Lies - Between Friends and Lovers
by Dyna Dee
Relena was in the process of washing the only pair of underwear she owned in the bathroom sink. The scant amount of water in the basin had already been used by the two other women she lived with, but she didn't want to think about that at the moment. It felt odd not wearing undergarments beneath the second-hand clothing she'd found herself wearing after waking up on L2 a little over two weeks ago. It still bothered her, not knowing who had undressed her and put the rather shabby apparel on her unconscious body. Had it been a man or a woman? She honestly didn't know if learning the answer to that question would ease her mind or not. Still, after all that had happened, she decided it was time to let that worry go. There were more pressing matters to think about now than her modesty.
Glancing out the bathroom door, she could see into the kitchenette and the shelf assigned to her that held one silver package of food. It was all that remained from her week's supply. If she was very careful, she might be able to refrain from eating it, saving the extra meal for the day when she just couldn't bear being hungry any longer. Today was Friday, the day she would stand in line for food at the distribution center. She had awakened early and was so anxious about the prospect of receiving her weekly allowance of food that she had to fight back the tears that wanted so badly to be shed. I will not cry, she firmly told herself for the umpteenth time. She'd only been on L2 for a little more than two weeks, so whatever hardships and suffering she'd experienced were minuscule when compared to the those who had managed to survive the embargo on their colony. They certainly had more reason to cry than she did. Even so, the only crying she'd heard was the distant cry of what she supposed was a hungry child, and that had happened only twice since her arrival. She refused to give into self pity and tears when her roommates and everyone else she'd encountered had suffered so much more.
She was terribly hungry, and had been since getting over the shock of being on L2. She'd slowly given up wondering how she'd gotten there and trying to figure out the reason for her abduction in lieu of focusing on her minimal food supply and how to make it last. Fearing to drink the vile-looking stuff that came out of the faucets, believing it fit only for washing and the toilet, she'd bartered some of her food for more pouches of water, finding her thirst almost as great as her hunger. She had sipped from her precious water supply only when she was extremely thirsty, but now the lack of food was gnawing at her empty stomach and causing her to regret exchanging those pouches for the water.
Wringing out her underwear, she carefully hung it over the otherwise unused shower head along with her bra, knowing that no one would disturb them. Standing back to give the two articles of clothing a look of satisfaction, she wiped the sweat from off her forehead with the sleeve of her sweater, now quite dirty from constant wear. She would wash it also, but was reluctant to use any more water for the task. Plus, she hesitated to remove the outer garment even though the ill-maintained colony was often too warm during the day, its cooling system not working properly. By night, however, the colony's interior turned icy, the solar panels obviously in no better condition than cooling units. Her sweater then became a necessity she dare not risk being without because it might be still be damp from washing. It was a wonder to her how the colonists had survived living under such conditions.
After shutting off the lightbulb hanging from a cord attached to the ceiling, she exited the bathroom just as Havoc entered the apartment. The short, black hair and bearded man gave her only a cursory glance before moving into the kitchenette, where he poured himself a glass of water from the tap. Relena looked on in disgust at the cloudy, almost grayish substance that filled the heavily fingerprint-covered glass as the older man brought it to his lips and swallowed the entire contents to the last drop. Setting the glass back in the spot it always inhabited, the perpetually unfriendly man turned to face her.
"I wouldn't leave your food out where others can see it," he warned her while wiping the drops of water off his shaggy black beard with the sleeve of his faded and worn plaid shirt.
"Rida said no one would steal it," she replied.
"No one who lives with you would," he answered. "But I can't say the same for some hungry bugger who passes by our door and spies it on the shelf. You can trust us, darlin', but no one else. Got it?"
She nodded. Havoc had avoided speaking with her since the first day of her arrival. He knew who she was, and this was the second warning the man had given her. The first had been to not use her name. So to anyone who asked, and those had been very few, she told them her name was Lena.
"Hunger drives an honorable person to drastic measures, pushes the starving to do things they wouldn't normally do, like stealing," Havoc added. He then studied her for the first time since the day of her arrival. "You've little food left. Are you hungry?"
"Yes," she answered.
"Will ya do just about anything to get your next meal?"
"No," she answered with heartfelt conviction and lifting her chin defiantly.
"Then you really haven't experienced the hunger we've all known. If ever the supplies run out and there are days left before another shipment comes in, then you'll know what it's really like to truly be hungry."
"That really happens?" As hungry as she was, there had been a small measure of comfort in knowing she'd saved that one pouch of food. But one wouldn't be enough to stave off her hunger if she had to make it last more than one day. After a couple of days without additional food, she didn't know if she could put on such a brave face.
"It has," Havoc answered sadly. "At the beginning of the embargo. That's when we lost the older ones and the babies. We had to eject as many as one hundred bodies into space the last time it happened. We haven't the good health nor fat reserves to go without food for more than a couple of days. That's what the UEC's sanctions have brought us to. We're a far cry from the rough and rebellious colony we used to be, but one thing's for sure; if we ever get out of here, the UEC will find it's got themselves a new generation of colonists who despise them. Then again, maybe starving us all to death is your government's way of preemptin' future problems. It's almost too bad they don't know that you, their darling symbol of peace, is sufferin' right along with us." There was bitterness in his voice, and Relena couldn't help but understand. She too was feeling bitter about the whole situation.
She hadn't come into contact with many of L2's citizens, but she'd seen their sorry state first hand and experienced the pangs of hunger they felt. And along with these suffering people, she spent hour after hour with nothing to do but think about her food allotment and when she was going to consume it, hoping she could control her hunger enough that she didn't eat everything all in one go. She could barely remember how it felt like to feel sated with a full stomach. She could no longer argue that the UEC had been correct in its actions towards the people of L2. If her flatmates represented those living on the colony, they had proven to be decent enough people, uneducated for the most part but honest and giving, as much as they could be with their limited means.
A sharp knock sounded at the front door, startling both of them. Havoc turned and went to answer it, opening the door just a crack to see who was outside. In the time that she'd been there, Relena couldn't remember anyone knocking on their door before. She heard the sound of a man's voice, though it was too low for her to understand his words. Havoc looked over his shoulder at her and said, "It's for me. Stay in here."
"But it's almost time for me to leave for the distribution center," she reminded him.
"I won't be long."
Before she could blink he was out of the room, the front door firmly closing behind him. She knew it was rude, but she was curious about the man's business. She really didn't know much about Havoc, other than the what he'd told her. He had indicated he'd once been a Sweeper and, from what she'd learned from Heero, the Sweepers were a close knit group of men and women who had a hand into almost everything that happened in space. From what she knew, that statement seemed to be the truth, for during the war the Sweepers had a hand in constructing at least one gundam. Her brother had told her of a Sweeper sailing vessel picking him up on a beach after Epyon had been damaged in battle during the first war. That same man, Howard, had built and captained both that seafaring ship and the space cruiser Peacemillion, which supported the gundam pilots in the final battles preceding the destruction of the battle station, Libra. She wondered if indeed the Sweepers were such a tight group, would they leave a fellow Sweeper on L2 to starve? She stopped herself from going down the path her logical mind began to take, wondering if Havoc had been placed on the colony with instructions to watch her. He was as painfully thin and on the verge of starvation like everyone else, a clear indication that he'd been here as long as all the other people she'd encountered. Still, she was curious about Havoc's visitor and what he had to say away from her presence.
Moving noiselessly to the room's entrance, she pressed her ear to the door and tried to make out what the men on the other side of it were saying. The words weren't clear, but she thought she heard one of the men say the words Preventers and snooping. A sudden movement of the door handle indicated that whatever the conversation had been about, it was now over. She made a beeline back to the crate used for sitting and tried to look uninterested as Havoc re-entered the room.
"There's some trouble brewing in the streets," he informed her. "You're to stay in the flat until further notice."
"Why me and not Gian or Rida?" she countered.
"When they return they will be given the same orders."
Relena watched as the older man came towards her and sat down on the floor. He took a knife out of his pocket, opened it and began to clean the dirt out from under his fingernails. It reminded her of someone, and she spent a distracted moment trying to remember who. Duo Maxwell, her memory supplied. She had seen him do the very same thing at the school she had attended with both he and Heero. Even though that had been at the beginning of the first war, she recalled being shocked by the sight of a boy cleaning under his fingernails in such a dangerous manner. When she asked him if that was wise, he'd smirked, saying his knife was his best friend and that it would never hurt him. What an odd thing to say, she'd thought, but knowing Heero had also done some very unorthodox things during their brief acquaintance, she tried not to judge him. Duo was from L2, and it was said he was associated with the Sweepers. Did Havoc know the former gundam pilot?
"Do you know a young man by the name of Duo Maxwell?"
To her surprise, the man chuckled. He didn't look up from his task as he answered, "All the Sweepers have heard about the kid, but that doesn't mean I ‘know' him."
"Maybe, maybe not. What's it to you?"
"Just curious," she answered, studying the man and trying to figure him out.
"Curiosity killed the rat," he replied with a wicked grin.
"Cat. Curiosity killed the cat," she corrected.
The man looked up and his beady eyes flashed with amusement, "Honey, the cats on L2 were eaten up two years ago, along with the dogs. Rats are now on the verge of extinction."
She felt sick.
Havoc went back to cleaning his nails in silence, giving her some time to ponder over what had transpired out in the hallway. If she was being forced to stay indoors, there must be a reason for it, other than what Havoc stated. And if she'd heard correctly, something had been said about the Preventers. Hope sprang up within her. Had the Preventers, by some miracle, traced her here? Was there a rescue attempt being made? Her heart began to beat faster, anticipating a rescue from the horrid colony and starvation. Shifting her eyes to the man in front of her, she began to wonder if he was there to keep guard over her, to make sure she didn't go against whoever gave the order to keep her inside. She now doubted Havoc's word that she, Gian and Rida needed to be kept indoors for their safety. He probably just said that to make the order sound legitimate. She'd play along, just until the man felt secure that the situation was well in hand. She didn't want him to suspect that she had an idea that something was going on, because when he finally relaxed his guard she had every intention of slipping out of the apartment and finding the Preventer team she was sure was there to find and return her to Earth.