by: Shoori

The Beginning's End + Part 9

I thought that I would be safe from this sort of thing if I stayed away from women.

I can't tell Quatre that. He would shake his head at me in amused exasperation, and tell me that my Old World roots were showing again.

Old World roots. Even ignoring the fact that we're both colony brats, having the heir to an emirate accuse me of being overly patriarchal is a bit ironic at best.

Actually, I guess he's actually not the heir to an emirate - I guess he is the emir. His family eschewed the title years ago, but there are many who remember. Witness the Maguanac Corps.

I don't really think you can blame my upbringing, anyway. Ancestral traditions or no, noone who had spent any time with some of the female elders of my clan could reasonably assert that women had no power or influence in our family.

I believe my opinions on the female gender to be based on facts carefully catalogued from my observations. Women, on the whole - at least in my experience - tend to be illogical. Witness Relena and her constant attempts to completely disarm the world. They allow their emotions to overpower them at exactly the wrong times. Witness Noin and her behavior in the last major battle of the war. They tend to attach themselves to people, rather than causes. Witness Une, and her surrender after the death of Treize. They stubbornly stick to the course of action they believe will bring them success, regardless of actual facts. Witness Dorothy, and her disastrous command of the mobile doll forces.

I am not attempting to argue that men are without faults. However, the errors men make, as a group, at least tend to be based on miscalculation, rather than excessive emotion.

I feel myself shudder. Quatre turns slightly and looks at me curiously, and I smile at him. He turns, reassured. Excessive emotion. Nothing is more distasteful to me. There are emotions that can be shared - that are honorable, even. Anger. Loyalty. The thirst for justice, and for revenge.

Then there are emotions that are private. Love. Fear. Sorrow. Heartbreak. I have no quarrel with the emotions themselves, or even with sharing them. You let your lover know of your feelings. When a friend hurts you, you allow him to see your pain. If your beloved betrays you, he must be allowed to feel the heartbreak he has caused. However, it is unseemly to allow these emotions to be visible to all and sundry. It cheapens them, sullies them as it sullies those who display them so wantonly.

I wish someone would explain that to my friends.

I scowl impartially at them all. Unfortunately, noone notices. Finally, after five miserable days of travel and two days of planning, arguing and training at this base, we've finally got something that may lead us to this mysterious Gundam. If Une ever decides to show up and tell us what it is.

I scowl again. We're all seated in the small conference room at Commander Une's base, waiting for the Commander to put in an appearance. When we entered the room, several chairs were arranged in a neat circle. Quatre immediately sat down in one. Duo knocked one out of place, plopped into it, and appropriated another as a foot rest. I pulled my chair behind Quatre's to a position where I could see the door, and sat. Heero arranged his, I notice, so that he could carefully observe both the door and Duo. Trowa came in, looked at the chairs, and crossed the room to lean against the wall behind everyone else. I can see him in my peripheral vision, but everyone else would have to turn to observe him. Everyone is very carefully not doing so. In fact, everyone is very carefully not looking at anyone. The only conversation is Quatre's careful remarks to Duo, who replies with his usual careless exuberance. Apparently he thinks noone notices how he's practically vibrating with nervous energy.

I close my eyes briefly, and rub my forehead. Really, it's like being with a group of histrionic women. Yuy, usually the most collected of us all, has been wandering around for days looking like a lost pup. He talks quietly with Maxwell, stares hopefully at Barton, nervously skittering away when he receives the inevitable cold green glare.

Maxwell flitters around like he hasn't a care in the world, casually flirting with an increasingly confused Heero, cracking jokes with Quatre, irritating me like I haven't been irritated in years, discussing plans reasonably and efficiently with Commander Une, and even, when he's feeling especially brave, directing casual remarks and comments to Barton, seemingly unfazed when he's met with stony silence.

Barton is the picture of stoic despair. He's the one who should be irritating me the least, but, paradoxically, is annoying me the most. If you didn't know him well, you wouldn't know anything was wrong with him, though you might wonder how so profoundly antisocial an individual managed to function. He speaks hardly at all. After he suddenly emerged from his little disappearing act on the transport - noone could find him for more than two days, days during which Quatre nearly had a quiet nervous breakdown - he closeted with Une and planned the entire first step of our operation here in space. He's done more work in mobilizing this base than anyone else. When Une finally admitted that she wasn't going to be able to find Zechs and Noin in time, Barton almost single-handedly began training what soldiers we have. He's missed more meals then he's attended, working late into the night poring over maps and satellite images. It was his idea to reactivate the search satellites on all the main colonies to look for any anomalies, hoping to regain the track of the Gundam, which we lost several days ago.

He's been ceaselessly efficient, calm, perfect. No shadow of emotion has crossed his impassive face. He hasn't sunk into any of the displays of raw emotion that constantly threaten to erupt over Duo or even Heero.

It's that…nothingness…that's bothering me, I think. When he looks at Duo, or Heero, you'd expect something. A tightening of a muscle. A shadow in the eyes. A fleeting expression of regret or anger or…something. This total lack of display of any emotion whatsoever would make me rather nervous coming from any of the pilots. From Maxwell, I would think he was dead and begin planning the funeral. But from Barton, it's even more profoundly disturbing.

It's always been hard for him to trust. Even I, always so impatient with any flowery emotion, instinctively knew that it was even harder to get close to Barton than to the rest of us. I, like the others, sensed that one would have to work to gain the trust of this pilot.

I scowl again, as I force myself to admit what's troubling me. I'm afraid. Afraid that this betrayal has been too much. Afraid that something in Barton that was unspeakably fragile and delicate and already damaged has been ruthlessly killed, and is dead, forever. Afraid that he may never again be able to be close to anyone. Afraid that he will be truly alone, for the rest of his life. That would be a terrible thing.

So because I am afraid for him, I'm angry with him. Now who's unreasonable?

And who's womanish!? I shift abruptly in my seat, angry with myself. There's a war going on, a war with an unknown and dangerous enemy. And I'm worrying about people's little feelings! Weakness!

Quatre turns again, and regards me quizzically. I don't bother to summon a false smile this time - it's not like I'm hiding anything from him anyway. A faint smile touches his lips as he notes my sullen expression. He winks at me, and calmly turns around again. I feel an answering smile brush across my lips. Yes. This, at least, is definitely a good thing.

The door bangs open and Commander Une enters, the scowl that is a permanent fixture these days firmly fastened on her face. The frown deepens slightly as she observes the havoc we've made of her circle, but she says nothing. She stands next to the vidscreen hanging at the front of the room, clicks a button on a small device in her hand, and begins to speak briskly.

"Three hours ago, we received a message from Colony XV7889, in the L3 sector," she informs us. "In response to our request, they recently reactivated several search satellites that they have had inactive since the rebellion five years ago. One of those satellites picked up a disturbance around Colony XV7870, a colony that has supposedly been abandoned for over a decade."

She clicks the button again, and a sort of map appears on the screen. One dot, representing the inhabited colony, appears, located on the fringe of one of the L3 clusters. Another dot, the abandoned colony, floats alone in space, with no other colonies or sources of support near.

"Colony XV7870 was never very heavily populated," Une continues. "It was a factory site, then used for storage. As I said, about a decade ago, when some of the cluster formations were reconfigured, it was abandoned completely." She pauses. "So imagine everyone's surprise when a colony that was supposed to be completely empty registered an immense amount of radio activity on a satellite sweep."

Une's gaze sweeps across the room. I wonder in irritation why she's stretching this out. She thinks the Gundam is based on this uninhabited colony. She wants someone to go check it out. Why doesn't she just ask?

"The people on XV7889 decided to see what they could find, completely without orders." I have to hide a smile as I catch the touch of asperity in her tone. This colony, without instruction from Une, must have found out something really good for her to be this annoyed. "They launched a very old spy satellite, and picked up this."

She clicks the control again, and there's a murmur of surprise as the new picture flashes across the screen. Grainy and distorted as the far range satellite photo is, it's obviously our target.

"So we know it's there," Duo says, in an uncharacteristically flat voice. "When do we attack?"

"There's more," Une says reluctantly. "They managed to intercept radio broadcasts as well."

"From a ‘very old spy satellite?'" Heero asks skeptically.

Une's lips tighten. "It seems that some of our allies in the colonies have been a bit less than forthcoming about the capabilities of the equipment they have retained," she admits reluctantly. "But, as it has benefited us in the case, I didn't see a need to make an issue of it. Right now."

She hits yet another button, and sound comes from somewhere in the room. Static crackles, there's an odd rushing sound, the quality is poor - and the whole thing brings back incredibly vivid sensory memories of piloting Nataku. I see the small movements and startled blinks of the others, and know they have been affected the same way.

"Identify yourself," says the first voice, the voice of some type of controller on the colony.

A disgusted snort comes from the other, the unknown pilot of the Gundam. "You know who the Hell is it," he says, his voice heavy with arrogance and contempt. "Open the damn lock and let me land."

I lean forward eyes staring unblinkingly at the still satellite photo on the vidscreen, intent on hearing every nuance of the conversation, every background sound from the recording. I barely register the flicker of movement in my peripheral vision.

"It is imperative that you identify yourself," the first voice insists.

"Who else do you think it is?" the pilot retorts. "Anyone else you know have a damn Gundam?"

"For the safety of the organization, we must preserve protocol," insists the first voice, and then it's obvious. This person is rather enjoying hassling the pilot.

The pilot makes a rude suggestion about what the official can preserve. He obviously isn't used to being thwarted. The official sighs. "It could be a trap," he insists. "You certainly took your sweet time getting back here."

"Did you want me to just waltz back in, leaving a trail for everyone to follow?" the pilot demands. "Let me in, now, or you'll wish you had." The threat is heavy in the tone.

This time, the movement is more than a flicker. I turn my head, and the movement causes Barton to rip his gaze away from the screen to me. My eyes meet his dark green ones, and I almost exclaim aloud at the expression within them. He's gone white, and his eyes…I see horror. Disbelief. I see fear. His lips move. "…you'll wish you had," he mouths, silently echoing the words of the pilot. Still staring at me he slowly shakes his head, unconsciously denying…what? What has affected him so profoundly?

I open my mouth to ask him, and that small movement jerks him out of his daze. His eyes dart to the front of the room, where Commander Une is speaking again.

"…light of this information, I don't want to let this wait. This ‘organization' has had who knows how much time to build their operations. Perhaps they have more than the one Gundam, even," she says grimly. "Some sort of attack needs to be commenced, to test their strength. We don't really have the troops to expend, but I think we have to…"

"Commander Une," Trowa interrupts suddenly.

Chairs creak as bodies shift, everyone turning in surprise to stare at the source of the unexpected interruption.

"I need to speak to you. Now. Alone," Trowa qualifies. His expressionless mask is firmly in place, but the urgency he feels is obvious; his voice is hard.

"I don't think…" Une begins.

"What the Hell do you mean, alone?" Duo demands, bouncing up angrily from his seat. "We're all part of this, how can you exclude us from…"

"Now," Trowa insists, pushing himself away from the wall. "Please, Commander Une," he requests, quickly crossing the room to the door.

I don't think it was the unexpected appeal that swayed Une. She's become very adept at reading our signals over the years. She realized the enormity of his agitation when Trowa, always so lissome, so collected, actually tripped on my chair in his haste to cross the room. It is probably the only time I have ever seen him move in a less than graceful fashion. With a brief order to remain where we are, Une follows him out of the room.

The rest of us stare at each other in silent astonishment.

We don't want to speak, or we may receive affirmation from the others of the emotion we saw in Trowa's green eyes, as he stumbled out of the room.

Fear.

What in the name of the Gods could he have heard in that transmission that frightened Trowa Barton?

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[cont]