“I think I knew, but I
Two days later, the air conditioning was still down, the pilots were still camping out on top of their barracks, Asuka had cleaned out the base’s ice machines for the fourth time, and General Petrenkovich had declared that no more Free Fire Days were allowed for at least a week.
“Still bored,” Christy muttered, leaning back on the parapet. “It’s no fun people-watching if I can’t shoot ‘em.”
“Do you think he’d let us make an exception for Valeri?” Jay asked hopefully, peering through her binoculars.
“He’d better, because I’m sure as heck making an exception for Valeri,” Mel grinned. “Let me know if he shows up, will you?”
“No sightings of Valeri yet... but isn’t that Sergei?” Dan asked, pointing.
Duo blinked. “Why do I know that name?”
Christy snorted. “He’s Trei’s cousin, and my stalker. Don’t try to ruin my mood, Dan. I’m too comfortable to pound you properly.”
“No, I’m serious,” he insisted.
“Not to burst your bubble, Christy old chum, but he does appear to be right,” Jay announced. “We have a confirmed sighting of Sergei Kushrenada, trotting into the admin building, looking like a man on a mission.”
Duo rolled to the parapet and snitched Jay’s binoculars. “The guy with sandy blond hair? Damn, Christy, you never said he was a looker! Somebody that fine is interested in you and you’re letting him get away?”
“Letting him get away, hell, I’m fending him off! Hide me,” Christy hissed, flattening herself onto the roof. “No, on second thought, that’s only a temporary solution. Just kill me.”
“Okay,” Mel yawned, pulling a pistol out of the back of her shorts and shooting Christy three times.
*phut phut phut!*
“Gee. Thanks.” Christy snarled, looking down at the pastel blue paint splattered all over her t-shirt and exposed stomach. “You are so dead if this doesn’t wash out.”
“Water-based paint,” Mel assured her, snickering. “I was going to use it on Valeri if he showed up.”
“I thought you usually got Valeri with indelible dye?” Trowa asked lazily, propped up on one elbow and tracing designs on Quatre’s back.
“Yep,” Mel grinned. “It’s gotten to the point where he just throws the uniforms out without even trying to get them cleaned. I figure it’ll be funny if I let him throw away three or four perfectly good sets of clothes before I tell him he doesn’t have to.”
“You are an evil woman,” Wufei growled, eyes closed.
“I try,” she told him. “Hey, there goes Sergei again. Looks like he’s leaving without looking for you, Christy.”
“Huh,” Christy said, looking disappointed for a moment. “Thank the gods for small favours. I think I’ll just stay down here for a while in case he comes back...”
< < Pilot 2, report to the General’s office. Pilot 2, please report to General Petrenkovich’s office. > >
“...or then again I could wander out into the open where he can see me.”
“Good luck!” Jay chirped, waving bye-bye.
Fifteen minutes later, Christy stamped back up the stairs to the roof, clutching a large, rolled-up document in her cast-free hand and swearing viciously under her breath.
“Eeek,” Duo yawned, peering over his sunglasses at her. “She doesn’t look happy. Should we hide?”
“Too late,” Dan muttered, surreptitiously leaning back over the banana lounge so that a trickle of Asuka’s ice water ran over his forehead and through his hair. “I think she sees us.”
Mel looked at the gold ribbon and broken black wax seal dangling from the document, and started snickering again.
“What’s the matter?” Quatre asked.
“I have to go be the bloody Pharaoh,” Christy snarled, waving the scroll at him. Part of it unrolled, showing elaborate hieroglyphs and gilding. “Stupid Alliance anniversary.”
Mel kept snickering. Everyone else just looked at Christy.
“You have to go be what?” Asuka asked, opening his eyes to glare, then casually whacked Dan in the back of the head. “Go get your own, Gaul.”
“Phaaaaa-raoh,” Christy repeated, drawing it out. “You know. Ruler of Ta-Resu-Meht. Queen-type person. The dude in charge. It says so right here.” She held the papyrus up and started reading from it. “‘Homage to thee, O glorious one, beloved of the Gods, ruler of high and low, representative of the Gods in the world above’--”
“Hold on!” Dan objected, rubbing the back of his head and shooting a glare sideways at Asuka. “The Pharaoh of Ta-Resu-Meht is some tattooed chick called Toot-something.”
“I’m getting to that,” Christy said impatiently, unrolling a bit more. “Damn, these things go on forever... blah blah blah... here it is. ‘Shed thy radiance upon us, O Pharaoh, glorious Tutankanep. Life! Prosperity! Health!’” She snorted and dropped the scroll, dusting her hand off on her boxers. “I swear, the first two feet of an official papyrus is always the homage bit, and the gilt always comes off on your fingers... Tutankanep is my reign name. It’d sound a bit funny if I got announced as ‘Light of the Sun, She Who Brings the Yor into Flood, Beloved of the Gods, Pharaoh, Christina!’ It doesn’t really go, does it?”
“Not really,” Trowa agreed calmly.
“‘Yor’?” Duo asked quizzically. “What’s that?”
“...It’s the ancient Egyptian name for the Nile,” Quatre said slowly, staring up at the Theran pilot-slash-Pharaoh with huge eyes. “Seriously? You really are a Pharaoh?”
“The Pharaoh. Unfortunately, yes,” Christy grumbled, sitting down. “My mother was Neferhotep’s heir, and I’m her only child, so now I’m stuck with it. I keep trying to give it to my cousin, Mernetefnut-- he’s my Vizier-- but he won’t take it. ‘Beloved Pharaoh, I am not worthy. Besides, my dear, I don’t want it’,” she quoted in a stilted voice.
“Did anyone else know about this?” Dan asked, looking around. “I didn’t know about this...”
“I knew!” Mel grinned.
“I think I knew, but I forgot,” Jay said thoughtfully, scratching her head.
“Well, it’s not like it’s a big deal or anything,” Christy muttered. “As long as I’m underage, I only have to show up there once every two or three months... And, Mel? I wouldn’t laugh too soon if I were you. One of your Maoris was going in as I was coming out, and he had a nice little courier pouch.”
“Bugger,” Mel winced, losing her smile. “If I’m lucky, it’s just another nagging letter from my Aunt Ngaire. ‘Come home! Behave like a proper princess! Get married to a nice full-blooded Maori boy, so your children can inherit if anything happens to Hohepa! Act responsibly for once in your life!’”
“I take it that she doesn’t know you’re a Gundam pilot,” Heero snorted.
“Damn straight she doesn’t. She’s got way too many doubtful cronies and toadies to be told anything important.”
< < Pilots 4 and 5, report to the General’s office. Pilots 4 and 5, please report to General Petrenkovich’s office. > >
“What do you think the chances are of this not being a summons to the damned Alliance anniversary shindig?” Mel asked plaintively, standing up.
Jay concentrated for a moment, then beamed at her. “Look at it this way... at least you get to play dress-up!”
“In other words, no chance. I don’t like playing dress-up,” Mel grumbled. “Well, yes, I do, but not in front of my aunt... it makes her nastier. Ah, well, I’ll take the express route downstairs; maybe I’ll break an ankle and have to stay in sick bay.” As Jay headed for the stairs, Mel slouched to the parapet and stepped off.
“Any broken bones?” Christy called after her.
“No,” she called back gloomily. “One-storey buildings just don’t do it for me any more.”
“Heero, she’s getting more like you every day,” Duo chuckled. “Jumping off buildings, regarding social events as a fate worse than death... Next she’ll be self-destructing as much as Christy apparently does!”
“I heard that,” Christy said calmly. “Just wait until you see what you guys have to dress up in.”
“Us?” Wufei asked suspiciously.
“Well, we are going to need attendants,” Christy pointed out, “and things are a lot simpler if we have ones we know we can trust and who know our ‘secret identities’ as Gundam pilots. We won’t have to watch our mouths in front of you, and you’ll know what sort of trouble to keep your eyes open for.”
“Christy,” Quatre cut in, frowning slightly, “how can you be Pharaoh and a Theran princess?”
“Layered imperial structure.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Christy waved her hand vaguely, incidentally swiping Quatre’s bottle of sunscreen. “The Theran Empire has little subordinate empires and kingdoms in it. Ta-Resu-Meht is one of them, ruling over the Quabalic sheiks and minor princes. All the ruling lines marry back and forth to increase Imperial stability... so, a lot of the subordinate rulers are also Theran princes and princesses. Most of them, actually, though a lot are linked to cadet branches of the family and aren’t actually in the line of succession.”
“I see,” Quatre nodded, plucking the bottle out of her hand and passing it to Trowa.
“Technically, on my father’s side of the family, I’m in the line of succession for the Imperial throne. A long way down, but still in the direct line. On my mother’s side, I’m smack dab in the bullseye.” Christy sighed despondently and quietly stole Heero’s bottle of sunscreen instead.
Jay bounded up the stairs, brandishing a parchment over her head. “Tally-ho, chaps, and away we go! Dibs on Mort and Luke!”
“Not on your life!” Christy yelped, jolting upright. “I want Deathboy and Blondie!”
“‘Cause they’ll look great in pectoral collars and kilts, that’s why! Besides, I’m the Pharaoh so I’m hosting this shindig -- I should get what I want.”
“Ooo... they would look good, wouldn’t they?” Jay went vague for a moment, smiling dazedly at her mental picture, then snapped back into focus. “Yes, well, they’ll look damn good in Vaterean gear, wot, and I have a morally superior reason for wanting them. They’re both nice to me!”
“We could always pull names out of a hat, you know,” Mel said, trudging morosely up the stairs. A thick embossed envelope was wadded up and sticking out of one of her pockets. “Especially since I want Quatre, too.”
“Well, I just decided who I want to go with,” Quatre muttered under his breath to Trowa. “At least she uses my real name occasionally!”
“Why do you want Golden Boy?” Jay asked suspiciously.
“He and Woofers,” Mel said, balancing on the parapet. “Think of the contrast value.”
Jay looked thoughtful, but Christy just shrugged. “Let’s draw names,” she suggested, stretching out on her back. “It’s either that or clone him.”
Dan leaned on the banana lounge, glaring half-heartedly at the three female pilots. “Seven of us and three of you, that makes two attendants each and one left over... so, does whoever doesn’t get picked get to stay out of this?”
“Nope,” Christy said smugly. “Pharaoh gets three attendants. You’re all doomed.”
“Yeah, if we can’t get out of it, neither can you,” Mel told him, swinging herself over to stand on her hands. “Misery loves company.”
“When is this little sock hop?” Duo asked dryly, propping himself up on his elbows.
“The function is in a week,” Jay said, scribbling names on pieces of paper, “which means we’ll have to leave two or three days from now.”
“They didn’t want to give you much notice, did they?” Asuka sneered.
“Hell, no!” Mel agreed, grinning upside down. “They know us. They’ve probably told Pet to make sure we can’t fabricate a mission before we fly out of here.”
“Aren’t your ‘secret identities’ going to be in danger if you blow off an official function?” Wufei asked sarcastically, rather annoyed by the ‘Woofers’ comment.
“Not mine! My public persona is a bit of a delinquent,” she sighed. “It’d be completely in character for me to wriggle out of this somehow. Unfortunately, I can’t.”
“Why not?” Jay asked curiously, looking around for something to draw names out of. “...Oh, I see. Bit of a handicap, what?”
“What?” Christy asked. “Scared we’ll come after you and drag you back to suffer with us? ‘Cause we will, you know.”
“No,” Mel said, lowering herself until her head touched the parapet, then collapsing to lie on it. “My aunt Whina asked me nicely not to.”
“Ahhhh.” Half of the listening pilots nodded understandingly.
“Anyway, Aunt Whina can’t go, my mother has commitments too, and my cousin Hohepa is only twelve. That means it’s either me or my Aunt Ngaire, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to let Aunt Ngaire represent Aotearoa!” Mel crossed her eyes, stuck out her tongue and made graphic retching noises.
“Screw it,” Christy said suddenly. “If we’ve got to do this, let’s have fun with it. For one thing, no air conditioning makes hanging around here much less attractive; for another, I’m going to have to be out of the cast, which means Pet will bully Dot into turning the bone-fusing thingamajigger up to full for once, ha! I know a couple of great clubs in Waset; we can go dancing before we get stuck with fittings and rehearsals and all that shit.”
“I think that’s an absolutely spiffy idea!” Jay said delightedly. “Now, we just have to pick escorts. Here, Trowa-long-legs, kneel up, would you?”
Raising one eyebrow, he did; then his eyes widened in surprise as Jay immediately stuffed her handful of paper scraps into the back pocket of his baggy shorts. “Drawing time!” she announced, dusting off her hands. “You first, Christy.”
Quatre made an indignant noise as Christy reached into the pocket, and Trowa chuckled. “At least it’s not the front pocket,” he said wryly. “Or just the front.”
“I say, I didn’t think of that,” Jay said wistfully. “Bother!” Then she winked at Trowa and dove for her own piece of paper.
Christy ended up with Duo, Quatre and Dan, and gloated quietly for a while about getting her two first choices. Jay sulked until she realised how good Heero and Trowa would look in Vaterean formal garb, and Mel was reasonably pleased with getting Asuka and Wufei.
“This could be good,” she mused, looking at them speculatively. “You two are sort of a match... you can both do poker faces in a very threatening way, you both move like warriors, that sort of thing. And it’ll really tick off Aunt Ngaire when she sees that you couldn’t get much farther from Maori.”
“You seem to dedicate a lot of thought to how best to annoy your aunt,” Wufei pointed out.
“Why not? She’s dedicated a lot of her life to regarding me as not much better than a bug. Or a Pakeha, which to her is the same thing.”
“‘White eyes’. Caucasian people. Only someone who has at least one-third Maori blood can legally rule Aotearoa, and I’ve only one-quarter, so...” Mel shrugged. “Ngaire conveniently ignores the fact that she’s half Pakeha herself.”
“So it’s going to really upset her that your other aunt has asked you to represent your country, not her?” Wufei queried.
“Got it in one,” she grinned. “She’ll be there too, as my advisor.”
“Joy. What happens if I have to defend you from her?”
“If she attacks me, I take your spear and defend myself.”
He snorted. “I can live with that.”
Asuka snored quietly on the banana lounge.
“Ah... I nearly forgot,” Dan muttered, then leaned over and whacked Mel. “That’s for not telling us that Christy is the Pharaoh.”
“OW! Jeez, Dan, it wasn’t my business to tell you!” she yelped. “You wouldn’t appreciate it if I told people your secrets-- assuming I knew any of them, which I don’t.”
“Mel, Jay, remember the Fire and Brimstone Club?” Christy called. “The one I took you to about three months ago? Let’s go there. We’ll have to take our respective bodyguards shopping for outfits, first.”
“Hey, I have clubbing gear!” Duo said indignantly.
“Goth, leather and lace clubbing gear?”
“Actually, anything sexy or fairly outlandish will get you in there, but Goth is preferred,” Christy admitted. “I’m definitely going to have to take His Blondness shopping and I haven’t seen Dan in anything that would do, so you might as well come along. My treat, since I still have that military pay account to play with.”
“Actually, I might have something appropriate,” Dan mused, distracted from whapping Mel again.
“I know I have something perfect,” Mel said, sliding out of his reach, “and it’s going to be fun getting stuff for you guys... though we might have to trank Asuka to get him into it.”
“Why do you assume we’re going to be going, just because you want to?” Heero asked coldly, glancing sideways at Jay as she visibly started mentally measuring him for new clothes.
“Because we’re going to be walking our public personas around town, and our public personas have bodyguards, and you are going to be those bodyguards,” Jay said smugly. “And whether you’re bodyguards or not, you won’t be let into the best clubs unless you fit their dress code. Therefore, shopping!”
“And it looks like Duo wants to go...” Christy said slyly.
“Fine,” Heero and Wufei snapped simultaneously. “We’ll go.”
“Avanti!” Jay cheered, leaping to her feet. “Onwards! Let’s go pack!”
* * * * *
Two Days Later:
“Christy,” Dan said dryly, peering through the early morning twilight, “I thought you said it was going to be a small private jet?”
“It is!” she insisted, flexing her newly un-casted arm a little uncomfortably. “Well... by my family’s standards it is, anyway. Look, just get in, will you?”
Jay nodded, trotting towards the stairs. “This one’s much smaller than the Theran jet we took to our last little outing.”
Smaller or not, it was still fairly large, gleaming dull silver with a stylised jackal’s head on the tail -- not to mention semi-concealed gun ports, and a rocket pod slung under each wing.
“Ever had to use those?” Trowa asked, nodding at the rocket pod he was climbing past.
“A couple of times,” Christy grimaced. “You know how good drivers really hate being a passenger when the car they’re in gets into trouble? That’s how I feel every time I get shot at and it’s somebody else’s turn to shoot back.”
The stairs were pulled away as soon as the pilots were on board, the hatch closed, and the plane turned and began taxiing towards the runway.
“In a bit of a hurry, aren’t they?” Duo commented, then got his first good look at the plane’s interior. “Woo, plush! No attendants, though? This thing’s practically crying out for half a dozen attendants in cute uniforms, you know.”
“They’re going to be getting on at Bubastis, which is where we’re going to officially board the plane as well,” Mel told him, digging through her bag. “We have to be changed and in character by then; we’re flying slow, but it’ll only take an hour, and it’ll take most of that time for our tattoos to come up.”
“Tattoos?” Wufei asked dubiously.
“Tattoos,” she confirmed, brandishing a small flat tin in triumph. “The members of Christy’s family and mine are traditionally tattooed; my lot when we hit puberty, Christy’s when they take any sort of family positions.”
“I got hit by both sides of the family,” Christy grumbled, rubbing absent-mindedly at her right eye. “Again.”
“They would have been just a bit of a handicap when we went undercover,” Mel continued, opening the case and taking two single-shot injectors out of its padded interior, “so one of my family’s scientists came up with switchable tattoo ink. Give us an injection, and the tattoos appear. Give us another, and they go away again. Leg!”
Christy muttered something rude under her breath, but leaned on one of the lounges and pulled up one leg of her boxer shorts so Mel could jab her high on the upper thigh. “Ow. Your turn.”
“No ‘revenge jabs’ this time or I swear I’ll stick the next needle straight into a nerve,” Mel warned, tugging up the frayed edge of her cutoffs.
“Any particular reason you’re sticking each other there?” Dan asked, watching with interest. “Minor sadomasochistic ass fetishes?”
“Ouch! No, idjit, we’d just rather not have needle tracks anywhere visible for the media to photograph.”
“Ah. Boring reason.”
“We weep for your short attention span, Dan sweetie,” Mel told him, picking up her bag and heading for a door leading into the rear of the plane. “Us girls are going to get into our glamorous gear now; you boys can’t get into the boring bodyguard stuff until it arrives in Bubastis, so play nice while we’re gone.”
“What ‘boring bodyguard stuff’?” Wufei snapped. “We’re getting tired of you women only mentioning things to us after you’ve set them up!”
“We radioed your measurements ahead yesterday,” Christy informed him. “Don’t worry so much! Would we put you guys in outfits that would make you look bad?”
“Not by your standards, perhaps, but--” The closing door cut him off, and he almost growled.
“Well, it looks like we’re about to take off,” Duo sighed, flopping onto a comfortable-looking couch and stretching out, “so we might as well just sit back and relax while we’ve got the chance, hmm? If we’re playing bodyguards, we won’t even be able to answer back in public.”
Asuka scowled. “Hadn’t thought of that. I wonder if I can find a parachute?”
Bubastis was visible below the plane and it was making its final approach when the door opened again.
"About time!" Dan complained, twisting around in his chair to glare. "What the hell took so-- Wow... magnifique..."
Christy ignored him, walking over to a chair and sitting down, but Jay smiled and posed slightly and Mel draped herself languidly against the doorway, yawning.
"I was beginning to think you three didn't own any normal clothes," Heero said, eyebrows shooting up. "Let alone attractive ones."
"I'm slightly less worried about the 'bodyguard outfits'," Wufei admitted grudgingly.
Jay was resplendent in loose, flowing, multi-coloured silk pants and top, with matching silk sandals. Her hairstyle hadn't changed, but the twin buns were now neat, her glasses were gone, and she was wearing light eyeshadow and lip gloss. Most surprising of all, she seemed... focussed.
"Bit of a surprise, eh, chaps?" she said cheerfully, walking forward to take a seat next to Christy. "I don't believe we've ever had to do the 'official' schtick in front of any of you."
"At least your voice hasn't changed," Duo said a little nervously, watching as she sat down and leaned back gracefully. No bouncing, no enthusiastic hand gestures...
"Oh, it will," she said ruefully. "Try not to look too surprised when it happens, eh what?"
Quatre was looking at her oddly, aware of something different about the bright whirl of images he could usually sense from her. The colours were less intense, and the fragments seemed to have been pushed back, out of the way. "How long can you keep that up?" he asked quietly.
Her smile froze for an instant, then widened. "As long as I have to."
Wufei was staring narrow-eyed at Mel. "I see what you meant about tattoos," he said; she had developed dark blue lines that outlined her lower lip and formed swirling patterns on her chin and upper arms.
"The better to piss off my aunt with," she smirked, one hand on her hip, the other playing with her necklace. “I have warrior tattoos, but I’ve never done anything warrior-like that she knows of, and the apparent ‘misuse of traditional symbols’ really crimps her posterior.” Her whole manner had changed, too, even more than Jay's; she seemed to have a permanent bored half-smile now, and heavy-lidded eyes. She wore a high-necked sleeveless top and slacks in sleek black fabric, gold sandals with a matching belt and necklace, and her hair was loose and rippling down her back in waves to below her hips.
It was Christy who was really stunning, though.
The black tattoos that had appeared around her right eye turned it into an Eye of Horus with two narrow chevrons above it. Other tattoos were dimly visible on her upper arms through the short sleeves of her wraparound white top. Matching loose pants billowed around her legs, gathered in at the ankles above her own pair of gold sandals. Her hair was piled up on top of her head in a vaguely Grecian style, with one long curl draped across her shoulder and breast, and her only jewellery was a broad gold choker with a winged scarab dangling from it.
"Stop staring," Asuka growled, lightly slapping Dan in the back of the head.
"Asuka, mon cher," Dan said softly, "if you are not staring, there is something wrong with you."
"I'm not supposed to be staring at her. I have to stare at Mel."
"Guard, darling, not stare at," Mel drawled, sashaying across the floor to drape herself across a spare sofa.
"You even slink?" Wufei said incredulously.
"All part of the act, beautiful," she murmured, examining her gold nail polish for chips. "Get used to it."
"Isn't it a bit much? If you forget yourself and move wrong--" One gilt-tipped finger stretched out to tap his mouth gently, and he stuttered to a halt.
"I've been practicing this act since I was five years old. I don't slip. Just like Jay, I can hold it as long as I have to."
"I think I'm jealous," Duo muttered, watching as she pulled her hand back and stretched. "I wonder if she'll give me lessons..."
"None of us are going to slip," Christy said calmly. "Just remember your parts. Call Jay 'Lady Jarvia'--”
“Eck,” Jay muttered.
“--call Mel 'Princess' or 'Hine', and call me 'Lady Tutankanep' or 'Pharaoh'."
"Other than that, just do whatever bodyguard-type stuff you want," Jay chuckled. "Nobody's going to notice you unless you do something jolly stupid, you know, because all eyes and cameras are going to be firmly on us."
End of Warped Mirrors
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