Drums of Heaven

Part Thirty: Not Every Saint Is A Fool

I gave you the benefit of the doubt, it's true
But keep in mind, my darling,
Not every saint is a fool
--- Poe

Heero came home from work to find Duo and Trowa playing a new game on the laptop while Hilde guarded the costumes. After being regaled with Duo's vociferous grievances, Heero figured out that Hilde and Trowa had brought the costumes with them but had refused to tell Duo what he'd be wearing, nor had they given any hints. It was soon clear to Heero that Hilde was stalling until the costume shops were closed. Heero had to admire the girl's gumption, but he rolled his eyes at the likelihood of Duo going along with the plan if the longhaired pilot set his mind to an alternative.

Duo's tirade was interrupted by Trowa. The taller pilot was sitting by the laptop, absently clicking through web pages as he waited for Duo to fall silent. "I've been contacted by Quatre."

Hilde made a choking sound. "You waited until now to mention this?"

"I was waiting until all four of us were together." The Heavyarms pilot shrugged.

Heero grimaced, got himself a beer, and seated himself on a pillow across from Trowa. A minute later, Duo and Hilde joined them in the small circle, mixed drinks on the floor between them.

"It was one of the Maganacs," Trowa explained, his green eyes lowered on the floor. "Ran into me – literally – on the street. When I got back to the ship, found a letter in my pocket. Read it, and destroyed it, per the instructions."

"When was this?" Heero rubbed at his forehead. Duo sent the letter to Quatre on December twenty-first.

"Two days ago."

Seven days after Quatre received word from Duo, Heero thought. Enough time to come up with a response, send a Maganac to L2, and then track down Trowa. It still seems like a roundabout way to reply, the small voice observed.

Duo fidgeted, then sighed heavily. "Alright, spill already."

"Quatre's got a team of six hackers working on the email records in the President's and Council's servers. They're parsing the information, and he wants us to focus our hackers on the L2 syndicate-owned servers." Trowa paused, and wrinkled his brow at Duo. "Since when did we get hackers?"

"Since we let oh-one join the party," Duo replied.

Heero shrugged.

"I should have known," Trowa replied, unruffled, although one eyebrow was raised for a split second. "Quatre also suggests that we shoot for hardcopies of the L2 syndicate's record books."

"Record books?" Hilde furrowed her brows. "Accounting?"

"Follow the money," Duo said, and chuckled. "We're trying to connect the syndicates and the President, right?" He looked around as his teammates nodded. "The President gets money from a bunch of places. I'd say Quatre is telling us to look at where the syndicate's money is going, and he'll look at where the President is getting money. Then all he has to do is connect the two."

Trowa shook his head. "A criminal in an L1 prison can donate money to the President's funds, and it doesn't make the President liable for the criminal's actions."

"Connecting the two is easier said than done," Heero added. "Syndicates operate under a cover of respectable companies. There's only so much profit they can reasonably hide, so donating to a non-profit is an old trick."

"Illicit funds, donated publicly, means they can get a tax write-off on the money they didn't pay income tax on in the first place," Trowa explained in an undertone to Hilde, who nodded absently.

"But they wouldn't need to hide that much," Hilde pointed out. "Running guns makes money, but it also costs money to produce the guns, purchase the raw materials, pay the people who make them, and bribe local officials to look the other way."

"That cuts into the profit," Heero agreed. "But before the war, we could buy a Glock .45 for eight hundred credits. Ignoring the artificial inflation forced by most governments then, the black market price now is triple that."

"Quadruple," Duo said.

"But the cost, comparatively, can't have changed," Hilde replied. "They're hardly using restricted material like Gundamian."

"True." Duo gave her a smile. "There's no law against making things with metal."

"If there were, you'd be in jail from half your hobbies." Trowa's voice was bland, but his eyebrow twitched.

"So Quatre wants us to find the syndicate's books," Hilde said. When the three men nodded, she chewed on her lower lip for several seconds, pondering. "How does this tell us who... killed Joe?"

"It doesn't," Trowa admitted. "But I don't think that's ever been Quatre's objective."

Duo shook his head and gave Hilde a rueful smile. "It's not. I'm not sure what his purpose is for getting involved, but that wasn't it."

"Quatre must have found something from his end," Heero surmised. "Most of the messages on the track bots were relatively innocuous." Noticing Hilde's and Trowa's confused looks, Heero took a moment to explain the situation with the hackers, and the discoveries the kids had made in the past three months. "September, a track bot was first uploaded with the message of 'starting here.' A previous message referred to what we think is a bank account, and another referred to something about not interfering."

"If the bot messages were for the Maganacs, it could be saying they shouldn't interfere with our mission," Duo pointed out. "Hold on. The message was 'no interference', wasn't it?"

Heero nodded. "You're right. So it could also mean Quatre was telling the Maganacs that the coast is clear, referring to something we don't know about."

"There's a lot we don't know about," Trowa grumbled.

"That was September. So Quatre had several months to sit around before finding something to get him involved," Duo said. "I was sending him mission reports--"

"What?" Trowa's green eyes flashed. "I thought you sent just that one, and we never heard from him."

"Uh... " Duo winced. "I wasn't sure if he'd gotten it... so I started sending them regularly. I'd promised to keep him informed, anyway."

"When did you do that?" The mercenary's eyes were suspicious.

"Just before we left Earth, back in May. The last time I talked to Quatre." Duo grinned, but his eyes glittered coldly. "More precisely, the last time I yelled at him. I suggested it as a peace offering. I didn't know if he ever got the messages, but Heero and I think the Maganacs have been around, and now one of them gave you a letter... " Duo trailed off, his eyes averted from Trowa's intent gaze.

"We're forgetting the most important detail," Hilde announced, sitting up straight. "Your former co-worker, the delightful Mr. Winner, is a consummate politician. If the Maganacs were around before he supposedly 'got involved,' then I'd say there's two things going on. One, he sent his minions to follow us around to keep an eye on us."

"And to intervene when they needed to," Heero added, remembering being hit on the head. He quickly explained his theory of how he'd made it back to the ship after almost interfering on his first job with the team.

"And you said the Maganacs were getting messages before the one that said Quatre was getting involved," Hilde said. "Which means something triggered Quatre's interest... something that would make a politician, a businessman, raise his eyebrows. That's the second thing, maybe even a separate thing from the Maganacs following us."

"Winner has a finger in every pie," Trowa muttered. "Heero, how did you meet up with Quatre?"

Heero shifted uncomfortably on his pillow. "My... agent called him, ostensibly to get Quatre's permission to use a picture he'd taken."

"A picture?" Hilde stuck her finger in her drink and swirled it around, trying to appear nonchalant.

"Bernie -- my agent -- said the publishers wanted a picture of me for the back flap of my book." Heero watched Hilde lick her finger, studiously ignoring Duo's suddenly inquisitive expression. "It was an old picture, from just after the war. We ended up not using it."

Hilde shook her head and flashed Heero one of those brilliant Cheshire smiles she'd learned from Duo. "Who told you that your agent called Quatre?"

Heero paused, his eyes narrowing. "Quatre did."

"And did your agent ever confirm this?"

"Not in so many words," Heero answered slowly. "As a matter of fact, Bernie went out of his way to get me to Quatre's house while I was in Paris. Tricked me, made me think I was meeting with the publishers."

Hilde's tone was mildly sarcastic. "I think, gentlemen, we have a case of your strategist doing what he does best." The woman put her hand up, palm towards the ground as though holding something, and tilted her hand back and forth. It took Heero a second to realize what she was miming.

"Playing with puppets," Heero said, and snorted.

"Give that man a gold star," Hilde said, touching her finger to her nose before pointing at him. "I'd propose that not only did Quatre decide to send in reinforcements, he made a point of doing it in such a way that it didn't look like he had anything to do with the actions."

"Even Wufei was the one to take over my apartment," Heero murmured. He sighed, seeing their blank looks, and explained about Wufei's actions on L1, the transfer from Quatre's account, and Bernie's comments.

"Gotta give him this much," Duo said, shaking his head slowly. "Quatre's smooth." Trowa made a face at Duo's words. Deathscythe's pilot caught the look, and smiled, a sweet expression without the usual teasing edge. "Tro... think about it. If Quatre went through all that effort, he did it for a reason. We just... don't know what it is."

"Yes, we do," Heero said, his head coming up suddenly, a crooked grin spreading across his face. "Quatre's also undercover. Something's going on, at his end that makes him need to appear unconnected to us. That's the only possible explanation."

"He and Relena move in high circles," Duo added, his voice neutral, "and Wufei's with the Preventers."

"Part-time," Heero replied. "Which means Quatre has someone on the inside at Preventers, and us on the inside with the syndicate."

"And Relena, if she's involved, would be on the inside at the Council," Duo added. The room was silent for several minutes as the four friends contemplated the extent of the machinations Quatre was possibly arranging.

"Right," Hilde replied, then blinked several times as though just waking up. There was a pause, and the petite brunette suddenly shot up, coming to her feet in a flash. "Not right! Not right at all," she said, her voice going from a frustrated cry to an outright shout. Heero was startled to see her stomp her foot as she repeated her cry, even louder. "Not right in the least."

"Hilde," Duo said, coming to his knees as he prepared to stand. His hands were up, as though warding off a strike.

"What the fuck are we doing?" The girl's eyes were wide, and her fists were clenched tightly by her side. "We're just letting Quatre mess with whatever's going on? So he can play around in politics and send strange men to watch what we're doing without telling us? He's playing at this! He's playing with my mission! I want to find out who killed my fiancé, and he's just playing!"

"I know what you mean," Duo said, his voice soothing. Slowly he moved a leg, preparing to stand, but he froze when Hilde backed away suddenly.

"Oh, please," she retorted. "You three trust him, because you were all... oh, Quatre, you're the strategist... " Her voice turned mocking, strident. "But he doesn't give a damn about Joe. If he did, he wouldn't be screwing around and telling us to find accounting... What the fuck is accounting going to do to help us who killed Joe? What's the point of that?"

Duo frowned, gritting his teeth as he exhaled slowly. "Quatre's got his own purpose. We will find out who killed Joe, I promise. Hilde, Quatre knows what he's doing."

"How do you know that? You didn't even know about those tracker things until Heero told you!"

Heero flinched, his eyes downcast. Trowa tensed, his eyes darting between the angry girl and the longhaired man. Duo's eyes were securely on Hilde, his attention focused on figuring out how to reassure her.

"I just want to know why," she said, and her voice cracked on the last word, a plaintive cry.

Slowly Trowa uncurled his legs and stood up. The Heavyarms pilot hesitated a moment, then opened his arms to the shorter girl. With a sob, she threw herself into his arms. He hugged her closely, resting his chin on the top of her head as he rubbed one hand up and down her back while Duo and Heero watched helplessly.

"Hush, hush," he whispered. "Quatre... has a bigger goal than our original mission. I think... I think he's trying to take down not just Joe's murderer, but also the President. Maybe even the syndicate, too."

Heero's eyebrows shot up. He'd gathered the connection between the syndicate and the President was paramount, but the emphasis on the syndicate's accounting records had made him conclude Quatre's focus had shifted to the syndicate alone. A thought occurred to him, and he leaned over, pulling the laptop towards him. Logging on, he ignored Hilde's frustrated whimpers, Trowa's reassurances, and Duo's tense silence.

After a minute or two, Hilde had calmed down, and Trowa pulled her down to sit between Duo and himself. Bolstered by her two good friends, Hilde watched Heero with weary eyes. The Wing Zero pilot sat back on his heels, surprised Duo didn't make a comment about the laptop. Flicking his eyes to Duo's dark blue stare, Heero ran a hand through his hair and began explaining.

"This is just a hunch, but... just preliminary research gives some interesting information," Heero said, his tone even. "The Preventers' annual budget is funded only in part by the Interstellar Council. The remainder of their financial needs can be met through donations, most of which are diverted by the President through his discretionary fund. This means that the Preventers are dependent on the current President's whim," Heero stated calmly.

"Who funds the President's discretionary fund?" Trowa prompted.

"A variety of organizations. Some of them are political action committees, others are special interest... the biggest contributor is an activist non-profit organization. As they have a specific purpose, their area of impact is supposed to be limited."

"What's the organization?" Duo canted his head at the laptop screen.

"Interstellar Gun Control Organization," Heero replied.

"Gun control means being able to hit the target," Duo muttered.

Heero raised an eyebrow and continued speaking. "The IGCO is one branch of the Interstellar Peace Resolution Alliance, the IPRA." He hit the laptop's keypad a few times and sat back on his heels with sigh. "Guess who's the founder of the IPRA, and in turn, the IGCO."

"The Winner Corporation," Trowa said quietly.

Heero nodded. "Which means, if the syndicates are funneling money to the President through the IGCO, bad publicity will probably reflect onto the founding organization."

"But not necessarily." Duo studied his fingernails.

"Quatre thinks in terms of probabilities, and how to narrow them down to the only future he wants to have happen," Heero said. "He learned that from the Zero system." He stared at the longhaired pilot, and was glad no one said what all three were probably thinking: Quatre learned many things from Zero, and none of them wanted to be facing down any of those things.

"So what does this mean?" Hilde shifted nervously, and sighed as Duo slipped an arm around her shoulders. On her other side, Trowa squeezed her hand tightly, for a second, before slipping out of her grasp to lean forward, studying the laptop screen.

"I would bet it's something to do with IGCO or IPRA that made Quatre decide our mission deserves his support," the dark-haired man said. Heero took a long swig from his beer and swirled the bottle a few times, studying the amber liquid.

"The Preventers," Hilde said suddenly. Her large eyes were fixed on the laptop, but slowly she raised them to meet Heero's gaze square on. "You said the money for the Preventers comes through the President, from his discretionary fund. The biggest contributor to the fund is the IPRA, of which a big section is an anti-gun organization. Am I right so far?"

"Hn." Heero scratched his nose, his mouth quirking at the edges. Wonder where she's going with this, the small voice said, laughing softly.

"Which means that when the President told Une to cut back for budgetary reasons, it wasn't because of the real budget but because he could take the money away if he chose. Joe's mission was to find out whether guns are being made and sold illegally, which Joe said was an important undercover mission because it fits with the current political priorities."

"Right." Duo was frowning, watching his best friend's face as she thought her way through the situation, out loud.

"But if the syndicate is donating money to IPRA--"

"Which we don't know for sure," Trowa interjected. Hilde acknowledged the comment with a curt nod and continued speaking.

"Okay, big if, but it makes sense to me. If you want to keep the competition down, you donate to the political movements that would make sure you can retain your monopoly. The syndicate supports the anti-gun movement, and uses its big bucks to pressure the President into shutting down any missions that would expose its gun smuggling operations."

"That's pretty straightforward," Trowa said, his eyebrows raised. His green eyes darted between Duo and Heero, and a smile tugged at his lips.

"Straightforward enough I feel like an idiot for not thinking of it sooner," Duo grumbled. Hilde nudged him and he sighed. "I do. We've been so fixated on getting up the ranks to where Joe was, that I just hadn't thought about the big picture."

"That's what Quatre's for," Heero replied. "That's always been what he does best."

"So the syndicate ordered Joe's death," Hilde said. "We're still no closer to finding out who specifically made the command."

There was another long silence, and Heero finished off the last of his beer. When he spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper. "I think Quatre's probably aiming for the President as the guilty party."

"How do you figure that?" Duo tilted his head at Heero, and the heavy braid slid across his shoulder to land in his lap. Without even looking, Duo automatically flipped it over his shoulder again.

"If the President was briefed as to the mission parameters, and gave Une the ultimatum of shutting Joe's mission down... then President Haune had to know he was signing a death warrant." Heero held up his hand as Hilde opened her mouth. When she closed it, he continued. "The President could have explained the situation to Une, and worked with her to continue Joe's mission or to discontinue it in the interest of keeping an agent alive."

"He didn't," Duo said. "So either he's really stupid, and didn't think she'd continue anyway... Or he wanted Une to continue the mission despite an agent's death, but had to appear ignorant for some reason."

"Which could mean the President is actually on our side," Hilde concluded. "I wonder if Quatre's thought about that."

Duo sighed and rubbed his forehead. "I don't know, and I can't even begin to comprehend the kinds of things Quatre must think about before breakfast, let alone the rest of the day. Let's just keep our eyes open for any books labeled 'secret accounting records' and otherwise keep doing what we've been doing. Agreed?"

His indigo eyes swept the group, noting each one's nod. Duo smiled as he leaned back, his mood immediately light-hearted with a cheerful smile to match as he spoke. "And tonight, we'll party like nobody's business, while happily bestowing tokens of paranoia on the L4 syndicate."

"It's a plan," Heero said, his grin smaller than Duo's but no less meaningful.

"One other thing." Duo stood up, stretching to work out the kinks. "It's almost six o'clock, and I'm starving. Dinnertime."

"Great!" Hilde said, beaming up at her friend. "What're you making?"

"Nothing for you," Duo taunted, throwing a sharp look in the direction of the costumes. "Unless... "

Hilde made a face at Duo and stood up, heading for the costume bags. "I'm Princess Kayuga, Heero is the Highwayman, Trowa is Puss-in-Boots, and you're Robin Hood."

Duo was quiet, but his eyebrows slowly went up. Hilde giggled and reached behind her to pull out the costume for the longhaired young man.

She laid out the dark green hood that would go over his head, covering his braid. There was a dark green tunic that laced at the neck. It looked long enough to reach to Duo's mid-thigh, and a brown belt that would sling loosely around his hips. There was a white shirt for under the tunic, a pair of low-cut brown boots, and a quiver of arrows. Lastly, Hilde pulled out the dark green leggings.

To Heero's complete astonishment, Duo regarded the Robin Hood costume for several long, silent, moments. Much of the time his gaze was clearly focused on the leggings laying next to the boots. Then the young man had simply nodded to himself and turned to his roommate with a cheeky grin.

"It's just a longer version of those stupid spandex, isn't it," he said.


On to Chapter thirty-one

Back to chapter twenty-nine

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