Drums of Heaven

Part Six: For All I Care

You say love is a hell you cannot bear
And I say gimme mine back and then go there,
for all I care
--- Fiona Apple

Duo was waiting for them at the diner.

Heero and Hilde had spent the day in the hospitality section of the tourism satellite. The hotels, used by holiday visitors as well as corporate guests, were concentrated in the satellite's third sector, away from the theme parks, museums, shopping malls, and entertainment multiplexes. Heero was relieved they could avoid the first and second sectors, and the need to claw their way past hundreds of screaming children and frazzled adults. It was enough work dealing with Hilde's bad mood.

She was silent company at breakfast, but the food was decent. Afterwards Hilde led the way to the large hotel where the mark would be staying. She had apparently intended to use the map and make notes of her observations, but Heero was ready with an idea of his own.

Using the digital camera in his jacket pocket, he stationed Hilde at specific points and captured every view she wanted. It meant a hundred pictures of her, which she grumbled about for a moment, but once she saw the previews she decided to overlook that detail. The only drawback was that well-meaning tourists frequently offered to take pictures of them together. There were now about twenty pictures in the collection that Heero was busy deleting as he followed Hilde to their final stop, a small diner on the edge of the employee's residential sector. That's where Duo was waiting when they walked through the door.

Within seconds it was clear that Duo was in professional mode, and Heero noted the change with a barely-covered sigh of relief. Deathscythe's pilot had ordered beers for himself and Hilde, and tea for Heero. The dark-haired man grunted to himself. He would've liked a glass of whiskey, but he doubted this dive would have it.

"What'd ya get," Duo asked Hilde once the orders were made and the menus removed. Hilde laid out the maps she'd purchased, and began explaining the traffic patterns she'd observed. When she paused, Heero set the camera down and pushed it across the table.

"Hey, isn't that--" Duo asked excitedly as he picked up the camera, then his mouth shut suddenly, cutting off his own words. He flipped the camera over and began sorting the images on the view screen. Nodding at a few points, he suddenly grinned at the girl. "Check that, Hel. Gotta print me that one."

"What?" Hilde leaned over, frowned, and smacked Duo. "Do your job. Did I get enough?"

"Mostly," Duo said with a shrug. He tucked the camera in his pocket. "I'll download the 'pegs when I get back to the ship. You find the place for meeting Trey?"

"Yeah," Hilde replied. The food arrived, and the table was quiet for several minutes while they took the edge off their hunger.

"Anything else worth noting?" Duo pushed his empty plate away from him and signaled the waitress for another beer. He hadn't asked anyone in particular, so Heero decided to chance it.

"Saw couple of middle-eastern looking men, same ones, several times. Clothes too nice for employees, too cheap for guests. Maybe exterior security."

"What's your point?" Duo's voice had gone from casual to immediately defensive. There was a thump from under the table and he scowled at Hilde. "Worth noting, I said."

Heero refrained from answering, letting his gaze slide away to watch the rest of the diner. Beside him Hilde was wrapping up the maps and the scribbled notes. She shoved the bundle at Duo.

"I'm off to meet Trey," she informed them. "Get back to the shuttle, you two, and I expect to find you both alive and in one piece when I return."

"Take him with you, then," Duo muttered. "I'm not interested."

"I'll wait here," Heero interjected. Neither of the other two replied, until Duo nodded. Heero caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and automatically turned to look. The thief was already gone. Hilde was staring at the table, her face showing a mix of frustration and sadness as she chewed on her lower lip. Heero raised an eyebrow at her, and she shook her head.

"I'll be back in an hour," she told him, and was quickly gone as well.


Heero waited five minutes before tossing a handful of credits on the table. There was a 'net café a few doors down, and he needed to check in. It was a bit of a hassle getting through the forum's security with an unfamiliar ISP, but he finally managed to navigate the system, spoof his home IP, and log in.

Heero was aggravated to see he hadn't managed to completely fool the security when he discovered he had a yellow smiley-face avatar. "Damn it, guys," he typed without preamble. "This is Wing."

"Prove it," Hand replied. Pinky wasn't in; Rat and Snake were listed as busy but present.

"Tell Rat I got his bank notice."

"It worked?" Mike the Hand made his avatar flick Heero off. "Sloppy, to use that account!"

"It was on purpose," Heero replied. "Set a time and location for last known activity."

"Did you find Deathscythe?" Rat was back on active in the window. Snake's avatar was flicking its tongue at Heero's smiley face. A minute later the smiley face was replaced with a dove's wing.

Heero's lips quirked. "Yeah," he said. "But it's SNAFU."

"So the mission isn't complete." Rat's avatar did a little dance.

"Not even close," the man typed after some thought. "Any news on the track bots?"

"Some," Rat typed. "Pinky's been working on that. She had to go. I can get her back, if you've got ten."

"I don't," Heero replied. "Can you summarize?"

"She thinks the track bots are actually piggybacking email relays."


"They carry encrypted messages. We've been running them through various programs, trying to break down the security. So far, no proof her theory's right but we're working on it."

"Good. I'll check in when I can."

"Got a lot of money in your account." Snake's avatar positively smirked.

"Touch it, and I'll fry your hardboards." Heero's avatar waved back.

"This is me quaking!" Hand jumped in with a taunt, and then switched topics. "So about the cloaking mechanism?"

"I'll get you the answer next time I'm around and have time," Heero promised. He logged off without further word, sitting back as he wiped the terminal of its record of his activities.

Track bots used as message relays.

Who would be messaging who, and why through such an intricate system? They couldn't be time-dependent messages, since it could take a day or two in the decoding process. Ignoring, of course, the difficulty of moving through the system without alerting anyone else. Too much traffic in and out of any relay server hosting the nested track bots would immediately alert any server administrators as to the bots' existence.

The photographer glared at the blank terminal screen. He'd spent five years trying to learn how to express himself, trying to get used to offering explanations and asking for them rather than just going everything alone. And for all that, every answer just brought more questions. It was overwhelming.

Heero got up from the terminal with a sigh, and headed back to the diner to wait for Hilde's return.


"Got a job for you," Hilde said the next morning as she entered the bunkroom without knocking. She dumped a bag on Trowa's bed and stepped up on the edge, hauling herself up so she could see over the upper bunk. Heero glanced over, his chin resting on his forearms as he lay on his stomach.


"Laundry. Money's in the outer pocket. Everything on cold, it's easier. Throw in your own stuff, there's plenty to pay for it." She took his breakfast tray and let herself down, then sniffed. "Trey's laundry should be easy to find. Follow the smell."

Heero got down once she'd gone. Collecting his dirty clothes and Trowa's, he piled everything into the bag and headed to the Laundromat she'd pointed out the day before.

It was mid-afternoon before he'd returned, having extended his time away from the ship's tense atmosphere by folding everything neatly while at the Laundromat. Duo's clothes were easy to identify, being nothing but black jeans, black socks, and black long-sleeve shirts. Heero balked at discovering Hilde wore brightly colored silk underwear consisting of about three inches of fabric, but was relieved to see her bras were more respectable athletic gear. He could only take so much. Trowa's laundry was nothing but blue jeans, long-sleeved turtlenecks, and white boxers. Heero grinned wryly to himself, remembering the tallest pilot's unvarying style during the wars.

Everything was packed back into the bag. He contemplated stopping by the 'net café again, but decided against it, opting instead to duck into a newsstand for something to read. He paused for several minutes over the latest issues of LensArtist and PhotoWord, and then passed them over in favor of less revealing choices on interstellar news, business, and politics. Grabbing two pulp novels at random from the stand, he paid for his purchases and headed back to the ship.

He was nearly to the docking bay when he saw a shape out of the corner of his eye that looked familiar and instinctively slowed down to check it out. There was a couple sitting on a cargo box, about thirty feet from the ship, with their backs to the main walkway between the bays. The long auburn braid snaking down the man's back, its tip just grazing his belt, was the giveaway.


Seated next to him was Hilde, her black hair ruffled and flyaway against the collar of her shirt. Duo's arm was around her, and her head was resting on Duo's shoulder. Heero paused, wondering if he should continue walking, but curiosity got the better of him. Stealthily he moved closer, keeping a shoulder-high stack of cargo boxes between himself and the couple.

" ...six months," Hilde was saying. Her words were muffled, and Heero had to concentrate to pick out the timbre of her voice over the ambient noise of the mid-afternoon docking station. "Can't... I know he'd want... "

"Hilde," Duo's voice said, louder, a little annoyed. "Gotta hang in there. You're doing a great job."

"You say that," she replied. "But I keep... I miss... "

Heero couldn't catch any more of what she was saying, but he watched her head dipping down into the curve of Duo's neck and shoulder, and realized the girl's back was shaking gently. Duo's arm moved. He was rubbing her lower back in circles, and his cheek rested on the top of her head.

"Look," Duo suddenly said, louder. Heero chanced another glimpse, and saw Duo had turned on the box to face Hilde, lifting her chin up with a finger to look into her eyes. The overhead lights picked up the reflection of a tear, poised on her jaw. "I love ya, babe. If... "

"No," she interrupted, putting a hand up over Duo's lips. Her position, turned to see Duo, made her words finally understandable. "I love you, too, Duo, but you deserve better than being my consolation prize."

There was a deep sigh, and when Heero looked again, Duo was hugging Hilde tightly.

"And I won't be yours, either," she was saying.


Heero left the bag with Hilde's and Duo's clothes in the hallway outside their door. He'd pondered leaving the bag inside their room, but wasn't interested in having the action misread as a violation of privacy. The bruises on his face were fading nicely. No reason to freshen them up now with a misstep.

He left Trowa's clothes on the lower bunk and put away his own clothes. He hopped up onto his bunk, lay on his stomach facing the window, and busied himself with reading.

The bunkroom's door was half-open, allowing some air exchange in the otherwise still cabin. There was a whoosh as the loading door was opened, and Duo's heavy tread in the hallway, followed by Hilde's lighter steps. Heero paused in the middle of turning a page and wondered whether the thief's noisy movement was intentional advance warning. Duo had always moved nearly as cat-silent as Heero.

"Laundry? Hel," Duo chided. "How'd this happen?"

"Didn't see you volunteering," she retorted. Her voice floated through the half-open door behind the two. "Besides, I'm still recovering from turning Trey's boxers green."

"He wasn't that mad about it!"

"He was too," she replied, her tone a little sullen. "He almost had an expression on his face."

"He always has an expression," Duo said, laughing. "It's called a poker face." The door to the other bunkroom skated open, and there was a thump and a sliding sound. One of the two had kicked the bag into the room. The conversation got quieter for a few minutes, then the bunkroom door opened again.

"I'll be back in an hour," Duo said, his voice echoing down the main passageway.

"Day!" Hilde's voice was an exasperated cry. "Here, too?"

"Every port," came the reply. "If I didn't, you'd think I was coming down with something."

"Keep it up and you will."

"Squeamish?" His tone was light.

"Me? No... it's just... Oh!" She made an aggravated sound, between a snort and a cry. "You and Trey!" Something hit the wall in the hallway, and Duo started laughing again.

"We're men, or haven't you noticed?"

"Men? Boys!"

Duo laughed again, the sound fading with his receding footsteps. Heero lay on his bunk, the magazine forgotten under his fingertips. After a minute he got up and undid the prop to let the door slide completely shut.

He stared at the closed door for a few seconds, trying to put his finger on what was bothering him. It wasn't that he suspected Duo had most likely gone to meet up with a local prostitute. It was something else. It wasn't until he'd climbed back onto his bunk and read several more pages before he realized. In the hallway, Hilde had called the Deathscythe pilot by his alias: Day.

But outside, on the cargo boxes, she'd called him Duo.



On to Chapter seven

Back to chapter Five

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