The Mouse Arc
Part Two: Build a Better Mousetrap
by D.C. Logan
The street looked empty from here. He braced himself against the damp brick wall and struggled to catch his breath. Trying to fill his lungs while at the same time checking the avenue for the car that had been following him, Duo replayed the happenings of the night so far in his mind.
He ran through his afternoon event by event, until he came to the one thing that had most likely been his downfall—eating at Mom Wong's. He knew better than to visit his customary haunts when the military might be looking out for him—but Mom Wong's noodle soup had beckoned him through the door and into the voluminous arms of its chef. Mom was a large—nee, enormous—red-haired woman who treated her regular customers much like extended family. Though he wouldn't admit to it under duress or torture, Mom's traditional hello was something he personally treasured. Though in his opinion, the soup was worth its weight in Gundanium.
He grinned ruefully. If the worst that happened this night was a romp through some of the seedier neighborhoods in the colony—dinner had been more than worth the trouble it had brought on.
He pulled his sidearm from its hidden holster and checked the rounds (full) and the safety mechanism (off), before levering his body away from his shadowed niche. Time to lose these idiots. Not for nothing was he known as a shadow. He pulled his cap down to shield more of his face and walked boldly out onto the sparsely populated sidewalk. He stayed close to the shelter of the closed storefronts, using the reflections in the clean glass to keep track of his pursuers. At the moment they seemed content to merely track his progress. Good. He was willing to believe that he was a lot more familiar with this neighborhood's ins and outs than they were. As long as he could keep them on his terms and his turf, he had the advantage.
He brought a song to his mind—he'd been secretly rifling through Heero's music shelf yet again—and used the patterns within the music to keep his walking cadence regular for his watchers. With his body moving to the rhythm of traditional temple drums, his mind was free to hunt for an alternative path back to the safe house.
He looked up, right now he wished that he had even a smattering of Trowa's athletic ability. He'd give up selected body parts (okay, not those) to be able do some of those athletic leaps and twists. A run across the roofline would have been the best way to lose his tail, but he'd have to find an alternative to that path tonight.
He considered the street he was on, if memory served (and it usually did) he was about three blocks from his nearest ground-level bolthole. He'd set up a half dozen of them during his first few days in this part of the city. The question was—did his pursuers have a local with them or not? The escape route he had in mind was, uh, unpleasant to say the least. Part of the trail led through a sewer conduit pipe—unless his followers were small, they'd never fit.
He grinned—last week when he'd tested that path, his fellow comrades had made him stand in the narrow alley behind the safe house while they took turns dousing him with detergent foam to get the smell off. Hidden under the disgust though, was the subtle respect that Duo had not only found the hidden route back to the house, but also had the guts to test it personally.
His heart began to race as he approached his turnoff. With his pursuit car lagging half a block behind him, he should have enough time to disappear before they reached the corner. He turned the corner and increased his pace—and ran smack into a uniformed officer. "Oh shit" he understated, and backpedaled his way back out of the alley. Now he was in deep trouble. Oh, well, there was nothing for it—and he took off down the street as fast as he could run.
"Adrenaline is a truly beautiful thing," he reminisced while he pelted down the sidewalk. He threw up a prayer that his pursuers where old and fat and had heart conditions. Unfortunately, all the adrenaline in the colony didn't save him from tripping over the low curbing at the end of the next block. He felt the painful impact travel up his leg, but recovered his balance and kept going.
Now moving with all the natural grace of a gut shot, three-legged camel, he dodged under a scaffold and dived into the open volume of a basement construction site. If there was a god watching over him, there would be a sewer line connection down there somewhere.
He scanned left to right on the far wall. In the semi-dark he could barely distinguish one pipe terminus from another—but the one on his right looked like it was about his size.
He heard car doors slamming outside in the street, and the hurried running of feet trying to pin down his position. There was nothing for it—if this was the wrong pipeline he'd just wind up as part of the colony forever.
He pulled the temporary seal off the end of the pipe, transferred his sidearm to his mouth (ouch), and grabbed the top of the pipe opening. It was more difficult to swing his feet in than he'd thought. On the third try, just as the voices were getting louder, he finally managed to get the second boot into the pipe mouth and shimmy his body down the bend. He did his best to fit the cap back to the mouth of the pipe with his hands—but the underside of the lid was smooth and gave no purchase. It would have to do. He shifted his legs, allowing gravity to drop his body ominously backward. He suppressed a brief anxious fear that he'd drop endlessly down the pipe, but his feet hit the turn in the pipe before full-blown panic could set in.
He remained motionless in the complete darkness. And afraid. The pipe hadn't been connected to the main septic line yet. If they discovered him, there was no place else to run to from here—assuming he could even get out on his own.
He listened to the distorted voices as they grew alternately loud and soft. He heard a loud clank as one of the men examined and then dropped the pipe cover. Another enterprising soldier moved the beam of a flashlight around the mouth of the pipe, but hiding down lower in the bend, Duo couldn't be seen. He was sure they'd hear his heartbeat—it sounded loud enough to his ears anyway, and the metal pipe magnified every tiny sound a hundred-fold. But his luck, such as it was, was holding today. And the frustrated voices grew softer, and eventually faded away.
He counted slowly to one hundred, and then did it again for good measure before trying to move.
He realized the bad news as soon as he started to shift. Positioned as he was in the pipe, with his legs extended under him and his arms stretched out in front with his gun, he couldn't get any purchase against the smooth sides of the pipe. And as tight as the pipe was, he couldn't bend his knees or elbows enough to lever himself up the two to three meters to the opening. He was sure he'd been in worse situations in his past, the problem was, he couldn't remember any of them at the moment. Well, thanks to Mom Wong, he wasn't hungry. And when it came time to empty his bladder, well, at least he was in the right pipe to do so. He suppressed a mildly hysterical giggle and tried to catalog the options available to him.
Well, he could just die here and rot in this pipe. He'd have to list that as Option One, or he could wait for those goons to come back and get them to pull him out of here—but they'd probably just torture and kill him, and he'd rather pass on the torture bit thank-you-very-much. Well that took care of Option Two. His best bet was to hang out until the construction crew showed up and hope that the workers were a friendly lot. Maybe he could convince them that he'd done this on a bet, and they'd let him go. Of course tonight was Friday, which meant he'd have a long weekend ahead of him unless the crew was working overtime.
He wondered what Heero and Trowa thought about his absence. Although they usually yelled at him for leaving without letting at least one of them know when he was due back, over the past month or so they'd lightened up on him considerably. Maybe the two perfect soldiers felt he could handle himself now. Naah. They were probably hoping he'd do something stupid like this and they wouldn't have to spend time looking after him anymore.
Hours passed, and then he thought he heard noise on the floor above him. It sounded like someone walking in circles. Probably the OZ soldiers coming back to do a more thorough search this time. Great. He hunkered down as low as he could get in his pipe and thought small thoughts while the footsteps came closer.
Duo could almost make out individual voices now, it sounded like two men, but their voices were weirdly distorted from the cavernous space of the basement and his relative location deep in his pipe. He focused on slowing his breathing and thinking still and small. Unless they had a heat sensor, or sent a microphone or fiberoptic camera down his pipe, he should be safe from detection.
But his bad luck hadn't changed. He heard the footsteps and voices move back and forth for a while before finally coming to rest in front of his pipe. Shit. Now he'd had it. They must have some specialized equipment or something. Well, he still had his gun. If it was someone intending to torture him first, he'd make sure they paid for depriving him of a quiet death.
But it wasn't a stranger's voice that followed the flashlight beam down the pipe. Heero's low voice traveled down to him.
"Duo. I know you're down there. Are you all right?" He sounded like an angel. Duo couldn't remember the last time he'd been so happy to hear a familiar voice.
"Yeah. How'd you find me?"
Heero shared a conspirational look with Trowa and called back down the pipe. "We just followed the suits here and started looking in your usual places." He shrugged at Trowa, hopefully Duo would buy that excuse, telling him the truth wasn't really an option.
"Trowa's with you too?" Great, now he could be embarrassed in front of both of them. Sometime during his hours of entrapment, he'd voided himself. He was hot, he was thirsty, and he stank.
"Uh, guys?" came the soft voice from below. "I'm gonna need some help getting out of here. Any thoughts?"
It was Trowa's idea that finally worked. Duo had no mobility left in his limbs after being trapped in the pipe all those hours. Trowa managed to thread a long cable with a short piece of rebar fastened to the end down to him. Duo was able to feed it down along his chest and shift the bar under his boots. With that in place, Heero and Trowa were able to pull him out.
He collapsed in a messy pile on the floor and held back a groan as his limbs exploded in pins and needles and the blood rushed back into his extremities. He sat on the floor in a sodden heap and looked up at them. But something was still bothering him.
He looked around him at the dark confusion and jumble of the construction site. He'd been amazingly well concealed. How had they ever thought to look in the pipes on this wall? "How did you know I was here?" he asked again. The two pilots shared a look and turned back to Duo.
It was Heero that answered. "Duo, don't ask questions you don't want the answers to. It'll keep. Let's get home."
More puzzled than ever, but willing at the moment to listen to the advice. Duo accepted the hand up Trowa offered.
"So I guess this means I have to stand naked in the yard again right?"
"Well, at least your sense of humor is intact, even if your dignity has left us."
"Thanks guys, I needed that." And they moved off toward the apartment. Duo was actually looking forward to his outdoor shower. It was going to be an uncomfortable walk home.