Wufei answered the door and stepped back quickly as Lady Une stalked in. Treize and Zechs, reading over some reports, looked up, and the blond took a few steps back at the look on the lady's face.
"Treize! You need to do something about Duo and Heero... and the other two boys!" she snapped, stopping in front of the ginger-haired man and putting her hands on her hips.
"Do, my dear Une?" he asked calmly, leaning back in the chair. "What have they done that I need to do 'something' about?"
"Duo convinced Heero to let him out of bed and take him out of his room! He also coerced Quatre and Trowa into aiding and abetting them! Sally had *not* cleared him for this! You need to go and tell Heero to put Duo back and not pull something like this again!"
Wufei snickered quietly in the background, but Une ignored him and continued.
"What if this unauthorised jaunt causes another relapse? What if it aggravates his injuries? What if..."
Treize raised his hand, barely holding back his smile. "Une, calm down. Does Sally know about this?" At her sharp nod he went on. "What did she say?"
Une sighed heavily. "She caved in, too. She conceded that he could stay up for an hour this time. But they blackmailed her! Didn't give her any choice!"
This time, Treize *did* chuckle. "Une, I doubt that woman would cave in to anything. She probably felt that this was the lesser of two evils. And really, it's not as if they took him outside or to the hangar..."
"Une, Heero would never do *anything* that would endanger Duo when he's injured," Wufei broke in, taking her arm and sitting her on the edge of the bed. "Nor would Quatre and Trowa. Duo is the type of person who can't stand to be confined for very long... he has to be doing something, and lying in a bed for days, healing, doesn't count. Trust me, he's driven us nearly insane many times with his escape attempts while injured. Better to let him out of the room, monitored and looked after, than to leave him to his own devices."
"But I could find him something to do! Books... we could find a television for him..."
Wufei chuckled in remembrance. "We tried that. It worked for about a day and a half."
"Trust Duo to know his own limitations. You have to remember, Une, they may be young in years, but they're *ancient* in life- experiences," Treize said, reaching to pat her hands. "I promise you, I'll go check on them in an hour and make sure they take him back to his room. *And* I will 'talk' to him about his underhanded methods of escape. Will that make you feel better?"
The lady sighed again. "It will have to do. Thank you," she added, rising and walking to the door. "I just wish he'd stay where he's put..." she said, almost to herself. Her voice faded as the door closed behind her.
Zechs shook his head. "Poor Duo. She's going to drive him nuts with this over-protective attitude. Maybe we should talk to Walker... get him to work on making something of her own to 'mother'..."
Treize laughed out loud. "Zechs, my love, you will stay away from any advice to that young man about his relationship with Une. He seems to be doing a fine job all on his own." He steepled his fingers, then snorted.
"I do have to agree with the 'poor Duo' part though."
"Why?" Wufei asked, moving to straddle the older man's lap. "It's exactly what Duo needs... and, although he won't say it, what he wants. He never really had 'parental figures', except for Father Maxwell and Sister Helen... and now Howard. The majority of his life was spent alone, or being the 'adult' to a bunch of younger children. It would probably do wonders for him to have real adults showing concern, care and affection for him again..."
Treize hugged his lover tight, and Zechs joined their embrace.
"We'll just have to see that he gets it, then, right?"
Sally sighed as she walked into the mess tent. True to his word, Heero had carried Duo back to bed after the alotted hour had elapsed. Her subsequent exam showed no adverse effects, though he was quite tired, and she had agreed to another hour later in the afternoon.
Lunch tray in hand, she spied Howard, Gio and Rodney conversing over their own lunches and joined them.
"Hey, Doc, how's life treating you this fine frigid day?" Howard asked cheerfully.
"Howard... I may just kill your kid," she replied with a snort, "if he doesn't drive me off the deep end first."
Rodney laughed out loud, and Gio groaned.
"What did my brat do this time," she asked, pinching the bridge of her nose.
"Oh, nothing much," the doctor replied, waving her fork. "He just decided it was time to go for a walk, convinced his lover to take him, then coerced his other two partners in crime to help... all without consulting me. I thought poor Une was going to have apoplexy when she found out."
"Other two partners?" Howard asked.
"Quatre and Trowa," Sally said. "I don't know what I'm going to do with all of them. At least they've agreed to one hour at a time... for now."
Gio groaned again and lightly banged her head on the table. "Now I have *two* nephews to worry about causing trouble. I thought Trowa was such a calming influence on Duo..."
"Two nephews?" Rodney asked, raising an eyebrow.
Gio nodded and began relating what had happened during the return trip from the mission. When she finished, Howard rubbed his hands together and nodded.
"Well, it looks like we have a new Sweeper," Howard said, a bright smile on his face, "*and* it looks like I have another kid. I'll have to do something about that..."
Treize spared a smile for Captain Cole Gillen as he approached a different door, later that afternoon. "Change of scenery?"
The other man gave him a small salute. "Yes, sir. Mr. Maxwell seems much happier about it, too."
Treize stopped, his hand on the doorknob. He turned to face the two soldiers outside the door. "What do you two think of him being up and about already?"
Lieutenant Takano shrugged. "He's a soldier, sir. He knows the risks, and he's not stupid. If he and Mr Yuy think it's the right thing to do, I agree with them."
"Thanks," Treize said, and gave both a salute of his own before he opened the door and went inside.
Duo and Heero looked up from where they were leaning over the American teen's laptop, reading, and both gave the former Oz General a nod of greeting. "Hey, T-man! Long time no see!" Duo called, grinning.
Treize smiled. "Yes, I *do* apologise I was unable to come to see you earlier. I have been busy with Lady Une "
Both teens cringed at the mention of the tall Lady. She had made no secret of her displeasure with them both. All day. Heero squeezed Duo's good hand.
Treize cocked an eyebrow as he shut the door and moved to the side of the couch on which the two were seated. "How is it going?"
Duo frowned down at the screen in front of him and sighed tiredly. "These things they will be really tough to beat, once the programmers get past all the shit they left in the system. Tough mothers."
Treize leaned closer and looked at the screen. "The programming is flawed?"
"Yes," Heero answered, "and it's pretty subtle. I doubt they'll find it too quickly when the things fail in live testing. The worst is a single line of coding in the targeting algorithm. Fortunately for us, the Gundams are equipped with a similar program, so we knew what we were looking at."
"Impressive." Treize backed away a little, giving the two teens some breathing room. He sat comfortably in a nearby chair and regarded both pilots. "But your work isn't all I'm here to talk about."
Duo's open look immediately changed to one of annoyance. "I'm *not* going back to hibernation "
"I'm not suggesting that you would, Duo. Please listen to me," Treize replied evenly. "You are a soldier. My Lady seems to have forgotten that, somehow - she's seeing only Duo the boy, not Duo the pilot who knows how to take care of himself. I spoke to her - the decision is yours to make, and you will have my full support, if you wish to be up and about some more ."
Heero smiled slightly.
"But only on the condition that you take true care of yourself and you tell us when you are tired." Treize fixed both teens with an impressive, stern look. "You don't need to prove you're tough - there isn't a person on this base who doesn't already know that. If I hear that you've exhausted yourself and placed your recovery in danger unnecessarily, you will regret it. And no, Heero-" he raised one hand, stopping the angry words on Heero's lips before the teen could speak, "I am not threatening either of you. I am stating a fact. A friend would do nothing less."
Heero tightened his grip on Duo's hand. "I would not allow him to "
Duo squeezed back. "Listen to me, both of you. Even if I *wanted* to go nuts, I couldn't. It hurts, and I just don't have the strength to do anything dumb yet. I know that, okay? Geez, if it isn't bad enough to have a Mother Une, I've got a Daddy Treize, too "
Treize laughed out loud at that. "Don't make it sound like such a terrible thing, Duo! You could do far worse for parents, even if your *father* is gay and your *mother* is a recovering paranoid schizophrenic."
Even Heero began to laugh at that.
A small smile on his face, Treize dropped a hand on Duo's shoulder, rubbing his back as laughs gave way to shallow coughs. As the teen's breathing evened out again, Treize leaned down to look him in the eyes. "Can I ask a favour, now?"
The ginger-haired man included Heero in his look. "Cut Une some slack? My Lady means no harm to either of you. She is just showing that she cares, and caring is it isn't something she is too practiced at."
Heero lifted an eyebrow - he could relate to that. He gave Treize a tight nod. "We'll try."
"Stop whining, Wallace," Farley said, dropping the used needle into a disposal container. "You're a big, grown-up marine. You should be used to slight delays and little pricks. Isn't it in the guide book?" he asked, somehow managing to keep a straight face.
Corporal Wallace snorted and rolled down his sleeve. "Are you *positive* you're not a marine, Lt. Farley? You sure act like one..."
Farley laughed at that. "Nah, I joined the *real* army! Beat it, Wallace. Go find... ah, Colonel Po, there you are," Farley said, picking up a chart. "Here's that file you asked for."
Sally nodded to the marine as he left and walked over, picking up the file. "You know, I could hear him down the hall. Is making marines wait 30 minutes to receive their injections a new policy?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at her assistant.
"Not really," the young man replied, shrugging his shoulders and sitting on the edge of the counter. "I admit, I'm a bit behind. I just had something a little more important to deal with earlier this morning."
"Oh? Do tell, my dear Jason..." Sally smirked and leaned against the exam table.
"Well, I had a small encounter with a certain little princess while I had my coffee."
"And? You are going to tell me more than that, aren't you?"
"She asked a few questions, I gave her honest answers." The young man shook his head at her inquisitive look.
"No, Sally, I'm not going to give you details. You know, Hippocratic Oath, doctor-patient confidentiality... but I will tell you that she listened. Hopefully, she'll think about it and come to some new conclusions," he sighed, scratching his head. "At least she didn't screech or throw things at me. I think that's a good sign, don't you?"
Sally laughed out loud. "Jason, if you manage to get through to her, I swear, I'm putting you in for a medal."
Farley straightened. "No need, ma'am," he said, mock-pompously, placing his hand on his heart. "I am an Army of One! I live to serve. My life, for the Realm. My..."
Sally swatted him with the file in her hand. "What am I going to do with you?" she asked, chuckling at his act.
"Oh, I don't know, Sally. How about join me for dinner tonight?"
Quatre and Une both looked up as Treize opened the door and walked in. The tall man was chuckling about something - a small chuckle that developed into a full-blown laugh as he caught sight of Une.
The other two sat back in amused silence, waiting for Treize to recover his composure.
Une cocked an eyebrow. "What's so funny?"
Treize shook his head. "I've just been to see Duo and Heero. Be warned, Une. That kid might try to call you 'Mom' when you start coddling him next time."
Quatre began chuckling.
Une shot him a dark look. "Well, he needs it! He's going to hurt himself again, pushing himself too hard "
Quatre shook his head. "Une, we've been over this already. Duo Maxwell is quite capable of looking after himself, no matter how vulnerable he may seem right now."
Une opened her mouth to argue some more, but Treize put a calming hand on her shoulder. "As interesting as this discussion could be, we have work to do," he interrupted smoothly. "Any luck with the satellite feed?" he asked Quatre.
The blond nodded. "Yes - I have seven sites I'd like to take a better look at, but part of that involves hacking into the satellite controls, to see if I can catch them off guard. It will be a tricky thing. If the timing is even slightly off "
Treize nodded. "How risky is it?"
Quatre shrugged and turned to Une. She gave him a blank look. "Standard procedure is to report any anomalies within fifteen minutes, if the operator is unable to figure out what is going wrong."
"Fifteen minutes." Quatre smiled. "It will be tight, but it's do- able. I'll get Heero in to help me on it."
"Sounds good," Treize replied. He picked up the map Quatre was working over and studied the marked sites. "All of them near a major spaceport - they can launch their suits out under cover of civilian operations. Very clever."
Une snorted. "Definitely Dermail's input - Tuberov wouldn't have known where to start with subterfuge."
Treize cocked an eyebrow. "Speaking of the devil, any ideas on where he is?"
Une shook her head. "I'm reactivating agents bit by bit, but none of them have reported in with any news about him."
Treize nodded. "I wonder if Sally's people might be able to help us out with that "
Marianne knocked on Bravo's door politely before opening it. Stepping inside, she frowned. The girl - for she'd overheard Wessex say Bravo was only sixteen - was sitting in the exact same spot she'd been in before, hands folded in her lap. As though she hadn't moved in the past twenty minutes.
Wiping her frown away, Marianne quickly deposited the quilt in her arms on the bed, then crossed the room to an open window. "I thought I'd bring you an extra blanket - it's supposed to get very cold tonight. It's chilly, already." she said as she closed the window and pulled the draperies shut.
Bravo was still staring down at her clasped hands, as though she hadn't heard a word. Marianne moved back to the bed and began spreading out the heavy quilt she'd brought in. "I hope your trip was pleasant, Miss. Was the flight long? I've never been away from home, you see."
The girl finally stirred and lifted her face to watch as Marianne worked. "It was fine."
**Three words. Colour me lucky!** Marianne forced herself to sontinue chattering away. "I'm glad to hear it. It's been very windy, these past few days, and I can only imagine what it must be like to travel through that..." She stopped working and looked up - Bravo was watching her with something approaching curiosity on her face.
Marianne smiled. "There now - you'll be nice and warm tonight, Miss Bravo."
A flicker of emotion passed through the teenager's eyes, but disappeared immediately. "I am just called Bravo."
Marianne approached the girl carefully. "You are called Bravo? Is that your name?"
Bravo blinked. It was a simple question, to be sure, but... Strange that she had never thought of it before. "I don't have a name."
The other woman carefully hid her feelings. "Bravo's fine -it works for a name, I guess. Do you have a friend named Alpha?"
Marianne felt cold as she watched the girl next to her physically flinch. **She doesn't react to anything at all, and now she's flinching at a name? God, this just gets worse...**
Bravo tore her gaze away from the other woman and stared down at her hands. "Alpha... isn't with us anymore. I have nothing to say about him."
**Isn't with us... What does that mean? Dead in the experiment? Just plain dead? Murdered? Was she forced to watch, or something? God, she's just a kid...**
Marianne patted Bravo's shoulder in a friendly way before she left, and missed the look of pure anguish on Bravo's face as the door closed behind her.
Bravo clenched her fists so tightly that her short fingernails broke the skin and tiny rivulets of blood seeped up on her palms. Her voice sank down to a whisper. "Alpha... I miss you."
She didn't allow herself to cry, though. Tears and all other emotions were a sign of weakness. They would only get her killed, too.
Tuberov pinched the bridge of his nose as he stared down at the printouts in his hands. Whoever planned the attack on Baikal base, it had been perfect. No witnesses, no survivors, nothing left.
It had to be the Gundams - no one else had the capability to pull off such a feat. They hadn't even caught a whiff of it on the satellites, for heaven's sake! And if they knew enough to attack that particular base, when none of them had been spotted in so long...
Tuberov was not a soldier - he was an engineer. His greatest love was making things work, designing machines that could revolutionize the war industry, not fighting. In fact, it had been years since he'd been in a cockpit for any reason but to run computer scans or tighten a loose nut. As such, he was not a brave man, either.
**If they could find Christof and his tracking software, they can find me, too. I am a target.** it wasn't supposed to be like this - as the new General of Oz, he was supposed to be safe and well- guarded, not jumping at shadows!
He typed the connection code for Duke Dermail into his vidphone quickly, agitatedly, and tapped his desk top idly with one long finger as he waited for the connection to go through.
When Dermail finally accepted the call, it was with a look of annoyance on his face. "Yes, Tuberov?"
The other man did his best to look calm. "Sir, I'm transmitting my report to you as we speak. It has to be a Gundam attack, sir, though that means that they are employing some new kind of stealth technology that we've never seen before. At least, not used to this level of expertise."
Dermail arched an eyebrow. "Indeed. I seem to recall that one of the Gundams has always been stealth-guarded..."
"My research indicates that there were probably a few suits that attacked, sir," Tuberov countered. "The timing of the attack was brilliantly precise - just after one satellite window closed and just before another opened. Given the type of damage done and the thoroughness of the destruction, I have to assume that more than one suit did it. Otherwise, there would not have been enough time. They showed up, attacked, and then just faded back into thin air, for all we know about it."
Dermail frowned. "Precision strikes. I was hoping it would take them longer to figure out what we're up to. Shame. Tell me, Tuberov, can we recover Christof's work in enough time to meet our production deadlines?"
Tuberov nodded. "I think that is possible, sir. But it will not be easy, or cheap. They could not have chosen a better target. Speaking of which, I am going to be ordering double guards on all Mobile Doll facilities and calling in the Specials, too. With Christof gone, I will need to take on the targeting programs, personally. That makes me the next target."
Dermail's face revealed nothing. "No- I will be sending another guard regiment to look after you, Tuberov. By all means, call in reinforcements, but I do not think that using Treize's personal army will serve us at all."
"Sir?" Tuberov questioned.
Dermail shook his head distractedly. "Nothing, it's nothing. Is that all, Tuberov? I will read your report and get back to you as soon as I can. I have visitors waiting for me."
Tuberov gave Dermail a sharp salute. "Of course, sir. Have a pleasant evening." Dermail nodded and cut the connection.