Part Eleven: Between The Stillness
Between the stillness in my heart
And the roar of the approaching night
--- Jackson Browne
"What a treat you could join us," a girl's voice called from the darkened bay. Heero looked up in surprise, his hands still deep in his pockets and his head deep in thought. He came alongside Hilde, who was sitting on the edge of the open cargo door's threshold, and raised his eyebrows at her.
"Got news on the next job," she said. Heero offered her a hand up, and she brushed off the back of her pants before leading the way into the brightly lit ship. He paused at the door to his bunkroom, slipping off his jacket and hanging it on the closet hook before he realized she was waiting in the hallway. When he turned to look, she jerked her head and continued down the passageway.
Heero watched her hips sway a little as she walked. It occurred to him that her hips seemed too wide, her shoulders too narrow, her waist too small. It was like seeing all the right parts in all the wrong proportions, and he scowled, although not completely certain why. His scowl grew deeper as he realized she was standing at the door to the gathering room, a question on her face.
He paused in the door beside her. His palms were damp, and he tried to wipe them on his jeans without being too obvious about it. He'd stared down Wing Zero and beat the system into submission. This should be easy, he told himself. Breathing slowly through his nose, he stepped through the doorway.
"Hito," Trowa said. "Good diversion on that job."
Heero nodded, not trusting his voice as he glanced around the room.
It was a small room, no more than ten feet deep and perhaps fifteen feet wide, but it was large enough for a long seating ledge facing the door and a desk-ledge along the wall to his left. The wall to his right held shelves. He was surprised to see a large collection of books, movies, magazines, and mechanical texts, all held behind thin wires to keep them in place during low-grav. The wall next to the door had a large flatscreen embedded in the wall.
Duo was sitting at the desk, his back to the room as he typed rapidly. The monitor was sunk in the wall over the desk, and the longhaired man glanced up at the screen every few seconds. Next to him was a tall bottle of clear liquid.
"Day," Hilde said. "What've you got?"
"Decrypting now," Duo told her as he tapped a single key with finality. The screen before him sprang into life, lines scrolling. Duo scanned it, and then sat back, kicking the ledge with one foot to make his chair spin. His braid whipped out behind him, making a soft swish as it slid over the desktop. Duo had grabbed the bottle as he turned, and was already tilting it back for a drink when he came to a stop facing the room. "Basic trouble-making."
"Let's see," Trowa said, moving to the screen. He stood by Duo and read for several seconds, finally nodding as he turned to Hilde, who had come to join him. Heero remained by the door, leaning up against the wall, his arms crossed.
"Print that," Hilde told Duo, who spun again and went back to typing. Trowa sat back down on the long seat, lounging as he watched Hilde sit down at the other end. She stretched her legs out along the sofa's length and leaned back.
The room was silent for a minute as the paper slipped from the printer slot beneath the monitor. Duo pulled it out, glanced it over, and handed it to Trowa, who leaned over and handed it to Hilde. She accepted it with a nod and read over it carefully while the three men waited. Finally she put the papers down and looked around.
"There's a union dispute on a resource asteroid," she announced. "We've got a week during negotiations to make sure the workers agree to the offered contract."
"Terrorize 'em," Duo translated. Hilde nodded, and Heero shifted against the wall but said nothing. The longhaired man shrugged, took another swig from the bottle, and grinned widely at Trowa. "Get us some fast ships, and blow the smithereens out of the place. That'd scare them."
"Among other things," Trowa replied dryly.
"Day, what have you been smoking?" Hilde's eyebrows were raised.
"Why not? We hit the working areas off-hours. The workers will agree to anything just so their livelihood isn't threatened further."
"True." Trowa's face was unreadable.
"Use Hito." Duo waved the bottle at Heero. "We can let him do point. I hear he's quite a pilot."
"Not anymore." Heero's voice was icy. "I've not piloted in several years."
"It's like riding a bike," Duo retorted just as smoothly.
"The best pilot should be vanguard."
"Exactly." Duo's voice was sarcastic but his wartime smile was shining from his face. It didn't reach his eyes.
Heero glared at the wall over Hilde's head. She was giving Trowa a questioning look, and the taller man glanced at her and then away.
Pushing away from the wall a little, Heero pointed at Hilde to get her attention. When she looked, he pointed with his finger, swirling his hand to include the entire room in the gesture. He then pointed at his ear. It took a second for her to get his meaning before she nodded. Heero then pointed again at the entire room, and then at his eye. Hilde paused, frowned, and shook her head.
Heero strolled over to the desk, grabbing a sheet of paper and a pen. He took a second to scribble something, and returned to his original position, dropping the paper on Hilde's lap on the way. There was a moment of silence as she digested the message.
Vayeate - 01, Mercurius - 03. Only one pilot could beat both.
Hilde knew exactly what he meant, and a smile tugged at her lips, finally growing into a full-faced smirk. She was injured during that last battle but not so much she'd missed Duo's triumphant cry that if OZ had wanted an unbeatable pilot as programming basis for its mobile dolls, they should've used him rather than Trowa and Heero. He'd taken down both dolls and not even broken a sweat.
"You're right, Hito," she said calmly. "Day is definitely vanguard."
"What?" Duo's voice was nearly a squawk.
"Now can I hear some realistic ideas?" The young woman continued as though Duo's interruption hadn't occurred. Slowly she folded up the paper and slipped it into a back pocket, her smile growing even more smug as Duo's eyes narrowed dangerously. Trowa looked curious, but amused.
"The negotiations will take a week," the Heavyarms pilot said, reading off the printout he'd gathered from where it had lain to Hilde. His voice was soft, but commanding. "Infiltration on various levels, and proceed with low-level terrorism. Explosives at integral levels, fires, sabotage."
"Timed to match the negotiations," Hilde agreed. "If they vote like they're supposed to, our job is easier. And done faster."
"And more boring," Duo added.
"Same amount of money for you," the petite girl replied. "Are we carrying enough or do we need to get anything on the way?"
"I did inventory this morning," Duo said, spinning his chair so his back was to the door, and Heero. "We have enough to blow the entire satellite out of orbit."
"Trey, you'll go in as an inspector," Hilde told the other pilot. "I want you in the depths to place the charges. Day, you want to infiltrate or sneak?"
"What do you think?" His smile was lazy.
"Figures," she replied. "Jack the system while you're at it."
"Aye, aye, captain."
"Hito, you're with me."
Duo's chair squeaked as he turned slightly to shoot a wary gaze at the girl.
"Doing what?" Heero's eyes didn't quite meet hers.
"I'm sure you'll think of something."
"You got any nicer clothes? Something conservative."
"We can get some," she said. "Why?"
"I've thought of something," he replied, and looked up long enough to flash her a mischievous half-smile.
She returned it with a satisfied nod. "The floor's all yours."
Heero paused for a second, arranging his thoughts before he spoke. "We'll need a video camera, and a voice recorder. I'll go in as the cameraman, and Hel, you go in as a reporter."
"They'll expect credentials," Trowa pointed out.
"I can cook them up," Duo offered. His back was to Heero's, but his voice was steely, with that edge indicating the cold smile was still on his face.
"You won't need to. Free Earth News will provide them without a problem," Heero said. "They're not well known, but their politics are pro-union."
"Then they'd have someone already on site," Hilde replied.
"Not likely," Heero said. "They rarely have the money to send anyone off-planet. They'll accept us as freelance."
"You sure?" Hilde was dubious.
"If they don't, fake the papers. If they do, we can be checked on without a problem."
Trowa glanced at Hilde and nodded. She chewed on her lower lip for a second before responding. "And then what?"
"We'll focus on the living quarters and the areas around the strikers' meeting locations," Heero said. "Since I doubt an inspector would be allowed in those places."
Trowa nodded again.
"All right, then," Hilde said and stood up. "Day, evaporate. Hito, the system's yours. Contact the newspaper. Trey, let me know if you need anything else and head out in the morning. Same frequency as always."
Trowa was on his feet just as smoothly, and gone. Duo followed him out without a word, but Heero could hear the murmur of Duo's voice as the two men spoke quietly in the hallway.
"Get to it," Hilde ordered Heero, and he realized he hadn't moved, still poised to defend himself in case Duo punched him on the way out. Shaking himself slightly, he gave her a crooked smile and got to work.
Hilde had been quiet all morning.
They'd spent an hour shopping and come away with clothes for both of them. Nothing too expensive, Heero had explained; it was all the kind of clothes worn by someone who wants to look classy but can't quite afford quality. He regarded the khaki pants with something approaching an ironic smile; they were what someone would have bought had they been trying to dress like he used to. Her soft voice drew him back to the present.
"I'm not really the expert at infiltration," she was saying. "That's Trey's thing."
"You're good at talking," he assured her. "And you handled that job in the bar really well."
She blush a little, and ducked her head.
"By the way," he added. "Sorry... " He pointed at her cheek, and canted his head at her, hoping she'd understand. Heero wasn't sure he wanted the listening devices to pick up that he was starting to develop a fondness for the girl.
She blinked, then got what he meant, and smiled. "No problem," she chirped. "All in a day's work. Anyway, I got the tickets. And the credentials came through this morning from Free Earth News."
Another ten minutes, and he'd packed for both of them, tucking his little camera back in his pocket. He'd downloaded his photographs the night before and stored them in a small folder on the ship's supplementary hardboard. Hilde returned from talking to Trey with a silver briefcase while Heero lugged their black rolling case. In ten hours they'd be at the resource satellite, and ready to start their part of the job.
There was little conversation between them during the shuttle flight except Hilde's complaints about the fact that Day had booked a flight with three stopovers. When the shuttle finally reached their destination, Hilde led the way to a small hotel near the docking station. Nestled within the huge clump of floating rock, the little city had the basic amenities for the workers, along with two or three hotels for visiting managers and businesspeople traveling through the system.
Heero unlocked the door to his room, adjoining Hilde's, and sank onto the bed with a sigh. Sitting up after a few minutes, he pulled the second case towards him and snapped it open. Inside was a live-action recoding camera; Duo had done a decent job of procuring professional-quality. The thought of the other man made Heero pause, and he took a minute to steady himself away from the pain of his epiphany the day before.
Have emotions. Act on them. But, he reminded himself, don't show them.
There was a tap at the door, and he lifted his head, surprised that Hilde would finally think to knock. She didn't wait for him to call out, however, and let herself in.
"I'm going to start locking doors around you," he told her.
She grinned as she seated herself on the other side of the camera box. "That's it?" When he nodded, she looked it over skeptically. "Y'know, Day got it for us. Think it'll explode?"
He smiled, an embarrassed expression, just as he remembered he was supposed to be in mission mode, and let the smile fade from his face. Hilde noticed.
"Don't stop doing that," she told him.
"Smiling. You have a nice smile."
"Hn." He lifted the video camera out of the box and turned it around in his hands. "It's been awhile since I've worked with moving images."
"I've got the name of one of the union leaders, so you can start practicing right away."
"What?" Heero glanced up at her. She certainly worked fast. "Right now?"
"Once you get changed," she said, smirking. "We're to meet him for drinks at the bar in the hotel. They have a back room used for meetings. He seemed to want it casual." She didn't move, and Heero raised an eyebrow at her.
"What are you still doing here?"
"Waiting for you to change." Her smirk grew wider.
"Get out," he finally snapped, but tempered it with a raised eyebrow. She grinned wickedly at him, and tipped an invisible hat at him before turning around to leave.
"Touchy," she called over her shoulder. "I was just hoping I'd get to see what all the fuss was about." With that, the door shut behind her and Heero was left gaping at the closed door.