Lady Une shifted uneasily in her seat as the plane took off. She was no longer used to wearing body armour, and Sally had insisted on outfitting all of them. She looked across to Quatre Winner, who seemed perfectly at ease, and wished she could be so calm. "Quatre, we need a plan."
He nodded. "I know. I have some ideas, but I wanted "
Farley grinned from his seat, across from the blond. "No time like the present, Quatre. How long will this flight take?"
Quatre shrugged. "Normally, about six and a half hours. With Heero at the controls? Probably five."
Une pressed a button on her console and waited as the table between the seats extended out to its fullest. "We'll need to go straight in by the most direct path - that means blowing a path in and shooting our way out. It isn't going to be easy, and we could well be looking at casualties."
Quatre shook his head. "We'll never make it back out again, Une. I've been on raids like this before."
"And you lot made it out almost every time," she countered.
"Not with wounded," Quatre replied. "We cannot know what condition Bravo will be in when we get to her, and if she's still as bad off as she seemed in Marco's note, she will be a complete liability to us. In that case, we should plan to be carrying the equivalent of *two* wounded, not just one. We will not have the speed to get out if we blow our way in, as you suggested. Not without mobile suits, at least."
Farley volunteered, "I should be able to knock her out for long enough to get her out. Sally gave me several vials of the stuff she used on Heero, in the past."
Quatre shot him a smile. "Good thinking on both of you. In that case, we'll have a dead weight to carry, but that's better than an actively seizing passenger."
Une looked at the rough plan Marco had sent them in his email. "So how about if we stealth our way in, set some explosives in a few key locations, grab Bravo, set off our explosives, and shoot our way out?"
Quatre's eyes narrowed. "If we blow up the main access routes, they will be expecting an attack from the outside, not the inside. I'm not expert with explosives that Duo or Wufei are, but I'm no slouch and I know Heero is good, as well. We'll have to make a new way out, though."
Une smiled evilly. "That won't be a problem."
Marie checked Heero's room, the mess tent, the various exam rooms - she even checked Sally's office - but she couldn't find the Japanese teen anywhere. Pouting slightly, she stomped through the snow to the hangar and slipped inside. Spying Zechs, Trowa and Howard bent over a desk, she threaded her way towards them through the parts and machines.
"Uncle Zechs! Uncle Trowa! Where's Uncle Heero and Uncle Quatre? I wanted them to play snowballs with me! I can't find them!" she called as she stopped beside them.
Zechs and Trowa exchanged glances, then the blond crouched down. "Uncle Heero and Uncle Quatre had to go somewhere with Lady Une, Farley and a few others. They should be back in a day or two," he said, brushing hair out of the little girl's eyes.
Marie frowned, then her eyes lit up. "They went to a mission, didn't they? I heard Sally say that's where Papa and Uncle Duo and Uncle Fei went."
Trowa chuckled. "You could say that, Marie. Actually, they went *on* a mission. They had to go get someone."
"Are they going to get my Papa?" the little girl asked, bouncing in place. "He's gone with Uncle Duo and Uncle Fei, so they could go get them and bring them back, right?"
Both young men blinked at the small redhead, but Howard laughed out loud. "Just like my Duo," he said proudly, picking her up, tossing her in the air and catching her deftly. "Sharp as a knife! Logical thinking at an early age! We'll make a top engineer out of you, just wait and see!" He kissed her lightly on the cheek, then looked at her sharply as she nibbled the tip of her finger, a pensive look on her face. "What are you thinking now, Cricket?"
"Well, Farley said you were Uncle Duo's papa. If Uncle Duo is my Uncle Duo, then what are you?" she asked, her face changing from thoughtful to hopeful.
Howard gaped like a fish while Zechs started snickering. Trowa looked at them both for a second, then smiled gently at the little redhead.
"It's a strange relationship, Marie, but I suppose that would make Howard your 'Great Uncle'..."
"Oh, go on, Marie," Zechs cut in, stifling his snickers, "call him Grandpa. It's close enough. And he'd probably love it -"
"I'M NOBODY'S GRANDPA!" Howard burst out automatically, frowning at the blond. His frown softened as the girl's face fell, then he smiled slightly, clucking her under her chin. "But, I suppose, if you want to call me that... It might be kinda nice..."
Marie threw her arms around the man's neck. "Please, please? You're so much nicer than my other Grandfather! I promise I'll be good!"
Howard bounced her in his arms and whistled sharply at the rest of the mechanics in the hangar. "Hey you greasemonkeys! This here's my grandkid now, so you'd better treat her right! Understand?"
The hangar erupted in cheers and the rest of the Sweepers gathered around the small group, patting Marie and welcoming her to the 'family'.
"Well done, Marie," Cosmo said cheerfully, kissing her cheek. "It'll be fantastic having a little girl in the family!"
Toi put one large hand on Howard's shoulder. "Congratulations, Boss. It's a girl. And I think this calls for a celebration! Sweepers! Mess tent in thirty minutes! That means you, too, Noelani, Zechs," he added, indicating the newest Sweeper and the ex-OZ pilot. He then rushed out of the hangar to make preparations.
Another cheer went up as everyone hurried to clean up.
"Well, shall we go tell Sally the good news?" Zechs said, grinning widely and waving Howard and his redhaired passenger ahead of him. Howard nodded, and headed for the doors. In the older man's arms Marie giggled happily.
Trowa smiled at the picture the two made, then a teasing glint appeared in his eyes.
"So, Grandpa Howard, does this mean you're Treize's 'daddy' now, too?"
Across the hangar, Cosmo grinned as Howard's voice rang out.
"I AIN'T NOBODY'S DADDY!"
Heero set the autopilot, then left the cockpit to join the others. Taking an empty seat beside Une, he leaned over the map on the table as Quatre pointed out possible escape and rendezvous routes if anything *did* go wrong.
"So, if there is a problem on your end, Heero, take this route to the airport," the blond said, running a pen along a road on the map. "My team will take the preplanned route -" A loud beep from his laptop interrupted him. He grabbed the computer, lifted the lid and pressed a few keys, a smile appearing on his face as he quickly scanned the message.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I have something interesting to read to you, if you'll indulge me?" At everyone's nods, he cleared his throat and began reading the email.
Thank you again for arranging this trip for us. We are enjoying it greatly. The other tourists groups are very energetic! I don't know how they do it... we're exhausted. Perhaps they're just used to all the sightseeing.
Everyone had a good time at the festival, except for Abdul. Somehow, while we were watching the fireworks from the Mosque, he slipped against the carved stone step railing and injured his calf. He took Tariq down with him, then they both fell on top of Wasim and Daoud. Actually, it was quite comical. Like something out of those ancient slapstick comedies. Fortunately, no one was injured badly. Abdul got the worst of it. The doctor put some stitches in his leg and recommended he take it easy for a day or two. The only other injury more serious than bumps, bruises and sprains was Tariq's broken finger. I fear Rafiq is displeased with us for finding it humorous, though.
Also, there was some sort of upheaval on the other side of the city. Something about a terrorist attack. We didn't get much information on what happened as the doctor was here while it was on the news, and Abdul was being his usual complaining self. Apparently, the local authorities are combing the city for the perpetrators, and the airport has been closed temporarily. Rafiq checked with our travel agent and everything is fine. Our safari has been rearranged for two days later. There wasn't even an extra cost for postponement.
So, our return home will be delayed for two days. We don't really mind, though I think Daoud is getting very homesick. He was moping around this morning when Rafiq changed the plans. You know how he hates being separated from his family.
I guess that's all the news for now. Abdul wants lunch, and while his coffee is passable, I refuse to eat anything he's cooked, so I should see about feeding him before he decides to make something himself.
Allah keep you well,
P.S. Please relay our change in plans to Aunt Shatara, so she doesn't send her driver to pick us up for our previously scheduled arrival.'
As Quatre finished reading and leaned back in his chair, Une and Heero both sighed heavily in relief. Farley, Rad and Ines shared a look, then Rad cleared his throat.
"Okay, I'm guessing that was good news, and I'm also assuming it was from the little man and his team," he said, frowning slightly, "but would someone explain exactly what that message means, please?"
Quatre laughed. "I'm Uncle Qadir. Tariq would be Treize, Wasim is Wufei. Daoud is Duo, and Aunt Shatara is Sally Po. Basically, the mission went off well, there was moderate resistance, and there were a few minor injuries... but nothing to be concerned about. Nothing concrete about Wufei and Duo, but I'd say they're the ones with the bruises and sprains. Treize has a broken finger, and probably some bruises as well. Rashid - Rafiq in the email - checked with his sources and their cover is safe. The city is in temporary lock-down, so their return will be delayed and they want me to let Sally know." Quatre glanced back at the screen quickly and nodded. "That pretty much covers it."
Ines high-fived Rad and grinned. "Well, that's excellent news!" she said cheerfully.
Heero nodded and reached for the laptop which Quatre happily released.
With a tiny smile on his face, Heero spent the next few minutes tapping on the keys, ignoring the blond standing behind him.
Cousin Auda sent Uncle Qadir a note about your trip. Wish I could be there - I've always wanted to go on a safari. Maybe you and I can go there, sometime. Wanted you to know that I miss you, too. It isn't the same here without my roommate. When you come back, we'll have a slumber party.
Don't have too much fun without me.
Your Cousin Harad'
Nodding to himself, the Japanese teen sent the mail off.
Quatre, reading over Heero's shoulder, snickered as the other boy hit [SEND]. "His cousin? Allah, we have a dysfunctional family "
Howard, Marie still in his arms and followed by Zechs and Trowa, burst into Sally's office.
"Sally," he said as the doctor looked up, "I want you to meet my grandkid."
Sally blinked, then a smile spread across her face as she rose and gave them a firm hug.
"Congratulations to you both! I see the Sweepers are expanding rapidly now," she said teasingly. "First Trowa, now Marie... what do I need to do to be adopted? I'm not bad with a mobile suit, can change the oil in my car and have my pilot's license..."
Howard blushed and chuckled. "Let me see what I can do. Anyway, we're throwing a little party in the mess tent in about half an hour. You're invited."
"I'll be there. There's also another reason to celebrate. I just received a forwarded email from one of the Manguanacs with Duo, Wufei and Treize -" she was cut off as the three men rushed around her desk and stared at her computer screen.
Howard read the message aloud for Marie, then grabbed Trowa with his free hand for a hug. Zechs ran a hand over his face and heaved a relieved sigh.
"Thank God," the blond said, impulsively wrapping his arms around Sally.
"My sentiments exactly," she replied, grinning as she hugged him back tightly.
Marie cocked her head and patted Howard's cheek. "Grandpa Howard?" she asked. "What did all that mean?"
"That, my little Cricket," he replied, giving her a quick peck on the nose, "means your Papa, Uncle 'Fei and my Duo are safe and well! They'll be home soon."
"Yay! Papa's coming home!" the little girl squealed, then she sobered. "But Uncle Heero's not here. Uncle Duo's going to be sad, just like Uncle Trowa and Uncle Zechs are..."
"Maybe not," Trowa said, taking her hand and giving her a small, but genuine smile. "Uncle Duo is going to be later than planned. Heero and Quatre may get back before he does. If so, then Duo won't be sad, right?" At her nod, he continued. "And I may be a little sad now, just like Uncle Zechs and Grandpa Howard, but we've got you to cheer us up, don't we?"
Marie tightened her arms around Howard's neck and nodded again, emphatically. "Papa said I was s'posed to cheer up Uncle Zechs and Uncle Heero, and I can cheer you and Grandpa Howard up, too!"
"That's our girl!" Howard said, bouncing her in his arms and heading for the door. "And now we've got a party to go to. Move it, you three," he added over his shoulder as he walked into the hall. "Sweepers *never* miss a party..."
Johann Marco was waiting for them at the rendez-vous point, his arms crossed over his chest. He waited as the plane taxied to a stop, then jogged the bottom of the staircase as it fell. "I think you must have broken some time records getting here. I'm surprised you weren't tracked."
Farley smiled and waved in greeting. "You've got to meet some of the people we've gathered to the movement, Johann. If anything other than a Gundam could pick up this stealth equipment, it would be more than a miracle."
Johann's eyebrows went up. "Jason? I didn't think "
Une interrupted, "Reading your message, we thought we'd need someone with medical training, and there was no way we could bring Sally along."
Marco shrugged. "Fine by me, but "
Farley frowned. "I'm a doctor, Johann, and I don't like killing. Doesn't mean I can't do it. If you have a problem with that, talk to Sally when you see her next time."
Quatre stepped between the two, already dressed in his body armour, with his eyes flashing. "That's enough from both of you. We have a mission to run and a prisoner to rescue. If either of you have a problem with that, you can stay here." Glowering, Heero stepped up to Quatre's shoulder.
Farley immediately bowed his head. "I'm sorry - I'll admit I'm very nervous about doing this, and I don't want to kill anyone."
Rad patted the young man's arm. "We realised that when we took you on this trip. Don't worry, laddie."
Quatre's eyes still flared. "Marco?"
Johann took a step back from the menace of this little blond. He was suddenly aware again of just who he was talking to, and what these boys had done. "I I'm sorry. I was out of line."
"Fine, then." Quatre turned on his heel and walked back towards the plane to grab his gear.
Marco and Farley were left staring at each other. They both frowned, but Farley managed a small nod. "Let's get to it, then."
Une watched in awe as Quatre dispatched his guard as though swatting a fly, and slipped behind the main computer console in the Centre of Operations. He cued his comm link. "Team two - we're in. Uploading the virus now."
Heero's voice came over the line clearly. "Roger that. Entrance in two minutes on my mark. Three. Two. One. Mark."
Quatre grinned darkly. "Good luck, Zero-One."
"Baka." The word was softened by a little laugh.
Quatre's smile softened, though his fingers never stopped moving on the keyboard.
Une moved to his side. "What comes next?"
Quatre's pale face was lit by the computer screens. "We have about twenty five minutes to set our explosives before the cameras will be back online. Our passcards should work on every door."
Johann led Heero's group through an endless maze of hallways, every sense keyed up. He had originally been quite worried about the plan Quatre presented, but the more he saw of it - and the more he watched this strange crew working together - the more he came to understand just why it was going to work.
And he felt horrible about what had happened earlier with Farley. He knew the young doctor was a good person to have around, but
He alone knew what to expect when they reached their goal, and the thought of having another person along who was not going to be of too much use
He had to hand it to him, too. Farley was as silent as any of the others, armed and ready to shoot, *and* carrying his medical supplies as best as he could.
He stopped at the final doorway to wait for the others.
Heero jogged to his side. "This is it?"
He nodded. "I checked again last night - she still hasn't come to, still seizing."
The look in the pilot's face darkened, but Heero just nodded. "Let's go."
Marco keyed the door and slipped inside.
Heero cursed - the glassed-in room was something out of a forgotten nightmare. He went straight to the glass. "How do I open this thing?"
"Just a moment," Marco said, going to the controls. In the meantime, Farley went directly to the computer tracing Bravo's vital signs and began typing furiously, his eyes ablaze.
Ines joined the young doctor, her eyes wide. "Mother of God "
"I got it!" Marco exclaimed. In the next moment, a hissing sound hit their ears as the glass began to open.
Heero was the first one through the breach, his face pale and his eyes wild. Farley took the moment to hit [PRINT] before he followed, pulling his pack off as he moved towards the girl strapped down to her bed.
Ines moved to the head of the bed immediately, brushing the young girl's hair from her face. Heero was almost growling, in contrast to her tenderness. "Farley, what can "
"I'm on it," Jason said, his face set against the horror before him. "Can we get her free?"
Ines shook her head. "I can't find a releasing mechanism "
"Let me," Heero ordered, grasping her bonds in one hand and heaving. Ines' eyes opened wide as the solid steel seemed to crumble.
Bravo's arm immediately lashed out and hit Heero hard across the face, but he merely grunted and reached for the bindings on her other side, pinning her down with his weight. "We need to sedate her. Quickly. I won't be able to hold her for too long."
Farley already had a needle out and was prepping it. "This ought to work at least until we can get her to the plane. I've printed out her file to take with - hopefully, I'll find some way of helping her when I get a chance to look it all over."
Heero nodded, his eyes trained on the sparse features of the girl who was, for all intents and purposes, his sister.
Ines held Bravo's arm as steady as she could as Farley swabbed a spot inside her elbow and stabbed the needle right into her vein.
Bleary eyes opened in shock and fear, and they could all tell she was trying to say something, if only her parched and torn throat could handle it. Someone was medicating her again, and she couldn't move- she was pinned-
Heero manoeuvred to where he could look down into her eyes. "It's okay. We came back for you - just relax. You need to trust me, Bravo."
She stared up at him in fear that slowly faded into shock. But she was rapidly fading, and her eyes fluttered.
Heero slowly relaxed. "She's out." He leaned forward until his forehead rested against hers. "I can't believe "
Farley clapped a hand on the boy's shoulder. "It's okay, Heero. You can hold it together - you have to hold it together until we get out. D'you hear me?"
Heero lifted his head, his eyes dark and dangerous. "Mission accepted."
He didn't wait for any of the others. Wrapping Bravo carefully in the bedsheets, he slung her over his shoulder. "Marco, how much time do we have?"
The spy checked his watch. The doctors will be here in about two minutes."
"Good." He stood and walked back into the glass booth. He stopped on a sudden whim, though. "Ines, take her."
The woman stepped forward. "Heero? We don't have time "
"Don't worry about it - I'll only be a couple minutes," he said, a dark look in his eyes. "Go on - Marco and I will meet you at the rendez-vous point."
Yawning, two men in white lab coats keyed their way into the lab. "D'you suppose she'll wake up today?" one asked.
His fellow never got a chance to reply, though- both men went pale.
The glass was open, the bed empty.
"Alert security! We've got a "
"A breach. Yes, you do," Marco said, in a dark voice.
They turned around again - two men were standing in the doorway, both training guns on them, but the scientists' eyes tracked to the younger one barely more than a boy, with dark, glinting blue eyes they'd seen before. "You!"
"Me." Heero's gun went off once, and one of the white-coated men fell, lifeless, to the ground.
The other, his face splattered with his fellow's blood, nearly wet himself. "Please! Whatever you say, I'll do it, just "
"Yes, you will," Marco said. "And if you do it right, your death will be quick and painless. Do it wrong, and I let my friend here do what he wants to do to you sick fucks. Zero-One, how much time?"
"One minute more."
Security Guards hit every alarm in the building the Security Operations Centre was empty, monitors filled with static, four men laying dead on the floor. Yet even as they watched the monitors and alarms blared through the complex, one monitor went clear.
A white-coated man stood in plain view with another man behind him, holding a gun to his head. The scientist's voice shook. "He wants me to pass a message. To D-Duke Dermail and Dekim B-Barton. He s-says " He was prodded from behind with a gun. "He says you will be made to suffer for what you have done. And not just to Bravo, but to her predecessor, as well. Your days are n-numbered "
His words were cut short as the gun-wielding man fired a single shot into his head.
Marco looked up into the camera and gave it the finger. "Bastards." He aimed up and shot the camera, as well.
Farley took Bravo into his arms as Heero and Marco jogged up to the waiting team. "I'm not a very good shot, anyway. You'll need both hands."
"Good thinking," Heero said, giving the young doctor a small smile. He cued his comm link. "Zero-four, we are clear."
"Roger that," Quatre replied. Seconds later, explosions rocked the Centre. The blond's voice came back over the link. "We've created a exit, of sorts. It should be four corridors down from you, on the left. We'll meet you there."
"Very well," Heero replied. He turned to the others. "Exit isn't far, but it's going to be a hot one."
"Let's go, then, shall we?" Marco said.
Quatre could hear gunfire ahead, and he put on more speed. He hadn't said anything to Heero about it, but those four corridors lead straight past the guard barracks, and there had undoubtedly been men running through there. Still it was the best they could do
His team charged around the corner and fired point blank on the last few men left standing. As the last man fell, Heero glared at his friend. "You could have warned us, Winner!"
"No time for that, Yuy," the blond replied, rushing past him to where Farley stood, Bravo cradled in his arms. "Is she okay?"
The doctor nodded. "She's out cold for now. We'll revive her on the plane."
"Okay - good work," Quatre replied, squeezing Farley's shoulder warmly. "Last leg. Une, Ines and I will take point, with the rest of you following. Don't stop running, whatever happens."
Getting several nods, Quatre hefted a large semi-automatic machine gun in either hand. "Let's get out of here."
Heero caught his blond friend as Quatre stumbled - gunfire trailed after them, but it wasn't precise in any way. The blond looked up at him with a smile. "Thanks - I must have slipped."
"Trowa would gut me if I let something happen to you," Heero replied wryly.
Quatre' grinned, his teeth showing in the low light. "Love you, too, Heero."
"Don't let Duo hear you say that," came Heero's reply. "Heaven only knows what he'd do."
Duo sighed as he played with the food on his plate.
"Duo," Treize said gently, "eat your dinner."
The long-haired teen looked up and smiled sheepishly. "I'm just not very hungry, 'Dad'. I guess I have too much on my mind right now."
"Eat your dinner and stop moping, Duo," Wufei said sternly, though his look was fond and understanding. "Heero will kill us if we let you waste away to nothing. Rashid, knowing your fondness for all food, will think you're ill if you don't inhale what's on your plate. Treize will ground you, and I... I will guard the icebox to keep you from any midnight forays."
Treize, Rashid, Abdul and Auda all chuckled at the indignant expression on Duo's face. The braided pilot straightened haughtily.
"I'll have you know, Chang Wufei, that if I Master Thief Extraordinaire - decide to raid the fridge, there's not a snowball's chance in the Ninth Circle of Hell of your catching me at it... much less stopping me."
Treize snorted and leaned towards the tall Maguanac chief. "Methinks our God of Death protests too much -"
Across the room, the laptop beeped, and Auda, still snickering, went to check it. A quick scan of the screen had him chuckling.
"Duo? I think it's for you..."