Chapter: 6/11: Do You Know How Polite I Am?
Pairing: Past Treize/Zechs (made present-tense via flashbacks)
Spoliers: Series, EW Warnings: Death themes, male/male sexual situations, foul language, grief, angst, cynicism, debatable instances of sap. Flashbacks throughout. Military-ness. Rated M for swears and darkness.
Archive: Fanfiction.net under the name KhalaniK
Disclaimer: I don't own any part of GW. No monies have been or will be made off of this thing.
Please see Limbo 1 for very important notes.
Limbo 6: Do You Know How Polite I Am?
"Tonight at 02:00 hours, all of second platoon will assemble here at
the juncture between utility road three and this defunct lay of
railroad track. This will from hereon be labeled rendezvous point
Treize used a long stick to point to two other parallel sticks and a
perpendicular line of discolored, frayed twine that he had arranged on
his makeshift sand table earlier that day. The diagram was impressive
for an improvisation; mounds and ridges in the dirt detailed the
topography of the training grounds and positions of each of the three
companies currently utilizing the facility.
"At 02:05 hours, we will begin moving north along the utility road -
approximately 3.4 kilometers - until we approach this tree line here."
Point. "This spot will be hereafter labeled rendezvous point Charlie."
The trees were represented by sprigs we had collected from fallen pine
branches around our encampment. I had broken apart a massive pine cone
and used the pieces for the bivouac tents in each company, assuming a
circular perimeter with the commander and executive officer snug in
the middle. I wanted to smack one of our lieutenants when he remarked
to his friend that the scaled-down representation of our site was
"cute." It kind of was, though.
"I can say with reasonable certainty that Major Galanos will have his
soldiers paired up in twos, which likely means ten tents in this
configuration plus one for his XO and one for himself here." Point.
"Unlike our site, I know that his soldiers retreat from guard duty at
Treize loved ground training. He loved wearing his full battle rattle,
which included camouflage battle dress uniform, Kevlar helmet, flack
vest, canteens, ammo pouches, and bayonet. He loved running tactical
drills and carrying an assault rifle. He also loved digging foxholes,
sleeping in small tents, and eating cold, unpalatable rations. He
never kept his love for ground training a carefully guarded secret,
despite the peculiarity of a man of his social stature favoring such
training conditions against the wealth-built cleanliness of the sim
tank. In many ways, Treize would have been well suited for the armies
of the previous era, something he was aware of and took a measure of
pride in. He was tough. Sometimes his elegant intellectualism made us
What Treize did not love was Major Galanos, which was why he was
planning a late night ambush on the man's encampment. Galanos, who had
been one of Treize's flight instructors at Lake Victoria, was an
unapologetic modernist, firmly convinced that ground training was a
dead antiquity from an age before mobile suits arrived and saved us
all from getting our dainty aristocratic hands dirty. He was rankled
that we hadn't even brought our Leos into the field. "That's
realistic," he'd muttered under his breath at Colonel Cavanaugh's
pre-mission command briefing back at the base, glaring at the smug
turn of Treize's lips.
Galanos' attitude, one that grew increasingly unpopular as Treize's
influence proliferated, was exactly the type that Treize loathed in a
soldier. In his mind, a soldier was either willing to assume all
responsibilities incumbent of the title, or he was no soldier at all.
Galanos thought that Treize was merely pandering to the typically
wasteful, anachronistic whims of Romefeller, not realizing that
Romefeller was willfully blind to the day-to-day workings of OZ.
"Ground training is for the safety of the soldier. Surely you are not
opposed to keeping your soldiers alive," Treize had been heard
commenting to Galanos after the briefing. And so it had always been
between them, both men stubbornly convinced of their own correctness,
both eager to trade jibes as they tested the limits of
"Our objective is twofold: steal their unit flag and disarm as many
soldiers as possible. Hernandez and Krieger, you have the best run
times, so you will approach their encampment from the southeast and
head for the center, which is where Major Galanos' tent should be. The
flag should be posted like ours is, right at the commander's door.
Take it and run as fast as you can back to rendezvous point Bravo. You
will wait for the rest of us there."
I detected a hint of remorse in Treize's voice, a longing for days
past when his own speed had earned him special recognition and
assignment. Back in his academy days, he was tremendously fast, always
effortlessly and admirably athletic. He was the top fencer, the top
runner, top pilot, top student, top junior instructor. It was a
bundled package, every part inextricable from the rest, like an
intricate three-dimensional molecular model. This structure of unusual
talent went by the common name "The Best," a label that became a
subtitle to his name and rank: "Cadet/Lieutenant/ Captain Treize
Khushrenada: The Best." It was a title he came to expect, his youthful
sense of invincibility blotting out the logical conclusion that he
would only get older, slower, and busier with each passing year. When
he was eighteen and a mobile suit accident on X-18999 crushed his
right leg, mangling his knee, a complex system of denial and
rationalization became his only way to cope with the untimely demise
of his physical prime.
Three years later, he could often be seen sparring at the base's salle
with members of the fencing club that he presided over, always
practicing, reaffirming his title, soothing his doubts. For a time, he
was once again the top fencer - firmly seated, comfortable, assured.
Then Captain Loutrec arrived. After that, Treize would frown in an
uncharacteristicall y self-depreciating way and say that he wasn't fast
enough to beat the man, only indirectly acknowledging that his failure
was due to his ruined knee. I would occasionally drop in to watch him
practice, and I observed a predictable pattern that emerged at every
meeting. Ninety to one-hundred minutes into it, almost like
clockwork, his lunges would become shallower and his advances would
begin lose strength. His competitive aggression would turn into a
desperate push through pain, fueled by firm unwillingness to believe
that somebody his age could have a bad knee. I imagined a small
grimace of discomfort on his face below his mask, one tinged by
nagging frustration with the joint, which was part artificial and part
an underpaid, overworked colonial surgeon's reconstruction of original
tissue. I never joked about it, for it was a reality that I didn't
want to face either.
We were a good command team. Together, we ran our soldiers through
drill after grueling drill, unrelenting, if only to spite some
soldiers' presumptions about the entitlement they felt Specials
officers deserved. The bulk of the force hailed from privileged
families, weeded from other applicants by that innocuous-looking
personal information section on the application. There were a handful
of charity cases, mostly to keep the OZ inspector general from pinning
down a firm accusation of classism. The resulting stock at its
untrained baseline was, as Treize put it in a huff of annoyance one
day, "A herd of swooning, prissy, weak-ankled nancies." Treize and I
denied having such qualities, favoring ourselves adventurous woodsmen
undeterred by filth and hardship, a characterization we had carried
with us from childhood.
For the new soldiers still floating in the Lake Victoria fantasy that
mobile suits are infallible, ground training was a nightmare conceived
for pure, evil pleasure by the twisted minds of deranged madmen at
brigade command. Where Galanos was soft, understanding, and quietly
mocking of the exercise, Treize and I were harsh, uncompromising, and
deathly serious. Any slacking, commiserating, or complaining was met
with a thorough chewing-out by me or sometimes even Treize, which had
a particularly motivating effect. The best way we found to inspire
interest in our soldiers was to do everything ourselves with great
vigor and ferocity. For some, simply watching Treize and I fight our
way through a muddy obstacle course was enough to awaken their own
inner filthy woodsman. In the young aristocratic soldiers' minds, if
Duke Khushrenada and Baron Merquise could roll in the dirt, choke down
rations like pros, shit in the woods, sleep on the ground, and go a
week without properly bathing, they could perhaps cram their yapping
and suck it up.
"Captain Merquise and I will lead the rest of second platoon from
position to position, seizing weapons. Each tent should be spaced far
enough apart that, if we observe noise discipline, we should be able
to move along without the adjacent tent knowing that we're coming.
After we seize the weapons from the two soldiers at each position, one
person will remain at that position to prevent them from going to
their commander. If they try to move, shoot to kill."
Instead of bullets, each assault rifle was equipped with a laser,
which could be detected by the specially treated uniforms that each
soldier wore. During the week of training, the battalion ran scheduled
combat exercises pinning each company against the others, and if a
direct hit was scored, points were lost. The rules didn't explicitly
forbid unscheduled confrontations like the one Treize was planning,
but it was generally assumed that the companies would keep to
themselves during downtime. Treize had a fondness for taking advantage
of general assumptions. He would actively seek opportunities to
exploit flaws in training, tactics, and strategy, often with a
dramatic flair that made his point obvious and memorable. A
substantial part of Treize's image was build on a foundation of
animated retellings of his audacities, stories that fueled the
jealousies of those who weren't there to see them in person. His
showmanship earned him admiration and ire, and even his strongest
critics couldn't honestly deny the correctness of many of his
"Regardless of how many weapons we've collected, we will move out for
rendezvous point Charlie exactly fifteen minutes after we encroach
upon their position. It will be your responsibility to leave their
encampment on time. If you do not, one of those disarmed soldiers is
going to run to Galanos and you very well might end up in their brig
At that point, we handed out custom made wristwatches that alerted the
wearer with a small electrical shock, like static charge from a car
door, instead of an alarm. Treize described the sensation as feeling
"like somebody is tearing your arm hair out," a description that made
even the bravest in the group tense. I knew from experience that
Treize was exaggerating, something he did when he was getting bored.
How he managed to bore himself to death with his own briefings was
"Do not get caught. If you move quickly, quietly, and according to
instruction, our mission will not fail. Are there any questions?"
Treize scanned the faces of his twelve officers, looking for signs of
doubt or confusion. "Fix your chinstrap, Lieutenant Keese," he said
when he saw the soldier's helmet strap unsecured, dangling along the
side of his face. The soldiers thought it looked more Hollywood like
that, though it completely defied the function of the equipment, which
was to stay on the head.
Our gazes crossed briefly before I saw the telltale sign of
trepidation on Lundholm's face."Do you have a question, Lieutenant
Lundholm?" I asked.
His eyes widened and he ducked his head as I singled him out. He was
new to the unit and, by all accounts, was terrified of me. I can't
imagine why. "I-I just don't know how you plan on seizing their
"I will ask for them. If they refuse, I will insist," Treize explained
This exercise, though tactically valuable, was really an excuse for
Treize to humiliate Major Galanos. He knew from careful observation
that Galanos had a slight issue with unit cohesion very slight,
nothing more than a small tear in his command structure. He excelled
in the technicalities of leadership, but Galanos lacked the
personality to bind soldier to commander in a way any more meaningful
than the rank system required. "They wouldn't die for him," Treize
quietly concluded the night before when he came to my tent to discuss
the next day's training schedule. "They'd stop at the edge, pause,
push on only because of an idea that they should, perhaps, but never
because of him." Treize's soldiers died for him. Thousands and
thousands and thousands. I would have, too. Back then.
"I know that it seems simplistic, but if we confiscate even one
weapon, we can claim victory. Every soldier has orders from his
commander to never let their weapon out of sight unless directly
ordered by an authorized individual, which, according to chain of
command rules, does not include me. If Galanos is not taking this
training seriously, it will show in his soldiers."
Treize had the ability to enchant his subordinates with one single
word: victory. Achieving victory with Major Treize Khushrenada had the
legendary reputation of being one of the most fulfilling experiences
of one's career. People begged, bribed, and fought their way into
Treize's units based on this mythology alone.
Hernandez, smirking, spoke up. "This is a bit atypical for ground
training, isn't it, sir?" he asked, looking at me even as he asked the
question to Treize. In any unit I helped Treize command, there were
always certain soldiers who were "mine" and certain soldiers who were
"his." Hernandez was mine. Many responded to both of us equally, but
soldiers played favorites with us even as we strove with great care to
refuse our own similar inclinations. Some preferred Treize's driving
sense of higher purpose, which manifested in eloquently woven words
about honor and duty that lifted the soldiers' spirits, easing them
through tough times, reminding them of why they joined the elite
Specials - even if their true reasons were as selfish as wanting to
blow off their parents.
As for the soldiers who favored me, most did so out of admiration for
my reputation, which at that point consisted of a whole hell of a lot
of talent dashed with flecks of rebellious insubordination that kept
me from being classified as a goody-boy (though that never stopped
people from calling me that anyway, among many more unflattering
nicknames). I was blunt, honest, and engaged, always willing to help a
soldier who needed it and gave a damn, and on the rare occasion that I
did trend towards ideology, it was always tainted with grim realism
that some soldiers preferred to the heart-fluttering poetics of our
"That is true," Treize replied, "and I think everybody would be better
off if more operations like this were conducted. What is the point of
training as a foot soldier if you never encounter real enemy
resistance during that training? We train to fight, not to appease
brigade commanders. Some people forget that."
It was unprofessional to criticize another commander in front of
subordinates, even indirectly, but the effect was evident as I watched
the soldiers react to our leader. His words emboldened them, made them
hold their heads a little higher, made their posture a little
straighter, and fueled their excitement about helping their commander
settle a grudge. With every sentence, expression, and action, he was
indoctrinating them with his own values, and with each passing day
they carried themselves more and more like him. Together, we would all
dig our fingers into that fracture in Galanos' unit and rip through it
like an raging infection. Together. That was unit cohesion.
"Any other questions?" He paused and then nodded. "If you feel you
need to go over the details of the operation once more, speak with
your squad leader. Until then, get some chow, attend to you weapons,
and, if you can, get some rest. I will see you at 02:00. Fall out."
The soldiers scattered, heading back to their positions to do as
ordered. Treize and I remained by the sand table.
"It will be a clear night tonight. Are you sure you want to come?"
Treize asked, poking his stick into the groove that represented the
Since battle dress meant Kevlar helmet, wearing my mask was not an
option. During the day I wore the sunglasses from my cadet days, but
at night that would obviously impact my vision unfavorably. I was
uncomfortable without my accustomed protection, though I wasn't about
to skip out on this particular mission because of it.
"I wouldn't miss it."
Treize smiled. He was oddly pale despite the heat and the sun. "I
don't think you'll regret it."
Battle dress suited him well. It accentuated his rougher edges in a
way that a dress uniform never could. Treize was not beyond being
ruthless and crude. He was, after all, a young man with a tremendous
amount of power, responsibility, stress, and ambition, even at that
stage in his career. He had a slightly greater tendency towards
roughness in the field, as though the surroundings necessitated it,
excusing him from the gentlemanly expectations of the ball and
conference rooms. He was still respectable enough, though, unless he
could find a good excuse not to be, in which case all bets were off.
It was an unpredictability that excited me, encouraging me to push him
harder than I typically would.
"Oh," he added, "and the supplier packed cigarettes in the rations. If
you catch anybody smoking, feel free to smoke them." 'Smoking' was a
term for physical punishment that typically included pushups and the
evil bastard cousin of the pushup: the squat-thrust.
A few moments of silence passed between us as I bit my tongue,
reluctant to bring up what had happened the week prior but unable to
get it off my mind. I watched him as he looked over his expansive
model, no doubt calculating distances and rates of travel with his
brilliant, mathematically adept brain. As I eyed him candidly, the
strong angles of his face - further accentuated by nearly a week of
intense physical training and unsavory rations - struck me as
absolutely perfect. Of course, I did feel a certain way about him, but
his face was also extraordinarily well-formed in the geometric and
aesthetic sense. His features were perfectly symmetrical, nary an odd
mark or peerless dimple to be seen (for the record, he had two dimples
that murdered his stoic handsomeness by way of sheer adorability,
compelling his own personal War on Grinning that I routinely strove to
foil for my personal enjoyment).
I loved him. I wanted to say it right then, which I thought quite
beyond the realm of possibility. But, God, wouldn't he have been
shocked! I don't even know how he would have reacted to something like
that. If I could relive that moment once more, I would have said it
without hesitation, if only to etch the look on his face into my
memory forever. Instead, I said something that would darken his mood
and sour our relations for a few hours.
"We need to talk."
Treize didn't even dignify my statement with eye contact. Instead, he
knelt down to modify the features of the table. He toyed with the
curve of his utility road in an imprecise, disinterested way. "No, we
don't. There's nothing to discuss. Not about that, at least."
"So, you're going to pretend that it didn't happen so that it can
happen again? You can't just let it slide, Treize."
"I can and already have." He looked up at me with a withering
expression that oozed disdain. "You're dismissed, Captain. Do try to
use my rank next time you address me."
I glared down at him, furious at his flippancy. He was done with the
subject and done with me, but I'm nothing if not persistent. I would
continue to bring it up again and again until he did something other
than dismiss me as a nuisance.
Saluting in the field is strictly verboten, so I turned sharply on my
heels and stormed back towards my tent, fuming. On the way there, I
passed a smoking soldier and put the heat on him to a degree vastly
disproportional to his crime. Treize later told me that he could hear
my yelling from all the way across the encampment, which was careless
and tactically stupid of me. After I finally laid off of the poor
lieutenant, I didn't feel any better.
At the appointed hour, we assembled at point Bravo and began the run
to Galanos' camp. We traveled single file in the deep ditch along the
side of the utility road, with Treize and the two flag-stealers in
front and me bringing up the back of the formation like a good XO.
When we reached point Charlie, Treize stuck out his right hand and
made a downward gesture, the silent command for "take a knee." There,
we performed our practiced routine of synchronizing our chronometers
for fifteen minutes while Hernandez and Krieger went for the flag.
Treize then pulled me up to the front of the formation and we waited
two minutes before heading towards the enemy encampment. On the way
there, we passed the lightening-fast Hernandez and Krieger, who bore
the Alpha Company guidon proudly.
"Not a soul in sight," Krieger, also mine, reported to me.
"Good work. Stay low on your way back," I replied.
They nodded and took off. Treize led the rest of us to the first tent
he spotted on their perimeter. We all crouched down and he wasted no
time opening the flap and shining his red-tinted flashlight at the
sleeping faces of the two hapless occupants. Peering over his
shoulder, I watched the ensuing performance.
"Wake up, soldiers."
The two young men stirred, and, coming to their senses, sat up in
their sleeping bags. One of them had sweaty, messy hair half-plastered
to the side of his head.
"I need you to give me your weapons. Major Galanos is taking an
inventory because somebody misplaced theirs. He called me over to help
him collect. I hope you won't mind."
Immediately, one of the soldiers reached for his weapon and his
partner, sensing that his cohort was doing the right thing, grabbed
his. I couldn't tell if they were going to shoot Treize or surrender
"Yeah, sure," the crazy-haired soldier mumbled, clearly unaware of who
he was talking to. It was doubtful that he could even see our faces
with Treize's flashlight blinding him. He handed over his weapon.
Treize took it, passed it to me, then took the other. "Okay, soldiers.
Go ahead and try to get some more sleep. Your weapons will be returned
It was as simple as that. Treize closed the flap, stood, and pointed
to one of his lieutenants, a pre-arranged sign that he was to guard
this tent. The rest of us moved to the next position. As we
approached, we could hear voices. Treize made the sign for us to halt
and take a knee. We heard a female's voice -
- and then the unmistakable grunt of a male.
Treize and I exchanged a look that was somewhere between amusement and
disgust. There was a moment of acknowledgment there, a reminder that
we did things like that behind closed doors, unbeknownst to everybody
in our present company. Our precious, dirty, and dangerous secret.
The soldiers we were leading, well aware of what was going on in that
tent, freely expressed their feelings on the subject.
"That's nasty. Nobody's had a shower in a week," one lieutenant whispered.
"Quiet," I commanded.
Treize, unafraid of a little copulating, moved closer. He didn't open
the flap for obvious reasons, but crouched in front of it.
Inside, we could hear the "Did you hear something?" of the male and
the "Shhh!" of the female.
"This is Major Khushrenada. "
"Oh, God!" the male exclaimed, then "Uh, yes, sir?"
"Are you aware that Specials regulation 37-F strictly forbid sexual
contact between soldiers on duty, the punishment for which can and
frequently does include trial by court martial?" It was an
embellishment of the sentence and a made-up code number. Treize wasn't
the regulations wonk people assumed he was. He had better things to do
than memorize rules he didn't follow.
"Sir, we haven't done anything of the sort," the female lied. That
really pissed Treize off.
"Do you think I'm an idiot?" Though his voice was calm, there was a
sharp undercurrent beneath which hinted at an anger that soldiers had
wildly speculated about in close quarters with peers. They'd never
seen it, and they likely never would. The implicit threat was far more
terrifying and made for a magnificent preemptive behavioral modifier.
I'd experienced it before - Treize's real anger. Once. It was after
one of his soldiers had been caught brutally raping a female soldier.
From behind a closed door, I heard pure venom in Treize's voice as he
told the kid that he was going to destroy him and, by association, his
entire family's quite substantial reputation. When he spoke to the
soldier, his voice was low and his words startling, so foreign, so
cruel, so unlike the person I'd grown up with. Deserved as those words
may have been, they made my fingers dig into the upholstered arm of
the chair in the waiting room outside of his office - had he known
that I was listening, I wonder? The young man descended swiftly into
hysterics and an endless string of sobbed apologies, at which point
Treize literally said that he was going to break the kid's face if he
didn't get the fuck out of his office in thirty seconds. It was the
first time I heard him swear at a soldier, though not the last.
The victim had begged Treize for a quick and tidy end to the matter,
as tidy as rape can possibly be, so he didn't bring down the Stambaugh
family with specific accusations. Instead he kicked the kid out of
service with a general discharge, had the man who cooked Romefeller's
books dig up the impressively long history of Stambaugh corporate tax
evasion, and proceeded to anonymously break the story to a ferocious
media that tore the family apart mercilessly. The kid must have
remembered Treize's promise, even if his meticulously- covered tracks
left no clue to prove his involvement. When the young man committed
suicide later that year, Treize said "hm" and continued on with his
So, did Major Galanos' soldiers think that Treize Khushrenada was an idiot?
"I'll tell you what - you hand over your weapons, and I won't inform
Major Galanos of your brainless infraction of unambiguous policy."
We took their rifles but didn't bother staging a soldier to guard
them. They weren't about to run to their commander and tell them the
enemy commander had blackmailed them into handing over their weapons
after he caught them fornicating.
The next tent only had one person in it.
"Where is your cohort?"
The soldier, bleary-eyed, reached for his glasses. "He...um... ." The
soldier reached over and felt around the empty sleeping bag beside
him, as though he would find a full-grown soldier buried in there
"I don't know, sir."
"Well, he's 'I don't know' without his weapon, isn't he?" Treize made
a beckoning gesture with his hand and the bespectacled soldier,
riddled with confusion and distress over his peer's whereabouts,
handed over the weapons as though it was the expected punishment for
missing battle buddies.
By the time we collected and staged an officer to guard, we only had
two minutes before we would have to return - just enough time for one
last tent occupied by two males.
"Major Galanos asked me to circulate around the company and collect
weapons; Colonel Cavanaugh is at the command tent and has ordered a
"Of course, sir," one of the soldiers said, grabbing his weapon to
"Wait," the other one said, stopping his partner. He eyed Treize
critically. "What's the code?"
"You know, your commander was frankly a bit frazzled over the
colonel's arrival and completely forgot to give it to me."
The resistant soldier's composure was unrelenting. "Then you can't
take our weapons, sir."
Treize poked his head out of the tent and looked to his left,
pretending to see Galanos collecting weapons down the line. In the
moonlight, he looked drained and washed-out, like a specter
terrorizing the grounds with mind games and cunning. He stuck his head
back in the tent. "Major Galanos is two tents over. He will certainly
vouch for me, but, as you can guess, we're trying to collect rifles as
quickly as possible."
"Then we can wait for him." He was probably only about seventeen years
old, likely fresh out of the academy. I couldn't decide if he was
playing tough because that was his temperament or because he thought
it was what Treize would want to hear.
"Look, I understand your skepticism, but this is serious. I need your
weapons now." Treize reached into the tent insistently.
In that moment, I saw Treize's actions and words for what they were:
he was letting off steam, tempering his frustration with the system he
lived and worked in. Treize cyclically grew aggravated with
Romefeller, the Alliance, and every other governing body that used
soldiers, entertained themselves with soldiers, and bet the future on
soldiers without holding themselves to the high standards of soldiers.
They lied through their veneers about their intentions, their values
and goals, and Treize was a quick student. He honed such a talent for
deception that he fooled even the granddaddies of the sport into
trusting his allegiance, a ruse that was tiresome and emotionally
taxing. He despised both the players and the game he played so well,
and he swore to me that, one day, it would all be worth it. "Just a
little more time," he would say, "and you'll see, Milliardo."
Treize loved his soldiers and he was proud to be one. He hated being
used and he hated seeing his men and women used, even though his logic
knew the necessity of it. He had to bide his time, position his pieces
before he could enact his horrible, sweeping plans, and though he bore
it with scarcely a complaint, he hated the wait. This camp raid, this
petty stab at his colleague, was one of the small ways he coped with
the deficit of political heft and the impatience he suffered. He'd
bury them all one day, just like he buried the Stambaughs. He knew it.
I knew it. His soldiers, somehow, knew it. We were just waiting,
holding our breaths, praying we'd end up on the right side of him,
whispering a word of condolence to those who would not.
"I can't give you my weapon, sir."
"De Luca, come on!" the other soldier pleaded, panic-stricken.
"He doesn't have the password."
"I don't give a shit about your password," Treize spat. "I want to
know why you are disobeying a direct order from an officer of a rank
you will clearly never attain."
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see our soldiers trading
incredulous looks. Most probably didn't realize that their commander
was play-acting and very likely enjoying himself enormously. I was
certainly amused by his theatrics, regardless of what the flat line of
my lips suggested.
"You may outrank me, sir, but you do not outrank my commander. I have
specific orders from him not to hand my weapon over to anybody who
doesn't have the proper credentials. If you think I'm going to give
you my rifle just because you burst into my tent and pitch a fit,
you're mistaken, sir."
"Name and rank."
"De Luca, Franco. Lieutenant, sir."
In an instant, Treize drop his veneer of outrage. "All right, then.
I felt a pinch at my wrist, as did every other soldier in our company
who had successfully set their chronometers. We met at Charlie point
and hauled it back to Bravo, where Hernandez and Krieger met us,
brandishing Alpha Company's flag with wide smiles.
Back at the encampment, Treize and I conducted an after action review,
deeming the mission not only successful, but tremendously well
executed. Despite the late hour, everybody was keyed up and proud of a
job well done. Treize didn't bother tempering their joy with a lesson
about humility, for it was as much his victory as the platoon's, and
he was feeling pretty good about it. As a reward to them, he didn't
break formation for privacy when Major Galanos radioed him on the
battalion frequency and called him every derogatory name he could
think of, some of which made the lieutenants scoff and bristle. Treize
let his soldiers listen to what bad leadership sounded like:
overinflated and graceless. That was the real lesson of the exercise.
About an hour before the sun came up, Treize and I sat hunched across
from each other in his tiny two-man bivouac tent, the same as every
other soldier's, planning for the day's return to standard billeting.
We were in a casual state of battle dress, with our helmets and
blouses placed neatly in the corner, leaving us in our substantially
cooler t-shirts. Until that training exercise, I had no idea that
Croatia could get so hot in the summer.
"The first thing I'm going to do when we get back is arrange
Lieutenant De Luca's transfer to our unit," Treize stated, shining his
red flashlight on the map we had spread out between us.
"Don't you think you should let Galanos have at least one capable
soldier?" I replied, watching his finger trace a line across the
He made an amused sound. "Do you think that every soldier that comes
into my unit is a good soldier when they arrive?"
I knew the answer to that. Treize didn't need to recruit the best
soldiers in the world; he created the best soldiers in the world. His
had the rarely-matched ability to turn ordinary men and women into
extraordinary ones, simply by developing their skills and giving them
confidence in their abilities and commander. These were the most basic
principles of leadership, entailing nothing more extraordinary than
firm and constant reinforcement, and yet so few leaders had the
strength of will and character to walk the path that Treize did. For
many, the lure of nurturing one's own resume through personal
accomplishments was greater than the perceived rewards of nurturing
inexperienced soldiers into professionals. If they realized that the
latter directly augmented the former, well, there would have been more
Treize Khushrenadas in the ranks.
"You, of course," he continued, "are an obvious exception. I never
have to worry about you, Zechs." This was a flat-out lie. He always
worried. He looked up from the map and one corner of his mouth curled
upward. With that crooked smirk and a faint smudge of dirt on his
chin, he looked about two ranks younger.
I resisted the temptation to succumb to his un-showered charms and
didn't waste a breath before barreling back into the hazardous
conversational territory of the day prior. His last comment seemed the
"And yet, I have to worry about you." He had nowhere to run, and
kicking me out of his tent was something he was going to have to do
He shook his head wearily and looked back down at the map. "Not this
again. I wish you would let it go."
"You were a dropped pen away from getting a bullet in the back of the
head. And what's worse, you refuse to take any precautionary
measures." I glowered at him, desperately wishing that he would
validate my very legitimate concerns.
"That is not correct. I gave approval for additional rooftop snipers -"
"Hire more snipers to kill snipers. Brilliant. Just brilliant"
"- but I will not be forced into the basement like some disobedient child."
"It's not a fucking punishment!"
"Let it go. Please." Please? Something wasn't right. Where was that
severe bullheadedness he'd been so liberal with at the sand table
I was surprised when the harshness of my glare didn't bore a hole
clean through his skull, like the bullet that nearly killed him. "What
is wrong with you?"
Treize wiped his brow with the back of his hand and sighed. "You're
I knew as much, but I couldn't reign myself in. I couldn't help it... In
my mind I pictured Treize's body slumped over his desk, blood spilling
out of him in a wide, terrible pool. I imagined getting a phone call
saying that somebody had found him like that, which would lead me to
horrifying realization that the last words I had said to him that day
were the last I would say to him ever -
Jesus... I think it was a joke about some wing-nut politician that I
loathed. That could have been the enduring legacy of our relationship
- my asinine commentary on some greasy, worthless,
pus-bag-of-a- statesman. The worst part was that I didn't even
particularly care for politics.
That appalling thought, coupled with the angry adrenaline coursing
through my body, made me stupid with emotion. I took Treize's head
between my hands and forced him to look me in the eye.
"I will not apologize for wanting you to live, Treize." I tilted his
head and hissed angrily in his ear, "If you can't understand my
feelings, then maybe you're not as smart as I thought."
It was then that I felt the heat on his face and wetness on my
fingers. It was hot outside, but it certainly wasn't
sweat-bullets- hot. I pulled back and pressed my hand to his forehead
and very suddenly forgot that I was upset.
"You... " I tried to wipe the beaded moisture away with my hand, pushing
it into his hairline and causing his bangs stick up. He'd cut it
shorter than usual for ground training because he couldn't stand the
way it felt when it was dirty. "Treize, you're burning up."
"It's nothing to worry about. We're leaving in a few hours, anyway."
"Yeah, leaving for a 15K march." I rummaged through his nearby duffle
bag, pulled a t-shirt out, and pressed it to my face to smell. Clean
enough. He let me dab away as much sweat as I could from his face and
neck, the lack of resistance convincing me that he felt as terrible as
he very suddenly looked. "How long have you felt ill?"
"Not long." His hand brushed mine before he took the shirt away from
me and tossed it back into the open bag from which I'd taken it. He
missed. "It's nothing."
I stared. With the redness that the flashlight was casting, he looked
like he was on fire, engulfed in hot sickness. He was rarely ill,
gifted, among many other things, with a robust immune system. But when
he got sick, he got sick as a dog, the flat on your back, sleep in the
bathroom sort of sick.
"You can't march. The men will notice." I tried to appeal to his
interests, which, above all, typically consisted of putting on the
most perfect performance possible. "I can lead them. Make up some
excuse to leave early. Tell them that General Catalonia sent - "
"I will do no such thing. I will be fine until we get to the airfield.
I just..." His touched his mouth as though trying to physically block
any further admissions of weakness. When his gaze fell on mine, his
eyes were pleading. "Give me two hours?"
I frowned and felt his hand on mine again. I nodded in defeat, knowing
that I was fighting a losing battle even while my opponent was
expending most of his energy in the struggle to keep from passing out.
He'd persevere through the entire march, his only visible symptom the
sickly pallor of his skin. After a day in the infirmary, he'd spend
the week on mandatory quarters, sleeping like a dead man, full of
antibiotics and whatever food I could get him to eat. Later, as he
began to feel better, he would occupy his time complaining about
overly-cautious physicians and wasted time, all the while asking me
for updates on the unit. Each time I'd refuse his request, he'd
declare with a small, sleepy smile that I was impossible sometimes.
"And I appreciate your concern, I really do, but if somebody wants to
kill me badly enough, a few feet of concrete isn't going to stop them.
You know that as well as I do."
"You could at least try, Treize." I wanted to pull away, but at that
moment I felt so much affection for that hand on mine that my
petulance was thrown to the wayside where it belonged.
"If anything ever happened to me, you would be fine. I have no doubts
"Why are you telling me this?" I whispered roughly.
"Because it's the truth."
He leaned in close and kissed me on the forehead, keeping his illness
away from my lips, though I would have taken it wholly upon myself to
spare him. Any day. In an instant. If that were my hell instead of
this, burning with fever so that Treize wouldn't be sick, so that he
wouldn't be dead, I would live it gladly and forever.
I was in my room remembering all of this, waiting for the sun to go
down. I'd spent a rare day inside lying on my bed with my arm flung
over my eyes to block out the light. When dusk settled in, I let my
heavy limb fall to my side, dimly noting that my sleeve was damp.
It was September 9th, Treize's birthday. He would have been 25 years old.
How impossibly young to be mourned.
Reflecting on the tone of my day, I was having my doubts about what he
had said in Croatia. Nine months after his death, I still felt the
pitiless ache of sadness every single day. It was a different
sensation from when I was grieving for my parents. Their death
burrowed under my skin and permeated every cell of my body like a
thick and virulent cancer. It grew dark and metastasized into rage,
fueling my base desires for revenge.
Treize's death, after the initial cataclysmic shock and denial
subsided, drained me. It was a slow and dangerous leak in my fortitude
that had the insidious twin effect of mimicking recovery. Over the
summer I had pulled myself out of the mire and made an earnest attempt
to integrate into life again. I had gained weight, started taking care
of myself, tended to an occupation of sorts, and had a fairly
substantive connection to another person. I don't know why, but I
assumed that grief was formulaic, with a distinct ascension, climax,
and recession. I wasn't prepared to be propelled back into heartbreak
by a mere date on the calendar.
I felt depleted. Tired. Incurable. My anger with myself and Treize had
worn as thin as my optimism. I thought it ironic that such a strong
emotion had so little tenacity. It used to be the driving force that
kept me fighting when all I wanted to do was throw my mask in a
dumpster, muster out of service, and fade into obscurity - with him,
of course. I hadn't realized how close we'd become, anger and I, until
I could no longer hold onto it.
Some would call such things progress. To me, it felt like a spiritual
deadening. Then again, the only form of spirituality I'd ever
subscribed to - falsely, I might add - was the doctrine of soldierly
virtue, but I was no longer a soldier and no longer a ronin. I was,
however, still very much a villain. With my credit, I'd purchased a
computer and spent much of the first week-and-a-half of September
familiarizing myself with the world that Treize and I had helped
The ESUN: unified but not, many but one. As Romefeller's chief
representative, my sister's bold but frightfully ill-conceived
dissolution of national borders had been disastrous, and the ESUN took
this knowledge to heart when it wrote its charter. There were
countries still, and colonies maintained their autonomy, but
participation in the centralized government was mandatory, not
optional or bound by club rules as it'd been with the Alliance. The
new government, legislated by the new ESUN Council, was configured to
be the most fair and practical way for all nations and colonies to
meet and talk and vote. The sum of its fairness and practicality was
outshone only by the majestic stateliness of Council Headquarters,
where dignified men and women in dignified clothes gathered with
dignified civility to write the future. Hm... That sounds familiar.
The first few months of the new year had been good, characterized by
equal parts solemn remembrance and ecstatic revelry, replete with
ambitious marketing and electioneering celebrating the New Dawn for
Humanity. Money was made. People partied. Humankind was Reborn - that
was the word on the street, the word people were sold, the word they
clung onto like a lifeboat in a storm of unprocessed shock and
disbelief. Had the war actually happened? Yes, yes, so far away. Time
to move on into the brave new future.
But as the fervor over the future's promise subsided, old irritations
reared between nations. The transition to actual democracy,
particularly in Europe, was a convoluted and strained one. For the
last handful of decades, Europe had been the de facto oligarchy
Romefeller masquerading as a confederacy of democratic nations. The
people were beginning to discover that real democracy is a chore, and
that diplomacy is not a series of fetes and cocktail parties, but
rather a string of misunderstanding and minor calamities interspersed
with nightmarishly inconvenient bureaucratic hurdles.
Disillusion crept in from the fringes of the media. A few intrepid
commentators began to question the feigned social evolution that the
new government was touting. "Is humanity really any different after
the war than before?" they asked. Slowly, people expressed their
dissent. At the onset, they were cautious. Fearful of uprooting a
utopia that did not truly exist, they stuck to delicate phrasing and
argued in a most academic and genteel fashion. But it didn't take long
for strong and dynamic personalities to emerge, and these imperious
talking heads urged free expression and purgation of feelings. They
encouraged grief, remorse, and, most importantly, anger. Everything
that the ESUN had tried to sweep under the rug, like so many discarded
mobile suits and soldiers, flew full-on back into the faces of
everyone. And it wasn't pretty.
Enter the infamous Milliardo Peacecraft, scapegoat of the new era,
punching bag for the emotionally stifled. As we had pegged ourselves
in our last days, my posthumous reputation was the polar opposite of
Treize's. While people erected monuments and dedicated academic halls
to him, they burned effigies of me. While they extolled his
selflessness and whitewashed the unsightly transgressions of his past,
they cursed my birth and dredged up every slanderous morsel they
could, provided it didn't incriminate or besmirch Treize's name - a
caveat that would (mostly) save our relationship from exploitation.
The rage against me manifested as a flagrant smear campaign that
afforded the public the catharsis they craved. Of course, they
lamented the fact that I was dead and could not be tried for crimes
against humanity. Over and over again commentators regurgitated futile
and furious wishes for my survival, devising fictional plots outlining
exactly how I would be tried and for what crimes.
There was, however, one lone voice that rallied to my defense, though
it's doubtful that he was doing it out of altruism. His name was
Andrew James, an Australian journalist who took great pleasure in
bucking against the mainstream. He introduced to the public such items
as my true civilian kill tally (lower than advertised), and correctly
postulated that I had purposefully picked one of the least-populated
places on the planet - Siberia, with the dual intent of affronting
Treize personally - to fire the Libra cannon at. This fact surprises
some people. Yes, I did have some measure of control over myself at
the time. No, I wasn't a blind, heartless, bloodthirsty monster. Not
completely. "For a paragon of evil, he was awfully polite," James
remarked in his satirically- slanted column.
I don't know about "polite," but I did give my actions some thought.
Mr. James equated the public's loathing of me to fear of the boogie
man, wrought out of a knee-jerk defensive reaction to being scared out
of their minds. He also posed questions about why Quatre Winner's
destruction of multiple populated colonies was rewarded with
astronomically high stock prices and billions of dollars in revenue
while people demanded my head and expressed regret that I had survived
the Alliance invasion of Sanc. I had mixed feelings about Mr. James;
part of me was grateful for the consideration, no matter how snide,
while another part wished that he would allow me to be plainly hated.
Shades of gray confuse, and there was already a surplus of confusion
for the ESUN to combat.
How funny, how fitting that the one man who defended me was nearly as
much of a sarcastic asshole as I was.
I was shocked to see that another absolved criminal, Anne Une, was the
head of the new Preventer agency. When I'd known her, she was barely
able to command a single unit without lapsing into overzealousness,
tactlessness, gracelessness, or, later, fits of schizophrenia.
Treize's unyielding trust in her had always been a point of contention
between us, but she'd served him dutifully with every ounce of ability
she had. A rare quality such as that would never go unrewarded by him.
As far as I could gauge, she seemed to have pulled herself together
into a competent leader. In short, she was doing much better than I
I could search the news only for so long before growing listless from
the repetition and negativity. It hurt to be hated, even if it was
what people felt they needed. The most I could wish for - and I did so
with utmost sincerity - was that Relena would one day forgive me for
what I'd done. Though I barely knew her, I loved her tremendously. The
feeling of holding her in my arms on Libra was imprinted deeply in my
heart, something I bore modest hope of doing again. Just once more, if
that was all I could have.
When I crawled out of bed on September 10th after a long night spent
ruminating, I felt the old familiar grip of resentment tightening
around me as I bitterly blamed humanity for not trying harder. Treize
died for them. All of them. All of us. And we couldn't even keep it
together for a solid year. What was everything for if not for just a
little peace? Two years. Three. Five. Surely a hundred thousand lives
were enough to buy at least that. Of course, nothing at that time had
happened to disprove the finality of The Last War (as it was known in
some optimistic circles), and yet I couldn't dismiss the simple fact
that nothing fundamental had changed. There were still soldiers, men
and women floating adrift in roles given to them as a consolation, and
there were still weapons - many weapons, enough to kill everybody if
deployed creatively enough.
What had changed? The unity of the government? All it took was a
stiff breeze to topple the United Nations of the prior era. How was
the ESUN Council any different? How were we any safer from ourselves?
How were we any more evolved? How could so much doubt thrive in a
world of the public majority's own making?
What the hell had really changed?
The silence was painful. It was a pessimistic time. I missed Treize
badly, and without anger to coddle me, I retreated into cynicism.
That morning I dressed in jeans and a light jumper and made my
habitual trek up the hill to help Vadimas load produce into his truck
for market. I found that most of my ill feelings held up rather poorly
to a distracting day's work, even if my nightly musings regularly
reincarnated them. The fact that my landlord was always so kind,
beyond all rationality, also took the harsher wind out of my sails.
As I crested the hill, I saw Vadimas standing in the middle of the
beet field next to an unnatural-looking pile of dirt that I hadn't
seen the day before. His hands were on his hips and he was shaking his
head, laughing. I ran into the field and joined him at the rim of a
three-meter- wide crater that held a heap of charred, twisted metal.
"Would you look at that!" the old man said, bending over in obvious
discomfort to get a closer look at the object.
I crouched down next to it and ran my hand over the blackened surface,
smooth from the friction of atmospheric entry. It looked like it had
once been a single sheet that had been bent by explosive heat. Perhaps
it was the perfectionist in me, but I felt a pressing need to reshape
it. I stood and wedged the heel of my boot into a crevice while
pulling on the opposing end to unroll it. The metal bit into my palms,
but I didn't stop when I saw the progress I was making.
"Don't hurt yourself, young man," Vadimas implored as he watched me
wrestle that space trash like a frantic scavenger.
When I finally wedged it open, I could see the pristine, unscorched
green-brown paint job that confirmed my suspicions. I could hear my
blood pounding a steady tempo of anticipation in my ears as I knelt
once more to inspect it.
WF-02MD-43. One of my Virgo II units.
It was only a single, thin sheet of superficial armor plating, but it
was industry standard to label every single assembly piece to make
identification possible in the event of an accident. Touching it with
my bare hands was surreal, like I had recovered a prehistoric artifact
instead of a part from a weapon I had deployed less than a year prior.
My fingers traced along the indents of the serial number as I recalled
the frightful might of those abominable suits. I'd always despised the
mobile dolls based on principles that I'd adopted under Treize's
tutelage, which made me wonder why I'd used them. Perhaps I really had
wanted to play into his scenario after all... God, why couldn't I
remember my own intentions?
"Do you recognize it?"
Unaware of the contradiction between the way I was caressing the metal
and my words, I lied.
"Are you sure, Erik?"
All at once, the ridiculousness of my hiding my identity became
apparent. Like an absurd metaphysical sign, that hunk of metal
jettisoned from lower orbit was a reminder that the Milliardo
Peacecraft of the White Fang was the same Milliardo Peacecraft who
grew up in a palace, the same Milliardo Peacecraft who lived beneath
Zechs Merquise, and the same Milliardo Peacecraft who spent his days
brooding and picking vegetables on a farm in northern France. Why was
I still wasting energy fighting it? Why was I still lying to myself
and to others? Why was I scared of the consequences of reconciling my
"That's not my name."
"Well, of course it isn't!" Vadimas replied, chuckling, holding his
modest belly with both hands as though he couldn't contain his
I stood slowly and stared at his smiling face, speechless. He was
shorter than I, hunched from age and what I assumed was a lifetime of
hard labor. His eyes gleamed.
"Don't act so surprised, Mr. Peacecraft. I'm not as senile as I seem!"
I struggled to formulate a reply, averting my gaze to the scrap pile,
then to the distant fields, then back to the man's cheery face. "How...
long have you known, Mr. Kazlauskas?"
"Since the moment I saw you on my stoop back in February." He gave me
a good clap on the shoulder. "I knew you'd tell me when you were
I shook my head. It was the only thing I could do.
"Now that we've got that out of the way, let me show you something!"
He took me by the wrist and pulled me towards his house. I felt an
irrational desire to stay with the Virgo scrap, but that would have
led to a pointless exercise in self-recrimination. Later that day, I
went back to the site to find that the armor had been removed and the
hole covered. I never saw it again.
He brought me to a door that I'd always assumed led to a root cellar
beneath the house. From his pocket he pulled out a set of keys and,
after some fumbling, unlocked the padlock. We walked down a narrow and
steep set of stairs into a wall of cool and musty air. With the flick
of a switch, the room lit up.
To my right was a heavy work bench that was strewn with electronics
parts and metal casings. On the wall were tacked-up blueprints,
multiple layers superimposed upon one another. To my left was a
smaller work bench that held a computer terminal which had been
gutted. Next to that was a drafting table upon which more blueprints
sat. I was immediately drawn to the larger of the two work stations,
where I picked up a small soldering gun that was lying next to a
motherboard. It felt like a pistol.
"This is my workshop! Here, sit!" he said, taking the gun out of my
hand and seating me on a stool. He then rummaged through a small
closet near the stairs and came back with a portfolio that was nearly
as big and thick as his torso.
He dropped it on the table in front of me and motioned for me to open
it up. Inside were paper clippings in multiple languages, slim
technical manuals, hand-drawn sketches, and packets of operating
procedures branded with the OZ Research and Development unit crest.
Many screamed "CLASSIFIED. " Of particular interest to me was a
picture of eight men of ages ranging from approximately 25 to 60. A
couple were smiling, and the others ran the gamut from blasé to
sternly authoritative. One of the two smiling men I immediately
recognized as Howard. The other, the oldest-looking of the bunch, was
undeniably Vadimas Kazlauskas.
I looked at my landlord, his face a moderately aged transposition of
the photograph. He was grayer, balder, and wrinklier than his younger
self, but he still seemed to have maintained the same effervescence.
"You knew Howard," I remarked, examining the other faces to see if I
could identify them. I couldn't.
"Oh, did you know him, too? That son of a bitch owes me money!" he
complained with a raucous laugh. "You never played cards with him, did
I shook my head. I think I might have liked to, though. "Were you in OZ?"
"Oh, no!" he exclaimed, horror-struck, as though I'd asked him if he
was presently wearing women's undergarments. "I was a contractor. We
all were." He pointed to the photograph.
I was captivated - a stirring, electrifying feeling, like a young
boy's excitement over a fast car or a jet aircraft. It had been a long
time since I'd felt that way; I welcomed it, if only as something
different from malaise.
"Did you work on the Tallgeese?"
"We were her fathers," Vadimas said, once again gesturing to the
picture. "I was a computer engineer. Oh! You'll like this!"
He retrieved an old notebook computer from beneath a crinkled pile of
papers and brought it over to me. He closed the portfolio and set it
aside, giving me the computer to hold. When I turned it on, the screen
flicked to life and displayed the familiar startup sequence of the
Tallgeese's operating system. It was strange to watch the artful play
of code and graphic without the accompanying sensations of her
thrusters in my hands and the sweet smell of oil and old leather. Even
still, it hypnotized me, wooed me, and made me miss her just a little.
"We all played an important part in building her. I designed her
brain." There was a note of pride in his voice, and perhaps an
undertone of that same nostalgia I was experiencing as I watched the
program boot up. I had never seen this side of Mr. Kazlauskas before,
one that resonated strongly with me. It was a commonality that I
hadn't anticipated at all.
"I loved my job," he continued, "but it was wrong." He killed the
power on the laptop, suddenly remorseful, as though he regretted
showing me his work, and took the computer away from me.
I spun around on the stool and watched him retreat back to that small
closet. "How so?"
When he rejoined me, he was once again his jovial self. "Ah, don't
listen to me! I'm just an old fool reminiscing. Here's what I really
wanted to show you."
He directed my attention to the blueprints that he had tacked up on
the wall. I scrutinized his face, looking for signs of what he had
been on the verge of explaining to me, but he'd masterfully masked all
traces of shadow.
"This was my last project before I retired. I never got to finish it.
And now," he held up one of his hands in front of my face, slowly
flexing fingers knotted by arthritis, "I'm not young anymore. But
you," he grasped onto my wrist and patted the top of my hand, "you
have good hands."
Good hands? I barely recognized them. They were different hands from
those I had in OZ and the White Fang. They were the unremarkable hands
of a young man instead of the calloused, skilled hands of a
professional soldier. I wasn't sure if they suited me.
"What is it?"
"It's a wireless scanner, but with much better amplification! You
could eavesdrop on the colonies from a hundred stories below ground."
I arched an eyebrow. "Those are illegal." Hugely, as in
spend-a-decade- in-prison illegal.
He waved a hand at me. "Bah! I don't mean anything by it. I just want
to know whether or not it works. I spent a long time on the design.
Wouldn't you be curious?"
I was already curious. The pile of parts on the workbench reminded me
of the scattering of metal beams, nuts, and bolts that composed my
childhood construction set. I wanted to put them together, pull order
from the chaos. At any rate, I would also need something to occupy my
time as winter drew near. What did I have to lose?
"I suppose it doesn't matter if a dead man breaks a law, does it?"
Vadimas grinned broadly. "Let me show you these plans..."
[part 5] [part 7] [back to Singles a-k]