The Beginning's End + Part 7 (cont)
"Trowa! Thank God you're here!"
Commander Une sounds panicked. That's enough to upset legions in and of itself.
I push my way into her already crowded office. I had to fight my way through legions of agitated politicians just to get up here, but none of them are in the room now. Only Une, along with Heero, Quatre and Wufei.
Everyone looks very grim.
"What in the Hell is going on here, Une?" I ask her quietly.
She stares at me. "We were hoping that maybe you would know, Trowa," she says.
I stare at her. Certainly she can't mean…
"We've told you a million times, Une," Quatre snaps, his usual sweet, polite face nowhere to be seen. "Heavyarms is gone. We blew him up, along with Sandrock and Deathscythe. Five years ago."
Commander Une thinks I know something about this…this imposter?
I continue to stare at her, unable to believe that she would think I would be involved in such an operation. She wilts visibly under my stare - Une! - and drops into her chair.
"Don't look at me like that, Trowa," she orders, her voice tired. "I know you couldn't have been attacking Manturene - I just saw you a few hours ago, and for all we know that…machine is still there."
"It's fortunate then that I have such an impenetrable alibi," I say coldly.
Une looks up to glare at me. "Can you blame me for wondering, Trowa?" she asks bitterly. "It was Heavyarms! Your Gundam!"
"Heavyarms died five years ago," I remind her unforgivingly. "Duo and Quatre were there when I killed him."
"Killed who?" Duo demands as he pushes his way into the office and slams the door behind him.
I don't reply, which I'm sure annoys him. Probably not as much as my refusal to let him drive here with me annoyed him, but I don't really care.
"Heavyarms," Wufei tells him briefly. "Commander Une here seems to think that Trowa had something to do with the appearance of this Gundam."
"What?!" Duo bellows, glaring at Une. "What kind of bullshit is that, Une? They pay you to come up with half-assed assessments like that?"
"Enough!" Une shouts, half-rising from her seat. "I don't think Trowa had anything to do with this. I just want to know why in the name of all that is sacred his Gundam is decimating southern Asia!"
"Well, I don't think we're going to find any answers in here," Heero says quietly. "Have your people been able to get any information on this thing? Where it came from? Where it's going?"
Une sighs in frustration. "We had no warning of this," she admits, subdued. "We were caught as much by surprise as those poor people in Manturene."
"Why don't we go over to communications and see what they have?" Heero suggests.
Just at that moment, a phone rings on Une's desk. She looks startled - it must be a private line. With obvious reluctance, she picks it up. "Une," she barks into the receiver.
She's silent for a moment. "Because we are just getting information ourselves, Your Majesty," she says in a cold voice.
Heero visibly blanches.
"No!" Une half-shouts in the receiver. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, obviously trying to control herself. "There's nothing for you to do here, Relena. You'll be in the way."
She listens for another moment, and her face hardens. "If you find anyone who anticipated this, Relena, then I'll hand them my job with my compliments," she snaps. "Until then, why don't you stop passing the blame and try to assemble some humanitarian aid for Manturene? I'll do my job; you do yours!"
She slams the phone down so hard in the cradle that I'm sure she damaged something. Heero looks mildly impressed.
"Now," Une says, the strain she's feeling obvious in her voice, "Why don't we go see what they have?"
The melee outside has cleared somewhat; Une's security boys must have finally come through. She leads the way to the other side of the mammoth building. Rows of vidscreens, computers, radar devices and miniature satellites fill the area. People are frantically swarming to and fro, shouting into phones and radios, waving sheaves of documents at each other, jabbing their fingers at specks on screens and monitors. It looks like absolute chaos.
"Wow, they look really shook up," Duo comments.
"Actually, they always look like this," Wufei tells him aside.
Une has latched onto a harassed-looking middle-aged man with a bald spot and a big belly hanging over his belt. He keeps shaking his head emphatically at her. Finally, he throws up his hands in exasperation, turns around and stalks toward one of the monitors. Une turns and motions toward us, and we all follow the man toward the screen.
"This is where he was first spotted," he begins without preamble, pointing to a small yellow dot on the screen. "It's only about ten miles from Manturene - whoever he is, he knew where he was going."
"Why Manturene?" Quatre asks.
The man shrugs over-exaggeratedly. "Why not?" he demands rhetorically. "Probably the most convenient place to his point of origination."
"So where is he coming from?" Quatre presses.
This earns him a scowl. "I don't know, kid," he snaps. "If he came from on-planet…"
"He couldn't be from on-planet," Une interrupts. "Not if that thing really is made of Gundanium."
"It could have been brought in from…" Wufei begins.
Une shakes her head in a decided negative. "We have never allowed Gundanium to be transported on-planet," she reminds him. "We've been monitoring every ship that came from the colonies for five years; there's no way enough Gundanium to build a Gundam could have been smuggled in."
"So what are likely off-planet points of origin?" Quatre asks.
Une's pet expert glares at Quatre. "Well, taking into account current planetary position, and the possible point of entry," he begins.
"Point of entry?" Une snaps. "We saw him enter? Why wasn't I informed?
The man looks as though he would rather be anywhere in the world except for where he is. "Well, er…what we now believe could be the Gundam's point of entry is…Well, at the time we didn't realize it could be an enemy mecha."
"What did you think it was?" Une demands angrily.
He looks even more unhappy. "We…we thought it was a meteor," he admits miserably.
Duo breaks the silence with a loud chuckle. "Irony and deja vu," he croons. "Isn't that just too beautiful for words?"
Une scowls at him, then turns back to her sweating subordinate. "We will discuss this more later," she promises menacingly. "Do we have any clue where it may have come from?
Seemingly glad to have escaped immediate incineration, the expert continues. "Well, judging from that point of entry and current planetary position," he repeats ponderously, "we can pretty much discount the L1 and L5 colonies. None of them are in the right spot at the moment. It could be from one of the L4 clusters, but that's a pretty long shot. Most likely it came from one of four clusters at the L2 and L3 points, but I can't narrow it any further with any confidence."
Duo's home colonies, and mine. Unwittingly, I raise my gaze to him and see him looking at me, worry and consternation in his violet eyes.
"Trowa, you're from L3, correct?" Commander Une asks.
As if she doesn't know….I nod my head jerkily.
"And the Gundam that shows up is modeled after yours…" she continues.
This is just like the war. Those in authority grabbing any chance available to slake the blame off onto someone else.
"Commander Une…" Wufei begins.
"Don't say it, Preventer," she snaps. "I already said that I don't believe Barton has anything to do with this. I'm just trying to establish connections."
She doesn't believe that Barton has anything to do with it. But she doesn't know that Trowa doesn't.
Just like the war.
"So, what now?" Wufei asks finally.
Une scowls and nods sharply at our informant, who scurries away in relief. "We have it on visual," she says finally. "The only thing is…" she pauses. "Well, we have nothing to fight it with except some outdated Taurus' and space Leos," she admits, gesturing back toward the holding area. "I'm still waiting on data scans of the thing, but if it is made of Gundanium, you know as well as I do that it would be suicide to throw our troops at it in them."
We nod. We do indeed know how uneven the odds are between OZ mobile suits and Gundams.
"The best thing to do, I think, is try to keep a visual lock on it," she says. "We have satellite monitors all on call, and a few ships that are ready to follow it once it leaves the atmosphere, so hopefully we can keep tracking it as it moves into different ranges. If we're lucky, we'll be able to discover where it came from, or at least where it's going."
Quatre and Heero nod thoughtfully, apparently approving the strategy. The rest of us, the ones who were more fighters than strategists, just continue to stare at her.
"Meanwhile, we should activate our base in outer space," she continues.
Heero scowls. "What base in outer space?" he demands.
Une looks uncomfortable. "We…uh…Well, we have established a center of operations in outer space, in the event it should be needed."
"What?!" Heero bellows. "Do you know how many agreements that violates? When the Hell did this happen?"
"Five years ago," Une snaps. "It was utterly impractical to try to run that last skirmish from earth. We need a location there."
Heero runs a hand through his already disheveled hair. "I don't believe this!" he rages. "Who the hell knows about this?"
"Not a lot of people," Une tell him meaningfully. "I'd like to keep it that way."
"How did you manage to hide it?" Heero asks, sounding genuinely curious.
Une looks at him scornfully. "Creative accounting," is all she says.
There's silence for a moment, broken only by Heero's soft curses.
"Anyway…" Quatre breaks in as the awkward silence lengthens. I look at him sharply - he has a nervous vaguely guilty expression on his face. My eyes narrow as I stare at him. He glances up and meets my eyes, but looks quickly away. Interesting.
"Yes. We should all get up there as soon as possible," Une says briskly. "I think we'll take the space Leos; I'll try to contact Noin and Zechs and see…"
"We?" Duo interrupts. I'm glad he said it before I had to.
Une looks startled. "What?"
"You expect…I mean, you want us to be involved in this?"
Now Une looks staggered. "Of course…I…That is, how are we going to fight Gundams without all of you?"
I look around at the others. Of them all, only Wufei looks grimly resigned. Everyone else looks as astounded as I feel.
Heero scowls. "I haven't been to space in…"
"…five years," Duo finishes softly.
I say nothing. This is not how I wanted to return to outer space.
"But…But you will go, won't you?" stammers Une, looking aghast at the thought that we won't.
"Another war," Heero murmurs, suddenly looking far older than his twenty-one years.
Quatre looks distressed. "I thought we were done with this…" he murmurs sadly, his blue eyes mournful.
"This saving the world bit is getting pretty old, man," Duo tells the room at large.
"I will go, Commander," Wufei says quietly.
Quatre nods convulsively. "I…I will too," he manages, looking sick.
Heero closes his eyes briefly, pain written all over his features. "Me too," he mutters quietly, reluctance apparent in his tone.
Duo rubs a tired hand across his forehead. "Guess there's nothing else for it!" he announces, his voice ringing hollow with false cheerfulness. "The God of Death is back in business!"
My stomach lurches when he says that. Oh, no. Please…don't make him do this. Don't make us do this. How many times do we have to bail humanity out of messes that their own intrinsic evil qualities have caused? How many times do we have to risk our lives for people who don't care about us at all, who don't appreciate the sacrifices we've made, who feel that they are simply entitled to everything we do for them?
Everyone's staring at me.
I don't want to do this.
But more than that, I don't want them to do this.
Suddenly I realize they all feel the same.
"I don't know about you guys," I begin slowly, "but I'm not going unless I get a Taurus. As I remember, those space Leos are crap."
Quatre smiles, Wufei actually chuckles, and everyone else visibly relaxes.
"All right," Une says briskly, "Let's get off planet before anyone has a chance to ask me any questions."