The Manguanac shuttle was large enough to house a sick bay, and it was there that Duo Maxwell was sent (under protest) as they prepared to leave the atmosphere.
He winced and hissed through his teeth as Khaled swabbed the wound on his forehead with antiseptic, and the man shot him a sheepish glance. "Sorry about that, Master Duo. It will be over soon..."
"S'okay," Duo mumbled, trying to hold still. "S'my own damn fault."
"Your fault? I don't see how," the Manguanac replied, shaking his head ruefully. "Near as any of us could see, those OZ suits were trying to kill you. Now, if you'd been in there beating your head against any sharp object you could find, then I'd say it was your fault."
Duo chuckled, but then groaned. "God, even laughing hurts right now."
The man patted his shoulder sympathetically. "Those painkillers will help - I'll give you something when I'm done - and you'll be okay. I'd like to put a couple stitches in here, though..." Duo winced again as the man's fingers brushed over a particularly deep gash on Duo's forehead. "Sorry about that."
"Not your fault, man," Duo said, trying to appear calm. "Go ahead and do it, but I don't want the heavy-duty meds. I need to be ready to pilot."
Khaled attempted a stern look. "What you need is to rest up and let us..."
"Let you NOTHING!" Duo growled right back at him, seemingly forgetting that the man was about to put stitches on him. "Let me recap - while I wasted time fighting OZ on Earth, the bad guys nearly blew Heero up and are now trying to attack the Colonies, whom I am sworn to protect! I can't get to Heero, which really fucking pisses me off, and by my calculations, our flight trajectory will bring us near to L1, where we can be expecting more bad guys very shortly. I need to be patched up, fed, and re-fuelled, and then I need to get moving as soon as I can. The others are depending on me - your Master Quatre already needs me somewhere, and the sooner I finish with THAT, the sooner I can get back to Heero!"
Khaled back-pedalled quickly from the rage in his patient's face. "Master Duo..."
"AND STOP CALLING ME MASTER, DAMMIT!"
Khaled stepped closer and took hold of both of the young man's shoulders, forcing him to look up into his face. "You are already injured, Duo. If you let us take minimal care of you now, while we're attempting to get you where you need to be, you will be better rested and relaxed, and thus will stand a better chance of surviving the firefight up ahead. I know you're not happy about it, but too bad. Stop acting like a child and be the soldier you are!"
Duo sat back, stunned, as the Manguanac almost growled that last line out. "Khaled?"
The man's fists were clenched. "Don't you see? You are just like Master Quatre, always trying to slip away from us to protect us, for our own good! You people... you're sixteen years' old! What kind of sick, twisted world is this when teenagers are turned into soldiers! The least you can do is let us..." His voice slipped back into a whisper. "Let us help you. Let us attempt to regain some of our honour and be the adults we are supposed to be."
Duo's eyes flashed. "We're not kids, Khaled. You guys should understand that better than anyone."
The man picked up his tools and prepared to thread a needle. "I know that, Duo. And that's probably the biggest crime of all this mess."
Quatre grunted as he got hit from behind yet again. "I'm going to have a gorgeous set of bruises when this is over with," he grumbled. He struck out as hard as he could and, turning, fired his machine guns on the enemy at point blank range.
Explosions wreathing Sandrock, he scanned around. He was panting hard for air, his chest aching, and his suit had taken some damage, but...
The entryway to the L-3 was open.
He had to reach the Colonial Assembly before Dermail's people did!
Trowa was keeping watch at the door of the house they'd appropriated as Sally finished a neat line of stitches on their rescued agent. Marianne had passed out shortly after her rescue - they were both worried.
Sally heaved a sigh as she sat back and wiped her hair out of her eyes. "Trowa? I'm done."
The brunette looked back in at her over his shoulder. "Status?"
She shook her head. "Too soon to tell. She's... Christ, she lost a lot of blood. I think we got to her in time, though."
"We need to get moving."
Sally shook her head. "Negative. Marianne won't survive another ride in Heavyarms. I'm sorry, Trowa.."
Looking out again, he frowned but nodded and came back indoors. "Keep an eye on the door. I need to arrange us some transport," Trowa said, heading directly for his computer. "Here's to hoping..."
Sally silently took up the watch while he slipped on an earpiece and dialled in the special code he'd been given. The screen scrambled for about a minute and a half, and then-
"Trowa! What's the matter!? Where are you?" The screen cleared to show Howard, frowning. "Are you okay?"
The pilot nodded. "We're... we're mostly okay. Howard. I hope I didn't scare you..."
The old man sat back and sighed. "Emergency communications links are to be used for just that, kid - emergencies. What the hell is going on?"
"We need transport, Howard," Trowa responded, shooting a glance in Sally's direction. "One of Sally's agents... she's been compromised. We pulled her out, but she's in bad condition. We're not too far from the battle site - they will find us eventually. We need pick up, and I need to get to space ASAP."
Howard pulled a handkerchief from his pants pocket and mopped his forehead. "You kids... Who is this mystery woman?"
"Agent Athena - the one who got us to Mariemeia," Trowa said, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye. "I didn't... we owe her. I had to come after her, but Heero's hurt and Quatre and Wufei going into battle and I have no idea where Duo is..."
"Okay, slow down, kid, or you'll hurt yourself," Howard said with a small smile. "Never heard YOU babble before, Barton."
"Bite me, Howie."
The man laughed. "That's more like it. Okay, let's see..." He turned to a different computer and entered a few commands. "I've got a coordinate lock on your call. How long do you think you've got there before you get caught?"
Trowa shook his head. "No idea. We're only about sixty or so miles from Dermail's old compound. Marianne was bleeding out..." He shrugged. "We weren't followed. I'd say maybe a few hours."
"Fine." Howard started typing. "I'm arranging a pick-up for the Hottie Doctor and her patient. Give it about two hours. It will be easier if you fly to the freighter on your own. Agreed?"
Trowa lifted an eyebrow. "Hottie Doctor? Sally is blushing."
"Just answer the darn question, boy."
Trowa smiled and nodded. "I take it your man will give me the coordinates when he gets here?"
Howard nodded. "No offence, kid, but if they get to you before I do, we can't afford to have Sweeper security compromised."
"Fair enough. I'll look after the ladies until then. Anything else?" Trowa asked.
"Just this," Howard said. "We'll be meeting up with you in space. I'm on my way to meet up with Noin's party, or I'd come get you, myself. I've got a crew prepping my flagship up on one of the mobile Sweeper satellites. We'll see you there."
Howard shook his head. "Not yet. Quatre will likely contact you directly."
"Okay," Trowa replied. "Thanks, Howard."
"Don't mention it, kid. See you soon." The connection cut.
Sally looked back over her shoulder. "How long?"
He put the computer back in its case. "Two hours or so. Hopefully, our homeowner won't be back before then."
Sally shook her head, giggling a little. "They haven't been here in a long while, from the looks of the place. I think we'll be okay."
"I hope you're right."
"Ha." As Trowa drew his gun and went back to the door to keep watch, Sally stepped right back to Marianne's side. "Did he really call me a hottie?"
"Yeah," Trowa said, smirking. "How cute."
"Oh, shut up."
"All agents, come in."
Wufei smiled to himself as he recognized Quatre's voice. "Go ahead, Winner."
"I read you, Quatre," Treize said, his voice tense.
"I'm listening," Zechs came over the radio.
Quatre continued, "Listen, you saw the plans for these damn dolls, too, right? They never finished the programming properly. There has to be a command module somewhere, and I doubt it's on one of the suits. I'm scanning - I'd recommend you guys do the same."
Wufei chuckled. It was just like Quatre to come up with that!
"Roger that, Quatre, I was having similar thoughts," Treize's voice called, "Except I'm still - OOF! - shit, there are more of them!"
"Treize!" Wufei and Zechs both shouted. Wufei frowned darkly as his proximity alarms went off. "Shit. Thanks, Quatre. I'll tell you when I get in."
He waited until the sentry suits were within striking range before deploying the dragon fang, spewing fire. "We're not done yet, Nataku. Time to toast these bastards."
He was drugged.
Heero Yuy was trying to open his eyes and finding it very difficult. He was panicking. What was going on? He'd been flying somewhere, trying to do something important...
"It should be wearing off by now. Come on Heero. I know you're awake."
Doctor J. Doctor J?! His eyelids began to flutter as he desperately clawed towards coherency. He... God, where was he? Where was...
"Duo... DUO!" He sat straight up, eyes darting around like some kind of wild creature...
"Oh, for the... Get the hell out of my way, you stinking old fossil! Heero! Look at me, Heero! You're okay, I'm here..."
He was automatically reaching for a gun that wasn't there as he turned. His eyes focused-
Une. Une was at his side. And Doctor J-
The old man was on the ground, trying to push himself up on his good arm. He turned back to Une and gave her a good look over. She was bruised, and there was clearly a large bandage under her jacket on her left shoulder and upper body. "You're hurt. What happened?"
There was a laugh near the door. "He's fine. Told you he would be." Heero darted his glare in that direction - of all the doctors, the only two he knew by voice were his own and Duo's.
He turned his gaze back to the exhausted woman at his side. "You need to rest, Une. Have they treated all your wounds?"
"It's not serious."
"By a normal person's standards, or by yours?"
She lifted an eyebrow. "That's a little rich, coming from you."
He glared for a moment, but then nodded. She had a point, after all. "Hn."
Very carefully, Une moved forward and pulled the young man into a cautious hug, holding her breath the whole time. "You saved my life back there. Thank you."
Heero froze for a moment in shock. In all the time they'd been working together, Une had never been so... comfortable with him. He supposed a good reason for that was his outright hostility when the strange alliance came together, but still... He hugged back gently, mindful of her shoulder and back. "You are welcome."
She smirked at him as they released each other and replied, "Hn."
They both smirked.
Doctor J groaned as G helped him to his feet. "Jesus Christ - the boy's got HER doing it, too. Heaven forbid we win this war - polysyllabic communications will become a thing of the past." He stepped closer and reached for a syringe. "Okay, my boy, just a little booster shot of this to help speed up your healing process..."
He squawked as Heero caught his arm in a grip tight enough to break a normal bone. "No - none of that. I don't want it."
Heero's glare turned murderous. "I've met another just like me, old man. A girl who called herself Bravo. I remember what you and those others did to me, so get that fucking thing out of my sight!" He practically tossed the older man across the room with one hard shove and, as J made to speak again, Lady Une stepped between them with her hand on her gun, glaring evilly.
From the doorway, G started to laugh. "I think that's a no, J. He looks like he's doing pretty well, anyway. Now Heero, I've been in touch with Winner and with my old friend Howard..."
Dawn Yuy was sitting on the hatch of Deathscythe as Duo brought the computers back to life. She frowned reflexively - the young man was still recovering from his earlier battle and should have been resting. No one had wanted to get in his way, though, herself included.
The machine beneath her started up with an almost imperceptible hum. It was a bit frightening, if she were honest. A few hours before, she'd watched this suit, guided by the young man in its core, annihilate entire battalions of enemy suits. And now here she was...
"Oh. Oh, shit."
Duo's voice snapped her out of her reverie, and she stuck her head into the cockpit. "What is it?"
He was staring at something scrolling across the screen. "I've been trying to reach Quatre, but he's apparently already joined the battle at L-3 and I can't get through. He's got to be headed to protect the Assembly. Kushy and his support troops are already on L-4, and Sexy Zechsy and Kev have headed for L-2. Looks like we're on our own to take out the trash here."
"Any news from the Moonbase?" Dawn asked.
He shook his head. "Not yet, but I have to believe he's okay. He has to be." He repeated it several times under his breath as he continued to watch troop placements.
He ignored her. "I think we need to spin this attack on its head if we're going to defeat the Dolls," he said abruptly, pulling up another screen and beginning to type furiously. "How good are you at hacking?"
Dawn shook her head. "It was never my forte. Why?"
Duo shrugged. "No matter. I was thinking, though - some of the individual units out here haven't synched up with the master network yet, since it went down earlier. I've seen the programming in these puppies - if we can isolate them permanently from the mainframe, we can mimic their tactics and take them out their own way."
Duo looked up with a little smile. "We divide - then conquer."
They heard a truck of some kind pulling up outside.
Trowa and Sally were both on their feet instantly; he had a gun drawn in either hand as he silently approached the door. She moved to cover Marianne.
"Yo! Don't blow my head off - Howard said you needed a pickup?"
Trowa grimaced - knowing as many Sweepers as he did, he was not surprised they would be so loud. In fact, it made him wonder how Duo ever survived to become a stealth expert! He holstered one of his guns as he opened the door.
The other was now pointed squarely at the chest of a middle-aged man with something of a beer belly and enough stubble on his face for an entire week. Crumbled overalls under a sheepskin coat finished the picture. He had to wonder where Sweepers got their dress sense. "Who are you?"
The man gave him a crooked grin. "The Old Man is going to have to pay us better if more people keep waving guns at us. I'm Peter, Peter McShane, and you must be Trowa. Where's the Hottie?"
Trowa rolled his eyes, but managed to pull out a small smile. "In here. And he hates being called Old Man, you know."
"That's what makes it fun, laddie," Peter replied, stepping into the house. He gave a wolf whistle when he finally saw Sally, still standing over her patient with a drawn gun. "Damn, I love a tough woman."
"Down, boy," Sally grumbled under her breath.
He gave her a smile and a wink. "Howard sent us. We've got a Sweepers facility not too far from here where we can treat your patient, and there's a launch group sailing into place for Mr. Barton, here, as we speak. Damn, I love giving good news!"
Despite themselves, both Trowa and Sally found themselves smiling. "A Sweepers facility?" Sally asked. "Just how big is the Sweepers group, anyway?"
Peter winked and chuckled. "Trust me - you wouldn't believe me if I told you. Now let's get moving - I've been charged to get you three to safety, and I intend to do just that."
Kevin Walker cursed under his breath as yet more mobile dolls swarmed in on him from his right. At this rate, they were never going to make it actually into the Colony!
A suit darted right past him, and he had to suppress a shudder as he recognized it as Zech's Tallgeese. "What are you doing, Sir?! Get back here right now!"
"They're reading us, Walker," the other man replied tightly, tension in his voice. "The longer we stay in formation, the more likely it is that they are going to tear us apart. We're being too predictable!"
"No, I know I'm right on this," the other man replied.
Kevin watched as the Tallgeese darted between its enemies so smoothly it almost looked as though it were dancing. Zechs was crazy, obviously... but he just might have been right, as well. With a yell, he powered up and shot straight past Tallgeese's left shoulder, executing a tight turn once safely past the other suit and firing hard on his last position.
Three explosions rocked both suits back. "Nice shot, Kevin."
There was little time for celebration, though - Dolls continued to swarm around them.
The Assembly complex was finally visible up ahead.
Quatre Winner wore a grim smile as he looked over the scans. The building was already surrounded by light infantry and support vehicles, a handful of tanks...
He frowned. No suits? It seemed highly unlikely...
"Aha!" There they were - dolls, not yet activated, but standing by for orders. Inside the simulated atmosphere of the Colony, they were going to pose a problem. He couldn't risk an explosion that would de- stabilise the atmospheric controls or, worse yet, pop a hole in the hull of the Colony and vent everything and everyone into Space.
Quatre knew he wasn't the best of the pilots when it came to hand-to-hand fighting or to stealth, but if he had to go in on foot, he would. He reached for his weapons and started slipping them into holsters.
He nearly jumped out of his chair as the encrypted comm. started to squawk, and he took a moment to take a deep breath before he opened the link.
But instead of seeing a face or hearing a voice, all he got was streaming data that was feeding straight into his suit's mainframe-
Quatre hit his own comm. switch. "Duo, what the heck is all of this?"
The braided boy's face scrambled into view. "Hey, Q. I hacked the Command unit overseeing L1 and implanted some false data - the dolls are tearing each other apart, and with no connection to the Network, no one can correct it yet. Thought I would share."
The blond smiled. "We'd already gone looking for the Command modules, but I for one couldn't get through to it without running the risk of being too late to reach the Assembly - had to shoot my way in. Any way you can just put all the suits to sleep, instead?"
"Why not just incinerate them, man? One less dolly to worry about later..."
Quatre frowned and interrupted. "They're inside the main Colony, Duo."
"Oh. Gimme a sec." Quatre heard some fast typing before he got a small crow of victory. "Okay, I'm sending it through now. You'll need to broadcast this over both the high and low frequency bandwidths to be sure to get all of them."
"Thanks, Duo," Quatre said, already relaying the data out. "Did you..."
"Already sent to the Lovebirds and Henchpeople."
He couldn't help it - Quatre let out a small laugh. "It's good to have you up here with us, Duo. Have you talked to him yet?"
The brown-haired boy shook his head. "Still offline, but I'm sending him a message before I head into the Colony to clean house. I've sent most of your guys to the Moonbase to back-up the people there, but I kept Dawn and Khaled. Hope you don't mind."
"Be careful, Duo," Quatre warned, a serious look on his young features, "the Enforcers might already be in place and they will have orders by now to kill us all on-sight."
Duo's smile slowly morphed into something more sinister. "I'd expect no less."
Noin smiled at Howard as he nimbly hopped down from the hatch of his shuttle. "Howard!"
He caught sight of her and grinned. "Damn, I love it when pretty ladies are happy to see me."
She rolled her eyes. "Sally warned me you are an irrepressible flirt. Did you have any trouble getting here?"
He shook his head. "The day OZ manages to track one of MY shuttles is the day I retire. How much time we got?"
Noin looked at her watch. "Probably not much. Come on in - I'll introduce you to our crew and we can get this show on the road. I've got four suits with me - will that be a problem?"
"Nah," Howard said, reaching to open the door for her. "Just means we won't be able to bring Her Majesty's full wardrobe with us."
Noin stopped cold and turned to look at him. "Howard," she said warningly, "none of us need to put up with that kind of bullshit right now. She's learned her lesson."
"She's a bitch."
The young woman clenched her fists and turned away for a moment, taking a deep breath. Turning back to face him, she simply said, "Both Heero and Duo have accepted her apologies. I expect you to do the same. Or at least, if you can't, I expect you to be polite. Relena has just lost her home and is right now thinking that everyone she cares about is either involved in a bloody battle or will be soon. Cut her some slack."
Her glare darkened for a moment. "Yes, you will." The glare disappeared almost immediately, and she smiled. "Ready to meet everyone?"
He shook his head in amazement. She was something else! Sweet as could be, but don't piss her off! He pulled his own smile out and pasted it on. "Lead the way, pretty lady."
He could only hope they were all right about Relena. Because if she said just one word...
He took a deep breath and followed Noin down the hallway. If Duo and Heero hadn't killed her yet, he supposed it wasn't his place to do it, either.
Gundam Wing II
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