Lies - Between Friends and Lovers
Part 1 - Heero
by Dyna Dee
Piloting his spacecraft to perfectly align with the other Preventer shuttle might have been considered a tricky maneuver for most pilots, but Heero had done it so many times before that he performed the task easily while eating the turkey sub sandwich he'd purchased before leaving the moon's shuttleport. Taking a sip of the bottled water, he moved the controls with his knees, adjusted his approach and lowered the coupling hatch with his elbow. The blinking lights of the craft identical to his own showed that the other pilot was ready to receive him.
Setting his half-eaten sandwich down in the magnetized box, he quickly shut the lid to keep it from floating away then proceeded to connect the two ships. He guided the belly of his craft over the top of the other, using his forward thrusters to slow his advance while opening the coupling hatch. Once the two ships were in position, he shut off the thrusters and released the anchors, locking his ship onto the other. Triggering the coupling unit, he heard a loud clank and a metallic moan as the twin portals locked. A moment later the green light on his operating board reported the two ships had been successfully mated. Knowing from past experience that it would take a good five minutes before the seals between the two hatches were completely secure and the pressure and oxygen adjusted for passage, he relaxed back into his pilot chair and calmly finished his lunch, contemplating the reason for his hasty journey into space.
The commercial thieves were a regular problem afflicting freighters supplying resources to the space colonies. From an agency brief he'd glanced at before leaving the moon, he learned that an apparently well-organized and talented group of raiders frequently beset fully loaded freighters. It seemed highly unusual that the freighters that had been attacked carried no weapons, valuable minerals or expensive electronics, but every day goods, such as food, water, clothing and bedding. These same freighters were always stopped in route from Earth to the colonies or from resource satellites to their respective colony. The second unusual action that separated this group from any other space pirates was that they paid the captain of the attacked ship for the goods seized in credits free of any fingerprints or DNA. Their actions just didn't make sense, and after two years and too few clues and no progress in tracking the group down, Director Une had taken him off his regular detail guarding Relena and other important government officials in order to join the Preventer investigator already in space, presently located at the approximated position of the last raid.
Une voiced her own suspicions, of course, blaming a known criminal element operating the colonial black market. Yet no matter how hard the governments of Earth and the colonies had tried, they just couldn't ferret out evidence backing her suspicions, nor could they completely halt the illicit trade.
The light on his control panel flashed green, signaling that the coupling was complete and the sealing rings connecting the two ships were air tight. He finished off the last bite of his sandwich, swallowed the last of his water and disposed of the bottle before leaning over to activate the anti-grave button on his boots. Once he was assured they were working properly, he unfastened his seat belt and stood up from his chair and moved towards the middle of his ship.
Crouching down, he opened the floor panel and punched in the code to open the bottom hatch, then waited patiently as the metal door slid open with a hiss and a burst of frigid air rushed into the cabin from the connector. He waited patiently until the seal of the other ship opened like a camera lens, then smiled down at his contact waiting below.
Jumping through the short tube, he landed on the lip of the other ship's open hatch and lowered his feet through the opening before dropping down to the floor of the other Preventer shuttle. Straightening, he stuck out his hand to the other man. "Hello, Wufei."
"Welcome aboard, Heero," the ebony haired agent replied with a slight grin, demonstrating his pleasure at meeting his former comrade.
"It's been a while."
"How have you been?"
"Well enough. And you?"
The two men had never done simple chit chat well, but after not seeing each other for over a year it seemed only right to ask the customary questions. "Have you had contact with any of the others?" Heero knew that Wufei would know that "others" meant their former comrades. They had been close once, especially just after the end of the Eve War. But the abrupt and disastrous end of his and Duo's relationship had caused a deep rift between the five of them. He had a lot of regrets, but at the top of that list was the fact that he never tried to do anything to repair the damage he'd caused. Being caught up in his work had proven to be the perfect excuse to avoid other aspects of his life.
Wufei nodded in reply to his question. "Quatre and Trowa are on L4, as you probably know. Quatre is busy with his family's business and Trowa acts as his assistant slash bodyguard. I saw them only a month ago and they seem... happy, driven but content."
Heero nodded politely, he was glad the two were doing well, but he hesitated to ask about the other man in their select group of five, knowing that he really didn't have a right to any answers. Wufei seemed to sense his hesitation and apparently decided to save him the trouble of asking. "I haven't spoken to Duo, but I've read enough about him in the gossip pages to know that he's very successful and living life to the fullest."
"I never expected any less," Heero commented, keeping a neutral face. Then raising a quizzical eyebrow, he asked, "You read gossip magazines?"
"Only when I see Duo's picture on the cover page. He seems to be very popular with the tabloids."
A moment of awkwardness passed between the two men before Heero changed the subject. "What more can you tell me about these pirates?"
"Let's sit." Wufei motioned to the seats just behind him. Typically, the Preventer shuttles were smaller than most of their counterparts, designed for speed rather than comfort and able to accommodate up to twelve men. Computers lined both walls of the craft, with cushioned, gray leather seats lined up in front of them, leaving a wide middle aisle that could be used for transport of supplies or emergency passengers. After taking a seat, the Chinese agent turned to the other man once more, all social amenities over as they got down to business.
"As you know, during the past two years there have been steady, systematic attacks on supply freighters flying within specified colony shipping lanes. No doubt you've been informed that the group of thieves attacking these ships are very careful not to endanger the workers as they board and confront the crews. Each boarding follows almost the same M.O. First, warning shots are fired over the freighter's hull and a command to cut their thrusters is issued on the open comm line. The captains and crews interviewed have all indicated that they never saw the marauder's ship coming, and even out of the portholes they saw nothing but space. They were boarded by a group of four to five men wearing dark, unmarked clothing, with masks covering their heads and faces. The raiders come aboard carrying stun guns, knocking out anyone who poses a threat. While several marauders secure whatever cargo in the hold interests them, one of the raiders parleys with the captain of the freighter and then pays him a fair market price in credits for what is taken.
"Word has gotten around the shipping companies that these marauders don't want to hurt anyone, that they're polite and respectful so long as the meet with cooperation. The majority of these companies have urged their employees to cooperate should they be boarded, but to memorize any detail of the raiding crew or ship that might help investigators bring an end to the illegal activity. When asked who they believe was behind the raids, most of the captains answered that they don't know, though several believe the stolen goods are headed for either the lucrative black market to be sold or used for humanitarian aid. Those who thought the latter to be the case also guessed that the raiders boarding their vessels and paying for what they take are acting in a philanthropic nature."
"Philanthropic? How so?"
Wufei nodded and gave his co-worker a knowing look, allowing Heero to come to his own conclusion.
"There are other colonies with citizens living below acceptable standards who would benefit from the food and essential goods stolen from the freighters, but no other colony is under an embargo enforced by UEC military, restricting access to the colony as well as goods and trade."
Heero sighed. The United Earth and Colony government reacted strongly when their representatives, as well as the Preventers stationed there, were forcibly escorted off L2, rejecting the UEC's offer of assistance in bringing order to the colony well known for its lawlessness. Those at the top of L2's pecking order, there by way of brute force rather than elections, had set up their own form of government after the first war. The ruling men and women were rumored be seasoned gang leaders who claimed the entire L2 colony as their territory, to do with as they pleased. Heero had little doubt that the colony was in a serious state now, not only because of the colony's lawless state, but also from two years of living under the unyielding restrictions of the embargo. Needless to say, the shaky and questionable L2 government had, not surprisingly, proven to be less than scrupulous or successful in providing for its citizens by complying with the demands of the UEC.
Colony L2 had been formally warned four years ago about the possibility of sanctions being placed on it if the people failed to develop a more sound government and a society that didn't send a shudder of fear into the neighboring colonies who conducted business with them with great trepidation. One year to the day after the warning had been issued, the threat of embargo became a reality. The trade lines had been blocked, cutting off all transport ships going into and out of the older colony, causing all business within L2 to come to a grinding halt and leaving the citizens of the decrepit colony to fend for themselves. To ease the protesting uproar that emanated from the other colonies, fearful that this unprecedented action might become a trend in dealing with those who didn't fall perfectly in line with the UEC Government, the announcement was made that humanitarian supplies would be sent to L2 to ensure the residents there would have their basic needs met. Of course, they wouldn't be sent luxury goods, but they would be given emergency food surplus, enough to sustain their lives.
Heero had seen the contracts from the food suppliers and the quantities being shipped there left him with little doubt that L2 was receiving the promised, if not scanty, aid. How the humanitarian aid was disbursed on the colony had been left up to the riffraff government that had caused the problem in the first place.
Heero frowned, "My gut instincts tells me L2 is the reason for the marauders' attacks, if indeed they are on a mission of mercy and not profit."
"Perhaps," Wufei said with a thoughtful expression. "But where would these marauders, perhaps L2 citizens themselves, have obtained a spacecraft swift enough and equipped with the type of weapons it's reported to have for these raids? Was there even enough money in all of L2 to commission such a craft?"
"I doubt L2 could have accomplished such a task, being the most economically disadvantaged of the colonies."
Wufei shook his head. "Our intel, which is sketchy at best, seeing that no one has been allowed inside the colony other than to deposit the humanitarian supplies, indicates the original coup d'etat leaders were ousted about the time the raids on the freighters began. Coincidence? We don't know. We've no idea who is governing the colony at the moment, but there's little doubt that they would be able to come up with the financial means necessary to purchase a state of the art spacecraft much less pay for the stolen cargoes. If L2 was poverty ridden before the wars, it could only have become worse once the embargo was put in place. Cutting off trade to that wretched colony had to be a death sentence to a lot of its citizens."
Heero recalled Duo speaking of the crumbling, dilapidated, Alliance-controlled colony he'd grown up on. He'd been a street brat, a name he'd often used in referring to himself and all the other orphans who had no place to live other than in ruined buildings of that colony, huddling together for warmth, comfort and security. From his former lover's descriptions, Heero could only imagine that L2's condition now had to be in worse condition than it had been when Duo lived there. He'd questioned the reasoning behind the embargo at the time it was set into motion, but being a Preventer kept him from voicing his opinion within the realm of politics or in a public forum. He'd tried speaking to Relena and was relieved to learn that she was also against the embargo. Yet with stated regret, she indicated that she was impotent when it came to changing the minds of the more stubborn, powerful politicians' who stood firmly behind the sanctions against L2.
Looking into the dark eyes of his current partner, Heero said, "Show me what information you have on the raids. I'll read through it, analyze the data and see what I can come up with." He was fairly certain that Wufei had studied the information thoroughly and the chances of him coming up with a new angle were slim to none. Still, he'd give it his full attention, knowing that his assignment as an aide to Wufei meant that the other Preventer was frustrated by the lack of progress in solving the crime spree.
Turning his seat around to face the bank of computers, Wufei leaned over to the one in front of Heero and quickly brought up a file labeled "Space Marauders". Heero could see the file was extensive.
"Go ahead and start. The information has been gathered from interviews with crew members from each ship that was boarded by the marauders. It would normally take days to go through two years worth of statements, but you'll soon see that the eyewitness accounts are all similar in nature, making the report easier to read through. I'm hoping you'll be able to see something I haven't."
Heero nodded, then turned his full attention to the screen before him and began reading, only minutely aware of the other agent moving quietly around the shuttle, trying not to be a distraction.
The Preventer shuttles were well equipped with supplies to last a full crew at least a month, so it was no hardship for the two agents to spend two days with their ships connected, studying the marauder's case file. It didn't take long for Heero to realize Wufei's statement was true, that each raid had been carried out with systematic precision. After spending several hours pouring over the data on their third day together, Heero had just gotten to the point of analyzing the information when an urgent message came to both ships; Relena Dorlian Peacecraft had disappeared and both men were ordered to return to Earth immediately to assist in her recovery.