The Coffee Arc
Part Two: Maintenance
by D.C. Logan
"Hey, where'd Duo go today?"
"Where else. He's been living in the quonset since before dawn."
A blue string of curses (interlaced with grunts) echoed from under the rear access panel on the large mechanical suit lying on the concrete floor. The large doors to the building were propped open to take advantage of what natural light was available. The sharp report of a thrown steel tool was heard all the way across the access road. And it was clearly audible in the large loft area above the garage that currently served as a safe house for the pilots.
Heero and Wufei traded a meaningful look as the sound of the initial clank was followed by a large portion of the rest of the toolbox chasing its airborne brethren. Heero turned from the window and headed back to his computer terminal without another word. Wufei decided that perhaps he didn't need that piece of equipment from the shed after all and went in search of another project to occupy his time between missions.
"Effing bolt. Take THAT!" he yelled while striking the offending connector with a hammer large enough to bring down a small brick wall. The bolt showed no remorse and didn't budge. Duo sat there, mystified. Why wouldn't the damn thing move? "When in doubt, get a bigger hammer, that's what I always say." He muttered to himself, dragged his legs out from under the panel, stood up, and promptly tripped over one of the wrenches he'd thrown in his fury. "Oh, come ON! What is it with this day anyway?!"
It had started out as a perfect day. Determined to catch up on some of the less routine maintenance on his Gundam, he had wandered out to the quonset before first light. Armed with an enormous thermos of coffee, his downtime maintenance list of things to do, and the mechanical tolerance standards for the stealth system on his suit; he was prepared to spend the entire day bringing his alter ego back into peak mechanical condition.
Clearing out the cockpit had been the easy part. He'd gone over the entire capsule top to bottom and removed all the dust, ash, sand, and earth that had blown in the hatch, leaked through the gaskets, or had simply been tracked in by yours truly. He'd even taken the time to dig the minute crud out between each of the control buttons and along all the panel joinery on the walls and floor. Trowa had given him a container of fluid that was supposed to help keep the dust particles from attaching to the vid screens. But after the last practical joke Duo played on him, he didn't consider it safe to try the product. It might be black paint or some other substance equally difficult to remove once applied.
He'd dismantled every access panel on the entire suit. His Gundam looked like it had been eviscerated—spilling conduit and wiring across the floor to a hardwired diagnostic unit. This was the last panel he had to open, and the %#@^&* bolt was the only thing in his path to completing this task. He eyed it nastily—wondering if intimidation would help his cause any.
"Try lubricating it first—it may help," spoke Wufei from the open door.
Wufei, knowing better than to pause and incur the misdirected wrath of the black-clad pilot, walked quickly to the locker containing the part he needed, grabbed it without pause, and left the building without another word.
"Well, that's a thought." Duo walked over to the tool rack and rummaged until he surfaced with a can of spray lubricant. "Here you go you little pain-in-the-ass," he muttered vindictively while saturating the bolt. He tossed the can back at the rack and watched the fluid run over the bolt and down the panel to the floor. He hunkered down to the panel, braced his legs against Deathscythe, set the wrench in place and pulled. Nothing happened. Duo paused in disbelief and started cursing the flaming bolt some more.
Trowa paused just within earshot and listened critically to the tirade. "He must be pretty upset—he usually doesn't curse much," he said to himself. To Duo he called, "Yo, Duo! Need a hand?"
Duo looked up to see Trowa silhouetted against the afternoon light. "I've got a jammed bolt on this panel that won't give up. It's always the last one you know," he stated ruefully. Trowa looked over the quonset—Wufei was right, Duo had been busy today. Deathscythe lay in all its exposed glory over most of the available floor surface. It looked like Duo was opening each panel, blowing all the dust and debris out of each sealed compartment, and then systematically checking each wire and connection. Trowa was a bit taken aback—he hadn't known that Duo had it in him to perform this level of maintenance. And he had to admit to being not just a little impressed with the thoroughness and attention to detail he was demonstrating.
He walked over to where Duo was sitting amidst his tools and took a look at the troublesome bolt. It looked a great deal like every other bolt he'd seen on the Gundams. "Maybe if we both work it at the same time the extra force will pop it loose," he mused. Duo nodded and shifted to the side so Trowa could get a good grip on the shaft of the wrench as well. "Okay, on three... One. Two. Three."
Both of them strained against the fixed bolt, but despite their combined efforts, the bolt remained frozen in place.
"Try a longer handle—you can gain more leverage that way and may be able to turn it," said Quatre helpfully. He'd also been drawn to the maintenance shed after hearing Wufei's description of the chaos Duo had created. When Trowa hadn't come back from his expedition to check on Duo's progress, Quatre hadn't been able to contain his curiosity.
Trowa looked up at Quatre and nodded. He noticed that Quatre didn't appear to be at all taken aback by what Duo was doing. Apparently he had known the pilot from L2 had had it in him all the time. That rankled a bit, but Trowa shifted from under the Gundam's side and walked over to the tool bench for an appropriate extension. Duo just sat sprawled on the solvent-stained floor and caught his breath. He looked up and noticed Quatre peering into one of the opened access ports with interest.
"Is that the shielding coupling for the power system in the buster shield?" he queried. Duo shuffled over on his hands and knees to take a closer look.
"Yup. I rewired it to bypass the stealth system—it doesn't need to be shielded, and I may be able to reconfigure the system to gain more power. It should work, at least while the suit is stationary, but it hasn't been tried in a practical application yet."
Quatre looked thoughtfully at Duo and considered what he was trying to do. If he could successfully boost the stealth systems on Deathscythe, his suit would become an even more formidable weapon. Trowa walked back into range before Quatre could question Duo further, and proceeded to slip the open end of a meter-length piece of pipe over the stem of the wrench and dropped it down the shank to the mouth end. He then proceeded to comfortably shift the pipe, wrench, and nut in a smooth arc from a fixed three o' clock position to an easy spin around the dial. Duo's jaw dropped in amazement. Quatre grinned at Duo's reaction; it was a good thing he was already on the floor. He looked as if someone had hit him on the back of his head with a board.
Trowa slipped the pipe off the wrench and finished removing both the bolt and the panel it was holding. He walked the pipe over to the bench, sauntered back to Duo, and dropped the bolt in his lap. Duo made not a sound, but looked disbelievingly between the bolt in his lap and the open panel—and then up at Trowa and Quatre. The two standing pilots were grinning openly at him...he couldn't remember the last time Trowa had cracked a smile. He blinked twice and grimaced ruefully up at them, "Thanks guys."
"Don't mention it," Quatre replied, and with a last considering look at the organized chaos, he and Trowa turned around and left Duo to his own preoccupied devices.
Now that the confounded bolt was out, things progressed nicely on his little maintenance project. There was something almost therapeutic about the process of cleaning and moving the myriad of cables and wires and ensuring that nothing would fail under stress or mechanical strain. He worked compartment to compartment; occasionally talking to his suit as he worked—absently stroking the Gundanium alloy shell between tightening screws and anchoring connectors and shielding plates. He set the torque adjustment on his small bolt wrench to match the spec sheet he printed out from the hard-line terminal and set to tightening each and every bolt on the outer hull to perfect tolerances. The secret to the improvements he was hoping to install on his suit required keeping resistance in the metal shell to a bare minimum—no stress or flexion in the metal connections, no binding or torsion in the flat panels. Everything had to be perfect to allow the non-conductive properties of the alloy to work with the new software adjustments he had planned. He set the wrench on a bolt and spun the shank just until the gauge read the correct tension on the bolt. Then he moved to the next bolt opposite and slowly worked his way over every inch of his pride and joy.
When he had wrenched his way back to his starting point, he took a breather to stand back and admire his work. What an amazing creation. Even after all this, he still had a difficult time believing his good fortune to pilot such a machine. He walked around the quonset, gathering all the tools he'd used and abused that day, so pleased with himself that he actually took the time to place them back into their respective hooks and bins on the wall instead of leaving them in a pile on the bench as he usually did.
He collected the contents from his locker and climbed up into the open hatch of the cockpit. Moving Deathscythe into a seated position, he opened the repaired storage bin and loaded all of his emergency food rations and entertainment material back into the cavity. Hmm. Pa-Kua Chang for Self Defense—Wufei must have tossed that book in; The Book of Five Rings—that was one he'd borrowed from Heero's shelf; and The Works of Roethke —"The Rose" was one of his perennial favorites despite the sappy title. In addition to the books in his stash, Quatre had given him a supply of his favorite treat—frosted almonds, and Trowa had given him a set of knives to play with (he could hear his serious tone of voice perfectly—"You never know when your sidearm will fail—learn how to throw these, and you won't be left without a weapon"). There was also one of Heero's indestructable discarded shirts he'd borrowed, an extra sidearm with two full ammunition clips, and a compact field survival kit. When all was tucked neatly within, he shut the latch with a satisfied click and stroked the repaired panel happily.
He shifted over, sprawled in his seat, and grabbed for his thermos of coffee—good, still warm. He liked it black and very sweet—and he knew the other pilots smirked behind his back as he loaded his beverage with whatever sweetener was available—but he didn't care. Sweets had always been beyond his reach—now that he had access to them, he indulged his weakness to the best of his ability.
Now, time to have some fun with his programming. He grinned happily (and somewhat maniacally) and stretched his fingers in barely harnessed excitement. He brought up the main system grid for his suit and pondered the best route to take. His original plan called for seeing what he could be done to improve the active range of his stealth cloaking—once he was done with all the cleaning, and maintenance of the mechanical bits, and miscellaneous repairs, he wanted to do. He had planned on doing this last, as he didn't want anyone bothering him while he was hacking through his own programming—and because he secretly still felt a bit insecure and uncertain around the other pilots when it came to doing stuff like this. All four of them had a lot more experience and exposure to this sort of work. He wouldn't admit it to anyone, but he felt a need to prove that he was just a capable as they.
The last pale light of dusk faded away as Duo sank deeper and deeper into the mind of the program he was working on improving. The coffee cooled untouched, as he remained fixated on the scrolling lines of code moving in front of his eyes. The quonset doors were still wide open, but the only available light left in the large expanse of room came from the flickering lights of the stationary monitors against the far wall and the pale glow from the cockpit of Deathscythe. He typed in the last few lines of code with a sigh of relief, and sealed the cockpit to start the test cycle. He'd know if he'd been successful once the code had propagated through the rest of the systems. He sat back in his seat to relax and drifted off into a dreamless, exhausted sleep.
Heero Yuy was walking in the dark across the field from the hanger where all of the mobile suits save one were currently stored. As he approached the darkened quonset, he spied the open doors with some apprehension—that fool. He should know better than to leave the doors wide open for the world to see and tools to leave. But if what Quatre had relayed to him was true, then Duo may have fallen asleep while working on his suit.
He changed the direction of his path to walk over to the metal building and investigate. No noise was coming from the modified shed. No light from the translucent ceiling panels. He turned the corner and peered cautiously inside. Nothing. He turned on a bank of the overhead lights—but the quonset was empty. Shrugging, he killed the lights, pulled the doors closed, and headed back to the loft. Duo had probably gone off somewhere without telling anyone again.
In the quiet of his cockpit, in a Gundam rendered invisible by his labors, Duo slept on.