Author: Mel
Principal Beta Reader and Suggester of Cool Lines: Christy
Pairings: 3x4, more later.
Warnings: Yaoi, language, AU, magic.
Disclaimer: Gundam Wing, Sazan Aisu and the Mermaid Saga are not mine, no matter what I like to pretend. And I borrowed the name of Haan's truck from a short-lived character in Inuyasha.

Alarums and Excursions + Part 2

"Shit on a shingle, kid, don't do that!" Howard wheezed, sinking into a chair and wiping his forehead.

From the main computer screen, Hazrat Haan raised an eyebrow at him. < < Don't do what? > >

"Mess with our computers like that! You nearly gave poor Matthews a heart attack."

"Oh, right, as if you weren't worried at all," the engineer scoffed.

Haan snorted. < < Your scrambling and encryption programs were pitiful. I just gave you a better one. You asked me to call you; was I supposed to do it over an insecure line? > >

"Insecure--!" Howard sputtered indignantly for a moment, then abruptly laughed. "Insecure by your standards, maybe, kid, but nobody else has complained."

< < They will soon if you keep using that 8-kilobit packet encryption algorithm, > > Haan told him. < < An OZ base in New Zealand cracked it yesterday. Don't say I never tell you anything for free. > >

"Shit! They broke that one, already? You sure about that? No, don't answer that," Howard muttered, waving a hand. "You're always sure. Damn..."

< < The job, Howard? > > Haan said pointedly. < < Who wants me to move
what? > >

"Ah. Right. Er... if it's all the same to you, I won't say just yet. Hell, kid, I trust you," he added hastily as Haan raised an eyebrow, "but my friends with the cargo don't know you, and one of them's paranoid. Burn-before-reading, only-trust-someone-after-he's-dead kind of paranoid. I haven't told them who you are either, if that makes you feel any better! I'm just gonna set up a meet between you, and you can all convince each other to play nice."

< < Sounds like fun, > > the teenager said flatly. < < Do I go armed, or will your paranoid friends take that as proof I can't be trusted? > >

"They'll be armed; I'm not gonna tell you to go naked."

< < Good. If you tried, I'd drop the job. > >

Howard winced. "Give them a chance, will you? Please? They've got reason to be paranoid, believe me, and I think you'll like them once you get to know 'em. Most of them, anyway," he added conscientiously. "And they need you, so if any of them are bastards to you, you can be a bastard back."

< < I'm more likely to just walk out. > > Haan eyed Howard curiously. < < Why are you so stressed about this? > >

"I told you, they're friends--"

< < You don't like paranoid people, either. > >

"All right, so one of them's more like an acquaintance, but the others are cool--" Howard paused as a thought struck him, and peered over his sunglasses at the screen. "It'll really piss off OZ if you get them outta this fix," he said hopefully.

Haan nearly laughed. < < All right, all right. Where do I meet them? > >

----------

After Haan signed off, Matthews started copying the system log files onto a disk.

"Now what?" Howard asked, peering over his shoulder.

"I'm going to find out how he did that, and fix things so he can't do it again," the engineer muttered, glaring at the screen. "He got in and locked me out so fast, it looked like he had a back door... but he's never been on board this ship, has he? I don't see how he could put a back door into the system without actually being here and accessing the computers directly. And even then, my diagnostic programs should find it!"

Howard snorted. "He's never officially been on board, but I wouldn't put it past him to've sneaked in--"

The screen flickered, and a small text box popped up.

SEARCHING FOR LOG FILES... FOUND
DELETING G:\SYSTEM\SATLINK.LOG 195-11-05 2315 to
195-11-05 2335... DELETED
DELETING G:\SYSTEM\MAIN.LOG 195-11-05 2315 to 195-11-05
2335... DELETED
DELETING G:\SYSTEM\FILEDATA.LOG 195-11-05 2315 to
195-11-05 2335... DELETED

"Oh shit!" Matthews wailed, hammering desperately on the keyboard. "He must've dropped a data bomb into the system! It's deleting his hack out of all the bloody log files and I haven't copied them all yet--"

DELETING G:\SYSTEM\COMMS.LOG 195-11-05 2315 to 195-11-05
2335... DELETED
SEARCHING FOR BACKUPS... FOUND
DELETING G:\BACKUP\SATLINK.LOG.BAK 195-11-05 2315 to
195-11-05 2335... DELETED
DELETING G:\BACKUP\MAIN.LOG.BAK 195-11-05 2315 to
195-11-05 2335... DELETED
DELETING G:\BACKUP\FILEDATA.LOG.BAK 195-11-05 2315 to
195-11-05 2335... DELETED
DELETING G:\BACKUP\COMMS.LOG.BAK 195-11-05 2315 to
195-11-05 2335... DELETED

"Well, that screws that," Matthews said disgustedly, turning away. "At least I got a couple of them before it went off."

"Uh, Matthews... it's not finished," Howard said quietly, pointing at the screen.

"What?"

SEARCHING FOR COPIES... FOUND
DELETING A:\SATLINK.LOG...

Matthews didn't waste time gaping at the screen; he flung himself at the console, stabbing at the 'eject' button, and yanked the disk out.

DELETING A:\SATLINK.LOG... ABORTED
SEARCHING FOR COPIES... NOT FOUND
END

The text box vanished.

"What do you wanna bet there's no trace of the data bomb left, either?" Howard said conversationally.

"I am not putting this back in the main system," Matthews said grimly, clutching the disk and breathing heavily. "I'm not giving his bloody jack-in-the-box data bomb another chance at it! It's going in my laptop, after I run every virus checker and diagnostic program I've got. I might invent a few new ones while I'm at it, too."

"Told you he was good."

"I don't understand why it was running so slow, though..." the engineer mused, looking puzzled.

"Yeah... come to think of it, it was slow for a data bomb," Howard said, eyebrows lifting. "Like it was waiting for instructions between each step. Weird... Haan wasn't still connected, was he?"

"Not so far as I can tell," Matthews said sourly, "but I don't think I trust the computer's records right now."

* * * * *

Haan opened his eyes and lifted his hand off the computer screen, frowning slightly as he watched the complicated symbol fade and the normal system graphics reappear.

I didn't get it all. Either Howard's caught paranoia from his 'acquaintance', or that engineer was feeling curious... Never mind. They won't be able to work anything out from it.

Hanging from the cables at the back of the computer, carved bone charms and painted wards rattled as he moved the monitor slightly and tapped the keyboard, pulling up a map.

Let's see... These people 'need to move themselves and some big cargo', he thought, remembering Howard's e-mail. *Helping them will seriously piss OZ off, and I'm supposed to meet them there... right in the middle of that big search operation OZ is running. It doesn't take a genius to work out who they are.

"Duo's probably there," he whispered, smiling. "I wonder if he'll be glad to see me again?"

* * * * *

Matthews wandered in to breakfast the next morning and sat down, frowning into thin air.

"What's up?" one of the mechanics asked, walking past with a tray. "You look like you haven't slept all night!"

"He used a brute force password cracker," Matthews said, not looking around. "He's that good at hacking, and all he's got to get in with is a brute force cracker?"

"Huh?!"

"Brute force doesn't work on our system," Howard protested, looking up. "If it gets a series of wrong passwords in one connection attempt, the security programs lock them out!"

"They didn't trigger. I checked them and they're working fine. They just didn't go off when Hazrat hacked in, and there's nothing in the one log I've got left to show how he did it. I also have no idea how he managed to get a brute force program to guess an eighteen-digit password in only twelve tries."

"Uh... luck?" one of the mechanics suggested.

"When you get one of our passwords wrong, you get no information about what you should have put in," Matthews said flatly. "There isn't even anything to show how long the password should be. His first try was twenty-five digits long. A normal brute force program would have kept trying twenty-five digit combinations until it ran out, or somebody stopped it. His switched to eighteen-digit combinations from the second try onwards... and every time it got part of the password right, it kept it. That's not luck. The only information our system was giving out was 'wrong password, try again', so how did he do that?! The only way he could mess with the security programs and get the password so fast is if he was already into the system, but then why wouldn't it show on the log? And if he was already in the system, he wouldn't need to crack the password!"

"Like I said yesterday," Howard said sympathetically, patting Matthews on the shoulder and putting a loaded plate in front of him, "the kid's good. If you get all wound up every time he does something and you can't work out how he pulled it off, you'll just stress yourself into a nervous breakdown. I nearly did. Forget about it and eat your breakfast."

* * * * *

"Right on time," Trowa said quietly, leaning against the wall next to one of the grimy front windows. The warehouse Howard had fixed as the meeting site was old, dirty and seemed disused -- apart from some suspicious scuff marks in the dirt, clustered around the rear loading entrance -- and there hadn't been any traffic down the laneway leading to it all morning. Now, however, a battered black motorcycle was cruising towards him, ridden by an anonymous figure wearing heavy black denim and a helmet with a tinted visor, and he thought it was fairly safe to assume this was the smuggler they were waiting for.

Sure enough, the bike swung in through the open door and coasted to a halt in the middle of the warehouse floor. The rider shut off the engine and leaned it onto its kickstand as Trowa pushed the door closed; the blank helmet swiveled to look at him, then turned to scan the area.

The other Gundam pilots walked out of the shadows at the rear of the building. "Howard sent you?" Heero demanded, gun held down by his thigh, half-hidden but ready.

"Yes," the figure replied, in a deep, rough voice that sounded like he'd encountered a lot of cigarettes and whisky in his life. "You must be Mr. Paranoid," he added dryly, reaching up with gloved hands to pull the helmet off.

Sandy brown hair tumbled out, uncoiling as it fell until the ends brushed his boots, and mismatched eyes -- one green, one yellow-brown -- glittered sardonically under spiky bangs as he smirked at Duo, dismissing Heero as if he and his pistol didn't exist.

"Oh, wow," Duo said, grinning. "Haan, man, good to see ya!" Dropping his voice, he muttered out of the side of his mouth, "Lose the gun, Heero, he's all right." Then he started forwards, gesturing expansively. "Guys, this is Hazrat Haan, the person I wouldn't tell you about before. You know, the one who saved my ass? Haan, these are my friends, Heero, Trowa, Quatre and Wufei. I see you got your bike back... Damn, I'm glad you're okay! You didn't have any more problems after I left, did you? I was worried that maybe that OZ squad would go back and make trouble--"

Still perched comfortably astride his motorbike, Haan calmly reached out, wound his hand into the loose strands at the base of Duo's braid, pulled him close, and kissed him. As far as the onlookers could judge, it was a fairly impressive kiss. Duo certainly seemed to think so... at least, after the first startled jerk, he didn't try to get loose.

It lasted a while.

Eventually, Haan let go, and Duo slowly straightened up.

".........I see you haven't changed," he said, blinking dazedly.

"Why change a technique that works?" Haan replied calmly, hooking his helmet onto the handlebars and swinging around, off the bike. "Besides," he added, almost purring, "it's fun." Turning to the others, he raised an eyebrow as he met their gazes. Quatre looked startled, Trowa seemed mildly amused, Wufei's face was determinedly blank, and Heero... Heero was glaring daggers at him, knuckles white as he clenched his hand around the gun.

Interesting, Haan thought, and stared coolly back. "So. Shall we discuss the job?"

----------

[cont]