"Whatever you guys end up doing, as long as we're stuck here, I'm working with OZ."
The other four pilots stared at Duo for a long moment, before Wufei shook himself. "Duo, that sounded profoundly unnatural coming out of your mouth," he said plaintively.
Heero nodded. "I know what you mean. I have a sudden urge to hit him over the head and tie him up until we can find an antidote for whatever he's on."
"Oh ha ha," Duo said flatly, rolling his eyes. "Call them the Alliance if it makes you feel better--"
"Nope," Trowa shook his head.
"--or the Accords of Zakros, whatever!" he finished impatiently. "You know what I mean! They're the good guys here. It's not much of a choice, guys; we either help them, join up with the charismatic megalomaniac's crew, or go off on our own and ignore the fact that we could actually do some good."
"We're not arguing, Duo," Quatre said hastily. "At least, I'm not..."
"Nor am I." Wufei bowed slightly to Duo, mouth quirking up in a faint smile. "My apologies. I should have agreed with you first, and then started making jokes."
Heero snorted. "Maybe we can get them to call us an ally group, not part of OZ?"
"The 'Colonial Irregulars'?" Duo suggested, starting to grin again.
"I vote for 'Irrationals'," Trowa muttered, hiding a smirk behind one hand.
"No, that wouldn't work," Quatre told him, straight-faced. "We'd have to let the local pilots join, then."
Duo stared open-mouthed at him for a second, then clutched at his chest and fell back on his pillows, choking dramatically. "Q! Don't do that to me! I'm an invalid, remember? I'm pretty sure Dot told me I should avoid shocks -- or was that 'avoid giving shocks'?"
"I don't see what's so shocking about that," the blond objected. "You say that sort of thing all the time!"
"Exactly! People expect it from me! Coming from you, it's like... like somebody's little old maiden aunt chewing tobacco, swilling down beer and using the sort of language that would make a trucker blush. It's out of character, and that makes it damn scary."
Calmly, Quatre raised one eyebrow and told him exactly what he could do with his little old maiden aunt. In Arabic, but the meaning was clear.
Unfortunately, that happened to be the exact moment Christy walked by the open door, carrying half a dozen boxes of ammunition cradled in her good arm. The first thing the group knew of this was a surprised yelp, a clatter, an even more surprised yelp as she tripped over the box she'd just dropped, and then a massive crash as she hit the wall with her cast as she fell.
"Ohhhhh man that hurts," she groaned. Several bullets rolled in through the door as she turned over, cradling her broken arm to her chest, and scowled at Quatre. "Jeez, Blondie, you've ruined the only illusion I had left. We all thought you were so sweet and innocent! Shit, I wouldn't use some of those words. Mel wouldn't use them!" She started to lever herself up into a sitting position, then leaned back to look through the door again. "By the way, is it really physically possible to do what you told him to do?"
"I have no idea!" Quatre insisted, blushing furiously.
"What did you tell me to do?" Duo asked, fascinated.
"Well, it doesn't really translate well," Christy started, "but essentially he said *mmph!*"
"If you promise not to tell him," Quatre said quietly, hand clamped firmly over Christy's mouth, "I'll pick up all the bullets for you." Ready to clamp down again if she kept translating, he carefully lifted his hand.
"Deal. You have to help me up, too, though."
"Deal," he sighed in relief.
"What did he say?!"
"Sorry, Mort; like an honest politician, I stay bought," she said cheerfully, sticking out her good hand for Quatre to pull her to her feet.
"Well, damn," Duo grumbled, flopping back onto his pillows again. "I don't suppose you know any Arabic, Heero?"
"Enough to ask 'how far to the marketplace?'," the Chinese pilot shrugged. "I understood about three words, and they were all things like 'and' or 'then'."
"I'm not translating," the tall teen said calmly.
There was a sudden clatter from the hallway as Quatre dropped all the bullets he'd just picked up. "Oh, no," he moaned softly, covering his eyes with one hand. "I forgot. Trowa knows Arabic..."
Christy snickered. "Not half as embarrassing when you think no one understands, is it, O Short Blond One? Remind me to tell you about when Dan and I first met and he cussed me out in Gaulish... hang on. You two are an item, right? So how come you forgot he speaks your language?" She peered at Quatre's blushing face suspiciously.
"Because I learned it in a mercenary camp," Trowa said, smiling faintly as he propped himself against the doorway and held a handful of bullets out to Quatre. "I know a lot of languages, but I can only be polite in a few of them. In the rest, I can bargain, ask directions, and swear. Arabic's one of them... so I don't speak it to Quatre."
"Guess it makes sense," she mused. "You wouldn't want to whisper sweet nothings in his ear and have it come out sounding like 'hey bitch, let's root', would you?"
"CHRISTY!" Quatre wailed, dropping more bullets.
As Quatre was picking up the last bullets (again), Jay burst in through the door of the common room, waving two folders above her head. "I say, chaps, I got them!" she called happily, bounding towards the table. "Come out and see--" Halfway there, she tripped over a footstool and faceplanted into a rug, dropping the folders and sending glossy photographs flying everywhere.
"Hello, Jay," Mel said, holding up her book and watching photos drop off it into her lap. "Playing fifty-two pickup again?"
"Well, that wasn't actually my intent, don'tcherknow," Jay muttered, rubbing her nose, "but this could be rather fortuitous. They're nicely mixed up now; we can find out from the chaps who everyone is in their world before we tell 'em who everyone is in our world."
"When you say you 'got them'," Wufei said from the hallway, "what do you mean by 'them'?"
"Fleas?" Heero suggested under his breath, helping Duo along. "The DTs?"
Duo snickered, but elbowed him at the same time. "Be nice!"
"Photos!" Jay said happily, holding up the folders, labelled 'US' and 'THEM'. "A nice representative selection of the higher echelons on both sides. Let's see if you recognise anyone!"
Soon, everyone was gathered around the table with the photographs in a pile in the middle. Jay hammered on Dan and Asuka's doors until they came out and joined in, then detoured through the kitchenette.
"I tried to get pictures without anything to identify who the subjects are and what they do," she said, flopping into her chair clutching a bag of popcorn. "Out of uniform, that sort of thing. That's why it took so long. D'you have any idea how hard it is to find a photo of the Theodorian Emperor without that damn silly overdecorated uniform he's so fond of?"
"Very hard?" Trowa guessed.
"Bloody near impossible, that's what," she nodded, grabbing a handful of popcorn. "*mmmf* Had to get an old one, from when he was just the crown prince. The old Emperor would've kicked him out on his rear if he'd worn that thing while his dad was alive."
"So which one is he?" Duo asked curiously, lifting the first couple of photos to peer at the ones underneath.
"Not telling until you chaps say who they are to you."
"*sigh* All right, all right..."
It didn't take long for the photos to be sorted into three piles: 'People We Know', 'People We Sort Of Know Vaguely', and 'Who The Hell Are These Jerks?' (Duo's titles). Trowa stopped Duo from putting a couple on the last pile once, quietly adding them to the 'known' pile without explanation.
"Right," Duo said, picking up the 'sort of known' pile. "These are all people we've seen around targets or on TV, stuff like that... enough to recognise 'em, but we don't know much about them." He slid the pile over to Jay. "Anybody we should be interested in?"
"Mmm... no, not really," she mused, shuffling quickly through them. "Nobody very important on either side here. Interesting. Next?"
"Never seen these ones." He slid the next pile over to her.
She looked at the first photograph and nearly choked on her popcorn. "Well, this is my great-aunt, the Vaterean Matriarch. I'd call her mildly important, what!"
"This one's my uncle Janus," Christy pointed out, flicking another photo out of the pile. "He's the Theran Emperor."
"Glacin queen," Asuka said flatly, tugging another couple out of the stack as Jay riffled through them. "Glacin prince consort."
"And here we have my mother, her two older sisters, and my cousin," Mel said cheerfully, pulling out a group shot. "Ruling family of Aotearoa. Go on, Dan, pull out Greater Gaul's king or something."
"...He's not here," Dan muttered, leafing through the pictures. "Did you put him in a different pile?"
"Er, I don't think I got a shot of him," Jay said sheepishly. "Sorry. I did get pictures of the Thane of Scandahofia, the Franciscan Free State's Head Honcho, Abyssinia's--"
"Head what?!" Heero asked incredulously.
"Honcho," Jay said cheerfully. "The Franciscans have always been a tad odd, I will admit... anyway, I got piccies of lots of rulers and whatnot, and-- um, seven eight nine... I think all but two of 'em are in this pile. Fascinating, eh what? Either most of our rulers have no counterparts in your world, or they aren't important enough for you to know 'em. I feel a monograph coming on-- oh bugger, that's right. I can't publish. Sugar."
"And she says the Franciscans are weird," Heero muttered under his breath.
Either it wasn't quiet enough, or she picked the comment up from his thoughts, because she stuck her tongue out, crinkled her nose, and vigorously waggled her fist at him, thumb pointing up. Mel and Christy suddenly developed blank expressions, though a tiny snort escaped Mel before she got it under control.
"Yah boo sucks to you too," Jay said loftily, jerking her thumb up one more time before sniffing and turning away from Heero.
"Jay... er... why did you give him a thumbs up?" Quatre asked, puzzled.
She blinked in surprise. "Thumbs up? That's not what it's called... is it?" She looked at Christy, but the Theran pilot was studying the ceiling tiles intently and didn't meet her gaze.
"That was a thumbs up," Quatre confirmed. "You know, 'good job', 'way to go', a sign of encouragement? It, um, didn't really fit the situation."
"Oh, bloody hell," she groaned, pushing up her glasses and shooting Heero a dirty look. Mel snorted again. "I meant to give him Christy's little eat-gundanium-and-die signal, y'know, with the, um, flying thingie--" She flapped her hands vaguely, frowning. "You know. The bird! That's it!" She smiled triumphantly, then slumped. "It's not the thumb, then?"
Quatre shook his head solemnly.
She turned around to glare at Mel and Christy. "No wonder you two have been sniggering whenever I've done the thumb bit at people. Rat bastards!"
Mel gave up the struggle and collapsed onto the table, howling with laughter; Christy shrugged, still placidly examining the ceiling. "We were waiting to see how long it would take before you read our minds while you were doing that."
"Damn it Christy, I've done it to Valeri!"
"Ooops! Sorry, Jay. We didn't know about that one."
"Jay?" Duo leaned forward over the table and carefully folded her hand into the right position. "Like that."
"Thank you thank you thank you thank you!" she squealed, lunging across the table to wrap her arms around his neck. "At least one person's nice to me around here -- oh, and the Young Jedi too."
"Thanks, I think," Quatre sighed.
After Jay took a few seconds to flip Heero, Christy and Mel the bird -- properly this time -- the photo identification parade got back under way.
"Suppose you separate them into 'us' and 'them', eh, and then we'll take it from there?" Jay suggested, leaning over the table until her nose was only a few inches from the stack of pictures.
"You're really getting into this, aren't you?" Dan grinned.
"Well, it was my idea in the first place," she pointed out, watching intently as Duo dealt them out into separate piles.
"Where do you want these two, Tro?" Duo asked, holding up the last photos. "You picked 'em, but I've never seen 'em."
"...Bad guys," Trowa said quietly, expressionless. Duo shrugged and reached towards the appropriate pile, but Jay whisked them out of his fingers before he could put them down.
"I think they're as good a place as any to start, don't you, chaps?" she said, accent thickening abruptly as she showed the pictures to her teammates. "Good-oh! Right then. Who are they to you, eh?"
The 'native' pilots watched poker-faced as Trowa's teammates peered curiously at the pictures. An elderly man, solidly built, leaning on a cane as he spoke into a microphone; and a young man, with a family resemblance to the older one, grinning and waving as he got out of a car.
"Dekim and Trowa Barton," Trowa said flatly. Eyebrows shot up on the other side of the table as he leaned forward and tapped the older man's picture. "Dekim is a powerbroker and arms dealer. I never met him in person, but among the mercenaries I worked with he had a reputation as a ruthless bastard." His finger moved to the other picture, hovering just above the smiling face, then withdrew. "Trowa was his son. He was the original intended pilot of Heavyarms, but he was in favour of Operation Meteor. I took his place... and his identity." He shrugged. "It seemed fair enough, since I didn't have one of my own."
Under the table, Quatre took hold of Trowa's free hand and squeezed comfortingly.
"Huh," Duo muttered, leaning back. I knew the story, but I didn't know what he looked like. Guess even Quatre didn't...
"I take it Operation Meteor was a bad thing?" Asuka said, sounding bored.
"Welllllll," Jay drawled, "we have a jolly interesting correspondence of names here." She picked up 'Trowa's' picture and beamed at it. "This is Torovha Bartonova Barazynovich. The current Theodorian Emperor. Exalted, what?"
"Wow. He's moved up in the world. Worlds. Whatever," Duo said, wide-eyed.
"And this was his father," Jay continued, waving the other photo. "The previous Emperor. Not such a nice name correspondence, since the more exalted Theodorian nobility use a weird matronymic-patronymic naming tradition, but... Barazynov Mikalova Dekanovich. He was actually a pretty nice guy, unlike his son, and his death was from natural causes. Reeeeeeeally," she sing-songed, eyes wide and innocent behind the smudged lenses.
Christy snorted. "Yeah, right. The same sort of natural causes Asuka and I deal in, except we're more subtle."
Dan winced. "Christy... Barazynov was poisoned. Probably. How is a bullet in the back of the head more subtle than a quiet dose of hemlock in the middle of the night?!"
She rolled her eyes. "The guy was in perfect health, and then he dies in his sleep of 'heart failure'? Please. He'd had a routine checkup the week before, for crying out loud! Torovha should at least have tried to make it look like an accident."
"She has a point," Asuka nodded.
"He just didn't have the benefit of your peculiar skills and experience," Mel snickered. "Moving right along?" She poked through the 'good guys' pile and came up with three photographs. "Aha. These ladies."
Christy glanced at them as Mel carefully laid them down on the table, and jerked back. "Whoa! Her! *ahem* Yeah... we know her. I know her real well."
"Sally Po," Wufei identified her, smiling faintly. "Leader of a resistance group. She runs an underground hospital, and also goes on sabotage missions."
"Really nice lady," Duo said cheerfully. "She's patched us up more times than I can count. This one's Hilde Schbeiker, a good friend of mine--"
"'Hilda! Kvickly! Kill somet'ing!'" Mel muttered under her breath.
"--she used to be an OZ cadet, but decided to be a good guy instead," Duo finished, looking at Mel strangely.
"Catherine Bloom," Trowa chimed in, nodding to the third photo. "She... sort of adopted me as her younger brother."
"'Katrine!' *Boom!* 'Oh Gott Katrine, I love it vhen you anticipate.'"
"Yeah, why is her photo in here?" Duo asked, glancing at Mel again. "In our world, she's a circus performer, not a high-ranking officer or nobility. Same with Hilde, she's not high profile."
Christy choked quietly.
"Oo-er," Jay said uncomfortably. "You're not going to like this."
"...Why not?" Quatre asked nervously. He was getting some very odd 'vibes' from Christy...
"They're Theos," Asuka said bluntly. "High-ranking Theos. They may not be high-profile in your world, but here..." He shrugged.
"Put it this way," Christy said abruptly, sitting forward and pointing a trembling hand at 'Sally's' picture. "You know how Madame Garnier's equivalent in your world, Une or whatever, is the psycho bitch from hell? Here, she's the psycho bitch from hell. Generalissimo Salina Po, Theodorian head of counterintelligence. I spent a very nasty three hours alone with her and her girl sidekicks once, and I'd rather not repeat it." She looked at her hand and snorted. "I mean, look at this. It's ridiculous. I don't shake, ever, but when I start thinking about her I start getting associative tremors. Kind of a flashback to them playing with a truck battery."
Duo stared at her open-mouthed for a second before he managed to speak. "What, you mean... here, Sally's a sadistic witch bitch? No way! And, Hilde...?"
"HildA, here," Mel said calmly. "No known last name. She's Salina's adjutant. And Katrine Bloomberg, leader of Salina's main 'action squad'... in other words, she makes people go 'poof' in the night, and they're never seen again. There's a comic about them, actually, co-starring us, called 'Gundam Vixens'."
Dan growled something under his breath, and Asuka scowled.
"Er, the author thinks we're all female," Mel grinned. "And very well-endowed."
It was Jay's turn to snort as she crossed her arms over her nearly flat chest.
"It's an anthropomorphic comic." Mel grinned even wider. "We're foxes -- duh -- and the Theos are all mice and voles. Gods know how many assassins Salina's sent after the author; he portrays those three as a lesbian threesome who dress in bondage queen gear and get off on blowing things up. Including their own troops."
"They probably do," Christy scowled. "I know they get off on torture. I was there. Ancient Mongol water torture, with refinements. Truck battery refinements."
"'You t'ink it's easy, stayink in good enuff shape to dominate t'ousands through sheer sexual terror?'" Mel quoted dreamily. "'Look at zis tush! I can crack a valnut between mein butt cheeks!'"
"Well. This is... unsettling," Wufei said quietly.
"Understatement of the millennium, Wu-man," Duo said fervently. "Are all our nice guys gonna turn out to be sadists?"
"'You! Buff der vinyl on mein arse!' 'Squeik!'"
"Oh, shut up," Heero snarled.
"You can read the comic later if you like," Mel snickered. "I've got the full run."
"Can we move on now?" Christy snapped. "I'd like to stop shaking some time soon."
"Shall we just pick out a few, er, plums from the pile, and leave the rest for later?" Jay suggested.
"I think that would be best," Quatre agreed quickly.
The Vaterean pilot hunted through the piles, humming absently to herself, and set four down. "How about these?"
"Well, in our world this man was a pleasant pacifist, so I suppose here he's a raving maniac," Wufei said sourly, flicking the edge of one photo. "Vice-Foreign Minister Dorlian. OZ -- our version of OZ, that is -- assassinated him as part of their plan to stir up hate for the colonies on Earth."
"Well, he's not nice, but he doesn't rave or froth at the mouth or anything," Jay mused.
"Brigadier Dorlianov," Dan shrugged. "Theodorian head of mobile suit development."
Heero blinked, a strange expression crossing his face. "Does this mean Relena is a Theodorian?!"
"Cool," Duo said, slapping the table. "That means we can kill her. I knew there had to be something good come out of this."
"C'mon, Quatre, we've all wanted to flatten her at least once," he snorted. "Besides, judging by this," he waved at the scattered pictures, "she's probably a raving war junkie in this reality, and will turn up piloting an Aries, out to get us."
Quatre winced. "Yes, well... I think I'm glad there wasn't a picture of Father, or any of my sisters. I hate to imagine..."
"Next!" Jay said quickly.
Heero grimaced and indicated another photo. "Marshal Noventa. He was on the other side, but he was the head of a faction that wanted peace between Earth and the colonies. OZ tricked me into killing them."
"Good news! He's a nice guy," Jay cheered, applauding. "And he's alive, too! General Noviento, head of the OZ Alliance's combined forces. I promise we won't trick you into offing this version of him, eh what?"
He stared at her for a moment, seemingly torn between annoyance and incredulity, and she proudly waved her middle finger at him again. "Next!"
Trowa shrugged one shoulder. "General Septem. Unpleasant, but he was following Noventa and aiming for peace. Dead."
"Ah. Lieutenant-General Septimus, a right bastard who doesn't have the p-word in his vocabulary. Theo Chief of Army."
"So I guess this one's a nice guy who runs the Ladies' Sewing Circle?" Duo sighed, picking up the last photo.
"Who is it?" Wufei asked, leaning over to see; Duo showed him. "Ah. Tsubarov," he said, sitting back with a disgusted expression.
"No sewing, but I do like him," Jay smiled. "Same name. He's head of OZ mobile suit and mech development, sort of Dorlianov's opposite number. Quite a nice chap, always willing to help us out if he thinks we could use one of his new gadgets."
"Is he still playing with dolls?" Heero asked coldly.
"Dolls?" Jay blinked at him. "I don't believe he's ever played with dolls. Toy trucks, probably, when he was an ankle-biter, but..."
"He means automated mobile suits," Trowa explained quietly.
"Oh! Oh, I see... no, no, none of that. He hates the idea of automatic killing thingies. Unmanned recon drones, things like that, yes, but he says if you're going to be killing people you should be putting yourself on the spot, otherwise it's not war; it's a video game. It's Dorlianov who's experimenting with dollies." Jay chortled quietly to herself. "I say, that's a jolly good name for them. Dolls. Sounds rather wussy, really... I think we should tell the good old propaganda chappies. If they can make automated mobile suits sound silly enough, it would be just like Torovha to shut the program down in a fit of pique."
Duo stuck his bottom lip out and blew his bangs out of his eyes, looking depressed. "So basically," he said, turning the picture of Hilde/Hilda around and around, "if we see someone we liked back in our world, we should shoot them?"
"It's not that bad." Christy gave him a wry half-smile. "Your version of Novienta sounded okay, and he's okay here. Torovha is a bastard in both worlds. You'll probably get a decent percentage of nice guys being nice guys after we've found some more corresponding matches. This is just--"
"Don't say statistical clustering," Duo interrupted hastily, glancing sideways at Heero. "The last time somebody told me that something was statistical clustering, it was no such thing."
"I was going to say 'a bad batch', but okay," she muttered.
"Regardless of who's on what side," Quatre spoke up, "before we started this, we'd decided to work with you."
Mel grimaced slightly, eyes flicking to Wufei and away again, and Asuka just shrugged, but Jay was delighted.
"Well that's just bally wonderful, isn't it chaps?" she burbled, jumping up out of her chair. "Quick, let's get you over to General Pet's office and get all the paperwork started. Got to get you on the payroll, don'tcherknow!"
"Jay... we don't get paid," Christy said wearily.
"Um, hate to contradict you, old chum, but we do."
"No, we don't!"
"Yes, we do," Mel said, looking puzzled. "Haven't you ever accessed your military pay account?"
"What military pay account? We're not military personnel!"
"We still get paid by the military!"
Dan groaned and dropped his head into his hands. "You've had a brigadier-general's pay going into that account for just over five years, plus all the hazard duty allowances and so on they give us, and you've never touched it?! The total's got to be huge by now! Plus interest!"
Mel perked up. "Hey Christy, can I have a loan?"
Christy blinked. "You mean I've been using my family accounts to pay for my 'special' upgrades, and hacking extra money out of Theo banks, and I didn't need to?"
End Warped Mirrors
 Abrutie! = You moron! (more or less) in Gaulish. (Yes, it was Dan who yelled that.)
NOTE FROM MEL: 'GUNDAM VIXENS'
This comic (obviously) doesn't exist in this world. However, there's a suspiciously similar comic called 'Tank Vixens', a four-issue miniseries put out by Antarctic Press (moved to their Venus adult line after its first lemon). It's hysterically funny, full of bad jokes, yuri scenes of varying intensity, and lines like "Mein sexual inadequacy iss killing me! Mein v'illy iss dropping off!" "Ya! Maybe v'e should chust go home und become science fiction fans!" and "Violence is der last resort of der sexually inadequate!" This hoopy thng was written by Paul Kidd (who said 'yes' when I asked if we could quote it, nice man) and drawn by Mike Sagara (who is undoubtably also a nice man, but whom I have never met).
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