Author: CeeDee
see # 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Thanks to Sakusha's betaing (normally I'd have to announce her as co-writer) it flows much better than originally, and sorry for grammar mistakes, they are all mine. Because I still have to get Ellimaru's corrections… (and will edit then)

Future of the Past - #11
Simikiel

{Angel which grants destruction, vengeance, and punishment. Only if deserved.
Don't ask for help unless you are in the right. Otherwise, it comes back at you
threefold.}


+

The proximity alarms shrilled endlessly and the entire ship was on code red. I was on my way to the bridge. Pushing away from the wall, I glided straight to the door.

It was a great thing, to be weightless. To move without the assistance of gravity. It takes experience to know when you have enough momentum: too much, and there're the inevitable injuries; too little, and you find yourself floating somewhere in the middle of some room. A couple of our more inexperienced crew members had to be rescued on occasion from being left helpless, suspended in midair, like a stranded fish.

Holding onto the handrail, I keyed the pad and the door slid open. The vision that greeted me left me gaping. The monitor was filled with the sight of one Xetoin carrier. Whew. What a ship. But what had triggered the proximity alarms was not the carrier, which was still too far away, but the twenty-one smaller ships, seven groups of three, closing in on us. Fighter ships. We'd been discovered earlier than I had anticipated, and the Xetoins sent a welcome committee. I had hoped that we'd get a little closer to the carrier before that happened.

"Bethor, kill the noise and drop out of outer stellar speed," I ordered. "How long until contact?"

"Thirty-seven minutes," the AI answered.

"Reinstate gravity slowly," I ordered. "Zero point one g every ten seconds." Then I made the announcement over the ship wide speakers for the crew to prepare for gravity.

It was an odd sensation, to feel the tug of gravity at your body. I loved the free-floating feeling of zero-g, but our personal reaction time would be severely hampered if left in that state.

I sighed, as I felt my feet steady on the floor, and then activated my com, 'Trowa, Heero to your Gundams. Take eight of the Maganacs with you. We have company. Twenty-one tangos. Drop out cloaked. Backup Bethor only as needed. I want to see how much damage my battle ship can do on its own.'

'Roger that,' Trowa answered.

"Weapon stations attention," I turned to the men at their stations. "Fire up our defenses."

"Com transmission from the outside," Bethor announced.

"Let's hear it," I grinned fiercely. Bethor opened the speakers to the communication port and all of us were holding our breath, waiting to hear what these monsters sounded like. A series of chirping sounds, grumbles and whistles were heard throughout the bridge.

"Bethor, can you translate that?"

"You are conquered. Do not resist." It was odd, to hear such a message in the voice of our own AI. I laughed wildly.

"The Hell we are," I called out, "a little full of yourself, aren't you? We'll see who gets the better of whom. Conquered, my ass."

'Ready to drop out.' Heero reported over the com.

'Go. We've already been declared a conquered race.'

'Is that so?' came his response, in a grave tone.

I chuckled darkly and walked over to one of the two pilot stations. I gave the crewman a little pat on the shoulder and said, "I'll take over." He stood up, and I took the empty seat. "Okay. Let's see what you got here, Bethor. Show me how good you are."

+

Gritting my teeth, I shook my head in disbelief. This was so not working. "What incompetent bastard programmed you to make those moves?" I muttered. Bethor made another ineffective evading maneuver, and the enemy landed yet another hit on our outer hull.

As the Xetoin fighters had reached firing distance, they began their assault. At the same time, they initiated their mind attack. I felt it weighing down on me, the pressure of fear, but I gritted my teeth and shook it off. The techs on the bridge got rather pale. They were cowering and shaking like leaves. A few were crouched on the ground, at the feet of their consoles. One lost his lunch.

"Howard," I shouted over the com, "I need immune crew members on the bridge, now."

Quatre turned to me, his mouth turned into a feral grin, eyes bright blue, and I knew that he was okay. This face I knew only too well. Xetoins, watch out.

"In three," Howard responded.

"Better be," I muttered. I had enough. So far, Bethor had made no progress. The ship showed no real offensive responses and its defensive techniques were substandard. We'd taken several hits already. I was starting to worry about the hull withstanding the enemy's fire. The Xetoin ships, maybe a tenth of Bethor's size, were swarming around us like mad hornets.

"Crap. What kind of moron programmed you?" I yelled as we were hit again. "Useless bastard."

'Ready to engage,' Heero told me over the com, 'what are you doing there?'

'Negative,' I ground out, 'and I'm doing fucking nothing, yet. It's Bethor. Some incapable tactical nimrod programmed Bethor with stupid fucking standard evasive moves.'

I could hear Trowa chuckle softly. 'Then do something about it.'

"Yeah," I said out loud. I turned to see my new bridge crew, three Preventers and two Maganacs, enter the bridge. They wasted no time replacing the others, and taking up their new positions. "On it. Watch me. Bethor, enable manual control." My fingers flew over the controls and we evaded a new hit. "Time you learn something from the best."

I heard a double snort over the com.

"What?" I asked, feigning hurt. "I'm not?"

I narrowed my eyes as I palmed the controls. The ship turned, dove and made a roll. "Wufei, Quatre, weapons control at your service. Fire at will. Bethor, watch and learn."

It was like playing one of my video games. Only bigger and a hell of a lot more real. In this game, if I lost we would all be dead. I initiated a wide curve and came back at one of the groups of three, head-on. The guys fired out a series of shots. As soon as they fired, I pulled the ship upwards and made a loop to evade the enemy at our back. I could see two of the earlier targets explode, just on the outer edge of the screen. I whooped. The weapons seemed to be more effective in the hands of someone who new how to use it. On our downward turn, the guys got off a second series of well placed shots.

Bethor had a high maneuverability and was astonishingly light to handle despite the size of the ship. Of course it was no shuttle or suit, but I was a hell of a good pilot. I missed the vibrating, feeling the crescendo of the engines, and the sensation of being one with the ship as I had it with my Ezgadi or with my Deathscythe. I missed the direct grip on the stick. There was little, almost no delay in the ship's reaction time, but it was there.

I learned to compensate rather quickly. I hit the controls, and the ship dodged, avoiding a clash with one of the enemies. A little too close for my liking. Quatre and Wufei fired as soon as they got a target. We worked together like instruments in an orchestra, each playing its part flawlessly. I was proud.

The guys landed a barrage of steady hits. I dove Bethor through the debris to the middle of two groups of Xetoins and hit the breaking thrusters. At the same time, I fired the jets and dove, dipping the ship's nose. Enemy shots went wild; three of their six were hit by friendly fire. I cackled. Seven down from twenty-one.

Again, we went on the attack. They were slow learners. Instead of splitting off, they chose to stay in formation. We fired left and center, both ships exploding. The ship on the right was hit by debris, and never had a chance.

This new weapon of the future wasn't just effective, but fucking fantastic.

I watched in morbid fascination as the ships exploded on our monitors. When a ship took a hit, it would burn from the inside out, and you could see the glowing shine of fire though the breaks in the hull; like a spider's web, but only for a split second. And then it breaks apart in a fiery explosion. The fire is sucked out by the vacuum of space instantly, and the remaining debris flies apart like colorless fireworks. On the infrared screens, the bits were still plain to see. The material hot from the heat of the explosion, but rapidly cooling in space. Fireworks, indeed.

I was truly in battle mode. Deep in concentration, I took in their positions, calculated their trajectory and reacted instinctively, without hesitation. It was over surprisingly fast. At last, with only four of them left, they fled.

"I am detecting seventy-five new fighter ships leaving the carrier," Bethor reported, "Intercepting in approximately thirty-three hours on current course and speed."

I slumped back in my seat, my battle induced adrenaline high starting to fade, and brought Bethor into a neutral position. 'Heero, Tro, come back and dock.' I said over the com, 'We'll drop into stealth and they won't be the wiser.'

'Confirmed' they both replied.

"Bethor, hyper-jammers online," I ordered. "Stealth as soon as our suits are back on board. Report of damages on screen. Howard, send out repair teams."

"Aye, Captain," he answered.

Within minutes all of our suits were reported in and we were in stealth. On our monitor, we watched as the newcomers, still more than a day away, faltered. Their radar equipment was no match for our cloaking device. They were hesitant to set a course and seemed to swarm, looking for a definite target. Apparently confused, and probably unwilling to fly such a distance for something they could not find, they simply gave up and headed back to the carrier.

I grinned. Our stealth capabilities worked beautifully. I had wanted to be a bit closer to the carrier before we made first contact, but we were still in a good position to make our plans work. We altered our course, heading to them at a different angle than we had before.

Almost a day and a half left, at highest inter stellar speed, and cloaked. We would use the time for repairs and for further training of the Preventers, in dealing with the Xetoins.

The door opened and Trowa strode in, Heero on his heels. I grinned as Tro made a beeline to Quatre, leaned down, and kissed him deeply. Talk about stress relief. Heero stepped behind me and laid his hands on my shoulders. "You all did well," he whispered, his tongue tickling my ear. I shuddered, tying to remember I was supposed to be finishing course corrections.

Yeah, stress relief, indeed. I think my face almost split in two, so big was my smile.

+

"Come on," Heero gripped my arm as he steered me out of the gym. "Let's go to the bar."

I looked at him, wondering if I had heard correctly. Since when was Heero this eager for drunk-indulging, noise-intensive activities?

We had trained on weights and then sparred, until Heero unexpectedly declared an end. After a quick shower he hastily dressed and waited, pacing impatiently, for me to finish my braid.

"What's the hurry?" I asked, amused, "you need a drink that bad?"

He looked at me and opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it again and shook his head. He turned and strode along the hallway in direction of the holo suites. I stumbled to catch up with him.

"Hey! Wait up," I called, and broke in a light jog after him. "What's the matter with ya?"

He didn't answer, but stopped in front of the holo suite declared as our 'bar'. As he palmed the pad the door opened, and loud voices, shouts, and whistles flooded towards us. We stood in the doorway, bewildered.

There was a crowd of almost impenetrable bodies massing in a circle near the center of the bar. From what I could understand from the shouting, there was a fight going on. We pushed through the thick packed crowd, and stopped as we reached the edge of the circle. Talk about Heero's hunches.

Two people circled each other. From what I could see, it was one of the sweepers and a Preventer. Their faces shone with rage. The bulky sweeper had a knife in his hand, a bloody smear on his lip, and a deadly look in his eyes. I blinked, stunned, and then got annoyed. These idiots.

"Stop it!" I called out, but my voice was swallowed by all the noise.

I went from annoyed to angry. Turning my head to look at Heero beside me, I flicked my eyes to the Preventer and back. He nodded. He was ready to intervene. Okay. We had to separate them. As if we didn't have enough problems on hand, now this. And nobody else here in the 'bar' thought to intervene. Idiots, all of them. I took a step forward, Heero at my side, into the empty space between the eager crowd and the fighters. I fumed. The noise died down a little as they noticed us, but the two fighters hadn't become aware of us yet. Or they didn't care.

I decided one last time to try a verbal intervention, before we would go in and stop them physically.

"Stop it, you fucking idiots," I shouted, enraged. I concentrated on trying to get their attention, feeling like I could kill them myself. Bloody assholes.

The sweeper cried out, blood gushed from his nose, and he dropped to his knees; the knife clattered as it fell to the floor. The Preventer agent staggered, hands pressed to his head. He stared at me in horror.

I blinked. Talk about effective. The room was suddenly very quite. Not a single noise was heard. My eyes on the fallen sweeper, I took two steps forward, and knelt down in front of him. He was disoriented, unresponsive. I hissed, as I looked in his eyes. The white of his eyes were interspersed with small bursts of blood vessels, and his pupils wide and dilated.

"Bring him to medical," I said absently, and stood, taking a step back. Turning, I narrowed my eyes at the Preventer, who scrambled away from me, falling on his ass. He had a cloth pressed against his bloody nose and he was staring at me. He looked… frightened. "You too. Let Sally Po take a look." I was confused as to why he would look at me like that. It's not like I hit the man. What the hell was his problem?

He nodded and got up, staggered, and someone took his shoulder and led him out, following the others who had already left with the catatonic sweeper. Something was wrong. The way he didn't take his eyes off me until the last moment, his eyes wide and scared. Why the hell had he looked at me like that? And the reaction they had at my shout, so… severe. I stood and contemplated it. The sweeper had dropped to the floor all of a sudden, without someone taking a hit at him. And the busted blood vessels…I was puzzled.

Looking up I saw that Heero, too, was looking at me. Then his eyes flicked around, taking in the stunned people around us. "No fights on this ship," he addressed the crowd. "You'll get your share earlier than you like." He grabbed my arm, and dragged me out of the holo suite, into the hallway.

He stopped, leaned against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. "You… were angry," He stated.

I nodded.

"Very?"

I nodded again. What was he up to?

He pursed his lips, face inscrutable. "Has… anything like that happened before?"

I raised my eyebrows, questioning. "Like… what?"

He shrugged, looked down to the floor. "Did you notice the way that agent looked at you? He was… afraid." He shot me a glance from under his bangs. "Afraid of you."

"I…" I nodded again, contemplating the occurrence. "Yeah. I noticed."

He looked up at me and tilted his head. "Why, when you were only shouting? Did you do anything else?"

I narrowed my eyes. "What do you mean anything else? You were right there. I just… yelled at them."

Heero pushed off from the wall, nodding. "Okay." He began to walk away, just like that. As if we haven't had the strangest conversation just a moment ago.

I stood and looked, bewildered, after him.

+

The freight area was like a madhouse. The alarms shrilled and people ran around like crazy. We were in close proximity of the Xetoin carrier. Time to make trouble. I zipped my spacesuit closed, and locked the seals while I oversaw the chaos.

'Howie, everything clear?' I asked over my com unit.

'Ready to rock 'n roll,' he answered.

I nodded. He was sitting on the bridge, overseeing Bethor's attack on the enemy. He had done well while commanding Peacemillion, he would do well here. Besides, I was in contact with Bethor and could intervene, if necessary. 'Just don't ram the carrier,' I joked.

I could hear the amusement in his tone as he answered with a few swear words. Laughing, I climbed up the catwalk to Deathscythe Hell II and slid into the seat. I powered up the systems and oversaw the diagnostics as the screens came online. Fitting the headset on, I opened the channels to my comrades. In the divided screen, I could see them sitting in their own Gundams. "Hey," I said softly, "let's kick ass."

Wufei tipped his head with a small bow, and Quatre grinned devilishly. Trowa gave a short nod and Heero just looked at me. Be safe, his look said. I smiled at him and gave him a wink, before I put on my helmet.

I felt more than heard the docking claws release my Gundam and I took a step forward, waiting for Quatre's command. "Oh-three, out and take position," his voice came over the com. Quatre would command the attack. I would be the fallback for Bethor, if Howie had problems.

Heavyarms came out of his position and walked towards the opened freight doors. I snickered as he gave a careless wave with his giant hand over his shoulder before the jets fired and he jumped out and cloaked at the same time. Show off.

Next was Altron and then Wing, then Sandrock, and I was the last one in my buddy. We each had eighteen suits as backup. At the time we had plotted this out, it seemed overkill, but then we still were under the impression we only had to fight a few Xetoins within our solar system. Now, I wished we had more pilots for the suits stored in the hangars. We had to play hide and seek and fall back on our old terrorist ways. Sneaky and invisible. Poke and run. No sense in a full out confrontation. We would lose it, without doubt. We had to do recon, first.

I fired up my jets and set course to my designated position. The other screens showed only empty space beside the carrier, but the tactical screen showed colored dots, the positions of our suits displayed by Bethor from our com units. Wouldn't do if we smacked into our comrades while cloaked.

'Zero five in position and ready,' Wufei reported.

'Hold.' Quatre responded, and I checked the screens. It would start soon. I took in the sight of the carrier in front of me as I glided alongside of it, searching for weak spots. The enemy's ship was formed from hexagons, almost round in its allover design, like a small moon. There were no observation windows visible; it was one smooth surface. I wanted to see the inside. I was curious about the design. About the drives. About its strengths, about its weaknesses. The mechanic in me was fascinated. I shook my head sharply. No, not now. I would get my chance. And then we would blow it to hell.

One after another they called in on their positions, and finally Quatre ordered the attack. Bethor uncloaked and fired a rapid series of shots aimed at the middle of the carrier. Then our ship pulled up, gliding along the carrier, taking random shots. It was astonishing to see the effect of Bethor's weapons. While the data of Bethor's archives had showed almost no effect on the Xetoin's fighter ships in former battles, and 'normal' weapons of the earth troops of the future, now there was.

Apparently, the carrier wasn't designed for battle. There was no resistance, no answering fire to Bethor's attack.

I watched as hexagons dented, and then broke at the seams under the impact, but overall the damage was minimal. Maybe if there were more like Bethor…

But then a few hexagons slid inwards, and swarms of ships emerged from the carrier. I counted fifty-one of them, emerging from the depths of the carrier, just from the one opening nearest to me. My God. How many of them were in there? A wave of fear swept over me, as they passed my position - unaware of our small squadron of cloaked suits - in the direction of Bethor. I shook my head and concentrated, teeth clenched, mentally sinking down into my battle psyche, and the fear receded.

'Go.' Quatre's command came over the com, and I maneuvered my Gundam in position over the opening. I uncloaked and fired a missile into the opening before I fired up the Verniers, and ripped my suit around. I felt already adrenaline pulsing through my veins as I closed in at the enemies' back. Aiming at the nearest group of three, I fired a few well placed shots in rapid succession in their backs.

They didn't stand a chance. A feral grin crossed my face, and I ruthlessly maneuvered through the debris, trusting the gundanium to withstand the bits of metal. I dodged enemy fire and returned it. We danced in space, my buddy and I. I whooped and cursed; dodged shots and spiraled away, closed in and circled, dove and rose up on them, all the time firing.

I took a quick glance at the monitor. The enemy's advantage was in numbers, but we were faster, more agile, and far better pilots. They were losing numbers rapidly. We had been right. Without the Xetoin's mental advantage, they weren't half that good. But it wasn't enough, not yet. I fired up the jets again, and dove in the middle of another firefight. I powered up my scythe. I wanted to get close up and personal. I was on the hunt again.

+

After powering down the system and ripping off my helmet, I slumped down in my chair. I was drenched in sweat and my bangs were glued to my forehead, but I couldn't get the wild smile off my face. Holding up my shaking hands, I stared at them. I had to take a few deep breaths, willing my body to calm down. My throat hurt and felt scratchy.

I knew I had been almost out of control. The memory of the battle was a blur after I had thrown my suit in the thick of enemy, the scythe my weapon of choice.

I had sliced through metal with it in wide arcs, wedged and cut, and fired without mercy. I remembered grabbing part of the jets of one ship and smashing them with the fist of my Gundam. While cackling like a lunatic, I threw it away towards the others. The explosion was magnificent.

I remembered shouting at them to go to hell, cursing them in my rage, and directing my full fury at them while I swung the scythe. I know I received a few hits. The harnesses held me in place while I shook like a rag doll. But my buddy had been true, the gundanium protecting me from the worst.

I don't know how many times Quatre called out to me before I heard his command, to cloak and disengage. I think he called out my name, too, somewhere in there, but I was too high on the battle to notice. I came to my wits, realizing that two more waves of fighters were being released from the carrier. Oh, right. We just wanted to lure them out. Capture two ships and disengage. Time to run and hide.

I had fired up my engines, dodging through the thick of enemy and debris. Bethor had already cloaked. I did the same. Hovering on the edge of the battlefield, I observed floating debris and damaged ships. The still functioning ones heedlessly searching for us, before they eventually made their way back to the carrier.

Heavily exhaling, I let my hands fall down in my lap. The shaking had gone down, the adrenaline worn off. Opening the hatch I ripped off the headset and secured it in its place, before I stepped out and grabbed the cable, gliding down to the floor. We had fought a battle but the war was far from over.

I stood at the foot of my Gundam, grinning like a maniac. Glancing at the other four, I found them looking none the worse for wear. Heero came towards me, his eyes boring into mine, and I checked automatically for injuries. He had a data reader in his hand. "Status?" he asked me.

"Clear." I answered automatically, while my eyes tracked the other three, too, leaving the freight room. Quatre turned and gave me a thumbs up, while he took three steps backwards before he turned back again. I saluted at him, before looking back at Heero as he stood in front of me. "Status?" I asked softly.

He smiled, as he took a step into my personal space, leaning forward. "Clear," He murmured and I could feel his breath on my cheek.

I tilted my head and he kissed me softly. "Good. The others, too?"

He nodded, and stepped back. "We've lost seven pilots," he stated, "suits included. Twenty-one suits damaged, but reparable. Eight pilots in medical, nothing fatal from what I understand."

I bit my lip on the sudden sadness and blinked. "The Xetoins?" I quietly asked him.

"One hundred eighty-six destroyed, two captured, although damaged. Bethor scanned twenty-one ships adrift. Perfectly intact. No life detected, though."

I let out a breath. "Hmm, drifting? How's that? Why would that be?"

"Reason unknown," He eyed me, cautiously. "All of them in your range of action in the battle."

Puzzled, I looked at him. I know my eyes widened, unsure at the implication. "What?"

"The sweepers are picking up one of them, just now," He tilted his head. "Want to come?"

"Yeah, man," I grinned at him. "Can't pass up a chance like this."

+

The ship was exactly the same as the holo we had used for training. But this ship was real. The only difference was, the crew of Xetoins in this ship were all dead. That would explain the drifting, but not what had killed them. I prodded one of the corpses with the toe of my boot and it rolled over. There were no visible wounds. There had been no sign of mechanical damage either. The ship seemed to be in perfect working order. It was downright creepy.

"What do you think?" I asked and turned to Heero, who had crouched beside other corpse.

He glanced at me, and shook his head. "No outward sign of violence. Maybe… something was wrong with their life support." He shrugged at my alarmed look and stood. "The atmosphere inside the ship was tested before we came in. They didn't detect anything wrong though. Let Sally do an autopsy. Perhaps she can find something."

"'Kay," I sighed. "Would be nice to know what killed them, though."

My com pinged. 'Want to sit in on the interrogations?" Wufei asked.

I looked at Heero, and saw him nodding; he had gotten the same message. "Yeah," I answered, "we're on our way."

As we strode through the hangar, he said, "Perhaps they can tell us why their comrades are dead."

"Hmm," I answered. "Let's snag one of the other drifting ships and ditch the damaged ones. So we can spare ourselves the repairs."

He shrugged. "I already thought of it," and from the line of concentration between his brows, I knew that he had talked with Bethor. Somehow, I was glad to see it. It reassured me that I wasn't alone with all these responsibilities. We all had a significant part in this. All five of us stood in front of the crew as a unit. Although, in Bethor's line of sight, I was half a step more in front than the others. And maybe I was. But the lines had already blurred. I knew if I'd had to go though this alone, without the input of the other four and our brainstorming, we wouldn't have gotten to this stage yet.

I contemplated all this as we made our way through the corridors, nodded absently at some passing crewmembers, confident in Heero's lead. Yeah, sometimes I, too, could completely zone out, trusting my partner to watch the premises. Besides, what could happen here on this ship? Okay, so we've had an insane crewmember out for my blood, but that wasn't the norm. We're all pretty safe here, except when you considered the close proximity of the Xetoins' carrier. But that was another thing altogether. It was a threat to all of us, not to any one of us in particular.

A hand on my shoulder stopped me in mid-stride and threw me out of my thoughts. I blinked, seeing that we had reached our destination. As I turned my head, Heero looked at me with his head slightly tilted, his typical half-smile on his face.

"What?" I asked, puzzled.

"You're completely relaxed," he stated.

I contemplated that. Then, with a smile of my own, I answered. "Yeah. Yeah, I am." And I realized it was true. I hadn't been this relaxed in a long time. "But so are you." And he was too. The way he held himself, his posture, and the set of his shoulders. I could see it in his stance, hips slightly tilted, one leg angled and out of line with the other.

He looked thoughtful. "Maybe it's the battle. We lived through danger," he shrugged, "and I don't feel guilty."

I grinned wryly up at him. "Me neither," I said. Then I grimaced. "Should we feel guilty about not feeling guilty?"

He only shook his head, the half-smile still on his face, as he palmed the pad to the room where Wufei was leading the interrogation. The Xetoin inside tried really hard. The instant the door was opened I felt fear. But I clamped down on it, and stalked into the room, outwardly unaffected. I shot a quick glance to Heero, and he looked fine. Aloof as always. Smirking coldly, I leaned against the wall beside the door, and crossed my arms over my chest. The enemy was seated at the far side of the table, limbs bound, flanked by two Agents. In the middle of the table lay a small cylinder-like device I recognized as a translator.

Wufei sat at the table with his back to me. He was leaning back in his chair; his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. I couldn't see his arms, but I guessed they also were crossed over his chest. Cool as a cucumber. He was the highest ranking official aboard, and was the obvious choice to lead the interrogation.

"Ready when you are," I said.

Wufei threw me a short look over his shoulder before he nodded and addressed the prisoner.

"How many of your race accommodates your ship?" He asked.

The Xetoin looked arrogant, as the translator chirped. It opened its mouth and replied something.

'How can you endure our transmission?' Bethor's voice interpreted.

"You only answer my questions. It is my interrogation, not yours." Wufei said.

The Xetoin looked at him before it let its eyes roam over all of us. Then it clamped his mouth shut and was still.

I sighed. Seemed we would have to convince him to cooperate.

+

"It's creepy," I said as I secured myself in the harness of the ship's co-pilot seat, and adjusted my Gundam's headset. "They're like the plague. If they all are like this…" I trailed off and shook my head.

"They have no sympathy, no compassion," Trowa said. "No understanding of humans at all. We have to stop them before they destroy all of us."

"Kill the queen," I repeated what Heero had said earlier, "and the rest will die."

Trowa nodded and pursed his lips. "We've come this far. I'm just glad there aren't any other carriers to be concerned with."

"You said it," I grinned. "After we sneak our way in, setting the explosives in critical places should be child's play. Recon and destroy," I said fiercely. "And we're the best when it comes to stealth. We'll make it."

"Amen to that." Trowa replied.

We had launched another attack. Only now, Trowa and I sat in a Xetoin ship whilst our Gundams run nearby on AI, cloaked, and waited for Quatre's signal to hide ourselves among the rest of the Xetoins. I just hoped we wouldn't be detected in the wave of returning ships. Just hoped that we could find a terminal with the ship's specs before we were discovered.

I licked my lips. I hated going in unknown territory. During the war we usually had layouts of the bases we infiltrated, but not every time. A few times, we had to go in blind. Like now. I hated it then, and I hate it now.

I glanced at Trowa's expressionless face. Back then, he had been better than me in infiltration, but I would bet my Ezgadi that he liked this situation now no more than I did.

Our ship glided out of the hangar just as two Xetoin fighters exploded. We followed what was left of the formation as if we had been there the whole time. The switch was flawless, or at least we'd hoped it was.

'In position' I reported, as Trowa matched the ship's movement with the other one.

'Confirmed' Quatre's voice came over the com. And that was it.

One after another, our suits vanished from sight, Bethor being last. Once again the Xetoin ships strayed a while, confused, until one of the controls lit up, and after a few confirming keystrokes, the ship apparently went on autopilot. We truly were on our own from now on. The ship fell in line with others and we observed the carrier growing bigger as we neared one of the open hexagons.

The ship sailed in and moved in position to one of the docking clamps. I stifled a gasp as I looked around. It looked like the inner hull of the carrier was one big hangar. Each ship in a secured hexagon-shaped bay, like one big honeycomb covering the wall opposite the outer hull. I recognized the energy shield as the stolen technology Bethor had. Inside was atmosphere and gravity. Good. We shouldered our backpacks and waited before we cautiously left the ship. We crept to the border of the bay to take a look around. There was no floor, only an empty space with tubes connecting the outer hull with the inner one.

'We're in.' I reported silently.

'Proceed,' was the answer. We would communicate as little as possible. Nobody knew if our transmissions to Bethor could be detected by the Xetoins.

There was a metallic sound and I jumped. Automated hoses moved forward and connected with the ship. There was a hexagon shaped opening in the back of the bay, and I tapped Trowa on the shoulder, gesturing towards it. He nodded. We cautiously moved forward, and crouched, waiting until the other Xetoins passed us by.

When it was quiet, we silently made our way onto the catwalk. It was one of many and they seemed endless. It was the same both up and down. There were stairs connecting the catwalks, both up and down, some angled to the opposite wall. These catwalks connected directly into hexagon shaped hallways, into the depth of the carrier. The pattern was duplicated all the way around. Crap. We could get lost in minutes. I looked at Trowa and he shrugged.

We used hand signals to communicate. We would stay together, heading to the lower levels. We moved silently into a deserted hallway. It junctioned with another to form a larger hall, but there was still no suitable hiding place. I began to get worried. A door to the left and another to the right were the only places to vanish to, but what lay behind them, only God and the Xetoins knew.

We went farther. The halls seemed endless. At yet another hall, I signaled the clear to Trowa and he took point. I followed him along the hallway until it lead into a bigger room. The room held more doorways that seemed to lead to more long hallways. It was beginning to feel a bit redundant. The hallways seemed to lead into the center of the ship. There were doors here and there, but no ventilation shafts to duck into, should we require a quick escape.

I took stock of the room and found Trowa standing in front of a wall housing a computer terminal just one like we knew from the captured ships. I grinned. Finally, something worth our trouble. I guarded while Trowa connected a data pad and transmission device and started the download to Bethor. Then, he stepped aside to let me look for the floor plans.

It took me a moment, but all the training in Xetoin technology helped with the strange system and symbols. Fuck. So far, we had only crossed two junctions, with hundreds left until we came to the center of the carrier. And I had been right about my earlier evaluation. The ship was sectioned in layers, discs, one over another and the discs were connected with several stairwells and tubes. The next one was eight junctions ahead. I pondered the chances of creeping along the hallways without being discovered and came up with disappointing results. As it was, we were lucky that we still hadn't been discovered.

But wait. I squinted my eyes at the screen. Yeah, there it was. Every third hallway there was something like a maintenance room, a niche to hide in. And they were connected. I grinned at Trowa and pointed at the screen. He took a look and nodded at me as I gestured in the direction we needed to go.

A soft beep signaled the end of the transmission and I unplugged the transmission device and transferred the floor plans to the data pad before I disengaged from the alien system. We were lucky that Bethor was designed partly from Xetoins technology; otherwise we would have stood in the rain about compatibility. In a way, it was like cheating. We knew far more about the Xetoins than we should have, and therefore we had an advantage over them. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't feeling bad about it.

Trowa signaled for me to hurry, and we cautiously crept along the hallway. All the doors had print pads like Bethor, and I slipped on a glove, one of the latex copies we made from a handprint of our prisoner. The door slid open on contact, and we slipped in, settling in for the wait.

It would take some time until the others had analyzed the data we transferred and found the weak points of the ship for us to plant the explosives. We would have to make several trips back to our stolen fighter ship, as we could only carry so much.

"Reminds me of a bee hive," Trowa whispered as he studied the floor plans.

I nodded. "Heero was right. We have to kill the Queen. If there's anything left at all when we're through, then it's not her." I whispered back.

"She will be guarded well," he whispered back. "How do you think we'll get into the center?"

"I'll think of something," I replied.

+

It took the better part of three days. Eight hours just to get the plans back to us on where to plant the explosives. The rest trying not to get caught while we made our way up and down the monstrous carrier. We ate, slept, practically lived in the maintenance tubes. But we managed to rig the place pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. We decided on five of the most strategic layers, planting our explosives on structural joints, and where there seemed to be an excessive amount of machinery. Big fucking 'boom' wasn't even close to what was going to happen to this place.

I felt as if we'd walked; no, crawled hundreds of miles. We were still in minimal contact with the others as we made our last trip from the ship, the very last of our explosives tucked into our backpacks.

'What about the outer layers?' I asked Heero over the com.

'From the specs, it just looks like food storage. No strategic value.' he replied.

I shrugged and my stomach chose to growl at the same moment. We'd only lived on ration bars and water for the last 36 hours and that just wasn't cutting it anymore. I stopped and eyed the door to my left.

"Duo," Trowa warned me, but I already had made up my mind. Perhaps there was something edible in there. I palmed the pad and the door slid open. I blinked.

"Fuck," I ground out, shocked. There were no shelves with food, no sacks or anything edible for human consumption. The room was packed, yes. But… it was packed with people. Women and children crowded and huddled together. About fifty people, I estimated. Young women. Naked women. And some were, as far as I could see, in various states of pregnancy. And they all looked at me in shock; some huddled in groups, some frozen in whatever they just were doing. Some whimpered.

I heard a gasp behind me. Trowa had stepped behind me and peered over my shoulder. He seemed as shocked as I was.

I took a step back and smacked the pad to close the door, shoved Trowa bodily out of the way, whirled around and took a step, palmed the pad of the door on the opposite of the hallway. It was the same in the other room. I smashed the pad and the door slid closed again. Trowa had gripped my arm. I stood, frozen.

I swallowed, hard. 'Heero,' I called over the com, including Trowa in the connection. 'What do the plans say about the rooms on my position?'

There was a short pause, and then he answered, 'Food storage, I already told you.'

I bit my lip. 'How many rooms say that?'

'Almost all of the rooms of the outer layers. Why?'

I closed my eyes. 'How many?'

'Duo…'

I shook my head, impatiently. 'HOW. MANY.'

There again was a pause before he answered. 'One hundred seventy. WHY?'

My God. I stared at Trowa, helplessly.

'Any other sections, mentioning food?' Trowa inquired, while looking at me.

'No,' there was a pause, 'but they seem to grow their own food, instead of replicate it. There are a few rooms that say 'seeding'.'

I shuddered. 'Where?'

'One is situated ahead of you, the door to the left behind the junction. All over,' there was a pause, 'eighty two. Why? Do you plan to poison the Xetoins instead of blowing them up?'

I strode along the hallway, Trowa on my heels. 'Blowing them up may be too nice,' I muttered, stopping at the junction and peering around the corner. All clear. I made a motion to Trowa and he followed me to the room Heero had directed us too. I took a deep breath and hesitated, but Trowa pushed my hand against the pad and the door opened.

There were ten big cells, or cages. Seven of them held men. Most were curled in the corner, some sat on the floor. Gods. I took a step inside the room. One of the inhabitants of the cages sprung forward, clenched his hands around the metal grating. I blinked. The fingers seemed somewhat off. But I had no time to look closer, there was a howl, and whimpers from the back of the room and I jumped. I noticed that there was a doorway along the back wall. I took a few quick silent steps, cautious I crouched beside the door, peeked around the opening.

I gasped. There were three males strapped to cots, or benches, writhing and twitching. I made a quick sign to Trowa to hold position and slipped into the room.

I thought I would become ill and cringed as I took in the full sight. Holy fucking shit. There were apparatus strapped on the lower bodies of the three males. Its low humming noises were almost drowned out by the whimpering and panting of the three. Their cocks were caught in a rhythmic pulse and small hoses came out of the tip of the machines, going into a bigger one at the side of the wall.

Didn't take a genius to figure what the machine was doing. What had Heero called this section? Seeding. Oww. I backpedaled and shot a quick glance to the one man standing at the cage grating, putting a finger to my lips. I hoped he understood the sign. He said something rapid in a foreign language, and stretched an arm out, but I shook my head, and made a soothing gesture with my hands.

"Sorry dude, but not yet. Just a little bit, okay?"

Trowa hushed me from the door and I slipped out, shot a last glance back at the male before the door slid shut. The look in his eyes had been desperate.

We crept back to the next hiding place, and after putting the cover of the maintenance tube behind me back in place I settled down with a sigh.

"We can't blow the place with all these people in here," I said frantically.

"They're not from Earth," Trowa responded.

"How you figure?"

Trowa was still for a moment. "Did you really look at them? Their coloring… they are similar to us, but not the same. More slender. The eyes are weird shaped, bright colored. Orange, yellow, florescent green, and blue. Every one of them had hair so blonde, it was practically white. No brown, no black. And none of them had any body hair. Not earthling traits." He shrugged.

"I don't care," I hissed. "They are prisoners, held against their will. We have to get them out."

Trowa chuckled. "And how do you suggest we do that? We'll be lucky if we get out."

"Don't know, yet." I worried on my lower lip. "I'll think of something. There were children Trowa, for god's sake."

I wouldn't let them die. That I knew.

[part 10] [part 12] [back to Singles a - k]