Part Forty: Aches Like Tetanus
Seasons of war and peace,
these should not be forgotten years
Still it aches like tetanus, it reeks of politics
--- Rob Hirst
Ellen Marie Scott.
Architect. Thirty-nine years old. Five foot two, a hundred and twelve pounds. Partner to Mei Xing Lee, L4 businesswoman. Hispanic, light brown skin, brown hair, green eyes. Habit of dressing in red.
Nicholas Michael Volkov.
Accountant, former military. Forty-one years old. Six foot one, two hundred and five pounds. Brother to Peter Ustov Volkov, L4 Senator. Russian, pale skin, red hair, brown eyes. Walks with a limp from war injury.
Ninaj Janice Desir.
Professor of anthropology, former military. Twenty-nine years old. Five foot five, a hundred and twenty-seven pounds. Cousin to James Patrick Raoul, L4 anti-trust lawyer. Haitian, dark skin, brown hair, brown eyes. Distinctive blonde streak at forehead.
Computer programmer. Fifty-six years old. Five foot eleven, a hundred and eighty-two pounds. Partner to Megumi Miyamura, L4 Interstellar Trading Association representative. Asian, golden skin, black hair, gray eyes. Wears hair in ponytail, tends to stay seated while wife socializes.
Ian Christopher Ross.
Sculptor, former military. Forty-three years old. Six foot two, two hundred and fifteen pounds. Partner to Vincent Joseph Borja, L4 syndicate operative. British, pale skin, blond hair, blue eyes. Trained in self-defense and firearms.
Iria Winner Marlowe.
Doctor. Twenty-six years old. Five foot eight, a hundred and thirty-five pounds. Married to Martin Abdul Marlowe, L4 businessman. Arab, pale skin, blonde hair, blue eyes. Shy, rarely leaves husband's side in social gatherings. Elder sister of Quatre Raberba Winner.
Eleven days to mission start.
Heero had stayed late after work to survey the location. He had been satisfied to see there was a raised platform for the orchestra, and a balcony area surrounding the dance floor and seating area. Large columns around the room would provide cover, but he didn't have a chance to go upstairs, and made a mental note to do that the next day. Staff was setting up for an event, and he didn't want to be seen poking around too much prior to the convention.
Once home, he grabbed a beer from the fridge and settled himself on a floor pillow in front of the laptop. He'd memorized the target stats that morning, before leaving for work. In the mid-afternoon dullness of colony light pouring through the window, he reviewed the stats, testing himself on identifying the photographs of each target along with their identifying marks or habits. When he was satisfied he could quote the information in his sleep, and pick each out of a lineup cold, Heero closed the file and opened the next.
Quickly he reviewed Duo's shopping list, and checked their joint email. No word had arrived from Frank. Heero tapped his finger against the keyboard, aimless for a minute, and a little frustrated. He'd been hoping for a chance to get the AR-15 in his hands, ahead of time. Some of Duo's modification requests were ones Heero wouldn't have chosen, and the handling would be affected.
He squashed the frustrated feelings and focused on centering himself. Taking a deep breath, he put his hands back on the keyboard and quickly opened a window for the hacker's forum. The entire crew was in the forum, along with six or seven aliases that he didn't recognize.
"And then some bastard launched several nasty viruses on my favorite forum," Mike was complaining.
"Your fault for watching daytime soaps during your lunch break," Pinky told him.
"Shut up, you pink freak," Snake retorted. "I know you watch those stupid hospital shows."
"But why shut down a forum," the Hand whined. "It's not like it was doing anything bad. We're just fans."
Heero shook his head and typed a greeting. "Wing here."
Rat's response was immediate and startling.
"Forum on lockdown. Timmie, CeeTee, Wynne, Bones, Yindi, Dix, and Ngal, you're out of here. Come back in an hour." The Rat's whiskers wiggled, and the seven avatars one by one disappeared from the channel. "IP logged. Leave and come back, full security," Rat continued, and Heero found himself suddenly alone in an empty forum with Rat.
"You, too, Wing," Rat said. "We've got to talk to you, and we don't want anyone listening. Check out and come back in, and we'll verify it's you. Make sure you don't log off and back on completely, or we'll lose your assigned DSN."
"Roger that," Heero typed, and closed the window. He immediately reopened it, and was pleased to see the forum no longer appeared on the 'net. Instead, he had to hack into the system, waited for a second while he was confirmed, and then the window reappeared. Most of the avatars were back. Snake and Rat appeared a second later.
Heero waited, figuring the hackers would let him know what was going on.
"We want to talk to you," Pinky started. "We've done nearly all the email decoding, and this... " The avatar's pink pigtails shook a few times. "This is some major shit, man."
"Yes, it is." Heero sighed. He'd been worried about something like this.
The Hand gave Heero's dove wing the finger. "Wing, this is M-A-J-O-R-S-H-I-T, not just your everyday major shit."
"Mike, no disrespecting elite hackers," Rat snapped, but didn't boot the avatar. The forum was already locked down. Instead, the Rat twirled its white Frisbee and was silent for a moment. "The emails are pretty clear. There's major gun traffic going on between the Asian Yakuza, the Russian Mafia, and the American Underworld, in conjunction with the Colony syndicates. The emails list times, dates, amounts, locations... everything. They obviously didn't expect anyone to come poking around."
"I've seen the movies," Mike added. "People get killed for finding out this kind of stuff."
"You won't get killed," Heero told him. "They don't know you know, and that's the only thing keeping you safe."
"What we want to know is what you're going to do about it," Rat interjected. "We've got no problem helping you, but we signed up to help you find Deathscythe and Heavyarms. And now we're decoding gun smuggling operations. That's a big jump, y'know?"
"Do you want out?" Heero prepared to be shut out while the team discussed it, and was surprised when the response was immediate.
"No way," Snake replied. "I'm in this, to the end."
"Me too," Pinky replied.
Rosie's avatar waved, and the alligator and star avatars indicated their agreement as well. The rat wriggled its whiskers. There was a pause, and Heero waited for Mike to respond.
"I guess so," Mike finally said. "But I don't want to go to jail. My mom would ground me for life."
"You won't go to jail," Heero replied. "You're doing Preventers work now."
"We are?" Rat's avatar blinked. "You're a Preventer, all this time? Crap. We've broken a bunch of laws already."
"We can't play fair. The syndicate isn't." Heero shrugged.
"Good point," Snake muttered.
"So what do we do? Just sit on this information?" The pink-haired avatar shook its pigtails again.
"I say we go to the media," Rosie suddenly said.
"What are we going to tell them?" Snake was irritated. "Hey, we're a bunch of kids who just happened to break into a server and just happened to download a bunch of spam and just--"
"I have an idea," Mike interrupted.
"Go ahead," Heero said. His lips twitched, just the beginnings of a smile. He'd been counting on Mike to come up with something. The kid's mind was as unpredictable as Duo's.
"I was looking at the headers, and there's about sixteen email addresses in the main box plus the real one." The Hand wiggled its fingers nervously. "I was bored yesterday, so I checked out the addresses that show up in every email, and none of them exist. They're all fake. Only one or two in each header is a real one. So I created an address, and spoofed the ISP to be the same as the spam."
"And?" Rat was getting testy.
"I started getting spam," Mike replied quietly. "Starting right away. And I decoded it, and it's all the latest information."
"All from the L2 syndicate?" The Wing Zero pilot leaned forward, amused and expectant.
"Nope. It's from everybody."
The room was completely silent.
"Everybody?" Rat finally typed.
"Everybody," Mike confirmed. "I got one this morning at about two standard time, that says there's a request for a shipment of Kotangs silencer modifications for L3, and fifteen minutes later an answering email from someone else, on L1 I think, saying they don't have any but they think some guy named Petronelli might have some. They were forwarding the email."
"And?" The Wing Zero pilot felt his face break into a grin.
"They cc'd the spamming addresses."
"They're just cutting and pasting the list of fake addresses?" Pinky's avatar shook its head. "Morons."
"Second that," Snake typed. "Even if it gives us a lucky break, we're still dealing with morons."
"It's like bugging them," Rosie said, and the red flower bounced a few times. "But instead of bugging them, you just let them send to you."
"What about the bounce?" Rat's avatar shook its Frisbee. "Mailer daemons handle email sent to nonexistent addresses. If they don't get sixteen bounces, they'll know someone's listening."
"I don't think so," Mike said, but the fingers on his avatar drooped slightly. "The ISP I spoofed is starnet-dot-net, and it really exists. Operates out of Denmark. It's just the specific address that didn't exist."
"Besides," Pinky added, "the spam is encoded. They'll probably change or drop that address, and not worry about it. Who's going to pay attention to a jumble of letters and numbers anyway?"
"I think the risk is worth it," Heero interrupted. "Mike, make sure there's nothing that can connect you to that email address."
"I'm routing it through an anonymous relay," Mike assured the dark-haired man.
"Good." Heero sighed. "We'll keep that line of observation open as long as possible. If you stop getting traffic, wait two or three days before picking up another address."
"How long are we going to have to listen?" Snake asked.
"Not too long, I think. Just compile what you've got. I want a report on what traffic is going where, who's doing what, and any other information you can pull from the emails."
"You mean like a full picture of the operations?" Allie raised his top hat and shook it at the dove's wing. "What's the deadline?"
"I've got a big project coming through in eleven days. Between now and then, something big may go down, and I want to see what the syndicates have to say to each other."
"You're not looking for gun smuggling," Snake suddenly typed. "You're looking for gossip."
His perceptiveness amused Heero, who grinned at the forum window. "Exactly. Keep me informed. Over and out."
Seven days to mission start.
Each pilot had spent the time before and after work studying the guest list, time schedules, plans, maps, and target information. Now, five days after meeting with Frank, Heero's day off had finally rolled around. He woke at nine, and got up with a sigh. This would be the first time he and Duo could review the plans, after Duo had to work on his day off to make up for taking a sick day. Groggy, he ran a hand through his hair and stumbled into the bathroom to shower and shave.
Fifteen minutes later he was staring making coffee, staring blindly out the window as he waited for Duo to wake up. An hour had passed and he was bored enough to haul Duo bodily from bed. Instead he busied himself second-guessing Duo's planned explosives diagrams.
"Hey... coffee?" The soft voice was bleary, but the footsteps were still silent. Heero nodded in response, and went back to staring at the schematics. Duo joined him a minute later, hands clasped tightly around the mug, and seated himself cross-legged on the nearest pillow. "Can I have a chance to wake up?"
"It's already ten, Duo," Heero replied sternly. "You left me a note that said you have to go in at one. That doesn't give us a lot of time."
Duo yawned and nodded, rubbing his eye with a sleeve as he yawned. "Okay. What have we got?"
"Frank's confirmed delivery of handguns. Everything else is in transit, barring further changes." Heero dragged the stack of schematics over and laid them out, upside down, so Duo could read them. "The first day consists of meetings. Dancers will be entertaining during lunch and dinner, with the hookers and callboys in attendance."
Duo nodded. "Surveillance only."
"Delivery must happen before eight standard time the morning of the twenty-sixth. Kimbers placed here, here, and here." Heero pointed to various locations. "There are large palm plants resting on dollies. The handguns for Enny and Hilde will be placed under the ones just outside the port entrance. Trowa's will be inside the electrical panel back left stage."
"It's rarely used, and locked. Frank's guys can jimmy the lock and snap it enough so it'll only take a blow to break."
Duo nodded, his gaze sharp as he looked over the plans. His deep blue eyes scanned the guest list, and then across the hotel site plan, resting again on the electrical panel marked with a small X.
"That going to be enough room for the AK-15?" He sipped on his coffee and gave Heero a measuring look.
"No." Heero's voice was steady. "It'll contain one of the Kimbers, and two magazines, loaded."
"What about the rifle?"
"Here." The Wing Zero pilot's finger landed on a spot at the other end of the convention hall, opposite the stage and on the balcony. "There's a storage closet there, used by the maid service. The AR-15 will be stored in a duct behind the table linen shelves, along with another Kimber and two magazines."
"And Trowa is going to get to that how?" Duo raised one eyebrow, but his tone was bland.
Deep blue met dark gray, and the room was perfectly silent for several long heartbeats.
"Put the Kimber in the maid's closet, and you can cover for him. Find a location to stash the AR-15, where Trowa can get it from the stage."
"Yes. Put the Kimber--"
"I heard you the first time." Heero's only movement was to adjust the grip on his mug.
A muscle flickered in Duo's jaw, and his eyes narrowed. The mid-morning light bounced off his pupils, darkening the blue into a purple, highlighting the edges of his eyes to silver crescents like a scythe's blade. He didn't smile, and Heero was surprised to find he preferred Duo's jester smile over this strangely blank expression.
"Clean out your ears, then," Duo replied, softly. "I want Trowa on the--"
"No." Heero held Duo's gaze, refusing to be intimidated. "I'm the assassin. I will do this. Trowa will cover me, from the stage, and make sure Hilde and Enny get out of there. We have no room for failure."
"I see," Duo said. His voice was sibilant, and he gently set his coffee mug on the floor. Without taking his eyes from Heero, Duo came to his feet, a gracefully feline move, and stalked past Heero to stare out the window. There was a long pause, and Heero waited.
Trowa won't have the time to prepare, emotionally, let alone physically, Heero thought, arranging his mind in a logical order of argument. Five years wasn't enough time to undo my training, he continued silently, bracing himself for the explosive anger he could feel rolling off Duo. I've been working as an assassin for more than half my life, and we need my skills to make this job a success. If we fail, the cost could be our own lives. There's no other--
Heero opened his mouth, realized what Duo had said, and closed his jaw.
Finally there was a rustle at the window, and Heero lifted his head, listening carefully.
"I don't want you to do it," the Deathscythe pilot whispered, but his voice was hollow.
Heero turned his head to see Duo was still looking out the window. Annoyed, Heero stood up, tilting his head as he watched the shorter man. "The job --"
"I'm not arguing with you." Duo didn't turn around. He was standing with his feet shoulder-width apart, arms crossed as he stared out into the colony's downtown sector. "I was just saying it for the record." Duo shrugged, and looked over his shoulder at Heero. His braid swayed behind him with the movement. There was a distant smile playing on Duo's lips, but it faded quickly. "Not much of a record we'll leave behind, though, will we." He turned, dropping his arms and kneeling as he picked up the list of locations for the explosive charges.
Heero leaned against the wall and let his head drop. Wary, he watched Duo from beneath the overgrown bangs shadowing his eyes. Duo was sitting on his heels, plucking the papers aside and letting them drop, searching for something.
"Here's the time table of the second day's schedule. I want you placing charges here, here, and here." Duo's finger stabbed at the arboretum and the top-floor gallery. "At six o'clock, when the dignitaries arrive for dinner, I'll go upstairs. I'm taking Enny with me, to run interference in case any of the rooms are being watched. She can distract any guards while I get in and get out."
"You know which rooms to hit?" Heero kept his voice steady, his face in mission mode.
Shinigami flashed that icy grin, and shrugged casually. "I'll get the list the morning the convention starts. Suze's boyfriend is at the front desk. I'm sure he'd be willing to print out a list of the final rooms for me, if I promise to cover Suze so they can make out in a closet somewhere."
Heero nodded, and returned to his seat opposite Duo.
"This is the laundry chute, which lets out down here... " Duo flipped through the schematics, pulling out the floor plan for the hotel's staff areas in the basement. "At seven o'clock, you've got to get Jeet into the staff areas, and he'll wait here... "
They continued reviewing the parameters, tightening up the plans, until Duo had to leave for work.
Heero sorted the papers, reviewing the plans one more time before carefully stacking them away. His chest was aching, and it took a second before he realized his hands were shaking. The dark-haired man placed both hands on the floor and leaned over, steadying himself with deep breaths as his hair fell in his face, blinding him.
The scent of curry and wine lingered on the floor pillow beneath his knees. Heero swallowed hard and sat back, and continued straightening up the printouts. Sighing, he raised the list of targets before him, reviewing the list automatically. The rote action calmed him, and he steeled his heart into a position of indifference as he read out the list of names.
Ellen Marie Scott. Nicholas Michael Volkov. Ninaj Janice Desir. Shuiichi Miyamura. Ian Christopher Ross. Iria Winner Marlowe.
He rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand, and set the list down. He still had laundry to do, and it was time to clean the bathroom again. Then he'd trade in his used books at the nearby bookstore, and see if there was anything new on the shelves since he'd last stopped by. He'd finished off the leftovers the night before, and he figured maybe he'd get some carry-out Chinese and pick up a movie while he was out. Cataloging the mundane evening tasks were oddly comforting, and Heero barely registered his automatic mental statement when he stacked Duo's list of tasks on top of the pile.
Seven days to mission start.