"The best laid
Five minutes after leaving the base, Duo opened a channel to Christy. "Ah, Bosslady, tell me you have some sort of a plan," he said, raising an eyebrow.
< < Hn. Well, Mort, I don't know about you, but I don't think I'm exactly in the shape for a close, dirty, knock ‘em down and drag ‘em out fight. I may be rash at times, but contrary to popular opinion, I'm neither stupid nor suicidal. > >
Duo glanced down at his leg, and rubbed his chest unconsciously. "Well, I have to agree and say I'm still just a little less than 100% myself... So what's the plan, Chief?"
< < I figure the best thing we can do is back up the others and protect the lines of retreat for the ground-pounders. We'll use rockets and energy rifles from a distance. How does that sound? > >
"Sounds very reasonable to me. Just one little thing... I don't have rockets or a beam rifle!"
< < Minor details, Mort. There'll be plenty of those laying around once we get there. Trust me. > >
Just then, Mel's voice came over the main channel.
< < Cobra 7, Cobra 8, Cobra 9... This is Taniwha, en route. Status? > >
< < Cobra 9 here. We're all right. Fighting is heavy, but we can hold. Cobra 7's main radio is out, but they still have land-lines. They say they're hanging on, but things are getting dicey and could they please get a Gundam or two...? > >
< < This is Cobra 8. We are pulling back. We have heavy casualties, and our CO is down. We've also lost at least half of our sentry suits. > >
< < Roger that, Cobra 8. Dan, Heero, Asuka... head to Cobra 8's position. Quatre and I will take Cobra 9; Wufei, Trowa, Jay, you get to Cobra 7. Base, we're going to need backup. How many Serpent units do we have available? > >
< < Base to Taniwha. We have five available groups... Units 2, 4, 5, 7 and 9 are already scrambling. > >
< < Mayday, Mayday, > > a new, panicked voice broke in. < < Cobra 6 is under heavy attack -- I repeat, Cobra 6 is under attack by superior numbers of hostiles. Estimated enemy force is 70 to 100 mobile suits, with armoured vehicles and ground troops. We’re not going to be able to hold out long... > >
"Damn," Duo muttered, pulling up a map on his screen. "They're attacking over an eight mile front. This has to be more than just a 'let's see if we can sneak in' thing. We're talking major push, here..."
< < They're not holding anything back, that's for sure, > > Christy replied, staring at her own map.
"We're closest, Christy."
The braided girl's image nodded. < < Yeah. Let's go. I'll call for reinforcements. I think I have an idea... > > She flipped a switch and responded on the main channel.
< < Hades to Taniwha. We've got Cobra 6. Cobra 6, Hades and Deathscythe are en route. Our ETA is twenty minutes. In seven minutes, start pulling back, and bring any extra beam rifles you’ve got with you. We'll meet you on the ridge. Switch over to channel Foxtrot seven niner. Copy? Over. > >
< < Cobra 6 to Hades. Roger. Bug out in seven minutes. Changing channel to Foxtrot seven niner. See you there. Cobra 6 out. > >
Mel's voice broke in sharply. < < Christy... I hope you have a plan! I doubt the doting duo want to clean up the mess if you get their lover smeared across the desert. > >
< < Trust me, O Mighty Laser Breath. We're not stupid. Of course we have a plan; now leave us alone so we can implement it. > >
Duo watched Hades change course slightly and followed.
< < Hades to Base. Send Serpent groups 2 and 9 to reinforce Cobras 7 and 8. Groups 4, 5, and 7 are to rendezvous with Deathscythe and Hades at coordinates Tango Charlie three one ASAP. > >
< < Roger that Hades. Serpents 2 and 9 are on their way to Cobras 7 and 8. Serpents 4, 5, and 7 are changing course to rendezvous at Tango Charlie three one. ETA is approximately 28 minutes. Good luck all! Base out. > >
Duo laughed, and opened a channel to the de facto commander of the other group. "Hey, Mel. Keep Heero and Wufei in line, wouldja? I'm a big boy now and we can handle this just fine. We're support troops, not front-liners today. At least that was the plan... Christy," Duo called, leaving the channel to Mel open, "now would be a good time to let me in on the new plan..."
< < Okay Duo, if you insist, > > Christy replied with an evil grin. < < How do you think the Theos will react if they chase down Cobra 6’s personnel, and see us standing on the ridge? > >
Duo blinked. "The two of us, a few sentry suits, some LAVs and ground troops against their force? If I were them, I'd think it was Christmas or something..." His eyes widened and a matching evil grin appeared on his face. "I see. We're bait, aren't we?"
< < Very good, Grasshopper. Instead of ground troops, sentry suits and little old us, they'll be running straight into seventy-five top line Serpent suits as well. > >
Deathscythe's pilot's grin turned downright nasty. "Beautiful, O Awe Inspiring Bringer of Destruction... just beautiful."
Mel laughed, overhearing the plan on her channel to Duo. < < I almost pity the idiots... Almost. > >
< < Hades to Base. Send Serpent groups 2 and 9 to reinforce Cobras 7 and 8. Groups 4, 5, and 7 are to rendezvous with Deathscythe and Hades at coordinates Tango Charlie three one ASAP. > >
Heero blinked in surprise, then swore. "Son of a bitch! Of all the stupid, reckless--" His hand slapped a button on his console, and Wufei's face appeared on his screen.
< < You heard, I take it? > > the Chinese pilot said, frowning.
"What are those two imbeciles thinking?! They're both still injured!" Heero snapped. "There's no way they can handle that! I'm heading over there--"
Mel's face appeared in a second window, and from her words, she'd beeped Wufei as well.
< < Before you two go off half cocked, Duo and Christy aren't on their own, and they do have a solid plan. As you’d know if you'd actually contacted them before starting to rant... > > At Heero's slight blush, she chuckled. < < I knew it. I just talked to Duo and Christy. They're bait and backup, setting a trap for the Theo force. Stick with your assignments, > > she said firmly. < < You're needed more with Cobras 7 and 8 than you are to play 'babysitter' for two pilots who know what they're doing. > > Her window blinked out.
Wufei sighed. < < She's right, you know. As much as I hate to agree, we are needed more here... > >
A new window opened, cutting the Chinese pilot off, and Duo’s image grinned out of it, eyes sparkling.
< < Hey Heero, 'Fei. Don't worry. I know you heard and are probably ranting and calling us names, but we've got it covered. You might actually try feeling sorry for the dumb bastards heading our way. > >
< < Duo, are you sure? > > Wufei asked hesitantly. < < You're still injured. Hell, Christy can't even use one arm. You're both a bit handicapped... > >
< < Doesn't matter. We have a plan. We're the bait until the Theos hit the ridge. Then we pop behind the Serpents -- think, oh, Aries or Taurus equivalents -- and give support. We're not dumb enough or suicidal enough to take the Theos on ourselves in close combat. > > The braided pilot gave them a wink. < < You two just worry about looking after yourselves, doing your jobs, and staying in one piece. When we're all done and back at base, you can yell at me if you still feel the need. Okay, lovers? > >
Heero nodded tightly and touched Duo's window with his fingers. "Duo, just... be careful, all right? If you need us, just call us. Promise?"
< < Yes, Duo, call us if you two get in trouble. And take care of yourself. > >
Onscreen, Duo touched both windows, too. < < That's a promise, guys. You be careful too. See you back at base. Deathscythe out. > >
Duo's window winked out, and Heero raised his eyes to Wufei. The Chinese teen stared gravely back. < < Duo's right. You be careful, too, > > he said solemnly.
"I will. You, too." He ran a hand through his hair and nodded. "Right. Let's do this..."
* * * * *
“My Christina is undoubtedly doing somet’ing I vould disapprove of right now,” Gredenko said moodily.
“Ja,” Heine agreed. “I am not seeink how she could avoid it, since you disapprooff of her fighting at all right now. On vhich subject I am in agreement vith you, by the way.”
“Vell of course,” Gredenko snapped, tugging irritably at a tangle of fine wires poking out of the spare part he was examining. “She is in no condition to be out there!”
“She should be staying here, vhere it is safe, until her arm is healed!”
“I should have locked her out of Hades and kept her here!”
“Ja. I cannot help noticink t’at you did not, howeffer...”
“Vell of course I bloody vell didn’t,” Gredenko huffed. “I vant to keep on speaking terms vith her.”
“And also you desire to keep all your internal organs in their proper places, ja?”
“Da,” Gredenko agreed gloomily.
The main door into the hangar swung open, and Solmundsen wandered in, concentrating on a sheaf of notes he was holding in front of his face. Without looking up, he swung around Jamieson and Olwyn (who were bickering -- quietly, for once -- in front of the ranks of diagnostic computers), picked his way through the litter of cables and tool cabinets on the edge of the floor, walked to Morkeleb’s usual bay and reached out a hand as if to open one of the red-and-black Gundam’s leg maintenance hatches. Hitting nothing, he felt around vaguely in mid-air for a moment, then finally looked up.
“Oh,” he said mildly. “Where did he go?”
“Your liebchen Asuka?” Heine asked cheerfully. “Out to kill t’ings.”
“Oh,” Solmundsen repeated vaguely. “I don’t remember this being on the schedule for today. Was it? Nobody told me Morkeleb was going out, and I had some ideas for improving the balance system’s response times...”
“Of course it vas not scheduled!” Gredenko exploded. “Attacks by those sukiny deti Theo bastiches are not scheduled!”
“One can’t help feeling it would be far more convenient for everyone involved if they were,” the Glacin scientist sighed, perfectly seriously. “Ah... when was this?”
Seeing that Gredenko was sputtering incoherently, Heine took over his side of the conversation again. “Vhen all the alarms vere goink off,” he pointed out patiently.
“Oh.” Solmundsen blinked a few times, then looked vaguely puzzled. “What alarms?”
“VHAT ALARMS?!” Gredenko screeched. “Are you deaf as vell as brainless?!”
“I gotta admit, that’s a new low point on the alertness scale even for you, Sollie,” Olwyn snorted disbelievingly. “Are ya sure you didn’t hear ‘em? Not even a little?”
“Vhy don’t I put a trash can over your head and beat it vith a stick and see if you hear that?”
“Tha’ bluidy gobshite wouldna’ notice if the Theos took over the base an’ burned the hangar down around ‘im.” Jamieson snorted, folding his arms. “He’d be awfu’ surprised when they took his notebook awa’.”
Olwyn shook his head thoughtfully. “Nah, yer goin’ a bit far there. He’d notice the hangar burnin’.”
“I hope you two are not plannink to set fire to any major parts of t’is base to test your theories,” Heine called over to them, not sounding particularly worried.
“Nah, nah, no need!” Olwyn yelled back cheerfully. “We just wait until the Theos do it for us. The way they’re goin’, they’re bound to hit a base Sollie’s at sometime!”
“Vhat?” Gredenko perked up, distracted from glaring at the oblivious Glacin. “Vhat are you talking about? Are ve hoping the Theos vill get rid of him for us?”
“Nah, we’re just betting on whether he’ll notice them.”
“Fifty credits says he vouldn’t notice being shot.”
“Ah, now that we can test rrrright now!” Jamieson chortled, rubbing his hands together. “Real bullets or paint pellets?”
“If you kill Solmundsen, General Petrenkoffich vill probably not fund you any more,” Heine pointed out.
“We can aim at a leg!”
“You might hit an artery.”
“Goot point. It’s not vorth the risk,” Gredenko concluded glumly. “Paint pellets, then. I know vhere my Christina keeps her pistols...”
Heine sat back comfortably and watched the three scientists leave to collect suitable weapons. “Vell, that got him distracted from vorrying about his Christina... now, if I could just stop vorrying about mein liebchen Jarvia, and that new boy. So polite, he is...” Glancing up, he smiled at Solmundsen. “Should you not be runnink avay about now?”
“Ahhh, neffer mind. Perhaps you really von’t notice... hmm. Should I haff bet?”
* * * * *
The sky was shading toward dusk as Hades and Deathscythe approached the rendezvous point, intermittently lit up by distant flashes as artillery and rockets from the retreating Cobra base personnel pounded at the Theodorian force pursuing them. For a moment Duo thought the flashes were reflecting off a band of high cloud, which would explain why they weren’t visible closer to the ground... and then he realised the real reason for that effect.
“Whoa,” he said softly, and opened the local channel to Christy again. “Now I see why you told Cobra 6 ‘the’ ridge instead of giving them specific coordinates. I don’t remember crossing this on the way in to Assiut Base the day we arrived...”
< < That would be because you didn’t, > > Christy said, amused. < < We took a different route, a bit further north; it flattens out a few kilometres thataway. It is rather memorable, isn’t it? > >
“No kidding,” Duo snorted, hearing his Gundam’s leg motors whine faintly under the increased load as they started up the steep face of the towering rock-and-sand ridge. “I take it it’s part of your trap, too, not just a convenient landmark?”
< < Such a clever boy, > > she purred, eyes narrowing above a cold smile as her darker, ‘Persephone’ persona peeked through for a moment; then she was back to her normal self and grinning. < < The other side isn’t nearly as steep as this one; the Theos can chase Cobra 6’s personnel up it no problem, but once we’ve got them to chase us down this side, they’ll have a much harder time retreating once the Serpent suits arrive. All we have to do is keep them from getting too far away from the ridge before that happens, or they’ll be able to break sideways and get away. > >
“‘All’, she says,” Duo said in mock-mournful tones, smirking back. “Just little ol’ us against all those big bad Theos...”
< < Oh, we can let the Cobra personnel play too, don’t you think? It’d be a shame for them to bring their LAVs and rockets all this way and then not get to use them! > >
“Ah. Yeah. That. Look, not to disparage your plan or anything, but... are those LAVs going to have a problem with this ridge?” the L2 pilot asked, looking around at the rock-strewn slope, nearly vertical in spots. “I mean, I know they’re supposed to be ‘all-terrain’ vehicles, but they’ve still got wheels, not legs...”
< < Oh, they’ll be fine. At worst they’ll roll one or two and have to abandon them. They put five-point harnesses on every seat in those things for a reason, you know. > >
“I note you’re not volunteering for the ride yourself.”
There was an indescribable snort from his speakers. < < I told you. Rash, but not stupid! > >
Pausing just below the crest of the ridge, Christy waved Hades’s arm to signal Duo to stay back, and opened a com channel. < < Cobra 6, Hades and Deathscythe are in position. What’s your status and precise location? > >
“Bloody close to the other side of the ridge and getting shot at, so far as I can tell,” Duo muttered, raising an eyebrow as a particularly large explosion made the ground shiver beneath them, starting little trickles of sand running down the face of the ridge. Christy’s image in the com screen stuck her tongue out at him, but her attention clearly wasn’t on the automatic gesture.
< < Two hundred meters short of the main slope and doing better than expected, > > Cobra 6’s commander sent back, sounding relieved. < < We’ve been using rockets like there’s no tomorrow, and the Theos are taking damage; we’ve got the edge on them in range, so we’ve managed to avoid taking more casualties ourselves by pouring on the speed and staying ahead of them. We’ll slow down once we hit the ridge, though, so they’ll be able to close the distance... > >
There was a faint crackle as Deathscythe’s radio picked up a short-range transmission between vehicles in the escaping force, overlapping with Christy’s reply. < < Deathscythe? Who the hell is that? I never heard of a Gundam called Deathscythe-- > >
< < We’ll give them something else to think about, > > Christy sent with a grin. < < You just concentrate on getting your whole force up the ridge and down the other side as fast as possible! > >
< < --n’t you ever listen to scuttlebutt? > > another voice answered the first. < < Hell, haven’t you been at Assiut during the past few weeks? We’ve got some new help-- > >
“Looks like the word’s out about us,” Duo sent privately to Christy, grinning. “Who won the bet, by the way?”
< < Me, > > she said smugly. < < I bet it would take a week before the truth about you guys got out on base, and it was almost two weeks before the rumour mill started saying you were Appearances. Everyone else bet on less time. > >
“Looks like Jay really miscalculated, then!”
< < She probably would’ve won if more people believed in Appearances before they had their noses rubbed in it by you guys turning up, > > Christy shrugged. < < It took them a while to change their minds, and I took that into account when I guessed... okay, we’re on! > >
Rocket pods popped out of Hades’s shoulders as the dead-black suit charged up the last of the slope, and Duo followed.
Lost in thought, Quatre jumped as a com window opened on his screen. < < I don’t need the same powers as you or Jay to know you’re worrying about Duo, > > Mel said, not unkindly. < < He and Christy’ll be fine; you just concentrate on the job we’ve got to do! > >
“I’m sorry,” he replied guiltily. “It’s just--”
< < Don’t be sorry! > > she snorted. < < He’s your friend, it’s natural... but I’ll bet you haven’t made it this far as a Gundam pilot without learning how to put everything else aside until the fight’s over, right? So do it. He won’t be happy if you get yourself killed because you’re distracted! > >
“You’re right. I’m sor-- er, I mean, I’ll try!” he corrected himself, hearing her snicker.
< < Good! Because quite frankly, I think we’re going to have the hardest time of it. The other outposts are getting three Gundams and twenty-five Serpents, or two Gundams and seventy-five Serpent units. That’s fair enough, they’re taking a worse pounding than Cobra 9... but it still means it’s just you, me, and the Cobra personnel against one hell of a lot of Theos. I hope you’re feeling lively! > >
Elsewhere, Asuka was expressing similar sentiments, but in his own unique way.
< < Hn. Yui, if you screw up because you’re worrying about those morons getting into shit they can’t handle, I’ll kill you myself. > >
< < *ahem* To translate, > > Dan put in smoothly, < < what mon cher sauvage probably means is, “Don’t worry, they can handle it. Concentrate on this part of the job, please”. > >
< < I mean, if I get hit because he goes soft and doesn’t cover my back, I’ll put a rocket right up his-- > >
< < And since when have you needed anyone to cover your back, mon amour? > > the Gaulish pilot interrupted, faking a startled expression. < < Dieu... you’re not actually admitting you sometimes need backup, are you? > >
Asuka’s answer just about scorched Heero’s ears, and then the Glacin’s image vanished as he cut the link. Dan sighed, looking suspiciously warm and fuzzy, then twinkled at Heero. < < As I was saying... they’ll be fine. They have so much backup I’d be tempted to say it’s not funny, except that it will be funny when the Theos realise what they’re up against. I hope either Christy or your Duo bring back pictures of their reaction! > >
“Hn.” Heero grunted noncommittally and shut that connection, too.
Wufei’s thoughts were interrupted by a rather more welcome face.
< < Duo won’t do anything too reckless, > > Trowa said quietly. < < He doesn’t want to lose you any more than you want to lose him. > >
“I know,” Wufei replied, managing a faint smile. “Intellectually, I’m well aware that there’s no more reason to worry about him now than there was before I admitted how I felt about him. Emotionally...”
< < Emotionally, you’re wrapping yourself up into a big ball of paranoia, eh wot? > > Jay said cheerfully as a new com window opened.
The Chinese pilot glared back at her. “I don’t appreciate people eavesdropping on private conversations!” he snapped.
< < Yes, well, sorry about that old chap, > > she said, not looking at all repentant, < < but I didn’t actually realise I was eavesdropping until I wondered why you weren’t answering when I talked to you. Then I noticed my com wasn’t on. Blame the Division By Zero system; it takes all the fuzz away and makes things much clearer. > >
Wufei blinked, rather taken back. No matter how many times Jay did something that proved she really could read minds, part of him refused to accept it; he’d assumed she had eavesdropped by tapping into the private com channel between him and Trowa--
< < Nope, I was reading your minds, wot. Didn’t mean to, honest! I’ll be more careful in future; wouldn’t do at all to read Asuka by accident, don’tcherknow... > > She looked vaguely queasy for a moment, contemplating that possibility, then shook it off and returned to her normal vague smile. < < Anyway, fear not! Pretty Blue Eyes isn’t planning to do anything silly, just like Bang Boy said, and neither is Christy, oddly enough... if anything, we should be worrying about oooh actually I don’t think I should bring that up never mind! > >
Her image vanished as the channel closed, and Wufei and Trowa blinked uncertainly at each other.
“...We should be worrying about what?” Wufei asked eventually.
< < I have no idea, > > Trowa admitted. < < And it’s probably better that way... we need to concentrate on our part of the fight, not worry about something else. Whatever it is. > >
“Right.” There was a brief pause, and then Wufei chuckled. “Well... I don’t know how Heero’s handling it, but I’ve certainly been distracted from worrying about Duo!”
End of Warped Mirrors
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