Drums of Heaven



Part Thirty-Five: The Dice Are Loaded

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
--- Leonard Cohen

Sixteen days until the convention, ten hours after mind-blowing sex. Heero smiled as he stared at the ceiling. Rolling over, he smiled even wider to see Duo's sleeping profile, and stretched in place before sitting up. It was then he noticed they were lying with only a foot between them, instead of what had been the normal two-foot distance. That's another good sign, the small voice in his head commented, and Heero was pleased to agree.

When they'd stopped moving, both consumed by their orgasms, Heero had held Duo for several minutes, startled at his good fortune and at the fact that Duo didn't pull away. Duo laughed self-consciously, though, when they started to move at the same time; their legs were starting to cramp from the awkward position. Aside from some more blushing by Duo when he brought back a wet washcloth from the bathroom, Heero considered that the whole evening had been a great success. He still hadn't gotten a good look at Duo's tattoo, nor found a time to ask, as Duo had gotten dressed immediately afterwards. Heero returned from his own trip to the bathroom to find Duo moving the laptop into the bedroom, and they'd spent the rest of the evening watched movies while eating German chocolate cake. There hadn't been a great deal of conversation, but the intermittent affection over the rest of the evening had been casual and comfortable.

But now it was five in the morning, and Heero's chance to sleep late wouldn't arrive for another two days. Yawning, he sent one more affectionate glance towards the other man, and grinned as Duo rolled over in his sleep to sprawl across the bed. Heero stepped over the remains of the Black Forest cake, slipped from the apartment, and headed to work.


Two days later, Heero awoke at eight in the morning, standard time, and again watched Duo sleep for several minutes before quietly getting up and dressing. Duo had gotten home at one in the morning the past two nights, and Heero considered that one more positive sign. Duo wasn't going out to the clubs with his coworkers. That deserves a reward, the inner voice said.

Heero contemplated this as he checked the kitchen, discovered there was no coffee, looked at the time, and decided to surprise Duo with breakfast. Or, he told himself, at least something to eat. He'd seen pastries at the local coffee shop where he bought coffee every morning. With a crooked grin, he put on his beaten-up leather jacket and let himself out.

Heero was startled by how full the coffee shop was on a Tuesday morning, but then reminded himself he was there two hours later than usual. Standing in line, he was studying the pastries in the counter display when someone bumped him from behind. When he didn't turn around, a deep voice whispered into his ear, and his back stiffened.

"Least you could do is say hello," the man said.

Heero turned around, slowly, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling. The tall black man was bald, and had a few inches on Heero. When the man grinned, his teeth flashed in his face, with a single gleam of gold. Heero canted his head, thought, and raised an eyebrow.


"At your service, Hito. What's your poison?"

The photographer realized they'd reached the head of the line, and he gave his order. It didn't reassure him when Sammy put in his order as well. The tall man glanced over at Heero, his eyebrows raised as he spoke. "You hungry?"

Heero shook his head. His appetite had just disappeared, and he could feel his face settling into the indifferent mask he hadn't worn for two months. It felt uncomfortable, and he took advantage of the moments checking his coffee to center himself. Sammy jerked his head towards a small table at the side of the seating area, and Heero followed without a word. The nearby tables were empty.

"What, no words of welcome for an old friend?" Sammy grinned expansively, then winced at the coffee. "Man, that's strong."

Heero nodded, and settled in to wait. He wondered if Duo was up by now, and doubted it.

Sammy watched him carefully, then grinned again, a predatory look as he leaned in close. "No, stop thinking that. Pops didn't send me, his bosses did. Someone had to come, and Enny stands out."

Heero grunted, as though bored.

"Green hair... gotta admit, a nice place like this? She practically screams, look at me!" Sammy chuckled, then switched topics abruptly, but the smile remained on his face. "What's your take on Trey?"

Heero gave himself a mental pat on the back for his lack of reaction. It wasn't what he was expecting, but he wasn't entirely certain what he'd thought his day would bring. It certainly wasn't to be interrupted by an L2 syndicate employee while buying pastries so he could seduce Duo into accepting a beginner's blowjob, the small voice in his head taunted. Heero shoved the thought away.

"Doesn't talk a lot," he finally offered.

"Right," Sammy said, a light-hearted sarcasm filling his tone. "Come on, Hito. You're our inside guy on this team, and the bosses want to know what you've heard or seen."

Something's come up, Heero thought, relieved to find his wartime training had no problem kicking in. Respiration, heartbeat, all normal. "Trey's loyal. Once he throws his lot in with someone, he won't budge. Any secrets he has, his own or someone else's, he'll protect."

"You think he's on the level?"

"Didn't say that." Heero sipped his coffee and narrowed his eyes at Sammy. "I didn't do background checks on the team. My job is being the muscle."

"And waiting tables," Sammy added, a grin creasing his face again. "Must be doing pretty good, too. Saw that dress you bought Enny. Looked expensive. She's something when she cleans up, eh? And not half-bad in bed, either."

Heero grunted and refused to ask the questions piling up in his head. Fortunately, Sammy saw no reason to remain silent.

"Those two years in Mongolia checked out, by the way," the bald man told him, leaning back in his chair as he swirled absently at the coffee with a swizzle stick. "It's something from before that, when he would've been... fifteen, sixteen, I guess."

"You discovered he was a law-abiding citizen."

Sammy laughed, throwing his head back, a loud, open-mouthed action. Settling down, he leaned forward, still grinning, but the predatory gleam was back in his deep brown eyes. "Worse. He was in the circus."

Heero made a point of letting his eyes widen, just a fraction. Sammy caught the expression, and chuckled softly.

"One of the files from the prison had a picture, and one of the bosses apparently used to take his daughters to the circus every time they come to L2." Sammy shrugged. "He's pretty sure Trey's the kid that was getting knives thrown at him, or some crap like that."

"Trey doesn't talk about himself." Heero drained the last of the coffee from his cup and gave Sammy a pointed look.

"Word is you got him to talk before," Sammy prompted, then rolled his eyes. "At that Mexican dive he likes so much. The bosses want you to keep an eye on him, let Pops know if you see anything suspicious. They're checking into it, but if he's a snitch, he's got someone really good covering his tracks, and that makes 'em worried."

"Or he really did work for the circus, and doesn't like to talk about it." Heero was tempted to crush his coffee cup, and settled for staring at Sammy, his expression unconcerned.

"That could be," Sammy said. "But if he steps out of line, or does anything suspicious, take him down."

Heero raised one eyebrow.

"Just out of the picture," the bald guy said, and grinned, his gold tooth flashing in the colony's morning light. "Don't let him screw up your job. Besides, if it turns out he's not who he says he is, the bosses will want to deal with him. Personally."

The ex-Gundam pilot nodded curtly.

Sammy chuckled softly and stood up. "I ain't gonna kiss you goodbye or nothin', but you can finish my coffee. I recommend it highly. You might like what you find." With that, he touched a finger to his forehead and strolled from the shop, whistling as he waved good day to the girl behind the counter.

Heero sat for several seconds, then picked up Sammy's cup, swirling it for several seconds before pouring the dark liquid into his own cup. Nonchalantly, he glanced down at the now-empty cup, his suspicions confirmed. There, at the bottom, in a small pool of coffee, sat a bright pink romchip. Tossing Sammy's cup back, Heero let the romchip slide into his mouth. He kept his face expressionless, and got up, carrying both cups. Pitching them in the trash, he purchased two more cups of coffee, two apple pastries, and left the coffee shop.

He didn't think he was in the mood for a blowjob any more.


Heero set the coffee and the bag of pastries next to Duo's side of the bed. A minute later he returned to the bedroom with the laptop, setting it up at the foot of the bed. Duo was curled up under the covers, only his braid and one hand visible. Heero stepped around the futon and seated himself cross-legged on his side of the bed. A few seconds later the hand moved, and the covers were pulled back to reveal Duo's deep blue eyes blinking sleepily at Heero. When the Wing Zero pilot didn't say anything, Duo frowned, rubbed at his eyes with the heel of his hand, and sat up.


"Brought breakfast. We're out of coffee."

"Oh." Duo yawned, stretched, and saw the clock. "Shit, it's nine-thirty. You woke me up before noon?" He pulled his braid forward, investigated the extent of post-sleep disarray, and flipped the braid back over his shoulder with a shrug. Duo then picked up one of the coffee cups and started to hand it to Heero. "Breakfast in bed... wow."

"The syndicate's found out Trowa was with the circus." Heero said it in a flat, conversational tone. Fortunately his hand was out, and he managed to snag the cup before Duo, shocked, dropped it on the futon. "Sammy came to L4 to tell me to keep an eye on Trowa. Take him out if he sabotages the job."

"Fuck." Duo was now wide-awake, staring blindly at the pastry bag in his other hand.

"Any way to warn Trowa, before he gets here?" Heero blew on the coffee and took a sip. "Does Hilde have a way to get a hold of him?"

"Yeah, but that means emailing her, figuring out a coded way to say it, and hoping she understands what it means so she can tell Trowa." Duo shook his head. "If they're watching Trowa, they're probably watching Hilde's email, to see if she's aware of his real identity. Best to keep her in the dark for as long as possible."

"Our silence could risk the real mission."

"It'd risk more, if I accidentally outed Hilde to the syndicate." Duo held up his cup, pointing one finger at Heero. "It'd also incriminate you, since it'd be a clear sign that you talked to me, and I talked to Hilde... "

Heero knew, but he didn't have to like it. He leaned over and fished one of the pastries from the bag.

"That's it? Just, Trowa was in the circus, watch him?"

"Of course not." Heero dug into his pocket and pulled out the romchip, handing it to Duo. "Sammy also gave me this. Since I don't have the technology to decrypt it, and I don't know the algorithms, I'm guessing he meant me to give it to you."

Duo turned the romchip over his hand, and sighed. "I knew this job sounded too easy." Catching Heero's skeptical expression, Duo waved his other hand dismissively. "Not the waiting tables part. That's hell, definitely. But the real job -- get into the convention, listen to people talking, and get out? That's too low-key for a team like ours. Thing is, why'd they not tell us before now? Why send us in thinking that's all we'd need to do?"

"Maybe it was, and something's changed. We've been here since the first of December. A lot can happen in a month and a half."

"I guess. You moved the laptop in here?" Duo rubbed his forehead and crawled under the covers until his head reappeared at the bottom of the bed. Leaning over from the futon, he reached out and snagged his duffel bag from its spot by the wall and dragged it onto to the futon. Within a minute he'd set up the romchip decoder, attached it to the laptop, and started running the program. "All set. Depending on the size of the files, it may be done in two or three hours. Might be longer."

Heero nodded and finished off the last of his pastry.

Duo sipped his coffee and checked the romchip decryption program a last time. He turned to Heero. "So what was the purpose of breakfast in bed, anyway?"

"We're out of coffee," Heero replied.

"In that case, I've had my coffee, then I'll have my pastry, and then leave me alone so I can a few more hour's sleep." Duo stuck his lower lip out, and bit down on the pastry.

Heero struggled not to smile at the alluring picture of Duo, half-asleep, attempting to pout. "I'll wake you at eleven," he offered, getting up from the futon. "And then you can fix me lunch to make up for being so cranky."

Duo set the half-eaten pastry aside and arranged the covers around him. Looking up, he grinned at the young man standing in the bedroom doorway. "You gonna want dessert with that?"


Bored, Heero realized the laundry was three days overdue. He made himself a quick lunch, and set the alarm for Duo as he quietly collected dirty clothes from the bedroom. He debated silently the possibility of going down to the laundry room later, but knew waiting until after lunch meant running the wash while the dryers were taken up with other people's loads. He didn't want to sit there while he waited, but clothes left unattended, in his experience, seemed to disappear. Sighing, he grabbed his latest book and trudged down to the apartment's first floor. If he was done in an hour, he could be back to enjoy a few hours of Duo's time before his roommate left for the hotel's second shift.

When he returned, Duo was gone. A note was waiting on the countertop. Someone in the hotel's café had called in sick, and Duo had agreed to cover. Heero stared at the note for several seconds, then crumpled it into a ball and threw it in the trash, swearing under his breath. He ran a hand through his hair and glared at the basket of clean clothes at his feet.

The decryption program didn't finish running until mid-afternoon. He contemplated opening the files, then decided to let Duo deal with it. Instead, he minimized the program and opened up a window for the hacker's forum. It had been three days since either of the pilots had checked in, but Heero didn't want to bother going down to the nearby bookstore and dealing with the colony's winter for the second time on his day off.

Rat was chatting in the main window when the dove's wing avatar appeared. Pinky and Snake were present, and from the looks of things, were arguing over the merits of the new water-cooled circuit boards for the DF4500 series slimtops.

"You can't crack the bios," Pinky was saying. The avatar wriggled its pigtails at Heero's avatar without breaking for pause in typing. "The whole value of the slimtops is portability. If you can't crack the bios, they're no good for vid-phone linking."

"Why bother?" Snake's avatar hissed momentarily. "If you've got one of the RX34 palms, you can link that to any vid, jump in the public system for free, and it won't attract half as much attention as a slimtop."

"The palms have storage of only six gig," Pinky retorted.

"Ignore them," Rat told Heero. "They've been arguing about this for two days now."

Heero grinned at the screen. "Any news on the files?"

"About halfway done," the forum leader reported. "But I gotta tell ya, I'm not sure we're on the right track."


"It just seems too straightforward."

Pinky jumped in. "We ran the program revision you suggested, and no significant number strings have shown up in any of the emails. There's vid-phone numbers, social security numbers... "

"A few credit card numbers," Snake added. "Morons."

"We also ran a sort on the emails by destination, and there are plenty going to political persons and major companies on earth," Rat typed. "So we flagged those, as well. It's fascinating reading, sometimes, but it all looks like what lobbyists say to each other. Who's voting on what positions, gossip about who's sleeping with whom in the Council--"

"--My favorite part," Snake commented.

"I'm not sure what you're looking for." The rat avatar flicked its whiskers a few times. "We have our suspicions though, since Deathscythe asked about gun models and politicians. But we can't find anything of one, and too much of the other, and all of it pretty innocent-looking."

"They might be speaking in code," Pinky suggested. "Talking about rutabagas to mean handguns, lettuce to mean ammunition. But we've run the program for common words appearing in the emails we flagged for source and destination, and there's no real consistency. And nothing unusual in word choices."

Heero frowned, and stared at the screen for a long minute as he considered the situation. He was certain the hackers were right; they'd had their noses in the emails now for nearly three weeks. If anyone would be familiar with the content by now, and noticed any patterns, it would be the hackers, and he trusted them to be smart enough to discover something if it was there to be found. He doubted vid-phones were used for correspondence, given the difficulty of earth-to-space transmissions. Flying people back and forth would eventually alert someone, especially if those people were connected to the syndicate. Email was more reliable, and more secure. Unless, the little voice jeered, a team of bored teenage hackers were put on the job. Heero wondered what Quatre's team of hackers were finding, on their end. If his own team was any indication, he doubted Quatre had had much more success.

"Any ideas?" Snake prompted.

"Frankly, no," Heero replied. "Where's Mike?"

"Doing homework," Pinky replied. The avatar shook like it was laughing. "Kid nearly lost that top grade Deathscythe faked for him."

"Tell him to study harder," Heero typed. "Keep at organizing the rest of the emails into those categories, and we'll think on it from here. I'll get back in touch with you soon. Over and out."

Heero logged off, and stared into the middle distance, his gaze unfocused, for several minutes. Finally getting up, he shrugged on his coat and headed out for the local bookstore. He'd explain the situation to Duo, and see if the man's unpredictable mind could come up with any ideas. In the meantime, he needed a distraction so his own mind could start to puzzle out how the syndicate could possibly be communicating with the President.



On to Chapter thirty-six

Back to chapter Thirty-four

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