Notes: Takes place five years after EW
Caveat + Part 11
'From what I can tell, they got an anonymous call alleging that Yuy was violating the conditions of his suspended sentence.' Zechs reversed his pad for Sally to read. 'According to protocol, they pick up the suspect and then investigate. Apparently Duo was at work when it happened and Yuy wasn't allowed a phone call or a note. When Duo got home, realised Yuy was missing, he raised hell with the police until they tracked down what had happened-- the police don't work directly with the Immigration Bureau, so there wasn't any notification that Yuy had been picked up pending evaluation. Duo even convinced them to issue a missing persons report before they figured it out.'
'Brilliant.' Sally rubbed her eyes. 'So they're just holding him? How long is their docket?'
'I couldn't get a straight answer out of anyone, but I got the distinct impression that they weren't putting him to the head of the queue without an executive order.' Zechs watched the pad go dark with inactivity. 'It's got to be connected, Sally. And this time they waited until Preventers were distracted. I think we need to send Spider and Orange back to Sanq, just in case.'
'I can't say I don't agree with you. I'll authorise it.' She scraped her lank hair from her forehead and fell back in her chair. 'When are you going to ask me to put protection back on Duo?'
'I'm not,' he said. 'I'm going to ask you to put me back on Duo.'
'Zechs, come on--'
'You don't need a full force here now. We're fairly sure of our suspect and the extraction crews are operating without our help.'
'Fairly sure isn't case closed,' Sally pointed out.
'Ditto on Duo's case,' he countered.
'Relena's case,' Sally said, and won that match when Zechs turned away with a sour grunt. 'The threats we received referred specifically to her. They just mentioned Heero and Duo.'
'And yet Duo's been drugged and Yuy is sitting in a detention cell. Any way you look at it, her attack was the least thought out, the least severe. And Quatre Winner--'
'Your own partner's not convinced that the mine has anything to do with what's happened to the other three.' Sally sighed and crossed her hands behind her head. 'All right. For the sake of argument. You go running back to Brussels. What exactly are you planning to do? You can't break Yuy out of jail; we don't have the authority to countermand local law enforcement.'
'I can do what Preventers do have the authority to do-- investigate on our own terms. Trace this anonymous tip, for one.' Zechs nudged the pad just before it went into sleep mode. 'We said we would protect them and we haven't. We left them exposed and our perpetrator acted on it.'
'Damn it,' she swore, and kicked back her chair. There was no-where to pace in their truck, but she tried it, while Méo stared at his superior with wide eyes. 'Damn it, this is exactly the problem! We're spread so thin all we can ever do is rush from one crime scene to another, and forget the notion of ever actually preventing anything. There's too few of us by half. By more than half. We can't be police, we can't be investigators, Zechs. What a mess. What a damn mess.'
'Ma'am.' Méo's tentative voice broke the silence after Sally's weary tirade. 'Director. There's something happening in the mine.' He pointed at the monitors.
Zechs forced his spine to relax, and bent over his fellow agent's chair to look. He blinked. 'They made it past the junction--'
'Director!' It was Tropic and Neptune, throwing open the doors to the van. 'They've found people,' Neptune reported excitedly. 'A bunch of the first rescue team who got caught in the second blast. First report's a little jumbled, but it sounds like at least some of them are alive.'
'As soon as they've been checked by the medics, I want at least one of them for questioning,' Sally ordered, taking Tropic's assistance down to the ground. Zechs followed, using the advantage of a longer stride to keep even with her as she hurried toward their command tent. 'We need to confirm this Winner girl is here and responsible. And once they're finished clearing out that junction I want our scanners in place-- we need to be scanning for explosives-- and treat it like a forensic crime scene as much as we can manage. If there's any evidence left we need to pick it up now, before it gets trampled or lost.'
'Director.' Zechs caught her by the elbow just before she would have ducked into the tent. Her mouth was a grim line, looking at him, not happy and not quick to tell him what he wanted to hear.
'Director,' he repeated softly. 'Sally. Please. One more man on this scene is not going to be the difference between failure and success. It might be, in Brussels.'
'Don't lecture me, Zechs.' She tugged, and he let her go. 'Don't get me into any trouble down there I can't talk my way out of,' she said, and disappeared into the tent with a flip of the dusty tarp.
'Wind?' Tropic asked him. He waved crossly at the agitated motes swirling around them. 'You're out?'
'You're leaving?' Neptune regarded him with cautious surprise. 'Why?'
'The Gundam Pilots have been attacked again. Yuy's been picked up for deportation to the colonies.' Zechs glanced down at his watch, wavering for a second. If the miners hadn't reached a safety curtain, they were long dead-- but even if they had, Zechs personally wasn't doing anything that couldn't be done by someone else. 'Keep me informed?'
'Of course,' Tropic said.
'Hey, Wind.' It was Spider, leaving the tent followed closely by his partner. 'I hear we're headed back to Earth. Knew that drittsekk would be back, yeah?'
'Yeah.' Orange gave him a lazy wink-- approval, he supposed, for what amounted, his very guilty stomach said, to abandonment of his post. Spider and Orange, at least, had the luxury of knowing how very important their own task was-- Relena absolutely had to be protected. Duo--
'Are they worth it?' When he looked sharply at her, Neptune dropped her voice. 'Wind-- honestly. Maybe this is something the Gundam Pilots should sort out for themselves. This is not on the same level as someone tossing bombs at a mine full of innocent bystanders.'
'This is still our case,' he told Neptune coolly. 'As much as, no different than, what's happening at the mines.'
'No different?' she repeated. 'Not more personal?'
He resented that. He resented it, even as it stuck somewhere in his throat-- a little too close to true. Not a good time for self-doubt. The arguments he'd made for Sally were all still true, and she'd agreed, or she wouldn't have let him go. Someone had an agenda. Deporting Yuy could have no other purpose.
'Keep us posted,' he said, aiming that somewhere between Tropic and Neptune, and turned his back. Spider and Orange fell in behind him. Orange clapped him on the shoulder, but it was all Zechs could do not to shake him off. He knew he would feel better about this when he landed, when he could do something-- but right then, it didn't feel very good at all.
It took a galling fourteen hours to land at De Gaulle. Spider and Orange debarked their shuttle for the short plane ride to Sanq, leaving Zechs to wrangle for a rental car back to Brussels. He made the drive in a state of short-tempered weariness, weaving through mid-day traffic and relying on his horn more than his usual. The car's internal GPS took him on a circuitous route through Brussels and misled him on parking at the Asylum Centre; when he finally pulled into a visitor's space in the garage beneath the building, he had to give himself five minutes to sit with his eyes closed, searching for the equilibrium he knew he would need. It didn't come easily. He knew he should go home, change into a fresh uniform, sleep for a few hours-- knew that Duo would never forgive him for a selfish delay. Knew that, rationally, that shouldn't matter, not if it was going to affect him, affect his effectiveness-- but he still made himself move, swing tired legs out of the car, pocket the rental keys, scrape together the energy to stand.
He followed a half-dozen signs through a maze of small lobbies and blank, cream-coloured corridors before he finally found a desk. Unmanned. A computer touch-screen faced the visitor-side. Zechs selected English language, and received instructions to sign himself in. There was an option for visiting law enforcement, but not Preventers, and the computer stubbornly refused to let him enter his agent codename. Frustrated, he left the guestbook blank, and simply took himself past the desk to the offices behind it.
'Agent Wind, Preventers,' he pre-empted the first person he saw, a uniformed woman of middle age who reacted with surprise to see him turning a corner toward her. He flashed his badge, leaving it out just long enough for her eyes to widen even further. 'I'm here regarding Heero Yuy. He's been brought in to your facility.'
'Are you authorised?' she asked hesitantly, looking to her left. Toward a closed door, and a camera above it. Zechs looked at it too, evaluating just how much caution she was displaying, and deciding it had the cringe of someone who knew they were in the wrong. He put out his badge again, a confrontational foot from her nose.
'Yes,' he replied icily. 'Why don't you take me to someone who can answer my questions.'
She glanced at the camera again. 'Of-- of course, sir. Agent.' That was not the door to which she walked him, though. She about-faced, keeping him in her line of sight. She didn't touch the taser gun at her side, but her hand twitched toward it. He noted all of that, and followed her without further comment to the door furthest from them. He waited pointedly for her to open it, and gestured her to precede him.
A waiting room. There was an old man waiting, dozing, in a chair by a television, and a pair of young children playing with a basket of building blocks, unsupervised but quiet. And a familiar face, by the eponymous desk, arguing with another uniformed Asylum worker.
'Mr Van den Broeck,' Zechs said, diverting the man's attention. His own escort abandoned him, sliding sideways as he ignored her, and then hurrying back through the door already grabbing at her comm unit to whisper urgently. Zechs let her go, knowing she would be reporting to whoever would eventually be able to talk to him. He put out a hand for Duo's friend, but was shocked when Van den Broeck grabbed it in both of his, relief dripping off him.
'Thank God you are here,' Van den Broeck said, gripping him tightly. 'Oh, thank God. I was worried he hadn't called you and the local station would not tell me where you were.'
'Sir.' Zechs squeezed his fingers, and extricated himself cautiously. 'Forgive me, but that seems to be a change of heart from our last encounter.'
Van den Broeck paused, before a grim smile flattened his lips. 'In this instance, Mr Merquise, no-one is happier to see you than I. If you can talk Duo out of this madness, I will never say another sour word of you.'
So he'd been right in that assumption, at least. Duo didn't have it in him not to do something, and he knew enough about Duo's impulsiveness to guess it was bad at best, and dangerous at worst. 'What has he done?'
'Tried to stop a train by throwing himself on the tracks,' Van den Broeck answered, grimly indeed. 'But he will listen to you as he will not to me. Now if only we can get in to see him--'
'That,' Zechs informed him, 'will not be an issue.'
'Mr Merquise, I find myself warming to you more every minute.'
'It's mine,' Duo repeated.
Zechs could have struck the wall; as it was, his knuckles rested there wishing they could. 'Will you stop saying that.'
'Why? It's true.' Duo tapped on the table. 'When can I see him?'
'You're not seeing anyone until we clear this up, Mister Maxwell.'
'I'm not a mister,' Duo pointed out, so sweetly that Zechs ground his teeth. 'I'm twenty. According to you people, I can't even vote.'
'You can't vote because you are a felon, Mr Maxwell.' The Immigration Bureau had sent lawyers-- three lawyers. The only one who talked was the Special Prosecutor. And Duo. They couldn't shut Duo up, not himself, not Van den Broeck, not common sense.
'I'm not a felon,' Duo said, a hard edge to that flat statement. 'I wasn't convicted in criminal court. I just don't have the same rights as you do. But I have computers, and I have internet. The connection and the machines in my apartment all belong to me.'
'But Mr Yuy was the one using the computer and the connection,' said the Special Prosecutor.
'To do schoolwork. You have forensic specialists. A five-year-old could pull up the history files and tell you when the computer was being used to contact the colonies.'
'Duo.' Van den Broeck put his hand over Duo's and leant down to whisper to him. Duo's expression did not change, but his eyes went to the left, and stayed there. Van den Broeck straightened. 'My client has spoken freely to you but reserves the right not to incriminate himself. You will direct all future questions to myself, as his lawyer.'
'I think Mr Maxwell has been plenty clear,' the Special Prosecutor retorted. 'He claims he is guilty. He wishes to be arrested. I have no difficulty granting that wish.'
'Your pardon,' Zechs interrupted. 'Arresting the man at the centre of a Preventers investigation would be incredibly detrimental to our ability to complete--'
'An investigation that stretches months?' the woman returned. 'I think an arrest might not impede you too terribly much.'
Zechs had been clinging to the end of his rope for hours, and that was the last he could stand for. He pulled his badge from his belt clip and slammed it down to Duo's table. 'You may step outside, Special Prosecutor. I am invoking Chapter 14 Section 27a of Parliamentary Code. My investigation takes priority over yours.'
She was taken aback at that. So was Van den Broeck, who looked at him sharply. The other lawyers exchanged long, uneasy looks.
'Leave,' Zechs said. 'I will inform you when you may continue to question Mr Maxwell.'
Van den Broeck waited for the door to close; he rose from Duo's small table and crossed the room to the monitor beside the door. He flicked it off, ensuring their privacy. He said, 'It will not be long before they look at Chapter 14 and realise it does not give Preventers authority over local matters, Agent.'
'It gives me twenty-four hours in the event that someone involved in a Preventers investigation does something incredibly stupid.' He reclipped his badge and planted both hands on the table. 'Duo, what the hell are you doing?'
Duo shoved back his chair so hard the legs scraped on the tile. Zechs dropped his head, forcing himself to breathe. Duo was leaning against the plain brick wall when he straightened, one hand fisted in his pocket, the other tugging his short ponytail. That was a nervous habit. Which meant Duo was smart enough still to be nervous. Good.
'I know that Heero was contacting people in the colonies,' Zechs told him. 'Quatre Winner told me that himself. He said he'd spoken to Heero about what was happening down here.'
Duo's cheeks went hollow. He didn't answer right away. 'That's circumstantial. Hear-say.'
'It will stand in court,' Van den Broeck said from behind him. 'On the word of a Preventers agent.'
'Then you just won't tell them.'
'I have to disclose that if you're arrested, Duo.' Zechs rubbed his sandy eyes. 'We'll have to turn over everything we found when we looked at your computers. And Heero's.'
'They're not Heero's computers,' Duo repeated stubbornly. 'I bought them. I even still have receipts. I loaned them to him, but I set them up, I networked my apartment with his, and I used his computer when I was at his apartment. Heero did not use them to contact anyone in the colonies. He wouldn't be that dumb. We swore we wouldn't.'
'Yes, you did swear,' Van den Broeck said. 'You signed an agreement, and your freedom is contingent on that agreement. And I believe you have never violated the terms of your contract.'
'I did.' Duo shrugged carelessly, but it wasn't careless. 'Obviously. Someone did it from my computers. So it must be me.'
'Stop it,' Zechs snapped. 'Do you understand what's going to happen here? Preventers wasn't interested in prosecuting either of you for banned activity, but we found it. Do you realise that? Heero's not just skirting the rules to talk with old friends. He's contacting questionable and possibly illegal sources. He's tracking God knows what-- but he's tracking a lot of it. We left him alone because that wasn't what we were looking for, but the Special Prosecutor--'
'Will arrest him and deport him under the terms of our parole.' Duo faced the lone window in their room and folded both arms on the sill. 'You know what happens then? A fat lot of nothing. Because he's not counted as a citizen of L1, but that's where they'll send him, because that's the place he launched from, during Operation Meteor. So they'll load him on a plane and they'll shove him off at the dock and because they don't want him on L1, they'll put him in a cell in the Asylum Centre there and that's exactly where he'll sit for years. Years. It'll take them years to decide what to do with him, and maybe they'll never decide, because it's easy to forget about someone you don't have to look at. I'm not letting that happen to him.'
'You may not have a choice.'
'If he didn't do it, he's not guilty.' Duo touched the window with the back of his hand. The warmth of his skin left a patch of clear on the winter-frosted glass. 'If he's not guilty, they'll let him go.'
'Duo, I cannot in good conscience allow you to do this.' Van den Broeck touched Duo on the shoulder. 'I will try to see Heero. Shall we ask him whether he agrees with this plan of yours?'
'Heero will do what I tell him to do.' Duo said it quietly, but his voice was like steel, and Zechs had the sinking feeling that he was speaking an absolute truth. Just as Duo had accepted Heero's judgment in moving back into the same apartment, Heero would accept this sacrifice. And there was nothing Zechs could do to stop it.
'There has to be an alternative,' Zechs tried.
'You're looking at the alternative.' Duo exhaled, and it shook just a little. 'I'm not saying I like it. Just that I've thought hard about it and I don't see another way.'
'I won't stop trying.'
'I'll be hoping.' Duo set his chin down on his hands. 'Just not expecting.'
Van den Broeck was the first to give up. 'I will try to see Heero,' he said again, heavily. 'We will see what he wishes to do.' He squeezed Duo's shoulder, and left, closing the door again softly behind him.
'You would really do this for him?' Zechs asked. 'Give up everything. Duo, I just... I don't think I can understand this.'
'There's no explanation. It's just right and wrong.' Duo drew a streak down the window pane, and faced him finally. 'I can deal with it. He couldn't. He would shut down in there. You know that. You know what he's like just being stuck here, and here he can walk around and do what he wants. If they lock him up it'll kill him. It won't kill me.'
'He should have thought of that before he used your computer for illegal activity, then.' He wanted to go to Duo, but there might still be cameras on them, if not audio. 'It's not your job to dodge this bullet for him.'
'There's no explanation, Zechs.'
'You're a damn idiot.' He cleared his throat. 'I'm going. I'll be back. Try not to claim responsibility for anything else while I'm gone.'
The Special Prosecutor was waiting for him in the corridor-- fuming silently until the very second he opened the door, and then she was on him. 'There is nothing in Chapter 14 which says I cannot place him under arrest,' she began.
'After my twenty-four hours are up.' He stopped her protest with an upraised hand. 'I can't stop you from detaining him. He's not going anywhere. Twenty-four hours won't hurt your case, but it gives me time to salvage mine. Can we agree that this doesn't actually put us at cross-purposes?'
One of her lawyers whispered to her. The mighty frown creasing her brows eased just slightly as she looked at him. 'Perhaps,' she allowed. 'You will be wanting access as well to Yuy?'
'Yes. And his legal representation--'
'Mr Van den Broeck claims to be Yuy's attorney. I've given him access.' She crossed her arms over her bust, the sharp lapels of her suit creating a sort of winged frame for her sullen grimace. 'What exactly do you think to accomplish in twenty-four hours? Wriggle them free of their violations?'
'Either one or the other of them is guilty,' he shot back, before it occurred to him that drawing that demarcation might not be good for Duo in the long run. But neither was it going to end well if she had the opportunity to paint Duo and Heero both with the same brush. 'Would it be possible for me to see the formal charges?'
'They are not formal yet,' she admitted, reluctantly. 'Charges will not be entered until we have fully investigated the truth of the allegations made against them.'
'Against Heero Yuy. The anonymous tip only mentioned him.'
'Only him,' she said, so grudgingly that Zechs began to wonder just what that tip had said, and how long she'd been waiting to get even that much to go on. It might have been operations as usual to pick up Heero based on a tip, even to hold him pending full investigation, but to have a Special Prosecutor on hand within a day? There was more at work here than just a parole violation. She wanted Yuy out of Brussels. Yuy and Duo both. And since there was no indication it was a personal malice, it had to be institutional-- it had to be coming from someone in authority. From people who had never been happy to be stuck with two Gundam Pilots, and who were only too eager to take even a flimsy pretext to remove them.
'When you have the charges,' Zechs said, at his mildest courtesy. 'Please forward them. Preventers will, of course, require them before we can supply any of our files.'
Her frown reappeared. 'Of course,' she echoed.
He inclined his head to her. 'Now. Mr Yuy's cell is in which direction?'
Cell, as it happened, was quite the apt description. Zechs had been expecting something on the level of comfort and modernity as the room in which Duo was being held-- a finished and furnished room with natural light and modern conveniences. Yuy's cell was a scene out of a prison novel. There was a cot with a thin pre-fab mattress, a drain set against the wall for a toilet, a sink and small mirror, and an inset overhead light. No window, no desk to sit at. A chair had evidently been found for Van den Broeck, a folding plastic piece, and a uniformed guard came hurrying with another for Zechs. But it was Yuy that concerned Zechs, who had the sudden sinking feeling Duo might just have been right in his fundamental assumption. Yuy was haggard and dead-eyed, sitting slumped against the wall on his cot. He didn't look when the opened the barred door for Zechs.
'He has not eaten,' Van den Broeck told him. 'Or will not, more precisely.'
Zechs had been prepared for more stubbornness of Duo's sort. Not this kind of radical self-abnegation. Not a lack of hope. He knocked on the door, and the uniform outside slid back the face panel. 'Bring him a meal,' he said. 'Now.'
'Heero,' Van den Broeck was saying softly. 'Heero, please. This does no good, yes? You must not give them this triumph. You are stronger than this.'
'Surely you've survived worse,' Zechs added gruffly. The more he looked at it, the more it disturbed him to see this hollowness in Yuy. Social anxiety, he could understand-- anger like Duo's, he could understand. Even fatalism wouldn't have seemed so out of place. 'In the war--'
'What do you want.' Yuy's voice was rusty, even so soft. His hands were flat on the thighs of his blue jumpsuit, limp.
'To be sure you are all right,' Van den Broeck answered. 'To be sure you are not mistreated. To be sure you are ready to fight this.'
'What's the point.' Yuy shifted, a sign of life at least, Zechs thought, but it was only that little bit of movement, and ceased immediately, as if even that were pointless. 'They took the computers,' he added slowly. 'Someone knew about the computers.'
'Preventers did not report anything,' Zechs said defencively.
'The IP address you found. You never tracked the owner?'
'A fake account.' Zechs sank slowly into his chair. 'John Smith. We tried to trace the money, but it went no-where.'
Yuy gave up on that lead as if it had only been a rote question anyway, his eyes dropping back to the wall. 'How long will I be here before they transfer me?'
Van den Broeck glanced at Zechs, who could only shrug. 'I would think a few weeks at least,' the barrister replied finally. 'It will take them that long to determine the truth of their accusations. Perhaps a month. Heero, why did you do it? You must have known this could happen. I warned you personally that it would.'
'And that it wouldn't reflect solely on you,' Zechs added flatly.
That got him a long look. Yuy blinked once. 'He's here?'
'He's been here for hours, concocting all manner of lies for you.'
Yuy's customary scowl made an uneasy reappearance. 'I didn't ask him for that.'
That was a little like failing to predict the sun would rise in the east. Which made it all the more ridiculous that Zechs hadn't predicted it, either. 'He's claiming all responsibility.'
'I didn't ask him to do that.'
'Nevertheless, he is doing it.' Van den Broeck moved his chair closer to Yuy's cot. 'Will you help me help you both? I need to know what you did, so that I can offer the best defence. Get you the best terms. Perhaps if I am good enough at this, neither of you will be deported, yes?'
That moved something in Yuy. His jaw clenched hard, his fingers curling tight over his knees. 'Datasets,' he said finally. 'I was trying to access government datasets.'
'Why?' Zechs probed. 'Bearing in mind that while curiosity isn't a good answer, it's better than you telling us you were planning to use it for something.'
'Curiosity.' Yuy gave him a sudden burning glare. 'Are you even aware how much data the Parliament kept from Romafeller, OZ, the Federation? There are a dozen zettabytes of unique datasets just predating the war. Ask Parliament why they keep that-- and don't believe them when they tell you it's just “curiosity”. Better yet, look at it for yourself.'
'We are getting afield,' Van den Broeck murmured. 'So you were accessing these datasets? Classified materials in secure nets.'
'Yes.' Then, just as abruptly as it had appeared, Yuy's fire died. 'Duo didn't know. I didn't tell him. He would have asked me to stop.'
Zechs was grinding his teeth already, but he couldn't stop one final tired snap from slipping out. 'And it never occurred to you what kind of trouble you could get in?' he demanded. 'You had to know better.'
'We weren't guilty.' Yuy put his head back against the wall, his eyes closed. 'Not of what they claimed we were. Our sentences were wrong. And so is what they're still doing. But none of that matters, does it. We'll always be the ones at fault.'
Whatever more might have been said was interrupted by a knock at the door. A moment later, the maglocks clicked off, and the door swung open. It was a uniform, and he was carrying a tray of covered dishes.
'Thank you,' Van den Broeck said. He rose to take the tray, and brought it to Yuy's cot. 'There now. Please eat, Heero. You must keep up your energy. You are a grumpy young man when you are hungry.' He even dared to ruffle Yuy's hair, an act Zechs would have thought could only result in dismemberment, but Yuy allowed it with only a little hunch of his shoulders. Zechs shook his own head, and stopped the guard with a wave.
'I'm going,' he said. 'Mr Van den Broeck is to have access whenever he wants, is that understood? To both Mr Yuy and Mr Maxwell.'
'Agent Wind.' Van den Broeck followed him into the hall. Zechs gave the guard a long look, and with a flush the young man backed away, giving them privacy to speak. 'What will you do?'
'Track the tipper. And try to prove that only one of them--' He hesitated. 'I'm going to have to choose which one of them to save, aren't I.'
Van den Broeck rubbed both hands over his cheeks. 'We can pray for divine intervention. I think we had better pray very hard.'
'I find it hard to disagree right now.' He touched his watch, his phone. His phone. He pulled it from his belt, staring down at it, not quite sure that the thing happening in his head was an idea-- not even half-baked, Duo would say, but--
'Mr Merquise?' Van den Broeck asked him, concerned. 'Are you all right?'
'It may not be divine intervention,' Zechs told him, 'but it might be divine inspiration. I think I have an idea. Excuse me-- I have to call my sister.'
[part 10] [part 12] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]