Chapter 28: Janico
by Casey Valhalla
"It's really… *green*." Wufei's forehead wrinkled as he rested one shoulder
against the windowsill, staring out at the planet Sen'Darven. The Delta had
entered orbit less than an hour earlier. "I suppose I expected something
more spectacular. It's a resort, after all."
"Neon lights, heavy air traffic, thirteen points of entry. I'd call that
spectacular," Trowa commented from his seat on the floor. His back rested
against the wall just under the window, and he bent over the portable
computer in his lap. "Of course, I base that on my own references. I grew
up on a planet with two landing zones and four primitive satellites. There,
now, our alternate identities have reservations at the prestigious White
Lion Inn in the Temple District."
"I hope you have a sizeable savings account. This place doesn't come
Wufei stared down at the elf, who was blithely typing away with an
unsettling smirk on his face. The Dragon rolled his shoulders in a lazy
stretch and bent over slightly, trying to see past Trowa's bangs and get a
glimpse of the screen.
"If you're that curious, just ask," Trowa said, maneuvering his head just so
to further obstruct Wufei's view.
"Fine. What the hell are you doing?"
"Your name is Reqi He. You are a high-level executive in a business that
exports bulbs to pachinko parlors all over the lower galaxy."
"I am Tiernan, your elven manservant, whom you won by accident at an auction
five years ago while bidding on a refurbished Sonatan waxbot."
Wufei opened his mouth several times and sputtered.
"Hilde is Xiao Hai, your youngest niece, whom you lavish affection upon and
spoil to the point of excess." Trowa finished typing and twisted his head
to look up at a red-faced Wufei. "If it pleases you, Master He, sir, how
much would you like to bet on this afternoon's race? Red Lightning has 10
to 4 odds." When the Dragon did nothing but make an incredulous face and an
indignant noise, Trowa leaned closer and whispered conspiratorially, "Don't
worry, the funds have been illegally appropriated."
Wufei emitted a sound akin to a frog with a fly stuck in its windpipe.
The door to the small antechamber slid open and Meiran walked in, Naki and
Hilde trailing in her wake. "To work, gentlemen, or—" She paused, looking
over the pair beside the window. "Is there a problem, Chang?"
Wufei straightened suddenly and regained his composure. "No, nothing at
"Then sit down so I can brief you." She folded her arms and stood behind
her chair, watching the pair like a hawk as they removed themselves from the
window and took seats at the long conference table. She smirked slightly
when she caught Wufei's eye.
Meiran shifted her gaze to the elf. "How are preparations coming, Nanashi?"
"Everything is in order, I believe, unless my colleague has any objections,"
Trowa nodded sagely to himself. "In which case I may require several more
hours to revise the necessary information."
"You object, Chang?" Meiran's tone suggested that if he did, he could
expect the most severe form of torture she could devise.
The Dragon paled slightly under her gaze, turned to take in the smug profile
of the elf, and finally canted his head to glare at the middle space between
the table and the floor. "No."
"Good," she replied firmly. "As agreed, your mission is simply to get
yourselves to the Resistance base, and since you're the first group of our
squadron to do so, this is considered a reconnaissance mission. Consider
yourselves to be clearing a path for the Prime Operative, so when his
shuttle arrives we can tell him precisely where to go and who to speak with.
If the city isn't secure, we'll have to try another route, and there isn't
"You don't already have this planned out?" Wufei narrowed his eyes at the
Resistance admiral, who met him stare for stare. "The base knows we're
"Yes. Unfortunately, this entire force was thrown together hastily, and we
haven't had enough security to relay sensitive information such as names and
locations. The locals already have their own underground force, but we
don't know who or where they are, and this *is* ISG-run territory. The
slightest slip could tip off the enemy, and we can't afford that. They're
looking for us. We can only hope they won't look right under their noses."
Meiran paused. "Any further questions?"
Wufei frowned, and Trowa ended up responding for him. "No, sir."
"Then the planned operation is as follows: Operatives Nanashi, Dragon, and
Sapphire are to touch down in Janico, proceed through security, and make
their way to the city's Resistance headquarters, where a local operative
will guide you to secondary transportation to base. Your report will
include all of your discoveries involving security of both the spaceport and
the city proper, and a calendar of local events covering the next fortnight.
We need an event with sufficient attendance to mask any larger movements
of our operatives within the city. Also report any subsequent information
regarding Janico, its residents, and any locals, civilian or otherwise, you
may chance to interact with. You are expected to report to base within 48
hours of your arrival on the surface. If you have not reported within that
time this operation will be considered compromised, and depending on the
situation a team may be sent to forcibly extract you from the city."
Meiran's expression darkened slightly. "These orders are direct from
Commanding Base Operative Rose, so don't you *dare* make me look bad."
"Sir," Wufei and Trowa muttered in unison. Hilde saluted smartly.
Meiran's smile was flat and sinister. "Commence operation."
"I hate you, Barton."
"Do you want to look the part, or would you rather everyone in the city look
at you slant-eyed?" Trowa did his best to adjust the lavish silk robe while
Wufei squirmed in protest. "You look too much like a Modicum clan master in
your red-and-white getup, and I certainly hope you don't expect to just walk
through security with a katana on your hip."
"Landing," Hilde called through the open door to the cockpit. The cruiser
they were touching down in was small and nondescript, the perfect private
shuttle for a businessman. Wufei made a face.
Trowa stepped back with a sigh and pulled at the cap of his blue porter's
uniform until it covered the tips of his ears. "Just continue to act as
stuffy and self-possessed as you are and we'll be fine."
The ship shuddered to a halt, and a moment later Hilde emerged from the
cockpit, perfectly in character with a bright smile in her pink kimono.
"I would much prefer a swift and honorable death," Wufei muttered.
Hilde's smile vanished and the soldier reappeared. "Suck it up, Chang.
It's a 48 hour mission, for Nari's sake."
"Fine. Let's get this over with." Wufei jerked himself away from Trowa's
ministrations and punched the hatch release. The metal door opened with a
hiss, and a blast of humid air rushed into the cabin.
The open air spaceport was teeming with civilians of every race, every one
of them decked out in formal attire and lavish colors, and obviously
suffering for it by the way they rubbed their necks and foreheads with
handkerchiefs. Red-clad porters worked their way through the mob with
luggage carts and long-suffering expressions, while green-uniformed ISG
guards stood watch and occasionally motioned for the crowd to move along.
The sky above was a crystal-clear blue, the sun blazing mercilessly upon the
shoulders of all present. The air hung thick and damp and carried the
wafting smell of sweat and perfume. Beyond the tiled concourses of the
spaceport, sandstone walls rose, enclosing a broad sweep of land and the
scattered rooftops of the city beyond.
"This is a resort?" Wufei muttered to himself, glancing to the side as
Trowa appeared, laden with a multitude of suitcases. "This place is
crawling with enemy soldiers."
"Thus the term 'undercover'," the elf replied flatly. "I'll lead the way,
try to make a path through the crowd. Customs is there, I believe." He
gestured with a suitcase, ahead and slightly to the left, where a few lines
had formed. "And *please* try to behave in character, Meiran would never
forgive us if we blew our cover inside five minutes."
With that, Trowa plastered a pleasant smile on his face and turned into the
mass of tourists, leaving Wufei to trail in his wake. Hilde immediately
latched onto his arm, looking all around herself in wonder like an exited
child who had never been more than a block from her home. Wufei gritted his
teeth and forced a neutral expression on his face, keeping his eyes on
Trowa's shoulders as they wound their way through the crowd.
"Sir, if you would open your bags, please."
Wufei blinked at the guard for a moment, the unreality striking him as he
faced an enemy soldier without the both of them trying to kill each other.
He reminded himself firmly that he was on a mission. He was not authorized
to harm this man, but rather must cooperate with him.
The knowledge left a sour taste in his mouth.
They had been in line for an hour. Hilde was seated on a suitcase, visibly
wilting from the heat despite a parasol she held loosely over her head.
Trowa appeared unaffected, standing properly at attention with his arms
folded behind his back, waiting for orders from his master. Wufei was
experiencing some severe vexation and focusing all his energies on hiding
it, and was rapidly coming to the conclusion that Trowa Barton was the very
bane of his existence.
Despite which, it was the exalted Reqi He who responded to the guard's
request. "Why, certainly, sir! Tiernan, if you please, allow this
gentleman to examine our luggage." I am going to kill you all.
With Trowa's assistance, the guard began rummaging through the suitcases,
all of which were filled with clothing for no more than show. Wufei grew
tenser with each passing moment, as the guard steadily approached the bag
Hilde was sitting on, which happened to contain their weapons under a false
bottom. They needed a distraction, before the guard noticed the rigid
atmosphere and became suspicious. Hilde reluctantly gave up her seat,
allowing the guard to lay the suitcase flat and flip open the lid, exposing
an assortment of women's undergarments.
"How dare you!" Hilde shrieked as the guard began poking through the
contents. "No gentleman goes poking through a lady's personals! Stop this
at once! Uncle, do something!"
Still gritting his teeth behind the façade, Wufei laid a comforting arm
around Hilde's shoulders. "There now, my flower, let the man do his job.
He means no disrespect, I'm sure." I'll kill him later. Somewhere dark.
The guard, now a brilliant shade of red, stepped away from the suitcase with
his hands up, trying to soothe the slighted girl. "I apologize, my lady, I
--- ah --- I believe I am finished here. Thank you. Ah --- move along,
now! Move along!"
Trowa gathered up the luggage quickly and led them to the security desk, his
pleasant mask firmly in place, though he was making some strange snorting
noises through his nose. Wufei drew level with him, still comforting his
"Laugh and die, Barton," he whispered in the elf's ear.
"As you wish, Master He," Trowa replied smoothly.
"There is no way in hell the Relics are going to get through that security."
Wufei dropped onto the bed and sank several inches into the feather
mattress before he managed to dig himself out and selected a chair to fall
into instead. "Is there any way to contact Nataku? She'll have to arrange
an alternate point of entry."
"Sending our periodic report now." Trowa was already seated on the plush
carpet, typing away at the computer in his lap. "Anything further to
"It's fucking *hot*."
Two hours after escaping the luggage check unscathed, they finally arrived
in their air-conditioned room at the White Lion Inn. One hour comprised of
being poked and prodded and scanned and processed at the security desk, and
another just trying to work their way through the heavy traffic of Janico's
Hilde was busy reassembling a small stock of weapons, and tossed Wufei his
katana. "Do you think we should split up and search the city?"
"Negative. Not conducive with our cover." Trowa hit a button and closed
the portable computer. "The two of you should stay together, at least; I
can always have the excuse that I'm on an errand."
"Two groups, then." Hilde opened a map and examined it while hiding a pair
of handguns in her kimono. "There's a pub in the northwest corner of Tancha
Square, we'll meet back there."
"Four hours," Trowa suggested, accepting his knives from Hilde. "Or is that
"Make it three. Can you see my katana?" Wufei adjusted his robes and
"Are you sure?"
"If you're lying to me, Barton..."
Hilde snorted and grabbed Wufei's elbow. "You'll kill him. We know. Can
we get on with the mission now?"
"And to the left, you'll see the estates of the illustrious Lord Keneron,
the most celebrated dragon breeder in Janico's history. Some say that his
success is due to a secret farming operation in the Quannis archipelago,
where the feed for his dragons is grown. Now, if I could turn your
attention to the right, we're approaching---"
Wufei tuned out the droning of the tour guide, staring over the side of the
20-passenger hovercraft at the massive white walls of Dakovar Arena. The
higher class districts beyond the inner-city walls were nowhere near as
crowded as the marketplace and the surrounding areas, but the atmosphere
lent a sense of pompous self-righteousness to the locals. He frowned at the
white stones, willing them to crumble under his glare.
"We are now coming upon the second of four gates leading into the arena.
The first we passed is intended for the townspeople, coming from Palace Way.
This second is a special entrance for those living outside of Janico, and
is connected to the Arena Gate on the east wall of the city. The other two
connect directly from the Dragon Quarter, and are only used by breeders and
trainers, and of course the dragons themselves---"
Dragon racing, Wufei thought with a restrained snort of disgust. Harnessing
free creatures for amusement and profit. What a waste of time and energy.
"We'll be stopping here inside the gate to allow you all a look around.
Please meet back at the hoverbus in fifteen minutes so that we may continue
Wufei stepped off the craft, nodding to Hilde, who skipped off to the
souvenir booths to admire the trinkets on display with the other girls on
the tour. He ambled further into the arena, assuring himself that his
katana was secure under his robes, and passed through an archway into a
dusty expanse under the glaring sunlight.
The arena itself was gargantuan, easily five times as large as the average
horseracing track. The stadium seats were raised a good forty feet above
the ground, surrounding a vast circle with metal poles spiking into the sky
to mark the track boundaries. Off to the right, near the stone wall
surrounding the arena floor, a large white shape was hunched, scales
glittering in the sunlight.
Wufei approached the serpentine figure cautiously, watching as it registered
his presence and spread huge, bat-like wings, turning a crested head to
regard him through slitted golden eyes. The dragon snorted, a puff of steam
emitting through its nostrils, and let out a screeching sound that Wufei,
with a grimace, likened to a wounded horse.
He stopped a safe distance away from the creature, facing it head-on. A
steel collar circled the dragon's long neck, a chain attaching it to an iron
pole set deep into the stone wall. The dragon eyed him warily, shifting its
clawed feet in the dust.
Wufei bowed deeply. "I am honored to be in your presence, shining one."
The dragon made a low, staccato chirping sound, as though it was puzzled.
When Wufei straightened, it had folded its wings, its nostrils flexing as it
sniffed him, its face little more than a foot away from his. He took
another careful step forward, holding up a hand for the dragon's inspection.
It snuffled again, then batted the hand with its nose.
Wufei's hand fit easily between the dragon's nostrils, and he stroked the
hard scales gently while the dragon made pleased chirping noises in its
throat. He raised his other hand to scratch under the dragon's chin, and
noted with some shock that the creature had no teeth.
"You must be a trainer," a voice noted behind him, and Wufei turned slightly
to see a young woman dressed all in leather walk up to the beast's flank.
"She's a beauty, isn't she? We usually don’t race whites, they're too
temperamental. She must like you, if she let you get that close."
"Yeah," Wufei managed, placing his palm between the dragon's golden eyes.
"Well, today's her last race, unfortunately. She's getting too old." The
young woman approached Wufei and scratched the dragon behind its crest. The
creature chirped and butted its head against the woman's chest. She
laughed. "That's right, just one more time, girl."
"What then?" Wufei asked, still staring into the dragon's eyes.
"Lucky girl, she's going to the reserve. She's been a prize flyer, she'll
get to live out the rest of her days comfortably, I think."
Wufei forced a bittersweet smile and gave the dragon a last pat on the nose.
"Thank you for letting me meet her."
"No problem." The woman was giving him an odd look, but Wufei ignored it.
"Be well, shining one."
He didn't bother to ask what happened to dragons who weren't so highly
regarded. He was reasonably sure he didn't want to know.
Hilde took note of Wufei's pensive look as soon as they reboarded the
hoverbus, and frowned at him. "Is something wrong, uncle?"
"No," he replied at length, staring vaguely into middle-space. "No, nothing
I can do anything about, anyway."
She peered at him through her bangs for a long moment, then shrugged and
began showing her 'uncle' the various small treasures she had bought. Wufei
made various noises of approval or appreciation as his character was
required, but wasn't really paying much attention.
"Returning now to Palace Way, oh dear." The tour guide's voice broke off
abruptly. "Ah, as you can see, the citizens of Janico are diverse, and as
with any society, not everyone will always agree with the foundations of
Wufei snapped back into focus as the hoverbus came to a halt, a chorus of
shouts echoing around the streets. Wufei craned his neck, leaning over the
side of the hoverbus to see past the crowd that had convened at the
A group of various races --- mostly humans, half-elves, and a couple of
dwarves by the look of it --- with large painted signs were gathered around
a hastily erected platform, upon which a young man, probably a teenager, was
standing. He was holding a megaphone to his mouth and shouting through it,
while making wild gestures with his free hand.
"---if that is so, then what kind of warped economy are we running? This
city is funded and run by the profits of the blood of living creatures,
creatures we have exploited, free beings which are abused daily for the
whims of the aristocrats!" The young man threw a fist into the air, his
lanky, dirt-brown hair ruffling around his head with the movement.
The group surrounding the podium cheered, waving their signs frantically.
'Free the Dragons!' 'Stop the Races!' 'End Cruelty Now!'
"Wow," Hilde breathed. "It's been a while since I saw any serious
activists." She kept her voice low, so that only Wufei could hear. "The
ISG usually squashes anything that tries to work against them."
"It's the same everywhere," Wufei muttered to himself. "Someday we'll all
realize that everyone wants the same thing. We just work towards it
differently, for different reasons."
"Oh? And what's that?"
Wufei didn't respond for several long moments, and it wasn't until after the
hoverbus had worked its way past the protest that he finally spoke, so
softly that Hilde wasn't sure she had heard him.
"I am never doing this again. You understand? Never." Wufei rubbed his
sweating forehead and stared down into a mug of the local ale. Hilde sat by
his side with a chilled tea in her hand, munching on a pretzel.
"You're the one who agreed to take orders from Nataku." She jabbed him in
the shoulder with a half-eaten pretzel before popping it in her mouth. "Ah,
shouldn't you eat something before you drink that?"
The pub was identical to a million old-fashioned establishments strewn
across the various planets and cities in the lower galaxy. Solid gray stone
walls and floors, chairs and tables of thick, heavy wood, buxom waitresses
making the rounds with metal steins and wooden tumblers of various alcoholic
beverages, or trays of greasy, unsophisticated food. Despite the various
ragtag clientele --- who were noisy, as an added benefit --- the place was
remarkably clean and cool, and thus Wufei decided to keep his more murderous
intentions to himself.
He almost jumped out of his skin when Trowa suddenly dropped into the seat
next to him, waving a hand for a waitress to bring him a drink. The elf
sighed and folded his arms on the table in front of him, his face drawn in
"This place is crawling with operatives." He stated once the waitress had
left, taking a long pull from his mug.
"I've noticed," Hilde said, swirling her iced tea with a straw. "Any luck?"
"It's next to impossible to talk to any one of them without appearing
suspicious, especially with all the ISG soldiers crawling around. One out
of every five people in plain clothes that I've seen today have been
carrying, but at the same time there's no telling whether they're one of
ours, or one of the enemy's."
"What do you suggest?" Wufei asked, almost bored, still staring into the
golden depths of his beer.
"There's an area we haven't covered yet, the lower end of the city." Trowa
closed his eyes and leaned back with another sigh. "The locals call it the
Bacca. It's not a part of town tourists usually frequent, though, so we'll
have to work out another plan." He opened his eyes and looked directly at
Wufei, who managed to lift his gaze from his drink and meet the stare. "I
did find this, however."
Wufei took the folded paper Trowa handed to him and opened it carefully. It
was a wanted poster, professionally printed with a full-color image.
Heero Yuy, the Dragon's Assassin. Wanted for high treason and crimes
against the central government. 5,000 gold reward.
Dead or alive.
"Fuck," Wufei muttered, crumpling the paper in his hands. "What the hell do
we do now?"