see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer
AN: Dedicated to Dacia!
Also dedicated to
all the people who emailed me and reviewed, encouraged, poked and generally
enjoyed this fic ^_^ A heartfelt thanks. And of course, huge thanks to
Anaitis for the beta, despite all that pesky packing and moving going
on. Thanks hun!
+ Chapter 30
"For god's sake burn
Nothing ever burns down by itself
Every fire needs a little bit of help
Nothing ever burns down by itself
Every fire needs a little bit of help
Give the anarchist a cigarette
Burn baby burn, burn baby burn"
-Chumbawumba, 'Give the Anarchist a Cigarette'
When Duo casually strolled
into the alley, Wufei couldn't stop himself from raising one last protest.
"Look, are you absolutely sure-"
"Yeah, I 'm quite sure."
"Duo." Wufei caught him by the elbow and forced the smuggler to turn towards
him. "I don't claim to know that much about Freeport, but even I realize
that if this plan backfires, you'll find yourself isolated and maybe ostracized."
Wufei glanced anxiously around the buildings of Kropotkin surrounding
the alley. People were at their windows, chatting or hanging laundry,
children were playing nearby...Wufei couldn't have felt more exposed if
he'd had a neon sign with 'Preventer Spy' blinking on and off over his
"Actually, if I break into Morgenstern's place and it turns out I'm wrong
about him, I'll find myself 'ostracized' right off the colony, or possibly
'ostracized' from life too. But I'm not wrong." Duo said it quite simply,
as if the possibility wasn't even worth discussing.
"But we've been following suspected Breakers-..." Wufei interrupted himself
as he realized he was rehashing the same old argument again.
A week ago now, Duo had told Wufei about his suspicions regarding Morgenstern.
Well, that was far from all Duo had said that night. That moment on the
roof had left marks on both of them and in the way they acted together
that seemed to cast shadows and light on every touch, word and gesture
they shared. Things between them sometimes felt raw, fragile and new all
over again. Fortunately, they had a rather important mission to focus
on. It kept all the emotional stuff in the background where it didn't
interfere or feel too overwhelming.
When Duo had told Wufei the plan he'd come up with a couple of days ago,
it had been rather easy to forget all the soul-baring and feelings, and
focus on the rather dangerous move Duo was planning.
Yes, Morgenstern was somebody Wufei thought they should investigate. But
they had no real proof of his link to the Breakers. None of the men they'd
been following - not even Tor Kendle, supposedly one of the Breaker's
lieutenants - had even approached Morgenstern's house or workplace in
the past weeks.
Duo glanced around, then leaned close and tapped Wufei's chin teasingly.
"What's wrong, copper? You need the bloody fingerprints and the coroner's
"Yes," Wufei growled, embarrassed by the affectionate grin directed at
"Well, this is Freeport, we ain't gonna get-"
"We could!" Wufei glanced around and lowered his voice. "There is always
evidence out there, even in Freeport. We've already narrowed the Breakers
down to Kropotkin. We could continue to follow them until we prove - or
disprove- a connection. We can wait until they make another mistake. With
Braun's help, we could tap their comm lines, or-"
"You just can't trust my gut feelings?" Duo tilted his head and scrutinized
"I do trust your gut feelings," Wufei replied through gritted teeth. "I'm
not entirely without intuition myself."
Truth be told, Morgenstern was a much more likely candidate for a Breaker
than Ravachol and Mako and the other small-time crooks Wufei and Duo had
encountered. The man was a politician, a financier, the kind of man the
Breakers recruited. This was the sort of man who'd have the connections
and the know-how to bribe a politician or Preventer high-up to get Wufei
pulled off the case. He'd be the kind of man to think of doing it that
way in the first place; someone like Ravachol would have just organized
a lynching party and gotten it over with.
A whole lot of little details were pointing towards Morgenstern's involvement.
Carver didn't only kill terrorists and radical politicians on the Outside;
he'd also hit some financial fraud types and others who might hurt Freeport
or the Breakers in ways that Ravachol wouldn't even be aware of, but a
financier like Morgenstern would have caught them. Anyway, Morgenstern
had been living in Kropotkin for too many years now. He knew everything
that went on in the sector and he knew everybody; the Breakers would not
be able to operate there without his knowledge. And Wufei had met the
man; Morgenstern was idealistic, driven and ambitious. He would not let
something like this go on in his sector without either opposing it or
becoming fully involved.
Considering Morgenstern's charisma, his leadership abilities, his control
over Kropotkin, his past history as a rebel...There was in fact a chance
Morgenstern was rather high up the Breaker hierarchy.
But they had no proof! Wufei's cop instincts rebelled against meting out
justice when there was still a good chance they could be wrong. And for
all Duo felt free to fight based solely on his intuition, Wufei was sure
there were other people in Freeport who would like to have more proof
than that, even in this anarchist society.
"The problem with following a gut feeling is that your guts have very
little impact on a raging mob," Wufei ground out.
"Aw, Chang, are you worried about me?"
Of course I am, you bastard, he thought, striking away the hand that was
trying to grope him.
"Look." Duo rolled his eye, absently rubbing the fingers Wufei had thwacked.
"We're not going in and arresting him. We'll poke around and see what
we find. Maybe we'll find that proof-"
"In a manila folder with 'Secret Breaker Plans' written on it?" Wufei
"Sure, if he has one lying around. I was thinking his computer might be
"Neither of us is a hacker of Yuy's caliber. We won't have the time-"
"We went through all this last night. More than once." Duo sighed with
a show of heavy patience. "I told you that this was reconnaissance and
that you didn't need to come with me."
"Like hell I'm not coming with you."
"Sometime today then?" Duo turned and sauntered away.
Wufei glared at his back, but he followed, of course. Duo was the kind
of man who gambled on his intuition and acted on it immediately. Wufei
knew where Duo was coming from, but he wished his friend would be a bit
more cautious. Wufei had a lot in his life to feel guilty over; the thought
that Duo might become one of those regrets...
Particularly after what they'd shared up on the roof last week. They didn't
talk about it, there was an unspoken agreement that it wouldn't be brought
up casually, but it was there, between them all the time. Wufei sometimes
had the oddest feeling that in a way they were still up there, together
in the darkness, every other person left far beneath them. The feeling
was making him jumpy, off balance. Wufei had felt like a target since
the very first day of his arrival in Freeport and it hadn't particularly
bothered him, but now he felt he'd dragged Duo into the bull's-eye. The
thought that something could happen to Duo haunted him.
But nothing was going to happen to Duo. Because Wufei wouldn't let it.
Duo was right, they had to move now against the Breakers; the lives of
a lot of people, Duo's included, now rested on the outcome of their mission.
But Duo was going to get out of this safe and sound if Wufei had anything
to do with it.
The alley was long and winding, delineated by fences and walls of laundered
sheets. Duo strolled along as if he didn't have a care in the world, as
if he was only taking a short cut to the avenue beyond.
He paused at one of the small yards in what appeared to be surprise.
"Hi fellas. You working on the drains?"
Three Outer Trolls looked up from where they'd been crouching over an
opened sewage grid in the yard. They didn't answer. One of them slipped
down into the narrow space alongside the sewer pipe without a further
glance at them.
"Yeah," one of them finally answered stiffly. "We, er...got some reports
of a problem..."
"Go," the third man hissed at them as his eyes swept the buildings around
them once more.
Duo and Wufei had been discreetly examining the windows as well. Most
people were at work, but there were always plenty of curious bystanders
in Freeport. Time to take a gamble. Wufei fell into step with Duo as the
latter walked over to the opened sewer line, then, after a last quick
glance around, let himself down into it.
The space was very tight; good thing neither of them was the brawny type.
The big pipe next to them was tepid with the warmth of human refuse, though
it was sufficiently well isolated that it didn't stink; there was only
a heavy, throat-grabbing smell of mildew, dust and oil in the air, with
a faint echo of sewer behind it all. Wufei crept forward, right on Duo's
heels. Up ahead he could see the Outer Troll's hard hat.
Fifteen feet of narrow walkway gave way to a small junction, barely big
enough for the three of them. The Outer Troll was waiting for them with
a flashlight. The man's shoulders and back were stooped. A heavy tool
belt around his waist seemed to weigh him down. The only thing Wufei could
see of his face, below the hard hat and above the red scarf, was a nest
of fine lines in which his eyes, brown and splotched with floating red
veins, nestled like newly-laid eggs. He wasn't looking at either of them;
his eyes wavered and circled their features without ever settling on their
"The King gave me a message for you," he muttered in a deep, cracked voice.
"He said that if I do this for you-"
"That settles our debt, yeah, yeah, I know," Duo drawled.
The Troll's brow scrunched beneath the hard hat and his eyes swept across
Duo's face briefly.
"The King gave me a message for you," he mumbled again, as if repeating
verbatim, and maybe he was. "He said that if I do this for you, it will
be a right mess for all of us if you're found out. So don't get found
"Oh. Hah, I'll do my best," Duo answered with a grin.
"Amos was a nice kid."
Amos? Ah, the Troll who'd been killed in Recyc during Carver's escape.
One more of Carver's bodies.
"He gave me soup once," the Troll added intently, staring at Duo's right
"It had those crunchy things in it," the Troll added in a secretive whisper.
Wufei turned slowly to Duo and gave him a 'remind me why you thought this
was such a bright idea, Maxwell?' look. Duo smiled sheepishly in the light
of the torch.
"The King's message said that Fred here is the best Troll there is when
it comes to going through the underbelly of Kropotkin," Duo told him,
his eyes urging patience. "Right, Fred?"
"Croutons. That was what Amos called them. I've been working these tunnels
for fifteen years. Keeping the sewer lines watertight and shipshape."
"So you can lead us to where we need to go, right?" Duo prompted.
"Know every Troll tunnel beneath this sector. And a lot of the maintenance
tunnels too. But Amos was a good kid."
Apparently that was supposed to make some kind of sense and serve as an
explanation, because the Troll abruptly turned around and crawled away,
hunched over in the tight space, his flashlight poking at the darkness
ahead. He took one step and started mumbling.
"Four straight, one left, four straight, one left, four straight- King
said it was fourth Avenue and sixteenth Street. That's a nice place. I
found a green bottle of fresh orange juice in the trash there once, and
it still had some juice in it. That was good juice. But Amos gave me soup.
And he always said 'Hi' when we met in the Temple."
Duo followed the muttered words without hesitation, and Wufei was forced
to fall into step, trying to keep his sword from clunking into the pipes
of electrical cords above. He was following a crazy old Troll down dark
corridors into potentially hostile territory, this was just great. But
that being said, most Trolls were crazy one way or another, and that didn't
stop them from doing their job. The King obviously thought Fred was reliable
enough to get them to their destination. And in Kropotkin, there really
was no other way of breaking into the house of someone as well-known and
respectable as Morgenstern without half the sector finding out and showing
up with a couple of ropes.
The place was a maze. Wufei guessed that they were walking along one of
the main sewer lines for the sector, but then Fred led them down an even
narrower crawlspace which appeared to collect the waste from the block.
Pipes from the individual buildings flowed into the main one at odd intervals
and angles, leaving them to scramble under and over them as they progressed.
At one point, they dropped down a level to crawl their way beneath the
gridding itself, when the tangle of pipes became too much to get through.
Every block or so, Wufei estimated, the crawlspace was blocked by a locked
grid. When Duo said the Trolls were paranoid about their territory, and
allowed no non-Trolls access, he hadn't been exaggerating. Fred would
haul out a huge keychain with hundreds of small electronic keys. They
were indistinguishable one from the other, only the tiny chip at the end
would differentiate them, but Fred would pick the right one without hesitation
"Turn left here. I've never brought Unbelievers through here. The King
told me to bring you. Nobody goes where Trolls go. This is our territory.
Only me, Quin, Reichert and Marla come through here. And Missou and the
King, for inspections. But the King said it was okay to bring you. Just
this once. I remember this junction. The pipes burst here three years
ago. Some idiot screwed up in Waterworks. Put too much flow through. Three
years ago, and ten months. The King said the idiot would not get near
Waterworks again. I spent thirty hours straight here. Quin said I should
leave to go and get the jab. But if I left, then the other pipes might
back up, 'cause all the flow was going through them. That's no good."
Wufei noted the man spoke about the pipes like they were cherished pets
that Fred raised and cared for. This is good, Wufei thought to himself;
next time I think my job sucks, I'll remember Fred...
"Didn't get the jab after all. Didn't have the time. Came down with that
lep-too-spiro-sas. I was all yellow. So was Quin. He said I had to leave
to get the jab, but he didn't get it either. He stayed with me all the
time. Quin's my best friend. But Amos was a nice kid too."
Fred frequently brushed the pipes with his free hand as he passed, a gesture
like a soothing caress. He walked with a practiced slouch, bent at the
knee, his sloped shoulders rounded to fit the narrow walkway. The ceaseless
mutter seemed to fill up the minute space that was left by the sewage
line, the electrical cords, the junction control boxes and the metal grids
on which they walked. Up ahead, roaches the size of credit-pieces skittered
away from the beam of the torch.
"Remember when this flow equalizer caught fire. Some bastard had hacked
into the landlines above. Was trying to run some big machinery. Overloaded
the circuits. Big fire. Five years and seven months ago. Took us three
weeks and two days to get in replacements for all the pieces-"
Three feet ahead of Wufei, Duo paused, hoisted up his sleeve and wiped
his forehead with a part of his wrist that had been covered until now.
Wufei knew how he felt; sweat was dribbling into his eyes, as the warmth
of the sewage pipe and exertion took their toll, but Wufei's entire skin
felt contaminated by the filth, the ceaseless mutter and the roaches.
He could only see his friend's profile in the shine of Fred's torchlight,
but he knew that set of Duo's shoulders. They were both in the soldier
mindset, the one that let them walk through filth, death and enemy fire
without flinching, without letting it touch them or disturb them.
"-went around carting wastes away in trucks, so that the pipes-shhh."
Fred stopped at one of the turns in the labyrinthine maze of crawlspaces,
corridors and junctions to peer through a grid of thick metal bars. He
was mercifully silent for a couple of minutes, his head tilting back and
forth to look at the corridor beyond, apparently listening attentively.
Wufei and Duo both fell into the absolute stillness of practiced infiltrators,
"We're leavin' the pipes here," Fred whispered as he glanced back at them.
"We need to cross over."
He made it sound like they were going to creep through a no-man's-land
complete with strafing gun-turrets. But once Fred had opened the two reinforced
locks and swung open the grid, it turned out to be a maintenance tunnel,
like the ones you found beneath every sector. Fred hopped out and scurried
along the tunnel like one of the roaches, looking uncomfortable without
the presence of his beloved sewage pipes. Ah, of course, Wufei reminded
himself. The maintenance tunnels were patrolled and used by the people
of the sector; they were separate from the sewage tunnels which were the
distinct property and territory of the Trolls.
Fred's mutter had resumed, higher pitched and visibly agitated.
"This part was flooded too, back in '94, when the tank on Sixth Avenue
broke. Real bad, damaged the whole undercarriage of the sector. Washed
out our tunnels too. We replaced fourteen junction boxes, two controller
stations - watch your step, oil puddle. Not good, they should clean this
up. The lighting's okay in here though. Kropotkin is much better than
Vanzetti. I worked in Vanzetti when there was the outbreak of Blue Fever-
here, this is where we get back to the pipes. This is Reichert's section."
A jangle of keys. Fred quickly fitted the two separate keys into two separate
locks, opened the grid and ducked in. With a nearly imperceptible sigh,
Duo followed, and so did Wufei, after a last quick glance around.
"Fifth on the left. Fifth on the left. Then first right, and we're in
under the building. Then I open the grid. Then the King said I do nothing.
The King said I don't leave our tunnels. At all."
So they were near Morgenstern's building, Wufei deduced. And they could
have reached it a whole lot faster and with considerably more comfort
if they'd taken the maintenance tunnel from the start, instead of the
blocks and blocks of cramped sewage lines. Wufei glared at Fred's back,
but the man was obviously disturbed, and would probably be too nervous
to have led them through the wider maintenance tunnels that weren't 'his
domain'. Oh well, they were at the Trolls' mercy here, and they had no
choice regarding either the guide or the route taken.
"Right here. This is the building's limit. There's the pipes from the
west wing. This line leads to the east wing. And this one is the garbage
compactor, for- this floor section has been cut. Mabye Reichert did some
repairs under here. But he never mentioned it."
"Fred, move it," Duo whispered at their guide who'd stopped to sweep his
flashlight along the floor.
"I need to inspect this. If there's a fault in the floor grids, there
could be a fault in the infrastructure beneath, and we're near a junction-"
"Later. Look, lead us to the east wing, okay? And show us the exit. Then
you can come back here and do your work."
Fred turned in the narrow space and glared at Duo's right shoulder. "Work
must be done right away. There's only me, Quin, Marla and Reichert working
this sector. We have to take care of it all. If we see something that
might put the pipelines in danger-"
"Yeah, okay, but lead us to the exit first, okay?"
Fred's raw-egg stare grew more agitated, skipping from Duo's chest to
Wufei's sword and back. "But the King said we should always check-"
"He also said to guide us to the exit," Duo interrupted, his voice growing
a thin layer of steel. "You gonna disobey the King?"
Fred hesitated, nervously riffling the tools on his belt, his eyes darting
from Duo's hands to the grid beneath them. "But it looks damaged," he
muttered. "It could- Reichert never said- but Amos- the King said-"
He abruptly turned and shuffled away, fortunately in the right direction.
Wufei followed, feeling the slight give of one of the floor grids as his
weight bore down on it. Definitely damaged, and that did nothing for his
faint claustrophobia, as he imagined some kind of accident in these tunnels,
stuck with no way out, listening to Fred's mutterings until they all died
of thirst or- steady, Chang.
Fred's mutter sounded more like a growl now, and it had dropped to where
Wufei couldn't distinguish the words, which somehow didn't make it any
better. He occasionally caught the name 'Reichert', and the words 'floor',
'sector' and 'repair'. He wondered if the inhabitants of Kropotkin knew
of the muttering mole-man who paced the tunnels beneath their feet, caring
ceaselessly for the disposal of their wastes and filth, and eventually
their bodies...like the vacuum of space around them, it probably didn't
bear thinking about too much, or you might lose it.
Finally they arrived at another junction, and Fred reached up to undo
a hatchway made of crossed bars in the ceiling. The metal swung down in
silence, its bars forming the rungs of a crude ladder to climb.
"Wait for us here. Or at that broken place back there, if you got to.
But don't go any further," Duo whispered.
Fred nodded sullenly, his eyes on Duo's boots, his scowl obvious despite
the hard hat and the red scarf.
They emerged into darkness. Wufei blinked, trying to adapt to the absence
of Fred's wandering torch. A glimmer made him glance to one side, where
he saw Duo's lighted watchface float like a will o' the wisp.
"We got three hours or more before the workers in this sector finish their
shift. Fortunately those financial freaks work very long days; we should
be well clear of the building by the time any of them start to come back."
They were in the building's furnace room, Wufei realized, finally able
to make out the lumps and shadows around them. A thin rod of grey light
crept beneath a nearby door, showing them the exit.
Time to take yet another gamble. Wufei listened attentively at the basement
door, and then twitched his hand in a 'move' gesture. Duo ghosted by him,
cracking the lock on the door with ease. In the faint wash of light from
the hallway outside, Wufei noticed the twisted grin on Duo's face; he
looked like he was having fun, Wufei decided grumpily.
They met no-one in the hallways up to Morgenstern's. The financier lived
in a building right behind the hangar which housed the trading floor.
Because it was a nerve centre of Freeport, the entrances and exits were
watched by volunteers, and busy streets surrounded them at all sides.
This was the best way Duo had devised of getting into Morgenstern's place
while the financier was away, and the plan was far from perfect. They
could run into the wives or husbands of the people working on the trading
floor at any time.
Wufei stood next to Duo, shielding him from a casual glance from the stairwell
nearby, his ears pricked and nerves humming. He could feel the minutes
pass like the blood flow from a critical wound as Duo checked every millimeter
of Morgenstern's door for alarm and traps. Then it took a few more minutes
to disable the one he found. Seconds ticked by like the timer on a bomb.
If someone came out of one of the doors nearby, Wufei wondered if they
could pretend to be here to fix the doorbell...
"Got the bitch. Good security," Duo breathed, attacking the lock on the
door, which finally opened with the gentlest of clicks.
They eased into the apartment, and then spent a tense half hour prudently
going over every foot of the place looking for more alarms that could
betray them. The two small rooms were completely unremarkable. The furniture
looked sparse and worn under Duo's careful flashlight beam. Morgenstern
obviously believed in living as simply as anarchy and Freeport's necessities
dictated. No wonder he'd invited Duo and Wufei to the communal cafeteria
to eat and chat, a few weeks before.
Wufei was thinking of those conversations now, as he examined a series
of framed photographs on the wall, memorizing the faces around Morgenstern.
The financier had been so enthusiastic about Freeport and anarchy. If
he was being guarded around Wufei, it wasn't obvious at all. If he was
a Breaker and knew Wufei was a Preventer, why had Morgenstern invited
him over repeatedly, and talked like a revolutionary? To keep tabs on
him...? Doubt was prickling up and down Wufei's spine as he stared around
the barren room; not even a weapon in sight. The lack of manila folders
with 'Secret Breaker Plans' on it was conspicuous.
Duo had leafed through a few papers on the crude metal desk pushed into
one corner, but he'd not spent much time on it; he'd settled at the computer
almost immediately and was busy typing away.
"Any luck?" Wufei whispered, leaning over Duo's shoulder.
"Absolutely none at all!" Duo exclaimed happily.
Wufei looked at him strangely.
"I know the guy who installs most of Freeport's computers, I know all
his backdoors and his tricks, and in this computer they've all been blocked.
The security's been beefed up, and there's some com line scrambler on
the hub here that I've never seen before. I can't even get into the cache,"
Duo announced with a wide grin.
Wufei continued to look at him strangely.
"This isn't usual security," Duo finally explained. "Not by a long stretch.
People guard against online intrusions and attacks, but they don't normally
turn their home computer into an electronic bunker. It's as good as the
manila folder you were looking for."
"This man controls Freeport's finances," Wufei countered. "He probably
takes work home with him. He'd protect it as much as he could."
"He doesn't bring stuff home with him; Morgenstern does the business,
but the info and the system on the trade floor belong to Freeport. I know
it looks like they work in a shed with recycled computers, but in fact
the system has more security than all the banks in the Space Sphere combined,
and it's completely locked, hermetically sealed both physically and online.
You can't download stuff or ftp or even remove a hard disk without the
deadswitch turning it into a heap of spare parts. This is Freeport, remember?
We don't do blind trust and 'innocent until proven guilty'."
"So you think he's got information on the Breakers on his computer?"
"He's got something he doesn't want people to see on his computer. And
some pretty nifty security. I think even Heero wouldn't have hacked this
baby from outside this room."
"How are we going to hack into it then?" Wufei asked with heavy patience.
"We may not be able to- wait a sec. Hah, they always forget that one."
"What?" Wufei snapped, watching command lines scroll down on the screen.
"Did I mention I know the guy who sets up most of Freeport's systems?
Morgenstern's built on that; he's added tons of security, disabled all
the backdoors, but he forgot a few simple base command lines."
"Like what? Those won't allow you to hack into anything. You said even
the cache was protected."
"Like the backup routine." Duo grinned and whipped out a chip which he
inserted into the drive. "As long as he didn't protect his drive- no,
looks like he missed that one too. Most of the security is set up to keep
people from outside hacking in via the com line."
"So I'll do what every responsible computer owner should do on a regular
basis," Duo said with a virtuous expression, running the appropriate command.
"I'll back up Mr. Morgenstern's computer for him."
"Onto your disk." Wufei's eyes flickered towards the chip Duo had inserted.
"Exactly! Wouldn't want to lose this information in a crash now, would
"But the information you're backing up will still be completely locked-"
"Yes, but once we're at home, I can install it on an instance on my laptop,
and then spend three days cracking it if I need to. Heero left me all
kinds of very, very nice and completely illegal tools." The disk drive
was humming as it wrote the information down on the chip.
"Better than nothing, I guess," Wufei sighed. If Morgenstern was guilty
of anything other than being paranoid about his personal information,
and if he kept incriminating information on his computer, and if Duo could
hack into it in a reasonable time frame...they might actually be getting
somewhere. He wasn't sure it was worth the risk they'd taken, but they
had been getting nowhere fast before anyway.
Wufei went to listen at the door; they still had some time before the
traders started returning, and all was silent in the building around them.
Then he went to leaf through the papers on the desk a bit more thoroughly.
Wufei glanced up in surprise. Duo was speaking tersely as he whipped out
the chip from the reader.
"Donno. The hub's com line indicator started flickering like mad. Maybe
he's just getting a really big mail."
So why are you worried? Wufei wondered, putting his ear to the door. He
made a 'Silence!' gesture as he heard footsteps. His instincts were beginning
to prickle. If they'd tripped an alarm, surely someone would be at the
door by now...but something was wrong. He had no proof of it, but he could
The footsteps passed the door; two kids, one older, one whiny younger
one. They squabbled all the way to the stairwell, and started climbing.
Wufei was going to let them get a good headway, but Duo was already opening
the door silently. He shook off Wufei's cautionary hand on his sleeve,
and mouthed 'no time' in the dim light of the hallway.
They locked the door and Duo set the security back on, then they made
their way back to the basement as cautiously as they could. Wufei's instincts
were still prickling, but there were no running footsteps in the silent
hallways around them, no alarms, nobody coming to investigate...Duo walked
swiftly to the hatchway down to the sewer system and jumped, landing on
the grid below with barely a murmur of stressed metal. Wufei followed
him, closing the hatch behind them. Hopefully they'd erased all traces
of their passage. Damn it, they should have taken longer to extract, been
"Fred?" Duo hissed, his flashlight darting around them.
"He's probably at that broken floor grid," Wufei muttered.
They stared at each other in the light bouncing off grids and sewer lines.
"Fuck!" Duo snapped, plunging into the nearby tunnel. Wufei followed as
quickly as he could, his instincts now screaming at him. They'd overlooked
something; they'd made a mistake!
The loose floor section had been removed. It was stuck up against one
side of the wall. The small space underneath was clear of dust and old
oil stains, unlike all the other places they'd seen till now. Wufei cursed
himself as he remembered how the hatchway to Morgenstern's basement had
opened without a creak, how the door to the furnace room had apparently
been recently oiled - damn it!
"Right under our noses," Duo whispered bitterly, his flashlight pointing
straight up so that only the echoes of its light illuminated the hole
in the bottom of the sewer lines; a carefully concealed trapdoor where
there shouldn't be any, going from the Troll's sewer lines to the undercarriage
of the sector. The space below was dark, a metal ladder welded to one
side. There were no signs of Fred.
"We should have realized. Best way to keep a think like the Breakers secret
is to not meet where anybody in Freeport can see you. Down in the undersector,
and going through tunnels most people can't access...yeah, that'll do
Duo was glaring down at the black hole of the open trap door.
"But thousands of people work down in the undersector," Wufei whispered,
trying to keep his voice from echoing in the Troll tunnels.
"Not right down there, if we are where I think we are. We're near the
section with the broken spoke of the colony. Happened twenty years ago,
but it put stress on the outer hull, and it was too big a job to fix properly.
There are still damaged areas down there where people don't bother to
go. It's not livable room, and we have storage elsewhere. If the Breakers
are smart, they'll have cordoned off an old container haulage center;
a few rooms, hangars, an old escape hatch out to space they'll have repaired;
electricity stolen from Kropotkin above them...And inaccessible from the
under-sector, where people might wonder why Kropotkin financiers are strolling
along the haulage crates. No, all access will be from up here and through
other maintenance tunnels."
Wufei fingered the hilt of his sword. "Who did Fred say was the Troll
in charge of this sector...?"
"Reichert," Duo bit out. "And I know what you're thinking. Reichert has
to be in on it. No way a Troll wouldn't know about a brand new hatch appearing
in a tunnel in his sector. You saw how Fred reacted."
"The Breakers must have bribed him to keep quiet about this, and to let
"Nobody bribes a Troll. But if their arguments were good enough, he'll
have joined them. The King will crucify him."
Wufei stared down into the darkness. "Do you think this Reichert would
have heard we were coming today?"
"Fred knew, the other two Trolls outside knew...this traitor might have
heard about it. But remember the way the Breakers broke into Recyc? They
probably had Reichert's help there too. If the King has any common sense,
he'll have realized he might have a leak, and taken steps to keep our
visit a secret."
They stared down at the hole. This could very well be a trap, and all
they had to rely on was the common sense of a man who'd dubbed himself
the 'Troll King'.
"He's also pretty paranoid," Duo added reassuringly.
Wufei didn't answer. The darkness around them seemed to grow inky black.
They both knew they were going down there, though. They weren't going
to leave Fred at the mercy of the Breakers. Wufei, remembering Josh and
Herb, just hoped it wasn't too late. If they were lucky, Fred was still
down there and unharmed, investigating this strange underground construct
that was parasiting his beloved Troll tunnels. If they were lucky, Wufei
and Duo would find him before the Breakers did.
Wufei wasn't feeling lucky.
"Let's go. I'll take point, you cover my back," Duo whispered.
Wufei wanted to protest, but Duo had already let himself swing through
the hole. There was barely a whisper of metal from below as the light-footed
smuggler started climbing down the ladder.
Wufei unsheathed his sword and followed.
"You hit him too hard, now
we'll have to carry him," the man said, then made a strangled choking
sound when Wufei's fist slammed into his temple.
His colleague shot to his feet from where he'd been kneeling besides Fred's
limp body. He fell just as quickly when Duo slammed his elbow into the
back of his neck.
"Looks like we're in luck," Wufei whispered, glancing around. "It doesn't
sound like they had time to raise the alarm. Is he alive?"
"Hmyeah, looks a bit confused though," Duo said, checking Fred's pupils
by the beam of his flashlight.
"Nothing's changed then," Wufei grumbled. Fred had started to groan and
Wufei glanced around, looking for more Breakers. The ladder had led them
down into what looked like a typical section of the undersector, badly
lit by a few red emergency lights, some of them broken. It was a labyrinth
of huge containers, five time the height of a man, the kind that were
sealed up and pulled through space by tugs from colony to colony, delivering
But unlike the undercarriage beneath other sectors, the containers here
were empty, and many were damaged, their metal crumpled or their sides
torn off. Apparently this had become a graveyard of haulage units. From
the thick dust that lay on the containers, these had been here for ages;
but that same dust on the ground was crisscrossed with fresh tracks.
Wufei's instincts told him they'd been right, they'd stumbled upon the
Breakers headquarters. This would be the place they hid people like Carver
from the rest of Freeport, and got together to plot whatever it was they
thought they were doing in the Space Sphere. No wonder Duo and Wufei had
been unable to find any trace of Carver, or see Tor Kendle meet up with
Morgenstern and other Breakers.
But if Breakers had cordoned off this sector for their own use, unknown
to the rest of inquisitive Freeport...that spoke of a high degree of organization,
of a mole in the Civil Planning department, and perhaps the complicity
of an Elder or Two...
They'd found Fred by following his shuffling footsteps in the dust, until
they'd rejoined a path between containers that had many traces of movement
in it. Trust Fred to wander right into a Breaker thoroughfare.
Neither of the two ex-Pilots had been very surprised to find that Fred
hadn't escaped detection long in those circumstances.
"How are we going to get back up?" Wufei asked, crouching to check the
men they'd knocked out. They'd be unconscious for a few minutes, hopefully
incapacitated for longer and unable to raise the alarm right away. He
didn't feel like killing them in cold blood. "We can't take Fred back
up the ladder. And it'd be suicidally insane to wander around a compound
full of Breakers."
"There won't be that many Breakers down here," Duo muttered, absently
wiping away some blood from a cut on Fred's forehead with a rag from the
Troll's pocket. Fred was moaning, stirring and blinking blearily. "These
bastards are shamming as ordinary citizens - hell, I guess they are ordinary
citizens in a way; that means they have twenty-five hour workdays like
the rest of us. They don't spend all their time hanging around down here.
There'll be a few on patrol - like these two - and maybe a half a dozen
in case of trouble."
"Unless they're just happening to have a big meeting today, in which case
they're all here."
"Our two glasses are always gonna be half-full and half-empty, huh?" Duo
chuckled with a strange smile in Wufei's direction. "I hear all couples
have an optimist and a pess-"
"Duo!" Wufei hissed furiously, feelings his face heat up despite the biting
cold. This wasn't the time to be talking about- and besides, Fred was
staring at them with glassy eyes coming into focus.
"I c'n...get us out..."
Wufei and Duo turned to stare at Fred, who must be a good deal more awake
than they'd thought. The glassy, unfocused gaze was his natural state,
Duo gave Wufei an unnecessary warning look to keep quiet from now on;
a Blade could talk to his Handler with others present, particularly in
cases of emergency, but it would be best to avoid it.
"How can we get out, Fred?" Duo asked, wiping away a new trickle of blood.
The flow from the cut was slowing a bit, but Fred was shuddering, either
from cold or from shock. He would never be able to climb up several stories
of ladder to the upper sector, then make his way through miles of tunnels.
"...recognized this area..." Fred mumbled, staring at Duo's right shoulder.
"Worked here a few years back. When we were trying to get this part of
the sector functional again. Then they- some guys - communal decision-
somebody decided we shouldn't bother."
"How long ago was that?" Duo asked sharply, to Wufei's relief since he'd
been dying to ask the same question.
Fred just looked confused. "I...ten...years?...No...I..."
"That's okay, Fred, tell us later," Duo sighed, tying the bloodied rag
around Fred's head to staunch the bleeding.
Wufei examined the dilated pupils and hoped Fred didn't have something
seriously wrong with his already scrambled brains.
"Just tell us how to get out of here," Duo added.
"Tunnels." Fred's voice immediately became firmer as he went back to familiar
"There's Troll tunnels in the undersector?" Duo asked, visibly puzzled.
"Emergency hatches. In case of flooding and breaches in the upper levels."
"But that'll just be a door with a long ladder leading up. I don't think
you can climb far-"
Duo suddenly nodded. "Who has the override code?"
"The King. Only the King."
"Excellent. Do you remember where it is?"
For answer, Fred grabbed Duo's shoulder and tried to scramble up.
Wufei and Duo helped the Troll to his feet and the man lead them off through
the rows of containers as if he had homing instinct for his beloved tunnels.
Wufei supposed they were heading towards the sector wall, dimly visible
over the stacks and rows of containers a dozen yards ahead. If Wufei had
understood correctly, there would be an emergency escape route inserted
into the wall, for Trolls who were stuck in the tunnels of Kropotkin during
an amber emergency, like a hull breach. That meant an airlock, and only
the King could open it once triggered. Duo and Wufei could leave Fred
at the bottom of the ladder, safe from the Breakers, and go get help.
This could work. It was almost enough to turn you into an optimist.
Then they heard a soft noise in the darkness behind them.
Wufei and Duo exchanged a grim look. Wufei had always found pessimism
easy to rely on, and it rarely let him down.
"Fred?" Duo asked very softly. "How far is-"
"Not far." Fred's face was white beneath the grime, he was sweating, jaw
clenched and eyes gleaming in panic, but he was tugging Duo confidently
towards the left, around a container that looked like it had exploded
under vacuum. Wufei hoped Fred did indeed have some mysterious homing
instinct for sewer tunnels, because this labyrinth of wrecks might have
changed in the ten-or-whatever years since the half-crazy Troll had been
Behind them, they could hear the occasional discreet shuffle of footsteps.
Too discreet. If these were Breakers looking for their two missing friends,
they'd be shouting. No, this was much more serious.
Wufei and Duo didn't need to say anything, not wanting to alarm Fred any
further. They didn't need to say anything, they both knew the score. They
both remembered the way Morgenstern's com line had started to flicker
while they were in his apartment. The two Trolls who'd found Fred might
have been a patrol who'd run into him by coincidence. But before that,
maybe as soon as he'd broke open the hatch down here, Fred must have triggered
an alarm. The Breakers knew there were intruders down here, and they were
all coming to silence them.
Duo hauled Fred forward at a fast pace. Wufei fell back three steps, sword
drawn. They hobbled through the Breaker realm, Duo grimly supporting a
taller, heavier Fred.
Wufei could feel them gather in the darkness behind them, it felt/sounded
like dozens of people. They knew the intruders were here, and more than
that, they sounded remarkably organized for a group that should have been
caught by the alarm unprepared.
"Hey- they're here!" somebody behind Wufei shouted.
Wufei spun around. Four men had turned a corner Wufei and Duo had just
passed; they looked startled, but also ready for a fight.
"Go!" Wufei snapped, stepping between the Breakers - swords and cudgels
already unsheathed and ready - and Duo.
Behind his back, Duo swore and shoved Fred. Fred stumbled forward with
a whinny of panicked fear at the sight of the weapons.
The four Breakers hesitated for an instant, maybe waiting for more of
their friends to join them. Then they must have realized they were only
facing two puny-looking guys and a wounded Troll. They attacked a second
Four against one were not Wufei's favorite odds. He ducked beneath a blow
and threw himself past his attacker, trying to corner one of the others
against a nearby container.
A quick swipe of his blade across an exposed wrist- the big dagger hit
the floor and the man grasped his arm in pain.
Wufei dodged around him, using him as a shield, and attacked the second
and third man, who were trying to get around their friend.
No time to play around. Wufei slashed at one man's throat, swung his weight
on one leg and kicked up hard at another, catching him in the jaw.
By the time he turned around, the fourth man had run off. He ignored the
injured Breaker who was huddled on the floor and clutching his wrist,
and ran after Duo, trying to spot his friend and Fred in the badly-lit
"We're here! Come on!" Duo shouted a few dozen yards away. Wufei realized
there was a gap between two walls of solid metal containers; it led towards
the sector wall. Duo's voice had come from there.
Wufei sprinted towards the gap, relief flooding him. Looked like they
were going to make it; he could hear running footsteps behind him as their
attackers started to charge the intruders, but the Breakers were too late.
Duo had switched on his flashlight to illuminate the emergency hatch and
guide Wufei towards it. Wufei ran between piles of tarped crates and broken
containers towards that faint, flickering promise of escape.
A stack of boxes had been shoved aside and knocked over, one of them spilling
repairman's tools on the floor, to reveal the Troll's emergency hatch.
Odds were, the Breakers hadn't realized it was there, or hadn't considered
it might be used outside of the event of a hull breach.
Wufei was a dozen yards away. Duo's flashlight painted the scene in black
and white. Duo was standing near an open airlock, waiting for him.
Fred was behind Duo, sticking a key from his belt into a dusty, grimy
console, a grimace of fear and pain on his face as he stared out at the
darkness behind Wufei.
Duo, sensing something wrong, twisted around-
"Fred! NO! Wufei's not-"
Duo threw himself at the Troll to stop him from turning the key.
Wufei was only ten feet away-
He saw Duo reach Fred- the Troll's eyes were full of blind panic as he
triggered the hatch.
The airlock beeped once in warning and then slammed shut just as Wufei
[chap 31] [back to