Lies - Between Friends and Lovers
by Dyna Dee
Pushing back from his laptop, Wufei, dressed only in his underwear and a robe lent to him by Quatre, pinched the bridge of his nose. Having eaten a late dinner and slept a full night, he'd begun his search for Duo's friend, Howard, moments after waking. He'd known that the Sweepers were a tightknit group, but he hadn't realized how difficult they were going to be when trying to get an ounce of information from them. Howard, well known amongst the Sweepers as well as many colonists, seemed to have disappeared without a trace. It struck him as odd that no one seemed to be alarmed by his absence. Howard, an engineering genius who wore brightly colored shirts, was a unique, well-known and outspoken character. He would be hard to miss any where in space, and his absence would certainly be noted by many. Howard had to be out there somewhere, and Wufei was not about to give up until he found him. With a heavy sigh he resigned himself to the last option on his list for trying to locate the man.
Rising to his feet, he went to his one piece of luggage, a black duffle bag, and retrieved his pocket PC. He located the phone number he needed and took the device back to the desk. Picking up the phone, he punched in the number that would charge Preventers for the cost of the pricey call from L4 to Earth.
He sat down in the chair again and, while waiting for the call to be connected, let his eyes wander around the room. It was a pleasant living space that appeared of have all the amenities that a guest of the house could ever want, including a small refrigerator filled with juice and snacks. He'd enjoyed the queen sized bed with the white, thick down comforter and luxurious sheets and pillowcase. The pictures on the walls were large and depicted beautiful landscapes of Earth including mountains, meadow covered with flowers as well as a painting of a sunrise over a desert oasis. The scenes evoked a deep longing within him for a true vacation with time to explore the beauty offered by the planet beneath the space colonies. Someday soon, he promised himself.
His thoughts returned to his call after registerong the sound of ringing in his ear. "Hello?" A raspy, sleepy sounding voice answered.
"Yeah, who's this?"
The Preventer chuckled. "Are you awake?"
"I hear you've been burning the candle at both ends?"
Wufei realized that Duo was barely awake, as evidenced by his inability to keep track of the conversation. "Working all day and attending movie premieres with beautiful actresses at night, like the one you attended a couple of days ago."
"Oh... yeah, that was a pretty good night." Duo chuckled, sounding as if he was about to fall back to sleep. He surprised Wufei by continuing. "The movie was all right, if you dig a chick flick, but the party after it was wild."
"I can't imagine."
Duo chuckled. "No, I don't imagine you can. You need to get out more, Wu. Life's too short, ya know. Ya gotta live every moment to its fullest before the Grim Reaper catches up with you."
"I rather think that's what I'm doing, living my life to the fullest." Wufei couldn't help but grin with amusement. Duo's philosophy, especially when he was tired or drunk, was more amusing than worth remembering.
"Nah, you work all the time, that's not living."
"I beg to differ."
"So did you wake me up just to chit chat, Wu? Not that I mind, much." And then Duo explained, "It's just that I have a photo shoot in the afternoon and I need a bit more beauty sleep in order to avoid having circles under my eyes."
"Shouldn't makeup take care of that?"
"Oh, it does, but I'm not my sparkling self on film if I'm not rested, or so I've been told."
Wufei couldn't agree more. His memories of Duo during the war recalled those times when the Deathscythe pilot was sleep deprived. Oh, he could wake up and react just like the rest of them, but only in an emergency. One thing he clearly recalled was that Duo needed his sleep, and a lot of it. If he didn't get a required nine hours, he became cranky, humorless and uncomfortable to be around. They all learned quickly that whenever possible, it was a wise decision to let the boy sleep undisturbed.
"I was wondering if you know where Howard is?"
"Howard? My Howard?"
"Yes, your Howard," Wufei answered patiently. "I've been trying to find him but haven't been successful. The Sweepers are a tight-lipped group when they want to be."
"Why do you want to talk to him?"
"Is he in trouble?" Duo sounded a bit more awake now and concern laced his still groggy voice.
"No. I'd just like to question him."
"I'm not at liberty to say."
There was a long pause before Duo said in a softer voice. "You know I'm a Sweeper too, don't ya, Wufei?"
"Yes, that's why I called you. I thought if anyone knew where Howard was, you would, but I did try to locate him before I contacted you."
"I don't know whether I should feel grateful or insulted that you called on business when we haven't really spoken to each other in ages."
Wufei frowned. "Do you have his number?"
"I have an email address, but I haven't heard from him in quite some time. Last thing I heard he was headed to Mars. That takes quite a while, you know."
"Yes, I know."
"Can I help you with something?"
For just a moment, Wufei debated whether or not he should drag his now carefree friend into the puzzling case he was investigating. Without the ability to contact Howard, he really had little choice. Duo had spent time with the Sweepers before Operation Meteor. Surely he would know, or at least he'd have heard any rumors if the stealth system had being reproduced. "Maybe you can," he answered. "Do you remember the crew that worked with Howard on the stealth system he developed for your gundam?"
"Ah... yeah, I think so, but after all this time their names are kind of mixed up with my memory with their faces. Why?"
"Have you been keeping up on colony news regarding the marauders who have been hijacking freighter shuttles and stealing their goods?"
"Yeah. I've also read that they pay for what they take. That's odd, don't you think?"
"Very. The ship they use appears to have the ability to cloak itself. Reports from the accosted freighters' crews are that the ship appears out of nowhere. I'd like to speak to Howard to see if he knows anything about a stealth system being reproduced, and if he does, who might be behind it."
"Do you suspect him?"
"Not any more than I would one of his previous crew who helped work on the original stealth project for your gundam. His absence, as well as the Sweepers' un-cooperating attitude in helping me find him, does lay more suspicion on his doorstep."
"Howie's a good man," Duo stated firmly, a hint of anger in his voice, which was no longer groggy.
"I'm not saying he isn't. But if he's developed a system and sold it to a second party, he'll know who these marauders are."
"Listen, Wu, you're my friend, but we owe Howard. If you're after him as a Preventer, with the intent to charge him with a crime, then I'm sorry, I can't help you."
"Duo, please. I'm not after Howard so much as I'm trying to find those who are breaking the law."
"Are these marauders, as you call them, really breaking the law if they pay for what they take?"
"They board an unwilling ship and take what they want. It doesn't matter whether they pay for it, what they're doing is illegal."
"But is it stealing if they pay for it?" Duo persisted.
"They open fire on the freighter and board it without permission."
There was a long pause before Duo asked, "If you catch them, what kind of prison time are they looking at for that type of crime?"
Wufei sighed. Duo's questioning, as usual, were wearing. "I'm not a lawyer or judge, Duo, but I think they would be facing prison time similar to an armed robber entering a bank and waving his gun around, then deciding he didn't want to follow through with the robbery after all, but to make a deposit. The bank wouldn't be forgiving, and I don't think the crews of the freighters boarded are thrilled to be held at gun point while their cargo hold is being emptied."
Duo sighed on the other end of the line. "Point taken. I'm sorry, Wu. I can't help you."
"You mean you won't."
"I won't help you in this case, and you know why. Howard was like family to me. I won't do or say anything that would put him under any kind of suspicion. When he decides to resurface, I'll let him know you want to chat with him. I'll email him your contact numbers, but that's the best I can do for you."
Wufei was disappointed but not surprised. "Thank you. And Duo? I really just want to talk to him. I don't want to believe he has anything to do with this, but there are very few people who know about stealth technology. I'm running out of leads and have to follow up every one, even if it's uncomfortable to do so."
After a long pause, Duo replied. "I understand."
"I'll let you get back to your beauty sleep," Wufei joked, trying to lighten the mood between them.
"Next time you call, make it a personal one and not Preventer business."
"I will. Take care, Duo."
"You too, Wu. G'bye."
A soft smile lingered on the Chinese man's face after he'd hung up the phone. He hadn't had anyone call by that nickname since the war, and hadn't realized until now how much he had missed it. He promised himself that the next time he called Duo it would be because of something other than Preventer business.
He turned his attention back to his laptop. He hadn't found Howard, but he trusted Duo to contact the man, just as he said, by email at least. He now had to make the choice to either wait for a response from Howard that might never come, or to make his next move by getting permission to go to L2.
He spent the next two hours doing just that and was shocked by what he'd learned. He sat back in his chair, trying figure out why and how things had gotten so out of hand. A knock sounded on his door, bringing his attention to the time. It was after nine a.m. L4 time. He should have been up and dressed hours ago.
"Wufei?" It was Quatre.
Standing, he adjusted his robe and moved to open the door. He found the shorter man, dressed in pleated khaki pants and a white, long-sleeved shirt, standing in the hall with one hand in his pocket. "Morning," Quatre said with a warm smile. "Sleep in?"
"No. I had some business to conduct and the time got away from me," he answered.
Quatre gazed at him in that contemplating way that usually meant he was trying to read his emotions. It was a bit disturbing, having a friend who could do that so easily. "Something is troubling you."
"Yes," he admitted. "But how about waiting to drag it out of me until I have my shower and get dressed."
The bright blue eyes sparked with amusement. "Breakfast in a half hour?" Even though he'd had a wonderful dinner the night before, Wufei was surprised to find himself hungry again.
"Kitchen or dining room?"
Quatre's head tilted as he thought about the question for a moment. "How much privacy do we need?" Meaning that the kitchen staff would be present in that room.
Not fond of speaking his mind in front of strangers, Wufei made a quick decision.
"Somewhere private, please."
"My office downstairs then. See you in a half hour." Quatre then turned and walked calmly towards the stairs at the end of the hall.
A little over a half hour later, Wufei found himself seated in Quatre's office. It was a room rich with color, expensive yet comfortable furniture, paintings done by famous artists and a table filled with an assortment of breakfast food.
Trowa had come into the room only moments behind him and promptly took up a plate and began filling it with fruit and yogurt. Quatre chose eggs from a hot plate, fruit and a couple slices of bacon, for which he received a frown of disapproval from his lover. "I know," the blond shrugged. "But it won't hurt me once in a while." Wufei chose a combination of both fruit and protein, with a glass of cranberry juice and hot tea to wash it down.
The three men took a seat in the burgundy-colored chairs surrounding Quatre's desk, each made of supple leather. "So tell me what's troubling you?"
"L2," he answered, then took a drink of his juice. "Despite my position in Preventers and going through proper channels, meaning Director Une, I've discovered just how tight a noose had been set in place around that colony. No one, other than a single ship of supplies sent once a month from the UEC charity foundation, is allowed entrance to the colony. There is no presence of media, no monitoring by civil rights groups, no representatives from the UEC to direct negotiations or file reports on the progress of the L2 citizenry to correct the mistakes of their former leaders. The whole thing feels wrong and it makes me more determined than ever to get in there and see what's going on."
"It is wrong," Trowa spoke up in his quiet, evenly modulated voice. "Those of us growing up on the colonies know what it's like to live in fear of the controlling Earth government. That the UEC can do this to one colony legitimizes the fear that we traded one oppressive government for another."
Wufei understood completely. His colony had self destructed rather than be a pawn to the Alliance or OZ. He'd spent a great deal of time thinking about the irrevocable decision the elders made for the whole colony, murdering men, women and children to make a point. Even now, their decision to destroy the entire colony felt so incredibly wrong, but any judgment or condemnation he'd felt for the actions of his martyred elders made no difference now. His colony had been obliterated and was now consigned to history and to the judgment of scholars, politicians and every day citizens as to whether their actions were right or wrong. Either way, their deaths weighed heavily on his conscience and had left a gaping hole in his soul and years of nightmares. No colony should be put in that position ever again, not even the hell hole Duo came from. "I'm going to L2," he announced suddenly.
"Is that even possible?" Quatre asked, pushing his unfinished plate of food away, leaving one of the two pieces of bacon that he'd taken. "I tried to use my influence to send in humanitarian supplies over the past two years but my request was adamantly denied."
"I've been given permission to pass through the blockade. Une convinced the council members directing the embargo that I might be able to find evidence of the marauders there. She told them I was convinced that are acting ars modern day Robin Hoods, stealing from the richer colonies and giving to the poor and possibly starving people of L2."
"Is that what the pirates are doing?" Quatre asked, looking very much interested at such a prospect. "We've had quite a few freighters intercepted on their way here by these space raiders. I wondered where they could possibly be hiding such large amounts of supplies."
"I'm not positive if that is in fact what's happening," he answered the blond. "But logically it makes more sense than anything else I can come up with. And now I'm even more curious about what is going on in that colony. As Trowa brought up the other day, without monitors, how can the UEC know whether or not conditions have improved on L2? Can one shipment of food a month supply all the necessities the colonists trapped in there need to survive?"
"It sounds like a plan for systematic extermination," Trowa said as he rose from his chair to collect their plates one by one, giving Wufei a moment to absorb what he'd just suggested.
"I'll be leaving as soon as Une contacts me with the pass codes."
"Could you take along an observer?" Quatre asked, looking hopeful.
With some regret, he shook his head. "This is official Preventer business. I can't take you with me, Quatre."
"I'll go with you as your backup," Trowa offered as he returned to his chair with a cup of coffee in hand.
Not knowing what kind of reception to expect once he stepped onto the streets of L2, Wufei knew it would be safer to have someone at his back, someone he trusted implicitly. "I've got clearance to take a flight crew, but they're not to disembark the shuttle."
"Donnihan and Shoemaker?"
"Why not?" Wufei answered, setting his tea cup down. "They performed well enough and stayed out of the way on L1. "
"Stay in touch," Quatre requested, his eyes shifting from Wufei to his lover.
"I'll contact you as soon as we leave L2," Trowa assured him with a gentle smile.
Quatre nodded, resigned that the other two were going somewhere he couldn't. "I'll help you pack an overnight bag while you change."
Taking that as his cue, Trowa stood. "I'll be down in about a half hour, Wufei. Is that all right?"
"Yes. I'll wait for the pass code and contact the local branch to get Donnihan and Shoemaker assigned to us and requisition a scout ship."
Quatre led the way out of his office with Trowa one step behind him. Wufei followed their exit and watched as the taller man's arm went around Quatre's shoulder and pulled him close against his side. Wufei smiled, hoping that one day he'd find someone he could share a close and loving relationship with, similar to what his friends obviously enjoyed.
An hour and a half later the four Preventers boarded the same scouting ship they'd previously flown to L1. They disembarked from L4's docking facilities and set a course for L2. Several hours later the warning claxon sounded. Donnihan hit the communications button to receive the incoming broadcast. It was a recorded message that informed all ships approaching the forbidden colony that a UEC embargo was in place, and further stated that they could either turn around or prepare to be boarded or fired upon.
Wufei entered the cockpit and immediately reached over and typed in the code Director Une had given him. The voice of a man replaced the recorded message. "Pass code confirmed. State your name, position and reason for entering the embargo zone."
"Agent Chang Wufei, Preventer agent #0035CW. I'm following up on a lead to the marauders, possibly located on the L2 colony."
"Estimation of time on the colony?"
"Any where from six hours to several days."
There was a long pause that stretched out for several minutes. Just when Wufei was about to check the communication board to see if it was still functioning, the same voice as before announced, "Confirmed. Proceed to the colony and dock at service port number 14, second level. Contact will be made upon your return and you will use your initial pass code number or your craft will be destroyed."
"Understood. Chang out." Turning off the communication system, Wufei looked at the redheaded man. "You heard the man. Think you can find S.P. 14, level 2?"
"You bet," the pilot answered with a grin that reminded the Chinese agent of his braided friend.
With a nod to Shoemaker, sitting ramrod straight in the co-pilot's chair, he left the cockpit and returned to his seat next to Trowa, his mind preoccupied with what lay ahead for them within the metal walls of colony L2.