Author: pyrzm

Lost Souls + Chapter 18
Zero Effect

The more Trowa saw of Chief Engineer Tuberov, the more he disliked the man. He had cold eyes and a cruel face, like a snake. He was very proud, and, according to what Trowa was able to hack, had the full support of the shadowy Romefeller Foundation. Tuberov made no effort to hide his disdain for the Mercurius project, Commander Une, or Kushreneda himself, either.

Disturbing things were in the air regarding Kushreneda. Trowa spent enough time around high-ranking officers to pick up gossip. Between that and his clandestine information gathering, he learned that Treize Kushreneda, the architect of OZ, was in disfavor. The mobile doll program had created a serious split in the military, one that rivaled that which had occurred when OZ broke away from the Alliance. The fundamental nature of war was being challenged, and those like Kushreneda, and Trowa, too, who felt battles were best fought by human beings were being pushed aside by the new belief in mechanization. There were even mutterings among some of the men about a pro-Treize faction, soldiers who, like Kushreneda, could not accept being replaced by Tuberov's soulless mobile dolls. Trowa made note of this, and passed all this information on to Heero during test flights.

As far as Trowa could tell, Commander Une's motives regarding the suit program and Kushreneda were less political than personal. She was clearly in love with the man and perhaps had been his lover. She also seemed mentally unbalanced at times, as well, but so far she'd treated Trowa well and kept her word about protecting the Gundam pilots.

The details of the attack on Duo were kept quiet, but the men involved had already been court marshaled and sent to a prison colony. Strict orders were handed down regarding the treatment of prisoners and for the time being, Duo and the others seemed safe. Trowa kept a close eye on them, though. Among the regular pilots and soldiers, there were still a lot of anti-Gundam feelings and plenty who thought Jones and his buddies had been justified in their actions.

The strain was telling on Trowa. His nightmares were getting worse. Night after night he fought though dreams in which he was forced to fight the others, or hurt them in horrible ways. He dreamed of being found out and tortured. He dreamed of escape and desertion.

But, good soldier that he was, he got up every morning and played his role. Every time he had to go to the cell to fetch Heero, he felt their eyes on him, questioning, weighing, doubting. He retreated into coldness, fearing to betray himself in front of the guards if he did anything else.

Only the scientists knew the truth, and he found himself pausing at their cell door whenever he could, passing on bits of information and checking up on the progress of the two new suits being built in secret. They were nearly ready.

Three weeks after Duo's capture they slipped Trowa a tiny projection device to pass on to the others. Stored inside were the details of the new Deathscythe and Shenlong. Trowa viewed them in his room that night and was caught between admiration and envy. It made him miss Heavyarms that much more. He wondered if the suit was still safe in that Pacific trench.

+

His chance to pass the information the others came a few days later. He was in the briefing room with Commander Une, Tuberov, and the other test pilots when an alert came in.

"What's going on?" Une demanded, opening a call channel on the briefing screen.

"Mining satellite base O983 has been completely destroyed!" a distraught-looking officer informed her. "It was a Gundam, Commander! But not one we've ever seen before! The base commander tried hailing it, but there was no response. We have these visuals."

Images flashed across the screen and Trowa's eyes widened. It looked a lot like Heero's Wing, but it was larger, and much more heavily armed. Both arms supported massive beam cannons. The fact that it had destroyed an entire resource satellite seemed inconceivable. None of the other Gundams had that kind of firepower.

While everyone was trying to comprehend that, a new message came in from the commander of the OZ ship Kyrnov. "Commander Une, we've just received the following transmissions from the unidentified Gundam. The pilot says he's going to destroy all weapons in space, starting with the armed civilian colony at Point 06E. He's on his way now and advises us to evacuate. He also sent this."

A schematic flashed up on the screen. Trowa's heart skipped a beat; it was Sandrock. It had to be Quatre in that new Gundam, but where the hell had he gotten it?

"He means this as a declaration of war!" Tuberov exclaimed.

"OK," Une replied calmly. "We'll send the Vayeate and the Mercurius to meet him."

"No, Lady Une. Send the Taurus mobile dolls!" the chief engineer urged.

"We'll use them to defend the moon base. The Vayeate and Mercurius have greater combined fire power than your dolls." She turned to Trowa. "You and 01 prepare for launch."

"Yes, Commander!" Trowa saluted and strode out.

+

The entire base was scrambling on alert. Trowa found J and G poised at the view port of their cell, trying to figure out what was going on.

Trowa paused and leaned against the wall by the door. "An unidentified Gundam has declared it has plans to destroy a colony."

"Really?" asked J.

"Yes, it's a new model."

"What about its characteristics and weapons?" G demanded, impatient as always. Of all the scientists, G was the only one Trowa truly disliked.

"They know it has something to do with the Gundam 04, Sandrock."

"Is it Quatre?" asked H anxious, peering over G's shoulder. He'd been the designer of Sandrock. Quatre was his pilot.

"Could be," Trowa replied, not wanting to betray how desperately he was clinging to that hope. "It has the firepower to completely wipe out a natural resource satellite."

"It must be the blueprint you left behind, H!" snapped G.

"Then that means the original Gundam the five of us designed has been completed," J said, obviously concerned. "I can smell something dangerous in the air."

"Even a layman could tell that that amount of power is unnecessary," scoffed G. "The fact that the pilot has already used it proves that he's either quite ignorant or incredibly aggressive!"

Trowa frowned. Neither of those terms described the Quatre he knew.

"Then he's doing something even we hesitated to do!" J said darkly. "It wouldn't surprise me if more than one colony disappears."

"I see. But it just doesn't sound like Quatre," murmured Trowa, his heart sinking. "I can't believe he'd actually turn on the colonies like this!"

"The colonies turned on you, didn't they?" J pointed out.

"And there is the matter of his family members being killed," H said sadly. "Quatre is a fine boy, but also a very sensitive one. It may have affected him in ways we cannot anticipate. And then there's the matter of the cockpit system."

"Oh dear, I'd almost forgotten about that!" said J.

"What's wrong with the system?" Trowa demanded.

"Nothing, in and of itself. In fact, the Zero system is quite perfect," snapped G. "But it was strictly experimental. We abandoned it as too dangerous after the initial trials with a prototype revealed certain problems for the pilot. The Zero system actually connects with the mind of the pilot. The idea was to reduce reaction time by making the controls mind activated. But there were-- problems. Most of the test subjects suffered hallucinations, paranoia, even blackouts. We scrapped the idea before we built your Gundams."

"But it was still included in the plans for this new Gundam?" said Trowa.

"Yes, I'm afraid so. If Quatre followed the plans exactly, he is using the Zero system, even if he doesn't know it. It's a passive, automatic interface," replied H. "I advise you to approach him with extreme caution, 03."

"But he's an empath. He should be a natural for that kind of thing, shouldn't he?" asked Trowa. "The fact that he's been able to control the suit and use it the way he has should be a good sign, right? Right, S?"

His mentor shrugged. "Be careful, Trowa."

+

Trowa found the three pilots in a foul mood when he went to fetch Heero for the mission. Duo was more restless and agitated than ever.

"Oh come on! How come him again?" he demanded, eyeing Trowa and the two armed guards angrily. "I'm a better pilot than 01 any day, and I'm going stir crazy here. Send me this time!"

"Not in the shape you're in," Trowa replied. "Even a Gundam pilot runs the risk of being killed on this mission, because it's a Gundam pilot you'll be fighting."

"What?" Wufei exclaimed.

"It's a new model," Trowa told them, glad to give them any information he could. "Apparently it wiped out a whole OZ division single-handed."

Heero stood up, already getting that "mission mode" look. "With the Mercurius, it should be quite a fight."

"And you will fight, like it or not," Trowa told him, making a show for the guards.

"And you'll just stand back and watch the two Gundam pilots fight it out?" Duo demanded, jumping to his feet. "Don't do it, 01! It's probably a performance test or something."

Trowa had been looking for an opening like this. Palming the tiny projector module O had given him, he punched Duo in the gut, slipping the module into his shirt as he did so. "You two just settle down. You'll get your chance."

Heero shrugged and went out without protest.

+

As soon as Trowa and the others were gone Wufei went to help Duo, who was doubled up gasping for breath on the floor.

"I don't think that guy was acting," he growled, helping Duo sit up. "I think he's really gone over to OZ."

To his surprise, Duo winked. "Don't you worry about Trowa," he wheezed, holding up a small object about the size of a cigarette lighter. "A traitor wouldn't bring us a gift like this."

He aimed it at the far wall and pressed a small button on the top. Large-scale schematics flashed into view and Trowa's calm, soft voice filled the cell. "Duo Maxwell and Wufei Chang, Master O gave me this. Use it to kill time."

Wufei gasped as he recognized Shenlong, and the dramatic upgrades being made to it and Duo's Deathscythe. "Wow! I guess you were right about him."

"Told ya!" grinned Duo. "I was still having a few doubts, but I think we can relax now. Just don't give him any more excuses to beat you up, OK? Fuck, that guy is strong!"

"Do you think it's 04 piloting this new Gundam?"

"Who else would it be?" Maxwell said, fixated on the diagrams.

Wufei felt a shiver of excitement. "Then it is possible that the three of them will combine forces and turn on OZ."

"That's what I'd do. Pack your undies and hang onto your pigtail, Wuffie. We may be out of here by dinner time."

"They probably will not be able to come back for us, you know."

Maxwell gave him a dark grin. "Oh, they'll be back. Heero's mission is to blow this base. I just hope we can get out of the way."

"And if not?"

"Well, then it's been nice knowing ya!""

+

Trowa felt hopeful for the first time in weeks as he and Heero suited up and took off with the escorts. It was all he could do to sit still during the flight.

Finally, when they'd settled into their respective suits, locked in on opposite sides of the flight carrier, they could speak privately over the suit coms.

"What's with you?" asked Heero, scowling at him over the monitor.

"We've got these two suits. Duo and Wufei's suits have been upgraded. And I'm certain it's Quatre piloting this new suit. The time may have come, 01. As soon as we all join up we can attack OZ!"

"How do you know he's our ally?" asked Heero, sounding disappointingly unexcited at the prospect.

"What are you talking about? Of course he's our ally!" said Trowa.

"Assumptions can lead to mistakes. We're piloting enemy suits. Who says he'll recognize us, or trust us? We may have to fight him. If he is a strong ally, we might have enough force to battle OZ, but if not, if he fights us, we could destroy him. It might be more advantageous for you to continue undercover."

"You knew?" Trowa said, not really surprised, but relieved.

"I suspected." Then, to Trowa's surprise, he added softly, "I hoped I was right."

+

The colony hung like a cold iron ring against the black emptiness of space. The Zero's sensors verified that the main population had been evacuated, but the military installations were still manned, and their bristling arrays of beam cannons were all armed and ready. The suits of the Leo defenders hovered like a cloud of flies in front of it, vainly hoping to drive him off as they opened fire.

Pilot 04's heart beat faster at the sight, the boiling anger rising again to sharpen his senses to painful keenness. "You're afraid of dying, aren't you?" he whispered, fingers twitching on the controls.

It was so pointless, so evil, their perverse desire to kill to survive.

04 had felt this same cold rage at the last target. It had first been born in him as he watched his father blown apart in a withering barrage at L-4, and then held his sister as the life left her body. It had grown as he waited for Wing Zero to be completed. But the first time he took the suit out, everything had become so clear. It was almost like he could think through the suit itself, driving it with his mere intent. In this suit he seemed to think faster and more clearly. He felt more powerful than he ever had in Sandrock. When he was at the controls of this suit, he was no longer Quatre Reberba Winner; he was Pilot 04. His sorrow and rage crystallized into a clean, simple, intense sense of purpose. The people of outer space had been infected with the evil of violence. He would carry out a purifying jihad.

That cold resolve enveloped him now as the colony's guns filled the sky with slicing yellow beams of fire. It looked just like the attack on his father, only this time their target was not helpless.

04 swooped and danced through the beams with ease, at one with his suit. "Those scared of dying should not arm themselves to fight!" he screamed, unleashing the punishing might of his double cannons.

Leo suits burned like moths in a candle flame. The colony shuddered under the horrific power of his assault. Cracks appeared in the metal hull, rapidly spreading, leaking silvery clouds of atmosphere. In less than a minute it exploded into a billion shards hurtling through the void. All those weapons //all those people!// gone, cleansed away. The fragments glittered in the starlight. Something else glittered right in front of 04's eyes, inside his helmet. He regarded them with vague surprise. "Those are tears. How can that be, if I don't feel anything?"

There wasn't time to ponder the mystery. Zero had already chosen their next target.

+

Strapped into his seat, lulled by the dull hum of the carrier's engines, Trowa had allowed himself to doze off. A proximity alert brought him around. He scanned the incoming message, and then contacted Heero in the Mercurius on the other side of the carrier. "You awake?"

"Are we there already? That was quick," Heero responded.

"Our destination just changed. We were too late to save that colony."

"Was it him?"

"Yeah. He's heading for a colony in this area now. This carrier's too obvious. We'll proceed from here in the mobile suits."

"Copy that."

Trowa felt a growing sense of excitement as they approached the target area. He made himself take a deep breath and kept quiet. They had a large escort team of Leos with them. He had to maintain his cover a little longer.

But he couldn't wait to make contact with Quatre.

"Our objective is to find out how powerful this suit really is. We'll fight only if necessary. Got it?" he radioed to Heero on the closed frequency. "If it's really Quatre we're up against, there shouldn't be anything to worry about."

Heero was still frowning at him on the monitor. "Trowa, please be cautious. Something's not right."

"What do you mean?"

"Don't forget, he just destroyed a colony."

Trowa nodded and looked away. Deep down, he'd thought the same, but he told himself it was nothing. Quatre was just back in the war, that was all. And he had warned the colonies to evacuate, right? He hadn't made any surprise attacks or gone after civilians.

His Quatre wouldn't do that.

+

The colony was empty. This time even the military zones had been abandoned. Quatre walked the Zero along one of the main avenues, marveling at the eerie peacefulness of the place. There were parks, trees, even fairgrounds on this colony. //Just like home// A dreamlike calm came over him as he intentionally stepped on fountains and playground equipment, and extended his mechanical arms to smash high on either side of the street. He didn't know why he was doing this. It just felt good somehow. He liked the sound of breaking glass and groaning metal. It sounded like his own deeply buried pain. And this was so easy. These people had lived in the same false reality as those who'd killed his family. Inside it was beautiful, just like L-4, but right above their heads the outer hull was covered in weapons. They talked of peace but built for destruction.

His anger kindled again. "These people don't need all this!" he muttered, smashing a truck under one huge foot. "They need war to teach them their error!"

A happy snarl spread over his face as he caught sight of the Leo suits coming at him from behind a stand of trees. Now he could get started! He opened fire, laughing wildly.

+

Trowa had sent Heero off to reconnoiter the far side of the colony, but they both heard the attack over the open channel.

"It's the Gundam. The Gundam is in here!" a Leo pilot cried out. Then there was the sound of fire, and then nothing. Moments later the huge suit floated out of one of the colony airlocks. Its huge metal wings were angled for battle and both cannons were held at the ready.

"Go ahead, Quatre. Show me what that Gundam can do," Trowa murmured. He fired at him, a glancing shot just to draw his attention.

The big suit retaliated at once. Trowa out maneuvered its blasts with relative ease, but it went into a power spin and took out nearly all the remaining Leo escorts.

The Mercurius was still out of range, but Heero just have been watching on the monitors. "So this is the new Gundam."

Trowa glanced at his monitor. Heero almost looked impressed.

"Heero, this is great! This Gundam is unparalleled!" Trowa cried, thrilled. He opened a hailing frequency to the other suit. "Quatre, this is Trowa. Can you hear me, Quatre?"

The other pilot appeared on his side monitor. He had his helmet on and the faceplate was tinted. Trowa could just make out the faint outline of ragged, pale bangs and huge eyes.

"I can hear you, Trowa." It was Quatre's voice, all right, but it didn't sound like him at all. His voice was shaking, as if he was in pain or something, or very scared even when he added, "Don't come any closer."

"Quatre, it's me. What's wrong?" Trowa asked, approaching slowly with his guns down.

"What did I just say!" Quatre yelled. He raised his cannons, pointing them straight at Trowa. "Don't get any closer!"

"Quatre!"

Quatre opened fire, and Trowa was blinded, and thrown end over end by the terrific force of it. By some miracle he survived, but the Vayeate was crippled, the cockpit breached and open to space.

Trowa struggled free of the harness and pried back a warped piece of metal. The huge suit hung there before him, guns poised for another, killing attack. "Quatre, what's going on?" he managed, unable to comprehend what had just happened.

"Trowa, outer space has gone crazy, so I'll use this suit destroy it all," Quatre cried out. He sounded frantic now. "I have no choice but to destroy all the weapons that have accumulated out here. The colonies have armed themselves. They've become no better than the Alliance or OZ! They must be destroyed!"

Too late, Trowa realized that the scientists had been right about the guidance system. It had taken over; this wasn't his Quatre in control. "Meli, what's happened to you?" he said gently, desperate to connect with him. "This isn't like the Quatre I know."

"Tell the others for me-" Quatre gasped out. "Tell them to stay away from me! Otherwise I'll end up killing them."

Suddenly Heero streaked into view, hurtling at Quatre with his saber raised.

Trowa watched in horror as the big suit raised its cannons. "I told you! Don't get any closer!" screamed Quatre. It sounded like he was in agony.

"Is that all you have to say?" Heero demanded. He deployed the Mercurius's shields and attacked hard and fast. One of Quatre's cannons spun away. He deployed a saber and met Heero's renewed attack.

"If everyone has gone crazy, then I'll believe in myself and keep fighting," Heero growled. "Quatre, I'm going to kill you!"

"Heero, Quatre, no!" Trowa cried, watching in horror as two of the people he cared most for in the world flew at each other.

+

"Heero, why are we fighting each other?" 04 asked, even as they fought. Somewhere in the back of his mind, behind the rage and righteous indignation, a little voice was screaming //something wrong! Something's wrong!// And yet somehow he couldn't stop, not while Heero was attacking him. "The colonies have teamed up with OZ. They're your enemies now, too. You and Trowa and I. We should be fighting them together. People in outer space have lost all reason. That's why I have to destroy everything!" He faltered, shaking his head to clear it. He was losing his clear vision, and the feeling of something being seriously wrong was growing. "That's-that's only natural, isn't Heero?"

Heero's only answer was to fly at him again.

"Heero, I don't want to hurt you! Why won't you listen to me?" 04 begged. "Get away from here!"

"I'm not leaving, Quatre. This colony must be defended."

Suddenly Quatre felt like he was outside himself, outside the suit as he watched himself open fire on Heero again, driving the strange red suit back at the colony in a withering barrage. When the blast cleared, he saw that he'd driven him right through the outer hull of the colony. "Heero, please! Get out of my way! I don't want to hurt you!" Quatre begged, horrified at what he was doing but unable to stop.

"No!" Heero growled back at him over the monitor. "If you're going to destroy this colony, you'll go through me to do it."

"It's your call, Heero. I'm sorry." He raised the cannon and prepared for maximum power. That nagging sense of horror and unwillingness welled up again, but not in time to stop him from activating the fire button.

Out of nowhere, Trowa's damaged suit flew in to block the blast and Quatre broke off the assault, but not before Trowa's suit was even more badly damaged.

"Quatre, please, don't do this!" Trowa begged, his voice faint and labored. "You're making a horrible mistake! This isn't you!"

"Trowa? Please, we don't have to fight. Just get out of the way!"

Heero emerged and grappled onto Trowa's crippled suit. "Trowa, the Vayeate is going to explode!" he said over both their coms. "Get out of there now!"

"I guess that's it for me, then," Trowa replied faintly. The suit rockets powered up, blasting him from Heero's grip and up and away from the colony.

//Like a shooting star!" Quatre thought, caught between awe and alarm. //He's taking hismelf out of range before his suit blows! I-I have to--//

"I have to save Trowa!" Quatre cried out, clutching at the sudden stabbing pain in his heart. Before he could go after him, Heero attacked him, hacking off one of his suit arms and grappling his suit and driving them both into an open hangar bay.

"No, Heero. We've got to save Trowa!" screamed Quatre, fighting to free himself. The impact of both suits against the metal wall momentarily stunned him, and knocked out the power in the cockpit. Lying there in the darkness, Quatre was suddenly overwhelmed by the horror of what had just happened. He'd fought his friends. Trowa was at risk, maybe already dead! How had he come to be in such a situation?

Suddenly he heard Trowa's voice over the com. He sounded calm, peaceful-- //Resigned to his death// Quatre's empathic soul registered with dismay.

"Quatre, I know it's disappointing that the colonies have joined with OZ," Trowa said, his voice at once a caress and a torment. "I know what happened to your loved ones. I'm so sorry, Quatre. But it all means that the war is over. I realize that now. We've got to accept it. The only question now is what happens to the soldiers that remain, what happens in our hearts. Those of us who were trained to be soldiers so young-- we start to think we can change the times all by ourselves, don't we, meli?"

//Meli! Oh Allah, after what I did to him he still calls me that!// Quatre was weeping now, overcome by pain and remorse.

"Believe me, you're not the only one who feels that way," Trowa went on, his voice growing fainter. "We all do. But someone like you--someone so kind--it takes an even greater toll, I think. We have to fight within ourselves, so harshly, to come to the right decisions at a time like this, even if it means realizing that everything we've done has been meaningless. We just have to accept it. The five of us have become useless, Quatre, so let's just accept it. I don't know all that's happened to you to change you so much, but I hope you can somehow find your way back to being that sweet, kind person you truly are. And I know it's true, meli. That's your true self, not this. I hope you can find a way back to being that boy I fell in--"

The transmission cut off to static.

"Trowa!" Quatre struggled again wildly, but Heero had him pinned. "Heero, let me go. Trowa's going to die!"

"Yeah, and you're the one you killed him! You've gone crazy and you killed him. Now I'm going to kill you!" Heero yelled back at him.

"Then hurry up and do it!" sobbed Quatre. "Then go rescue Trowa!"

"Oh, so now you're gonna cry about it? I guess his death was just a waste!"

Quatre watched as the Mercurius drew its arm back to strike, but it must have been damaged in the crash because it overloaded and exploded, rocking them both with the massive concussion in the confined space of the hangar.

"Heero! Heero, are you all right?" Quatre struggled out of his harness and popped the hatch. Floating over to Heero's suit, he managed to pry the hatch open and pull the unconscious boy free.

"Heero! Heero, please wake up! We have to go find him! Oh Heero, I'm so sorry!" Sobbing, helpless, Quatre cradled Heero's limp body in his arms and gave himself up to grief and guilt. He hardly looked up when the OZ soldiers came to capture them.

+

The day dragged slowly by. Maxwell sat close to the door, quiet and intent. Wufei spent much of it meditating, preparing mind and body for action, should they get their chance.

Sometime later they heard some sort of commotion outside. Men were running past and shouting, something about an attack.

"Hey, Wu?" Maxwell was frowning oddly. "Does the air seem kinda thin all of a sudden?"

His meditation had lowered Wufei's respiration rate but he took a deep breath and realized Maxwell was right. "Someone has shut off our air supply."

"Shit! I hoped it was just my imagination. I don't believe this! What a lame way to kill us!"

"The more you talk, the quicker the air will be gone," Wufei pointed out calmly. He found the small projector and ran through the diagrams again, wishing he'd had a chance to pilot the new suit.

"What're you doing?"

"I want to be ready, just in case."

Maxwell let out a dramatic sigh and watched for a while. It was getting harder to breath. Wufei was starting to see dark spots in front of his eyes. Putting the projector aside, he lay down and concentrated on shallow breaths and mental focus. The room gradually disappeared. Maxwell's complaining faded away. He was floating. He accepted. He was at peace.

+

Light and a burst of oxygen brought Wufei around. He opened his eyes and found Maxwell gasping beside the open door.

"What's happened?"

"Dunno. The door just popped open. Come on!"

Hampered by their manacles, the two boys dashed into the corridor and found it deserted. They could hear the sounds of shouting and gunfire somewhere nearby, though. The cell where the scientists had been held was empty, too.

Maxwell grabbed his arm. "This way. I know where the suits are!"

They rounded a corner and found themselves in a control room. A woman in a battle pressure suit lay face down on the floor in a pool of blood. Maxwell stooped own and turned her over.

"Holy shit! It's Une!" he gasped.

"Is she dead?"

"Can't tell." Maxwell picked up a pistol that lay near her while Wufei felt for a pulse. It was faint but she wasn't dead.

"Halt. Don't move!" A young soldier stood in the doorway, pointing a gun at the two of them. "Get away from her, now!"

Maxwell stood slowly, his pistol pointed at Une's chest. "All we want is to get out of here, pal. You help us with that and we're gone. She's all yours."

"What do you want?"

"Out of these cuffs, for starters."

The young soldier never took his eyes off Maxwell's gun as he inched to a cabinet and took out an electronic key.

"Toss it to my friend," Maxwell ordered. He was grinning, as if this was some game.

Wufei found himself grinning, too, impressed with his companion's cool bravery. He caught the key the man tossed and unlocked Maxwell's cuffs, then held the gun on Une while Maxwell freed him.

"Good boy," Maxwell told the soldier, slowly backing toward the other doorway, gun still on Une. "You just stay here and look after her. We'll be going now."

Whatever was going on, there was too much confusion for anyone to notice them as Maxwell bolted down the corridor again with Wufei on his heels. It felt wonderful to have his hands free again.

Maxwell zigged and zagged, never slowing down until they reached a darkened laboratory.

"This is the place. This is the secret lab G and the others set up." Maxwell ducked through another door and let out a whoop of triumph. "Oh baby! Wuffie, you're gonna cream those pants!"

Wufei might not have understood the words, but he shared Maxwell's obvious delight when he saw Shenlong standing there next to Deathscythe. There were access ports directly above them, a way out.

"Are they completed, do you think?" he asked as they raced for the lift cords.

"Done as they're gonna get!" Maxwell cackled, ascending to the cockpit.

Wufei rode his cord up and buckled in. To his relief, the controls were almost the same, and sprang to life under his nimble fingers. "I've got power and ammo!" he called to Maxwell over the com.

Maxwell's excited face appeared on his monitor. "Me, too. Let's haul ass!"

They burst above the surface of the lunar base and found themselves in the middle of an attack.

"Is it Heero?" Maxwell shouted to him, opening fire on half a dozen enemy suits.

"I don't think so. These all look like Leos and mobile dolls. I think they're fighting each other!"

"Fine by me. I'm taking off. Good luck, Wufei."

"Good luck, Maxwell."

They ascended from the moons surface in twin arcs, buffeted by a massive explosion behind them. Maxwell waved good-bye with one huge metal hand and sped away. Wufei set his course for L-5 and watched on his monitor as Deathscythe dwindled away into the blackness of space between the stars. "Good luck, my friend."

He forgot he'd left the com open, and was startled when he heard Maxwell's warm reply, "Back at ya, buddy. And learn some decent poems, will ya?"

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