The Coffee Arc
Part One: Interlude - Coffee
by D.C. Logan
The air was getting warmer and a bit stale; the scrubbers might need replacing again he thought idly. He swiped his index finger lightly across a portion of the 360 vid-screen and revealed a narrow streak of vivid resolution along the path his finger traced. Fine pale gray ash had worked its way through the door seals and attached itself with stubborn tenacity to all of the electrostatically charged surfaces in the cockpit. Scattered clods of brown earth had been tracked in as well, and a scattering of gritty sand remained from his last sojourn to the desert. His hand wandered up along the harness strap that extended past the reinforced padding up to the containment bracket and found a frayed edge. He rubbed his shoulder in empathy—remembering the impact that had torn the fibers in both the belt and his arm. He needed some rest, and his alter ego was in need of some maintenance. He moved the restraint harness straps to the side and shifted position again, bringing his boot up to rest on the seat platform as he twisted his alignment to relieve pressure on the sore shoulder.
These moments of waiting didn't come easy to him. It was so much easier to meet problems head on—or, his preference, to creep around in back of them and thrash the bolts off of them. His eyes lit up and a wry grin cracked the corner of his mouth at the thought. Lying low and waiting out was not a natural part of his personality. But stupidity wasn't a part of him either—and waiting for the enemy's tailguard to pass over him before he took off in the opposite direction was standard procedure for reconnaissance work.
He looked over the display screens and the compartment that had become his second home. His Gundam was one of the few constants in his young life. It was eerie how alive it seemed at times. Heero might laugh at the thought, but he swore he could almost feel waves of personality emanate from his metal exoskeleton. He brought the system access panel online, but resisted the urge to tweak yet another program while he waited the patrol out. There were some interesting modifications to the stealth function that he wanted to test out—but now was not an appropriate time. A lapse in attention while he spent happy minutes in middle-distance thought could prove a deadly mistake in the field—better to reserve such amusements for the relative security of the current safe house.
Minutes passed. He could really do with a cup or coffee right now. Even if brewed by Heero. Odd how, given his drive for perfectionism, he couldn't master the simple process of brewing a pot of potable java. Frankly, it was a wonder he hadn't managed to poison himself during the few times he attempted the procedure. The resulting substance doubled well as a stripping agent for machine parts though—and right now he would have traded a great amount in money or personal favors to have a liter of the viscous brown liquid.
Interesting how good coffee tasted, whether synthetically generated or the honest-to-God ground-from-original-grown-beans real item. It was the only consistent beverage throughout the entire realm of occupied space; less expensive by far than drinking water because it could be processed from reclaimed graywater sources. He'd been drinking mugfulls of it for as long as he could remember—and he was addicted to the stuff.
Duo shifted again, replacing one booted foot with its partner, and flicked his eyes to the long-range sensors. The scattered string of enemy suits was moving methodically through the forested hills. If they maintained their current distribution, they'd pass within a hundred meters on either side of his position. He was nestled deep within a cove of old forest that backed up to an outcropping of granite that provided cover from airborne eyes. The idiots. They had no sense of how to run a line patrol—not that he was complaining mind you, since it worked to his advantage so nicely.
"Hmmm," and as if the coffee craving wasn't bad enough, now he was getting hungry. And at the moment, he didn't have anything stashed in the compartments of the cockpit. It was an ingrained habit for him to always have extra food with him. Not having anything to eat bothered him a lot more than the approaching machines. During the last soiree he'd been in, one of the latches had given way at an inopportune moment and he'd been forcibly showered with its contents—including some rather pointy cutlery Trowa had encouraged him to play with en lieu of his favorite sidearm. So his stash of food and entertainment materials was in a locker at the safe house until he had time to tinker with the damaged closure. And he was bored. He tapped his finger lightly on the control arm, trying to come up with something to take his mind off the wait.
He let out a soft, "Aha!" and pulled up an electronic file of "to-do's" to handle when he got back. He added the three minor repairs to his maintenance list and paused. As he glanced over the prior listings, his eye was caught by a flicker of movement at the edge of his screen. The patrol was moving into visual sensor range and he caught shimmering glimpses of the surface paint on the units as they moved steadily, but not at all quietly, through the vegetation. Even though he knew consciously that it wouldn't make a difference, his body reflexively tightened into itself—making him as small of a target as possible. His senses went on alert at the line first drew even with his position, then passed without variance or incident.
His mind let out a brief metal sigh, and his limbs gently slackened with relief. He settled back into his seat and brought the maintenance list back into view. Keeping one wary eye on his sensors for a rogue tailguard, he added two more items to his list and started a section for the supplies he'd need to lay in for the repairs. Satisfied with his progress, and making soft verbal condolences to Deathscythe for taking so long to get things back in order, he did another two-eyed check of the long range sensors and strapped himself back in. He savedfile on both lists and turned his focus on system checks and bringing all his sensors online. Munitions check passed—although he was running low, and all electrical and power systems were running at peak capacity. At least he had his priorities in correct order. He allowed himself another wry grin and adjusted the controls to carefully bring them out of their shelter. It was time to head home.
And definitely time for that coffee...