Lies - Between Friends and Lovers
by Dyna Dee
"I can do this," Relena whispered to herself, trying to buoy up her courage as she finished tying off the end of her make-shift rope. Having pulled the last knot as tightly as possible, she studied her handiwork and hoped the rope would be strong enough to hold her weight. Her pretense of docilely accepting her ordered confinement convinced Havoc that she could be left unattended, if only for a little while. She had planned her escape from the apartment shortly after overhearing there were Preventers on the colony, but that was yesterday. She now worried that all her efforts might be in vain, that the Preventers had already left the colony; but she refused to give up her one chance of being rescued before she'd even started. The moment the last of her flatmates left the apartment she'd gathered the sheets from off the beds and the few pieces of clothing she could find and tied them end to end, praying the length of her make-shift rope was long enough for her to reach the street below.
With that task finished, she picked up her means of escape and moved as quickly as possible to the kitchen. She wound one end of the fabric line under and around the bottom leg of the defunct oven, then secured it with a double knot. Standing, she looked at her work with a feeling of satisfaction, then took a deep breath to calm her nerves before opening the kitchen window and tossing out the other end of her make-shift rope. She leaned over the windowsill and frowned, discovering the end was shy of the ground by about eight feet. Having no other choice but to proceed, she eased a leg over the sill while tightly gripping the window frame to steady herself as she straddled it.
Looking down once again, four storeys suddenly seemed like a very long way from the ground. Overwhelmed suddenly by a fear of falling, she hesitated and began to doubt whether her desperate plan to escape the building and find the Preventers would work. The sudden loud banging on the locked front door of the apartment ended her moment of indecision. It was now or never. Acting quickly before she could talk herself out of it, Relena swung her other leg over the windowsill, leaving her chest anchored on the ledge. Using one hand to hold her body in place, she frantically flattened out the material pressed over the ledge with the other hand, then firmly brought the window down until the inside latch clicked shut. With the closed window now acting as an extra support, she felt a bit of her confidence return. Holding tightly to her line of escape, she wrapped her legs around it and began to lower herself down towards the ground.
From up above she heard the sound of frantic pounding on the front door. She was running out of time. Unfortunately, she couldn't seem to go any faster. Her arms, unused to supporting her weight, were already trembling from the effort. Descending as quickly as possible, she made it down three levels before a shout came from above her. She looked up just as the windowsill was thrown open and Havoc's head popped into view. Then just as swiftly, and her make-shift rope broke free. With a cry she dropped to the ground, her feet slamming onto the pavement. Pain from the jarring impact shot up her legs. Her body crumpled with the momentum of her fall and before she could catch herself she was sitting on her bottom. Looking up once more, she saw Havoc staring down at her, his eyes wide with disbelief. The moment he turned from the open window she knew he was coming after her and that she had only moments to get up and run or her opportunity to escape L2 was as good as over.
Though her legs and feet were still smarting from the abrupt impact, she scrambled to get up and get moving. Crawling over the rubble-filled alleyway, she moved as if the devil himself was on her heels, frantically wiggling and squirming her way to the street, acquiring more than a few bumps and bruises. After breaking free of the rubbish, she cast a quick glance in both directions, looking for Havoc. Not seeing him, she fled in the direction of the distribution center Rida had pointed out to her shortly after her arrival.
Relena ran with abandon, propelled by a sense of desperate urgency. She ignored the odd stares of those who were out and about that day but became aware of someone yelling something indistinguishable from somewhere behind her. She ignored everything and focused instead on running as fast as she was able. Not used to physically exerting herself for any length of time, she quickly became breathless and weary and frantically pondered the best strategy for eluding someone on foot. She could duck into an alley and hide but that would take away precious time, and she had an idea that time was something she didn't have a lot of if she was to find the Preventers before they left the colony.
After several wrong turns she finally located the distribution center. Coming to a dead stop and breathing heavily, she bent over, holding onto her knees while struggling to catch her breath. When she looked up a moment later to see the entire line of lethargic people, waiting to get their food allotment, looking at her as if she were out of her mind. Though her clothing wasn't up to her own personal standards, they did help her to blend in with everyone else, so she dismissed that as being the reason for the shocked expressions. Then it dawned on her that undernourished people didn't waste precious energy running about. Being both flushed and breathless from her mad dash from her apartment, it was no wonder they were looking at her like she were crazy.
Giving the surrounding area a quick once over, she could see no one who fit the description of a Preventer, so she moved on. She wasn't exactly sure where she was going other than in the opposite direction from the building she'd recently escaped from.
Not knowing the exact time, Relena could only guess it was sometime mid afternoon. She had at least a couple of hours before the lights were dimmed to find the Preventers, and then, God willing, she would be free of L2 and all its misery. The first thing she planned on doing once on board their ship was to ask for something to eat and then inquire if they had a shower she could use. She couldn't imagine, even after scrubbing herself from head to toe, that she would ever feel completely free of the grime and bugs. Sores now dotting her once peaches-and-cream skin had come from bed fleas and lice that had, from what Rida told her, plagued the colony even before the embargo. With no pesticides available, there simply was no way to eradicate the pests.
Spying a woman standing on the next corner, with a child hovering behind her legs, she slowed her step to approach her, stopping several feet short when wary eyes turned her way. "Excuse me," she began, speaking softly. "Do you know where the Preventers are staying?"
"Whaddaya want with them two?" the woman asked, her eyes narrowing with suspicion.
Relena could have cried, having received confirmation that there were indeed Preventers on the colony. She controlled her excitement and kept her appearance calm. Knowing she couldn't tell the woman who she was, thanks to Havoc's warnings, she fabricated a lie that, hopefully, would cause the woman to cooperate. "I want them to carry word to my family that I'm alive."
"A lot of good that'll do ya." The woman replied, her eyes shifting to take in her surroundings, appeared fearful of being caught talking to her. "If yur lookin' to get some of their food, one of um just left the last of it at the food center down the street. The tall man said they were leavin'"
"Can you tell me where he went?" Relena asked in a rush, fearing she was going to be too late.
"Back to his ship, I guess. Shuttle port is two streets down thata way." The woman indicated the direction with her right hand.
Uttering her thanks, Relena turned and ran just as a commotion sounded behind her. Excited shouts of "There she is," could be heard in the not too far distance followed by the sound of running feet. Panic and a rush of adrenaline pushed her into running faster than she ever had before, despite her ill-fitting shoes. She recognized the shuttle port by its familiar arched entrance, standard in all space colonies, and even through she was half a block away, she also spied what appeared to be a tall and slender man nearing its doorway. His hair was short, so she figured he had to be a Preventer. Despite her legs and lungs threatening to give out, hope of her imminent rescue gave her the strength to keep going.
"Stop!" an unfamiliar male voice bellowed from behind. Turning her head, Relena glimpsed a man running no farther than twenty feet behind her, his face a picture of determination as he closed the distance between them.
Though she was at the end of her limited energy, she put everything she had into increasing her speed and getting the attention of the man up ahead, Then, just as she found enough air to call out to him, she tripped, either over her shoes or a crack in the sidewalk, and fell like a single domino, face forward and flat on the ground.
"Got ya!" the man behind her crowed triumphantly as his hand clamped onto her arm and hauled her to her feet in a most ungentlemanly fashion.
"Wait!" Ignoring the man holding her, she cried out in desperation to the plain-clothes man entering the door of the shuttle terminal. He must have heard her because he turned around and looked in her direction. In an instant, despite the distance that separated them, Relena recognized the man and was elated. It was Trowa Barton, a Preventer and former gundam pilot.
They both paused for a fraction of a moment, their eyes meeting across the distance for no more than a moment before Trowa abruptly turned away and continued into the shuttle terminal.
"No wait!" Relena cried out in disbelief as the Preventer opened the door to the building and disappeared inside, the door shutting behind him. Tears of disbelief and frustration welled up in her eyes. "It's me, Relena!"
But it was too late. He was already gone.
"That wasn't so smart, disobeyin' orders like you did," her captor informed her. "You'll probably be docked two days worth of rations for this, which I'll get for catchin' ya," he announced with a grin that showed a mouth full of rotten teeth.
"Please," she gasped, trying to catch her breath and crying openly. Because she'd given her all to reach this point, her attempt to pull her arm out of the man's grasp was both weak and pitiful. "I need to speak with the man that just went into the shuttle terminal."
"Don't think so." The man keeping her from freedom looked to Relena like all the other men on L2; he wore a scraggily beard and was clothed in what resembled rags more than any attire she'd seen before. She estimated him to be in his forties, but she was probably wrong.
"Listen to me," she pleaded. "I'm a person of some influence and means. I'll pay you, give you whatever you want if you'll just let me go and talk to that man before he leaves."
"If yu're so important and have got so much, why the hell are ya still here?" the man questioned as he began to pull her down the street. It was then that Relena saw several more men rushing towards her. Her chance to escape was rapidly diminishing.
"You don't understand," she said as tears of disappointment and frustration refused to be held back any longer. "I can get you out of here, the both of us could be on a shuttle bound for Earth. I just need to talk with him. Please, I beg you."
"‘Fraid you're stuck here with the rest of us," Havoc said as he and the other two frowning men approached.
"Why am I here!" she shouted at him, beyond frustrated, hungry and hurting. She suddenly realized that her knees, hands and forearms stung. Looking down, she saw through her tears that blood coming was from the scrapes her unexpected fall had caused. "What purpose does my being here serve, starving and rotting away, when I could be back on earth trying to change things?"
"Who do ya think ya are?" the man holding her arm tightly sneered, anger flashing across his bearded face. "The Queen of the Earth's Sphere? It's been two effin' years that we've been starving. If ya could make the bloody UEC change then why didn't ya do it before?"
Taken aback by the question and the fact that she had actually held the title that man had sarcastically thrown at her, Relena held her tongue, deciding to keep her silence after catching a reproving shake of Havoc's head. She recalled his warning to keep her identity hidden, that the residents of L2 wouldn't look kindly on any politician from earth, the source of all their woes.
"I told you she's not well," Havoc said as an excuse for her behavior while reaching forward to take hold of Relena's other arm. With a sharp glance and nod of his head he indicated to the other man that should let her go, which he did. "I'll take her back to our flat and see that she doesn't cause any more problems."
After a brief discussion and more assurances from Havoc that the woman in his charge would not cause any further trouble, he led her away from the area and retraced the path back to the apartment.
Neither Havoc nor Relena spoke as they walked. She concentrated instead on trying to recall everything about her brief interaction with Trowa Barton. Had he not recognized her when their eyes locked? She thought he had, but the distance between them had been too great to see if there had been any level of recognition in his eyes. Could it be that her appearance had changed so drastically since her arrival that he'd looked right at her and had failed to recognized who she was?
She allowed herself to be pulled along, heartsick about missing her chance to be rescued and stumbling with weariness now and again even though Havoc held her arm tightly. She felt exhausted and numb with disappointment, having been so close to being rescued that she could scarcely come to terms with her failure. What would happen to her now? How long would she be made to suffer?
"Stop feeling sorry for yourself," the bearded man growled as they neared their apartment building.
"I hate this place," she told him, then quickly brushed aside a tear that escaped from out of the corner of her eye.
The man's glare showed not one ounce of sympathy as he replied, "I dare ya to find one person on this colony who wouldn't agree with ya. Do ya think it matters to anyone on earth what we think or that we're bein' starved to death? This blockade is nothin' more than a legal way to kill off an entire colony, and it was ordered by your own precious UEC."
"No!" She protested vehemently, trying to jerk her arm out of his grasp. "That's not how the government works."
The man's chuckle was filled with bitterness. "The proof is in the puddin', lady. Are ya too blind by your own self pity to see the sufferin' around you?"
"Of course not," she replied stiffly. "There's just some misunderstanding here. I'm sure the UEC has no idea how much suffering the embargo is causing. I know shipments of food, care of the Foreign Aide Department, are sent monthly."
"With only enough food and water for three quarters of our remaining population and for only two weeks, not a month," Havoc interjected with a disgusted sneer.
"There's got to be some mistake," she insisted, unable to believe her government could do anything as despicable as to purposely starve innocent men, women and children.
"The big mistake was not fighting back when we could," the man said as he hurried them into the apartment building and roughly pulled Relena up the stairs to their fourth floor apartment. They were both a winded when they walked through the front door, where they were greeted by the same man she'd glimpsed outside the door the day before. He stood from the crate he'd been sitting on and moved to stand in front of her. To Relena, he appeared like every other man on the colony that she'd seen, other than Trowa Barton. He was thin and had a bearded face as well as long hair, which was mousy blond in color and was receding above his forehead. He looked sickly, though his green eyes stared at her with an intensity that reminded her of Heero, indicating the man was focused and had purpose.
"Name's Hal Stockton. I'm the guardian responsible for the welfare of everyone in this district. Yur punishment for ignoring the order ta stay inside and trying to escape will cost you a third of your rations next week."
"No, you can't do that," she rushed to say, knowing how hungry she'd been with a full week of rations. To have that scarce amount of food cut down at all would leave her closer to starving.
"I'll inform the distribution center of the cut in rations."
"Please," she said, stepping forward and hoping to change the man's mind. "You can hardly blame me for wanting to get word to my family that I'm all right, or in trying to escape this wretched place. You would have done the same."
"You don't know nothin', lady," the man said in a weary tone of voice. "I could get off this colony on the ship that brings supplies here almost weekly, but if I did, then who'd make sure the food is given out fairly? Who'd watch out for the women and children? No, I'm a guardian, and here I'll stay, to live or die with the people who can't get off this damned colony."
"A ship comes here once a week?" The news bought back a glimmer of hope to Relena.
The guardian's eyes narrowed. "Pirates," he answered. "A rough group of space marauders. Don't be thinking you can get a ride with them, lady. They've no love for the UEC, and as you're someone who talks for them, you've earned their disgust as well. They'd just as soon space you than to have anything to do with you."
"By any chance did these pirates bring me here?" she asked, trying to gather as much information as possible.
"I just told you they'd rather space you than deal with you, didn't I? Why would they bring you here?"
"To rub my face in it?"
The man shrugged. "You can think what you like, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's so." The guardian then looked up to the man behind her. "See that she stays out of trouble," the guardian ordered.
"I'll do my best," Havoc replied.
The man then left them and Havoc went into the kitchen and opened the cupboard that he'd designated as his own and returned to the living room with a bottle of water. He took several swallows before turning to Relena, his gaze moving downward until he focused on her knees."
"You scraped your knees. You should tend to them."
Now that she had a moment to think about her injuries she realized her knees were hurting. Looking down, she saw that her borrowed pants were torn and bloody from the fall on the street. "I'll need a clean cloth and some water," she said, still assessing the damage.
"You can use yur drinking water, but good luck with the clean cloth," the man answered, capping his own bottle of water before returning to the kitchen and placing it back in his assigned cupboard. "The only cloth we have, including our bedding, is in the alley below." With a sinking heart Relena wondered, and not for the first time, if she was even going to see her brother or her home ever again.