. And now it has started."

The crowd thrummed like one gigantic fiddle tuned to fear. Wufei had been in Freeport long enough now; he knew how tired, how anxious people were, with death and disaster constantly one accident away from their home. The people here were strong, amazingly strong, but their fears could be strong too...

"They've infiltrated us, they are here, on this station, moving towards us-"

"Whoa! Hold your horses!"

Wufei cringed. No, Duo, don't try to stop this. It's too late. Much too late.

Duo's voice echoed around the buildings, carried on the Esplanade's acoustics.

"For God's sake, people, don't turn this into a riot!" Duo shouted. "Come on, most of you guys know me, and you know this man too, if you'd just take a second to look at him instead of freakin' out. It's Chang, my Blade. This man works for me! Do any of you think I'd hurt this colony?! I live here too, I fought for this place and the whole of L2. If Morgenstern's gotta problem with my Blade, he can talk to me, but I say we get a couple of Elders down here now, because this is getting out of control-"

The name 'Maxwell' had been echoing through the crowd, as people near the platform recognized Duo. Maybe it might have worked. Duo wasn't trying to lie or deny anything, Wufei realized, but he was trying to break Morgenstern's momentum, get the situation stabilized so that when the whole truth did come out, it wouldn't lead to a lynching and a riot.

But Morgenstern really was good at turning his enemy's moves against them.

Wufei saw the financier make a gesture towards the back of the platform. The reaction was immediate, a single breathless shout from the crowd, a few screams even, that completely drowned out what Duo was saying. People were even staggering away from the platform in a movement of panic.

Wufei stared, completely nonplussed. What- they weren't even looking at him now; they were staring at something behind him.

"Bugger," Duo said off to one side, his voice lighthearted and feral, a tone Wufei recognized from the bad old days when five child-soldiers had had their backs to the wall and nothing more to lose.

Wufei struggled in Carver's hold, and the killer let him turn, apparently wanting to see as well.

A projector had been erected at the back of the platform, it was casting a large picture against a nearby building behind them. The picture was huge, taking up half the facade. It was quite clear, despite the windows punching holes into it.

It was Wufei's Preventer ID form, with his photo, name, registration number and rank.

That was very clever, Wufei thought weakly, a cold sinking feeling in his guts. And it wasn't just the fact that the crowd could now identify him with ease.

Those nearest the platform were staring from him to the gigantic picture, and drawing their own conclusions. Confirmation was moving from mouth to mouth, to those behind who couldn't see him as well and out into the crowd, a slow, deadly wave. But even those who weren't near enough to Wufei to see who he was were staring up in fear and fascination at the gigantic picture of a hard-faced man in uniform, staring down at them as if repressive Authority had become manifest, a huge, looming threat suddenly in their midst. The crowd's voice was starting to echo with panic and hysteria.

Wufei swallowed painfully and glanced at Duo, wondering if his friend realized what this meant. Duo was staring blindly up at the picture, but Ferret, who'd stepped up to the guardrail behind the smuggler, caught Wufei's glance and chuckled.

"Yeah, we knew you'd be coming to us sooner or later, Pig. Alan left you a few crumbs to follow, when he realized things were coming to a head too fast. We knew we'd catch you sooner or later, somewhere you didn't belong. Didn't expect you to go through the sewer tunnels. That was smart. We nearly missed you. That would have been very bad for us if we had. You got so much further than we thought you would. But we got you now. You're so dead, copper. And Maxwell, you're dead too. I'm gonna make you pay for what happened to Herb."

"You're what happened to Herb, Al," Duo said without turning around.

"You-" Ferret took a step towards Duo, fists rising, but then he cast a frightened glance at Carver, who'd shifted behind Wufei. Apparently cowed by a look from the killer, he slunk away.

Wufei stared up at his own crushing image. So it had been a trap. The men from Kropotkin who'd attacked them a week or so ago...those two men had been pawns, which a desperate Morgenstern had coldly sacrificed to draw Wufei into his clutches. Wufei's investigation had forced the Breakers to move before they were ready, but Morgenstern had turned Wufei's presence here into a trump card. And now what? Were they going to start a riot? March on Lao Tzu? Take control of the-

A loud, strident whistle suddenly pierced the growing fracas of the crowd. It went on and on, trilling up and down and ending in an incongruous upward note that sounded oddly jaunty.

People stirred. Wufei craned his neck.

Off to the right, the crowd was drawing back from half a dozen people. One of them was taking his fingers out of his mouth and glancing around, judging the effect of his interruption and obviously ready to do it again until he had people's attention. Wufei felt his eyes widen in confusion. It was Mako! And- that man standing at his side, tall, ruined and gaunt, was Ravachol, the ex-rebel turned drug-dealer who'd threatened Wufei and Duo a few months back.

"Well played, Morgenstern," Ravachol said, loud enough to be heard all the way to the platform. "But this is all going to stop. Now."

Wufei turned to Duo, but the smuggler looked as perplexed as he was. They never had figured out where Ravachol fitted into the Breaker organization. He had to fit in somewhere though, considering how he'd maneuvered to block Duo's investigation. It had looked like he knew Wufei's identity, as well. To top it all off, he was a hard-line anarchist, a drug-dealer and a criminal.

But looking at Morgenstern's face, at the sudden tension in those calculating eyes, Wufei realized that whatever else he was, one thing Ravachol was not; he was not on Morgenstern's side, and he wasn't part of the Breaker's plan.

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