As Jamieson and Olwyn kept arguing, roaring insults and disparaging comments about their respective national drinks into each others' faces, a tall white-haired man wandered in behind them and looked around vaguely.
"Solmundsen!" Gredenko called, raising his voice to be heard above the rapidly degenerating shouting match. "Vhat are they arguing about this time?"
"Ah?" The man turned and blinked, seeming to notice the other scientists for the first time, and listened for a moment. "Alcohol, I am thinking." His voice was a pleasant, light tenor, with a vaguely Swedish sing-song accent, and he was dressed for a much colder climate, including a blue and white sweater with a snowflake pattern.
"That's... not so bad," Trowa muttered under his breath, eyeing the Firman version of Doktor S. "I see he hasn't lost his nose."
"I know they are arguing about alcohol now," Gredenko snapped. "They alvays end up arguing about alcohol. Vhat did they start arguing about?"
"I wasn't listening," Solmundsen shrugged, turning to look up at Heavyarms. "It would have been interesting to run some energy readings on these immediately after they came through," he said absently, rubbing at his chin. "I have a theory about differing energy states in matter from different parallels, and it would have been nice to have it confirmed..."
"You alvays have a theory," Gredenko sighed. "Does anyvun have some facts? Heine! Are you out there?"
"Nein! I am at home vith a cold stein of beer," a cheerful voice replied, and a small round man came through the door, moving in a sort of bouncing half-run. He looked around with a happily expectant expression, screwing his monocle more firmly into place, and Quatre choked.
"H is a German?" he sputtered incredulously, holding onto Trowa's arm for support. "Wearing a-- a-- a--"
"A zoot suit!" Duo supplied, almost rolling off Deathscythe's foot as he giggled helplessly. "He looks like the Teutonic branch of the 1940's Movie Mafia!"
< < There's a fair few citizens of Prussian descent in the Vatera Kingdom, eh wot, > > Jay said in what was probably supposed to be a confiding whisper. Broadcast over Dyscalculia's speakers, however, it was anything but unobtrusive. < < His Prussian ancestry is just a little more recent than most... as in, he's it. He immigrated when he was about nineteen. We've tried to file the accent off the Pocket Prussian, honestly, but it just isn't working. > >
"JARVIA! How many times do I haff to tell you? I am not the Pocket Prussian, or the Tiny Tyrant, or any of the other nicknames you haff saddled me vith!"
< < ACK! The name! > > she choked, rocking Dyscalculia back and forth. < < The real name, twice in one day! Oh, the humanity! How could you do that to me, oh Bratwurst Billiard Ball? > >
"Gredenko, I think I vill be borrowing some bricks from you later," Heine said evenly. "Vhat did you vish to ask me?"
"Do you have any idea vhat set those two off this time?" Gredenko asked impatiently, gesturing towards Olwyn and Jamieson, who seemed to have switched to a glaring contest. Behind him, Asuka reeled himself down from Morkeleb's hatch on his lift wire, placed several small anti-personnel mines around his barbed-wire fence, glared briefly at Solmundsen, and reeled himself back up. Everyone ignored him.
"Ah, Jamieson was expounding on his next planned modification to Starthrasher--" Heine started, waving his hands.
"As usual," Gredenko muttered.
"--vhich from the sound of it vould require at least t'ree kvantum leaps in various technologies to be made practical--"
"Och, tha's no' fair!" Jamieson protested, distracted.
"--und Olvyn told him he had... vhat vas that phrase again?"
"I said he had his head so far down his bloody sporran it was a wonder enough of his legs were out for him to walk," Olwyn said triumphantly.
Wufei winced, but kept watching in a sort of horrified fascination.
"Also as usual," Gredenko said in a disgusted voice, nodding. "I knew it!"
"Then vhy did you bother to ask?" Heine asked reasonably.
"I think I vas hoping I vas wrong," the Tatar scientist growled.
"Just because the rest o' th' scientific community canna keep up wi' mah genius is no rrreason for me ta stifle mah brilliance," Jamieson said haughtily, drawing himself up and folding his arms. "I coom up wi' twice as many ideas as the rrrest o' you apes put together, an' ye know it!"
"Ve also know that by the time you vork out how to make some of your ideas vork, you are down to haffing fewer practical ideas than Solmundsen," Heine told him.
"Hm?" Solmundsen turned around, then went back to studying Heavyarms when he saw nobody was looking at him.
"Aye, well, if you lot were bright enough to think of ways to make mah ideas work--"
"Or if you were bright enough to think up ideas that don't include 'And now we wave a bloody great magic wand to make the laws of physics change'--"
"Halt! Time-out!" Christy yelled, waving her non-cast-encased arm over her head. "Same song, different verse, we've heard all of this crap before and I'm sure we'll hear all of it again in the future. You lot are like a bunch of five year olds arguing over whose invisible friend is coolest when you start 'discussing' theoretical physics, and how to turn it into Gundam design features! Can we just skip it today?! We've got more important things to deal with!"
"Aye, well, you've been the worst one in the bloody arguments before, like that time ye were tryin' to insist that it was safe to alpha test a biofeedback control system in battle--"
"I resent that," Christy said mildly.
"It's true," Gredenko shrugged.
"That's why I resent it. I still think you should have let me try it," she said, pouting slightly. "Anyway, the slight to my honour must be avenged! Or words to that effect. Highlander!" she yelled, taking an aggressive stance and brandishing a small grey object at Jamieson. "There can be only one!"
Asuka swore over Morkeleb's speakers. < < Fuck you, Christy! Put that back! > >
"That is an active mine, and she's waving it around like a sword," Wufei said uneasily, starting to ease backwards. "Duo, your roommate is insane."
"I know," Duo snickered, sliding down the rear slope of Deathscythe's foot and peering over the top. "She's better than a movie!"
Jamieson grinned, bad mood abruptly forgotten, and pulled what looked like a small measuring tape cartridge out of his pocket. When he slipped his finger into the ring and pulled, though, it seemed that nothing came out... until he shifted his hands slightly, and light glinted off something cobweb-thin. "I believe mah monowire trrrumps yer *heh* claymore!"
"Bloody hell! Are y' still carryin' that shit around in y' sporran?" Olwyn said uneasily, backing away. "One of these days a loop of it'll come loose an' cut yer goolies off!"
"Point," Christy said calmly, tossing the claymore mine back over her shoulder and backing away. Quatre yelped and dove to catch it as she pulled her .357 Magnum from her spine holster. "But I believe my range beats your monowire."
"Aye, well, at least I get free dry-cleanin' on base," Jamieson sighed, looking down at the bright pink splotch on his shirt.
"What are you twitching about, Golden Boy?" Christy asked, glancing Quatre's way as she holstered her paint pistol. "I safed it before I threw it."
"With you, Christy, it's never safe to make assumptions," he gritted out, slowly clambering to his feet and brushing dirt off his front.
< < Ha, bloody, ha, very funny, > > Asuka grumbled. < < Now, take the safety off and put the damn thing back! > >
Gredenko snorted. "Jamieson, you idiot, she gets you vith that vun every time! Vhen are you going to learn to bring a ranged veapon?"
"Monowire's a ranged weapon if ye handle it right," Jamieson said mildly, reeling it back into its case. "Y'just need a good weight on one end, an' a little physical coordination ta swing it around wi'out choppin' yer own head off."
"Try it," Olwyn suggested. "G'wan. Just wait until I'm out of the country."
It took a while longer before the scientists settled down enough to pay attention to introductions, but eventually Christy was able to move the still-squabbling group over to where the 'Appearance' pilots were standing in various states of shell-shock or hilarity.
"Jamieson, this is... JAMIESON! Oi! Tartan Terror, pay attention!" she yelled, waving at Heero. "This is your second pilot, if he doesn't run screaming from your unholy dress sense, Heero Yui, pilot of Wing. He acts a bit like Asuka, but without the casually homicidal side to his nature."
"Hn," Heero grumped, glaring at her, and Jamieson nodded.
"Ah see what y'mean," he grinned. "Nice ta meetcha. So long as y'dinna try ta blow me up too often, we'll get along fine."
"So long as you keep wearing the more muted selections out of your wardrobe, you mean," Dan taunted, lying on his stomach on Starthrasher's 'drawbridge' armour plate, chin in his hand and feet kicked up behind him. "If you think this is bad, Heero, bear in mind that he's wearing his hunting tartan right now. It's a lot more sober than the kilt he drags out for special occasions."
"I can see that this is going to be an interesting relationship," Heero muttered dourly.
"You've already met Duo," Christy continued to Gredenko. "For everyone else's benefit: this is Mort, my Heir Apparent. He's cool. And don't dis Deathscythe."
"Damn straight!" Duo cheered.
"03 is... uh... where did Solmundsen go?"
Without looking, Heine and Olwyn jerked their thumbs over their shoulders in Heavyarms' direction.
"Figures," Christy sighed. "Oi! Doktor Space Cadet!"
"Hmm?" Solmundsen replied absently, not looking away from his examination of Heavyarms, peering up the barrels of the gatling gun with a small torch.
"Trowa, that's your Doktor," Christy said solemnly. "You'd better go talk to him before he starts taking things apart to find out how and why things are different. Moving right along... Instructor Heine, this is Quatre Winner, Sandrock's pilot. You both probably get the best deal out of any of us. Heine because Luke here is polite and saner than the rest of us. Golden Boy 'cause the Tiny Tyrant is all snarl and no snap."
"Vun of these days I am going to snap, you know, and you vill all be very surprised before you die," Heine said conversationally. "I am saffing it all up, ja. Making eine kleine list. Mein day vill come." Turning to Quatre he clicked his heels together and bowed. "Pleased to meet you! I regret, howeffer, that you haff unfortunately been assigned a scientist who vill probably neffer be able to properly pronounce your last name."
"I can think of several worse fates, sir," Quatre said politely, bowing back.
< < Ha! Wish he couldn't pronounce my real name, > > Jay sniffed. < < Every other word with a 'v' in the middle comes out as an 'f', but does he call me 'Jarffia'? Nooooooo! It's not fair, wot! > >
"I pretend it is spelled with a double-u," Heine grinned. "Point to me, I think..."
< < Arrrgh! I might have known it was on purpose, dash it all. > >
"Finally, ve haff-- *ahem* we have someone else whose name Heine's going to mispronounce. Professor Olwyn, this is Chang Wufei, pilot of Nataku. Ollie's not a bad guy if you can keep your eardrums intact, 'Fei."
Wufei started to bow, but Olwyn stepped forwards and grabbed his hand, shaking vigorously. "Damn pleased t'meetcha, kid!" he roared, pounding Wufei's shoulder with his free hand. "We'll have a ball, trust me. Got a few new gadgets in mind t'stick in Taniwha, if Mel will bloody well let me--"
< < Only if I like them, Ollie-baby, > > Mel said in an amused voice. < < They've got to be in harmony with my 'wa'. > >
"--but she gets these moments of mystical Hanese bullshit," Olwyn continued, "so y'never know when she'll turn down something 'cause it messes with the cockpit's Feng Fooey or something. Anyway, yer Gundam looks good; we can fix up versions of anything Taniwha's got that you want for your baby, no sweat."
< < You're so tactful, boyo, > > Mel snorted. < < What if Chang likes 'mystical Hanese bullshit' too? > >
"Ahhh, he looks sensible. Besides, I'm an Aussie, damn it, we don't believe in that crap."
< < No... just the Rainbow Serpent, the Dreaming, bunyips, dropbears... > >
"That's different!" Olwyn protested. "That's religion, that is... well, except for the dropbears."
Slightly glassy-eyed, Wufei finally got his hand free and stepped back with a noncommital murmur.
"'Dropbears'? Duo asked, snickering.
"Terrible predators in the Austral Territories," Olwyn said solemnly, shaking his head. "Terrible. They're a bit like koalas, y'see, only bigger and carnivorous, and they get up in tall trees and wait for ya t'walk underneath--"
< < Unfortunately, they have discriminating tastes, > > Mel interrupted. < < They only ever attack people who are drunk off their faces, so nobody's ever managed to catch one to study... if you get what I mean. > >
"Geez, girl, you're spoilin' the impact of me story!"
* * * * *
"Are we absolutely sure there's no way back to our own world?" Heero said, almost wistfully. "I'm willing to go back and face Relena. Really."
"I'd call that a fate worse than Jamieson, Heero," Duo told him, trying not to snicker.
"That's because your Doctor is closer to normality," Heero snorted. "You and Quatre have mildly eccentric but rational scientists. Trowa's is at least inoffensive. Wufei and I are stuck with the real weirdos!"
"'Mystical Hanese bullshit'," Wufei muttered dazedly. "I don't believe it."
"I liked the dropbears, myself," Quatre said, looking perfectly innocent.
The Chinese pilot sputtered, searching for words. "The man's a-- a-- a--"
"'Multicultural poster boy', Mel called him," Duo supplied helpfully. "He's certainly acculturated, you've got to give him that!"
Wufei gave him a filthy look, slightly softened by an upwards twitch at the corner of his mouth that he couldn't quite suppress, before returning to his meal. "'Acculturated' is one word for it," he said, apparently confiding to his vegetables. "'Culturally bankrupt' might be a better term."
"It's not Ollie's fault he was born in the Austral Territories," Mel said cheerfully, reaching for another slice of bread. "He's got plenty of culture; it's just not the sort you expect when you look at him."
"If you want to look at it that way, then," Wufei said in an exasperated tone, "the man has as much culture as old yoghurt, only less appealing."
Caught at exactly the wrong moment, Quatre nearly snorted his orange juice and started to choke, sputtering with laughter between gurgles and gasps for breath. Trowa was still helpfully rubbing his back when a series of popping noises announced that the public address loudspeakers were all switching on.
< < Yellow alert. Yellow alert, > > a calm voice said, echoing between the buildings. < < This base is now at readiness state Gamma. Satellite imagery and observer reports show increased Theodorian troop movements across a wide front to the east. Confirmed units moving include infantry, armoured vehicles-- > >
"TALLY-HO AND ABOUT FUCKING TIME!" Jay howled, losing her fake Albion accent completely as she shot up from her chair and waved a fist at the ceiling. She was still clutching her fork, and the large lump of potato she'd been about to put in her mouth went flying off in some random direction, but she didn't let that bother her. "Torovha's finally pulled his thumb out! --Er, that is, jolly good show, eh what?"
"It's only Gamma, Jay," Christy said dryly. "Don't get too wound up. They only send us out when it hits Beta or Alpha... remember?"
"Well, yes, but I say--" Jay started.
< < --no, repeat no confirmed mobile suit movements, > > the calm voice concluded. < < Readiness state Gamma only. > >
"Then again, they could confirm suit movement any time now," Christy grinned, "and if they do, we--"
"Will stay put and let everyone who is not on the wounded list take care of it," Dot said coldly, looming over Christy's shoulder. "Won't you, Stepanopolous? Maxwell? You are going to remember you're classified as 'inactive reserve' until I say otherwise. Aren't you?"
"Yes, Dot," Duo and Christy chorused sweetly, batting their eyelashes.
"I'm not feeling any sort of sincerity here."
"If you come back with any new injuries, I will show no mercy."
"Of course, Dot," Christy sing-songed. Duo's reply wasn't as clear, but sounded like 'Three bags full, Dot'.
"I don't know why I even bother," the medic sighed, throwing up her hands as she turned away.
"Because you care, Dot!" all the Firman pilots, except Asuka, carolled after her.
"C'mon Mort, let's get out of here and hide before she sics General Pet on us," Christy whispered, scrambling out of her chair.
"Duo..." Heero started, then cut himself off, shaking his head. "You'll do what you want," he said gruffly, and Wufei nodded agreement. "Just remember that we worry about you, okay?"
"Try not to make us panic too much," Wufei added quietly. "Please?"
"That's so sweet," Christy sighed dramatically. "Awww. --C'mon Mort!"
Two hours later, Duo and Christy were still nowhere to be found. The other pilots had all moved from the mess hall to their barracks and were sitting in the common room, playing cards and listening to position reports over the radio.
"Mobile suits don't seem to be used here nearly as much as where we come from," Quatre commented, picking up his cards.
"Seems that way," Dan agreed. "The Theos have a lot more suits than we do, but even they can't use them in every assault! If they think a target can be taken using infantry, air strikes, armoured vehicles, mobile guns, or whatever else they have available, then that's what they use... especially since they know that using suits will bring us in to oppose them."
"On Earth," Trowa put in, "mobile suits are infantry, armoured vehicles, mobile guns and whatever else. It simplifies matters quite a bit."
"Hn," Asuka agreed, cracking a small smile for the first time since Solmundsen had hacked through his defenses and pried him out of his Gundam. "It would be nice to have an excuse to get into all the battles, instead of waiting for the Theos to issue a damn invitation."
"But, Asuka, old bean, if they did that, you wouldn't have any time free to go on assassination missions," Jay pointed out. "Or screw Dan, eh wot. Not a good idea, really, I'm sure you'll agree."
"Hn... I could live without it."
Dan made a faint 'eep'ing noise, looking horrified, then quickly rearranged his expression into something a little less panicked. "Oui, Asuka mon cher, but isn't it so much more fun when you don't have to live without it? It's like... ah..." He cast around for a suitable example. "Like the air-conditioner, no? Nonessential, but much better than not having it."
The Glacin pilot suddenly looked thoughtful. Given his attitude towards high temperatures, he was probably wondering how anyone could define air-conditioning as 'nonessential'. Given Dan's attitude towards Asuka, that was probably exactly what he'd hoped for.
"Saved by the derailment of a train of thought, eh wot?" Jay muttered under her breath, leaning over to Dan.
"No thanks to you!" Dan hissed back. "Can we please avoid any comments that might lead to mon cher sauvage considering celibacy once more? My celibacy?!"
*pop*pop*pop* went the loudspeakers again.
< < Red alert, > > the same calm voice announced, sounding just a little sharper. < < Red alert. Cobras seven, eight and nine report Theodorian mobile suits advancing from the east. Base personnel to readiness state Alpha; all Gundams prepare to repulse attack. Hostile suit count is as yet incomplete due to jamming. ETA to Cobra outposts: thirty minutes. I repeat, Red Alert-- > >
"Okay chaps, I give the Theos credit for trying to distract us by shuffling troops around elsewhere," Jay panted, bolting for the hangar with everyone else, "but what are the bally idiots thinking, coming in on that vector?!"
"What's wrong with it?" Quatre called, managing to sound polite as he eeled between Asuka and Dan to get through the door first. Mechanics and scientists scattered out of the way as the pilots ran into the hangar.
"It's the same way they came in last time, don'tcherknow, when they turned up behind you chaps! Remember?"
"How could we possibly forget?" Heero snorted.
"It's easy, old bean; I do it all the time..."
"This has to be Torovha's idea," Mel laughed, swinging up to Taniwha's hatch on her lift wire. "It's his style. If at first you don't succeed, try exactly the same thing again just to make sure it wasn't a fluke!"
"Yeah, well, he tends ta use a bigger hammer every time, so watch yer butt!" Olwyn bellowed after her. "You, too, kid; I'd hate ta lose the opportunity ta get ta know ya!"
"If I ask nicely, will the Theodorians kill me now?" Wufei said grimly, but not quietly enough.
"Nah!" Olwyn replied, grinning at the 'joke'. "They'll just lock ya up an' preach at you about their Destiny Made Manifest. It's a fate worse than death, kid, trust me. Fate worse than me, too!"
"Or, judging by my Christina's experience, they might just hook you up to a truck battery for an hour or two," Gredenko said thoughtfully. "Perhaps you should not try it, da?"
< < No sign of the Terrible Twosome, > > Dan sent from his cockpit, chuckling as he brought Starthrasher's systems online. < < Twenty credits say they catch up to us in half an hour, though. > >
< < Mmm... forty minutes, wot, > > Jay decided. < < Hades is still hooked up to the diagnostic computers, and we'll be putting the speed on. > >
< < You're both far too conservative, > > Mel sneered. < < Twenty minutes. > >
< < Since they're not supposed to go with us at all, > > Quatre started, < < I don't think we should be betting on-- > >
< < Ten minutes. > >
< < Trowa! > >
< < Are we to take it that you're betting on 'not at all', petit? > > Dan asked mildly.
< < Well... all right, yes! > > Quatre said indignantly. < < And it'll serve you all right when I win! > >
"I am sorry to say zis, but I am not liking your chances, young man," Heine said sorrowfully, shaking his head.
Jamieson waved a twenty-credit note at Dan's main camera. "I'm goin' for eighteen minutes prrrecisely," he grinned. "Now git oot there!"
"I think I vill just take Hades off diagnostic now," Gredenko murmured, walking over to the controls.
< < Oi! No fair fiddling with the odds, wot! > >
Less than a minute after the last Gundam walked out of the hangar doors, Christy and Duo sauntered in, doing their best to look innocent and failing miserably.
"Diagnostics are finished, startup checks are done, and ve have even put the ladder up so you don't have to go up the vire vun-handed," Gredenko said gruffly. "And, Christina?"
"If you are not careful out there-- vhat I vould consider careful, that is-- I vill never be an accomplice to your little escapades again. Clear?"
Smiling, Christy leaned up and kissed his cheek. "Clear, Dyadya. And thanks!"
"That goes for you, too, molodoy cheloviek!" Gredenko roared to Duo as Christy ran on to Hades and the braided teen passed him. "You are too much like her for me to let you go vithout that being understood!"
"Gotcha, Dyadya!" Duo agreed blithely, focussing on Deathscythe.
"He has no idea vhat he just called you, does he?" Heine murmured, strolling casually over to Gredenko.
"Nyet," Gredenko murmured back, smirking. "He doesn't... but somehow it seems appropriate, da?"
"Git th' lead oot!" Jamieson yelled. "But dinna go too fast, eh? I've got twenty credits riding on eighteen minutes!"
Hades mock-saluted him, left arm dangling unnaturally, and the two Gundams walked out.
End of Warped Mirrors
 Dropbears are a traditional Australian thing to warn tourists about. They really do exist, honest... *nudge nudge, wink wink* 'No shit, there I was, sober as a judge...'
 Dyadya- Uncle, Russian/Theodorian
 molodoy cheloviek- young man, Russian/Theodorian
 Nyet- no, Russian/Theodorian
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