Rashid waited until the plane had stopped and cut its engines, then moved quickly forward as the door opened and the ladder was lowered. His eyes narrowed as Duo appeared, and he studied the American pilot at he descended, searching for any signs of his injuries. To the tall Arab's relief, he saw nothing but a slight stiffness in the boy's movements.
"Master Duo!" he called, stopping and waiting for the teen to finish his descent. "I trust you're feeling well? How was the flight -"
Rashid's breath left him as Duo suddenly barrelled into him, wrapping his arms around the tall man's waist, and butting his forehead against his chest. "Duo?" he asked, placing his hands on the teen's shoulders.
"I'm sorry I helped Quatre escape from you guys last time we were in Sanaw. I'm sorry I disabled all the cars and made you follow us through the market on bicycles. I'm sorry I told the dancing girls that you were looking for a wife. I'm sorry -"
Rashid gave the boy a light shake and chuckled slightly. "Have you finished, Duo? You may continue if you truly feel the need, but let me remind you, I *know* that Quatre was not a totally innocent bystander. In fact, the outing was probably his idea, was it not?"
Duo peeked up at Rashid and grinned. "Ummm... yeah, it was his idea. But I came up with the diversions. So, am I forgiven?" he asked, stepping back.
"I will consider it, Master Duo," Rashid said sternly, the twinkle in his dark eyes as he looked at the small teen belying his tone.
"Geez," Duo snorted, brushing his hair off his face, "I thought your religion pushed forgiveness and stuff... you know, 'In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful...'"
"'Your Lord is forgiving, but stern in retribution'," Wufei said, standing behind the braided teen. "I believe this is the 'retribution' part, Duo."
"Very good, Master Wufei," Rashid said, smiling and nodding at the Chinese pilot. "I have not forgotten our spirited debate..." The Arab's voice trailed off and he stiffened as he saw Treize standing beside Wufei.
Duo winced and stepped between Rashid and the ex-general. "C'mon Rashid, man, no blood, 'kay? Remember Q said the good guys and bad guys had changed?" Duo hurried on, not giving Rashid a chance to respond. "Treize is really sorry for before and is a good guy now and he saved my life so please Rashid don't kill him - "
"Hush, Master Duo, you'll strain your lung," Rashid said calmly, covering the boy's mouth with a hand. "There will be no bloodshed today. While I am not happy with this situation, and I do not trust Kushrenada, I will do as Master Quatre requested. If you'll follow me, we'll get you into your disguises," he said, leading them towards a small shack. "With the bisht and ghutra, your builds and hair will be hidden. Sunglasses will hide your eyes, and makeup will hide the lightness of Master Duo's and Kushrenada's skin. Some dye for the eyebrows..."
"Oh, good, Heero, you're right on time," Sally replied, not looking up from the papers in front of her. "Just let me finish this. Sit on the exam table and I'll be right with you..."
She heard the table squeak, indicating he had followed her directions, signed her name and put the paper in her out tray. Standing up, she turned in his direction and froze, eyes wide.
Sitting on the table beside the Japanese teen was a stuffed bear... a large, stuffed, polar bear, complete with a green and white scarf around its neck and a matching stocking cap on its head. The blonde doctor blinked, but the bear didn't disappear. In fact, it seemed to be staring directly at her.
"Ah, Heero," she said slowly, "I don't believe I'm hallucinating, and this might be a stupid question, but why is there a bear next to you on my exam table?"
Heero looked down at the bear, then back up at Sally with one eyebrow raised, but no other reaction. "Trevor is under strict orders to keep me company through the examination and assure that I do not get scared or feel alone," he deadpanned. "He is also supposed to bite you, if I need him to. I have been informed that he can be quite ferocious."
"I see," Sally replied slowly. "And I assume 'Trevor' received his instructions from a small, red-haired female named Marie?"
"That is correct. And he takes his responsibilities seriously."
"Right," the doctor smirked. "Well, if Trevor doesn't mind, let's get started, shall we?"
Johann stifled a yawn as he collected his passport and joined the line of people queued to leave the customs area of the Montreal Spaceport. His new identity was perfect - with his newly-dyed blond hair and blue contact lenses and a sun tan, he knew he looked like Lars Johannsen from Sweden. What surprised him was how quickly Quatre Winner had been able to set it up for him. These pilots would never stop surprising him.
Stepping out into the welcome area, he pulled a set of sunglasses from his breast pocket and slipped them on, hefting his bag as he sauntered towards the exit.
He took a bus downtown, watching the world around him carefully. Confident he wasn't being followed, he made his way the YMCA on Stanley Street. Going inside, he made his way right to a set of lockers and opened the bottom, right-side container. He didn't even look at what he pulled out, but emptied it and turned to leave.
He vanished into the crowds outside. It was 1600. He had to get to his safehouse (again provided by the pilots) and review the information Athena had left for him.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are on our final approach into Nairobi. We will be landing in approximately fifteen minutes. Please bring your seats into their upright positions and ensure your seatbelts are fastened," the plane's captain repeated in accented English. "For those passengers continuing on from here..."
Rashid leaned over to Duo. "Remember Master Duo, stick close to me. Abdul will take care of Kushrenada and Auda will be with Master Wufei."
Duo nodded and whispered back. "Just don't let me screw up the whole 'Arab' thing, 'kay, Rashid?"
"Of course, Master Duo. You will be fine."
"...On behalf of myself and the rest of the crew, thank you for flying Emirates. We hope you had a pleasant flight."
Zechs looked up from his book as the door to the conference room he was occupying was pushed open and a silent figure walked in.
He would have smiled, under other circumstances. It was Heero Yuy - a pyjama-clad Heero Yuy, carrying a pillow, a blanket, a book, and a stuffed animal. Zechs gave up and *did* smile - how could he not? He had walked into the Conference Room a mere 20 minutes before in the exact same state. "Can't sleep?"
Heero's eyes narrowed as they met Zechs' gaze. He hadn't expected to find anyone here, least of all his former personal duelling partner, but it began to make sense as he thought about it. He walked straight over to the unoccupied second couch and set his stuff down. "No, it was too weird being in that room without Duo there, as well. You?"
Zechs stretched lazily, yawning a little. "Nerves. I know they can handle it, but..."
Heero quirked a half-smile. "It's been a while since Treize saw active field duty, hasn't it?"
"Yes," Zechs admitted, "though I won't deny he's good, I just... Duo's not quite in top form, and Wufei..."
Heero settled down in much the same position as Zechs was in across from him, pillow propping up his back, blanket in his lap. "Hm... If it helps any, Duo told me that he never would have thought Treize would be such a good fighter, when they broke out of prison in Siberia. He was impressed."
Zechs smiled outright. "I'd better not tell Treize that - it would further inflate his already-over-inflated ego. So... How about you?"
Heero snorted and looked away. "Nothing I can't handle. I knew he'd go back on active duty soon, doesn't mean I have to like it." He squirmed a little, and finally settled down as he pulled Trevor out from behind him, where the bear's nose has been digging into his spine.
Heero couldn't help smiling at the bear. "Marie said he would help. I don't think he has, really, but I'd hate to let her down, if she wandered in here."
Zechs shook his head and smiled. "I know what you mean." He reached behind him and-
"This is Gus the Spaniel," Zechs said, blushing a little.
"He's a Saint Bernard, Marquise."
"I don't think Marie knows that yet. If she says he's a spaniel, then he's a spaniel." He set the plushy dog down on his knees and gave it a quick pat to the head.
Both pilots grinned - maybe the stuffed animals were helping, after all. "Hn."
Johann had a pit in his stomach. He had eventually forced himself to catch a few hours' sleep, but it had not been easy. Athena's information was nothing short of blood-chilling. Shortly after arriving in Montreal, she had learned that Bravo survived the explosion in Boston. The next day, the Duke returned home early, clearly distraught, and was physically sick a few hours later. It was then he'd let it slip - Bravo was being given some experimental drug developed by Dekim Barton, some kind of performance enhancer that, he feared, might have similar effects to the drugs already explored in the Enforcer Programme. If so, he was going to need to act very quickly.
He understood why Athena had called for backup. This needed to be taken care of immediately. In fact, it might already be too late to help Bravo, and Athena's position was far too important to risk just yet.
He checked his uniform once more before he slipped on his coat and stepped out into the pre-dawn air and hurried to the car he'd found waiting for him at the safehouse. He had a half-hour to report to work at a small, nondescript building located just next to a primary school. He snorted in disgust as he pulled out of his driveway. "Fucking cowards, hiding behind children "
As he drove off, his mind floated back to Sally's instructions to him: "Make sure they know who betrayed them before you leave." He snorted. "Oh, he'd make sure they knew, all right.
He was looking forward to it.
Farley knocked on Sally's office door at 01:20 AM that night, and frowned when he didn't get a reaction. She had been alone in there since dinner with the door closed, and to say that was unusual for the normally gregarious base commander
He knocked again and, not hearing anything in response, he pushed the door open and stepped inside.
Sally was hunched over her desk, clearly asleep, with a cold cup of tea inches from her lax right hand. Smiling and shaking his head, Farley closed the door behind him and moved to her side. He gently smoothed a strand of hair back from her face. "Sally? Wake up, ma'am."
She wrinkled her nose, but didn't open her eyes.
He laughed under his breath. "Wakey, wakey, ma'am!"
She cracked an eye open. "What did I say about calling me that?" she asked tiredly, but with a hint of humour in her voice.
He laughed. "It worked, didn't it? Are you okay?"
She sat up slowly, grimacing as she moved. "Just tired and a little stiff " She stopped speaking in surprise as she felt a set of warm hands on her neck. A mere second later, she had her eyes shut in pleasure. "Jason, you're my hero."
He smiled, but focused on his shoulder massage. "God, you're tense. What on Earth were you reading before you fell asleep?"
Sally grimaced. "M'waiting for Heero's test results."
"Oh." He continued rubbing her shoulders in mute sympathy. He was the only other person on the base that knew exactly what Sally was testing for. "I have to believe he'd already be showing signs "
She shivered, and he stopped massaging, letting his hands run down her upper arms and rub there gently. "Sally "
"I didn't tell any of them," she said softly, leaning back against the man standing behind her. "Heero might have guessed from the tests I performed, but Duo certainly doesn't know. He never would have left if he thought "
Farley's hands tightened on her shoulders. "Sally, stop. You're going to give yourself an ulcer like this."
She bristled at his tone. "I don't need "
"Yes, you do," Farley insisted. "You might outrank me by quite a lot, but you're not using your head, and if no one else is going to say anything, I will."
Despite his confident words, he, too, was worried. The main reason Sally had insisted on running her tests and not letting Heero off base until she was certain of the results was a disturbing drug cocktail, the evidence of which was still present in Heero's blood six years after his liberation from Dekim Barton's patronage. According to the research Quatre brought back to them, this particular combination of steroids, performance enhancers and cutting-edge nanotechnology had killed every other person subjected to its use. It allowed the victim to push his or her body beyond any possible human limits in strength, agility, speed and cognitive functions, but caused severe convulsions and seizures in most patients, which was followed by a short-lived coma and then death.
And still Heero was alive and very healthy, according to every test they could think of.
Farley shivered convulsively as he forced himself to think of something else. Fortunately, something infinitely more amusing and pleasant was sitting right in front of him and practically purring under his hands as he gave her a neck rub.
He stopped rubbing and began scratching gently instead, letting his hands roam in a circular pattern over her shoulder blades.
Sally was too tired to argue and enjoying the back rub too much to even consider getting upset at her assistant for telling her the truth. The headache she felt building behind her eyes lessened a little, and she leaned forward to give him better access to her sore back. "Remind me to get properly angry with you in the morning."
He laughed. "We'll have the results by then, and you'll be too relieved that he's fine to bother getting angry at me, Sally."
"You're probably right, Jason," she agreed, arching her back slightly as he hit a particularly good spot. "Oh, right there..."
Farley smiled - she was so cute like that! "Let me ask a little question. Is there any chance I could talk you into leaving this place for some shut-eye? Somewhere comfortable, I mean."
She snorted, then sighed. "I know I should, but... I'm worried, and when I worry..."
"You get insomnia from Hell, I know," he finished for her. He kept massaging for a little longer before his hands still, gently cupping her shoulders. "Another idea, then - grab the video of your choice, and we'll head over to the conference room and watch it in relative comfort while we wait for the analysis."
She turned to look up at him. "Jason? I don't think you should..."
He held up his hand and gave her a grin. "A true gentleman would never leave a lady in distress to handle it on her own, now would he?"
Sally groaned, but shot him a grateful smile. "I'd say Treize and Zechs' style was rubbing off on you again, but I'm beginning to believe that this charm is native talent."
Farley's hands on her shoulders tightened in an unconscious caress. "Only on alternate ungodly-early Saturday mornings. C'mon, get up!" One hand slid down her arm to catch her hand and pull Sally to her feet.
She allowed him to pull her to her feet, but then engulfed him in a hug. "Thanks, Jason. I don't know what I'd do without you right now."
"You'd wake up with a terribly stiff neck, that's what," he said flippantly, but Sally caught a slight blush to his cheeks that was both endearing and somewhat exciting.
She let him go before he blushed enough for either of them to get embarrassed. "You said I could pick any movie, right? Can we watch 'Babe'?"
It was Farley's turn to roll his eyes dramatically. "If Treize has been rubbing off on me, then Duo is rubbing off on *you.* To be honest, I have strategically avoided that movie, despite my little brother's fondness for it."
"I didn't know you had a little brother," Sally remarked as she searched through her cabinet for the right disc.
Farley shrugged, his eyes never leaving her. "There's plenty about me you don't know."
Sally turned and fixed him with a smile. "Is that a challenge, Lieutenant?"
"Simply stating a fact, Commander."
"Hn." Sally stopped to grab a small blanket from the chair to the right of her desk, then turned back to face him. "Coming?" she asked with a wicked little smile.
Farley fought to keep a straight face and only barely managed it. "As you wish."
Sally was glad for the darkness as they stepped into the corridor. **I can't believe I'm flirting with him like this...**
She opened the door to the larger Conference Room-
Both Sally and Farley stopped short in shock before both grinned and turned to each other to mouth the word, "Awww...."
Heero and Zechs had finally managed to fall asleep, each clutching a fuzzy, stuffed toy in a way that was terribly endearing.
Sally backed out and shut the door behind her silently. She turned to Farley. "Well, I guess we can go to the Conference Room upstairs. My beeper will go off when the computer's done."
He nodded to her. "Go ahead and get set up. I'll be up in a jiffy."
Sally lifted an eyebrow in inquiry.
He grinned. "We owe it to Wufei, Treize and Duo to capture that sight for posterity."
Sally laughed softly and turned towards the stairs. "Be careful! If Heero catches you..."
"He won't kill me for it - I'm too cute."
Sally shook her head and muttered under her breath as she walked away, "Yes, you are."
Farley grinned as he went back to his own office for a camera. A night like this was worth losing sleep over!
It didn't take long to get settled into their suites. Rashid had decided to wait until after sundown before they all left the hotel. They wandered as a group towards the small research base, mentally noting the various possible escape routes, alleys, and hiding spots, all the while playing the part of fascinated tourists to perfection.
Returning to their hotel, they gathered in the suite occupied by the pilots, Treize, Rashid, Auda and Abdul, to finalise their plans and divide the various equipment for the coming mission. Rashid assigned his people to various entrances, while Abdul and Auda conferred over the different diversions planned. Duo, Treize and Wufei went over the blue prints of the base a final time, coordinating the placement of the charges and the timing for the operation itself.
"So, we'll set the charges as we approach Tuberov's location," Wufei said, running his hand through his hair. "If we reach his room at 0030 hours, we should be able to catch him off guard. According to what little intel we have, his personal computer system is integrated with the rest of the systems on the base, so we should be able to neutralise the network from there. Duo, how long will it take you to knock it out and destroy all the information?"
"Ummm... fifteen minutes, if all goes right," the braided teen replied, yawning widely. "Cracking the main code won't take long. Then I upload the killer virus... hey! We are so dumb... Give me forty minutes all up..."
"Duo?" Treize asked, watching the teen dig through his duffle bag. "While I realise we're not geniuses, how are we dumb?"
Duo grinned and waved a few disks at him. "I have here, Treize, my man, enough blank disks to download their entire system..."
Wufei slapped his hand over his eyes. "Damn! Why didn't we think of that? The information there could be invaluable to us!"
"Not a word of this 'oversight' to Heero, please, gentlemen," Treize said dryly. "He'd never let us live it down."
"He'd also blame himself for not realising it," Duo added wistfully.
"So, that is the plan, then?" Rashid asked. At their nods, he continued. "Good. Now, to sleep, everyone. We have a very long day tomorrow."
"Mr. Howard? Sir?" a young-sounding voice called from beside him. "Wake up sir, please? Mr. Winner would like to see you in the command centre."
Howard stretched, then sat up, wincing as various vertebrae in his back popped loudly. "Did he say what he wanted?" he asked, getting to his feet and throwing on his heavy parka.
"No, sir, he didn't. But from what I understand, some of his people are on the radio and..."
The young ex-Oz soldier blinked as the older man rushed past him and out the door, worry evident in his face. After hesitating a moment, he shook off his surprise and hurried after the other man, catching up to him at the hangar's main doors. They rushed across the semi-dark compound and walked into the command centre.
"... that's excellent, Sayyid," Quatre said into the microphone, shivering as the cold air from outside hit him. Turning, he saw the two new arrivals and grinned. "G'morning Howard! I have good news! Sayyid and his crew are two hours out. I was wondering if you could send one of your people up to lead them in while the satellites are out of range?"
Howard visibly relaxed and let out a sigh of relief. "Quatre, I'm an old man. Don't do that to me. I thought something had gone wrong... Never mind. I'll have Cosmo lead them in. What time is the window?"
Quatre blushed slightly in embarrassment. "Sorry, Howard. Ah, there's a window from 0850 to 0935. Sayyid and his people will have to circle around for a short while, though."
"That is fine, Master Quatre," Sayyid's voice came over the radio. "We shall see our contact then. Oh, and Rashid said to tell you that Kahlid's men and their suits will be coming overland. They've set it up for two to arrive each night between 0130 and 0400, if you could alert the people there. They would prefer not to be shot at..."
Quatre and Howard chuckled.
"How many suits are we looking at, Sayyid?" the older man asked.
"Only ten for now. Rashid wasn't sure how many Master Quatre wanted."
"That's fine for now," Quatre said. "Look for your guide at approximately 0900. Quatre out."
Quatre and Howard made their way out of the building, pausing in the middle of the compound. The blond yawned widely then grinned up at Howard.
"I'd like to go back to bed, but it's already six-thirty and Trowa is meeting me at the mess tent. What do you say to an early breakfast, Howard?"
"That sounds like a plan, Blondie. Lead on."