The Heist (cont)


I smirked as I pushed the door open. Well, that hadn't been difficult. Apparently the guy who owned this apartment was some kind of technological freak, and I'd been expecting more in the way of security measures. Then again, he was one hundred and fifty floors up. Perhaps he didn't think anyone could get up that high?

He obviously had not been expecting me, Duo Maxwell, superthief. The room I stepped into had the appearance of a bedroom. Belying that appearance however was the obviously robotic figure seated on the bed. Ugh. I hate robots. Especially the humanoid ones. For some reason they give me the chills. Call me old fashioned, but I believe computers should look like computers. That said I gave the robot a cheery grin as I stepped inside.

"Nice afternoon, isn't it? Don't bother getting up -- I can show myself around just fine."

It gaped at me, blinking in surprise.

"Egh -- now that's freaky. He programmed you to blink? What is this guy, some kind of virtual reality enthusiast? Let's see -- " I poked at his chest. Apart from the side panel, it was smooth and human looking- -meaning he was built to resemble a human as closely as possible? "Weird," I muttered to myself. "Apart from your left arm you don't seem to have been built to do anything useful at all."

Was it my imagination or was the robot starting to look annoyed. "Excuse me?"

"Which would leave servant or companion and you're too well designed to be a service-bot which would leave companion and everyone knows companion is just another euphemism for -- ew!" I pulled out my little hand held communicator and keyed in Fei's code.

He answered immediately. "Hello?"

"Hiya Fei-chan!"

"Duo," he smirked. Okay so I couldn't see him but he sounded as though he was smirking. "Have to ask for help getting past J's defences?"

"What defences? For a technological genius, the guy's a sitting duck. I'm in, Fei."

"Then what's the problem? And stop calling me 'Fei'. It's undignified."

"Yeah, yeah. I'm upping my price for this job."

"Upping your price?"

"I want another 5% for emotional distress and trauma suffered in the course of the mission."

"Maxwell! What emotional distress? You said his defences were nothing- -"

"The security system was nothing. Dealing with the pervy old bastard is another thing." The robot choked. I gave it a suspicious look but it appeared to be all right. Probably a glitch in the recharging process. "You didn't tell me he was a pedophile."

"Professor J? He's not even supposed to be there," Wufei said. "He and his ward are supposed to be attending a lecture -- "

"Yeah well, he left his sex toys lying around the place -- " I watched worriedly as the robot choked again. "I think I just broke his robot."

"What were you doing with his robot?"

"What? I wasn't -- ew, Fei! That's gross!"

"I'll consider your request and we can discuss it when you get back."

"No way! You'll just change your mind. I want my five percent, and I want it now."

"This is not the time to discuss it -- "

"I think it is. And until I get the ten percent, this job doesn't get done."

"Ten percent?"

I smirked at Wufei's outraged tone. "Dealing with unsympathetic and stingy book pushers. You're giving me wrinkles, Fei."

"Injustice! How dare you call me book pusher!"

"You can think about it Fei, and call me back if you want the job done. I'll just be mucking around J's place until you call -- See you then! Toodles!" I clicked the communicator off.

The robot seemed to have recovered itself.

"Who are you and what are you doing here?"

"Oh darn, what were those access codes? Oh yes, Aristotle 52980." I smirked; it had not been at all difficult uplifting that code from J's files. Honestly . . . what sort of mutt leaves the codes that control the systemated obedience of his machines and environment in an unprotected file? At any rate all of his machines ought to be obedient to me now.

The robot blinked again, then smirked. It really was too freaky . . . "Code acceptable," it said. "Please state your wishes?"

"Let's see . . . until Fei rings back I'm stuck here so I guess I'm open to suggestions. Ya got anything to eat around here?"

"Affirmative." I could swear it smirked again. "The kitchen is this way."

"Not a bad place you got here," I remarked as I followed it. "I guess being a genius pays well?"

"You could say that. J is foremost in his field."

"And what field is that?"

"Creating robotic parts for humans."

"Oh yeah . . . Fei did say something about that. Food! Woohoo, I'm starving!" I swung the fridge open. "Let's see what you've got . . . hmm, nope, nope -- ew! How long has that been there? Look at this cheese -- it's mouldy."

"I believe blue vein is supposed to be."

I gave the robot a considering glance. "J didn't programme you himself, did he? You seem way more lifelike than most robots -- I mean, this could count by some criteria as an actual conversation."

"I did most of my programming myself."

"An AI, huh?" I whistled. The price tag on artificial intelligence was considerable. "You must have cost a mint. So he's a loaded pervy bastard . . . this could be good." I returned to my examination of the fridge. "So you got a name?"


"Heero? That's cool. I might borrow that sometime -- aw man! There has got to be something to eat around here -- ah hah! Peanut butter! I knew this couldn't be a total loss! And a waffle pan!" I grinned at the robot. "Do you eat?"

"I have the capacity to appreciate taste -- "

"Then you're going to love this! No one makes waffles like I do."

He watched with a greatly dubious expression as I pulled out honey and marshmallows. "I believe that is true."

"You're as bad as Wufei," I scolded. "Stand back, o ye of little faith, and let me work."

In the end he ended up eating two honey, marshmallow and peanut butter waffles and one berryfruit and ice-cream one. He balked at the cream cheese and potato chip, and even I had to admit that salami and waffles did not mix well.

"You make a lot of mess," he chided me, as I left the salami on the bench.

"So? It's not my house. Let's see what else we can have fun with."

The entertainment unit had a selection of disks that could only be described as pitiful. "Absolutely nothing interesting here," I moaned. "What does this guy do for entertainment? No, I don't want to know!"

The bathroom proved to be beyond expectations.

"Ooh! Look at the size of the tub! And the shower facilities . . . man, steam or spray -- it must be cool being rich beyond all belief. If I had a bathroom like this, I'd wash my hair everyday . . ." I fingered my plait longingly. It wouldn't take long -- and Wufei hadn't called yet.

"I'll fetch fresh towels," Heero said.

"Thanks." I grinned. "You wouldn't mind coming back in like twenty minutes or so to tell me to get out? Otherwise I think I'm in danger of never leaving."

He nodded. "Would you like me to run the bath for you?"

"Oh, yes please!"

I ran water in the hand basin and dumped my singlet in it, cleaning it with the hand soap. "You got a dryer here?" At his nod I grinned. "Groovy. Uh, you wouldn't mind going away, would you? While I get into the bath?"

"What's the problem?" he said. "I am a robot."

"I know but still, I'm not getting changed unless you turn around."

He smirked again as he obeyed. I shrugged out of the rest of my clothing muttering about robots that were way too smug for their own good. Emptying the pockets of my trousers, I dumped my clothes in the basin with my singlet and sighed as the water had already turned brown. It appears as though my attempts at cleaning had been to not much effect. Still, my bath was ready.

I splashed into the water with an exclamation of delight. "Man -- I'm in heaven! It's perfect -- "



I smirked as I heard the downsider get into the bath. He was odd -- although he'd accepted me as a robot, he still acted as though I was a human, thanking me, insisting I turn my back when he got out of his clothes --

It was not strictly logical. But in a way, it was sort of endearing. There were a few more splashes from the bath. "This is just wonderful! I could get used to this. Hey, Heero? Would you like to pass me the shampoo?"

I looked at what we had available and decided against J's treatment for greying hair. Instead I found the generic brand of shampoo that I used and passed it to him.

"Man, this is the life . . . thanks, Heero."

"You're welcome."

I went to fetch the towels. He was odd. Well, I hadn't met very many burglars, but I didn't think that they usually acted like this . . .

My eye fell on the vidphone in the hall way. It would be so easy to phone security -- but did I really want him to be taken away? As sad as it may seem, this burglar was perhaps the most interesting thing that had happened all week. I wanted to be around him -- even if that meant keeping up the pretence of being a robot.

I was rather proud of how I was doing at that. It had been a remarkably successful move. When the thief had recited J's access codes I'd realized how hard he must have worked to get those -- and a thief who'd managed to hack into J's accounts in order to burgle him was probably not going to take the presence of another person very well. So better for everyone concerned if he thought I was a robot -- I could tell J he gassed me when he got back -- I didn't want to think about that just yet. I didn't want to face the fact that he was going to leave at all.

Stupid, isn't it? I hardly knew him.

All I knew was what I'd learned in the last hour or so -- that he talked too much and was amusing to listen to, had a lively sense of humour, was more intelligent then most people on this level, broke into houses, ate like someone who was starving, didn't hesitate to try new things and was somewhat attractive . . .

"Say, Heero? You couldn't bring me the conditioner?"

. . . and demanding.

Still, I was smiling as I returned to the bathroom. Utterly and completely illogically, I was happy.

"I can't remember the last time I was this clean," the downsider said happily. "Look, I think my hair has gone a couple of shades lighter!"

"Would you like me to help you dry it?" I said, wondering at my behaviour. For anyone else, I was as difficult as possible, not doing anything to help them to make the fact that I was a person and not a robot loud and clear. And yet here I was, willingly acting like a servant to him --

Or maybe it was the fact that I wanted to see what it felt like, to run my hands through his hair?

"Would ya? That'd be peachy." He sighed happily I gathered his hair and picked up the hair dryer with my metallic hand. "Mmm, that's nice."

"Peachy?" I asked.

"Hmm? Oh, a downside expression. It means good."

"I see," I said. So, I was right. He was a downsider. "I was not aware J had any friends downside."

He laughed. "I'm not really what you'd call a friend. More of an acquaintance."

I tied his hair off in a tidy plait, wondering if I dared touch his shoulders. He hadn't asked me too, but I had the sudden wish to let my hand rest against his skin . . .

The communicator beeped.

"Darn Wufei. Always knows just when to call." The downsider grabbed the communicator and answered. "Yeah, what do you want?" Wufei? I thought. Surely not . . .

He smirked as he listened to the response. "Seven percent but only because you asked me so nicely. Catch ya later, Fei-chan." He turned the unit off with a sigh. "I guess all good things come to an end, huh Heero? We'd better get my clothes in the dryer."

As he wrapped himself in a towel, I gathered his clothes from the sink, trying not to stare at the amount of dirt that had come out of them. What kind of life did he lead downside?

"Let's see -- I'll need you and you and you -- " The downsider was sorting through the gadgets that he'd taken out of his pockets. "All set. Heero, you wouldn't be an absolute doll and show me where J keeps his tools?"

"J does most of his work at the laboratory allocated him at the Ministry of Robotics -- "

The downsider shook his head. "Nah, I want the good stuff. You know, his private projects, the ones he doesn't like to share."

He knew about those? I nodded. "This way."

After a short detour to put his clothes in the dryer, I led him to J's secret workroom, cunningly hidden behind the entertainment unit.

"Wow," the downsider said appreciatively. "He has good junk."

He began sorting through J's collection of parts and machines with a discerning hand, searching for what -- I was not too sure, actually. He amassed a pile of parts, everything from power generators and other basic parts to the finer and more specialized of J's equipment. "That's my shopping done," he said, placing all the parts in a sack. "Now for Fei . . ."

We returned to the living room where the downsider helped himself to the pair of paintings in the living room and the statue on the coffee table. "I suppose some of these data disks could be worth something . . ." he sighed. "For a rich genius, he really doesn't have much valuables . . ."

"He has some currency in the emergency bond box under his bed," I said.

The downsider gave me a look. "You're not an ordinary robot, are you?"

"AI, remember?" I said. "Just because I'm J's doesn't mean I necessarily like him."

"Yeah . . . still, aren't you guys built with an inherent moral code?"

"Which J breached by not allowing me the respect due any sentient being," I said bitterly. "The right to make my own decisions for one."

"I hear ya. Must be tough, being a thinking computer . . . anyway, let's get this bond box, hmm?"

I followed reluctantly. Once he got that box he'd be that much closer to leaving . . . "What's your name?"

"I have a lot of names."

"Then tell me one."

"Let's see . . ." He winked at me. "I like your style, Heero. You can call me Duo."

"Okay," I said, experimentally testing the name out. "Duo."

"This the box?" Duo lifted it. "Then I guess we're all done."

I waited outside the laundry door, worried, as he got changed into his dry clothes. He would be leaving very soon --

"I'm done! Time to go!"

"Please stay?" I said, following him to the balcony.

"What?" He stared at me.

"Or at least come back. I don't want you to go -- "

"Sorry Heero but I can't stay. I can't come back either . . . with the little haul I just made, security in this area is going to be very tight for the next couple of weeks." His smile was regretful. I think that's the most genuine emotion I've seen in anyone's attitude towards me, excepting Quatre of course.

He sighed, then started putting the artwork and box into a sack. "All done." He pressed a button on his communicator and a small hovercraft, the kind used to deliver parcels, came floating up to us. "There we go," he said, setting the sacks on it. He opened the information panel on the craft and programmed in its destination course. As the machine beeped and set off he turned back to me. "I guess this is goodbye."

"No! I won't let you go -- " Duo's expression was one of perfect surprise as I took him impulsively by his shoulders. "I don't want you to go," I whispered, leaning in to kiss him gently.

It was soft and gentle and lovely -- and then I realised what I was doing.

Blushing, I let him go. I'd probably ruined everything. Why had I done something so risky? Quatre always said that J had not taught me how to interact with other people, and that he should be shot for his neglect of my social skills -- but I had really torn it this time --

"Hell," Duo whispered, staring at me. I met his eyes -- to my relief he didn't look outraged or furious. Just . . . very surprised.

"I should apologize," I said. "Quatre always tells me I need to acquire the subtleties of human interaction -- "

"That worked fine for me," Duo said. He was absently rubbing his lip. "Heero . . . tell me the truth here . . . you're not really a machine, are you?"

"Depends who you ask," I replied, heart beating painfully. How would he react? "85% of my body is mechanical."

"And the rest?"

"I was in an accident as a child. Most of my lower body and left arm were rendered useless but much of my vital organs remained. J was able to fashion a mechanical body for me and -- " I shrugged. "Here I am."

"And here you are." Duo frowned. "Well. This certainly alters things."

I kept silent, hoping against hope that he would stay.

"Fei is going to kill me for this . . . but -- ya know, its weird, considering we only met like a couple of hours ago, but I don't want to leave you either. This J of yours has a lot to answer for -- this place is like a museum. You must be bored out of your mind!"

"I guess," I said, not really paying that much attention. During this exchange, Duo had taken hold of my hand.

"Heero? I want to ask you something else," he requested in a gentle tone. I nodded. "Before -- and don't get me wrong, this isn't a complaint. Why'd ya kiss me?"

"Quatre told me a kiss was how people expressed affection and tenderness towards each other. I didn't want you to leave so I expressed my affection."

"Oh," Duo said. "Who's Quatre?"

"My best friend," I answered.

"And would you kiss him?"

I thought about that. "No," I said. "It would feel wrong."

"Ah," Duo said. He seemed awfully intent on his feet. I wondered if I'd done something wrong, and asked him so.

"What? Oh, no. Nothing at all. Just that -- well, this is kind of complicated, you see? When people kiss the way you just did, that usually indicates a high degree of uh -- affection -- "

"That would be correct," I nodded.

He stared at me, a blush slowly creeping across his cheeks. "Oh. Well- -I can't stay, Heero. But there is another option -- " He pulled me by the hand to the balcony. "Down."

I stared at the shadowy depths below. Could I survive down there? I turned to look at Duo.

"I can't promise you'll like it, or even that I can bring you back. It's a tough life, no doubt about that, but we manage. And I've got friends, they'll look after you if I'm not around. Wufei's a bit of a grouch sometimes, but a nice guy, Trowa's okay once you get over the silence. So . . . what do you think?"

"I'll do it," I said. "To be with you."

"You say the sweetest things, ya know that? Come on," Duo pulled out a device that clamped onto the railing then shot out a length of stretchy type cord. "Here you go. You attach this to your feet."

"Why?" I said. I had a bad feeling about this.

"They used to call it bungee jumping. Quickest way to where we want to go." Duo pulled out another device triumphantly. "See this! Always carry a spare!"

I stood on the railing nervously as Duo adjusted his. "What happens when we get to the bottom?"

"The rope'll stop us from crashing into anything. It's easy to detach yourself then we can just call the rope in -- this bit up here will recall at the right command."

"Leaving no trace of where we went," I smirked. "J will be furious. His famous experiment, vanished into thin air -- "

"Hey, that's right! You're probably worth a fortune!" Duo grinned. "Well that settles it. You have to stay with me."

I smiled back.

"Take my hand," Duo ordered. "We'll jump together. You don't have any parts that might come loose or anything during this? I'm a pretty fair mechanic but -- "

"I'm designed to be as close to human as possible," I replied. "Nothing should come loose."

"Okay then. On three -- we jump."

We did.


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