The longer the seats remained empty, the higher the tension rose in the Romafeller General Assembly Chamber.
Weyridge wasn't surprised that others were watching for the absent Dermail and his entourage. After the noise he'd made just the week before over the sovereign duty of every Romafeller member to participate in any voting, for him to miss a General Assembly...
"Excuse me, my dear Marquis, might I have a word in private?"
He turned, surprised, to find Marcel Picavet at his shoulder. The aristocrat looked... Well, he was clearly upset by something. It didn't take much to figure out what. "Of course, sir. If you'd excuse me a moment..."
He turned back to his fellow delegates and quickly made his excuses before following the other man out, all the while racking his brains for everything he knew about the Frenchman. It was very public knowledge that Picavet hated OZ and everything it stood for; he'd been in a very public row with Lady Une of the Specials, after all. His niece, if Weyridge remembered correctly. Picavet was also known for being extremely shrewd and smart, though, the sort of man who would listen if he were contacted by someone in the know, someone like his niece, who was now a wanted criminal...
Picavet lead him down a series of hallways, doubling back at least twice, before he was satisfied they had not been followed. He hustled the Marquis into a spare room and quickly closed the door behind him. "My dear Marquis, you are undoubtedly confused that I..."
"That depends, Marcel," Weyridge interrupted smoothly, "on whether or not you've been in contact with your extended family recently." He gave the man a sly smile.
Picavet's eyes narrowed. "And if I had?"
Weyridge shrugged elegantly. "I find it is always a shame when family members become estranged from one another, as much as one party might have a reason to disagree with another. I was under the impression that you might have recently been given a golden chance to... resolve some of your differences with your brother's family, and I meant to congratulate you on that."
"What's left of his family, you mean," Picavet muttered, smoothing a hand over his immaculate hair. "For heaven's sake, man, we don't have time to speak in riddles! Or have you been watching empty seats so avidly for the joy of it?"
Weyridge immediately lost the careful indifference in his posture as he strode closer to the Frenchman. "Fine, then. Une has obviously contacted you, am I right?"
"And so... what are your intentions?" Weyridge asked.
Picavet sighed heavily and strode to the window, looking up at the grey sky outside. "We don't have that many choices, do we? If what she told me is true, it cannot be allowed to continue. I will not stand idly by!"
"And neither will I, my friend," Weyridge said, coming to stand at his shoulder, "but we must be careful. His absence today does not mean we are unwatched. We must exercise caution..."
"Caution?" Picavet turned to look at the older man, surprise clearly written on his features. "No, Weyridge. Dermail is not here - we have to assume that his plan is well in motion and he isn't here because he doesn't need to be here to accomplish his means. He has others here to do his work for him."
Weyridge took Picavet's arm and dragged him away from the window, and began speaking in a low, urgent voice. "Which is exactly why we need to be cautious! Think, man - you've heard that two of his mobile doll factories have been destroyed. His mansion in Boston levelled! And in case you were not aware of it, that so-called 'genetic research' facility back in Canada that was broken into is run by that dog, Wessex! If he is even half as smart as we know him to be, he is consolidating his power right now, preparing a major move. And probably not just on us! Relena of the Sanc Kingdom..."
"Don't speak to me of her!" Picavet said, annoyed. "All her idealistic preaching has made her too good a target to pass up. She has brought it upon herself..."
"But don't you see we need her?" Weyridge asked, surprised. "What happens when Romafeller is torn apart in a power struggle? Who can pick up the pieces? Who will the people trust?"
"Damned, stupid little girl," Picavet grumbled.
"That, she can be," Weyridge agreed reluctantly, "but she is learning quickly, and we shall need her. As you rightly pointed out, she has made herself a target. Dermail will not leave her to her own devices for long."
"I know." Picavet leaned on an armchair, arms crossed over his chest. "What are you recommending that we do?"
Weyridge smiled. "Talk to the others. Zukov, McKellar - you know they will listen. Discreetly, of course - we can't have one of Dermail's lackeys reporting back to him that we have been campaigning against him, in his absence."
"Very well." Picavet's eyes narrowed slightly. "I will do as you ask for now. But keep in mind, Marquis - whatever your true agenda might be, I will not stand by if that... that dog Dermail returns here with the desire to bend us all to his will. The time to be passive is over - when the chance comes, we must back up our grand words with actions. I firmly intend to do so."
"As do I, mon ami," Weyridge agreed, clapping the other man on the shoulder briefly, before he turned to the door. "Come, we have been absent for too long. Let us return to the Chamber."
Barge was both heavily fortified and on alert.
Une watched in shock as Heero calmly guided their shuttle into a vacant port, smoothly bypassing several sentry suits along the way. "I can't believe they can't see us."
He snorted. "Believe it. This stealth technology is largely based on your son's work." He winced as the shuttle bumped into the station ever so slightly before the coupling bolts kicked in. "Getting here undetected isn't the hard part - the hard part is getting from the shuttle into the station without getting caught."
"If these soldiers are all still loyal to Treize, I don't see why that should be a problem," Une objected.
Heero grunted. "Not for you, perhaps. Last time your men saw me, they shot at me and I was forced to retaliate."
"Ah," Une agreed, nodding, "Of course. Silly of me to forget."
He glared silently.
Une spared Heero a small smile as she stood and grabbed her helmet from its rack. "Well, what are we waiting for?"
Heero stood as well. "There's a maintenance port not too far from here. We can walk there with the magnetics, then... we'll see if your passcodes still work."
He snapped his own helmet on and paused a moment to verify the seals on Une's while she did the same for him. Getting an all clear, he looked her in the eye. "Ready?"
A ghost of a smile lit Heero's face as he sealed the ship's internal hatch behind them and depressurised the dock. As the bay doors opened, he waved a hand. "Ladies first."
"Halt in the name of Treize Kushrenada!"
Though Heero instinctively ducked around a corner and drew a weapon in either hand, Une merely chuckled. "I'm glad to see they haven't all forgotten us yet." She put her hands up and slowly began to turn.
Soldiers were bearing down on her, weapons drawn. "Put your hands on your head and... Holy Shit!" The two guards closest to her stopped abruptly, the third bumping into them. "You're..."
"At ease, gentlemen," Une replied, lowering her hands with a smile on her face. "Colonel Une, Specials First Class, at your service."
All three snapped the fastest salutes she'd ever seen in her life, proud looks on their faces. "General Kushrenada hasn't forgotten us after all, ma'am!"
"No, he hasn't," she agreed, saluting in return, "but he is still in a relatively dangerous position, so I came up here in his place. Oh, with reinforcements, I should add. Heero, care to join us?"
Glowering and grimacing, the Japanese pilot complied, silently counting down in his head...
"That's... Ma'am, do you know that's a Gundam pilot, ma'am?" one of the men asked, his face going pale as Heero approached, weapons still drawn.
Une rolled her eyes. "One pilot wouldn't be much of a reinforcement otherwise, would he? We need to speak with your base commander immediately."
"But Ma'am! We cannot allow this criminal..."
"Now!" Une snapped, something of her old personality leaking through. 'It is not for you to question the people General Kushrenada himself decided to send for your support, soldier, is that clear?!"
"Yes, ma'am," he stammered, looking away, "of course, ma'am."
Her smile was cold, but she managed to throw Heero a wink while the three soldiers carefully looked anywhere but at the two of them. "Lead on!"
As the three scrambled to get away from Une's legendary temper, Heero couldn't help the small laugh that escaped. Une turned her glare on him, though. "Stop it! You're going to ruin my hard-ass image!"
He glared back. "I wouldn't dream of it, mom." Giving her a grin that would have looked quite normal on Duo's face, he turned and holstered his weapons as he followed their guides down the hallway.
She smiled for a moment before she followed, her poker face back in place.
Marianne sneezed miserably as she shrugged off her heavy coat and scarf and deposited both in her closet. The grey, unpleasant morning had only managed to become more unpleasant as she returned from her errands, developing into a nasty, heavy sleet that had her soaked, despite the precautions she'd taken.
She grabbed a towel and vigorously dried her hair, shivering even in the warm room.
Still no news from Olympus or anyone else. I don't even know if they all got out in time. Jesus, Johann, of all the times to drop off the face of the planet... She glared at her image in the mirror. Every day she went without communication was another day closer to panic. If the enemy had managed to catch anyone, she was almost certainly compromised, and her instincts were pointing in that direction. But if not... she was still the best-placed source they had, and it would be a coward's way out to run.
Sneezing again, she dropped the towel and grabbed an afghan, wrapping it around her shoulders as she headed out to find a cup of tea. She couldn't afford to be sick! Not now!
Rashid looked up as a knock sounded on his door. "Come!"
His eyebrows flew up as the door opened and Bravo walked in, but he recovered quickly and stood politely. "Miss Bravo! Please come in - Abdul said you might want to speak to me."
She seemed nervous as she walked in, but settled quickly. He watched her critically - everyone had been impressed by her will to recover and adapt, but he could still see signs of fatigue and stress in her. Not that he could blame her, of course. He could not even begin to imagine what she'd been through. Or Heero, either, for that matter. "Are you enjoying your stay with us?"
She nodded, shortly. "Yes, thank you. But I wanted... I was curious. What is happening with A- with Heero? And the others?"
Ah, I wondered how long she'd be able to resist the question! He gave her a small smile. "Master Heero is in space right now with Lady Une. We have two teams in space - the other is lead by General Kushrenada. All the others are still on the planet, spread out for safety, of course."
She nodded and looked out towards the window, something obviously still bothering her.
"Was that all?" Rashid prompted. "You could have asked Abdul, you know. He'd be happy to tell you..."
"No, I..." She stood abruptly. "I'm sorry I wasted your time. I'm..."
He stood as well, and put a gentle hand on her arm. "I assure you, Miss Bravo, this is no waste of my time. Please do not leave."
She stared up at him for a brief moment before slowly sinking back into her seat, her eyes immediately darting back to the window. "I've been thinking a lot. About what H-heero and Duo said to me. And I want to do something, but I don't know what."
Rashid swallowed a grin. He owed Abdul fifty credits, after all. I thought she'd want to get as far from the conflict as she could! "Well... let's start small, then. Was there any part of your training that you particularly enjoyed or excelled at?"
She looked thoughtful, as though enjoyment had never occurred to her before. It was a remarkably sad thing to see. "I guess... I used to enjoy mission planning. And flying. And maybe... Controller used to take me as his bodyguard, often."
"Hmmm..." Rashid regarded her thoughtfully. "Ever flown a mobile suit?"
"A Leo. Once," Bravo replied, nodding. "Controller kept me on fixed wing aircraft, usually."
Rashid smiled. "It's a start. We can start slowly working you into a pilot role, as well as re-qualifying you with our weaponry, and see where it goes from there. Will that be satisfactory, Miss Bravo?"
She flinched ever so slightly. "That was the other thing they said, that I didn't have to... I want a real name, sir."
He gave her a full, real smile this time. "I'm glad to hear it! Do you have any ideas?"
She nodded. "Abdul told me - your people around here have been calling me 'Dawn.' I liked that."
"Then Dawn you shall be. And as Master Heero's sister, we'll finish that off - you will be Dawn Yuy."
"But I'm not really his sister..."
"Perhaps not in blood," Rashid interrupted, "but there are some things that are more important than that. Still, I wouldn't want to force something on you that you didn't want..."
"It isn't that," she said, blushing ever so slightly. "I didn't think he would want... I don't know. It's stupid."
Rashid stood and came around the desk, lifting her chin with a finger. "It's never stupid, child. As for Heero... I think he would be honoured to share his name with you."
Grey-blue eyes lit for a short moment, and he finally won a half smile from the girl. "Then I guess..." She held out her hand. "My name is Dawn Yuy. Pleased to meet you."
He took her hand delicately and kissed her fingertips. "I am pleased to meet you as well."
As she smiled and fairly ran for the door, Rashid smiled again. It was moments like that - seeing someone so broken and hurt coming back into their own, that made his work all worth while.
"Your Excellency, this is Une, over."
Une relaxed immediately as she heard a familiar voice over the line. "I'm glad you made it safely, Lady," Treize answered almost immediately. "Is Heero there with you?"
She looked up and received a nod from the pilot, as well as from Barge's Commander. "Yes, sir, along with Captain Marcos of the Specials, who has assumed control of Barge, for the time being."
"Good. I have Lieutenants Marquise and Walker here, as well as Captain Cole Gillen and Lieutenant Farley from the Special Revolutionary Brigade, " Treize said. "Captain Marcos, how many do you have on hand that are battle-ready?" he asked, a tension to his voice that had Une and Heero exchanging looks of surprise.
Marcos replied, "Sir, we have a full brigade each of Space Tauruses and modified Leos. An additional 35 suits are still being retrofitted with the right boosters and atmospheric sealing packages."
"That will not be enough," Zechs' voice broke in, heavy with foreboding.
"We have better intelligence on what you will be facing there shortly," Treize said. "The Libra is still not finished or truly battle-ready, but Romafeller is using it as a forward-basing port, nonetheless, for its pilots and mobile dolls. Though we know there will be a certain number of suits dispatched to all the major Colony groups, the bulk of their force will be headed in your direction. All seven battalions."
Une felt her blood run cold. "Those stinking bastards..."
Heero stood. "I can hold them off for at least a while to protect the evacuation..."
"NO!" Treize yelled. In a calmer tone of voice, he added, "We are NOT going to throw away one of our best assets this early in the game, nor am I ready yet to divulge your assistance."
Walker cut in, "What would be worse, Heero? Having to tell the others," his emphasis clearly meaning Duo, "that you've been killed? Or perhaps captured and turned over to Dekim for a little re-training?"
Une helped Heero back to his seat as he promptly turned sheet-white. "How much time do we have, General?"
He sighed. "That's the one thing I don't know. We're plugged into their command networks, but there's no sign as yet. They seem to be waiting for something."
"If I might?" Marcos interjected. Une waved for him to continue. "Sir, if we could make it to the Lunar Base, we'll be much better protected there, with the built-in sensors and protective measures. And we might have possibilities to augment our forces if we took advantage of the cell blocks..."
"Don't speak in code, Captain," Treize scolded, "you have nothing to hide from Heero, I assure you."
Marcos still sent the boy distrustful looks as he continued, "Sir, as you know, we managed to track down the Gundam scientists..."
Heero's jaw dropped open.
Zechs said, "Good thinking. Lady, Heero, if I could offer some advice - make sure those five don't fall into enemy hands!"
"I'm right with you, Zechs," Une replied. "We will begin evacuation procedures immediately. What is your status?"
She could almost hear the wolfish grin on Treize's face. "We will be starting a mini-operation of our own shortly, as soon as we see any movement on the enemy side. We can't do much damage with the small force we've got, but we can at least disturb the enemy communication lines a bit and hopefully buy our forces some more time, both there on Barge and out in the Colonies."
It was Heero's turn to offer comfort as Une gripped the communications console with white-knuckled hands. "Who is flying with..."
Walker interrupted her. "The General will be flying out with an entourage of three pilots from the Revolutionary Brigade. I will be accompanying Lieutenant Marquise. Lieutenant Farley will assume control of this satellite until our return. If you need to contact us, you should go through him."
Zechs added, "We will all look after one another, I promise you, Lady."
She felt Heero's presence at her shoulder and allowed herself to relax a fraction. "Thank you, Zechs."
"This had better be important, Laupin..."
Marianne's ears pricked up. Her employer was away from home - she knew he was at his other estate, not far from Romafeller headquarters - but Gates had been using his office in the meantime. She knew Laupin hated the other man deeply - so why would he be contacting him?
She dropped her work and moved closer to the door, quickly peering down the hallway to make sure she was alone.
"Oh, it's important, Gates," the Frenchman replied haughtily. "I've reported in to Dermail. The Libra forces are ready and waiting for his signal. We will also be sending out Enforcers from Wessex's laboratory to the Colonies shortly, with orders to remain hidden there until their services are required."
"Dammit, man!" Gates cursed. "Our forces here on Earth are not yet ready! You know we can't move until the Navy is within striking range of Sanc..."
"Send them out with air support tankers," Laupin suggested glibly. "There is no reason to slow my plans simply because you cannot keep up."
Gates took a deep breath. "What did he say?"
"He is headed back for the General Assembly right now," Laupin replied. "He sends notice for you to be standing by for further orders. Those pathetic, old dinosaurs on the Council are all that is standing in his way..."
Marianne recoiled, partially in shock, but also partially because she knew she was going to sneeze again. She quickly retreated from the door and down the hallway, hoping to God that Gates didn't hear as the sneeze tore out of her.
She could not spare the time to worry about it, though. She turned and ran for her room, her brain already going a mile a minute. She had to get out of there. She had to break the chain of command and alert someone...
Marianne changed clothes quickly and hauled a small backpack - already loaded with her essentials - out from under the bed. She stopped only to strap on a gun before she went for the door and yanked it open.
"Hello, traitor." She barely had time to notice that Gates was standing in front of her, a sadistic smile on his face, before his gun went off. As pain flashed through her shoulder, all she could do was scream.
It wasn't supposed to happen like this.
Gundam Wing II
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