Heero put up his mental blocks and cut off his link with Duo in order to fully concentrate on the battle at hand. Red had just gone down under vicious and relentless enemy fire and the other veteran pilots circled their mobile suits around his AMS, giving him a little more time to become more familiar with the suit's systems.
An enemy suit cut through the protective perimeter and came straight for him, seeing him as an obvious weakness to exploit. Hitting his thrusters, Heero shot his suit upward, clearing himself from the others protecting him and giving himself room to maneuver. He then released his beam saber that slid out of its hidden compartment just above the suit's metal wrist. It flared to life as he held the weapon's handle tightly in the suit's hand. His heartbeat quickened in his chest, knowing that the years of training, the martial arts classes, and the many battle tactics he'd learned from the sims as well as actual practice on the facility's battlefield were about to be put to the test.
Hitting the thrusters with determination, he sent his mobile suit, newly dubbed moments before as Majestic, shooting forward to meet his fast approaching opponent. He pulled back the powerful arm holding the beam saber and, timing the moment perfectly, flipped his suit in midair to avoid the enemy's attack, ignoring the warning claxons the maneuver tripped and coming down from above the enemy, cut off the head of the attacking suit, effectively dismantling all of the enemy pilot's sensors and visuals. Putting most of the much relied on sensors was a design weakness they'd learned about in school even though they were never allowed to decapitate a practice suit to see the results of such a move. The headless and sensory blind enemy suit had no choice but to slowly drop to the desert sand below, the pilot taking himself out of the battle.
"That was damn lucky, Yuy," Kahn's voice shouted over the speakers. "Now they know you aren't a terrified greenie. Keep your eyes open." The Laotian man then grunted and swore as colorfully as Duo ever had, and Heero could see on his visual screen that Kahn's blue and black AMS, Viper, was engaged in a heated battle of its own.
He checked the panel's battle board to see a ridiculous amount of enemy suits, signified by red blinking lights and encircling the far too few blue dots that represented the Federation forces in the air. With a momentary faltering of hope at the visual display of just how outnumbered they really were, Heero doubted so few could defeat that many to become the victors. Yet it wasn't a natural inclination for him to give up. Duo was down there sitting in the barracks beneath the ground, waiting for him to return. With that knowledge and image fixed in his brain, he focused his thoughts towards the one-sided battle, determined to do his best and fight for his and Duo's life.
He was brought back immediately to the battle as a laser beam from an enemy's gun was directed at him. It was easily deflected by raising his reflecting shield. He reacted immediately, turning towards the approaching enemy suit and engaged in the battle once again.
With each opponent he was set up against, Heero grew more confident and more bold in his tactics. He paid no attention to the ground below nor to the base, but met each new enemy both and fought until he vanquished each and every one that challenged him.
"Yuy!" Kahn's voice called out loud and sharply over the communication system. "We're done here. Hawk and Laddie are damaged. The enemy seems to be backing off. Let's take advantage of it and get the hell out of here. You aid Laddie by using the magnetic clamps to gain hold of Leprechaun and fly east. The next base will take an hour to reach. I'll send the coordinates to your computer."
"No!" Heero replied adamantly. "I can't leave the others behind."
"The base is lost, Yuy." Kahn's voice was ragged with anger and weariness. "We'll retreat to fight another day. Besides," he sounded resigned. "There's nothing we can do for them now."
Laddie's green and white suit, affectionately nicknamed The Leprechaun by the Irishman, approached him with damaged limbs and small trails of smoke coming from the shoulder seams. The jerkiness of the suits flight displayed the fact that the pilot was having definite problems navigating the flying weapon. "I can't make it to the next base without some help, Yuy. Let's go." The Irishman said, his transmission was weak.
"You don't understand," Heero said in desperation. "I can't leave Duo behind. He's my...family," he said, completely at a loss for words on how to truly describe his reluctance to leave his bonded mate.
"Time to grow up fly boy." Hawk's anger came across the speakers with a lot of static, nearly masking the hardened voice. "We lost a lot of family yesterday and today in battle. This is the reality and nature of war. Get used to it and let's go!"
"That's an order, Mr. Yuy." Kahn's voice crackled on the speakers once again.
"Clamp onto my suit's shoulders," Laddie's voice came in a bit clearer. "It will be easier for you to get me out of here that way."
Even as Heero complied with the instructions, his fingers moved over the control panel. He retracted the laser sword and then the two metal hands to replace them with the blunted, claw-like clamps and activated the magnetic elements in the fingers. As he fixed Leprechaun securely in his suit's grip and turned the both of them away from the battle, his other hand activated the visual cameras to the base below that was quickly diminishing behind him. His last look at the base caused his heart to fall into his stomach. In the hour before dawn, he could see that the base had been decimated, the buildings all appeared crushed with fire and smoke covering most of the smoldering ruins.
"Go!" Laddie yelled as Majestic faltered.
Heero swallowed down his fears and brushed away the moisture from his eyes, trying desperately to compose himself. He hit the thrusters, turning his suit carrying the disabled AMS eastward and began the process of lowering his mental shields, trying to contact Duo. But for the first time since Quatre's training, he found he couldn't lower them. He fought within his mind to tear them down, desperate to find out whether Duo lived or not, to let him know why he was leaving and that he would return.
His hands worked in carrying out the orders he'd been given even as his mind turned to a more personal struggle. The white mobile weapon he piloted picked up speed, carrying him further from the person he knew he couldn't be separated from for long. Heero could do nothing but set the coordinates that came across his communications board. /Duo!/ He shouted desperately in his mind for his partner to hear him, but his shields were still stubbornly in place. Quatre had never worked with them while in a state of agitation or panic, both emotions that were coursing through him at the moment. He sadly guessed that he would probably be out of range by the time he calmed down enough to lower the mental barrier and his chance to contact Duo would be gone. He tried once more to force himself to follow calming techniques he'd learned from Master Lo, but there was no comforting answer to his repeated calling of Duo's name. With an aching heart, his entire being cried out desperately for his other half as he dutifully moved further away from the captured base towards a point of safety.
Following a call from a soldier posted on the northern perimeter of the captured base, Commander Treize Kushrenada, son of the illustrious leader of the Allied Socialist States, Diaz Kushrenada, used the opportunity to escape the horrific scene he'd been surround by for several hours. He was the commander of the mobile suit division that had been ordered to take the Federation's Red River Base at all costs. His squadron had trounced the few, outnumbered but brave men who had risen to the skies from the beleaguered base in challenge to their attack. The shells of some of those broken enemy suits were now littered all over the base, a visible symbol of the heroism of men that fought bravely and died in defense of their country. War was the ultimate definition of man, he'd been told. At the end of the battle, this smoldering and ruined base was now in the hands of the supposedly stronger man.
Treize climbed into his mobile suit he'd named Victory, and shook his head with disgust as he scanned the skeletal and still burning structures of the vanquished base. He'd once bought into his father's dominant beliefs that their way of life and the law that governed it was the only rational and reasonable way to peace, their government the only true form of government that could guide the people of the world and colonies to true peace. Now, looking out at the ruins of the Red Rock base, it all felt wrong and the wrongness of it churned sourly in his belly.
Viewing the carnage of the base from the open hatch of his mobile suit, he wondered if this was the peace his father had preached on and on about throughout his childhood and teenage years? Yes, it was indeed peaceful, eerily still and ghost like, all but for the cries of injured men and the crackling fires from the burning remains. Somehow this kind of peace was more than just unsatisfying, it made him sick to his stomach, especially when viewing the destruction that he and his men had brought about.
He climbed into his pilot's seat and strapped in. Flipping switches and checking gages, he ignited the engines. Checking with the other pilot in the suit that was being sent to check the outer perimeter of the base, he signaled his readiness for take off. His suit rose into the sky, moments before the other suit lifted from the ground, the thrusters propelling him upwards rapidly, defying gravity once again. He felt a sense of freedom in piloting that he rarely felt in any other aspect of his life, a life where his movements were restricted and his every action accounted for.
Rising into the sky shortly after dawn, he got another aerial view of the base's destruction below him and felt another wave of disgust within himself that he'd rarely felt before. His men had been thoroughly trained, or so he thought until this early morning battle, but they had been overcome by confidence and battle lust. Several times he had to intervene when his men ruthlessly and without mercy aimed their weapons and tactics on defenseless suits, too damaged to fight and barely managing to stay in the air. He felt a soldier's sense of honor as he watched a group of enemy suits circle around one of their own, trying to defend either an inexperienced or wounded comrade. He'd ordered several of his attacking suits circling the small group to back off, then shouted at them when his order had not readily been acted on. He fired shots towards his own unit to get their attention, deaf to his orders while in their berserker mind set. Shots were fired despite his first order, several suits on both sides of the battle went down before he managed to rein in his men. He kept his eyes on those few Federation suits as the air battle continued. He felt a strange sort of relief after it was clear who would take the day to see a few of the opposition's suits retreat and fly eastward, safely leaving the battle that had clearly gone his way almost before it had begun.
He sighed, disheartened as he looked down at the charred remains below him. "So much for making this a strategic base of operations," he muttered bitterly. After he'd directed the reinforcements to begin clean up and a search for any wounded, he'd spent the last hour yelling at his pilots in a scathing set down for their disappointing and dishonorable actions during the battle that cost more lives than was necessary, plus the loss of the base's buildings and the mobile suits they could have acquired for their own cause. It was with relief he received information regarding the call from the man positioned in the hills west of the base reporting that he'd sighted three escaping Federation soldiers and was trying to pin them down while dodging returning fire. Treize could now legitimately escape the base and his responsibilities for a short time, allowing him to cool down his justifiably righteous, indignant anger at his men and gain his composure again.
His short range scanners detected two bodies near the foot of the nearby hills. He focused his sensors and scanned them as he flew closer. One body lay at the foot of the hill, and there was no heart beat detected; the soldier was dead. Turning the scanner to the other body resting not far from the hill on the desert floor, he noted the soldier was wearing the desert fatigues of a Federation soldier. His sensors picked up the sound of a faint heartbeat. His visual tightened in for a better look and his eyes widened to see what looked like a child resting on its side, a backpack was pillowed under the young soldier's head that bore a long brown braid that trailed behind the youngster to lie on the sand.
He carefully set his mobile suit down and maneuvered its legs to move forward until it stood twenty feet in front of the still body. Treize then maneuvered the mechanical body to bend and it's right arm to lower until the cold metal fingers of his fighting machine reached down to dig into the sand several feet in front of the unmoving body and scooped the delicate looking child up into its hand, sand falling gently from between the gaps between the metal digits and slipping away from the unconscious form.
Bringing Victory upright and the hand as close to the cockpit door as possible, Treize broke protocol and opened the hatch, letting the bright morning sunlight shine into his face as he stood and looked out at the small person that lay cradled in Victory's metal palm. With his hand on his gun, he stepped from the security of the cockpit platform to balance at the edge of the opening and studied the child, looking so young and delicate in form, only feet in front of him. Squinting against the light, he jumped the short distance to the open palm and cautiously knelt next to the unmoving body. Turning the dirt covered body over he gasped at what lay before him. A child, no, a boy soldier, lay wounded and possibly dying from what looked like a bullet wound in his side, his breathing was shallow and wheezy. Treize gently brushed the long strands of dirty hair away from the dirt smudged face and noted with surprise that, even in the boy's present unkept state, he could see the beauty he possessed beneath the grime.
With a set look of determination on his face, Treize picked the smaller body up, cradling the wounded boy in his arms. Then turning, he leapt with relative ease back to the open hatch of his cockpit. Within a few short moments of time, Victory rose into the sky for the second time that morning and turned back the way it had come, returning to the charred remains of the captured base.
Commander Kushrenada sat in a chair he once thought to be most comfortable, ostensibly going over a set of orders for the next planned assault on a base due east of their current position. Instead of studying the numbers and statistics and battle plans, his eyes were turned to the boy laying pale and unmoving on the bed in front of him. The tags that had been around the boy's neck identified the teenager as pilot Duo Maxwell of the United Federation's Training Facility in the Gulf of Mexico, newly assigned three days ago to the Red Rock base. Along with his identification number was a rare and seldom seen code number, 002. According to sources planted inside the enemy's bureaucracy, code 002 indicated that special circumstances and orders followed this boy. But what were they? Was it his training or a medical condition? The commander pondered this question as he observed the strikingly handsome boy. There was no way this teenager, this child, could be the legal age of eighteen for military service much less be a soldier needing a specialized code on his tags.
Treize had been sitting in his chair for a good part of the day, watching the boy sleep, waiting for him to wake up and answer his many questions. He recalled the day before when in the dawn's early light he had picked up the injured boy and had gotten him to the base shortly after finding him barely alive on the desert sands, suffering from a sniper's wound. He had landed his suit and acquired immediate medical attention for the youngster after carrying him out of the cockpit of his mobile suit in his arms. It was a lucky break for the boy that the mobile Emergency Medical Treatment Unit, EMT, had been dropped onto the nearly destroyed base shortly before their arrival and was immediately available for emergency surgery. Because of his grave condition, the triage surgeon put the wounded teen at the top of the surgery list and he was taken immediately into the temporary surgical cubical to be operated on.
Treize allowed himself a kind thought when thinking of the Allied forces, knowing they could be cruel in their own way during battle, but were generally humane to those who were captured or injured. The doctor had reported to him in detail about the boy's injuries, that the surgical team had followed the path of the bullet from its entry wound through his body to its exit and repaired the wounds the bullet caused. They were forced to remove one rib that had been shattered by the bullet's entry along with pieces of bone splinters from the surrounding organs. The surgical team then repaired nicks to his spleen and intestines and cleaned out the bullet entry and exit point and stitched them up as well as the long incision from the operation. The boy was given several pints of blood to replace what he had lost and antibiotics to fight off infections. All in all, the surgeon remarked that the boy had been unbelievably lucky to have so little damage from the Allied bullet. There was still a danger of infection, despite the antibiotics, and the boy, as if to prove the doctor's concern, began running a slight fever while in recovery. Despite that small setback, the prognosis was good that the very young Federation soldier would pull through.
Once the young base commander had received the doctor's report, he used his considerable clout after the boy came out of the mobile operating room and spent a short time in recovery. Because of the large number of wounded in the mobilized EMT unit, Treize requested the boy be brought to his temporary quarters, which arrived alongside the medical units that first morning. The unconscious patient was carried by stretcher that same evening to the air conditioned, portable unit that served as an office and living quarters to the base commander. A nurse was sent to check on the young patient's vitals and progress every hour and Treize had agreed to keep an eye on the patient and to alert the medical staff in case he became distressed or if his condition worsened.
And so it was that on the second day after the capture of Red Rock base, that the Allied commander sat in his chair staring at the boy with his mind filled with questions while his battle plans sat ignored on his lap. The teenager had not moved since he was brought into the cooler room the night before and Treize couldn't help but see how small and frail he appeared laying on the crisp white bedding. An intravenous tube ran from the clear liquid pouch above the boy's long-haired head into his arm as antibiotics and essential nourishment dripped in a rhythmic pattern into his slight body.
The nurse had come as promised and tended to the unconscious prisoner under the base commander's watchful eye. The boy lay clean and fresh after the woman's skillful ministrations, his long hair had been washed and braided as it had been when he was first found. It now lay as still as its owner and hung over the boy's hospital gown covered shoulder, the majority of the woven tail rested on the boy's chest.
The commander who, at the unprecedented age of twenty eight, found himself not only in the charge of a specialized squadron of ace mobile pilots, but also the commander of a captured Federation base. But those titles and honors escaped him as he once again studied the delicate features of the boy's face. He noted the finely arched eyebrows, a pert, slightly turned-up nose as well as the pale, flawless skin. The boy's lips were neither too full nor too narrow. He noted that the lad had the kind of face that a camera or an artist would love to practice their craft with. He was beautiful, Treize concluded, and a puzzle to him.
As with all prisoners of war that were captured, killed, or injured, the boy's I.D. numbers were put into the computer base at the International Red Cross site. The families on both sides of the conflict could learn, almost to the minute, of the status or fate of those involved in the conflict that didn't escape or return from an operation or battle. He wondered if the picture perfect boy had a family that was desperate to learn of his captivity and injuries.
Always a collector of beautiful artifacts and rare items of quality, Treize smiled at the amusing thought that his actions pointed to the fact that he was doing it once again. He was keeping this boy, unusually attractive, safe and to himself as a rare find. It's a good thing too, he told himself, then frowned at the thought. He'd seen some ugliness since the war began just days before. The cruelty that man perpetuated against his fellow man was gut wrenching at times. He didn't want to think of what might have happen to such a delicate looking boy at the hands of a group of undisciplined soldiers. No, better to keep him safe in his quarters until the boy could recover, he thought, and Treize's mind began to work on how to keep the boy safe well after he recovered from his wounds.
A soft moan came from the bed, and eagerly putting his papers aside, the commander stood and moved closer to the bed and his captive. The boy's smooth forehead was pinched together in either pain or with a troubling nightmare. Treize didn't know what the boy was experiencing, probably pain from his wounds and surgery, but he waited silently and patiently as he watched him slowly awaken.
"Heero?" The boy's voice was but a whisper and choked by the dryness of his throat and mouth.
Heero? Treize wondered if the boy was dreaming or calling for a hero to rescue him. Maybe he was trying to say hello. He watched the boy's face carefully as he struggled to come to a state of wakefulness. The teen's eyelids began to flutter and slowly opened. Treize held his breath as he was greeted by the sight of two droopy and slightly blood shot but nevertheless magnificent eyes the unbelievable color of an amethyst stone with a bit of blue in them. Confusion was clearly displayed in those dazed orbs that resided on the boy's perfect face.
"Good evening," Treize said politely and gave his prisoner a gentle smile.
Blinking to focus his sight, the unusual colored eyes moved about the room, the boy taking in his surroundings. "Where?" came a strained whisper.
"You're base has been captured and you were injured while trying to flee. I found you and brought you back here to be tended to by Allied physicians. You were operated on yesterday and are now recovering in my quarters," Treize answered, still smiling in a manner he hoped was comforting.
The boy's brows drew together as his mind went over the last few moments before he'd passed out. "Sniper," he whispered. "Friends?" he asked looking at the man with the answers with a hopeful look.
The commander paused in thought before answering. "I'm afraid you were the only one I found out there in the desert, other than the dead Allied soldier at the bottom of the hill. Did you have friends out in the desert with you?"
Duo's eyes left the man's face and, for the first time, took in his uniform clearly displaying his allegiance. He took several moments to evaluate his situation.
"Who?" he rasped out.
"Who am I?" Treize guessed and the boy nodded.
"I'm Commander Treize Kushrenada of the Allied Forces in charge of the base and mobile suits that captured this base. I'm the commanding officer here."
The boy closed his eyes and his face became pinched again, as if he were in pain.
"Are you alright?" Treize asked, concerned for the teenager.
"No, but there's nothing you can do about it," was the barely audible reply.
"You mentioned friends," the commander asked again, hoping to learn more from the boy. "Were they in the desert with you?"
The long haired boy shook his head and his eyebrows drew together in a pinched fashion. He was obviously in pain. "Barracks... greenies."
"They were in the barracks and you were new to the base?" Treize asked, wanting to be clear as to what the boy was telling him. "From one the Federation's training centers if the records are correct."
The boy nodded and began to curl in on himself, bending as far as his wounds would let him.
Treize frowned and became alarmed. "Are you in pain?" He asked. "The doctor's said you had major surgery and would experience residual pain and discomfort for several weeks. You're getting antibiotics in your IV to fight infection and pain medication to help your discomfort. Do you need more?"
"How long?" The boy was panting as he asked his question.
"How long what?" Treize asked. "Since you were shot?
The boy nodded.
"Yesterday morning, roughly thirty-six hours ago."
A whimper came from the boy that formed into a low, mournful moan and he began to rock back and forth as if in a great deal of pain.
"Where does it hurt?" Treize asked, becoming more alarmed with each passing moment that the boy remained silent and in obvious discomfort. The teen either wouldn't or couldn't answer his question, but continued his rocking motion.
Not knowing what else to do, Treize went quickly to his desk and picked up the phone and dialed three numbers. "This is Commander Kushrenada. I want Dr. Freebaron sent to my trailer immediately. The prisoner is awake and in a considerable amount of pain and distress."
The doctor made it to the commander's temporary office/living unit in an impressive two minutes from the time the call was made. The young commander let him in and led the physician to the bed where the boy was still rocking in a partial fetal position.
The middle aged field surgeon went to work examining the teenage prisoner. The boy's temperature was only slightly elevated as was his blood pressure and heart rate. The wounds he'd received from the bullet and those from surgery appeared to the man to be healing properly. After examining the boy's abdomen, the doctor found no distention or swelling to suggest internal bleeding.
"Tell me where the pain is, son," the doctor entreated the writhing boy on the bed.
Duo gripped his hair with both hands, his face was screwed tightly. "Everywhere," he gasped as a tear fell down his cheek. "Need Heero," he pleaded with a sob.
"What did he say?" Treize asked, leaning forward in an effort to catch the boy's whisperings.
"I think he said he needs a hero," the doctor replied, looking as puzzled as the commander.
Treize frowned. "He said that earlier, when he first woke up."
Both men looked at each other then at the boy. "What can you do for him?" Treize asked, hating to see the boy in such discomfort.
"I can increase his pain medication and sedate him," the doctor answered as he reached behind him for his black case that he'd set on the chair next to the bed.
"Alright," Treize agreed and watched as the older man in the white lab coat injected a syringe of medication into the IV tube. Within moments the tightly curled body on the bed relaxed and the boy was unconscious once again.
The commander returned to the phone on his desk and quickly dialed again, with his fingers tapping impatiently on the desk as he waited for someone to pick up on the other end. "This is Commander Kushrenada, I'd like to speak with Sergeant Ritter please," he said to the startled female who'd answered the phone. As soon as the man requested gave a crisp salutation of, "Ritter here," Treize related to the man what he needed.
"Sergeant," he began in an official tone of voice. "I want you to go through the ranks of prisoners captured since yesterday morning and ask if anyone is familiar with a young Federation soldier named Duo Maxwell. He's newly recruited into their ranks from the Federation's training facilities. Tell them that the boy is ill and medical information is requested. Any information you might get from the prisoners would be helpful. If no one offers any information, look for any Federation soldiers who appear to be under the age of eighteen years old and, if you find one, bring the prisoner to me in my office. I needed this to be done ten minutes ago Sergeant."
As the man on the other end of the line accepted the rushed assignment, Treize replied with, "Very good. Get back to me as soon as you can," and the call was ended.
As the doctor continued to examine the sleeping boy, Treize went back to the stack of papers that he'd tossed to the floor when the boy, Duo, had awakened. Picking them up, he moved the doctor's black bag to the floor and resumed his seat and gave the appearance of studying the papers in front of him though his eyes lifted every few minutes to check on the well being of the patient/prisoner.
"He's still suffering," the doctor mumbled, and studying the boy more closely, Treize saw that the slender body seemed to twitch, despite his being sedated. His view was then blocked while the doctor re-examined him, trying to determine what was causing his patient so much pain.
Sitting in a corner of the metallic, windowless air-conditioned room along with his two companions, still experiencing residual pain from his broken arm and collarbone as well as a headache and nausea from his slight concussion, the blond boy in the cotton clothing that resembled a doctor's scrubs felt trapped and vulnerable. He was also getting a sore posterior from sitting too long in one place, yet fearful of moving from his somewhat protected spot positioned between his two companions.
The room of ten Federation P.O.W.'s all looked up at the metal door as it opened and the natural and pink tinged light of the distant sunset streamed in, silhouetting the large frame of the man who was easily recognized as one of their jailers.
The blond reminded himself that they hadn't been treated badly after being captured, at least not yet. He swallowed hard at that thought. He remembered running down the dark hallways of the second floor of Joshua II, and the sudden fall of wall and plaster all around them as a thunderous crash shook the upper structure. He vaguely remembered Trowa shouting his name as he was knocked down under the debris. His friend had called out to him frantically as he cleared away some of the shattered remains of the upper floor and tried to pull him out from under the rest. Instead of liberation, Quatre only felt agony at each frantic tug of his unwounded arm. His broken clavicle couldn't bear the movement. He pleaded with Trowa to leave him and hide. He knew he wouldn't be able to evade the enemy in his present condition and would only hamper Trowa's efforts to escape. Thankfully, Trowa had listened to reason, but remained behind, comforting him by holding his hand and stayed by his side until the sound of a rescue team neared.
After the Allied search and rescue team had dug him out of the debris that had fallen on top of him, Quatre had been taken to the EMT unit, treated and allowed to shower and put into fresh clothes. After all that had transpired within a short number of hours, he'd been incarcerated within one of the metal, portable prisons. Not five minutes after he'd been released from the EMT unit, his I.D. tags were taken from him and his numbers and status put into the International Red Cross site to identify his whereabouts. They were then properly returned for him to put them around his neck again.
He and his companions, also injured to some degree, had been held in the metal building for an entire day and then a good portion of the next. Quatre was all too aware that soon the entire container would be airlifted and they would be transported to an enemy POW camp and processed to be used either for cheap labor or as a bargaining chip to trade with the Federation government for their own captured soldiers.
The Allied officer, who had entered a moment before, now stood with his hands on his hips as he surveyed the room of ten captured Federation soldiers of varying ages before he spoke. "We have a prisoner tagged Duo Maxwell who was captured yesterday and is being treated for several wounds. It has been requested that we ask if any of you know this soldier. If so, we need any or all medical information you might have on him in order to treat him properly. Does anyone here know this prisoner, Duo Maxwell?" The man's eyes scanned the captured soldiers, many of them heavily bandaged and wounded, for a response.
The two boys sandwiching Quatre looked to him for a decision whether or not to speak up. Quatre leaned back and rested his head against the wall, closing his eyes in weariness. The other two captured pilots, Chow and Anderson, followed his lead and said nothing in response to the man's inquiries.
Sergeant Ritter's attention was drawn to the three boys sitting in one corner of the small room. Taking in the body language of the three, he could see they were not voluntarily going to be cooperative. His eyes had initially been drawn to them because of their young age. They were children in Federation pilot suits, he thought sadly. He walked to the corner they sat in and stood in front of the pale faced blond boy sitting between the Asian and brunet boys. "You," he said sternly to the blond. "What's your name?"
"He means you, Quatre," Anderson tugged on his fellow captive's sleeve.
The bloodshot aqua marine eyes opened slowly and rose to look up at the man who stood above him. "Yes?" he questioned softly, obvious weariness lacing his voice and demeanor.
The sergeant frowned, thinking it criminal to make a young boy, such as the frail looking blond, into a soldier. He should be at home with his family and doing things a teenage boy does to build pleasant memories of his youth, not a captured POW that had been injured and was waiting to be transported to a prison camp. "Come with me," he ordered the boy, his voice and facial features softening as he felt some sympathy for what the teenager must be feeling.
Leaning heavily against the wall, the injured blond in the green cotton scrubs pushed himself up from the floor with his legs, favoring his injured right leg as he did.
The Sergeant took in the paleness of the boy's face and the cast on his arm and brace across his shoulder. "Do you need assistance?" he asked, not unkindly.
The boy stood on unsteady legs but stubbornly refused help by shaking his head.
The older man snorted disdainfully at the boy's pride. He moved to the undamaged arm and took hold of it. "Come on then," he said and led his prisoner out of the metal room and into the glowing crimson light the desert's sunset and the heat that still engulfed the desert air.
A two seat, all-terrain vehicle, ATV, sat just outside the metal box where Quatre had been held for the two days since his capture. The Allied soldier helped him onto the seat, belted him in, then went around the front to the other side and into the driver's seat. The journey was relatively short but bumpy as the ground was covered with rubble from the destroyed base. Quatre looked with wide eyes at the destroyed base all around him, and his mind went back to the previous day. It still made no sense to him why the Allied Forces had decimated the base instead of using its resources for their intrusive campaign. The base no doubt was taken for its strategic position, but its usefulness was blunted by the degree of destruction Quatre witnessed. Taking a deep breath, the boy let his worry for the base slip from his mind; it was no longer any of his concern, escaping was his first priority.
The ATV came to a halt in front of another portable military building that had undoubtedly been dropped from transport helicopters completely intact and ready to use. It was almost identical to the holding cell he and his fellow captives had been staying in, though this one had windows that were shuttered to keep out the heat of the sun.
The sergeant came around and solicitously helped him out of his seat belt and eased his slippered covered feet down onto the hot ground. The thin rubber layer of the slipper's soles did nothing to prevent the burning heat coming off the asphalt from penetrating to the soles of his feet. He was led once again with the man's hand on his elbow to the door of the metal building and waited as the soldier knocked on the door. A moment later, it swung open, revealing a young man in a white cotton shirt and tan pleated slacks. His dark blond hair was combed back and he had the appearance of being fastidiously immaculate.
"Sir," the sergeant saluted. "No one volunteered any information, but I suspect this boy may know something about the prisoner you inquired about."
The blue-eyed commander looked sadly upon the injured blond boy; yet another child sent into a man's world to perform a man's job.
"Come in out of the heat," the base commander said politely and opened the door a bit wider to let the boy and some of the desert heat enter into the air conditioned room.
The sergeant led the boy towards the door. "Thank you Sergeant Ritter," the man in the white shirt said, easily dismissing the man with a slight smile of approval at a job well done.
At that point, the dark blond man took Quatre's elbow and led him inside. The boy's eyes watered and he blinked furiously as he tried to speed up the process of adjusting them to the change in the decreased light.
"Your name, soldier?" the commander asked the boy as he led him further into the room.
"Quatre Winner," the teen answered a bit apprehensively, not knowing what was going to happen in this man's private office.
The sandy haired man nodded and smiled gently. "My name is Commander Treize Kushrenada. And this is Dr. Freebaron." He motioned towards the bed in the room where a man in a white lab coat stood, his body blocking the view of the person lying on the bed. As Quatre hobbled toward the bed, the doctor moved and it was clear to the blond teen that it was indeed Duo who lay on his back and appeared unconscious or asleep. His eyes traveled over what he could see of the long haired boy laying partially under two blankets, analyzing his situation. Duo appeared to be wearing a pair of over-sized men's pajamas, decorated with white and burgundy diamonds. The right sleeve had been rolled up and Quatre could see the IV that was inserted into Duo's forearm. The long, brown braid that was so much a part of who Duo was, lay draped over his right shoulder and rested on his chest. Quatre couldn't fail to notice the pinched area between Duo's eyebrows and the slight twitching of the slender body.
"Do you know this boy?" the base commander inquired the blond while helping him to sit in the vacant chair.
"I'm not supposed to give you any information other than my I.D. number," Quatre answered in a subdued voice. Yet even as he spoke, he reached forward and took hold of Duo's hand, hoping to offer him some form of comfort.
"This is not military information we're seeking," the tall man stated as he came to stand by the boy's side. "This boy is sedated but obviously still uncomfortable. Does he have a medical condition we're not aware of?"
Inwardly, Quatre struggled as to how he should answer. Duo's condition was a personal and possibly military secret. Yet no matter what he told the base commander, they couldn't possibly ease his friend's suffering. Only one person could help Duo, and after all this time that had passed since the base was overtaken, he had to wonder if Heero was still alive.
Shaking his head he said apologetically, "I'm sorry. I can't tell you all I know about him, but sedating him only marginally helps to ease his discomfort and his suffering. You can't treat his pain. There is only one cure for it and it's apparently not available."
Both the doctor and the commander looked at the boy feeling more puzzled and intrigued than ever. "Where can we obtain the cure?" the doctor asked, now looking skeptical as to a quick fix for the strangely ill boy.
"You can't," Quatre answered sadly. Reaching out further, he touched Duo's cheek. The drugged boy turned towards the touch, and obvious to Quatre, he knew the boy sought out Heero's touch, even unconsciously. Though he wasn't what Duo needed, the long hair boy did calm slightly, the trembling eased a bit.
"He needs to be touched?" The doctor asked, having carefully watched the interaction between the two. When the blond boy didn't answer he continued with his observation. "He seems to derive some comfort from it."
"Why is he here?" Quatre asked, suspicious of the surroundings Duo had been placed in. "Why here and not in the medical unit?"
"I found him wounded in the desert and brought him in," the young commander explained. "I've assumed responsibility for the boy."
"Why?" Quatre asked, careful not to sound accusing or confrontational.
The taller man turned his full attention to the blond teen prisoner. In his young face he saw a boy with the soft, pale face of an angel and a gentle voice to match it. But in his blue eyes Treize saw intelligence and calculation. What was the Federation doing with these handsome children in their army? For years he'd heard and dismissed rumors of genetic engineering being pursued by the Federation's brightest scientists. The information, or so he'd been informed, was deemed classified and sealed, and the experiments had been halted when the people's representatives in the government had been leaked information regarding them and put a halt to it before it became public knowledge. Treize could only imagine the uproar the announcement to the general public would bring. No, if the Federation had performed genetically engineered births, they covered their tracks so well that only random rumors and not an ounce of evidence had been unearthed to validate the truth of what happened.
Looking at the blond waiting patiently for an answer to his question, Treize decided to be open and frank with the boy. There was something about the way the young soldier looked at him that made him feel as if he could ascertain whether he were telling the truth or not.
"Do you have any idea what could happen to a boy who looks like he does if the wrong kind of soldier gets a hold of him?" he asked pointedly. He could see from the boy's subdued frown on his face that he did know.
"You have no designs on him yourself?" Quatre asked quietly yet with unaccustomed boldness.
"We are not lecherous child molesters," the doctor responded angrily to the question. "The Commander is rightly concerned for the boy. Your insinuations are offensive and insulting to the both of us."
"I'm sorry if you took my question as such," Quatre responded politely, appearing sincere.
The commander observed the exchange and marveled the boy's subtle tactics. Asking a direct question and politely apologizing for the awkwardness after getting his reply. Any other thoughts or observations about the blond teen was halted when the boy on the bed whimpered. Though the stretching movement caused him pain, Quatre leaned forward and put both of his hands on the flushed cheeks of his friend until Duo seemed to settle a bit.
"Is it your touch he seeks or another's?" Treize asked, trying to fit together the pieces of the puzzle the long hair boy presented.
Quatre sighed, then answered with his eyes still on Duo's face. "My touch only gives him temporary comfort. If you will allow me, I'd like to stay with him until his suffering ceases."
"How and when will that occur?" The doctor asked.
"When he dies," Quatre answered sadly, his voice beginning to choke as he thought of the foreshadowing demise of his friend. "And I'm sorry to say there is nothing that you or I can do to keep that from happening."
On to Chapter sixteen
Back to Chapter fourteen