Author: pyrzm

Lost Souls + Chapter 20
The Making of a Perfect Soldier

"You're a good pilot."

Quatre went to sleep treasuring those words of praise from Heero. They were a small, fragile lifeline against the raging torrent of guilt and shame and grief that still tore at his heart.

He'd calmed down at last, enough to let go of Heero and lie down again. Heero stayed with him, sitting on the edge of the bed, resting a hand on Quatre's chest over his heart.

Quatre still couldn't quite figure him out. The feelings he gave off seemed so fragmented and uneven, but with painful spikes of intensity that kept Quatre from reaching out again. Shyly, he covered Heero's hand with his own and felt the other boy flinch a little. He wanted to talk to him, figure him out, offer him something, but the pain of Trowa's loss was still too raw between them. But still, Heero stayed, and there was something deeply comforting about his closeness. It was very different than Quatre felt with Duo, back on Earth, but it was good in its own way. Until he'd met Trowa, he'd never realized how isolated he'd been emotionally. With his fellow pilots he found a connection he could not explain but did not want to lose. They made him feel more complete, even Heero. He couldn't explain it, but he didn't question it, either. It was right, this connection, and he accepted it. Pondering this, he fell into an exhausted sleep. Heero was gone when Quatre woke up. He sat up and looked around in alarm. Heero's bed was empty and his clothes were gone. There was no clock in the room, but judging by how hungry he was, Quatre guessed he'd slept a long time. He dressed quickly and went out in search of his fellow pilot.

He met a number of Treize faction soldiers in the corridors on the way to the lab, and the looks he had from them were not friendly. They might have a common enemy in the Romefeller supporters of OZ, but clearly that didn't make them see the Gundam pilots as their allies.

He found his way back to the lab and halted in the doorway, then faded back around the frame, going cold all over.

J, G, and H stood across the room next to a large console. Heero was strapped into a reclining seat next to it. Metal cuffs restrained his arms and legs, and a strange silver helmet covered his head and most of his face. It remained Quatre a little of the one Zechs Merquise wore, but this one was studded with electrodes and wires. More wires hung in a thick tangle from the sensors stuck all over Heero's body. His hands and feet were twitching rapidly, and his mouth was slack.

"I thought you said the neural realignments were supposed to be permanent," G was saying.

"In theory, they are, but as we've seen, Heero Yuy is far outside the parameters of normal reactions to anything. Not only that, but it's a matter of brain chemistry, adrenaline and serotonin levels and the like. Heero's are more resistant to calibration than I'd guessed, and they flux outside normal levels for no apparent reason. I'd really like to try it on one of the other pilots; they're all natural borns, as far as we know."

"Not Quatre!" H said firmly, much to Quatre's relief. This must be the "conditioning" J had spoken of. He'd imagined something more like physical punishment, but Heero didn't appear to be in any pain.

"No, he's quite out of the question," J agreed. "Aside from his flaws, he has a powerful family who may want him back after the war, should he survive. The same goes for Chang, although he could certainly benefit from it. I told O maturity was going to be a problem, even if his test scores were outstanding. No, those boys are out of the question. Barton would have been ideal, I suppose, though he wouldn't have needed much in the way of reconditioning. That just leaves Maxwell, if we can locate him again. What do you think, G?"

"Hmm. I'll consider it. His aggression centers are highly developed, but there's the matter of his mental stability, which seems to be worse than I'd hoped. As O said, he's a loose cannon. Could conditioning help to control that?"

J scratched his beard with his mechanical hand. "It would be instructive to try. I'd work on blocking the emotion centers first. I've found that to be Heero's weakest point. Every time the conditioning fails, it's because he's tried to form some sort of attachment. He simply can't afford such distractions. I want him kept away from Maxwell from here on. 02 seems to be the most destructive trigger."

"What about young Winner?" asked G, and Quatre shrank back.

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that. They haven't had time to form any kind of bond," said J.

Quatre clenched his fists, not knowing what to do, only that he hated those heartless old men more than he'd ever hated anyone in his life! Still struggling with himself over what to do, he was suddenly overwhelmed by the sound of someone screaming. It took a few shocked seconds to realize that the sound was inside his head, and that the voice was Heero's. Heero was screaming in fear or pain, perhaps both.

"Stop it!" Quatre cried, running into the lab and making for the console. H and G restrained him with surprising strength.

"What's the meaning of this?" snapped J, stepping between Quatre and Heero. "Get out of here now, young man. These are very delicate procedures."

"You're hurting him! He's screaming! I can hear him!"

"His empathic abilities," H pointed out, clutching Quatre harder as he struggled. "Quatre, you must leave at once."

"He's in no physical pain, I assure you," J said, checking a few read outs. "He's in a dream like state. Anything he's feeling now is only an illusion."

"No, you don't understand!" Quatre yelled, furious and desperate to help Heero. The screams had turned to sobs in his head. Heero sounded so lost! "How can you do this to him? He's done so much for you, given so much!"

"And that is because of his conditioning," J replied calmly. "As you've found out for yourself, it is not easy to fight a war. It wears on the soul of the kind-hearted. I'm taking away that pain so that Heero can do what must be done. It's for his own good. There, see? All done."

The sobbing had stopped. Quatre got nothing but empty silence from Heero now. He'd gone very still in the chair, hands hanging limp in the restraints.

"He'll sleep for a few hours now," J told him as he began removing the sensors from Heero's body. "H, go find Quatre something for breakfast and keep him occupied. Have him put under guard if need be. I don't need any more of his hysterics."

"I'm not hysterical!" Quatre retorted hotly. "I know what I heard. His pain was real!" J ignored him. "Can I at least see him when he wakes up?" Quatre begged, looking back at Heero as H led him from the room, still grasping him by the arm.

To his surprise, J nodded. "Certainly. He'll be quite refreshed in a few hours. You'll see."

"How can you just stand back and let him do that?" Quatre demanded, pulling free of H's grip as soon as they were out of the lab. "I don't care what Dr. J claims. He is hurting Heero! I felt it!"

H shoved his hands in the pocket of his long white coat. His thin mustache was twitching, the way it did when something was bothering him. "You must understand, my boy, that Heero is not like the rest of you. He's been bred and trained to be exactly what he is: a fighting machine. A weapon with a brain. That's all he was ever intended to be. It's his purpose in existing. Distract him from that and he breaks down."

Quatre stopped and gaped at him. "A machine? You talk about him like he doesn't have a heart and soul! Like he's not even human!"

"Oh, he's human, at least technically. But he's been modified physically and psychologically. You've seen how effective he is in the field, Quatre."

Quatre couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You think it's acceptable to do that to someone? To a kid? How is J better than the Romefellers, with their mindless mobile dolls? Isn't that what he's trying to make Heero into?"

"No, of course not! Heero still has a moral sense. As long as the objectives are clear, he will operate in a moral manner. Mobile dolls can't do that."

"And if he survives the war, what then? How will he ever fit into the normal world?"

H sighed. "I don't know. To be honest, he's not expected to survive. Given the number of times he's voluntarily self-destructed, I doubt he will. Perhaps that's for the best."

Quatre hugged himself, chilled by these revelations. "It's wrong, H. It's just wrong! But I think I understand now, why he seemed so confused. He does have feelings, good, real feelings. He cares about Trowa and Duo. He even cared about me, after what I did! J is trying to kill that in him. I felt it!"

H patted his shoulder sadly. "J is a brilliant man, my boy. He will modify Heero no more than absolutely necessary. But in the end, this is war, and one we must win, by whatever means necessary."

"Then what does that make me?" Quatre demanded. "Do you think G was right yesterday? Am I not fit to be a Gundam pilot?"

"We both know you are, my boy. But-"

"But?"

"Never mind, Quatre. You've done your best. Come along now, and eat something. You must keep your strength up."

They'd reached a makeshift commissary. Twenty or more soldiers were here, sitting around dusty tables with their plates and coffee. Everyone stared at Quatre, some with curiosity, others with open dislike. He hastily grabbed a cup of coffee and an egg sandwich and retreated to his room. It was hard to eat, as angry and upset as he was, but he made himself choke most of it down. He couldn't afford to become physically compromised, given the doubts the other scientists obviously had about him.

Allah, that still hurt!

+

He paced the room for a while, bored with nothing to do and no one to talk to. He thought longingly of Duo and time they'd spent together. Then he tried to picture Heero and Duo together. They were so different, yet it had been clear to Quatre that they had some bond. Would Heero lose his hold on that, in the wake of that barbaric "conditioning"? J had made it perfectly clear that emotional attachments were counterproductive to his aims.

Images of Duo strapped into that machine came to haunt him, too; Duo, the most vibrant, irreverent, amazing, beautiful person Quatre had ever met, reduced to a "weapon with a brain." He shuddered. What would Heero have been like as a person, if this hadn't been done to him? Could he ever recover? It was all Quatre could do not to run back to the lab and smash that hateful machine. Were even the hope of victory and peace worth this abomination?

Too upset to stay cooped up any longer, he braved the corridor again, hoping to beg a cup of tea in the commissary. When he entered he found Heero already there, sitting in the corner alone, sipping a glass of water. Quatre had to fight down his own sudden hurt feelings; Heero hadn't come looking for him!

"Here you are," Quatre said, sitting down across the small table from him. "Are you all right, Heero?"

Heero looked up slowly, as if he was trying to figure out who Quatre was. "Quatre. Yes, I'm fine."

Quatre gazed closely into those hard blue eyes, looking for the boy who'd reached out to him last night.

That Heero wasn't there. The person looking back at him now seemed cold and guarded, almost wary.

"Oh, Heero!" he said softly. He reached out and touched Heero's hand, wrapped around the glass where it rested on the table. Heero frowned and pulled away, but not before Quatre discovered that the emptiness he'd sensed earlier had taken over.

"Oh, Heero," he said again, blinking back tears. "What have they done to you?"

"I told you, I'm fine," Heero said again, his voice flat, emotionless.

It would have been bad enough to think that J had somehow destroyed Heero's kind heart and soul; it was even worse to know, as Quatre somehow did, that the other boy, the true Heero, was somehow crushed and trapped inside this "perfect soldier." He didn't try to touch Heero again, but he vowed silently that he would do everything he could to bring that boy back to life, no matter what it took. Unfortunately, that meant getting him away from J, and with no Gundams and no weapons, that wasn't going to be easy. Worse yet, he didn't think this Heero was going to welcome his help.

+

Escape came in a most unexpected form. The following day the Romefeller OZ forces closed in on the rebel hideout and captured them all.

A young officer named Trant was in charge. "I have orders to eradicate all things associated with the Gundam program, and the Treize faction," he said, looking over the scientists, Quatre and Heero. "However, before any final decisions are made, I want to know more about you and your abilities. We captured the Gundam called Zero. The cockpit interface is fascinating."

"Why thank you, Lieutenant," G said dryly. "So are you going to kill us before or after you test it out?"

"I haven't decided yet, old man." Trant motioned for some of his men to lead the scientists away, then turned to Heero and Quatre. "I have plans for you. Come with me."

They were taken to a large bay. Mobile dolls stood in ranks against the far wall. The Zero and Mercurius had been repaired and stood facing each other below the repair gantry. Trant took them up to the catwalk and ordered Heero into the Zero's cockpit.

"I have some data on you Gundam pilots. Your reaction times are amazing. I want to see what you do in this. Mr. Sizemore, hook him up, please?"

A man in a white lab coat positioned Heero in the open cockpit and attached electrodes to his forehead and temples. Quatre was allowed to stay and watch him on the monitors. He didn't pick up the same hostility from this Lt. Trant. The man seemed honestly curious about the Gundam, and treated Heero with some degree of respect.

Standing back as a spectator, Quatre could take an objective look at the Zero system as it registered on the various control monitors. It was passive, in that there was no physical connection needed between pilot and Gundam, but he could tell when it came on by the low hum and a glow from the monitor panel showing the radar schematics.

"I've programmed in a test exercise using the offensive capabilities of the mobile dolls," Trant explained, speaking to Heero over the intercom. "The targeting data will appear in front of you, just as if you were in a real-"

"I can see how it works," Heero growled, ignoring him. His eyes were already fixed on the screen, fingers twitching eagerly on the controls. "Just run the test."

The OZ scientists started the simulation, and then watched with growing awe as Heero quickly met every challenge, destroying one simulated attacker after another.

"Incredible!" Trant exclaimed. "He's faster than the mobile dolls. I didn't think that was possible! Sizemore, increase the simulation parameters. Full assault."

A system that could beat mobile dolls? But that meant that the pilots, even pilots as good as Heero, would be dependent, almost unnecessary, thought Quatre. He looked up at the impassive face of the Zero. This Gundam; it was a horrible mistake!

On the cockpit monitor Heero's intent expression never changed, but his hands flew over the controls, faster and faster, like a thing possessed. The bio monitors of his vitals were climbing, too. His heart rate, respiration, and adrenaline levels were rising, as if he was in a real battle. He was speaking softly now, too, though more to himself than anyone else. Everyone else was focused on the readouts, but Quatre leaned closer to the cockpit monitor, listening.

"My enemies . . ." Heero whispered. "My enemies are those who seek my life." The look in his eyes had changed. The blankness was gone, replaced by a frightening intensity. "My enemies . . . Who are . . ."

Heero was shaking now, but his hands never faltered on the controls. Some of the OZ soldiers watching the test were cheering openly now, amazed by his abilities.

"Heero?" Quatre said softly. "Heero, can you hear me?"

"Uh, Lt. Trant? I don't like some of these cerebral readings," Sizemore said nervously. "It appears that he might be hallucinating."

"Is that affecting his performance?" asked Trant.

"No, sir. If anything, he's improving. It's as if the Zero system has taken over."

"It has!" Quatre warned. The same thing had happened to him. "You've got to stop. Abort the test. Shut it down!"

It was too late already. Suddenly the Zero's external sensor lights glowed ominously. It raised one huge arm, smashing through the gantry bridges that surrounded it.

The first rank of mobile dolls activated and the lead one fired at the Zero. Heero raised his shield, blocking the blast easily, but the backwash and concussion knocked Quatre and most of the other soldiers off their feet. Clutching the open grid work of the floor, Quatre watched as Heero activated the suit's beam saber and opened fire with the vulcan guns. He waded into the mobile dolls, destroying one after the other. The gantry shook. Shrapnel and stray shots laced the air in a deadly shower.

"Get me more mobile dolls!" Trant shouted, clinging to the rail.

"Heero, Heero, no! It's not you!" Quatre shouted.

"My enemies are the ones after my life." It was Heero's voice, still coming in over the intercom. Quatre crawled back to the monitor and saw the furious purpose burning in that too calm face. //Oh Allah! It's completely taken him over!// Quatre thought. "Heero, please stop! Can you hear me? Heero!"

But Heero gave no sign that he did. "My enemies are those that toy with my life!" he growled, then his eyes widened. "They're *all* my enemies!"

The huge suit turned, smashing everything in sight, firing on anything that moved. This was the most horrifying combination, Quatre realized: J's conditioning, and the Zero system's mind warping effects. Heero wouldn't stop until he'd destroyed everything and exhausted the suit's fuel and weaponry. It was going to be a massacre.

Quatre looked around; the Mercurius was still standing. It was unmanned, and must not have appeared as a threat yet to Heero. Dodging shrapnel and fleeing men, Quatre dashed down the gantry stair and ran for the red suit.

"Hey, you, stop!" Trant called from the catwalk, taking aim at him with a pistol.

"You don't want to die here, do you?" Quatre shouted back. "I'm going to stop him! He could destroy this entire base, maybe the whole moon colony!" Not waiting for an answer, he grabbed the lift cord and rode it up to the cockpit.

//Trowa was right, // he thought, buckling in and glancing over the controls. They were almost identical to a Gundams. //One pilot running amok in a mobile is a danger to everyone, and this war will never end if people keep trying to fight it all by themselves!//

He found the suit's special shield controls and activated them, then stepped forward through the flames now spreading through the hangar to confront Heero.

The Zero turned and took up an offensive stance, ready to fight him, too.

Quatre opened the com channel, though he couldn't get a visual. "Heero! Heero you have to listen to me! That system increases your abilities but you lose control! You saw what it did to me! It's the Zero system doing this to you, clouding your judgment. It takes away your free will! You're just part of the system, like this! You've lost your self, Heero, because of a soulless piece of machinery! And if you let that happen, then I'll lose you, and I've already lost too much that's important to me! Please listen to me, Heero. I'm your friend!"

Heero's voice was a deadly growl that chilled Quatre's blood. "Quatre, I've got a very clear view of the enemy. If you're going to fight me, then you are my enemy and I'll have to kill you."

"No, Heero, it's the Zero system that's making you see things like that. That Gundam is all on it's own now! You mustn't fight alone. Remember what Trowa said? We lose sight of the target when we try to go it alone . . ."

"I can see my target," Heero growled. "I see my enemy."

He fired his rear jets and flew at Quatre, slicing at him with his saber. There was no room to maneuver. Quatre blocked his swing and grappled him, holding onto Heero's saber arm to stop him."

"There's a self destruct unit in my suit," Quatre told him. "If you won't stop fighting I'll destroy both our suits right here and now!" He covered the self-destruct switch with his free hand. "These mobile suits have become a detriment to outer space-"

"No!" Heero shouted. "Outer space needs the Gundams and I have to fight to defend outer space!" He broke free of Quatre's grip and aimed a deadly blow at the cockpit.

A horrible wave of anguish shot through Quatre, and he knew it came from Heero. "No, Heero, please!" he cried out. "We mustn't fight each other!"

The shields took some of the force, but the blade struck the Mercurius on the shoulder. Sparks flew from the rupture and Quatre was thrown around violently inside. Then he was falling. The suit was toppling backwards and when it hit he was stunned for a moment. Struggling free of the harness, he shoved the ruptured hatch aside and climbed shakily out.

Heero lay on the hangar floor at the Zero's feet, struggling to get up.

Quatre ran to him and cradled him in his arms, trying to assess the damage. Fires raged around them now, and he could hear men shouting nearby.

"Heero, how badly are you hurt?"

Heero's eyes fluttered open and he focused slowly on Quatre. "We--we mustn't fight each other. It's not right!" he whispered. Then his eyes went wide, as if he was seeing something Quatre couldn't. "Relena!"

Quatre felt this strong flash. Relena represented something to Heero, some sort of purpose. It gave Quatre hope. "She's on Earth, isn't she, Heero? Then we'll go there, too."

He dashed back to the Mercurius and activated the self-destruct system, then dragged Heero from the hangar and up to the nearest shuttle access. The base was in a state of panic. Men were running everywhere, and there were more explosions form the hangar. No one seemed to notice the two boys making their escape.

Heero was unconscious but breathing when Quatre finally got him into the shuttle. He quickly zipped them both into pressure suits and launched, then steered for the Earth below. Behind him, a huge explosion rocked the landscape. Perhaps he'd accomplished the original mission after all, and destroyed the moon base. He was grateful that Duo and Wufei had already escaped.

When they were safely away he checked Heero's vitals again and found them steady.

"You really are a tough one, aren't you, Heero Yuy?" Quatre murmured, shaking his head. "Don't worry, I'll take care of you until you're back on your feet. From what I've seen, that won't be long."

Heero's eyes fluttered open again. "Quatre?"

Quatre smiled and squeezed his hand. "Yes, Heero. It's OK. We got away. We're safe now. I'm taking you to Earth."

Heero looked out the forward port at the blue and green planet rising to meet them. "Earth. That's good."

"The Earth was very kind to me, when I was there before. I'm glad to be going back. I might even be able to get us back to the Maguanacs. You should rest now, while you can."

"Rest," Heero whispered, closing his eyes again. Before Quatre could move away to his own seat, however, he reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing it hard. "The Zero system, Quatre. I understand now. Not your fault. Not . . . your . . .fault."

Quatre blinked back tears. "I don't know, Heero. I'll have to think about that. But thank you for saying that, my friend."

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