Part Eight: In The Fear And Alarm
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me,
My brothers in arms
--- Mark Knopfler
At ten the next morning Heero was standing at an automated teller two blocks from the docking station. His expression was as stern as ever, but inside he was grinning like an idiot as he read the printed slip.
DECODED TWO BOTS.
PINKY SAYS LOVEBIRDS.
GET YER ASS ONLINE.
Heero made short work of the six blocks to the nearest 'net café. Sliding into the seat at the only terminal facing the door, he quickly accessed the system and hoped someone would be there despite the early hour. He suspected most of the hackers were still school age, judging by the hours they kept, but someone was usually around in the morning.
The 'someone' turned out to be Snake. Heero was relieved. He wasn't sure he was up for dealing with Hand, despite the kid's enthusiasm.
"Snake, it's Wing."
Heero grunted at the screen and cut to the chase. "What's this about decoding two bots?"
"We cracked the code. Got two messages figured out."
"What are they?" Heero glanced around at the nearly empty café and huddled a little closer to the screen.
"The first was: I love you. Be safe."
"What the hell?"
"Same thing I said." Snake's avatar smirked. "That track bot, by the way, had a modify date from about two months ago. The second is: Located Wing. It was modified about three days ago, so we caught it pretty fast after its upload."
Snake's avatar wiggled for a second before the typing appeared. "There's just one problem. The pink-haired freak broke the first bot."
"What do you mean?"
"Corrupted error on downloading, and it was flagged in the system. Rat got in about two hours later, in time to see the system administrators were cleaning out the server. Word is out already to other admins to check their relays. News travels fast, so it's possible all the bots are wiped."
"Shit." Heero glared at the screen. Now they'd have to start over from the beginning to find Quatre's eyes and ears. He was certain it was the Arab's handiwork, thanks to Relena's comments. But why, then, would Quatre be piggybacking messages on a tracking bot that said he'd located the Wing Zero pilot? And who was reading at the other end?
"We got about five more downloaded but the rest are already history. We should have the rest decoded by tomorrow at latest." Snake's avatar flicked its tail at Heero's smiley face. "Any news on your end?"
"Too long to go into now. After today may be out of touch for another day or two, but will stop by when I can. Tell Mike I haven't forgotten."
"Neither has he. Damn idiot."
"Over and out." Heero signed off, cleaned up the terminal's cache, and ordered a cup of coffee as he pondered the messages. He had four hours before meeting up with Hilde outside the hotel, but he hadn't wanted to sit in the forum on an unsecured line for any longer than necessary.
I love you. Be safe.
He repeated the words under his breath, unaware his lips were quirking up into a wry smile.
But who had found him? And why would anyone care?
Heero was bored.
He'd spent an hour wandering through the entertainment multiplexes, then spent twenty credits for the dubious pleasure of another two hours in one of the theme parks. The only positive element in the waste of time was being surrounded by an array of sights, sounds, and smells that effectively drowned out the chance to think, let alone brood.
The confusion of the night before had begun to finally fade when he took a random path and found himself in the midst of a circus setup. The previous night's ache returned twice as strong and he fled without paying attention to the landmarks. The result was that it took him fifty minutes to find his way to the hotel, a trip that he'd estimated would be only a fifteen minute walk.
Hilde was waiting for him at the corner, her entire body radiating irritation. "I've been waiting long enough," she snapped. "Where the hell have you been?"
"Elsewhere," he said, and shrugged. She pulled out the jacket from her bag and he slipped it on. "Ready?"
It wasn't long before they were ensconced in the hotel bar and Hilde was already the center of attention. With her large blue eyes and beautifully disheveled hair, her legs encased in black leather and a fair showing of cleavage in a green velvet top, she was a striking figure. Heero watched her carefully, and amused himself with philosophical questions about aesthetics.
After fifteen more minutes, the only answer he had achieved was the rest of the bar's patrons were convinced Hilde was an excellent example of an aesthetically pleasing package. Heero stared at his whiskey. So much for philosophy.
Finally he made his move, feinting a hit to Hilde's cheek with a few hissed comments. Heero's skills didn't include improvising his lines but Hilde's open flirtation had made the job easy. The attack on her was enough to make two of the more drunken men defensive on her behalf.
He soon found himself in a shoving competition with one of the men, while another man egged the first one on. Hilde was gone, the book in one hand as she headed towards the bar's phone in the back. By the time she returned, Heero had punched out the first man and turned on the second one. Over the second man's shoulder, Heero saw her wave as she headed into the hotel. The Wing Zero pilot continued to brawl. He was pleased to discover the corporate drones were drunk enough to completely miss the fact that the object of their desire had split.
When security showed up, Heero launched himself at them. They knew a little more about fighting than the drunken louts still shouting for Heero's blood, and it took all of Heero's control to stretch out the fights as long as possible.
The bar's clock said 3:00 standard time when he heard the first of the engines rolling to a stop outside the hotel's entrance. Pleased, he faked taking a hit, rolling to the side to prevent a true strike but going down anyway just as two more security men arrived. Two of them fell right into the ploy and grabbed Heero from where he kneeled on the floor, pretending to be dazed by the last punch.
The door burst open and five bikers pushed through the door just as Heero was being dragged through the door to the hotel proper. As soon as the bikers saw the patch-covered jacket they exploded into action. A phalanx of security guards was entering the bar from the hotel, Trowa leading the charge. Heero grinned widely at him as the group passed, absently pleased with the other pilot's momentarily stunned reaction.
Heero, meanwhile, shoved one of the security guards holding him and took off into the hotel lobby, aiming for the main door. He could see more bikers shoving the hotel's front doors open, and hollered that the hotel security was beating a biker six on one. He was rewarded with shouts of anger and nine more bikers pushed their way into the lobby. Two more paused to flip open cell phones, obviously calling for backup.
Heero dropped the leather jacket over the prone body of an unconscious security man, and slipped outside. In the chaos, no one noticed a Japanese man strolling down the street away from the riot.
It was almost four o'clock and Heero was still at the hotel. He'd decided impulsively to wait at the end of the block rather than head straight for the diner and backtrack to the ship from there. He didn't like being in the dark about the team's movements, but the girl had been remarkably close-lipped about what everyone else was doing. Heero was frustrated by the entire situation. He'd done his part, but he was unwilling to just leave the rest of them. He was still arguing with himself when movement at the hotel's service entrance caught his eye.
It was two men in expensive dark suits, holding a third man between them. The third man was a little shorter, slender, and barely struggling. He seemed to be restrained in some way, his hands behind his back. The two men were pushing him towards a vehicle. Heero watched as the prisoner was turned and pushed into a waiting car. The long braid whipped around, glinting red in the colony's afternoon light.
Heero swore fluently under his breath. The whole thing, ruined, because Duo was caught - again. Just like always, you idiot, Heero thought, his mind running through various plans and discarding them almost instantly. His best chance was probably going to be stopping the car somehow, if he was going to rescue Duo.
Any worries about Duo's reaction were set aside as Heero instinctively fell back into his wartime patterns. A fellow pilot was in trouble, and was going to compromise the team. The car was backing out of the service area, coming down the alley towards the sidewalk, and Heero poised himself to leap.
It was then that something large and hard hit him on the back of his head. Immediately Heero went down, out cold.
"He's always been this stubborn?"
"Yeah. Got a major complex."
"Well, we were warned."
Heero struggled towards awareness, slowly registering that he wasn't tied up, but instead was wrapped in a heavy cloth of some kind. The fabric pushed against his face, filling his nostrils with fibers. He coughed, and the voices around him grew quieter.
"Think he's coming to."
"Didn't take long," a deeper voice replied. Heero couldn't place the accent. It was thick, and rolling.
"Hit him again?" Someone laughed.
"Just shoot him." The new voice was higher-pitched, but had the same odd cadence as the others.
Heero struggled, trying to get his bearings, and felt a needle stab his leg through the fabric. A second later he was fading back into darkness.
The room was dark, and he finally realized what had woken him was the sound of the ship's engines purring as it dropped into deep space crawl. Groggy, he sat up and looked around. It took a few minutes before his eyes could focus well enough for him to realize he was lying on Trowa's bunk. The room was dark, the only light coming in a wide swath from the hallway through the open door.
"What the hell," he managed to whisper. The light hurt his eyes, and he blinked rapidly to get the nausea under control. When he opened his eyes again, Trowa was towering over him with an amused expression.
"Nice bump," Trowa commented dryly and handed him a bag of ice wrapped in a towel.
"Hn." Heero's stomach grumbled as he took the towel and cautiously put it against the back of his head. Trowa raised an eyebrow, and Heero glared at him. "Sorry for using your bed," he added, letting the glare fade, feeling awkward. His mind was moving slowly through his memories, trying to fit together the disjointed images.
"If you're able to keep down dinner, it's here," Trowa said.
"Hn." The photographer put down the ice and stood up, one hand on the upper bunk to keep his bearings. "We're already... " He let his words trail off as he focused on the porthole over Trowa's bed, and the darkness of space beyond.
"Yeah," Trowa replied.
The last piece fell into place and Heero spun, his eyes deepening into a dark blue with the panic. At the last second he managed to keep his cover. "Du--Day! I've got to--"
"Got to, nothing," Trowa said, pushing gently at Heero's shoulder until the shorter man sat back down. "Don't know how you made it to the ship in your condition. You've been out for two hours."
"Day," Heero protested, his stomach rumbling again as he smelled the food on the tray. This time it was a Mexican dish, with Spanish rice on the side. Some part of his brain registered the continuing international theme.
"What about him," Trowa said. His tone was amiable. "I've got to head back to the co-pilot's seat."
"We've got to go after him," Heero said. Anger was starting to coil in his belly, and he glared at the taller man.
"Because." Heero frowned, unable to come up with a good reason for a heartbeat. "Because he'd do the same for me," he whispered to himself.
"You think that?" A third voice called out, and Heero glanced towards it. Duo was leaning against the open doorjamb, his arms crossed as he stared towards the cockpit. The thief shrugged and walked away, his voice floating down the hallway. "You really are an idiot."