Okay, so (as you'll find out) the music and pop culture of Firma (our world) bears a strange resemblance to that of the Gundam Wing world in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In other words, it's what you're watching and listening to now. Why? For one thing, because if we had to make up all the quotes and songs, it wouldn't be half as funny and would drive us insane. For another, because WE are the gods of this world, and WE SAY SO!
Somewhere in the southeastern corner of the North American continent:
"We've got a mission," Heero announced. "All five of us, together."
Duo whistled, raising his eyebrows in surprise. "Whoa! Must be a biggie. What's the target?"
"There's a large mobile doll factory in North Africa," Heero replied, turning his laptop around so all of the pilots could see the map on the screen. "It became operational nearly six months ago."
"Six months?" Quatre exclaimed. "How did they keep it hidden this long?"
"OZ has been cracking down on communications security and need-to-know, so the number of leaks and message intercepts we've been getting has been steadily going down. Also--"
"Guess they got tired of us busting their factories before they could get them finished, huh?" Duo grinned.
"Also," Heero continued, glaring, "they haven't tried to move any of the dolls out of the factory. They've been storing them onsite, building up the numbers until they have enough to swarm us under."
There was a short pause.
"So...?" Duo prompted. "Do they have enough?"
"Not quite," Heero amended, deadpan.
"Uh-oh. I don't like the sound of that..."
"How much 'not quite' are we talking about?" Wufei interrupted impatiently. "And how reliable is this information? If the factory has been kept secret from us for six months, I for one doubt that we've miraculously obtained perfect intelligence on it in the nick of time!"
"Orders are orders," Trowa said blandly.
"As if you've ever hesitated to disobey orders that you thought were stupid," Wufei huffed, folding his arms.
"It may be a trap, certainly," Quatre put in, "but can we afford not to act on this information?"
"According to the data we have, there's only a two week window of opportunity before they'll have constructed enough dolls to give them a seventy-five percent chance of destroying two or three of our Gundams in a pitched battle," Heero said flatly. "Our orders are to obtain transportation, get to the factory and take it out. I say we go."
"Yeah, what the hell. It's not like we've got anything better to do," Duo said, balancing his chair on its two back legs. "Damned if we do, double damned if we don't!"
Trowa nodded; Quatre smiled and said, "I'm in."
Everyone looked at Wufei.
"Fine!" he snapped, throwing his hands in the air. "If you four are so determined to commit suicide, I might as well join you. I certainly don't intend to be left behind to defend the world alone!"
Duo blinked uncertainly, wobbling precariously. "Wufei... Did you just make a joke?"
The Chinese boy stared haughtily down his nose, raised an eyebrow a millimetre and said, "Yes."
The wobbling chair went over backwards as Duo collapsed in laughter. He was saved from a potential concussion by Heero, who caught it on the way down and heaved it back upright.
"Baka. I've plotted out a route for us to take, assuming we steal transport planes; it avoids known OZ bases and sensor installations, anything that might detect us coming in."
"Of course," Trowa muttered, leaning closer to inspect the track Heero brought up on the map. "We're going to need surprise on this one."
"Seems fine to me," Wufei said, frowning slightly. "Except... why are you giving this base such a wide berth?"
Heero looked where Wufei was pointing and shook his head. "It's not the base; it's the OZ fleet that's on patrol there."
"Ah. I have no objections, then."
Duo looked uncomfortable. "Um... how about we go around here, like this. Loop further south?"
"There are bases here and here," Heero said, highlighting them. "It's too much of a risk."
"Okay... what about north instead, like this?"
"There's a cluster of spy satellites that pass over that area regularly. There isn't enough of a gap in their coverage for us to get through undetected."
"Really north, then, over the North Pole!"
"We'd run out of fuel, Duo, or do you think we could stop off at one of OZ's arctic bases and borrow a few gallons?"
"Okay, then, how about--"
"DUO!" Heero yelled, exasperated. "This is the optimum route! What is your problem with it?!"
"Mrmerbrmbl," Duo mumbled under his breath, looking embarrassed.
"That bit, okay?" he said defiantly, pointing at a patch of ocean. "That is my problem. The bit where it goes through the Bermuda Triangle!"
"Duo... that's a myth," Quatre said gently.
"Oh! Sure! Ask the people who've disappeared there, they'll tell you it's not a myth!"
"Duo, be reasonable," the blond insisted. "You're getting upset over nothing, really!"
"A bad feeling like the one I have now is not nothing," Duo said stubbornly. "I do not want to go through the Bermuda Triangle!"
"Planes and ships have accidents and disappear everywhere," Wufei pointed out. "There's no scientific reason to believe in mysterious regions--"
"Yeah, well, science can't explain everything! Scientists proved that it was aerodynamically impossible for bumblebees to fly, but I don't see the little buzzers walking everywhere, do you?"
"The flaw in that proof was found over two hundred years ago, Duo," Wufei said in a slightly pained voice, rubbing his forehead.
"...Oh. Well, that's not my point! My point is that one hell of a lot of those planes and ships disappeared there!"
"Coincidence," Trowa offered.
"Statistical clustering," Heero corrected; the unibanged boy shrugged.
"Same thing," he muttered.
"Duo, this is the optimum route and unless you can come up with a logical reason to change it, it's the route we're taking! Alright?" Heero said sharply.
"Fine. Do what you like," Duo said sourly, getting up and walking out.
The other four pilots looked at each other with varying expressions of surprise and concern.
"That's really not like Duo," Quatre said, eventually.
"I'll go talk to him," Wufei muttered, pushing away from the table.
Wufei found Duo in the hangar, packing his personal gear into Deathscythe's storage lockers.
"Duo... I'm pretty sure you've flown through that area before," he said quietly. "I know I have. What's so bad about this time?"
Duo paused for a moment, head and shoulders inside a compartment; then he backed out and closed it slowly.
"I don't know," he said softly, turning around to look at his friend. "I don't know! I have flown through there before," he admitted, pushing his bangs back from his face, "and it didn't bother me a bit. I even remember thinking 'Bermuda Triangle, cool! Maybe something weird will happen...' but nothing did. But this time, I... I have a really bad feeling about this."
* * * * *
Sitting in the co-pilot's seat of the transport plane carrying Heavyarms and Sandrock, Quatre looked sideways at Trowa.
"Duo's really taking this badly, isn't he?"
"Hn." Trowa flicked a glance at the radio, which under normal circumstances would have been receiving a steady stream of chatter from Duo's plane. "It's quiet," he said, lips curling in a faint smile. "Too quiet."
The blond Arabian giggled, then sobered. "Do you think he'll get over his, ah, concerns?"
"He'll be fine once we're through the Triangle and nothing's happened."
"... I'm sure you're right."
-- -- --
Over in the second plane, Wufei glared at his silent radio. I should have insisted on Duo flying with me, he thought angrily, and flicked the 'TRANSMIT' switch. "Duo? Everything all right over there?"
There was a long pause, and then Heero's voice answered. < < We're fine. > >
Oh, that's so reassuring. "Roger that."
-- -- --
Settling back in his seat, Heero shot a sharp look sideways. Duo was sitting in the co-pilot's seat, arms wrapped tightly around his ribcage as if he was hugging himself, staring straight through the windshield at a couple of puffy clouds in the distance.
I'd lean over and slap him out of it, if it weren't for the fact that he isn't sulking, Heero thought, beginning to feel seriously concerned. He's honestly frightened.
"Duo?" he asked tentatively.
"Just fly this damned thing," Duo said coldly, not moving.
They flew on in silence.
Five minutes later the fog began to roll in.
The radio crackled. < < Heero? > > Quatre said, voice elaborately casual. < < I don't remember fog being listed in the weather report. > >
< < Ah. Just checking. > >
"Stay close," Heero ordered, hands tightening on the controls. "It's getting thicker."
< < We can see that, Yui, > > Wufei said sourly.
The fog seemed to curdle around the three planes, thickening and darkening with alarming speed, until the pilots could no longer see beyond their own wing tips.
<< We're going to have to increase separation, > > Wufei said tensely. < < Radar is fine for avoiding big lumps of ground, or seeing planes coming at a distance, but it is not good enough for keeping formation this tightly! I could fly right up your tailpipe and you'd never see it coming. > >
< < Maybe we can climb above it, > > Trowa replied. < < I'm going up. Give me thirty seconds to get above you before you follow. > >
Heero was just opening his mouth to admit defeat -- 'who else thinks we should turn around?' was on the tip of his tongue -- when a blast of static erupted from the radio and all the instruments went crazy.
-- -- --
"Shit!" Trowa hissed under his breath, suddenly fighting the controls as the plane dropped its flaps and landing gear without any such instructions from him. Quatre watched, wide eyed, as digital readouts flickered, needles swerved over to one side or another of the dials, and the compass needle made lazy circles; then he swayed and clapped a hand over his mouth as a wave of dizziness and nausea hit him.
-- -- --
Wufei swore in Chinese as his plane's engines all hiccupped, stuttering and coughing as if they were running out of fuel. Some instinct made him slam the controls forward, going into a steep dive, and he paled as one of the other planes appeared out of the fog and zoomed past, just above.
-- -- --
The engines died, the cabin lights went out, and the controls abruptly went slack in Heero's hands.
"Fuck!" He was vaguely aware of a sudden pain in his thigh as he flipped switches and stabbed at buttons, but it was far less important than trying to restart the engines. Total electrical failure, no pressure in the hydraulics-- I can't even do a controlled glide!
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the nose of the plane tipped downwards.
"Duo, we're going down," Heero said tersely. "Go in the back and get into Deathscythe." We should be alright-- if the Gundams haven't been affected by whatever this is!
Duo didn't move.
"Duo? Get to Deathscythe now! I can't hold the damn plane up by thinking at it!" Still frantically trying to restart the engines, Heero took his eyes away from the control panel long enough to shoot a glance at the braided pilot.
Duo was rigid and hyperventilating, staring wide-eyed out through the windshield. As Heero stared at him, he felt the plane's nose drop a couple more degrees, slowly inching towards a fatal dive.
Oh, shit. He's not going to snap out of it in time-- Duo does not panic, this shouldn't be happening--
What the hell am I thinking? NONE of this should be happening!
I'm going to have to drag him back to the cargo hold and put him in Deathscythe myself. But I'll have to leave the controls... ha! As if it still makes a difference!
Heero reached for the buckle of his seat harness and the engines purred back to life as if nothing had happened. A couple of seconds later, the lights came back on; the radio crackled with static for a moment, then was silent.
-- -- --
Wufei drew in a shuddering breath, hands relaxing from their white-knuckled grip on the controls as the roaring static on the radio cut off and the engines stopped coughing. Swallowing, he gently pulled back on the yoke and gained a little altitude. Not much; just enough so that the highest waves were no longer throwing spray onto the windshield.
"Well," he muttered, then cleared his throat and tried to pretend that his voice hadn't cracked slightly. "That was... interesting."
The radio crackled to life as he was reaching for the switch. < < Wufei, Trowa. Check in. What's your status? > >
"Nearly very wet," Wufei said acidly, feeling almost giddy with relief. If Heero's alright, then Duo... "One of you two almost hit me and I had to dive. Then I couldn't go up again, because I was having engine trouble. I think I almost hit a dolphin," he added sarcastically.
< < Sorry about that, > > Trowa's voice cut in. < < We're fine... or we will be, once Quatre stops throwing up. > >
-- -- --
Trowa flicked the switch to cut transmission, then gently reached over and rubbed the back of Quatre's neck. "Finished?"
"No," the blond pilot moaned, hunched over an airsickness bag. "Ooooh... Allah save me, is this what motion sickness is like?"
"Can't tell you," Trowa replied laconically, transferring his hand to Quatre's back. "Never experienced it myself."
"Me neither. Ugh..." Quatre spat a couple of times, trying to rid his mouth of the taste, then slowly pushed himself upright. "That was weird..."
"No kidding. Especially since this--" Trowa tapped the compass dial "--isn't magnetic. It works on gyros. It shouldn't have spun like that unless the whole plane was spinning."
"And it wasn't?"
"I'll take your word for it. It felt like it was spinning to me..." Quatre swallowed determinedly and took a firmer grip on his sickbag.
Trowa was opening his mouth to reply when Heero's voice came over the radio. < < Duo? > >
< < Duo, you can let go now. > >
< < Duo, I need my leg... > >
Quatre and Trowa blinked at each other.
"Heero forgot to switch his transmitter off?" Quatre queried.
"Seems like it."
< < Duo, are you alright? > > Wufei added, sounding concerned. There was a pause, then Heero answered, voice dry.
< < Duo's fine, but my leg may never be the same again. > >
< < ...Uh-huh. > >
"I think Duo's rubbing off on those two," Trowa mused, smirking. "They're developing senses of humour. Are you feeling better?"
"Almost. I just..." Quatre frowned, rubbing his chest. "I keep feeling as if something's not right. As if something's missing... or something new is there, and I just can't pin down what."
* * * * *
Somewhere, a teenaged girl looked up, blinking behind smudged glasses. "I feel a disturbance in the Force," she muttered, looking up and around. "Obi-Wan? Is that you?"
A moment's pause, then she shrugged and pushed her hands back into the pockets of her bathrobe. "Where was I? ...Ah, yes. Coffee! The bally old mess has got to be around here somewhere, what?"
* * * * *
Heero sighed, switching the transmitter off. Duo had finally reacted, slowly turning to look at his left hand, which was clamped onto Heero's thigh with a vise-like grip. Unfortunately, he wasn't doing anything about unclamping it. Finally, Heero switched over to autopilot and pried Duo's hand loose, finger by finger.
"I told you so," Duo whispered, so softly that Heero almost couldn't hear him.
"...Fair enough. You did. But we're all still here, Duo. Whatever that was, it's gone, and nobody vanished."
"I still have a really bad feeling, Heero," Duo said quietly, starting to shake.
< < The fog is clearing, > > Trowa reported.
< < Good, > > Wufei snapped. < < I'm staying low until it's gone; if that... effect... hits again, I want to be able to put this hunk of junk down in a nice gentle pancake landing, not dive into the water at a fifty-degree angle the way I nearly did last time! > > He paused, then continued in a softer voice. < < Duo, if you ever again want to change a route to avoid a mythical geometric figure, I'm siding with you. > >
"Too late," Duo whispered, huddling into his seat.
Half an hour later, Wufei called the other planes.
"Heero? Trowa? I've been monitoring local radio traffic, and... hm. Switch to channel 57 and tell me what you think."
The calm male voice he was listening to continued. < < ...formal invitation for Glacis to take up full membership in the OZ Alliance was extended today, in an official statement by the Aotearoan Ruling Princess, the Theran Emperor, and the Vaterean Matriarch. Glacis's response has not yet been released, but the general consensus among political observers is that they will politely refuse, again. > >
< < In other news, Theodorian warships were sighted near the northern islands of Dai-Nippon... > >
< < It's got to be a code, > > Quatre said, sounding confused. < < I mean... 'OZ alliance'? 'Glacis'? > >
"It's a lot more imaginative than OZ's usual codes, then," Wufei commented. "'Dai-Nippon' means Japan, doesn't it?"
< < Not... exactly, > > Heero said slowly. < < It's 'Dai-Nihon', or just 'Nihon'. 'Nippon' is a foreign mispronunciation, and it fell out of use about 50 A.C. > >
< < If it's a code, who are the people it mentions? > > Trowa asked. < < The Emperor, and the Matriarch, and the Ao-whatever Princess? > >
< < Treize and Une? > > Quatre offered, tentatively.
< < The names don't have to mean anything, > > Heero pointed out. < < They could be camouflage. Trimmings. 'Politely refuse' could be a code-phrase, meaning... whatever this week's codebook says it means. > >
"If that's it, why would they make the camouflage message so insanely meaningless? Why not something that would sound like a normal news item?" Wufei asked, frustrated. "Hidden code-phrases are supposed to be hidden in something innocuous. This is positively screaming for attention!"
< < We can work out what it means later, > > Heero said. < < Let's just get this mission over with, first. We're almost at the landing zone. > >
They put the planes down on the biggest area of flat ground they could find, and draped camouflage netting across them. They were the best way back out of the area, after all, but wouldn't be of any use if an OZ patrol found them first.
Duo seemed to have recovered from his funk... partially, at least. He was moving around, and unloaded Deathscythe himself, but his expression was closed off, strained, and he was ominously silent.
"Are you all right?" Quatre asked, worried.
"I'm fine," Duo replied flatly, not looking at him.
"...If you say so, Duo." He's not fine, Quatre thought unhappily, walking away, but I can't exactly say 'No, you're not'! And he certainly has reason to be upset...
Wufei collared Heero on the other side of his plane, out of Duo's sight. "Is he all right for this mission?"
Heero shrugged, grimacing. "Your guess is as good as mine, but do you really want to leave him behind? He wouldn't take it well. Besides, we can't leave him out of this! If we go up against the numbers we expect with only four Gundams, we have a damn good chance of getting slaughtered." He snorted softly, almost a humourless laugh. "You didn't want to be left to defend the world alone; I doubt Duo would like it."
Wufei sighed, running his hands back over his hair and tugging at his short ponytail. "We'll just have to keep an eye on him, then, and be ready to bail him out if he needs it."
They had flown around the target to reach a landing area that wasn't right next to a small town, so they were approaching the OZ factory from the east. After nearly half an hour of travel through sand dunes and over rocky ground, without Duo's normal comments and complaints ("I'm boooooored! When are they gonna find us, so we can break something?" would be typical) over their scrambled personal com channels, the other four pilots were wound tighter than clockwork.
I never realised how much his chatter relaxed me, Heero thought wryly, flexing a hand that was developing cramps from his too-tight grip on the controls. I knew I missed it when we were on separate missions, but...
Should I say something?
Heero was reaching for the com when Quatre spoke up. < < Um... guys? Something's coming. > >
Quickly checking his own instruments, Heero frowned. "I'm not getting anything on Wing's systems."
< < Nothing on mine, > > Wufei confirmed.
< < No, it's not on the sensors, > > Quatre said unhappily. < < I can feel it. It's not nice... and it's not happy, either. > > There was a pause, and he continued in a defensive voice. < < I know it sounds stupid, but-- > >
"After Duo's 'bad feeling' and what happened in the fog, I'm listening," Heero assured him. Quatre's always had 'feelings', but he's never relied on them for tactical information before. If it's strong enough for him to even mention it, his head's probably ringing like an alarm clock! "Where is it?"
< < Coming from in front. I'm not sure of distance, but-- > >
< < The world is a cold and lonely place, > > a flat, unemotional female voice said over the com. < < Let's warm it up. > >
On top of a slight rise just ahead, the air rippled like heat waves; then the curved blade of a black thermal scythe seemed to rip it apart, and a looming black Gundam stepped out of cloak.
< < Jesus H. CHRIST! > > Duo screeched, barely getting his own scythe up in time to block the first blow. Music blasted out over the new Gundam's external speakers, and four more swooped up over the rise as if that had been a signal.
'Crawling in my skin
These wounds, they will not heal
Fear is how I fall
Confusing what is real...'
Wufei swore viciously as he lashed out at his opponent and was parried. "Gundams!" he yelled. "They weren't building dolls, they were building Gundams!"
< < They look just like ours! > > Quatre blurted out. Sandrock and a black-and-gold newcomer warily circled each other, shotels out and shimmering hot.
< < What are you talking about, chaps? > > a British-accented voice drawled. < < Your Gundams look like ours, not the other way around. We were here first, after all! > >
"They're women!" Wufei exclaimed, sounding mortally offended.
< < No! Really? > > a new voice cut in, and a com window opened up in one of Wufei's screens as somebody switched to video transmission. A brown-haired girl with a plait winked at him, then pulled the neck of her T-shirt out with one hand and peered down it. < < AAAA! He's right! I've got TITS! > > she howled, looking horrified.
The Wing-like Gundam facing off against Heero patted at its metal chest with its free hand, making a loud clanging noise. < < I don't have any, > > a male voice grumbled. A com window opened, showing a boy with short hair and glasses.
< < You've got something else to play with, Dan honey, > > the braided girl said soothingly; then she grinned and flicked her right hand, and her Gundam lashed out at Nataku, proving that it, too, had a telescoping right arm.
< < Hn, > > Heero snorted.
< < Hn? Hn? What are you grunting about? > > the strange boy -- Dan? -- said. < < Oh yuck. Speaking of something to play with... you aren't wanking in your COCKpit, are you? > >
< < This from the man who called his Gundam 'Starthrasher', > > the British girl's voice called cheerfully.
< < Love you too babe, you can play with it later, > > came the retort.
Heavyarms and its black-and-red double were fighting silently, too close to use their giant Gatlings; they'd both dropped them and were grappling hand-to-hand.
< < Can we finish this fight some time today, people? > > the flat-voiced girl said as another com window opened, showing her to be auburn-haired and expressionless. < < I have an appointment with the shrink this afternoon. > >
< < Are they all nuts? > > Heero muttered.
< < You could say that. > >
< < Yes. > >
< < Hn. > >
< < Fair cop, chaps! > >
< < Yup! And proud of it! > >
end 'Warped Mirrors' chapter 2
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