Disclaimers: I don't own Gundam Wing - but I love to play around with the G-Boys on a regular basis...

Pairings: None
Warnings: None

Summary: Sequel to "Maintenance"; Duo works on programming Deathscythe's computer system

The Coffee Arc
Part Three: Interlude - Glitch
by D.C. Logan

The alarm clock read six a.m. Weak sunlight had broken over the crest of the horizon and the small invisible field birds were noisily going about their business. The air was still heavy with the damp of early dew. Combat pilots keep to daylight hours, and Heero was no exception to this rule. He moved from the window, made himself orderly, and wandered down the long hall to the kitchen. Every morning, he and the rest of the pilots habitually gathered over coffee—and today was no exception—well for all the pilots save one.

"Hey, where's Duo?"

"Where else?" Wufei replied, and indicated the maintenance shed with his shoulder—just visible through a corner of the plate glass window. "I saw him walking across the access road about an hour ago. After last weekend you'd think he'd have given up on his project..."

Heero hadn't a clue as to why Duo was pushing this hard. He'd mentioned something in passing about further refinements to his cloaking program—but then he'd been animated and happy at the close of last weekend—so he'd assumed Duo's test had gone well. Apparently not. Hn.

He pulled his breakfast utensils from orderly racks and prepared his drink, mentally reviewed the work he needed to get done on his computer, and dismissed Duo from his mind.

"Damn." It still wasn't working. He sighed, shifted back in his pilot's seat, tilted his head back and closed his eyes to think for a minute. At least this was clean work—last weekend he'd wandered back to the safe house after dark and, ready to collapse into oblivion, he'd discovered that solvant and lubricating oil had somehow worked its way into his braid. He'd had to go through hours of trouble to work the sticky congealed mass out of his hair. It hadn't improved his mood any the next morning.

His eyes ran over the lines of complex code. Where was he making his errors? Damn.

He shifted his attention to an auxiliary screen and ran a search for the files Howard had sent out with him. "Gotcha!" He loaded the files onto a portable unit, grabbed his thermos of coffee, and headed back to the kitchen to review the information before trying his program again.

"Oh, Come On!" He smacked his forehead against the fixed display panel. "What the hell is it with this system!" He looked over Howard's notes for the third time running and checked his own code against the file line by line. And when that didn't work—character by character. If there was a problem here—he couldn't find it. He briefly considered asking Heero for help—the guy was a genius when it came to computer systems. But then discarded the idea out of hand when he realized he'd owe him a sizable favor in return. "Ah, hell." He shut down the system in frustration and left the cockpit. Maybe a walk would clear his mind.

An hour later he was back with a fresh thermos of coffee and a new idea on how to attack his problem. He took another glance through Howard's notes on the system. Biting his lower lip in frustration, he took a second look at the resident system files. Hmm. Now that was interesting. Howard's files didn't mention this old archive section. Maybe something in there was conflicting with his new code modifications.

He looked though the archive, but didn't recognize any of the names of extensions tied to them. Not knowing which were necessary for safe operation of his suit, he carefully opened each file in turn.

"Looks like this one pressurizes the hydraulic system in the right arm—I'll need that. Hmm. This one runs the backup ventilation system—it gets to stay as well. What's this one do?" His fingers nimbly cascaded over the keyboard as he roamed through the database of executable files. The further he progressed, the more hesitant he became about what he was trying to do. Heero and Trowa were the suit experts, everything he knew came from stolen schematics, an old notebook he'd stolen from Professor G., and the files Howard had sent him. Despite his luck last weekend, his experience was close to nil when it came to his suit's systems.

Discouraged by his lack of success. He set the system to run a complete system analysis and set it to shut down the computer interface for the fourth time that morning, and trudged back to the house.

"Hey Duo, how's your project coming along?" Quatre asked in a friendly tone.

Duo walked to the sink and dumped the remainder of his cold coffee down the drain, but didn't respond. Quatre at first looked puzzled—then cautious. He glanced at Trowa, who was propped up against the kitchen counter and looking thoughtful. Trowa shrugged back at Quatre and tried to get a response out of Duo himself.

"Are you working on the cloaking system again Duo?" Trowa queried.

No response was forthcoming. Quatre's eyes widened and he looked to Trowa for advice. A quiet Duo was a Duo to be avoided at all costs. Trowa carefully edged his way around the outskirts of the room, and he and Quatre left Duo to his own devices.

Out in the quonset, Deathscythe's diagnostic system ran though one internal checklist after another. Verifying one system's efficiency against its match in the mirror half of the suit. Until it came to the series of programs buried in the back system file that Duo had opened and explored. One of the unexplored files at the base of the deck was queried by the test program, and responded in an unprecedented fashion. One by one, the rest of the files in the archive opened and were automatically updated by the newly emergent system. The maintenance shed hummed with electronic activity, though Deathscythe remained silent. The machine ran through its final checklist stages, but it didn't shut down. Instead, it hummed quietly to itself, and opened the access hatch to wait for its master to return.

Duo stalked back out to the shed. He hadn't meant to frighten Quatre and Trowa—he just didn't want to add screaming at his friends to his list of recent failures at the moment. If his feet hit the ground a little harder than usual and he was a bit quieter than intended—well, they'd seen him under worse conditions and he was confident they'd be able to cope.

He paused outside of the open shed doors. "Hmm, that's weird." Duo's eyes quartered the building, but it was empty save for himself and his suit. Deathscythe hadn't shut down, and Duo looked up at the open cockpit door in puzzlement. He could've sworn that he had sent the command for a diagnostic test and shutdown before leaping down to the floor. "Really weird."

"All right," he muttered to himself. "If you're at the point that you can't remember the last command you sent to the system, you're in no shape to work on this program now."

He sighed with a mixture of relief and frustration. Another wasted afternoon with nothing to show for it. He pulled the brim of his cap lower on his face and crossed the concrete to his suit. Odd. He pressed at the release plate on the side, but the cable ladder didn't drop. He must have really screwed something up this time. "Oh shit."

He climbed his way up his suit with practiced ease, and moved through the open cockpit door. Everything looked normal. The system was resting on stand-by mode instead of the full shutdown he'd asked for though.

He moved to the side panel and input a manual override code to bring the system completely down this time. He'd work on it tomorrow when he was in a better frame of mind to do so. He hit the execute key with a satisfied smack and left. The files were extensive and would take a few minutes to shut down properly. It would take him that long to drag the heavy quonset doors shut.

Deathscythe's systems cascaded to a standstill, shutting down primary and secondary systems as well as the redundant and backup processes. All went smoothly until the shutdown code came to a newly awakened file.

A single word appeared on the front video panel—but soon faded from view as the energy animating the screen was rerouted to the batteries, and the suit fell silent once more.

Leaving a ghost image on the main monitor as the word "wait" slowly faded to black.

on to 'ghost in the machine'

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