see prolouge or chapter 1 for notes, warnings, disclaimer
+ Chapter 2
We do what we do
All for you
All dressed up
Black hat and white cane
Slowly the circling the drain
Ready for the future
Ready for the world about to come
We are what we are
Get in the goddamn car
Smiling faces flawlessly rehearsed
We are sleek and beautiful
We are cursed
--Slow West Vultures
I tried not to limp on my way back from the laundry room, keeping one
arm firmly around my ribs, the other hand tightly gripping Duo's red bandanna.
My hair was, of course, in my face, but it hid my bloody lip, so I let
it stay there until I recognized my cell and shuffled through the open
door. Curfew was in a few minutes, so they would all be sliding shut and
I didn't look up, but I knew Onur was already in his bunk, probably practicing
trig problems. I went straight to the sink and dropped the bandanna into
it, turning on the faucet and watching the water run pink as it swirled
down the drain. Good thing the piece of cloth was already red, or it would
stain. I let go of my ribs and rang it out, crumpling it up in a tight
ball and sitting it on the edge. Then I leaned down and stuck my mouth
under the faucet. I took a few swallows and then swished more over my
teeth and gums. When I spit, it also came out pink. Running my tongue
over the split in my lip, I decided it wasn't too bad.
I felt Onur moving behind me and straightened slowly, grabbing up the
bandanna and holding it against my lip. I wasn't surprised when I turned
and saw my roommate standing directly behind me. Still, I took a step
back and came up against the sink.
"What," I mumbled.
"It was over that stupid hair band, wasn't it."
I looked over his shoulder. Karl walked by the door on his way to his
cell and conspicuously leaned back to get a better look at what was going
on inside ours. I glared at him and he kept moving. "Among other things,"
"Just stop wearing it. It's given you nothing but trouble the past week."
It'd been a particularly hot day, so even though the night brought cooler
air, it had yet to filter down inside the cell blocks. Onur smelled like
sweat and, coming from the boiling hot laundry room, I knew I did too.
Without responding to him, I refolded the bandanna and pulled the hair
off my face with it, tying it at the base of my skull. The cold damp of
the cloth felt good.
"It's practical and comfortable in hot weather," I muttered. "I won't
stop wearing it because someone found out Duo gave it to me. Those Romefeller
punks were looking for an excuse to fight me again."
He crossed his arms over his barrel chest. "How perfect that you gave
them one. And how did they fare this time?"
The side of my mouth that wasn't bruised quirked up in a smirk. "About
as well as last time. But they brought friends who had better luck getting
me on the ground. It helped that there were six of them." I decided I
would wait until lights out to change into my sleeping clothes, not wanting
him to see my ribs or my knee. I didn't really want to look at them either.
"It was a good fight. I think O'Malley and Basker will have to find some
new lackies to tackle me when I'm alone in the laundry next time."
"You know you'll only have more trouble with Prescott with these fights
you get into. You're not making sufficient progress in the program, Chang;
your sentence could be extended."
"And you know as well as I do that the fights I get into prevent lots
more fights from ever happening. I win those fights to protect myself."
"I know that, I know," he said. "I just think that you could be making
more of an effort to stick with the program, to keep your head down and
focus on your studies. Your teacher approached me again today to tell
me that you haven't been participating in class and that you've been rude
to her when she's tried to draw you in to the discussion."
I rolled my eyes. "Gah, she's been talking to you, too? I got it from
Rorty the other day at our meeting."
"Yes, he told me to try and talk to you about it as well."
I felt like stamping my foot and screaming at the ceiling. "Why is everyone
so concerned with my participation in English class? We're reading Dickens...
Dickens! I have nothing to say about Charles Dickens."
"You don't want to talk about your class?" he growled. "That's fine; how
about the fact that you haven't been coming to any of the support groups,
or outdoor recreation time? You always used to play soccer with us."
We heard tapping on my wall and turned to listen as Karl added his two
cents. 'Chang is a punk.'
Onur pressed his mouth into a tight smile. "He's got it right."
I clenched my jaw until it ached. "They're optional programs, and I participated
for the first year--and--a--half I was here. I don't need grief counseling
or aggression therapy, and I get plenty of physical exercise on my own.
I don't need what they offer."
He scowled. "You--"
"And I don't want to talk about this anymore. Can we please leave the
discussion at the part where you think I'm a pain in the ass who isn't
worth the thousands of tax--payer dollars spent on me?"
He gave me his best 'I'm disappointed in you' glare and turned away to
climb back into his bunk. Wearily, I struggled up into my own, dragging
off the coveralls and draping them over the metal bedpost. I lay there
in my t--shirt and boxer shorts and rested my fingers along my ribs. My
heart was still thudding with adrenalin and my knuckles still ached pleasantly.
I ran my tongue over the split in my lip and tasted metal. It wasn't smart
to accept gifts, much less wear them openly; it basically amounted to
Duo staking a claim and not being able to back it up. Others had tried
to fill that role in the past two years and they'd all failed. I didn't
need protection, and I didn't want it. My friends were probably making
my life more dangerous by visiting, Trowa and Heero especially when they
showed up in their Preventer jackets. Right then, I didn't give a fuck.
Let Romefeller posture and pick their occasional fights. They kept me
I rolled onto my side when I caught Karl's faint, muted tapping. I could
barely hear it, and I hoped Onur was asleep enough to not be woken by
the sound. 'You okay?'
'Tomorrow at lunch?'
Karl was shifty and nervous. He glanced over his shoulder a lot and pushed
his floppy blond hair out of his eyes every time it fell forward. It fell
forward every time he got excited. And judging by how wide his pale blue
eyes were, he had a lot to be excited about. I watched him, mildly amused
and hoping that the guards watching the yard saw nothing out of the ordinary
in his level of twitchiness. As Karl had put it, we were "on a caper"
even though we sat at our usual picnic table at the edge of the yard,
under the small bit of shade provided by a spindly olive tree. I sat across
from him and tried to figure out when the two of us had become friends.
During the war, Karl Bergsen had been one of Treize's most loyal followers.
The kid had done everything in his considerable power to advance his leader's
ruthless form of diplomacy. He kept his hands clean in MS design and manufacturing,
but he was a zealot who'd taken countless lives without punching a single
button or pulling a trigger. I'd seen his name on many a mission list,
and if there'd been time, I'm sure his name would have eventually made
it far enough along Yuy or Barton's assassination queue that he wouldn't
be sitting here with me. But he went down hard after the first Eve War.
The new regime was justifiably leery of his skills and his steadfast loyalty
to Treize. He was here when I got here, and he would be here after I left
in another year. The civilized world was not ready for Karl Bergsen, and
I guess I couldn't blame them for wanting to keep him locked up a few
years longer than most. He was smarter than Rehab for Terrorists wanted
him to be and he still had MS schematics flickering through his brain
as much as they tried to numb him with accounting classes. He still believed
that there was a place for people like us -- one that didn't involve trying
to convert us into something else.
He was a still a little on the creepy side; his eyes hadn't lost that
manic gleam in the few years he'd been here. But he'd become a little
smarter about who he trusted -- which has made our friendship even stranger
because I didn't see how he could consider me trustworthy, unless he really
didn't know that I'd been the one to kill his precious leader. Maybe someday
I would tell him, the day I was leaving -- from a pay phone somewhere.
Just what was and wasn't known about the Gundam Pilots has remained fuzzy,
especially here. All those in Mariemaia's army knew that I'd piloted Altron,
but the details of the first Eve War, aside from Duo's televised capture
were kept from the public. Knowledge of what I'd done during that war
would probably lead to a swift and untimely death for me -- perhaps one
similar to Benji's.
Despite his oddness and the very real danger I could be in if he found
out exactly who I was, I liked Karl. And I had since I saw him take on
three old Alliance men in a fight he had no hope of winning. They were
all bigger than him and clearly had more combat experience, but he handled
himself well against both their insults and their fists. I could never
abide weakness and so I never thought I would identify with the underdog
in a fight, but the way Karl fought -- he was different; and he certainly
wasn't weak. Every now and then he looked at me with such complete focus
and attention, I swore it was Quatre blinking at me with eyes just a little
too pale, and hair a shade too dark. I sincerely hoped that his resemblance
to Quatre was not the reason I considered him a friend, but, as has been
the case with many questions I've had over the years, I wasn't entirely
"So, what do you think, Boss? Hear anything new and interesting? Anything
good come down the wire?"
I shrugged my arms out of the jumpsuit sleeves and tied them around my
waist, already sweating though we'd been out here for only a few minutes.
"Not a lot," I grumbled, watching him light a cigarette with a flimsy
cardboard match. He flicked it into the dirt without extinguishing it
and I watched it gutter, catch a few blades of grass on fire and then
go out. "You're going to burn this place down if you're not careful."
He grinned, giving me a quick glimpse at the broken and missing teeth
on the left side of his mouth -- a result of one of the first fights he'd
gotten himself into upon his arrival. When he smiled, he didn't look at
all like Quatre. "That's the plan, Boss." He took a few drags on the cigarette
and watched me expectantly. "Well? You haven't found anything?"
"Why are you calling me 'Boss?'"
He shrugged. "Something new and different."
I think my mouth probably twitched because he grinned again. "No -- I
haven't really found out much. Onur isn't talking and neither are his
White Fang friends."
"They've always been a surly bunch, though. Onur's the only one amongst
them who can form a grammatically correct sentence."
I raised an eyebrow. "That's not very nice."
He sucked on his cigarette. "Oh, I'm sorry; I didn't realized I was supposed
"Have you ever been to L2 -- or any of the other White Fang recruitment
centers for that matter? Most of the rebels were starving and desperate
for a way to fight. If any one of them--"
He waved his hand in my face and stuttered a perfunctory apology. "Sorry,
sorry. Prep school, OZ recruit talking. Have no humanity left. Bourgeois
pig. Can we continue?"
I rolled my eyes and wondered why I had felt the need to stick up for
the L2 population at all. Onur wasn't even from there.
"Hear anything from Romefeller, or your own cohort?"
I shook my head. "No one in Mariemaia's army ever spoke to me and I think
Romefeller likes me even less. Considerably less, actually. But from what
I can judge in my lit class and and the mess hall, they're spooked. They
seem surprised that they're under suspicion for Benji's murder."
Karl looked up at the scraggly branches of the olive tree. "Pinning it
on them was a good way to take them down a notch. You want a sense of
entitlement? Romefeller thought they were owed the world."
"At my meeting with Rorty, he made it sound like the staff suspects them
of being behind it, though he also said that some of the staff think it
was suicide. The ones who did it would have had to be able to get into
the cell first, which means they needed access to the computer."
"Or someone coaxed him to the bars before grabbing him."
I shrugged, frustrated. "It's impossible to know anything when there were
"None that are talking, anyway."
"And it's not like the staff will simply tell us what we want to know
if we ask."
"Rorty seemed willing to talk about it with you."
I shook my head. "He's... not like other people on the staff. Though,
maybe he was fishing for what I knew."
We sat in silence for awhile after that, the summer heat a physical weight
on my shoulders and the back of my neck. Karl smoked furiously, eyes darting
about the yard. Every minute or so he twitched the hair out of his face.
Thus far, this wasn't much of a caper.
"So your big birthday celebration is coming next week, right?" I nodded.
"All three of your friends showing up?"
He flicked the cigarette into the dirt and watched a few more pieces of
grass burn. "How old will you be?"
"Eighteen." He nodded and then drew one leg up to his chest, resting his
chin on his knee. Right then he looked so much like Quatre, I had to look
"Hey, don't be sad, Chang. Eighteen isn't old. You're just a young thing."
He started bouncing his leg, making his head bob along with it. "Look
at me; I'm 21, practically an old man."
"You can at least buy a drink."
"Yes I can, though I haven't been able to since I came of age." He flicked
hair out of his eyes. "You don't strike me as the drinking sort."
"I'm not," I grumbled. "But it's the principle of the thing. I was--"
"I know, Chang. You were in that gundam when you were 16."
And a ways before that, I finished silently. "Right," I said.
"You're lucky to have friends who visit so often. There wasn't a party
for me when I turned 18... or 21." That first birthday had been before
I arrived, but the second -- it was true. No one came to see him, and
the only event to mark the occasion was an especially brutal fight with
his usual bullies. I didn't know what to say to him about it, and the
moment of awkward silence ended when his eyes twitched away from mine
and focused on some point in middle distance.
"You could-- you could come and meet them if you wanted to, when they're
here. I think you would like Duo. Heero and Trowa are pretty inept, but--"
"That's okay," he interrupted, looking shiftier than usual. "I don't do
too well with new people, these days, and they don't do too well with
I huffed a laugh and he glanced up, startled. "These days? You're 21,
not 81. What days are you talking about? You're bizarre and moderately
anti--social, but so are two of my three best friends." For another second
or two, his eyes slid uneasily from me to the four observation towers
and then back. Karl didn't like to be caught off guard any more than the
rest of our fellow criminals. Then his shoulders twitched upward in a
"Maybe I'll stop over."
I gestured grandly around the yard. "We'll be out in the garden if the
weather is nice. If it should rain, we will retire to the parlor."
Karl gave his sharp laugh. "Is that the third or fourth card table from
the TV that only plays game shows and the gardening network?"
"The fourth -- the one with the leg that Onur fixed using only Elmer's
glue, construction paper and sequins from the craft table."
"Oh, right, that parlor." He laughed again and so did I. I hoped he would
choose to meet the others when they came for my birthday. Duo would enjoy
his sense of humor. Heero could probably talk mecha with him all day,
and Trowa, if he could get past Karl's resemblance to Quatre, would probably
like him for his twitchiness because Trowa was pretty twitchy himself,
although he was better at hiding it than Karl.
I realized, after a moment, that Karl's attention had been drawn elsewhere
-- most likely inward -- as he sat across from me and stared at the table,
subconsciously fingering his pack of cigarettes. I turned away to leave
him to his thoughts and watched the soccer game taking place across the
yard. I could make out Onur's big frame guarding the goal, hand raised
to his mouth to call out encouragement. The scene before me was suddenly
so familiar and immediate that I had a difficult time envisioning what
it would be like when my three friends arrived together in a few days.
I couldn't picture them here with me -- Duo trying to get me to care about
his latest salvage mission, Heero struggling just to communicate with
any of us, Trowa's sharp tongue and cold exterior masking and distorting
the very real concern he had for all of us, the vacant seat none of us
would look at. I could guess at how it would go, but I couldn't make out
the details of any of them, not in the face of the tangible circumstances
before me -- Karl's sandy colored hair that he didn't wash as often as
he should, the shouts of the men playing soccer, many of them speaking
languages I didn't know, the tension in the air as all of them struggled
to determine their place in a world that had deemed them too dangerous
to be out in it. I thought that maybe this was exactly where I belonged.
Then Karl raised his head and our gazes met across the table as he came
back to the present. "What were you thinking about?" I asked, well aware
of how bold a question it was and how much that didn't seem to matter
"I was thinking about the third parlor where Benji used to get some great
poker games going. And he could turn anything into an excuse for a bet
-- even those stupid garden shows. He'd think of some way to get a wager
going about how much they'd spend on shrubs and mulch."
"I never took part in those," I sniffed.
"You should have," he said. "They were hysterical. I'm really going to
miss them." He pulled another cigarette from his pack and deftly lit it,
cupping his hand around the match. "I was thinking that we should keep
trying to figure out why he was murdered." I looked down at my hands.
"And I was thinking we should really try to figure out why our food was
drugged the night it happened."
My eyes flew back up to his. "I was thinking we should find out why Romefeller
took the blame for the murder when it was Prescott herself who ordered
that we all be put down for the night. We should find out whether some
staff member did the deed or had one of us do it, for some reason that
we should also find out." He took the cigarette from his mouth and blew
a stream of smoke up into the branches. "That's what I was thinking about."
In the few weeks since Benji's death, Karl and I had speculated about
the prison staff's involvement. We both thought that, given Benji's life
here -- just how many friends he had and how well he could pull hesitant
inmates, men who'd fought bitterly against White Fang, into his circle
-- the administration would have an interest in controlling and maybe
even silencing him to keep him from exerting more of an influence over
us. But speculation and suspicion were one thing...
"Karl, where exactly did you stumble upon the information that Presott
ordered sedatives put in our food."
He shrugged sharply. "Who else could it have been?"
"Anyone who works in the kitchen," I answered quickly. "We all have kitchen
duties -- it could have been anybody who had a chance to slip something
into the ingredients."
He shook his head. "I spoke with the man who did it. And he said he got
his orders from Prescott."
"Okay," I started, "but why would your source want to share this with
you -- an inmate and a friend of Benji's? Who is he?"
Karl waved his cigarette and from the light in his eyes, I knew this was
what he'd been so excited about from the moment we sat down. "It doesn't
matter who it is, and I wouldn't tell you anyway."
We stared each other down until he finally looked away, puffing on his
cigarette and bouncing his knee under his chin. "Karl... was it a guard
or some other staff person who told you this, or one of us?" He started
to rub his arms, cigarette dangling from his lips, and didn't answer.
"I don't need to know who specifically told you, but if--"
"If what?" he snapped. "Are you concerned over the validity of the information,
or is this some half--baked effort at caring about how I got it?"
In the two years I'd known him, Karl was always looking for something
-- attention, acknowledgment, excitement, something interesting, something
dangerous, affection or fulfillment -- something that would scratch and
satisfy him in a way that his life up until then had not. He was smarter
than everyone here, and when in that position, without an equal, he only
had his own head for company. But even that, especially that, got boring.
I thought that was why he wanted me around, and probably why he said something
"Half--baked?" He sucked hard on his cigarette and now, wouldn't look
away. I took the bait. "Karl, what happened? What did you have to do to
get this person to tell what he did?"
He gave me a manic grin. "Nothing outrageous. Nothing that wasn't worth
what I got. Chang, we're onto something big, here, something really exciting!
I know you see it. We were all knocked out while one of our friends was
killed -- murdered! What would you give to know why it happened, or whether
it's going to happen again? Wouldn't you give anything to know exactly
why Quatre Winner died, to know why, one week before your sentence started,
he ended up dead at his desk?"
"Quatre killed himself," I murmured, only half--listening now. I could
feel the color draining from my face in a rush. I didn't think just speaking
of his death would have such an affect after nearly two years. It usually
didn't. I thought about Quatre a lot. But no one else spoke of him, and
when they did, well... "He was under a lot of pressure at his job, and
he was still working on my case. He didn't..." I trailed off. I forced
myself out of the track of memory that led inexorably to finding him in
his office, Duo's frantic shouts for help, feeling his throat for a pulse
and finding his skin still warm with residual life.
I caught the sharp, bitter smell of tobacco smoke and remembered how to
breath. I looked up to find Karl holding his cigarette under my nose,
expression deadly serious. He was sweating and nervous and obviously excited.
"You see it, right? You see what we could do with the fact that the people
who are supposed to be helping us are drugging us. They're at least complicit
in the murder of one of our friends."
"We don't know that for sure. The two aren't necessarily connected."
He shook his head. "But you see it, don't you. You see what this could
be. And it might not even be the first."
I was still remembering the sound Duo had made when he'd found-- "Not
"Yes! You remember Vasil, right?"
"I'm not sure -- maybe."
"He might have been before your time; I'll check. But he was one of the
first anti--Alliance colonist rebels -- stodgiest old curmudgeon you'll
ever meet... except you won't meet him because he got knifed in the showers
about two years ago. He was one of the few real leaders here, and he was--"
"I don't think I can talk about this anymore today, Karl." That was my
second effort to avoid an important conversation in two days. Was this
becoming a habit?
He flicked his cigarette away and twitched the hair out of his eyes, not
seeming too concerned. "Fine, fine. But you see it, right? This is something
we have to follow."
I realized I was trying to dig my fingernails into hard plastic and forced
myself to relax. "Yes I see it, but if there is some insidious plot at
work here, if Benji and Vasil were killed for political reasons, then
you and I have to be so careful where and with whom we talk about this.
And you see that, right? If any of the staff catches wind of the fact
that we're nosing around in their business, we could be--"
"It stays between the two of us, at least on the inside. There's no one
we can trust here. Not your roommate, not Rorty -- no one." He stopped
and was looking at me strangely. I replayed what he just said.
"'At least on the inside?' You know some outside who'd help us with this?"
He looked away and started tapping his fingers on the table, thinking
about another cigarette probably. "My only friends are here," he said
finally. "Everyone else just put me here."
I rarely saw his bitterness in the open like that, but when it surfaced,
I could feel that it was bone deep. "Most of my friends are Preventers,
so they're not really the ones to ask. At least not yet," I offered. While
I knew that Heero and Trowa would dive right into this sort of investigation,
both because they were more dedicated to the peace than anyone I knew
and because my safety was potentially at risk, I didn't think I could
go to them with it, not when their badges were still so new and they were
still feeling out their positions. The same went for Sally. Une was just
too... unpredictable. I didn't trust Merquise at all and probably never
would, which meant I couldn't trust Noin either. Relena would definitely
want to know if her pet program was screwing up its participants rather
than helping them -- if it was in fact killing them -- but she already
had more on her plate than she could handle. If there really was something
sinister going on, we'd need more than Karl's conspiracy theories before
we went to her. That left Duo -- freelance Preventer, sweeper, mechanic,
former thief and terrorist with serious authority issues. Pretty much
every chance he got, Duo expressed his dismay and outrage at the fact
that only I was being punished for what we had all done during the wars.
Duo had always been a wild card among wild cards. For almost the entire
span of the first war, I had considered him a liability -- he was too
reckless and brash and loud to be of any use as an ally, let alone a partner.
But I had learned that counting him as one of my few friends meant that
I could trust him absolutely. I looked Karl in the eye and gave him a
tight smile. "I know someone who might be willing to help us."
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