of the Past - # 2
It was so damned quiet. Closing my eyes, I rubbed my forehead and put the book aside as I stretched out on the bunk in my cabin. It was the twentieth day. We had made astonishing progress. Howard was ecstatic. Tomorrow we, Ezgadi and I, would pass Jupiter.
As I left Luna station, I checked the surveillance tapes. They showed that there had been two people sneaking around the ship with poorly hidden, obvious devices. I had warned Howard, and actually, there had been video footage, speculations and Invent Techs all over in the news. We had been found out. One day later Quatre had called. And the day after, all hell brook loose. We had chosen not to comment. But it was only matter of time until my involvement with Invent Techs would be discovered. I had covered my tracks fairly well. I'd managed to dodge them all last time, but this ship would raise interest from all over the world, not just from the food and clothing industries. This time there would be interest from governments, and, I suspected, from the former gundam pilots, as well. Quatre had called. They would be all over me, now. I could be a threat.
It roused melancholy thoughts. There had never been a deep friendship between us, but we had an easy camaraderie, and I had fought beside each of them more than once for a mutual goal. I had hoped the contact between all five of us would grow deeper after the war, but efforts made between the two wars had been, say, poorly rewarded. Quatre, to whom I had felt close at a time in the desert, had claimed more than once to be busy with his company but he had seemed truly sorry. Wufei often had excuses for business with Preventers, and Trowa had returned to his circus. The responses I got from them to my emails had had mostly a polite and impersonal tone, if I got one at all. And Heero... Heero had disappeared again after the second war. Hell, I didn't even knew if Heero's mail addy even still existed. He was the one who never even replied at all. It hurt like hell. During the war, on the rare occasions we worked together hell no, since he had raided Deathscythe I had developed a curious interest in my comrade, and despite his cool demeanor it had been getting worse. He seemed so... focused, unfazed by human interactions. During the Mariemaia incident, I had tried to befriend him, but he still was so... cold. I had hoped that the year spent in peace would have loosened his demeanor, but... He was cool and to the fact, as I ought to know him from before, and avoided contact if not regarding the cause. I was sad about that, not only for him. I would have liked him as a friend.
So what. I buried my hurt in my work, and occasional encounters with people of both genders. I was good at that. Screw the abandoned feeling. Screw them. I dreamt, thought up, developed and built things, and I was astonished I could. Up to my Ezgadi. I named her after an Angel, used in conjuring rites for the successful completion if journeys. It seemed fitting. Invent Techs was successful and received tons of patents. Sometimes, I doubted myself. Okay, I always was good with mechanics. And during my time with Dr. G, he had packed with knowledge normal kids only got in college. Despite my next to nonexistent education while young, I had caught up with astonishing speed. I always suspected that the nanites they shot us with did something to enhance our brain capacity, not only the improved health and healing. But this now? I began to see a pattern. All the little things I created could be - and are now - used in my Ezgadi. As if all I invented in the last four years pointed to this ship. Howard was amused by my theory. By my driving dreams. I had tried to build my first things at the scrap yard, where I worked with Hilde. After a while, it proved impossible to satisfy the requirements, so we parted ways. Then, finally I found Howard as a partner and buried myself in work on the old sweeper satellite. We made good money. It was like I was obsessed. Yes, in hindsight, obsessed was the right word.
Hilde had been great, a last friend in my loneliness. Oh, I wasn't alone; far from it. The satellite buzzed with people techs from the sweepers and a few hired experts. People were all over and around me. Once in a while, when I was at my lowest, it helped to talk the night away on the vid. That was what had been the worst on this trip, so far. The loneliness. I missed the people, buzzing and bustling around on the satellite. Now, I understand what Howard was so worried about. I'm not good all by myself for lengths of time. It forced me to think about people. People I loved and lost. Solo. The gang. Father Maxwell, Sister Helen. Quatre. Heero.
I must have fallen asleep in my bunk, because I dreamt. Dreamt of Deathscythe, fire, expositions and blood. Dreamt of a nice woman with chestnut colored hair and cobalt blue eyes, singing a lullaby. Dreamt of Quatre, Heero, the war, and relived the abandoned feeling, as he was gone without a word. I woke, gasping, to a wet pillow. Shit. Where did that come from? I sat up and rubbed my face, waited for the trembling to subside.
"Man, I haven't had a dream this bad in a long time," I mumbled to myself, "Ezgadi, time and status."
"Time is 0515 hours, Duo, all systems green."
I yawned and got up, figuring I might as well make a trip to the bathroom and start the 'day'. I relieved myself and took two hours in the 'gym', stemmed weights, ran on the treadmill and beat the punching bag for all I was worth. I had stayed in good shape, well muscled. Growing up to 5 feet 9 had put me in a lean form with broad shoulders and slim hips. I took a shower and afterwards studied my reflection in the mirror as I braided my hair. Okay, I was a good-looking guy. I could have had a roll in the sack with any of the personnel at the Luna station if I had been interested, there certainly had been more than enough passes made at by both genders. But I had limited these contacts to strangers I picked up in bars on my occasional stays away from work on business trips. I snorted as I slid in a fresh pair grey cotton leggings and tank top, standard wear under spacesuits. That was all I wore here on the ship, all by myself. No point in getting dressed up all fancy. Two hours until my next contact with Howard.
I stepped in the gallery for a quick breakfast and just had bitten into a ration bar when I heard it: 'Welcome back, Nemamiah.'
I choked, and coughed to clear my airways.
"Ezgadi, you said something?" I inquired, clearing my throat again,.
"There was no vocal output from me." Ezgadi said.
"I could swear I heard..." I stopped cold.
'Nemamiah, please slow down your ship to transmitted speed and coordinates and prepare for docking.'
"Unidentified communication active. Receiving data from unknown source. Please confirm, Duo." Ezgadi announced.
"Whoa," I raced to the cockpit and jumped in my seat. "What the hell...?" Inspecting the radar-, scan- and data-screens, I observed the incoming information. "Ezgadi, outboard screens on. Project indicated destination of received data on screen. Deepen scan, full range." I observed the screens and saw... nothing. Well, I saw Jupiter in its full glory, but otherwise? Nothing. "Fuck me sideways."
'I am not able to engage in human interactions.'
I felt dizzy. What the hell was... that? Someone, apparently not human, joked in deep space; no one was supposed to be here. I doubted I was suffering from space disease, or hallucinations Ezgadi had confirmed unidentified contact.
I tensed, but my curiosity won. "Identify yourself."
'I am Bethor, Defender Battleship, Nemamiah.'
"Wait. You are speaking in my mind." I shook my head and felt silly.
"How? Where are you from? What are your intentions? Who is the crew? What are you doing here?"
"We are communicating through your implanted com unit. My origin...'
I interrupted, feeling lightheaded "My... WHAT?"
'Your com unit, Nemamiah. My origin is Earth. I am to defend Earth, Colonies and its inhabitants. My crew is decreased except one, who was missing. My orders are to try to initiate contact and wait for the return of the missing crew member. Welcome home, Nemamiah.'
With this words an unimaginable really gigantic ship uncloaked on the outboard screen, at the intended destination of the received data.
I hyperventilated and my ears roared. Everything went blurry. I checked out.
"... is unconscious. Oxygen level is increased. Code red. No injuries on pilot detectable. Scan indicates normal body functions. Code red. This is an emergency. My pilot is unconscious..."
Additional to Ezgadi, Howard's voice thundered over the speakers. "...DUO! GOD DAMN IT! WAKE UP! I knew it. DUO! I never should have let..."
"Hi, Howie," I interrupted sheepishly and blinked at the screens. The enormous ship was still there. "Ezgadi, code green."
"God, Duo." He sounded anxious. "What happened to make Ezgadi initiate contact at emergency code red?"
"Um, I fell asleep?" I offered and checked our status. Like a good little AI, Ezgadi had stopped the ship.
"Don't mock me, kid," he boomed.
I grimaced, astonished how fast he could switch from anxious to irate.
"Um," I decided to tell the truth, "I found a ship?"
"A ship." He sounded incredulous.
"Yeah." I decided to be adventurous and confirmed the received coordinates to my ship. "A really big ship, Howie. Hidden behind Jupiter."
"Hidden. Behind Jupiter."
"Uh-huh. Howie, you a parrot?" I chuckled.
He seemed to come out of it. "Scrap? This far? From the war?"
"I... don't think so."
"You don't think so." There was a pause. "And you fainted why?"
"It's BIG, Howie. Really fuckin' big, like, ten times Peacemillion. And... I *didn't faint*. I blacked out." I inhaled deeply. "And... it spoke to me. In... in my head." I waited.
"Duo...," now he sounded cautious. "You... really okay?"
"See, you don't believe me. Imagine this happening to you. You would faint, too. Everything's going fine, my little Ezgadi and I speed through space, and suddenly someone talks to me in my head. I mean, come on, man. In my fuckin' head! In deep space. And Ezgadi receives data. And it tells me it's a battleship. A battleship! Defender battleship Bati..., no Berti..., no..."
'Bethor,' a helpful whisper offers.
"...Thanks. Bethor. Defender battleship Bethor. To defend Earth and the colonies. You hear? Earth AND the colonies. And it says its origin is Earth. Fuckin' Earth! What is there to defend it from, y'know? And suddenly a ship uncloaks and it is really, really fuckin' big and it says it's my home..." I trailed off and bit my lip as my last words registered in my brain.
"I... I have to check this out, Howie."
There was a long pause, then a sigh. "If I asked you to come for backup first, you wouldn't listen, would you?"
"Howie, ..." I didn't finish the sentence. Twenty days retour, pick up someone and twenty days again to this location. No. I'm not that patient. Besides, if this turns out to be dangerous or worse, I'd rather have no one else involved.
"Yeah, I know. Please be careful, okay?" Howie huffed. "And, there is something else. They finally have caught up with us. There was a Preventer Agent here, yesterday. Guess who: Chang Wufei. The Government of the World Sphere wants to interview you. About the inexplicable use of unregistered amounts of the alloy gundanium. And Ezgadi in general."
I barked a laugh while I confirmed the new coordinates to my ship. "Oh, they to, do they? Well, I'm afraid they'll have to wait; I'm on vacation just now. Time to hand out our presentation disk." I blew my bangs out of my face. We were prepared for the case of early discovery and had a disk ready. Normally, I would have liked to finish this test run I was on first, but... "Throw her out, then. Marketing phase one. So, they sent Wufei? Figures. Guess my cover is blown now, huh?
"It was all over the news. The stock is in uproar." Howard replied in a dry tone. "And Quatre has called, again. Think they want to test the waters, see if you're a bad boy or a good boy. You have to talk to them, Duo."
"Yeah..." I trailed off, then shook the depressed feeling while staring at the outboard screens. "You know, it bugs me that they only remember I exist if they think I'm a danger to their precious peace. They should know better. And, you know, this Bethor is really huge." I wiped my sweaty palms on my legs. "Whew, Howie, I didn't know we could build such ships. I'm going in. Sending visual. Try to find something about the manufacturer. Bye." I keyed the command to switch the transmission from audio to video and sent the recorded data about this ship.
After Ezgadi confirmed that the transmission was complete, I decided to use the last hour before docking on this strange ship to make that call to Quatre. I hoped I would not lose the signal when I went behind Jupiter, but ...
'I can route your transmission through my satellites, Nemamiah. If you wait until you are on board, you will have visual as well as audio at your disposal.'
I started. "Shit. Are you listening to my thoughts as well?" I had all forgotten about this com unit.
'I can't avoid listening; you have not closed the channel.'
"Yeah, right. If you would tell me how, I'd do that."
'I can not risk losing contact before you are on board, Nemamiah."
"Yeah, right." I snorted. Then I decided to test the offer. If this someone or something that called itself Bethor would listen anyway, what damage would be done? I thought of opening a channel, frequency, and suddenly there was a female voice in my head.
"Winner Enterprises, how can I help you?"
"Duo Maxwell, Invent Techs for Quatre Winner." I replied businesslike.
"Oh, Mr. Maxwell. Um. Yes, one moment please."
I rolled my eyes. This was rich. Somehow I felt silly, talking to myself, or to a voice in my head. But the connection was surprisingly good.
"Hi, Quatre. You rang?"
"Hello, Duo. I have no visual. How are you?"
"Quat, you have no visual because I'm halfway through the solar system. I'm calling from Jupiter. Nice here. And I'm fine. A little lonely, but I'm used to it." I couldn't help a little sarcasm. "How can I satisfy your curiosity?"
"Jupiter?" He gasped.
"Hmm, I'm testing my ship. You've heard about it, haven't you? You'll get a presentation disc in a few, when we start marketing. If you're interested, call the sales department. Don't call me."
There was a pause. "I'm sorry."
"What for? For trying to get a good price by knowing the management? It's not that we were friends in the first place, right? Acquaintances, maybe. You all made it clear that you were not interested. Or are you sorry that you had no trust in me when I came to you for help? Or that you lost a few good business opportunities? So, what are you sorry for?" I just couldn't help it.
Quatre made a shuddering sound. "For not being a friend. For being selfish. For being ignorant. For missing chances to know you, to know the others. Go on, Name one. I'm sorry." He sounded sincere.
I swallowed hard. "What brought this on, Quat? Why this sudden change of heart?" Sue me, but I was suspicious of his motivation.
"I'm with Trowa, Duo."
I couldn't help the slight pang of jealousy, "Yeah? Great. Say hi for me."
"Duo, we... we're all sorry. We... we had a talk."
"A talk," I was at a loss.
"Yes, we... we, I mean, Trowa and I talked with Wufei."
"With Wufei." Somehow, it seemed surreal.
"We are sorry. You tried, and we were ignorant. We think it would be a good idea if we... and Wufei agrees... I mean, we want to be closer again, maybe even friends; we all do. If you... if you can forgive us, that is."
"I see." I bit my lip. That was what I had wanted, wasn't it? But am I able to forgive and forget? "And this call, your earlier calls had nothing to do with the discovery of my ship?" Am I to believe this? "With Wufei at my factory just now, investigating?"
"No," he almost cried out, "...please, I swear. That was totally by chance. Wufei had asked for the assignment. To be able to talk, personally. To make amends."
"But we didn't talk, did we?" I now gnawed at my lip. "See, I'll think about it, okay?" I had my own life now, and they were no longer a part of it. Would I want them to be, honestly?
"There is more." Quatre sounded now sad and small. "I found Heero. He was on Earth. He's... he's dying, Duo."
I felt as if someone had poured a bucket of ice water over my head. "What?"
"He,..." Quatre cleared his throat, "he was infected with a virus. HIV IIb. The mutation of the old aids virus. It's no longer latent. He must have been infected in 196. Before Mariemaia. He... there is no cure, Duo."
'Yes, there is. I have a cure,' Bethor whispered.
I shivered. "Shut the fuck up!"
Quatre drew in a sharp breath.
"Sorry, Quat. I didn't mean you," I clutched my braid, "how... how long?" I was stunned. One of the indestructible Gundam-boys dying? And Heero? In my imagination, he was the one who lived forever.
"Two or three months. He's here now, too."
I couldn't help the remark, "it takes one comrade dying for you to remember the rest of them?" Instantly I regretted the slip. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for." I stared at the controls in front of me.
"It's okay, Duo. I understand."
"Three minutes until touchdown. Engage breaking thrusters. Three, two, one, zero."
I drew a deep breath. "Sorry, Quat. Gotta go."
"Who's with you?" He sounded generously curious. "Didn't you say you were in deep space? Docking?"
I choked back a nervous laugh. "That's Ezgadi, my ship. She's an AI. Look at the disk. And for the rest, I honestly can't say it without sounding insane. I'll be in touch." I didn't know how to cut the link, so I thought it.
'Link cut,' Bethor confirmed. 'Docking procedure engaged. Welcome on board, Nemamiah.'
I observed the docking via the outboard screens, noticed the lack of docking doors, winced as my ship cut through some sparkling energy field into the hangar bay and gaped, as I saw two bigger shuttles and approx. fifty mobile suits, unlike Leos, but clearly equipped with weapons sliding by. "Holy shit," I gasped, and as my ship came to a halt, "Ezgadi, report environment conditions."
"Environment conditions in hangar meeting human requirements."
I fumbled with my harness and scrambled off my ship out into the hangar. I stood, slowly making a circle, and took it all in. "You are a carrier, Bethor."
'Not only that. I am housing one hundred ninety six mobile suits and eight shuttles in four hangars. I have twenty beam canons and ten laser canons at my own disposal, under command of the captain. I am a Defender Battleship.'
"What happened to the crew?" I had noticed that the suits seemed new, no signs of past battles.
'I will explain. Please come to the bridge. Press your hand to the pad beside the door and follow the lights.'
I must be crazy. Wandering around on an unknown ship, all by myself.
I had touched the pad and the door slid open with a slight hiss. I crouched, ready for any sort of attack, but as there was no sign of life, I cautiously followed the lit trail, peeked in the dark corridors left and right; farther down, a door slid open, and I was on... the bridge. I took in the nine control panels, some dark, some somewhat lit, dark screens and the seats in front of them, and one seat in the back on a slight platform with controls in the armrests. All the controls were marked in Standard English.
'Please sit down in the captain's seat. I will start instruction'
"Okay. But no funny business here." I sat down and waited.
'I am Bethor, Defender Battleship. One out of seven. My creators named me after a biblical being, its meaning a powerful angel, one of the seven angelic beings ruling the 196 divisions of heaven. My crew consisted of two hundred six warriors, one hundred twenty techs and thirty scientists. I launched from Earth Colony-cluster L2-X4231 on October 12 in A.C. 257. At this time, three fourths of the population on Earth and the Colonies were slaughtered. We were at war with the Xetoins an alien race - who reached Earth in April A.C. 202, after a scout troop of five in December A.C. 201 successful spied out the human race. We were the last resort. Our mission was to get back in time to A.C. 201 to defeat the first scout troop and beat off the first wave Xetoins by building a newly developed weapon for the next, overwhelming wave. Our mission failed. The system used was faulty. We arrived in A.C. 179. The effects of the time lap caused lethal genetically damage in the crew and destroyed my drive system. The main amount of techs decreased during that malfunction. They last members of my crew died five years later.'
While all my senses should scream at me for this story, I found myself unusually calm. "You state you launched at A.C.257. We have A.C.201. You say you are from... from the future?"
'That is correct. Although, I see myself in the past.'
"Whatever." I pondered the story. "What proof do you have that you aren't one of these..." I gestured with a hand, "these... spies, send by the aliens as bait?"
'You are.' Bethor replied.
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